Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTER LXXVI.: Dr. Wight and Dr. Trail: Folly of the War with the Colonies: Dr. Reid and Dr. Beattie. - Letters of David Hume to William Strahan
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LETTER LXXVI.: Dr. Wight and Dr. Trail: Folly of the War with the Colonies: Dr. Reid and Dr. Beattie. - 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. Wight and Dr. Trail: Folly of the War with the Colonies: Dr. Reid and Dr. Beattie.
26 of Octr., 1775.
I have often regreted the Interruption of our Correspondence1 : But when you ceas’d to be a speculative Politician and became a practical one2 , I coud no longer expect you woud be so communicative or impartial as formerly on that head; and my object with regard to Authorship, was, for a time, at an End. The Reason of the present Trouble is of a different kind: Dr. Trail3 , the Professor of Divinity at Glasgow, is dead; and Dr. Wight, the present Professor of Church History, is a Candidate for the Office: The Place is filled by a Vote of the Professors: You are understood to have great Influence with Wilson, the Professor of Astronomy4 : And I interest myself extremely in Dr. Wight's success5 :. These are my Reasons for writing to you. But I must also tell you my Reasons for interesting myself so much in Dr. Wight's Behalf. He is a particular Friend of mine: He is very much connected with all mine and your particular Friends in the Church6 : He is a very gentleman-like agreeable Man: And above all, he is (without which I shoud not interest myself for him) a very sound and orthodox Divine. The case of Dr. Trail, (his predecessor, as I hope) was somewhat particular with regard to Orthodoxy: He was very laudably a declar’d Enemy to all Heretics, Socinians, Arians, Anti-trinitarians, Arminians, Erastians, Sabellians, Pelagians, Semi-pelagians: In short, of every Sect, whose Name terminated in ian7 , except Presbyterian, to whom he had a declar’d and passionate Attachment. He said, that it signify’d nothing to pick out a little straggling Absurdity, here and there, from the System; while the whole immense Chaos, sufficient to over-whelm Heaven and Earth, still remain’d entire, and must still remain. But in Prosecution of these Views (which one cannot much blame) he mix’d a little of the Acrimony of his own Temper; and, perhaps undesignedly, sent away all the Students of Divinity very zealous Bigots, which had a very bad Effect on the Clergy of that Neighbourhood8 . Now, I shall answer for Dr. Wight, that his Pupils shall have all the Orthodoxy, without the Bigotry, instill’d into them by his Predecessor. I believe Dr. Robertson will write you on the same Subject; and I beg you woud not lose any time in applying to Mr. Wilson, in case he shoud take any other Engagements, tho we do not yet hear of any other Candidate.
I must, before we part, have a little Stroke of Politics with you, notwithstanding my Resolution to the contrary. We hear that some of the Ministers have propos’d in Council, that both Fleet and Army be withdrawn from America, and these Colonists be left entirely to themselves9 . I wish I had been a Member of His Majesty's Cabinet Council, that I might have seconded this Opinion. I shoud have said, that this Measure only anticipates the necessary Course of Events a few Years; that a forced and every day more precarious Monopoly of about 6 or 700,000 Pounds a year of Manufactures10 , was not worth contending for; that we shoud preserve the greater part of this Trade even if the Ports of America were open to all Nations; that it was very likely, in our method of proceeding, that we shoud be disappointed in our Scheme of conquering the Colonies11 ; and that we ought to think beforehand how we were to govern them, after they were conquer’d. Arbitrary Power can extend its oppressive Arm to the Antipodes; but a limited Government can never long be upheld at a distance, even where no Disgusts have interven’d12 : Much less, where such violent Animosities have taken place. We must, therefore, annul all the Charters13 ; abolish every democratical Power in every Colony; repeal the Habeas Corpus Act with regard to them; invest every Governor with full discretionary or arbitrary Powers; confiscate the Estates of all the chief Planters14 ; and hang three fourths of their Clergy15 . To execute such Acts of destructive Violence twenty thousand Men will not be sufficient; nor thirty thousand to maintain them, in so wide and disjointed a Territory16 . And who are to pay so great an Army? The Colonists cannot at any time, much less after reducing them to such a State of Desolation: We ought not, and indeed cannot, in the over-loaded or rather over-whelm’d and totally ruin’d State of our Finances17 . Let us, therefore, lay aside all Anger; shake hands, and part Friends18 . Or if we retain any anger, let it only be against ourselves for our past Folly; and against that wicked Madman, Pitt; who has reducd us to our present Condition19 . Dixi20 .
