Page images
PDF
EPUB

professing upon the wrong instruments : than of recalling the recollection of our they had not sufficient compass—they want- open follies. But the Philosophical Histoed power and depth of tone ; he kept hit-rian is superlatively egotistical and self-adting and hammering arias and fantasias ulatory; he rolls and swelters in vanity. upon the harpsichord, instead of expatiating All his miscellaneous productions, exin all the mazes of a grand concerto upon cepting only his · Natural History of Relithe violoncello. When he did change for gion,' and some slight Essays upon the the right instrument, he made it speak : and passions,' tragedy,' and 'taste,' appeared he took his proper place in the orchestra; before the publication of the first Stuart but of that hereafter.

volume. Hume's general information, his Hume's first offering to the literary world, apparent mildness and good temper, his as we are told in ‘My own Life,' was a gentlemanlike flow of language when he Treatise of Human Nature, being an At- was not provoked, his conversational powtempt to introduce the Experimental Meth-ers, and the general tendency of his moral od of Reasoning into moral subjects;' not and philosophical essays, gained him much a very intelligible title even when, by sub- notoriety and favor in the literary circles stituting on for of, we render it somewhat and coteries at Edinburgh. Deism was more comformable to the vulgar idiom of our spreading, with exceeding rapidity, amongst language. “Never,' adds he,' was any lite- the more intellectual classes of the northern rary attempt more unfortunate than my capital. Philosophy became almost indisTreatise: it fell dead-born from the press, pensable for preserving literary caste. without reaching such distinction as even Free-thinking, however, was then a quasito excite a murmur among the zealots.' aristocratical luxury. It had not yet deAnd he proceeds to represent how cheer-scended to the Lord Provost and the Townfully he sustained the disappointment, and Council; and when Hume became a candithen recovered from the blow. In this au- date for the chair of Moral Philosophy, the to-biographical confession, which contains' zealots' having been bold enough to astwo facts, the failure of the work and sert that he was an apostle of infidelity, he Hume's own conduct, there are two mis- lost his election. representations; the baby was not still-born Such contests are usually poor tests of -it was quite alive, and cried lustily, so as sound principle : however, on this occato excite the ogres, that is to say, the re- sion, the opposition was honest and sincere. viewers, to strangle it : an operation effect- it was instigated by the more orthodox ually performed, in the Journal entitled and uncompromising members of the Kirk, • The Works of the Learned. In the next who really adhered in heart and life to place, Hume, instead of submitting with Christianity as taught by Calvin and John stoical indifference to the loss of said baby, Knox; and Hume hated them henceforraged like a lioness deprived of her cub. ward with his whole soul. But the 'enRushing into the shop of Jacob Robinson, thusiasts' constituted a minority-both a the publisher of the Review, he out with moral and a numerical minority; all the his sword and demanded satisfaction. Ja- ministry who professed liberal opinions, cob took refuge within his proper strong- valued and sought Hume's friendship. Stighold, and entrenched himself behind the matized as the propagandist of unbelief

, he counter, and thus escaped being pinked was consoled, supported, protected by the after the most approved fashion. Both cordial friendship of the most distinguished parties acted very naturally—the stoicall members of the Scottish establishment philosopher in being furious at the criticism, Blair, Wallace, Drysdale, Wishart, Jardine, and the bookseller in declining to become a Home, Robertson, and Carlyle. This revmartyr for his editor; but ‘My own Life' is erend patronage, not any ability or cleverwholly silent about the matter. "My own ness of the writer, gave activity to Hume's Life,' indeed, belongs to a class of compo- venom. It removed the reproach previoussitions rarely commanding much confi- ly attached to infidelity. It at once took dence: say, one in a hundred. Autos off the interdict. Those who are the usually takes good care not to tell any tales, warmest adherents to Hume's irreligion which, in his own con

onceit, would lower his have never dared to risk their own literary repute with Heteros—not one in a thou- reputation by praising the talent of Hume, sand. In all such compositions there is a as evinced in the most offensive of his pubgreat root of self-deception. We are far lications, such as the 'Natural History of more proud of confessing our secret sins, Religion, which includes the ‘Bad Influ

