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LETTER II.: On the Reception of Vol. II of the History. - 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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On the Reception of Vol. II of the History.
Your Letter gave me a great deal of Satisfaction; and I am much oblig’d to you for it. I must own, that, in my private Judgement, the first volume of my History is by far the best1 ; The Subject was more noble, and admitted both of greater Ornaments of Eloquence, and nicer Distinctions of Reasoning. However, if the Public is so capricious as to prefer the second, I am very well pleas’d; and hope the Prepossession in my Favor will operate backwards, and remove even the Prejudices formerly contracted2 .
I assure you, that, tho’ Mr. Millar has probably had an Intention of writing me to the Purpose he told you, yet he never did it, and his Memory has fail’d him in this Particular. On the contrary, he said to me, that he intended to put this Volume of my philosophical Writings3 into the same hands with the Dissertations4. , which are soon to be publish’d, who is, I think, one Bowyer5. . I did not oppose him, because I thought, that was a Matter, which it did not belong me to meddle with. However you will see by the enclos’d, which I have left open, what woud be my Choice in such a Case; and I hope hence forth he will never think of any but you, wherever any of my Writings are concern’d.
I cannot think of troubling you so far in this new Edition as I did in my History; but I woud be extremely oblig’d to you, as you go along to mark any Doubts that occur to you, either with regard to Style6 or Argument. Mr. Millar thinks of making very soon another Edition in Twelves7 , and these Observations woud then serve me in good Stead. These Writings have already undergone several Editions, and have been very accurately examined every Impression8 ; yet I can never esteem them sufficiently correct.
You will see by my Letter to Mr. Millar that I mention a Dedication, which may perhaps surprize you, as I never dealt in such servile Addresses9 ; But I hope it will not surprize you, when you hear it is only to a Presbyterian Minister, my Friend, Mr. Hume, the Author of Douglas10 . I was resolv’d to do what lay in my Power to enable a Youth11 of Genius to surmount the unaccountable Obstacles, which were thrown in his Way12 . You will probably see it publishd in a few Days. I hope the Goodness of the Intention will apologize for the Singularity of the undetaking [sic].
I am Dear Sir Your most obedient Servant
Edinburgh, 1 Feby., 1757.
Note 1. The first volume contained the Reigns of James I, and Charles I. Hume wrote to William Mure in 1757 (the exact date is not given):—’I must own that I think my first volume a great deal better than the second. The subject admitted of more eloquence and of greater nicety of reasoning and more acute distinctions.’ Burton's Hume, ii. 20.
Note 2. In his Autobiography he says of the second volume:—’This performance happened to give less displeasure to the Whigs, and was better received. It not only rose itself, but helped to buoy up its unfortunate brother.’ On the fly-leaf of the copy in the Bodleian of vol. i. of the first edition I have found in the hand-writing of the Rev. Charles Godwyn, Fellow of Balliol College, and a great benefactor to the Bodleian Library, the following entry, interesting as shewing the opinion formed of Hume at this time in England:—’I have heard much of Mr. Hume from persons who know him well, and think him to be one of the oddest characters in the world. Consider him as an historian and in private life there is not a better man living. No man has more generous sentiments of social virtue. He has great candour and humanity and the utmost regard for truth. Consider him as a philosopher in his speculative capacity, there is not a grain of virtue or religion in him…. I am informed that he has a great regard for the Church of England, and that if he was disposed to make choice of a religion, he would give this the preference. Written in the year 1757.’
[3.]Note 3. Hume refers, I believe, to the edition of his Essays and Treatises which was published in one quarto volume in 1758 (perhaps in the late autumn of 1757). He wrote to Millar on Dec. 4, 1756:—’I am extremely desirous to have these four volumes [of Philosophical Writings], with that which you will publish this winter, brought into a quarto volume.’ Burton's Hume, ii. 4.
[4.]Note 4. See post, p. 18.
[5.]Note 5.‘One Bowyer’ was William Bowyer,‘confessedly the most learned printer of the eighteenth century.’ Nichols's Lit. Anec. i. 2. Johnson wrote to Nichols on Oct. 20, 1784:—’At Ashbourne, where I had very little company, I had the luck to borrow Mr. Bowyer's Life; a book, so full of contemporary history that a literary man must find some of his old friends.’ Boswell's Johnson, iv. 369.