But we must not part, without my also saying something as an Author. I have not yet thrown up so much all Memory of that Character. There is a short Advertisement21 , which I wish I had prefix’d to the second Volume of the Essays and Treatises in the last Edition. I send you a Copy of it. Please to enquire at the Warehouse, if any considerable Number of that Edition remain on hands; and if there do, I beg the favour of you, that you woud throw off an equal Number of this Advertisement, and give out no more Copies without prefixing it to the second volume. It is a compleat Answer to Dr. Reid22 and to that bigotted silly Fellow, Beattie23 .
I believe that I have formerly mention’d to you, that no new Editions shoud be made of any of my Writings, without mentioning it to me; I shall still have some Corrections to make. By Calculation, or rather Conjecture from former Sales, the last Edition of my History shoud be nearly sold off: Pray inform yourself whether it be not so: And how many remain on hand24 .
I am with great Sincerity Dear Sir Your affectionate humble Servant
[William Strahan to David Hume.]
Note 1. This interruption had lasted for more than a year and a half. When Hume resumed it he was already some way advanced in an illness which at first, he says, gave him no alarm, but which in ten months more was to carry him off.
Note 2. Strahan had been elected for Malmesbury in the Parliament that met on Nov. 29, 1774. Parl. Hist. xviii. 24. One cause of the interruption of the correspondence might have been want of time on his side. In one of his earlier letters he said:—‘I have borrowed two hours from my pillow to write to you.’ M. S. R. S. E.
Note 3. Hume, in writing from Paris on June 22, 1764, mentions a Dr. Trail as ‘our chaplain’—chaplain to the Embassy, that is to say. Burton's Hume, ii. 204. Horace Walpole mentions the same clergyman in a letter to Conway on Jan. 22, 1756. ‘Your brother [Lord Hertford] has got a sixth infanta; at the christening t’other night Mr. Trail had got through two prayers before anybody found out that the child was not brought down stairs.’ Letters, ii. 499.
Note 4. Dugald Stewart, in his Life of Thomas Reid (ed. 1811, p. 426), speaking of the appointment of that philosopher to the chair at Glasgow University vacated by Adam Smith, says:—‘The Wilsons (both father and son) were formed to attach his heart by the similarity of their scientific pursuits, and an entire sympathy with his views and sentiments.’ In a note (p. 528) Stewart adds:—‘Alexander Wilson, M.D., and Patrick Wilson were well known over Europe by their observations on the Solar Spots.’
Note 5. Dr. A. Carlyle, writing of Dr. Wight's appointment in 1762 to the chair of Church History at Glasgow, says:—‘As he was my near relation, his advancement, in which I had a chief hand, was very pleasing; and as he was the most agreeable of all men, his coming near me promised much enjoyment.’ Carlyle's Auto. p. 424. See Ib. p. 395.
