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LETTER LXXI.: An Apology to 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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An Apology to Strahan.
24th of March, 1773.
If my Letter surprizd you, I assure you yours no less surprizd me; and gave me no little Concern. You know, that I have frequently accus’d you no less than Mr. Millar and Mr. Cadell, of always representing the fair side of things to me1 ; and you have frequently remarkd that I was totally incredulous concerning the Representations you made me. If your End had been to circumvent me, or take any Advantage of me to my Loss, you would have been very blamable. But as your Purpose plainly was and coud be no other, than to put me in good humour with the Public, and engage me into what must prove both profitable and amusing to me, I thought the Crime very venial; as I told you in my Letter: And though I wishd that the Truth had always been told me, I neither was disobligd at you nor entertaind in the least a bad opinion of you2 . On the contrary, there is no man of whom I entertain a better, nor whose Friendship I desire more to preserve, nor indeed any one to whom I have owd more essential Obligations. You may judge then of my Uneasyness when I found that I had unwittingly and unwillingly given you so much Disgust. But how coud you take it amiss, that I had told you in a Letter what I had so often told you without offence by words? Your protracting of this Edition, which you told me two Years ago was demanded3 , was a sure means of renewing my former Jealousy.—But I shall not enter into any farther Detail on this Subject which is needless: But what I think extremely needful for my own Peace of Mind is to renew my Professions of that Friendship and Esteem, which I do and always will bear to you; and to beg of you very earnestly a Renewal of those Sentiments which you always professd towards me, and whose Sincerity I have seen in a hundred Instances. I do not remember any Incident of my Life, that has given me more real Concern, than your Misapprehension of me, which, I hope, a little Reflection without any Explication on my part woud have sufficd to remove. Sick People and Children are often to be deceivd for their Good4 ; and I only suspected you of thinking that peevish Authors, such as I confess I am, are in the same Predicament. Was the reproaching you with this Idea, so great an Offence, or so heavy an Imputation upon your Faith and moral Character? I again beg of you to be assurd of my sincere Sentiments on this head, and entreat the Continuance or rather the Renewal of your Friendship; a Word which I once hop’d woud never have enter’d into our Correspondence5 .
I am with great Truth & Regard Dear Sir
Your most obedient humble Servant
Note 1. See ante, pp. 138, 144, 150, 154.
Note 2. See ante, p. 217, n. 3, for the base advice which he gave to a young clergyman. The indifference that Hume shows to truth illustrates, though it does not justify, Lord Shelburne's harsh saying that ‘the generality of Scotchmen had no regard to truth whatever.’ Fitzmaurice's Life of Shelburne, i. 89. Johnson limited this untruth-fulness to their ‘disposition to tell lies in favour of each other.’ Boswell's Johnson, ii. 296. Dr. A. Carlyle, who was a man of great virtue, records without any sign of shame, a lie which he told in the General Assembly of the year 1766, by which the House, which had been disturbed by the sudden death of one of its members, was composed, and went on with its voting. Though he knew that the man was dead, he ‘gave out that there were hopes of his recovery.’ Carlyle's Autobiography, p. 467.
Note 3. Strahan had written to Hume on March 1, 1771:—‘The octavo edition of your History must undoubtedly soon be cleared.’ On May 25 of the same year he wrote, speaking of the new edition which he was going to print:—‘If I am not mistaken, this book will be wanted before this edition is finished.’ M. S. R. S. E.
Note 4. ‘I deny,’ said Johnson, ‘the lawfulness of telling a lie to a sick man for fear of alarming him. You have no business with consequences; you are to tell the truth. Besides, you are not sure what effect your telling him that he is in danger may have. It may bring his distemper to a crisis, and that may cure him. Of all lying, I have the greatest abhorrence of this, because I believe it has been frequently practised on myself.’ Boswell's Johnson, iv. 306. Miss Burney heard George III in one of his attacks of madness say:—‘I am nervous, I am not ill, but I am nervous; if you would know what is the matter with me, I am nervous. But I love you both very well, if you would tell me truth. I love Dr. Heberden best, for he has not told me a lie; Sir George [Baker] has told me a lie—a white lie, he says, but I hate a white lie! If you will tell me a lie, let it be a black lie.’ Mme. D’Arblay's Diary, ed. 1842, iv. 289. See ante, p. 217, n. 3, for a passage in which Johnson insists on the importance of accustoming children to a strict attention to truth; and ante, p. 156, where Hume declares himself ‘a good Casuist.’
Note 5. Johnson also had a difference with Strahan, that lasted from March till the end of July, 1778, when he wrote to him:—
‘It would be very foolish for us to continue strangers any longer. You can never by persistency make wrong right. If I resented too acrimoniously, I resented only to yourself. Nobody ever saw or heard what I wrote. You saw that my anger was over, for in a day or two I came to your house. I have given you longer time; and I hope you have made so good use of it as to be no longer on evil terms with, Sir,
‘Your &c.,Sam. Johnson.’ ‘On this,’ said Mr. Strahan, ‘I called upon him; and he has since dined with me.’ Boswell's Johnson, iii. 364.
What effect Hume's letter had on Strahan there is nothing to show. There seems however to have been an interruption in their correspondence for ten months.