MY OWN LIFE | David Hume

| sábado, 7 de novembro de 2009
IT Is difficult for a man to speak long of himself without
Vanity; therefore, I shall be short. It may be thought an instance
of vanity that I pretend at all to write my life; but this Narrative
shall contain little more than the History of my Writings; as,
indeed, almost all my life has been spent in Literary pursuits and
occupations. The first success of most of my writings was not such
as to be an object of vanity.










MY OWN LIFE





David Hume



1777






MY OWN LIFE

IT Is difficult for a man to speak long of himself without
Vanity; therefore, I shall be short. It may be thought an instance
of vanity that I pretend at all to write my life; but this Narrative
shall contain little more than the History of my Writings; as,
indeed, almost all my life has been spent in Literary pursuits and
occupations. The first success of most of my writings was not such
as to be an object of vanity.

I was born the 26th of April 1711, old style, at Edinburgh. I
was of a good family, both by father and mother: my father's family
is a branch of the Earl of Home's, or Hume's; and my ancestors had
been proprietors of the estate, which my brother possesses, for
several generations. My mother was daughter of Sir David Falconer,
President of the College of Justice: the title of Lord Halkerton
came by succession to her brother.

My family, however, was not rich, and being myself a younger
brother, my patrimony, according to the mode of my country, was of
course very slender. My father, who passed for a man of parts, died
when I was an infant, leaving me, with an elder brother and a
sister, under the care of our mother, a woman of singular merit,
who, though young and handsome, devoted herself entirely to the
rearing and educating of her children. I passed through the ordinary
course of education with success, and was seized very early with a
passion for literature, which has been the ruling passion of my
life, and the great source of my enjoyments. My studious
disposition, my sobriety, and my industry, gave my family a notion
that the law was a proper profession for me; but I found an
unsurmountable aversion to everything but the pursuits of philosophy
and general learning; and while they fancied I was poring upon Voet
and Vinnius, Cicero and Virgil were the authors which I was secretly
devouring.

My very slender fortune, however, being unsuitable to this plan
of life, and my health being a little broken by my ardent
application, I was tempted, or rather forced, to make a very feeble
trial for entering into a more active scene of life. In 1734, I went
to Bristol, with some recommendations to eminent merchants, but in a
few months found that scene totally unsuitable to me. I went over to
France, with a view of prosecuting my studies in a country retreat;
and I there laid that plan of life, which I have steadily and
successfully pursued. I resolved to make a very rigid frugality
supply my deficiency of fortune, to maintain unimpaired my
independency, and to regard every object as contemptible, except the
improvement of my talents in literature.

During my retreat in France, first at Reims, but chiefly at La
Fleche, in Anjou, I composed my . After
passing three years very agreeably in that country, I came over to
London in 1737. In the end of 1738, I published my Treatise, and
immediately went down to my mother and my brother, who lived at his
country-house, and was employing himself very judiciously and
successfully in the improvement of his fortune.

Never literary attempt was more unfortunate than my Treatise of
Human Nature. It fell , without reaching
such distinction, as even to excite a murmur among the zealots. But
being naturally of a cheerful and sanguine temper, I very soon
recovered the blow, and prosecuted with great ardor my studies in
the country. In 1742, I printed at Edinburgh the first part of my
Essays the world was favourably received, and soon made me entirely
forget my former disappointment. I continued with my mother and
brother in the country, and in that time recovered the knowledge of
the Greek language, which I had too much neglected in my early
youth.

In 1745, I received a letter from the Marquis of Annandale,
inviting me to come and live with him in England; I found also, that
the friends and family of that young noble man were desirous of
putting him under my care and direction, for the state of his mind
and health required it. I lived with him a twelvemonth. My
appointments during that time made a considerable accession to my
small fortune. I then received an invitation from General St. Clair
to attend him as a secretary to his expedition, which was at first
meant against Canada, but ended in an incursion on the coast of
France. Next year, to wit, 1747, I received an invitation from the
General to attend him in the same station in his military embassy to
the courts of Vienna and Turin. I then wore the uniform of an
officer, and was introduced at these courts as aid-de-camp to the
general, along with Sir Harry Erskine and Captain Grant, now General
Grant. These two years were almost the only interruptions which my
studies have received during the course of my life: I passed them
agreeably, and in good company; and my appointments, with my
frugality, had made me reach a fortune, which I called independent,
though most of my friends were inclined to smile when I said so; in
short, I was now master of near a thousand pounds.