Note 6. ‘Hume took much to the company of the younger clergy, not from a wish to bring them over to his opinions, for he never attempted to overturn any man's principles, but they best understood his notions, and could furnish him with literary conversation. Robertson and John Home and Bannatine and I lived all in the country, and came only periodically to the town. Blair and Jardine both lived in it, and suppers being the only fashionable meal at that time, we dined where we best could, and by cadies [errand boys] assembled our friends to meet us in a tavern by nine o’clock; and a fine time it was when we could collect David Hume, Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, Lord Elibank, and Drs. Blair and Jardine, on an hour's warning. I remember one night that David Hume came rather late to us, and directly pulled a large key from his pocket, which he laid on the table. This, he said, was given him by his maid Peggy (much more like a man than a woman) that she might not sit up for him, for she said, when the honest fellows came in from the country, he never returned home till after one o’clock. This intimacy of the young clergy with David Hume enraged the zealots on the opposite side, who little knew how impossible it was for him, had he been willing, to shake their principles.’ Carlyle's Auto. p. 274.
Note 7. Hume wrote to his friend, Dr. Clephane, on Sept. 3, 1757:—‘I am charmed to find you so punctual a correspondent. I always knew you to be a good friend, though I was afraid that I had lost you, and that you had joined that great multitude who abused me, and reproached me with Paganism, and Jacobitism, and many other wretched isms, of which I am only guilty of a part.’ Burton's Hume, ii. 38.
Note 8. Dr. Traill was unlike the Professor under whom Dr. A. Carlyle studied at Edinburgh; of whom he writes:—‘There was one advantage attending the lectures of a dull professor—viz., that he could form no school, and the students were left entirely to themselves, and naturally formed opinions far more liberal than those they got from the Professor. This was the answer I gave to Patrick, Lord Elibank, when he asked me one day, many years afterwards, what could be the reason that the young clergymen of that period so far surpassed their predecessors of his early days in useful accomplishments and liberality of mind—viz., that the Professor of Theology was dull, and Dutch, and prolix.’ Carlyle's Auto. p. 56.
Note 9. Parliament had met on Oct. 26. Horace Walpole wrote on Nov. 14:—‘The Parliament grants whatever is asked; and yet a great alteration has happened in the Administration. The Duke of Grafton has changed sides, and was turned out last Friday.’ After mentioning other changes he continues:—‘The town is impatient to see whether this change of men implies any change of measures. I do not see why it should, for none of the new Ministers have ever inclined to the Americans.’ Letters, vi. 280. There was no yielding in the King, who on Oct. 15 had written to Lord North:—‘Every means of distressing America must meet with my concurrence, as it tends to bringing them to feel the necessity of returning to their duty.’ Corres. of George III with Lord North, i. 274.
Note 10. Hume is speaking of the trade in English manufactures only. The elder Pitt, on Jan. 14, 1766, said:—‘I will be bold to affirm, that the profits to Great Britain from the trade of the Colonies through all its branches is two millions a year. This is the fund that carried you triumphantly through the last war. The estates that were rented at £2000 a year threescore years ago are at £3000 at present. Those estates sold then for from fifteen to eighteen years’ purchase; the same may be now sold for thirty. You owe this to America.’ Parl. Hist. xvi. 105. A writer in the Gent. Mag. for 1768, p. 514, who signs himself F. B. (Benjamin Franklin, I suspect), gives the declared exports from England, exclusive of Scotland and Ireland, to America as £2,072,000 a year, and the imports as £1,081,000. He considers however that the exports really amounted to £3,000,000. It was the object of the writer to make these as large as possible. (In 1886 the exports from the United Kingdom amounted to £37,600,000, and the imports to £81,600,000. Whitaker's Almanac, p. 517.)
Note 11. ‘We most carefully distinguish between the effects of the colony trade and those of the monopoly of that trade. The former are always and necessarily beneficial; the latter always and necessarily hurtful.... If the colony trade ... is advantageous to Great Britain, it is not by means of the monopoly, but in spite of the monopoly.’ Wealth of Nations, ed. 1811, ii. 462, 464. Mr. E. J. Payne in his History of European Colonies, p. 127, says:—‘The immediate effect of the independence of America was felt in its destroying the Navigation Act, and opening the commerce of the United States to the world. The shipping of the United States increased fivefold in twenty years; the trade with England increased in the same proportion.’
