David Hume (1711-1776)
From 18th Century Literary Anecdotes

DURING his intimacy with Lord Kames, Mr. Smellie went one summer evening to sup with his Lordship; and the company was soon afterwards joined by the late Dr. John Warden McFarlane, the worthy, respectable, and highly useful minister of the Canongate, one of the suburbs of Edinburgh, and by Mr. David Hume, the celebrated philosopher and historian. The conversation went on for some time very agreeably; till Dr. Warden happened to mention that he had read a sermon just published by one Edwards under the strange title of the Usefulness of Sin. Mr. Hume repeated the words 'Usefulness of Sin'. —

'I suppose,' said he, 'Mr. Edwards has adopted the system of Leibniz, that "all is for the best".'

To this he added, with a peculiar keenness of eye, and forcible manner of expression which was unusual with him:

'But what the devil does the fellow make of hell and damnation?'

Dr. Warden immediately took his hat and left the room; and though followed by Lord Kames, who anxiously pressed him to return, he positively refused to rejoin the company.

Robert Kerr, Memoirs of the Life, Writings and Correspondence of William Smellie (1811), i. 357-8.

MR. Hume's cheerfulness was so great, and his conversation and amusements continued so much in their accustomed strain, that, notwithstanding many bad symptoms, few of his friends could believe his dissolution to be so fast approaching. Dr. Dundas, when taking leave of Mr. Hume one day, said to him,

'I shall tell your friend Colonel Edmonstone that I left you much better, and in a fair way of recovery.'—'Doctor,' Mr. Hume replied, 'as I believe you would not choose to tell anything but the truth, you had better tell him that I am dying as fast as my enemies, if I have any, could wish, and as easily and cheerfully as my best friends could desire.'

Soon afterwards Colonel Edmonstone went to see Mr. Hume, and to take a last farewell of him. But, on his way home, he could not refrain from writing a letter, bidding him once more an eternal adieu. Such were Mr. Hume's magnanimity and fortitude of mind, that his most intimate and affectionate friends knew they hazarded no offence in talking or writing to him as a dying man. Mr. Adam Smith happened to call upon Mr. Hume when he was reading Colonel Edmonstene's letter, which he immediately showed to Mr. Smith. After perusing this letter, Mr. Smith remarked that appearances were against Mr. Hume.

'Still, however,' he said, 'your cheerfulness is so great, and your spirit of life so strong, that I must entertain some faint hopes of your recovery.'
Mr. Hume answered, 'Your hopes are groundless . ..'
Mr. Smith replied, 'If it must be so, you have at least the satisfaction of leaving all your friends, your brother's family in particular, in great prosperity.'

Mr. Hume said he felt that satisfaction so sensibly that, a few days before, when reading Lucian's Dialogues of the Dead, among all the excuses which are usually made to Charon by souls who are backward to be ferried in his boat over the river Styx, he could not find one that suited him. He had no house to furnish, no children to provide for, nor any enemies upon which he wished to be revenged.

'I could not well imagine,' said he, 'what excuse I could make to Charon, in order to obtain a little delay. I have done every thing of consequence which I ever meant to do, and I could at no time expect to leave my relations and friends in a better situation than that in which I am now likely to leave them: I, therefore, have all reason to die contented.'

He then amused himself with some whimsical excuses which he supposed he might make to Charon, and with imagining the surly answers which it might suit the character of Charon to return to them.

'Upon further consideration,' said he, 'I thought I might say to him, "Good Charon, I have been correcting my works for a new edition. Allow me a little time that I may see how the public receives the alterations." But Charon would answer, "When you have seen the effect of these, you will be for making other alterations. There will be no end of such excuses; so, honest friend, please step into the boat."' But Mr. Hume said, 'I might still urge, "Have a little patience, good Charon, I have been endeavouring to open the eyes of the public. If I live a few days longer, I may have the satisfaction of seeing the downfall of some of the prevailing systems of superstition:" But Charon would then lose his temper and decency.—"You loitering rogue, that will not happen these many hundred years. Do you fancy I will grant you a lease for so long a term? Get into the boat this instant, you lazy loitering rogue!"'

William Smellie, Literary and Characteristical Lives (1800), pp. 166-9.

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