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LETTER LX.: Life tolerable only by Labour: the Princess Dowager: Bengal. - 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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Life tolerable only by Labour: the Princess Dowager: Bengal.
The approbation of those whose praise is real fame is, in the very nature of the thing, extremely desireable. Judge then how very acceptable your last kind letter was to me; in which you acknowledge my small merits in a very generous and good-natured way, and much above what they have any title to.... The reading a sheet of your History every day with care and precision, though I at first imposed it upon myself as a task, soon became a most agreeable amusement....
You say the correcting the sheets has been an amusement to yourself, and an occupation which you will now find a difficulty to supply. This I can easily believe. And here let me make one observation, which I dare say has frequently occurred to yourself, because it is founded on experience and a knowledge of the human mind.—To render life tolerable, and to make it glide away with some degree of satisfaction, it is necessary that a small part at least of almost every day be employed in some species of real or imaginary business. To pass our whole time in amusement and dissipation leaves a depression upon the spirits infinitely less bearable than perhaps the hardest labour1 . The sentence of, In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, pronounced against Adam after his fall, as a punishment, is an apparent mistake, which I am not scholar enough to rectify, but which I hope will not escape future commentators2 .—My application of this doctrine you will easily guess, which is no other than to add this to the other motives I have formerly taken the liberty to urge, to persuade you to the continuation of your History; in which, if you will make some progress, however trifling, every day, I will venture to say you will find your immediate account in it, in point of ease and cheerfulness and general flow of spirits. Fame which in some sense may be considered as a future reward, I will not mention. The various and complicated miseries to which mankind are subjected, the loss of those who are deservedly dear to us, the precariousness of our own existence; in short the contemplation of every thing around us, demands a constant diversion of our attention to some object or other3 . As far as my experience goes I have generally, if not always found happiness to dwell not with men of much leisure and retirement, but with those who had a little less time than they had employment for.—But if after all I can’t persuade you to betake yourself to this kind of composition, I am sincerely sorry for it; but will not venture, by still further urging it, which I could easily do, to trespass upon your patience any longer.
The half dozen of your Philosophical Pieces shall soon be sent you; and a dozen of your History, as you desire, as soon as it is finished; which will not be for some time, having hitherto made little progress in the four last vols., as almost the whole fount, and a very large one it is, has been occupied in the four first. For to keep them going, it was necessary, not only to have the sheets constantly passing to and fro, but some composing, and some printing off, which all together engrossed a vast quantity4 . However, I will dispatch them as soon as I can.
I am very happy that you approve of what I said of the Pr. Dowager. It was written in a great hurry upon slips of paper just as the Chronicle was going to press. The reprehension it contains of our worthy5 Patriots is surely well merited.—But to show you the obstinacy of John Bull, hardly any other newspaper copied it, nor has a sentence in her favour been written in any of them by any other person6 . Though I am far from being of a desponding disposition, I almost begin to think, that if we go on at home vilifying and abusing all order and government, and abroad spreading famine and pestilence among those whom chance has subjected to our dominion7 , we shall soon become ripe for destruction.
What you have heard of the King is very true, so I have taken the hint, and inserted it, as you will see by the enclosed, in to-night's Chronicle8 . I have also taken occasion to do justice to the character of Mr. Stuart9 . What I say of him I know to be true.—And they say he certainly goes to India in that capacity. I have not heard Professor Ferguson named; nor am I acquainted with him, else I should have paid my respects to him at the same time,—and which, if you will enable me, I can with rather more propriety do upon a future occasion. For John Bull would not fail commenting upon two Scotchmen being praised at once in a paper printed by a Scotchman.—My vote10 and any little interest I have, you may be assured shall be employed in behalf of a gentleman so warmly recommended by you. Our operations in Bengal demand a strict and speedy scrutiny. The barbarities committed upon that unhappy people are really unexampled in the history of all civilized nations, that of the Spaniards on the discovery of America11 only excepted.—You see how little efficacy the purest precepts of Christianity itself have with mankind, when opposed to the Auri sacra fames12 .
I beg the continuance of your Friendship, which I prize above many Lacks of Rupees, and am with unalterable Esteem and Attachment,
Dear Sir Your faithful & obedient Servt
Feby. 27, 1772.