Note 12. Burke, on March 22 of this year, in his speech on Conciliation with America, had said:—‘Three thousand miles of ocean lie between you and them. No contrivance can prevent the effect of this distance in weakening Government. Seas roll, and months pass, between the order and the execution; and the want of a speedy explanation of a single point is enough to defeat a whole system. You have, indeed, winged ministers of vengeance, who carry your bolts in their pounces to the remotest verge of the sea. But there a power steps in, that limits the arrogance of raging passions and furious elements, and says, “So far shalt thou go, and no farther.” Who are you, that you should fret and rage, and bite the chains of Nature? Nothing worse happens to you than does to all nations who have extensive Empire; and it happens in all the forms into which Empire can be thrown.’ Payne's Burke, i. 183.
Note 13. The Charter Governments were Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The charter of Massachusetts, which had been adjudged to be forfeited in 1684, was restored by William III with its privileges greatly maimed. Bancroft's History of the United States, ed. 1860, ii. 127; iii. 80. New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, North and South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia were Royal Colonies. Maryland and Pennsylvania with Delaware were Proprietary Governments. Encyclo. Britan., ninth ed. xxiii. 730. ‘The Charter Colonies in which the Governors were chosen annually by popular election, and the Proprietary Governments had no dependence on the executive government of England, and they transacted their business with it through agents of their own, resident in England.’ Payne's European Colonies, p. 106. In Massachusetts however, after 1684, the Governor was appointed by the King. Bancroft's History, iii. 80.
Note 14. So devoted were the planters of Virginia to the cause of freedom, that at a meeting of delegates held on August 1, 1775, ‘they resolved from the first of the following November not to purchase any more slaves from Africa, the West Indies, or any other place.’ Ann. Reg. 1775, i. 13. This blow was struck not at the slave-trade, but at British Commerce. It was of men such as these that Johnson said:—‘How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?’ Boswell's Johnson, iii. 201. At the same meeting it was resolved that there should be no exportation of tobacco or any other goods to England.
Note 15. Burke, in the Ann. Reg. for 1775, i. 16, mentions ‘a very ill-timed proclamation’ issued on August 4 of this year by the Governor of Massachusetts Bay, ‘for the encouragement of piety and virtue etc.’ ‘The people of that province had always been scoffed at for a pharisaical attention to outward forms, and to the appearances of religious piety and virtue.... In this proclamation hypocrisy being inserted among the immoralities against which the people were warned, it seemed as if an act of state were turned into a libel on the people; and this insult exasperated greatly the rage of minds already sufficiently discontented.’ The clergy, no doubt, would not only catch the flame but spread it.
Note 16. The King in his speech on opening Parliament on Oct. 26, speaking of the increase in the land forces, said:—‘I have also the satisfaction to inform you, that I have received the most friendly offers of foreign assistance.’ Parl. Hist. xviii. 696. Horace Walpole writing the next day describes this statement as a falsehood. ‘They talk of foreign Powers offering them troops; is begging being offered? and if those foreign Powers are not Russia, but little Hesse, etc., are those foreign Powers?’ Letters, vi. 275. He is partly in error however, as there is no mention of Powers. It was from Russia that the King hoped to get troops. Burke ends a letter to the Duke of Richmond, dated Sept. 26, 1775, by saying:—‘I beg pardon for this long and unmanaged letter. I am on thorns. I cannot, at my ease, see Russian barbarism let loose to waste the most beautiful object that ever appeared upon this globe.’ Burke's Corres. ii. 75.
Note 17. The three per cent. consols were at 88 on Oct. 26. Gent. Mag. 1775, p. 504. See ante, p. 179, n. 15.
