Chap 19: The Death of Hume

Chap 19: The Death of Hume


  • After the publication of his book in the beginning of March, Smith still dallied in London, without going to see Hume in Edinburgh and bring him up to London.
    • But some hope seems to have been entertained of Hume coming up even without Smith’s persuasion and escort.
  • John Home thought so.
    • He was  in London and was in correspondence with Hume.
    • But Hume wrote no, in a letter written on April 12.
  • Then Smith and Home together immediately went to Edinburgh.
    • But when the coach stopped at Morpeth, they saw Colin, their friend’s servant, standing in the door.
  • Hume went to London after all, to consult Sir John Pringle.
    • He was now so far on his way.
  • John Home thereupon accompanied Hume back to London.
  • But Smith heard of his mother being taken ill.
    • He was anxious about her, as she was now over 80 years old.
    • He continued his journey on to Kirkcaldy.
  • However, at Morpeth, he and Hume had time to discuss the publication of some of his unpublished works in case of Hume’s death.
    • On January 4, 1776, Hume had already made Smith his literary executor by will.
      • He left him full power over all his papers except the Dialogues on Natural[Pg 296] Religion, which he explicitly desired Smith to publish.
      • It was years since this work had been written.
      • But its publication had been deferred because of the warning from Sir Gilbert Elliot and other friends about the annoying clamour it would excite.
    • However, Hume always had a peculiar paternal pride in it.
      • Now that his serious illness forced him to face the possibility of its extinction, he finally resolved to save it, clamour or no clamour.
        • If he lived, he would publish it himself.
        • If he died, he charged his executor to do so.
  • But Smith did not want this duty.
    • He was personally against publishing and editing these Dialogues, as seen in following letter.
    • His reasons were the same with Hume’s reasons for not publishing them.
  • He shrank from:
    • the public clamour that would involve him, and
    • the injury it might do to his prospects of preferment from the Crown.
  • He expressed this to Hume at Morpeth.
    • Hume agreed to leave the question of publication absolutely to Smith’s discretion.
    • On reaching London, he sent Smith a formal letter of authority empowering him to deal with the Dialogues as he judged best.

London, May 3, 1776.

My dear Friend

  • This ostensible letter conforms to your desire.
    • However, I think your scruples are groundless.
  • Was Mallet hurt by his publication of Lord Bolingbroke?
    • He received an office afterwards from the present king and Lord Bute.
      • They are the most prudent men in the world.
    • He always justified himself by his sacred regard to the will of a dead friend.
  • At the same time, I own that your scruples seem specious.
  • But if you [Pg 297] decide never to publish these papers after my death, you should leave them sealed up with my brother and family.
    • You should inscribe that you reserve to yourself the power of reclaiming them whenever you think proper.
  • If I live a few years longer, I shall publish them myself.
    • The wind blows up a fire, though it extinguishes a candle.
      • This is Rochefoucault’s observation which I am thinking of.
  • You may be surprised to hear me talk of living years, considering:
    • the state you saw me in, and
    • the sentiments me and all my friends at Edinburgh entertained on that subject.
  • I cannot come up entirely to the sanguine notions of our friend John.
    • But I find myself very much recovered on the road.
    • I hope Bath waters and further journeys may cure me.
  • I find the town very full of your book, which meets with general approbation.
    • Many people think particular parts are disputable, but you certainly expected this.
    • I am glad to be one of those people as we can talk about these parts in the future.
  • I set out for Bath on Monday, by Sir John Pringle’s directions.
    • He sees nothing to be apprehended in my case.
  • If you write to me (hem! hem!)—I say if you write to me, send your letter under cover to Mr. Strahan, who will have my direction.[255]

The ostensible letter which accompanied the other is—

London, May 3, 1776.

