Hume Texts Online

TO

The Reverend Mr. Hume,

Author of Douglas, a Tragedy.

My Dear Sir

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IT was the practice of the antients to address their compositions only to friends and equals, and to render their dedications monuments of regard and affection, not of servility and flattery. In those days of ingenious and candid liberty, a dedication did honour to the person to whom it was addressed, without degrading the author. If any particular appeared towards the patron, it was at least the partiality of friendship and affection.

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Another instance of true liberty, of which antient times can alone afford us an example, is the liberty of thought, which engaged men of letters, however different in their abstract opinions, to maintain a mutual friendship and regard; and never to quarrel about principles, while they agreed in inclinations and manners. Science was often the subject of disputation, never of animosity. Cicero, an academic, addressed his philosophical treatises, sometimes to Brutus, a stoic; sometimes to Atticus, an epicurean.

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I have been seized with a strong desire of renewing these laudable practices of antiquity, by addressing the following dissertations to you, my good friend: For such I will ever call and esteem you, notwithstanding the opposition, which prevails between us, with regard to many of our speculative tenets. These differences of opinion I have only found to enliven our conversation; while our common passion for science and letters served as a cement to our friendship. I still admired your genius, even when I imagined, that you lay under the influence of prejudice; and you sometimes told me, that you excused my errors, on account of the candor and sincerity, which, you thought, accompanied them.

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But to tell truth, it is less my admiration of your fine genius, which has engaged me to make this address to you, than my esteem of your character and my affection to your person. That generosity of mind which ever accompanies you; that cordiality of friendship, that spirited honour and integrity, have long interested me strongly in your behalf, and have made me desirous, that a monument of our mutual amity should be publicly erected, and, if possible, be preserved to posterity.

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I ownI own too, that I have the ambition to be the first who shall in public express his admiration of your noble tragedy of Douglas; one of the most interesting and pathetic pieces, that was ever exhibited on any theatre. Should I give it preference to the Merope of Maffei, and to that of Voltaire, which it resembles in its subject; should I affirm, that it contained more fire and spirit than the former, more tenderness and simplicity than the latter; I might be accused of partiality: And how could I entirely acquit myself, after the professions of friendship, which I have made you? But the unfeigned tears which flowed from every eye, in the numerous representations which were made of it on this theatre; the unparalleled command, which you appeared to have over every affection of the human breast: These are incontestible proofs, that you possess the true theatric genius of Shakespear and Otway, refined from the unhappy barbarism of the one, and licentiousness of the other.

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My enemies, you know, and, I own, even sometimes my friends, have reproached me with the love of paradoxes and singular opinions; and I expect to be exposed to the same imputation, on account of the character, which I have here given of your Douglas. I shall be told, no doubt, that I had artfully chosen the only time, when this high esteem of that piece could be regarded as a paradox, to wit, before its publication; and that not being able to contradict in this particular the sentiments of the public, I have, at least, resolved to go before them. But I shall be amply compensated for all these pleasantries, if you accept this testimony of my regard, and believe me to be, with the greatest sincerity,

Dear Sir,

Your most affectionate Friend,

and humble servant,
Edinburgh, 3,
  Jan. 1757.
David Hume.

Essays, Moral, and Political, and Literary (1741, 1777)

prepared by Amyas Merivale

Disappointed with the poor reception of his Treatise, Hume turned to the essay style of writing, and published the first volume of his Essays, Moral and Political in 1741, with a second volume following in 1742. Following the success of this collection, Hume published three additional essays in 1748 (Of National Characters, Of the Original Contract, and Of Passive Obedience), and then a third edition of the set, also in 1748, that incorporated these three.

At the start of the 1750s, Hume’s reputation as an essay writer was well-established, and his new set of Political Discourses, published in 1752, was so successful that a second edition was brought out in the very same year. A third edition was printed in 1754.

In 1758, Hume collected all of his late works together in a collection of Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects, the first volume of which contained the Essays, Moral and Political followed by the Political Discourses. Now, however, the two sets were titled Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary parts 1 and 2.

The texts of all of the essays on this site are taken from the 1777 edition of the Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects, with the following exceptions: Of Essay-Writing, Of Moral Prejudices, and Of the Middle Station of Life only ever appeared in the 1742 edition of the Essays, Moral and Political, and the texts of these are therefore taken from that edition. Of Impudence and Modesty, Of Love and Marriage, and Of the Study of History last appeared in the 1760 edition of the Essays and Treatises, and the texts of these are therefore taken from that edition. Of Avarice and A Character of Sir Robert Walpole last appeared in the 1768 edition of the Essays and Treatises, and the texts of these are therefore taken from that edition. A Character of Sir Robert Walpole first appeared as an essay by itself, but in editions of Hume’s essays from 1748 to 1768, it appeared as a footnote at the end of the essay That Politics may be Reduced to a Science; from 1770 onwards this note was dropped. The text here is a reproduction of the footnote in the 1768 edition of That Politics may be Reduced to a Science (though the text of that essay, note, is taken from the 1777 edition, and therefore does not contain the footnote).

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