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LETTER LXXIV.: Dr. Wallace's Manuscript: Lord Kames's Sketches. - 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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Dr. Wallace's Manuscript: Lord Kames's Sketches.
2 of April, 1774.
There is a Subject which I was desird to mention to you, but which I delay’d, till your Application to Parliament were finishd, that you might know on what footing your literary Property was to stand1 : It is with regard to Dr. Wallace's manuscript, which was certainly finishd for the Press and which I think a very good Book2 : I told his Son about four or five months ago, before the Decision of the House of Peers, that he ought not to expect above 500 pounds for it; and he has return’d so far to my Sentiments, as to leave the Matter entirely to me; I shoud wish to know, therefore, what you think you cou’d afford. I imagine this Decision will not very much alter the Value of literary Property: For if you coud, by a tacite convention among yourselves3 , make a Property of the Dauphin's Virgil, without a single Line in Virgil's hand, or Ruæus's or the Dauphin's4 , I see not why you may not keep Possession of all your Books as before. However, this Decision throws you into some Uncertainty, and you may be cautious for some time in entering on any considerable Purchase.
Lord Kaims's Sketches5 . have here been published some weeks; and by the Reception it has met with, is not likely to be very popular, according to the prodigiously sanguine Expectations of the Author. But after his Elements of Criticism6 met with some Success, I shall never venture to make any Prophecy on that head. I am glad to hear, that in your Bargain with him, you had a saving Clause to ensure you against Loss7 . Cou’d any such Clause be devis’d with regard to Dr. Wallace's Book? In the mean time, I ask 500 pounds for it8 ; as you desire that a positive Demand shoud always be made, which is indeed but reasonable. It is about half the Size of Lord Kaims's Sketches; and is better writ.
I am Dear Sir Yours sincerely
[Strahan to Hume.]
Note 1. See ante, p. 275, n. 1. Hume seems to think that as such feeble opposition had been shown when the Copyright Bill was brought in, it was certain to be carried. I cannot find what was the length of time during which the booksellers claimed that the exclusive property in a book should continue. Leave was moved to bring in a Bill ‘for relief of booksellers and others, by vesting the copies of printed books in the purchasers of such copies from authors or their assigns, for a time therein to be limited.’ Parl. Hist. xvii. 1086.
Note 2. The Rev. Dr. Robert Wallace published in 1752 Dissertations on the Populousness of Mankind in Ancient and Modern Times, as a reply to Hume's Essay of the Populousness of Ancient Nations. Hume describes it as ‘an answer full of politeness, erudition, and good sense.’ Phil. Works, ed. 1854, iii. 410. ‘Malthus admitted that Dr. Wallace was the first to point distinctly to the rule, that to find the limits of the populousness of any given community, we must look at the quantity of food at its disposal.’ Burton's Hume, i. 364. He is mentioned in Humphry Clinker (ed. 1792, iii. 6) as one of ‘the authors of the first distinction,’ of which Edinburgh that ‘hot-bed of genius’ could boast, and in Dr. A. Carlyle's Autobiography (p. 239) as having had a great part in establishing in Scotland the Ministers’ Widows’ Fund. By one of the letters of his son, George Wallace, in the Barker MSS. I learn that the work which he had left finished at his death was a Treatise on Taste. Though a minister of the Scotch Church he had even written notes on Gallini's Treatise on Dancing. Home's Works, i. 17. Ramsay of Ochtertyre says that soon after Wallace became a preacher somebody ‘in a large company of Episcopalians regretted so genteel a young man should be a Presbyterian minister. “Oh,” said George Home of Argaty; “that puts me in mind of what I heard a wife say t’other day to her neighbour, on her regretting that a handsome lad should be made a town-officer—‘Have a little patience; ere seven years he will be as ill-looking as the worst-favoured of them.’” So low was their opinion of Presbyterian accomplishments.’ Scotland and Scotsmen, ii. 552.
Note 3. For this ‘tacit convention,’ or ‘honorary copyright,’ see ante, p. 279, n. 4. The witnesses against the Copyright Bill complained that ‘they were not admitted to the Booksellers’ sales.’ Parl. Hist. xvii. 1093.
Note 4. The title-page of the Delphine Virgil is as follows:—P. Virgilii Maronis Opera. Interprelatione et Notis illustravit Carolus Ruœus, Soc. Jesu. Jussu Christianissimi Regis, ad Usum Serenissimi Delphini. For Ruæus—Charles De La Rue—see Chalmers's Biog. Dict. xxvi. 454. According to Lowndes, Bibl. Man., ed. 1871, p. 2776, the first English edition of the Delphine Virgil was published in 1686. It was frequently reprinted. W. Johnston the bookseller, in his examination before the Committee of the House of Commons (ante, p. 275, n. 1), ‘being asked, whether he did not claim a copyright in some of the editions of the classics In Usum Delphini, said, No such right was ever claimed, so as to exclude any other person who chose to print them; that he had purchased the right of printing in part some of those classics, but never supposed that right protected by any law, nor considered it in any other manner than as the purchase of an honorary right, which he explained to be a maxim held by the trade not to reprint upon the first proprietor.’ Parl. Hist. xvii. 1079. By ‘a single line in Virgil's hand’ &c. Hume clearly means in his handwriting.
Note 5. Sketches of the History of Man. Johnson criticised some statements in it. See Boswell's Johnson, iii. 340, 351.
Note 6. ‘Johnson. “The Scotchman has taken the right method in his Elements of Criticism. I do not mean that he has taught us anything; but he has told us old things in a new way.” MURPHY. “He seems to have read a great deal of French criticism, and wants to make it his own; as if he had been for years anatomising the heart of man, and peeping into every cranny of it.” GOLDSMITH. “It is easier to write that book than to read it.”’ Boswell's Johnson, ii. 89. At an earlier time Johnson had said of it:—‘Sir, this book is a pretty essay, and deserves to be held in some estimation, though much of it is chimerical.’ Ib. i. 393. George Wallace told Boswell that when Charles Townshend read it, he said:—‘This is the work of a dull man grown whimsical.’ Boswelliana, p. 278.
Note 7. The Sketches sold too well for any loss to be incurred. They passed through several editions.
Note 8. The success not only of himself and Robertson, but of such authors as Blair, Sir John Dalrymple, John Home, Adam Ferguson, and Macpherson, seems to have made Hume think that there was scarcely any limit set to the price that ‘the factious barbarians’ of the South would pay an author, if only he had the good luck to be born north of the Tweed, and had taken the trouble to ‘unscottify’ his diction.