My Dear Sir

  • In my will, I left you the disposal of all my papers and requested that you publish my Dialogues concerning Natural Religion.
    • However after reflecting more maturely on it, I have realized that it might be improper to hurry that publication because of:
      • your situation and
      • the nature of the work, .
  • I would like to qualify that friendly request.
    • I leave it entirely to your discretion:
      • when you will publish it or
      • whether you will publish it at all.
  • Among my papers is a very inoffensive piece called “My Own Life.”
    • I composed it a few days before I left Edinburgh, when I thought, as did all my friends, that my life was despaired of.
  • That small piece should be sent to Mr. Strahan and Mr. Cadell and the proprietors of my other works, to be prefixed to any future edition of them.[256]

[Pg 298]

  • Hume’s heart softened towards his Dialogues.
    • To make more sure of their eventual publication than he could feel while they were entrusted to Smith’s hands, he wrote Strahan from Bath on June 8 asking if he could:
      • act as literary executor and
      • edit and publish the work.
  • In this letter he says:
    • “I have not published it because I wanted to live quietly and keep remote from all clamour.
    • It is not more exceptionable than my previously published work
    • But you thought some them were exceptionable.
      • I should have suppressed them.
    • There, I introduce a sceptic who is refuted.
      • He finally gives up the argument.
      • He confesses that he was only amusing himself by all his cavils.
        • But before he is silenced, he advances several topics which:
          • will give offense and
          • will be deemed for bold and free as well as much out of the common road.
    • As soon as I arrive at Edinburgh, I intend to print a small edition of 500.
      • I may give away about 100 of these in presents.
      • They are all yours if you will be the editor.
      • You do not need to prefix any name to the title page.
    • I seriously declare that after Mr. Miller and you and Mr. Cadell have publicly avowed your publication of the Inquiry concerning Human Understanding, I do not know why you should not publish these Dialogues.
    • They will:
      • be much less obnoxious to the Law and
      • not more exposed to popular clamour.
    • Whatever you decide on, please keep absolutely quiet on this subject.
    • If I leave them to you by will, your executing the desire of a dead friend will render the publication still more excusable.
      • Mallet never suffered anything by being the editor of Bolingbroke’s works.”[257]
  • Strahan agreed to undertake this duty.
  • On June 12, Hume [Pg 299] added a codicil to his will making Strahan:
    • his literary executor and
    • the entire master of all his manuscripts.
  • However, Hume’s health got rapidly worse.
    • He never printed the small edition he spoke of.
  • Feeling his end to be near, he added a fresh codicil to his will on August 7, desiring Strahan to publish the Dialogues within two years.
    • If they were not published in 2.5 years, the property should return to his nephew (afterwards Baron of Exchequer).
      • Hume says his nephew’s duty in publishing them, as the last request of his uncle, must be approved of by all the world.[258]
  • On July 4, 1776, Hume gathered his group of more intimate friends to eat a last farewell dinner before he left.
    • Smith was present at this touching and unusual reunion.
    • He might have have remained some days thereafter.
      • Because in August, he wrote of having several conversations with Hume in July.
      • Some of those conversations were published in his letter to Strahan.
      • But he was in Kirkcaldy again in the beginning of August.
  • On August 22, he received there the following letter which Hume had written on the 15th.
    • It went by mistake by the carrier instead of the post.
    • It lay for a week at the carrier’s house undelivered.
    • The delay was more unfortunate because of the earnest appeal for an early answer in the letter’s closing.
    • It had a recollection of many past transgressions, for Smith was always a dilatory and backward correspondent.
    • He repeatedly mentions that writing was a real pain to him.

Edinburgh, August 15, 1776.

My Dear Smith

  • I have ordered a new copy of my Dialogues to be made besides that wh. will be sent to Mr. Strahan, [Pg 300]and to be kept by my nephew.
    • I want to order a third copy for you.
    • It will bind you to nothing, but will serve as a security.
  • I have revised it most cautiously and artfully
    • I have not done revised it in five years.
  • You had certainly forgotten them.
  • Can I give you the copy in case they are not published within five years after my death?
  • Please reply soon.
  • I cannot wait months for it because of my health.

Yours affectionately,

David Hume.[259]

Smith immediately replied:—

Kirkaldy, August 22, 1776.

