Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTER XXIII.: Faction in England. - Letters of David Hume to William Strahan
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LETTER XXIII.: Faction in England. - 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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Faction in England.
Compeigne, 4 of Augt., 1765.
Your Letter is the most satisfactory and most impartial Account of the present Transactions, which I have met with from any hand. I give you thanks for it. I had long entertain’d Hopes, that, being here in a foreign Employment, we lay much out of the Road of Faction; and that your Ministry in England might toss and tumble over one another, without affecting us; but I see we are now involvd to a certain degree, and must run the Fate of the rest. It is probable I shall be soon in England when I shall have an Opportunity of conversing with you and thanking you more fully1. . I am glad to hear better Accounts of Mr. Millar.
For some time it seemed that Hume was to have a still higher office.‘Lord Hertford had assured him that he would not accept of the Lord-Lieutenancy unless he were allowed the naming of the Secretary.’ He had now heard that‘the office was destined for himself in conjunction with Lord Hertford's son, Lord Beauchamp.’ Burton's Hume, ii. 287. On Aug. 4, Hume wrote to his brother from Compiègne:—’My Sallary [as Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant] will be about 2000 a year…. This is an office of Credit and Dignity, and the Secretary has always an unquestioned Claim, whenever his Term expires, of being provided for in a handsome Manner. Thus you see a splendid Fortune awaits me; yet you cannot imagine with what Regret I leave this Country. It is like Stepping out of Light into Darkness to exchange Paris for Dublin…. I shall probably have it in my Power to do Service to my Friends, particularly to your young Folks. For as to you and myself it is long since we thought our Fortunes entirely made…. I shall remain all the Winter and Spring in Ireland; and no more for two Years.’ M.S.R.S.E.
Before the end of the month he learnt that the office was not for him. He wrote to his brother:—’Lord Hertford, on his arrival in London, found great difficulty of executing his intentions in my favour. The cry is loud against the Scots; and the present Ministry are unwilling to support any of our countrymen, lest they bear the reproach of being connected with Lord Bute. For this reason Lord Hertford departed from his project; which he did the more readily, as he knew I had a great reluctance to the office of Secretary for Ireland, which requires a talent for speaking in public to which I was never accustomed. I must also have kept a kind of open house, and have drunk and caroused with the Irish, a course of living to which I am as little accustomed.’ Burton's Hume, ii. 290.
In a letter to Adam Smith, dated Nov. 5, after mentioning‘the Rage against the Scots,’ he adds:—’Perhaps the Zeal against Deists entered for a share.’ In the same letter he describes the office as one‘of great Dignity, as the Secretary is in a manner prime Minister of that Kingdom.’ M.S.R.S.E.
Two years later we find Junius mocking at‘a Scotch secretary teaching the Irish people the true pronunciation of the English language.’ In a note it is stated that it was Sir Gilbert Elliot, Hume's friend, who was meant. Letters of Junius, ed. 1812, ii. 474.
When the Earl of Chesterfield was made Lord Lieutenant in the year 1745, he chose for his Secretary‘one “who was,” he said, “a very genteel pretty young fellow, but not a man of business.” On the first visit his Secretary paid him, he told him, “Sir, you will receive the emoluments of your place; but I will do the business myself, being determined to have no first Minister.”’ Chesterfield's Misc. Works, i. 255. We may wonder whether Hume, if he had been appointed, would, like Windham, have felt‘some modest and virtuous doubts, whether he could bring himself to practise those arts which it is supposed a person in that situation has occasion to employ. “Don’t be afraid, Sir (said Johnson, with a pleasant smile,) you will soon make a very pretty rascal.”’ Boswell's Johnson, iv. 200. Among the Hume Papers belonging to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, I found the following letter written to him the year before by one Mr. O’Conor.
London, February 10th, 1764.
’The Author of the annexed printed Letter, is an Irish Gentleman, who is highly concerned, that so great a Man as Mr. Hume should be ranked among the Foes of IRELAND. He Observes, that you mention the Irish with Scorn and Contempt, whenever they fall in your way, not only in your history, but even in your Miscellanies. Prejudices against this or that Nation, are prejudices unworthy of a philosopher, who knows that all men are formed by NATURE of the same materials, and who ought to be the Common friend and protector of his Species.
