David Hume, 1711-1776

[Mentioned in Retrospection and Introspection, p. 37]

DAVID HUME, philosopher and historian, was the younger son of a laird of a small estate in Berwickshire. Although he attended the University of Edinburgh, he did not qualify for a degree. At seventeen he started studying law, but finding it uncongenial, he returned to the classics, English literature, and philosophy. He tried business, but he was not attracted to it.

In 1734 Hume went to France, making his home in La Fleche, where Descartes had received his earliest education. A discussion with a Jesuit priest of the reality of miracles let to Hume's writing an essay on the subject which was the precursor of the first volume of his philosophical work on human nature. The first two volumes of this work caused no particular stir. In Hume's words, "It fell dead-born from the press." But the complete treatise won recognition in the philosophical world. Hume challenged dogma and all positive assertions.

During the next years, Hume wrote essays on philosophical, moral, and political subjects which he published anonymously. Their success was a great encouragement to him, for he was desirous of literary fame. After serving as a tutor, he became secretary to General St. Clair and accompanied him to Vienna and Turin. The reputation which Hume gained from his essays let to his being appointed Keeper of the Advocates' Library in Edinburgh. The financial security this appointment gave him and his access to a large library caused Hume to embark upon writing a history of Great Britain. This work, which dealt with literary and social affairs as much as with political questions, took him ten years to complete and was a best seller.

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Signs of the Times
March 22, 1958

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