My Dearest Friend

  • That Strahan is jealous you will see by the enclosed letter.
    • Please return this letter to me by the Post, and not by the carrier.
    • For the sake of an emolument, I published not for my friend’s memory, what a printer had not published for the sake of the same emolument.
  • He will not delay it.
    • If he did delay it, it would be because of this clause.
  • However, I think you should not menace Strahan in case he does not publish your work.
    • You can give me the copy in case they are not published within five years after your death.
  • I am very happy to receive a copy of your Dialogues.
    • If I should die before they are published, I will make sure that my copy shall be as carefully preserved as if I was to live a hundred years.
  • To save me one penny sterling, you sent it by the carrier instead of the Post.
    • (if you have not mistaken the date) it stayed with the carrier for eight days.
    • It could have stayed there forever.
  • I have received your letter of the 15th inst.
  • I want to add a few lines to your account of your own life.
    • I will give my own account of your behaviour in this illness if it will be your last.
      • I hope it will not be your last.
    • I think it is alright if you put your final excuse to Charon, and his likely bad reception of it, in your bistory. [Pg 301]
  • Under an exhausting disease for more than two years, you have been very cheerful as though you were in perfect health.
    • Very few men would have been able to maintain that cheerfulness for a few hours.
  • As I shall be at London this winter, it will cost me very little trouble.
  • I want to:
    • likewise correct the sheets of the new edition of your works, and
    • take care that it is published exactly according to your last corrections.
  • I have written all of this hoping that your health will improve.
    • For your spirits are so good.
    • The spirit of life is still so very strong in you.
    • The progress of your disorder is so slow and gradual, that I still hope it may take a turn.
  • The cool and steady Dr. Black sent a letter to me last week.
    • He hopes for your recovery too.
  • I am ready to wait on you whenever you wish to see me.
    • Whenever you do, I hope you will not scruple to call on me.
    • I beg to be remembered in the kindest and most respectful manner to your brother, sister, nephew, and all other friends.—

I ever am, my dearest friend, most affectionately yours,

Adam Smith.[260]

Hume answered this letter next day.

Edinburgh, August 23, 1776.

My Dearest Friend

  • The only accident I could foresee was one to Mr. Strahan’s life.
    • Without this clause, my nephew would have had no right to publish it.
    • Please tell Mr. Strahan of this.
  • I have the greatest confidence in Mr. Strahan.
    • Yet I have left my manuscript to my nephew David, in case by any accident it should not be published within three years after my death.
    • My nephew is writing this to you as I cannot rise today.
  • Thank you very much for your concern about me.
  • You have the entire liberty to add what you want to the account of my life.
  • I go very fast to decline.
  • Last night, I had a small fever, when [Pg 302] I hoped might put a quicker period to this tedious illness.
    • But unluckily, it has gotten much worse.
  • I cannot ask you to come here because I am unable to see you.
  • But Dr. Black can better tell you about the strength which I have left—

Adieu, my dearest friend,

David Hume.

P.S.—It was a strange blunder to send your letter by the carrier.[261]

  • These were the last words of this long and memorable friendship.
    • Two days after they were written, Hume passed peacefully away.
    • His bones were laid in the new cemetery on the Calton Crags.
    • It was covered a little later, according to his own express provision, with that great round tower designed by Robert Adam.
  • Smith once pointed out the tower to the Earl of Dunmore as they were walking together down the North Bridge, and said:
    • “I don’t like that monument;
    • it is the greatest piece of vanity I ever saw in my friend Hume.”
  • Smith was at the funeral.
  • He seems to:
    • have been present when the will was read.
    • have had talked about it with Hume’s elder brother, John Home of Ninewells,[262]
    • for on August 31, he writes from Dalkeith House, where he had gone on a visit to his old pupil, discharging Ninewells of any obligation to pay the legacy of £200 which he had been left by Hume in consideration of acting as his literary executor, and which had not been revoked in the codicil superseding him by Strahan.
  • This legacy Smith felt that he could not in the circumstances honourably accept, and he consequently lost no time in forwarding to Ninewells the following letter:—

Dalkeith House, August 31, 1776.

Dear Sir

  • The Duke proposes to stay here until next Thursday, so I might not be able to see you before your return [Pg 303]to Ninewells.
    • I therefore take the opportunity of discharging you and others concerned of the Legacy which you think might become due to me by your Brother’s will.
      • But I think the legacy of £200 is not needed.
  • I hereby discharge it forever.
    • I shall mention this discharge in a note at the bottom of my will, in case  this discharge should be lost.
  • Please tell me if when you have received this letter.

Most affectionately yours,

Adam Smith.