Note 6. Hume, Scot of Scots though he was, spared no pains to clear his style from Scotticisms. He laments‘his misfortune to write in the language of the most stupid and factious barbarians in the world’ (post, Letter of Oct. 25, 1769); but none the less does he rebuke Gibbon for composing his first work in French.‘Let the French,’ he writes,‘triumph in the present diffusion of their tongue. Our solid and increasing establishments in America, where we need less dread the inundation of barbarians, promise a superior stability and duration to the English language.’ Gibbon's Misc. Works, i. 204. Though he never, like Mallet,‘cleared his tongue from his native pronunciation’ (Johnson's Works, viii. 464), but always spoke‘in a broad Scotch tone,’ yet his words were always English.‘He never used Scotch’ said one who as a young man had known him well. Burton's Hume, ii. 440. Like most of the Scotch literary men of his day he had studied English almost as laboriously as if it were wholly a foreign tongue. Beattie (Life by Forbes, ed. 1824, p. 243) wrote on Jan. 5, 1778:—’We who live in Scotland are obliged to study English from books, like a dead language, which we understand but cannot speak.’ He adds:—’I have spent some years in labouring to acquire the art of giving a vernacular cast to the English we write.’ Johnson accused Hume of Gallicisms.‘Why, Sir, his style is not English; the structure of his sentences is French.’ Boswell's Johnson, i. 439. Lord Mansfield told Dr. A. Carlyle that‘when he was reading Hume and Robertson's books, he did not think he was reading English.’ Carlyle's Auto. p. 516. Hume in the fourth chapter of his History of England, expresses his deliberate preference for the foreign element in our language. He speaks of‘that mixture of French which is at present to be found in the English tongue, and which composes the greatest and best part of our language.’ Ed. 1802, i. 259. Francis Horner, in his student days at Edinburgh, making‘a very rigid examination of the style of Mr. Hume in his History,’ says,‘I am astonished to find it abound so much both in inaccuracies and inelegancies.’ Memoirs of Horner, i. 11. Mackintosh, speaking of Hume's philosophical works, says:—’In clearness and vivacity he surpassed all English speculators…. It must be owned that he not only copied the liveliness and perspicuity of French writers, but the structure of their sentences; that he has frequently violated the rules of English syntax; and what is a more serious offence, that his style exhibits little of the idiom and genius of the language; it too often betrays a Scotchman whose literary habits were formed in France.’ Of the History he says:—’The negligences of style, which are too frequent in this noble work, may be left to the petty grammarian.’ Life of Mackintosh, ii. 168. Horace Walpole, on the other hand, speaking of the first volume of the History, when it was as yet in its first unrevised edition, says that‘his style which is the best we have in history…. is very pleasing.’ Letters, ii. 429. Gibbon (Misc. Works, i. 122) writing after Hume's death, records how in‘the repeated perusals’ of his History,‘the careless inimitable beauties often forced me to close the volume with a mixed sensation of delight and despair.’ Hume sought the aid of writers far inferior to himself in general powers in his eagerness to refine his style. Mallet, Johnson's‘beggarly Scotchman,’ treated him with the insolence of a superior. Hume writing to Millar in 1756 about the second volume of his History says:—’Notwithstanding Mr. Mallet's impertinence in not answering my letter (for it deserves no better a name), if you can engage him from yourself to mark on the perusal such slips of language as he thinks I have fallen into in this volume it will be a great obligation to me; I mean that I shall lie under an obligation to you; for I would not willingly owe any to him.’ Burton's Hume, ii. 3. Six or seven years later Mallet wrote to Hume about the last two volumes of the History:—’I have done at last what nothing but the greatest regard for the writer and the truest friendship for the man could have made me submit to; I have gone over both your volumes again with the eye and attention of a mere grammarian. The task of looking after verbal mistakes or errors against the idiom of a tongue, though not unnecessary, is trivial and disgusting in the greatest degree; but your work and you deserved it of me.’ Ib. p. 142. So early as 1754, Hume sending Wilkes a copy of the History‘asks his advice as to language, and says:—“Notwithstanding all the pains I have taken in the study of the English language, I am still jealous of my pen.”’ Historical MSS. Com. 4th Report, p. 401. As late as 1775, in the last year of his life, he set two young Scotch lads, fresh from an English school, the task of detecting the Scotticisms in his account of Harold. Caldwell Papers, i. 39. The following from a letter to a Scotch doctor settled in London, is an instance of the points on which he sought assistance:—’You know that the word enough or enuff, as it is pronounced by the English, we commonly in Scotland, when it is applied to number, pronounce enow. Thus we would say:—“Such a one has books enow for study, but not leisure enuff.” Now I want to know whether the English make the same distinction.’ Burton's Hume, i. 384. It will be seen hereafter how grateful he was to Strahan for the assistance which he gave him in correcting his style.‘Strahan,’ says Dr. Beattie,‘was eminently skilled in composition, and had corrected (as he told me himself) the phraseology of both Mr. Hume and Dr. Robertson.’ Forbes's Beattie, p. 341. Dr. Burton gives instances of the corrections in the second edition of the History.Life of Hume, ii. 79. See ante, Adam Smith's letter for the humorous way in which Hume a few days before his death joked about his love of making corrections. He was ready in his turn to help others in refining their style. Dr. Franklin wrote to him from Coventry, on Sept. 27, 1760:—’I thank you for your friendly Admonition relating to unusual Words in the Pamphlet. It will be of service to me. The pejorate and the colonize, since they are not in common use here, I give up as bad.’ Franklin goes on to regret that we cannot‘make new words when we want them by composition of old ones whose meanings are already well understood,’ as uncomeatable for inaccessible.’ M.S.R.S.E. Hume was shewn in manuscript Reid's Inquiry into the Human Mind. Though it was an attack on his own philosophy, yet in reading it‘he kept,’ he says,‘a watchful eye all along over the style,’ so that he might point out any Scotticisms. Burton's Hume, ii. 154. When Boswell told Johnson that ’david Hume had made a short collection of Scotticisms, “I wonder,” said Johnson, “that he should find them.”’ Boswell's Johnson, ii. 72. In this list (given in Hume's Phil. Works, ed. 1854, i. cxii) some expressions were included which were good English at the time, and others which pass current now, as:—
It was this laborious study of English by Scotch authors that explains Churchill's lines on Dr. Armstrong's Day:
Note 7. In duodecimo.
Note 8. Impression is defined by Johnson as Edition; number printed at once; one course of printing.
Note 9. Johnson was like Hume in this.‘The loftiness of his mind prevented him from ever dedicating.’ Boswell's Johnson, ii. 1. Boswell on the contrary dedicated his chief works.‘For my own part,’ he wrote,‘I own I am proud enough. But I do not relish the stateliness of not dedicating at all.’ Ib.n. 2.
Note 10. The author of Douglas signed himself John Home, as did most of that name.‘The practice of writing Hume,’ says David Hume,‘is by far the most ancient and most general till about the Restoration, when it became common to spell Home contrary to the pronunciation.’ Burton's Hume, i. 7. Sir Walter Scott, in a review of Home's Works, says:—’The word is uniformly, in Scotland, pronounced Hume; and in ancient documents we have seen it written Heume, Hewme, and Hoome.’ Quarterly Review, No. 71, p. 170. He should have added that a Scotchman's pronunciation of Hume is not the same as an Englishman's.
Note 11. Home was thirty-four years old.
Note 12. Home's tragedy was finished in 1754. In the first sketch of the play Young Norval was Young Forman.‘Even after the first representations [at Edinburgh] the name Randolph was substituted for Barnet, which had struck some of the English part of the audience as producing a bad effect from its being the same with that of the village near London.’ Home's Works, i. 36, 101. Hume writing about the play to Spence on Oct. 15 of that year, says:—’As you are a Lover of Letters, I shall inform you of a Piece of News which will be agreeable to you: We may hope to see good Tragedies in the English Language. A young man called Hume, a clergyman of this Country, discovers a very fine Genius for that Species of Composition.’ Spence's Anecdotes, p. 452. To Adam Smith he wrote:—’When it shall be printed (which will be soon) I am persuaded it will be esteemed the best, and by French critics the only tragedy of our language.’ Burton's Hume, ii. 17. It was in this same year, 1754, that in the Appendix to the Reign of James I, writing of Shakespeare, he says:—’His total ignorance of all theatrical art and conduct, however material a defect, yet, as it affects the spectator rather than the reader, we can more easily excuse, than that want of taste which often prevails in his productions, and which gives way only by intervals to the irradiations of genius.’ Adam Smith was not inferior to his friend in perversity of taste. He regretted that in comedy the English writers had not followed the model of the French school in the use of rhyme. Dugald Stewart's Life of Adam Smith, p. 71. Wordsworth had some justification for describing Adam Smith as‘the worst critic, David Hume not excepted, that Scotland, a soil to which this sort of weed seems natural, has produced.’ Wordsworth's Works, ed. 1857, vi. 367. H. C. Robinson (Diary, i. 311) records, though evidently with imperfect recollection, a saying of Coleridge about Hume's preference of the French tragedians to Shakespeare:—’Hume comprehended as much of Shakespeare as an apothecary's phial would, placed under the falls of Niagara.’ Burns however was no better than Hume or Smith. In one of his Prologues he says of Scotland:—