The Author's intention was, that his friend in London should present you this letter in Manuscript, but his Friend being informed, that you did not reside in London, published [it] in the Gentlémen's Musæum1 for April and May of the year‘63.
’How far the reasonings contained in the annexed Letter, will contribute to change your Opinion, with respect to the Conduct of the Irish ever since they were reduced under the Yoke of England, I cannot determine. But I HOPE these reasonings will have a favorable Effect. Mr. Hume is not only a great man, but he is a good man, but he is an upright man. He will therefore expunge from his History, the ill-grounded Censures, which he has thrown upon the unfortunate Irish. He will cure the Wounds, that he has inflicted upon this most distressed Nation under the Sun.
’Grant, Sir, by way of Supposition, that the Charge you bring in your History against the Irish is false. On this hypothesis what has not Mr. Hume to account for?—the Roman Catholic Irish have been for seventy years past, the Continual Objects of political Calumny. Hence it is that all the Batteries of Law are perpetually playing against them. Hence it is that Penal Laws are enacted to beggar them, to corrupt them, to divide them, to force them to become Apostates, perjurers and Informers, for THE DESTRUCTION OF EACH OTHER.
’To consider the present Roman Catholic Irish in a proper Light, you must consider them, Sir, as a people half murthered, chained to the ground, and constantly trod upon in this situation, by a troop of wanton Oppressors. Shall the illustrious Mr. Hume join in the horrid Cruelty by propagating and swelling the political Lie that has always been, and continues to be, the Cause of it? If a Reparation of Honour be due to a Private Person who is injured by a false imputation, how much more sacred does this Debt become, when a whole Nation is Calumniated, when Thousands yet unborn are destined to feel the effects of the Slander.
’The Case between you, Sir, and Ireland stands thus: you have fastened the Chains, you have widened the wounds of an expiring people, upon the authority of some English historians who thought themselves interested in robbing the Irish of their reputation, as well as of their lands.
’Had the Account which you give come from an inferior Hand—it would do little hurt—but coming from the hands of Mr. Hume, one of the first Geniuses of the Age he lives in, it arms not only the Prejudices of England, but the Prejudices of the whole Human Race, against the forlorn Irish.
’For the justness and force of the reasoning contained in the annexed Letter, the Author appeals to your own bosom. You will therefore, Sir, it is hoped, do something to repair the Injury you have done a Nation that never did, that never could offend you. Your bookseller, A. Millar, is on the point of giving a new edition of your History. Something by way of Appendix may be added to atone for the Mistakes that have crept into the first Editions, and to prevent the growing Mischiefs of a popular Error, which has obtained the sanction of the [sic] great Name.
’I expect, Sir, that you will honour me with an Answer, which I shall transmit to the Irish Gentleman who wrote the annexed Letter. You will please to address it to Mr. Daniel O’Conor, At the Bull and Gate, in Holborn, London.
‘I am with the greatest Respect and Attachment Sir
’Your most obedient and most humble Servant
1The Universal Museum, or Gentleman's and Ladies’ Polite Magazine of History, Politicks and Literature. Vol. i. was published in 1762.
[1.]Note 1. On July 13, 1765, Hume received his commission under the Great Seal as Secretary to the Embassy at Paris. On June 3, on hearing of the appointment, he had written to Elliot:—’In spite of Atheism and Deism, of Whiggism and Toryism, of Scotticism and Philosophy, I am now possessed of an office of credit, and of £1200 a year.’ Burton's Hume, ii. 281. The fall of the Grenville Ministry made a great change in his fortune. His patron, the Earl of Hertford, was offered by the Marquis of Rockingham the post of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. For some time the Earl hesitated between Ireland and Paris.‘He takes the former,’ wrote Walpole on July 30 (Letters, iv. 388),‘not very gladly, but to accommodate his brother, and his nephew, Grafton.’ His brother, General Conway, and the Duke of Grafton were the two Secretaries of State in the new Ministry. Hume was left to represent the Ambassador till the arrival of the Duke of Richmond, Lord Hertford's successor, in November, 1765. Horace Walpole, who visited Paris in the interval, wrote on Sept. 26 (Ib. p. 409):—’Lady Hertford is gone and the Duke of Richmond not come; consequently I am as isolé as I can wish to be.’ He lodged in the same hotel as Hume, and often met him; yet he makes very little mention of him in his letters. The two men had but little in common.