P.S.—I do not mean to discharge the other Legacy of having a copy of his works.[263]

Mr. Home answered him on September 2—

Dear Sir

  • I was favoured with yours of Saturday.
  • I assure you that:
    • on perusing the destination I was more of opinion than when I saw you that the pecuniary part of it was not altered by the codicil,
    • my brother has always laid on you something as an equivalent
      • He knows your liberal way of thinking
      • He did not think you would refuse a small gratuity from him as a testimony of his friendship
      • I highly esteem the motives and manner, but I do not accept your renunciation.
      • I leave it to you to dispose of it which way is most agreeable to you.
  • The copies of the Dialogues are finished,
    • The copies of the life will be sent to Mr. Strahan tomorrow.
    • I will mention to him your intention of adding to the Life something to finish it,
  • You are at liberty to look into the correction of the first whether it answers:
    • your leisure or ideas with regard to his composition or
    • what effects you think it may have on yourself.
  • The two copies intended for you will be left with my sister when you need them.
  • You shall receive the copy of the new edition of his works.
  • You have no better title to that part than the other.
  • But you have my friendship and esteem

Most sincerely yours,

John Home.

Edinburgh, September 2, 1776.[264]

[Pg 304]

  • Smith’s reply was that though the legacy might be due to him in strict law, he was fully satisfied it was not due to him in justice, because it was expressly given in the will as a reward for a task which he had declined to undertake.
  • This reply was given in a letter of October 7, in which he enclosed a copy of the account of Hume’s death which he proposed to add to his friend’s own account of his life.

Dear Sir

  • I send with this letter my proposal on what should be added to the account which your never-to-be-forgotten brother has left of his own life.
  • When you have read it, please return it to me.
    • Let me know if you want to add or remove anything from it.
  • I think it should be addressed as a letter to Mr. Strahan, to whom he has left the care of his works.
  • If you approve of it I shall send it to him as soon as I receive it from you.
  • I have added at the bottom of my will the note discharging the legacy of £200 which your brother was so kind as to leave me.
    • Upon the most mature deliberation, I am fully satisfied that in justice it is not due to me.
    • I cannot honourably accept it even if it is due to me in strict law.
    • My refusal does not come from any lack of respect for the memory of your deceased brother.
  • I have the honour to be, with the highest respect and esteem, dear sir, most sincerely and affectionately yours,

Adam Smith.

Kirkaldy, Fifeshire, October 7, 1776.[265]

  • Mr. Home returned Smith’s manuscript to him on October 14.
    • He expressed his entire approbation of it except “that as it is to be added to what is wrote in so short and simple a manner, he would have wished that the detail had been less minutely entered into, particularly of the journey which, being of a private concern and having drawn to no consequences, does not interest the public,” but still he expressed that opinion, he [Pg 305]said, with diffidence, and thought the piece would perhaps best stand as it was.
  • He also says that instead of the words, “as my worst enemies could wish” in the remark to Dr. Dundas, he was told that the words his brother actually used were, “as my enemies, if I have any, could wish”—a correction which was adopted by Smith.
  • He repeats that by his interpretation of his brother’s will he considers the legacy to belong to Smith both in law and in equity.

Meanwhile Smith had also written Strahan from Dalkeith:—

My Dear Strahan

  • By a codicil to the will of our late friend Mr. Hume, the care of his manuscripts is left to you.
    • There are only two which he meant should be published:
      • an account of his life and
      • Dialogues concerning Natural Religion.
        • This is finely written.
        • But I had wished that it had remained in manuscript to be sent only to a few people.
  • When you read the work, you will see my reasons without my giving you the trouble of reading them in a letter.
    • But he has ordered it otherwise.
  • In case they are not published within three years of his death, he has left them to his nephew.
    • I have objected to this as unnecessary and improper.
    • He wrote to me through his nephew:
      • “I have the greatest confidence in Mr. Strahan.
      • But I have left that manuscript to my nephew David, in case they should not be published within three years after my death.
      • The only accident I could foresee was one to Mr. Strahan’s life.
        • Without this clause, my nephew would have had no right to publish it.
      • Please tell Mr. Strahan of this.”
    • This letter was dated August 23.
    • He died on August 25, at 4pm.
  • I once had persuaded him to leave it entirely to my discretion either to publish them when I thought proper, or not to publish them at all.
    • Had he continued of this mind the manuscript should have been most carefully preserved.
      • After my death, it would be restored to his family.
    • But it never should have been published in my lifetime.
    • When you have read it you will perhaps think it reasonable to consult some prudent friend about what to do.