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

ence of Popular Religions on Morality,' the accuracies. It is now chiefly remarkable, ' Essay on Miracles, and the 'Inquiry con- as having elicited from Hume an important cerning the Human Understanding;' and and instructive description of his peculiar when Magee (* On Atonement and Sacri- tactics. In a second edition, he added the fice,' vol. ii. p. 276) spoke of them as following curious note :standing memorials of a heart as wicked, ' An ingenious author has honored this and a head as weak, as ever pretended to the discourse with an answer full of politeness, character of philosopher and moralist,' it is erudition, and good sense. So learned a the harshness of the language, not the injus- refutation would have made the author sustice of the sentiment, which can in any de- pect that his reasonings were entirely overgree dispose us against the criticism. De- thrown, had he not used the precaution from ficient in any sustained argument, prolix the beginning to keep himself on the skeptiand inconclusive, his hold upon your atten- cal side; and having taken this advantage tion principally arises from the effort which of the ground, he was enabled, though with you are constantly compelled to make, in much inferior force, to preserve himself order to follow the reasoning, which van- from a total defeat. That reverend gentleishes as soon as it begins to assume a defi- man will always find, where his antagonist nite form. If you are an antagonist, he is so entrenched, that it will be very diffiwearies you, not by his blows, but by contin-cult to force him. Varro, in such a situaually slipping out of your grasp. Such works tion, could defend himself against Hanniwould absolutely have destroyed Hume's bal, Pharnaces against Cæsar.' reputation as a philosophical reasoner, had But becoming afterwards aware, that this he not been an unbeliever—had not opposi- was an unguarded disclosure of the trick tion to faith been usually, in those days, which gave most success to his sophistry, considered as a primâ facie proof of a he omitted it, when, for a third time, he restrong and vigorous mind.

published the essay in an octavo form. The 'Inquiry concerning the Principles In the large library, which, as he tells of Morals' may stand high in the scale of us, suggested his work, Hume wanted, like mediocrity. What have we in this prag- his predecessors, important materials then matic dissertation ? A favorable approba-concealed in manuscript, but now familiar tion of qualities commonly favored, a dis- to every historical inquirer. Domesday, like of vices commonly odious; common- the groundwork of Anglo-Saxon and Angloplace observations brought forth with placid Norman territorial organization, was ensolemnity; obvious truths, intermixed with shrined in the Chapter House at Westminas obvious fallacies. Cold approbation is ster, protected strictly under lock and key: the utmost Hume bestows. He has no ob- rarely could the edifice be entered; is the jection to the more amiable of the natural antiquary sought to consult the treasure, good qualities of mankind, if they trouble thirteen shillings and fourpence of lawful him not in his easy way.

Without seeking money must be paid for each inspection of to encourage any vice which might dimin- the volume; guarded so jealously that the ish the safety of society, he is apathetic finger was never allowed to wander beyond even in the cause of pagan virtue.

the margin, lest the characters should susThe best of Hume's miscellaneous pro- tain injury from the contact with unexductions are his political and constitutional chequered hands. He had to labor under essays: they are clear and sensible, and many other similar disadvantages, removed they have all the force resulting from a by more recent editorial diligence. shrewd and tranquil intellect. He recom- Such deficiencies, though they may dimends himself by his disinvoltura and minish the completeness of history, are not worldly good sense, and a due appreciation detrimental to the literary character of the of the popular fallacies by which the multi- historian. Ordinary and vulgated sources tude are deluded. These pieces have the will usually give all that is needed for a value of slight sketches by a good artist, broad outline, which may be rendered suffifree and expressive, but they need finish ciently effective, as a test of the author's and carrying out into compositions. The talent, with few minor details, 'Here are most elaborate of them is the 'Essay upon some new and unpublished materials for the Populousness of Ancient Nations. Its the History of the Siege of Rhodes, M. reasonings received an elaborate reply from l'Abbé.' The reply of M. l'Abbé Vertot Wallace; and Gibbon, in his valuable. Ad- -as we have it in the facetious, anecdotic versaria,' has pointed out some striking in- chapter of the French school-grammars of