I had always entertained a notion, that my want of success in
publishing the Treatise of Human Nature, had proceeded more from the
manner than the matter, and that I had been guilty of a very usual
indiscretion, in going to the press too early. I, therefore, cast
the first part of that work anew in The Enquiry concerning Human
Understanding, which was published while I was at Turin. But this
piece was at first little more successful than the Treatise of Human
Nature. On my return from Italy, I had the mortification to find all
England in a ferment, on account of Dr. Middleton's Free Enquiry,
while my performance was entirely overlooked and neglected. A new
edition, which had been published at London of my Essays, moral and
political, met not with a much better reception.

Such is the force of natural temper, that these disappointments
made little or no impression on me. I went down in 1749, and lived
two years with my brother at his country house, for my mother was
now dead. I there composed the second part of my Essays, which I
called Political Discourses, and also my Enquiry concerning the
Principles of Morals, which is another part of my treatise that I
cast anew. Meanwhile, my bookseller, A. Millar, informed me, that my
former publications (all but the unfortunate Treatise) were
beginning to be the subject of conversation; that the sale of them
was gradually increasing, and that new editions were demanded.
Answers by Reverends, and Right Reverends, came out two or three in
a year; and I found, by Dr. Warburton's railing, that the books were
beginning to be esteemed in good company. However, I had fixed a
resolution, which I inflexibly maintained, never to reply to any
body; and not being very irascible in my temper, I have easily kept
myself clear of all literary squabbles. These symptoms of a rising
reputation gave me encouragement, as I was ever more disposed to see
the favourable than unfavourable side of things; a turn of mind
which it is more happy to possess, than to be born to an estate of
ten thousand a year.

In 1751, I removed from the country to the town, the true scene
for a man of letters. In 1752, were published at Edinburgh, where I
then lived, my Political Discourses, the only work of mine that was
successful on the first publication. It was well received abroad and
at home. In the same year was published at London, my Enquiry
concerning the Principles of Morals; which, in my own opinion (who
ought not to judge on that subject), is of all my writings,
historical, philosophical, or literary, incomparably the best. It
came unnoticed and unobserved into the world.

In 1752, the Faculty of Advocates chose me their Librarian, an
office from which I received little or no emolument, but which gave
me the command of a large library. I then formed the plan of writing
the History of England; but being frightened with the notion of
continuing a narrative through a period of 1700 years, I commenced
with the accession of the House of Stuart, an epoch when, I thought,
the misrepresentations of faction began chiefly to take place. I
was, I own, sanguine in my expectations of the success of this work.
I thought that I was the only historian, that had at once neglected
present power, interest, and authority, and the cry of popular
prejudices; and as the subject was suited to every capacity, I
expected proportional applause. But miserable was my disappointment:
I was assailed by one cry of reproach, disapprobation, and even
detestation; English, Scotch, and Irish, Whig and Tory, churchman
and sectary, freethinker and religionist, patriot and courtier,
united in their rage against the man, who had presumed to shed a
generous tear for the fate of Charles I. and the Earl of Strafford;
and after the first ebullitions of their fury were over, what was
still more mortifying, the book seemed to sink into oblivion. Mr.
Millar told me, that in a twelve-month he sold only forty-five
copies of it. I scarcely, indeed, heard of one man in the three
kingdoms, considerable for rank or letters, that could endure the
book. I must only except the primate of England, Dr. Herring, and
the primate of Ireland, Dr. Stone, which seem two odd exceptions.
These dignified prelates separately sent me messages not to be
discouraged.

I was, however, I confess, discouraged; and had not the war
been at that time breaking out between France and England, I had
certainly retired to some provincial town of the former kingdom,
have changed my name, and never more have returned to my native
country. But as this scheme was not now practicable, and the
subsequent volume was considerably advanced, I resolved to pick up
courage and to persevere.

In this interval, I published at London my Natural History of
Religion, along with some other small pieces: its public entry was
rather obscure, except only that Dr. Hurd wrote a pamphlet against
it, with all the illiberal petulance, arrogance, and scurrility,
which distinguish the Warburtonian school. This pamphlet gave me
some consolation for the otherwise indifferent reception of my
performance.

In 1756, two years after the fall of the first volume, was
published the second volume of my History, containing the period
from the death of Charles I. till the Revolution. This performance
happened to give less displeasure to the Whigs, and was better
received. It not only rose itself, but helped to buoy up its
unfortunate brother.

But though I had been taught by experience, that the Whig party
were in possession of bestowing all places, both in the state and in
literature, I was so little inclined to yield to their senseless
clamour, that in above a hundred alterations, which farther study,
reading, or reflection engaged me to make in the reigns of the two
first Stuarts, I have made all them invariably to the Tory side. It
is ridiculous to consider the English constitution before that
period as a regular plan of liberty.