[Pg 306]

  • I propose to add to his Life a very well authenticated account of his behaviour during his last illness.
    • However, I beg that his life and those Dialogues may not be published together.
      • I do not want to be involved in the publication of the Dialogues.
  • I think his life should be prefixed to the next edition of his former works.
    • That edition has his many corrections in what concerns the language.
    • If this edition is published while I am at London, I shall:
      • revise the sheets and
      • authenticate its being according to his last corrections.
        • I promised him that I would do so.
  • If my mother’s health will permit me to leave her, I shall be in London by the beginning of November.
  • I shall write to Mr. Home to take my lodgings as soon as I return to Fife, which will be on next Monday or Tuesday.
  • The Duke of Buccleugh leaves this on Sunday.
  • Direct for me at Kirkaldy, Fifeshire, where I shall remain all the rest of the season.—

I remain, my dear Strahan, most faithfully yours,

Adam Smith.

Dalkeith House, 5th September 1776.

Let me hear from you soon.[266]

  • Strahan replied on September 16.
  • Towards the end of October, Smith wrote the following answer.
    • The first draft is in Smith’s own handwriting.
      • It is unsigned, undated, and containing considerable erasures.
      • It is in the R.S.E. Library.
  • It shows:
    • that Smith submitted his account of Hume’s illness to Hume’s intimate friends
    • that while writing, he was waiting for the arrival of the poet John Home in Edinburgh, to get his remarks.

Dear Sir

  • When I received your last letter I had not begun the small addition I proposed to make to the life of Mr. Hume.
    • It is now more than three weeks since I finished it.
  • I sent one [Pg 307]copy to his brother and another to Dr. Black.
    • The copy which I sent to his brother is returned with remarks.
      • I approve of them all and shall adopt them.
    • Dr. Black waits for John Home, the Poet.
      • Mr. Home is expected everyday in Edinburgh.
      • Dr. Black proposes to send Home’s remarks with those of all our common friends.
  • The work is only of two sheets, in the form of a letter to you.
    • It does not have any flattery or compliment.
  • My servant can transcribe it in one morning.
    • You will receive it by the first post after it is returned to me.
  • The clamour against the Dialogues, if published first, might hurt the sale of the new edition of his works for some time .
    • When the clamour has a little subsided, the Dialogues may hereafter occasion a quicker sale of another edition.
  • This arrangement will contribute:
    • to my quiet and
    • to your interest.
  • Thank you for so readily agreeing to print the life together with my additions separate from the Dialogues.
  • I cannot be with you until the Christmas holidays.
  • In the meantime, I should be glad to know:
    • how things stand between us,
    • what copies of my last book are sold or unsold, and
    • when the balance of our bargain is likely to be due to me.
  • Please send my compliments to Mr. Cadell.
    • I should have written him.
    • But you know my pain in writing with my own hand.
    • I look on writing to him and you as the same thing.
  • Since I came to Scotland, I have been very idle.
    • It is partly in order to bring up in some measure my leeway that I want  to stay here two months longer than I intended.
  • However, if my presence was needed at all in London, I could easily set out immediately.
  • I beg your favour to send the enclosed to Mr. Home.
    • The purpose of it is to bespeak my lodgings.[267]
  • The second and third paragraphs of this letter are erased entirely.
    • But their original substance is unchanged in their corrected form.
  • One of the original sentences about the clamour he dreaded may perhaps be transcribed.
    • He says: “I am still uneasy about the clamour which I foresee they will excite.”
  • He does not [Pg 308]seem to have dictated his account of Hume’s illness to his amanuensis, but to have written it with his own hand and then got his amanuensis to transcribe it.
  • The Mr. Home whom he wishes to bespeak lodgings for him must be John Home the poet, in spite of the circumstance that he speaks of John Home the poet as being expected in Edinburgh every day at the time of writing;
  • and in the event Home does not seem to have come to Edinburgh, for in a subsequent letter to Strahan on November 13 Smith again mentions having written Mr. Home to engage lodgings for him from Christmas.
  • This letter is as follows:—

Dear Sir

  • The enclosed is the small proposed addition to the account of Hume’s own life.
  • I have received £300 of the copy money of the first edition of my book.
    • Mr. Cadell gave me many copies to give as presents, so  I do not exactly know what balance is due to me.
    • I hope he would send me the account.
    • I shall write to him about this.
  • With regard to the next edition, I think that:
    • it should be printed in four vol. octavo at your expense,
    • we should divide the profits.
  • Let me know if this is agreeable to you.
  • My mother begs to be remembered to Mrs. Strahan and Miss Strahan.
    • She thanks you and them for remembering her.—
  • I ever am, dear sir, most affectionately yours,

Adam Smith.