the last age- was, “Mon siége est fait.'s the progress of the history; nor have we In the case of Vertot, the answer has be- any means of visiting the fattest of epicucome a standing joke against his memory, rean hogs in his stye,'—this is Gibbon's but the point of the sarcasm is given by his kind phrase, explained by the ingenious general untrustworthiness. Had M. l'Abbé index-maker as a jocose allusion to Mr. been faithful to the extent of his know- Hume's indolence. The only glimpse we ledge, no candid fellow-laborer would be in- gain is through a story told by a late venclined to blame him, for being content to erable Scottish crony. Some one having work well upon a limited stock. In dis- hinted that David had neglected an authorcussing Hume's claims to be adopted as ity he ought to have consulted, the old gen'the guide and philosopher,' who, on all tleman replied, 'Why, mon, David read topics connected with our history entirely a vast deal before he set about a piece of gives the law,' it is therefore important to his book; but his usual seat was the sofa, ascertain whether he employed due dili- and he often wrote with his legs up; and it gence, in studying the materials which were would have been unco fashious to have accessible to him, and in availing himself moved across the room when any

little of the ample library, which, as he informs doubt occurred.' us, stimulated him to his enterprise. Gib- In the absence of more precise informabon thought not : he describes Hume's tion, we must endeavor to ascertain, by interHistory as 'elegant, but superficial :' ap- nal evidence, the books which Hume had by parently a slight epithet of blame, but his side, when, compiling the earlier portion which, employed by Gibbon, obtains great of his history, he worked in this somewhat intensity. Congenial, unhappily, as their American guise. It has been ably shown opinions might be in some respects, no two by the most competent judge amongst our literary characters could be more distinct. contemporaries (Ed. Rev. vol. liii. p. 15), Hume's historical Muse is dressed à la that, from Carte, Hume borrowed not only Pompadour : she is so painted that you never the arrangement of events but the strucsee her true complexion, you never get ture of his expressions, giving, however, the deeper than the rouge and the fard. Hume, color of his own thought and style to the in his best moods, only fluttered about the narration, and occasionally verifying Carte's truth; never sought to know it. Gibbon statement by referring to his quotations. sought to know the truth; but for the pur- Hume made nearly as much use of Tyrrell, pose of wickedly and perfidiously pervert- balancing the narratives of the two historiing it. Yet how admirable was the talent ans, wisely availing himself of the hints given exerted by Gibbon, in hostility to the Power by Whig and Tory. Brady was his prinby whom the gift was bestowed—his nice cipal help for constitutional information. sense of the due subordination of the differ- Original sources were occasionally consultent branches, into which he divided his ed by him, though very uncritically and studies; the good sense which taught him sparingly; some of considerable importance to intersperse them amidst each other, so are wholly passed by: for example, the varied as to relieve the mind, and yet so anonymous life of Richard II. published by continuous as not to distract attention-to Hearne. The reason is obvious; Carte slacken the bow, but never leave it un- unaccountably neglected it, therefore Hume strung! His constant vigilance to improve was ignorant of the book's existence. every opportunity-recovering his Greek, Hume may have turned over the leaves of to the sound of the fife and the tattoo, when the chroniclers, but he never rendered them on duty at Devizes; placing Homer in par- the object of study, and never distinguished allel with the verse of Pope and the geogra- between primary and secondary authorities. phy of Strabo; comparing the returned Of Church history he knew absolutely nonumbers of the establishment of the Berk- thing. Slight references to the imperfect shire militia, with its actual rank and file, English Concilia by Spelman, testify his 560 nominal and 273 effective, and hence ignorance or neglect of the more complete drawing his inferences respecting the real edition which we owe to Wilkins; a book magnitude of the armies commemorated in which, a quarter of a century ago, was estihistory.