Note 18. Hume had written twenty-one years earlier:—‘Speculative reasoners, during that age [the age of James I], raised many objections to the planting of those remote colonies; and foretold that, after draining their mother-country of inhabitants, they would soon shake off her yoke, and erect an independent government in America. But time has shown that the views entertained by those who encouraged such generous undertakings were more just and solid. A mild Government and great naval force have preserved, and may still preserve during some time, the dominion of England over her colonies.’ History of England, vi. 188. In a fine passage in the first edition of this same volume of his History, which he afterwards had the shame of suppressing, he said:—‘The seeds of many a noble state have been sown in climates kept desolate by the wild manners of the ancient inhabitants; and an asylum secured in that solitary world for liberty and science, if ever the spreading of unlimited empire, or the inroad of barbarous nations, should again extinguish them in this turbulent and restless hemisphere.’ Burton's Hume, ii. 74.
Note 19. When Hume calls Lord Chatham a madman he is no doubt referring to the miserable state of health into which that statesman had fallen eight years earlier. Hume wrote to the Countess de Boufflers on June 19, 1767:—‘You ask the present state of our politics. Why, in a word, we are all in confusion. This, you’ll say, is telling you nothing new; for when were we otherwise? But we are in greater confusion than usual; because of the strange condition of Lord Chatham, who was regarded as our first minister. The public here, as well as with you, believe him wholly mad; but I am assured it is not so. He is only fallen into extreme low spirits and into nervous disorders, which render him totally unfit for business, make him shun all company, and, as I am told, set him weeping like a child upon the least accident. Is not this a melancholy situation for so lofty and vehement a spirit as his? And is it not even an addition to his unhappiness that he retains his senses?’ Hume's Private Corres. p. 243. Horace Walpole had written on April 5 of the same year:—‘There is a misfortune not so easily to be surmounted, the state of Lord Chatham's health, who now does not only not see the Ministers, but even does not receive letters. The world, on the report of the Opposition, believe his head disordered, and there is so far a kind of colour for this rumour, that he has lately taken Dr. Addington, a physician in vogue, who originally was a mad doctor.’ Letters, v. 45. On Sept. 9 he wrote:—‘For Lord Chatham, he is really or intentionally mad—but I still doubt which of the two.’ Ib. p. 63. Junius, in a letter signed Correggio, dated Sept. 16 of this same year, describes him as ‘a lunatic brandishing a crutch, or bawling through a grate, or writing with desperate charcoal a letter to North America.’ Letters of Junius, ed. 1812, ii. 474.
Note 20. Hume spoke in vain; the nation was not with him. Burke, writing a month earlier of the ruin of the country, ‘which, if I am not quite visionary, is approaching with the greatest rapidity,’ continues:—‘I am sensible of the shocking indifference and neutrality of a great part of the nation. But a speculative despair is unpardonable, where it is our duty to act.... The people are not answerable for their present supine acquiescence; indeed they are not. God and nature never made them to think or to act without guidance and direction. They have obeyed the only impulse they have received.’ Burke's Corres. ii. 71-2. On Feb. 2 of the year before, describing ‘the supineness of the public,’ he had said:—‘Any remarkable highway robbery at Hounslow Heath would make more conversation than all the disturbances of America.’ Ib. i. 453.
Note 21. Hume here uses Advertisement in the same sense as the French Avertissement, which is defined by Littré, Préface mise à la tête d’un livre. Johnson, in speaking of the Lives of the Poets, says:—‘My purpose was only to have allotted to every poet an Advertisement, like those which we find in the French Miscellanies, containing a few dates and a general character.’ Boswell's Johnson, iv. 35. In this Advertisement, which is placed at the beginning of An Inquiry concerning Human Understanding, Hume, speaking of his Treatise of Human Nature, says that ‘he had projected it before he left College,’ and that ‘sensible of his error in going to the press too early, he cast the whole anew in the following pieces.... Yet several writers, who have honoured the author's Philosophy with answers, have taken care to direct all their batteries against that juvenile work, which the Author never acknowledged, and have affected to triumph in any advantage which they imagined they had obtained over it; a practice very contrary to all rules of candour and fair dealing, and a strong instance of those polemical artifices which a bigoted zeal thinks itself authorised to employ. Henceforth the Author desires that the following Pieces may alone be regarded as containing his philosophical sentiments and principles.’ In a review of Hume's Life in the Ann. Reg. 1776, ii. 28, Beattie is reproached with obtaining a pension by levelling all his arguments against Hume's ‘juvenile production.’
