Hume Texts Online

Edited Versions

The edited versions available on this site differ from the copytexts in various ways particular to each text; for details of these particular departures, see the notes for each individual text. On the whole, our policy has been to keep editorial interventions to a minimum, and almost all our changes are those sanctioned by Hume himself (e.g. from ERRATA sheets, appendices, or written corrections in his own hand), or obvious typographical errors not present in editions other than the copytext.

In any event, differences between the edited version and the original version can be inspected in situ by checking the “Show Changes” option at the top of each text. Hovering over any such change with the mouse will then bring up a brief comment explaining the intervention.

There are two respects in which our edited versions do not differ from the copytexts, where other modern editions typically do. These concern, respectively, the use of apostrophes and Hume’s distinction between footnotes and endnotes. These decisions call for further comment.

1. Apostrophes

Conventions regarding the use of the apostrophe changed around the middle of the eighteenth century. At the start of this century, it was common to use apostrophes in place of letters that are not pronounced (as in “cou’d”, “deriv’d”, or “thro’”), and to abbreviate “it is” as “’tis”. It was also common to use an apostrophe for possessive pronouns, but not for possessive nouns (the exact reverse of the present practice), though there seems to have been no very precise convention in this regard. By the end of the century, however, the apostrophe was used as it is today.

Most of Hume’s publications conform to the old-fashioned conventions (including a somewhat inconsistent use of the apostrophe for possessive nouns and pronouns). From the 1770 edition of his Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects onwards, however, the modern conventions are used. Consequently all the texts on this site that appeared in that collection conform to these modern conventions, while those that did not (the Treatise, the Abstract, the Letter from a Gentleman, and some previously withdrawn essays) exhibit the old-fashioned conventions.

We have elected not to edit these earlier works so as to conform to the modern conventions, since this is the least intrusive option. In leaving the apostrophes in place of letters that are not pronounced, we are agreeing with both Selby-Bigge’s and the Nortons’ editions of the Treatise and Abstract. In leaving the possessive apostrophes as they were, however, we are diverging from those editions. Selby-Bigge seems inconsistently to have changed some possessive apostrophes and not others. The Nortons seem to have intended to change them all, though they missed at least one: “three or four hour’s amusement” at T should by modern lights be “three or four hours’ amusement”.

2. Footnotes and endnotes

In respect of those texts that were included within the 1777 Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects, we continue to draw a distinction between notes that appeared as footnotes in the copytext and those that appeared as endnotes. Since no other modern edition draws any such distinction, and even Beauchamp’s (otherwise excellent) critical editions fail to indicate which notes took each form, our policy is perhaps worth discussing in a bit more detail.

In editions of the Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects prior to 1770, all Hume’s notes appeared as footnotes, but in his three last editions (1770, 1772 and 1777), he moved most of the larger notes to a separate section at the end of each volume. That he took an interest in such matters is clear from his letters, in particular to his printer William Strahan on 8th April 1776:

I am very much taken with Mr Gibbon’s Roman History which came from your press … I intended to have given him my Advice with regard to the manner of printing it … One is … plagued with his Notes, according to the present Method of printing the Book: When a note is announced, you turn to the End of the Volume; and there you often find nothing but the Reference to an Authority. All these Authorities ought only to be printed at the Margin on the Bottom of the Page. I desire, that a Copy of my new Edition [i.e. the posthumous edition then in preparation] should be sent to Mr Gibbon, as wishing that a Gentleman, whom I so highly value, shoud peruse me in the form the least imperfect, to which I can bring my work. (HL ii 313)

In another letter to Strahan of 8th June, Hume reports the seriousness of his illness, and makes some last requests concerning the printing of My Own Life in his forthcoming edition, and the future publication of the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Here again he expresses enthusiasm for the quality of what would become the 1777 edition of the Essays and Treatises, and the 1778 edition of the History of England:

I am glad to find, that you have been able to set about this New Edition in earnest. I have made it extremely correct; at least I believe that, if I were to live twenty Years longer, I shoud never be able to give it any further Improvements.

Hence the policy followed here, of carefully following that 1777 edition for all the relevant texts, including its distinction between footnotes and endnotes, with footnotes being used for references to “Authorities” and other relatively short comments, and endnotes generally containing the longer material. Whether the distinction has any deeper significance is now open for the reader to judge, but since some footnotes are longer than many of the endnotes, this at least suggests that length was not Hume’s only criterion.