Note 1. Boswell records an anecdote of a tradesman ‘who having acquired a large fortune in London retired from business, and went to live at Worcester. His mind being without its usual occupation, and having nothing else to supply its place, preyed upon itself, so that existence was a torment to him. At last he was seized with the stone; and a friend who found him in one of its severest fits having expressed his concern, “No, no, Sir,” said he, “don’t pity me; what I now feel is ease compared with that torture of mind from which it relieves me.”’ Boswell's Johnson, iii. 176. See ib. ii. 337 for Johnson's story of an ‘eminent tallow-chandler’ in retirement.
Note 2. Strahan was like the old lieutenant in Tom Jones who, when asked by Tom how the practice of duelling could be reconciled with the precepts of Christianity, replied:—‘I remember I once put the case to our chaplain over a bowl of punch, and he confessed there was much difficulty in it; but he said, he hoped there might be a latitude granted to soldiers in this one instance; and to be sure, it is our duty to hope so; for who would bear to live without his honour? No, no, my dear boy, be a good Christian as long as you live; but be a man of honour too, and never put up an affront; not all the books, nor all the parsons in the world shall ever persuade me to that. I love my religion very well, but I love my honour more. There must be some mistake in the wording of the text, or in the translation, or in the understanding it, or somewhere or other. But however that be, a man must run the risk, for he must preserve his honour.’ Tom Jones, Bk. vii. ch. 13.
Note 3. Strahan is perhaps repeating the advice which his friend Johnson so often enforced. ‘To have the management of the mind is a great art,’ he said, and he often showed Boswell how it was to be done. Boswell's Johnson, ii. 440.
Note 4. As Strahan was to forward to Hume five sheets of proofs every week, there could not have been less than ten sheets, or 160 pages, always ‘passing to and fro.’ At the same time there were the perfect sheets which the printers were striking off, as well as those at which the compositors were still at work.
Note 5. Perhaps Strahan by italicising ‘worthy’ implies those of the London Aldermen who were among ‘the Patriots’; for worthy was the honourable appellation generally applied to them. See ante, p. 178, n. 7.
Note 6. The Gentleman's Magazine in the number for March, p. 122, praised her in terms not less extravagant than Strahan's. Nay it went farther, and spoke of Frederick Prince of Wales as ‘the best of husbands.’
Note 7. See ante, p. 238, n. 8. Horace Walpole, writing on April 9 of this year about Charles Fox's dissolute life and ‘manly reason,’ says:—‘We beat Rome in eloquence and extravagance; and Spain in avarice and cruelty; and, like both, we shall only serve to terrify schoolboys, and for lessons of morality!. “Here stood St. Stephen's Chapel; here young Catiline spoke; here was Lord Clive's diamond-house; this is Leadenhall Street, and this broken column was part of the palace of a company of merchants who were sovereigns of Bengal! They starved millions in India by monopolies and plunder, and almost raised a famine at home by the luxury occasioned by their opulence, and by that opulence raising the price of everything, till the poor could not purchase bread.” Conquest, usurpation, wealth, luxury, famine—one knows how little farther the genealogy has to go!’ Walpole's Letters, v. 381.
Note 8. ‘We are assured that a parliamentary enquiry into the conduct of the East India Company in Bengal was originally proposed by his Majesty himself, who was greatly shocked with the accounts he received of the oppressions exercised over the poor natives. It is indeed abundantly notorious that the behaviour of our countrymen in that extensive and once rich and populous region has been for some years past so cruel and barbarous as to call aloud to Heaven itself for a most speedy and effectual remedy.’ London Chronicle, Feb. 27, 1772.
Note 9. ‘We hear that all parties who have any influence in the conduct of our India affairs are unanimous in their choice of Andrew Stuart, Esq. of Berkeley-square to be one of the Supervisors. A Gentleman every way well qualified for that most important office; as he possesses &c.’ Ib. We may be reminded by Strahan's puff of his countrymen of what Johnson says in his Life of Mallet:—‘It was remarked of Mallet that he was the only Scot whom Scotchmen did not commend.’ Works, viii. 464.
Note 10. Strahan must be speaking of his vote at the India House, for he was not in Parliament till November, 1774.
Note 11. ‘In the same year, in a year hitherto disastrous to mankind, by the Portuguese was discovered the passage of the Indies, and by the Spaniards the coast of America.’ Johnson's Works, vi. 233.
Note 12. Virgil, Æneid, iii. 57.