mated as waste paper, but which now is Hume, at least in the papers which have worth more pounds than it was then worth been published, abstains from affording us shillings. Hume was entirely unacquainted any similar information. 'My own Life' with any of the ample collections, in which is silent concerning my own studies during the transactions of the Church are recorded. A few passages, relating to Ecclesiastical bility added to their evil influence, he law and history, are borrowed from the pun- became firmly convinced that 'priests of all gent Satires of Fra Paolo Sarpi: his facts religion are the same,' seeking merely the for the Crusades, from Maimbourg or Ver- gratification of their own sordid and selfish tot; his notices of continental history, gen- passions and propensities. erally, from the Essai sur les Mæurs by The 'careless inimitable beauties of Voltaire, and some other of the then fash- Hume,' as they are styled by Gibbon, that ionable works of French infidel literature. is to say, his solecisms, his Scotticisms, his In the Stuart portions, Hume worked more Gallicisms, his violation of the rules of Engfreely and independently, from original wri- glish grammar, and still more of English ters; though Eachard, and also Bishop idiom, were criticised with some severity Kennet's compilation, useful for the docu- by Dr. Priestley, in his English Grammar, ments and textual extracts it contains, were the rarest of his productions. The mere serviceable in saving the walk across the language of an historian,' as Dr. Arnold room.

observes, ‘will furnish us with something of Possibly many elucidations of Hume's lit- a key to his mind--will tell us, or at least erary character might be derived from the give us cause to presume, in what his main large collection of his correspondence, now strength lies, and in what he is deficient.' deposited in the Library of the Edinburgh Hume's language shows us that his main Royal Society. An editor would, however, strength lies in his art of rhetorical persuafind difficulty in dealing with the papers, sion--in his striving always to lead the so as to afford sufficient instruction, and, at hearer to form inferences beyond his words the same time, avoid public offence. Se --in his being able to throw out his written lections from correspondence are worth discourse with the ease of conversation, little, unless they are sufficiently ample to avoiding its triviality-and in a thorough exhibit a continuous view of the mind and appreciation of the respect which an author pursuits of the man, and the mutual inter- gains, who can neither be depreciated for change of thought. Those who have vulgarity nor ridiculed for bombast. On examined the Hume papers—which we the other hand, Hume's language equally know only by report-speak highly of their discloses his deficiency in historical knowinterest, but add, that they furnish painful ledge, evinced by his inability to relate his disclosures concerning the opinions then history in appropriate diction : he wants the prevailing amongst the clergy of the north-happy medium between that paraphrase ern metropolis; distinguished ministers which obliterates the character of the origiof the Gospel encouraging the scoffs of their nal, and the untrue fidelity, which even still familiar friend, the author of the 'Essay more would disguise its real features. upon Miracles,' and echoing the blasphe-Whoever writes the history of remote times, mics of their associate, the author of the is virtually a translator; and a strict and • Essay upon Suicide.' Can we doubt but literal translation fully meets the meaning that Hume, who possessed within him the of the German term. It is an übersetzung, natural germ of many virtues, was exceed- an oversetting. Translation, it has been ingly strengthened in his infidelity, by the well observed, is ' a problem, how, two laninconsistency of those whom he terms reli- guages being given, the nearest approximagionists' leading him to the conclusion tion may be made in the second, to the that their conviction is in all ages more expression of ideas already conveyed through affected than real, and scarcely ever the medium of the first.' Perhaps the approaches in any degree to that solid worst solution is the conceit of rendering belief nd persuasion, which governs us in sound for sound, in which the sound usually the common affairs of life? The usual ceases to be an echo of the sense. Speak, course of men's conduct belies their words, in translating from Norsk or Anglo-Saxon, and shows that their assent in these mat- of the stink of a rose, that is to say, the ters is some unaccountable operation of rose's smellthe dream of a fiddle instead the mind between disbelief and conviction, of its tone--the green beam for the growing but approaching nearer to the former than tree—the smear-monger for the butter-merthe latter.'-Thus generalizing from his chant ; represent a mother as lamenting knowledge of the private sentiments of these that her knave's lungs are addled, instead betrayers of their Lord, these preachers of of her boy being ill of consumption ; describe the Gospel, honoring the reviler of their Sa- the preacher holding forth from his pulpit viour, whose talents and worldly respecta- | as the beadle spelling from the steeple; or,

