Biography of David Hume


DAVID HUME, the philosopher and historian, was born at Edinburg on the 26th of April, 1711. He was educated at home and at the college of Edinburg. His father designed law as his profession, and he submitted to the initial steps of the proper practical training but it was not a pursuit to his liking. Deserting it, he experimented in a mercantile house in Bristol, but commerce was not more congenial to him than jurisprudence, and he gave it a very short trial. At 23 years of age, he went to France and lived some time in La Fleche, where he describes himself as wandering about in solitude, and dreaming the dream of his philosophy. In 1739 he published the first and second book of his Treatise on Human Nature, the germ of his philosophy, and still, perhaps, the best exposition of it, since it has there a freshness and decision approaching to paradox, which he modified in his later works. Although the dawn of a new era in philosophy, this book was little noticed. In 1741 and 1742, he published two small volumes, called Essays, Moral and Political; they were marked by learning and thought, and elegantly written, but are not among the more remarkable of his works. In 1751, he published his Inquiry into the Prindples of Morals, a work of great originality, and one of the clearest expositions of the leading principles of what is termed the utilitarian system. At the same time he intended to publish his Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, but his friends, alarmed by the skeptical spirit pervading them, prevailed on him to lay them aside, and they were not made public until after his death. Next year appeared his Political Discourses. Here, again, he made an era in literature, for in this little work he announced those principles of politiciai economy comprehending the doctrine of free-trade, which it fell to his friend Adam Smith more fully and comprehensively to develop. He was appointed at this time keeper of the Advocates' Library. It was here that, surrounded by books, he formed the design of writing the history of England. In 1754, he issued the first volume and completed the work in 1764.

In 1763, he went to France as secretary to Lord Hertford's embassy; here he was in his element, and found fame at last. After his return home in 1766, he accepted the responsible office of Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. In his own Life he says: "I returned to Edinburg 1769, very opulent (for I possessed a revenue of 1,000 a year), healthy, and though somewhat stricken in years, with the prospect of long enjoying my ease, and of seeing the increase of my reputation." He died at Edinburg on the 25th of August, 1776.