Kirkaldy, Fifeshire, November 13, 1776.

  • I shall certainly be in town before the end of the Christmas holidays.
  • I do not think I need to come sooner.
    • I have therefore written to Mr. Home to bespeak my lodgings from Christmas.[268]
  • Strahan acknowledges this letter on November 26.
    • He asks Smith’s opinion on his idea [Pg 309] of publishing the interesting series of letters from Hume to himself.
      • Those letters:
        • have a curious and remarkable history
        • are now preserved through:
          • the liberality of Lord Rosebery, and
          • the learned devotion of Mr. Birkbeck Hill.
  • To these letters Strahan, if he obtained Smith’s concurrence, would like to add those of Hume to Smith himself, to John Home, to Robertson, and other friends, which have now for the most part been lost.
  • But Smith put his foot on this proposal decisively, on the ground apparently that it was most improper for a man’s friends to publish anything he had written which he had himself given no express direction or leave to publish either by his will or otherwise.
  • Strahan’s letter runs thus:—

Dear Sir

  • I received yours of the 13th enclosing the addition to Mr. Hume’s Life, which I like exceedingly.
    • But as the whole put together is very short.
    • It will not even make a small volume.
    • I have been advised by some very good judges to annex some of his letters to me on political subjects.
  • What think you of this?
    • I will not:
      • do anything without your advice and approbation,
      • publish any letter of his but such as in yr. opinion would do him honour.
  • Mr. Gibbon thinks such as I have shown him would have that tendency.
    • If you approve of this, you may perhaps add partly to the collection from your own cabinet and those of Mr. John Home, Dr. Robertson, and others of your mutual friends which you may pick up before you return hither.
  • But if you disapprove of this scheme, then let it drop.
    • Without your concurrence I will not publish a single word of his.
  • However, I want to know your opinion as soon as possible.
    • Also, please let me know what day you will be in London because I will do nothing without your approbation.
  • Your proposal to print the next edition of your work in 4 vols. octavo at our expense and to divide the Profits is a very fair one.
    • It is very agreeable to Mr. Cadell and me.
    • Enclosed is the List of Books delivered to you of the 1st edit.
  • My wife and daughter join kindest compliments to your mother.
    • I hope she is still able to enjoy your company, [Pg 310]which must be her greatest comfort.—

Dear sir, your faithful and affectionate humble servant,

Will. Strahan.

London, 26th November 1776.[269]

The following is Smith’s reply:—

Dear Sir

  • It always gives me great uneasiness whenever I am obliged to give an opinion contrary to my friend’s inclination.
    • I know that:
      • many of Mr. Hume’s letters would do him great honour, and
      • you would publish none but such as would.
  • But what in this case ought principally to be considered is the will of the Dead.
    • Mr. Hume’s constant injunction was to burn all his Papers except:
      • the Dialogues and
      • the account of his own life.
  • This injunction was even inserted in the body of his will.
    • I know he always disliked the thought of his letters ever being published.
  • He had been in long and intimate correspondence with a relation of his own who died a few years ago.
  • When that gentleman’s health began to decline he was extremely anxious to get back his letters, least the heir should think of publishing them.
  • They were accordingly returned and burnt as soon as returned.
  • If a collection of Mr. Hume’s letters was to receive the public approbation, as yours certainly would, the Curls of the times would immediately set about rummaging the cabinets of all those who had ever received a scrap of paper from him.
  • Many things would be published not fit to see the light, to the great mortification of all those who wish well to his memory.
  • Nothing has contributed so much to sink the value of Swift’s works as the undistinguished publication of his letters; and be assured that your publication, however select, would soon be followed by an undistinguished one.
  • I would be sorry to see any beginning given to the publication of his letters.
    • His life will not make a volume, but it will make a small pamphlet.
  • I will be in London by January 10 at the latest.
  • I have a little business at Edinburgh which may detain me a few days around Christmas, otherwise I should be with you by the new year.
  • I have more to say to you.
  • But the post is just going.
  • I shall write to Mr. Cadell by next post.—
  • I ever am, dear sir, most affectionately yours,

Adam Smith.

