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a brief account of william strahan. - David Hume, Letters of David Hume to William Strahan 
Letters of David Hume to William Strahan, ed. G. Birkbeck Hill (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1888).
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a brief account of william strahan.
William Strahan, Hume's correspondent, was born in Edinburgh in the year 1715. ‘His father, who had a small appointment in the Customs, gave his son the education which every lad of decent rank then received in a country where the avenues to learning were easy, and open to men of the most moderate circumstances1. .’ After having served his apprenticeship in his native town, he was enchanted, like so many of his countrymen, by ‘the noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees,’ and took ‘the high road that leads to England2. .’ There he carried on his trade with great success and rose to a position of importance and affluence. ‘I remember,’ wrote to him his friend Dr. Franklin, ‘your observing once to me, as we sat together in the House of Commons, that no two journeymen printers within your knowledge had met with such success in the world as ourselves3. .’ It was in his coach that Dr. Johnson, Boswell and blind Mrs. Williams, were one day carried to a dinner at his brother-in-law's house in Kensington. ‘A printer having acquired a fortune sufficient to keep his coach was a good topic for the credit of literature. Mrs. Williams said that another printer, Mr. Hamilton, had not waited so long as Mr. Strahan, but had kept his coach several years sooner. Johnson. “He was in the right. Life is short. The sooner that a man begins to enjoy his wealth the better4. .”’ In 1770 Strahan purchased from Mr. George Eyre ‘a share of the patent for King's Printer5. .’ In the general election of 1774 he was returned to Parliament for the borough of Malmesbury, and had the honour of having Charles Fox for his colleague. In the succeeding Parliament he sat for Wooton Basset; but having supported the Coalition Ministry he lost his seat at the general election of 17841. . He outlived his friend David Hume nearly nine years, and died on July 9, 1785.
That he was a man not only of great worth but of a strong and cultivated understanding is shown by the men whom he had made his friends and by the services which he rendered to some of them. Garrick, it is true, thought that he ‘was rather an obtuse man’—one not likely to be ‘a good judge of an epigram.’ To which Johnson replied, ‘Why, Sir, he may not be a judge of an epigram; but you see he is a judge of what is not an epigram2. .’ That he was a good judge in general of the merits of a book cannot be doubted. First in partnership with Andrew Millar, ‘the Mæcenas of the age,’ the man whom ‘Johnson respected for raising the price of literature3. ,’ and then in partnership with Thomas Cadell, he published some of the most important works of his time. When Elmsly, the bookseller, ‘declined the perilous adventure’ of bringing out the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, it was Strahan and Cadell who ‘undertook the risk of the publication.’ It was by Strahan's ‘prophetic taste,’ writes Gibbon, that the number of the impression was doubled4. . ‘There will no books of reputation now be printed in London,’ wrote Hume to him, ‘but through your hands and Mr. Cadell's5. .’ Though in this statement there is somewhat of Hume's flattery, yet it is true that they were the publishers of works not only of Gibbon and of Hume, but of Johnson, Robertson, Adam Smith, Blackstone, and Blair. Hume and Robertson availed themselves moreover of his knowledge of English in the correction of their proofs. ‘He was,’ writes Dr. Beattie, ‘eminently skilled in composition6. .’ His services in this respect Hume more than once gratefully acknowledges7. . He ranks him indeed among the learned printers, who, since the days of Aldus and Stephens, had not been seen on the earth8. . He made him his literary executor9. . The long correspondence which he maintained with him shows the value that he set on his letters. ‘I have always said without flattery,’ he wrote to him, ‘that you may give instructions to statesmen1. .’ A denial of flattery, it is true, means as little in Hume's mouth as it would have done in the mouth of any of those French philosophers or men of letters in whose society he so much delighted. Nevertheless the length of many of his answers is a proof that he thought highly of his correspondent's understanding and knowledge of public affairs. ‘Mr. Strahan loved much,’ wrote Boswell, ‘to be employed in political negotiation2. .’
He must have had an unusual breadth of character, for he was the friend of men so unlike as Johnson and Hume, as Franklin and Robertson. It was at his house that Johnson and Adam Smith met when ‘they did not take to each other3. .’ He tried to get Johnson a seat in the House of Commons4. , and was ‘his friendly agent in receiving his pension for him, and his banker in supplying him with money when he wanted it5. .’ When Johnson wrote to Scotland, ‘I employ Strahan,’ he said, ‘to frank my letters, that he may have the consequence of appearing a Parliament-man among his countrymen6. .’ There was a difference between the two men which kept them apart for a few months, when it was healed by a letter from Johnson and a friendly call from Strahan7. . The warmth of the friendship that existed between him and other eminent men of letters is shown by their letters. Adam Smith writing to him signs himself, ‘Most affectionately yours8. ,’ and so does Robertson9. . Beattie and Blair are scarcely less warm10. . Johnson indeed, when among the Aberdeen professors, mocked at his intimacy with Bishop Warburton. ‘Why, Sir, he has printed some of his works, and perhaps bought the property of some of them. The intimacy is such as one of the professors here may have with one of the carpenters who is repairing the college11. .’ But Beattie who had seen the correspondence that had passed between the two men said that ‘they were very particularly acquainted12. .’ The manly indignation of his answer to Hume, who had accused him of deception13. , is not the letter of a man who was intimate with any one on unworthy terms. The earnestness of the apology which Hume at once made to him is a sure proof of the high value which he set on his friendship.
His portrait was painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in those troubled days when London was still under the scare of the Gordon riots. During the week when the disorder was at its height Sir Joshua's note-book records that he had sittings fixed, among others, for Mr. Strahan. ‘No wonder the appointments between Monday and Thursday have a pen drawn through them1. .’ Even if the great painter had had the calmness to go on with his work in the midst of such confusion, the eminent printer would not have kept the appointments. ‘He had been insulted,’ writes Johnson, ‘and spoke to Lord Mansfield of the licentiousness of the populace; and his Lordship treated it as a very slight irregularity…. He got a garrison into his house, and maintained them a fortnight; he was so frighted that he removed part of his goods2. .’
Page 94, note 8. I failed to notice that Hume's Letter of May 15, 1759, quoted in this note, was written in a humorous strain. Dr. Warburton was the last man in the world whose compliments he would have transmitted.
[1.]Nichols's Lit. Anec., iii. 391.
[2.]Boswell's Life of Johnson, i. 425.
[3.]Post, p. 64, n. 11.
[4.]Boswell's Johnson, ii. 226.
[5.]Nichols's Lit. Anec., iii. 392.
[1.]Nichols's Lit. Anec., iii. 393.
[2.]Boswell's Johnson, iii. 258.
[3.]Ib. i. 287.
[4.]Gibbon's Misc. Works, ed. 1814, i. 222.
[10.]Post, p. 314.
[6.]Forbes's Life of Beattie, ed. 1824, p. 341.
[7.]Post, pp. 214, 224, 231.
[8.]Post, p. 235.
[9.]Post, p. 335, n. 14.
[1.]Post, p. 145.
[2.]Boswell's Johnson, ii. 137.
[3.]Ib. iii. 331.
[4.]Ib. ii. 137.
[5.]Ib. ii. 137.
[6.]Ib. iii. 364.
[7.]Ib. iii. 364.
[8.]Post, p. 352.
[9.]Letter dated Dec. 21, 1780, Barker MSS.
[11.]Boswell's Johnson, v. 92.
[12.]Forbes's Life of Beattie, p. 341.
[13.]Post, p. 266.
[1.]Leslie and Taylor's Life of Reynolds, ed. 1865, ii. 302.
[2.]Boswell's Johnson, iv. 428, 435.