Note 22. Reid's Inquiry into the Human Mind was meant as a refutation of Hume's philosophy. Nevertheless in his anxiety not to misrepresent the meaning of his adversary, and in his reliance on his candour, he asked leave, through their common friend Dr. Blair, to submit his reasonings to his examination. ‘I wish,’ wrote Hume in reply, ‘that the parsons would confine themselves to their old occupation of worrying one another, and leave philosophers to argue with temper, moderation, and good manners.’ When however he had read part of the manuscript, he wrote to the author in terms of high praise of its philosophy, and added:—‘As I was desirous to be of some use to you, I kept a watchful eye all along over your style; but it is really so correct, and so good English, that I found not anything worth the remarking. There is only one passage in this chapter, where you make use of the phrase hinder to do, instead of hinder from doing, which is the English one.’ Stewart's Life of Reid, pp. 417, 418.
Note 23. Strahan wrote to Hume on June 3, 1776, when the philosopher was near his end:—‘Even your enemies relent, and I will venture to say, wish your recovery. Creech of Edinburgh writes me that he had just then (May 29) received a letter from Dr. Beattie in which was the following paragraph:—‘I am sincerely sorry to hear of Mr. Hume's bad health. There will be several things in this Edition which I am pretty sure would not offend him, if he were to see them, which I heartily which he may. The Essay is corrected in almost every page—superfluities retrenched—inaccuracies corrected—and many harsh expressions softened.” Does not this look like repentance?’ Beattie, in his Preface, mentions Hume's ‘Advertisement to a new edition of his Essays, in which he seems to disown his Treatise of Human Nature, and desires that those Essays, as then published, may be considered as containing his philosophical sentiments and principles.... He certainly merits praise for thus publicly disowning, though late, his Treatise of Human Nature ... In consequence of his Advertisement, I thought it right to mitigate in this edition some of the censures that more especially refer to that work.’ Forbes's Life of Beattie, ed. 1824, p. 231. Hume perhaps would never have made the idle attempt to have one of his greatest works suppressed, as it were, nearly forty years after its publication, had he foreseen that it would lead to his being partially absolved and publicly praised by Dr. Beattie. When three years after their author's death the Dialogues on Natural Religion were published, Beattie felt himself an injured man. In a letter to Mrs. Montagu he says:—’during the last years of Mr. Hume's life his friends gave out that he regretted his having dealt so much in metaphysics, and that he never would write any more. He was at pains to disavow his Treatise of Human Nature in an Advertisement which he published about half a year before his death. All this, with what I then heard of his bad health, made my heart relent towards him; as you would no doubt perceive by the preface to my quarto book. But immediately after his death, I heard that he had left behind him two manuscripts,’etc. Beattie concludes with the following anecdote, which he had from Dr. Gregory:—‘Mr. Hume was boasting to the doctor that among his disciples in Edinburgh he had the honour to reckon many of the fair sex. “Now, tell me,” said the doctor, “whether, if you had a wife or a daughter, you would wish them to be your disciples. Think well before you answer me; for I assure you, that whatever your answer is, I will not conceal it.” Mr. Hume with a smile, and some hesitation, made this reply:—“No; I believe scepticism may be too sturdy a virtue for a woman.”’ Life of Beattie, ed. 1824, p. 264. The knowledge that the answer would not be concealed would not have been an inducement to Hume to avow his real sentiments.
Note 24. Strahan replied that about 400 copies of the History were left in stock, and that he intended ‘to put it to press again the ensuing summer.’ M. S. R. S. E. The next edition was published in 1778.