Kirkaldy, 2nd December 1776.[270]

[Pg 311]

  • When we consider Smith’s concern about the clamour he expected to arise from the Dialogues
    • His entire unconcern about the clamour he did not expect to arise from the letter to Strahan on Hume’s last illness, the actual event seems one of those teasing perversities which drew from Lord Bolingbroke the exclamation,
  • “What a world is this, and how does fortune banter us!” The Dialogues fell flat;
  • the world had apparently had its surfeit of theological controversy.
  • A contemporary German observer of things in England states that while the book made something of a sensation in his own country, it excited nothing of that sort here, and was already at the moment he wrote (1785) entirely forgotten.[271]


  • On the other hand, the letter to Strahan excited a long reverberation of angry criticism.
    • In writing it, Smith did not think of:
      • anything more than:
        • speaking a good word for Hume, and
        • recording some things which he considered very remarkable when he observed them.
        • undermining the faith, or
    • But back then, his simple words rang like a challenge to religion itself.
  • Men had always heard that without religion, they could neither live a virtuous life nor die an untroubled death,
    • Yet here was the foremost foe of Christianity.
      • He was leading more than the life of the just.
      • He was meeting death without anxiety and  but with a positive gaiety of spirits.
    • His cheerfulness without frivolity, firmness, magnanimity, charity, generosity, entire freedom from malice, intellectual elevation and strenuous labour, are all described with the affection and confidence of a friend who had known them well;
  • They are summed up in the conclusion:
    • “Upon the whole I have always considered him, both in his lifetime and since his death, as approaching as nearly to the idea of a perfectly wise and virtuous man as perhaps the nature of human frailty will permit.”
  • Hume had a beautiful and noble character [Pg 312].
    • The Churchmen who knew him admire him as strongly as Smith.
    • Robertson used to call him “the virtuous heathen.”
    • Blair said every word Smith wrote about him was true.
    • Lord Hailes was:
      • a seriously religious man and
      • a public apologist of Christianity.
        • He showed sufficient approbation of this letter to translate it into Latin.
  • But it generally raised a great outcry in the world.
    • It was false and incredible.
    • It was a wicked defiance of the surest verities of religion.
  • Even Boswell calls it a piece of “daring effrontery.”
    • He thinks of it being done by his old professor, says, “Surely now have I more understanding than my teachers.”
  • Nothing was further from the intention of the author.
    • But it was generally regarded as an attack on religion.
    • It imperatively called for repulsion.
  • A champion soon appeared in the person of Dr. George Horne, President of Magdalen College, Oxford.
    • He was an author of a well-known commentary on the Psalms.
  • Afterwards Bishop of Norwich.
    • He wrote an anonymous pamphlet, entitled “A Letter to Adam Smith, LL.D., on the Life, Death, and Philosophy of David Hume, Esq., by one of the People called Christians.”
      • It ran rapidly through a number of editions.
    • In it, Horne, begs the question which Hume raises.
      • He contends that a man of Hume’s known opinions could not be the good and virtuous man Smith said him to be.
      • Because if he had he been really generous, compassionate, good-natured, charitable, or gentle-minded, he could never have:
        • thought of erasing from the hearts of mankind:
          • the knowledge of God and
          • the comfortable faith in His fatherly care, or
        • been guilty of “the atrocious wickedness of diffusing atheism through the land.”
      • Horne goes on to charge this “atrocious wickedness” against Smith too.
        • He says:
          • “You would persuade us by the example of David Hume, Esq., that atheism is:
            • the only cordial for low spirits and
            • the proper antidote against the fear of death.
          • But surely if you let your friend employ his talents to:
            • amuse with Lucian and Charon at his death,
          • then you can:
            • smile over Babylon in ruins,
            • esteem the earthquakes which destroyed Lisbon as agreeable occurrences, and
            • congratulate the hardened Pharaoh on his overthrow in the Red Sea.”
  • Smith never:
    • replied to this attack, nor
    • took any public notice of it.
  • Bishop Horne’s ethereal maxim that “a man reproached with a crime that he knows he was innocent of should feel no more uneasiness than if he was said to be ill when he felt in perfect health.”
    • Smith had too much real human nature in him to agree with this maxim.
  • It was unjust to:
    • accuse Smith of atheism, or
    • of wanting to propagate atheism.
  • Smith published writings show him to have been a Theist.
    • The Bishop should have consulted Smith’s work.
    • Smith believed that Hume, as many others of Hume’s personal friends did, to have been a Theist likewise.
    • Hume was philosophically a doubter about:
      • matter,
      • his own existence,
      • God.
    • He did not practically think so differently from the rest of the world about any of the three as was often supposed.
    • Dr. Carlyle always thought him a believer.
  • Miss Mure of Caldwell was the sister of his great friend the Baron of Exchequer.
    • She says he was the most superstitious man she ever knew.[272]
  • Smith told Holbach that an atheist never existed.
    • While walking with Adam Ferguson on a beautiful clear night, he stopped suddenly and exclaimed, pointing to the sky:
      • “Can any one contemplate the wonders of that firmament and not believe that there is a God?”[273]
    • Smith’s absence of mind is written in an anecdote of Henry Mackenzie’s story of “La Roche.”
      • Smith would not have been surprised to hear Hume make such a confession based on the well-known anecdote in La Roche.
    • That story was written soon after Hume’s death.
      • It was published in the Mirror in 1779 while Horne’s agitation was raging.
      • Mackenzie introduced[Pg 314] Hume as one of its characters in order to present this more favourable view of Hume’s religious position.
        • Mackenzie was impressed by Hume’s position in his own intercourse with Hume.
  • In the story, Hume appears as a visitor in Switzerland.
    • He was an inmate of the simple household of the pastor La Roche.
    • Hume was being deeply taken with:
      • the sweet and unaffected piety of this family’s life and
      • the faith that sustained them in their troubles.
    • The author writes:
      • “He confessed that there were moments when, amidst the pride of philosophical discovery and the pride of literary fame, he recalled the venerable figure of the good La Roche and wished he had never doubted.”
  • Before publishing his story, Mackenzie read it to Adam Smith to know whether anything should be omitted or altered that would be out of Hume’s character.
    • Smith was so completely carried away by the realism that he:
      • did not object to anything, and
      • he was surprised he had never heard the anecdote before.
    • In his absence of mind, he had forgotten that he had been asked to listen to a fiction story.
      • His answer was the best compliment Mackenzie could receive to his fidelity to the probabilities of character.[274]