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

recurring to the original sense, when sound |ple, a few sentences of Ordericus Vitalis, or fails you, praise the excellent taste of his William of Malmesbury, with the pseudomajesty of Bavaria in erecting the marble Ingulphus, forged, as we have shown, slaughter-house to the honor of Germania's subsequently to the reign of Edward II., worthies—such Teutonisms would not add or Knighton. Hume, compiling chiefly to the clearness of our ideas. Very insidi- from dull and vapid translations and comous, in all cases, are the deceptions sug- pilations, and quite unable to catch a disgested by titles of dignity, designations tinct perception of the originals, never connected with state or office, of which the approaches to the truth of historical diction, signification changes so rapidly from age to though he fully attains its rhetorical beauty. age, whilst the symbol remains the same. Helped onwards by such guides as Carte Dominus, or lord, conveys in the originals and Tyrrell, it was impossible that so acute no peculiar notion of pre-eminence. It is a writer as Hume could commit any palpasufficiently humble in the familiar com- ble blunder in the main facts of his history; pound of landlord; but speak of the lord of but he absolutely teens with all the errors the land, and what a vision it raises of feu- which can be committed by talent, when dal dignity! In words which, according to endeavoring to disguise ignorance by the laws of language, you must employ, the putting on the airs of knowledge. Hume's great difficulty consists in guarding against history is made out of the cast of a cast, in ambiguities, arising from the change of which all the sharpness of the original has meaning. Parliament is not a senate occu- been lost. He gives great effect to the dull pied in making speeches and passing laws, and rounded forms, by touching up the but the King, enthroned at the head of his figures with his chisel, and recutting them great court of remedial justice; a bishop's so as to suit his conception ; but this propalace, nothing regal, but a place, a man- cess, cleverly as it may be executed, only sion; throne, unconnected with royalty, denaturalizes them the more. and only the official seat of the prelate. We are amused at the absurdity of the The historian should consider himself as an Romancers of the middle ages, who porinterpreter, standing between two nations, tray Alexander in full armor, and Nectaneand he cannot well execute his task, unless bus hearing mass in the Temple of Termhe has lived with both. He must be famil- agaunt. These anachronisms, the proofs iarized, not merely with their language, but of a total misconception of the Grecian age, with their habits, and customs, and are not a whit greater than when Hume thoughts. He must be able to reduce all speaks of 'Anglo-Saxon gentlemen. The the conventional phrases of society into notion of a gentleman is a complex idea, truth, to know when the speech which entirely belonging to our own timesmit makes the roof resound means nothing, implies courtesy of manners, education, a and be equally able to find the expressive qualification of property not defined by meaning of silence. A very useful intro- pounds, shillings, and pence, but which duction to the study of patristical latinity--places him above poverty, though not nea main source, together with the Vulgate, cessarily in opulence; and belongs to a of the mediæval idioms--will be found in state of society which never could have exMr. Woodham's Tertullian. It is unneces- isted in the Anglo-Saxon age--nor could sary to remark that the baser latinity of the the term ever have been employed by any mediæval writers differs widely from that of writer who had the Saxon Chronicle before classical authors; but the discrepancy lies him. far deeper than the adoption of barbarous The Gallicism Tiberiade reveals Hume words, whose signification can be disclosed travelling to Tiberias in the Holy Land, by a glossary, or the solecisms which can under the guidance of the Abbé, and not be corrected by grammatical rules. Their of William of Tyre. rough refectory-and kitchen-Latin, came Edwin, in Humne's History, retires to natural to them; they thought in it; hence, his estates in the North, with the view of though employing uncouth and ungraceful commencing an insurrection '-just as a language, they expressed themselves, when Cumberland squire might have done in the needed, with terseness and power. It also | 45. Possibly Hume may have found in exhibits strong idiomatical peculiarities, not merely of individuals, but of æras. Anglo-pvol

. xxxiv, p. 296 ; in which article we have spok

* Sources of English History, 'Quart. Rev.,' Norman latinity differs much from the later

en fully of Hume's uncritical use of the ancient Plantagenet latinity. Compare, for exam- sources.

« PreviousContinue »