In 1759, I published my History of the House of Tudor. The
clamour against this performance was almost equal to that against
the History of the two first Stuarts. The reign of Elizabeth was
particularly obnoxious. But I was now callous against the
impressions of public folly, and continued very peaceably and
contentedly in my retreat at Edinburgh, to finish, in two volumes,
the more early part of the English History, which I gave to the
public in 1761, with tolerable, and but tolerable success.

But, notwithstanding this variety of winds and seasons, to
which my writings had been exposed, they had still been making such
advances, that the copy-money given me by the booksellers, much
exceeded anything formerly known in England; I was become not only
independent, but opulent. I retired to my native country of
Scotland, determined never more to set my foot out of it; and
retaining the satisfaction of never having preferred a request to
one great man, or even making advances of friendship to any of them.
As I was now turned of fifty, I thought of passing all the rest of
my life in this philosophical manner, when I received, in 1763, an
invitation from the Earl of Hertford, with whom I was not in the
least acquainted, to attend him on his embassy to Paris, with a near
prospect of being appointed secretary to the embassy; and, in the
meanwhile, of performing the functions of that office. This offer,
however inviting, I at first declined, both because I was reluctant
to begin connexions with the great, and because I was afraid that
the civilities and gay company of Paris would prove disagreeable to
a person of my age and humour: but on his lordship's repeating the
invitation, I accepted of it. I have every reason, both of pleasure
and interest, to think myself happy in my connexion with that
nobleman, as well as afterwards with his brother, General Conway.

Those who have not seen the strange effects of modes, will
never imagine the reception I met with at Paris, from men and women
of all ranks and stations. The more I resiled from their excessive
civilities, the more I was loaded with them. There is, however, a
real satisfaction in living at Paris, from the great number of
sensible, knowing, and polite company with which that city abounds
above all places in the universe. I thought once of settling there
for life.

I was appointed secretary to the embassy; and in summer 1765,
Lord Hertford left me, being appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. I
was till the arrival of the Duke of Richmond,
towards the end of the year. In the beginning of 1766, I left Paris,
and next summer went to Edinburgh, with the same view as formerly,
of burying myself in a philosophical retreat. I returned to that
place, not richer, but with much more money, and a much larger
income, by means of Lord Hertford's friendship, than I left it; and
I was desirous of trying what superfluity could produce, as I had
formerly made an experiment of a competency. But, in 1767, I
received from Mr. Conway an invitation to be Under-secretary; and
this invitation, both the character of the person, and my connexions
with Lord Hertford, prevented me from declining. I returned to
Edinburgh in 1768, very opulent (for I possessed a revenue of 1000L.
a year), healthy, and though somewhat stricken in years, with the
prospect of enjoying long my ease, and of seeing the increase of my
reputation.

In spring 1775, I was struck with a disorder in my bowels,
which at first gave me no alarm, but has since, as I apprehend it,
become mortal and incurable. I now reckon upon a speedy dissolution.
I have suffered very little pain from my disorder; and what is more
strange, have, notwithstanding the great decline of my person, never
suffered a moment's abatement of my spirits; insomuch, that were I
to name the period of my life, which I should most choose to pass
over again, I might be tempted to point to this later period. I
possess the same ardour as ever in study, and the same gaiety in
company. I consider, besides, that a man of sixty-five, by dying,
cuts off only a few years of infirmities; and though I see many
symptoms of my literary reputation's breaking out at last with
additional lustre, I knew that I could have but few years to enjoy
it. It is difficult to be more detached from life than I am at
present.

To conclude historically with my own character. I am, or rather
was (for that is the style I must now use in speaking of myself,
which emboldens me the more to speak my sentiments); I was, I say, a
man of mild dispositions, of command of temper, of an open, social,
and cheerful humour, capable of attachment, but little susceptible
of enmity, and of great moderation in all my passions. Even my love
of literary fame, my ruling passion, never soured my temper,
notwithstanding my frequent disappointments. My company was not
unacceptable to the young and careless, as well as to the studious
and literary; and as I took a particular pleasure in the company of
modest women, I had no reason to be displeased with the reception I
met with from them. In a word, though most men any wise eminent,
have found reason to complain of calumny, I never was touched, or
even attacked by her baleful tooth: and though I wantonly exposed
myself to the rage of both civil and religious factions, they seemed
to be disarmed in my behalf of their wonted fury. My friends never
had occasion to vindicate any one circumstance of my character and
conduct: not but that the zealots, we may well suppose, would have
been glad to invent and propagate any story to my disadvantage, but
they could never find any which they thought would wear the face of
probability. I cannot say there is no vanity in making this funeral
oration of myself, but I hope it is not a misplaced one; and this is
a matter of fact which is easily cleared and ascertained.

April 18, 1776.

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