[255] Burton’s Life of Hume, ii. 492.

[256]Ibid., ii. 493.

[257] Hill’s Letters of Hume to Strahan, p. 330.

[258] Burton’s Life of Hume, ii. 494.

[259]Hume Correspondence, R.S.E. Library.

[260]Hume Correspondence, R.S.E. Library.

[261]Hume Correspondence, R.S.E. Library.

[262] Hume’s brother always spelt his name with an o.

[263]Hume Correspondence, R.S.E. Library.


[265]Hume Correspondence, R.S.E. Library.

[266]New York Evening Post, 30th April 1887. Original in possession of Mr. Worthington C. Ford of Washington, U.S.A. The first draft of this letter, in Smith’s handwriting but without the last paragraph and the signature, seems to have been preserved by him as a copy for reference, and having been sent by him with his other Hume letters to the historian’s nephew, is now in the Royal Society Library, Edinburgh.

[267]Hume Correspondence, R.S.E. Library.

[268]New York Evening Post, 30th March 1887. Original in possession of Mr. Worthington C. Ford of Washington, U.S.A.

[269]Hume Correspondence, R.S.E. Library.

[270] Hill’s Letters of Hume, p. 351.

[271] Wendeborn, Zustand des Staats, etc., in Gross-britannien, ii. 365.

[272]Caldwell Papers, i. 41.

[273] Burton’s Hume, ii. 451.

[274] See Mackenzie’s “La Roche,” and Mackenzie’s Works of J. Home, i. 21.

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