Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTER LXXVIII.: Hume's Anxiety for the Correctness of his Works: the Effects of the Loss of America. - Letters of David Hume to William Strahan
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LETTER LXXVIII.: Hume's Anxiety for the Correctness of his Works: the Effects of the Loss of America. - 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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Hume's Anxiety for the Correctness of his Works: the Effects of the Loss of America.
13 of Novr., 1775.
Your Memory has fail’d you. The last Quarto Edition of my philosophical Pieces in 1768 was in two Volumes, and this Advertisement may be prefixed to the second Volume. There was another Quarto Edition in one Volume six or seven Years before1 ; but that Edition must be all sold off, as you have made four or five Editions since2 . Your Correction is certainly just; and I had evidently been guilty of an Error in my Pen.
I am glad to find there is a Prospect of a new Edition of my History. I was indeed apprehensive, that the blind Rage of Party had entirely obstructed the Sale of it. I am as anxious of Correctness3 as if I were writing to Greeks or French; and besides frequent Revisals, which I have given it since the last Edition, I shall again run over it very carefully, and shall send you a corrected Copy. About six Weeks hence, I shall send off by the Waggon the four first Volumes; and shall direct them to Mr. Cadel's Shop, which will be more easily found than your House4 . The other four Volumes shall follow at Leizure. I remember an Author5 , who says, that one half of a man's Life is too little to write a Book; and the other half to correct it. I think, that I am more agreeably employ’d for myself in this manner, and perhaps more profitably for you, than if I were writing such Volumes as Macpherson's History6 , one of the most wretched Productions that ever came from your Press.
I am sorry, that I cannot agree with you, in your hopes of subduing and what is more difficult, of governing America7 . Think only of the great Kingdom of France which is within a days sailing of the small Island of Corsica; yet has not been able, in eight or nine Years, to subdue and govern it, contrary to Sentiments of the Inhabitants8 . But the worst Effect of the Loss of America, will not be the Detriment to our Manufactures, which will be a mere trifle9 , or to our Navigation, which will not be considerable10 ; but to the Credit and Reputation of Government, which has already but too little Authority. You will probably see a Scene of Anarchy and Confusion open’d at home, the best Consequence of which is a settled Plan of arbitrary Power11 ; the worst, total Ruin and Destruction12 .
I am extremely oblig’d to you for your Letter to Professor Wilson. I am afraid, however, that all Efforts in favour of Dr. Wight will be in vain. It seems, Dr. Hunter supports a Friend of his; and nothing can be refusd him by the University13 .
I am Dear Sir Yours most sincerely
Note 1. There was a quarto edition in one volume in 1758.
Note 2. The editions of 1760, 1764, 1768, 1770, 1772.
Note 3. Hume had written ‘careful of correctness,’ but had scored ‘careful’ out. Johnson in his Dictionary gives an example from Granville of anxious followed not by for or about but by of—‘anxious of neglect.’ Hume's anxiety was for correctness of style.
Note 4. See ante, p. 215, n. 2.
Note 5. Rousseau, according to Hume's previous statement. See ante, p. 200.
Note 6. ‘The History of Great Britain from the Restoration to the Accession of the House of Hanover. By James Macpherson, Esq.; 2 vols. quarto. £2 2s. Cadell.’ Gent. Mag. 1775, p. 192. Horace Walpole, writing on April 14, 1775, said:—‘For Macpherson, I stopped dead short in the first volume; never was such a heap of insignificant trash and lies. One instance shall suffice: in a letter from a spy to James II there is a blank for a name; a note without the smallest ground to build the conjecture on says, “probably the Earl of Devonshire.” Pretty well! Yet not content, the honest gentleman says in the index, “The Earl of Devonshire is suspected of favouring the excluded family.” Can you suspect such a worthy person of forgery? could he forge Ossian?’ Letters, vi. 202. Macpherson had published an Introduction to the History of Great Britain and Ireland, which soon reached a third edition. To this work Gibbon pays one of his stately compliments, some years after he had been warned by Hume that the author of Ossian was a literary forger. He says:—‘In the dark and doubtful paths of Caledonian antiquity I have chosen for my guides two learned and ingenious Highlanders, whom their birth and education had peculiarly qualified for that office. See ... and Introduction to the History of Great Britain and Ireland, by James Macpherson, Esq.’ Decline and Fall, ed. 1807, iv. 244.
Note 7. Strahan had most people with him in the belief that America would be subdued. Horace Walpole wrote from Paris on Sept. 6, 1775:—‘You may judge whether they do not stare at all we are doing! They will not believe me when I tell them that the American War is fashionable, for one is forced to use that word to convey to them an idea of the majority.’ Letters, vi. 248. Burke wrote on Sept. 24:—‘I confess that from every information which I receive ... the real fact is, that the generality of the people of England are now led away by the misrepresentations and arts of the Ministry, the Court, and their abettors; so that the violent measures towards America are fairly adopted and countenanced by a majority of individuals of all ranks, professions, or occupations in this country.... I am indeed more and more convinced that it behoves us as honest and honourable men to take the step of a protestation after Parliament has met. It is unusual. It would doubtless occasion much speculation. It would have some effect upon the public at large, when they see men of high rank and fortune, of known principles and of undoubted abilities, stepping forwards in so extraordinary a manner to face a torrent, not merely of ministerial or Court power, but also of almost general opinion.’ Burke's Corres. ii. 68.
Note 8. Genoa ceded Corsica to France in 1768. In 1769 Pascal Paoli left the island and sought a refuge in England. Voltaire in his chapter on Corsica, in his Siècle de Louis XV, written at all events as late as 1774, speaks as if the conquest of the country were complete. He says:—‘Ainsi donc, en cédant la vaine et fatale souveraineté d‘un pays qui lui était à charge, Gênes faisait en effet un bon marché, et le roi de France en faisait un meilleur, puisqu‘il était assez puissant pour se faire obéir dans la Corse, pour la policer, pour la peupler, pour l‘enrichir, en y faisant fleurir l‘agriculture et le commerce ... Il restait à savoir si les hommes ont le droit de vendre d‘autres hommes; mais c‘est une question qu‘on n‘examina jamais dans aucun traité.’ Œuvres de Voltaire, xix. 365.
Note 9. See ante, p. 288.
Note 10. Hume wrote to Adam Smith on Feb. 8, 1776:—‘The Duke of Buccleugh tells me that you are very zealous in American affairs. My notion is that the matter is not so important as is commonly imagined. If I be mistaken, I shall probably correct my error when I see you, or read you. [The Wealth of Nations was on the eve of publication.] Our navigation and general commerce may suffer more than our manufactures.’ Burton's Hume, ii. 483. See ante, p. 292, n. 10, for the restrictions placed on American trade in the hope of benefiting the trade of England. By one of ‘the principal dispositions of the Navigation Act,’ writes Adam Smith, ‘all ships, of which the owners, masters, and three-fourths of the mariners are not British subjects are prohibited, upon pain of forfeiting ship and cargo, from trading to the British settlements and plantations.’ Wealth of Nations, ed. 1811, ii. 252. He considered ‘the regulations of this famous act,’ though some of them ‘may have proceeded from national animosity, as wise as if they had all been dictated by the most deliberate wisdom.’ Ib. p. 254. If America became free this exclusive navigation would of course at once be lost to England, but Hume had little fear of the consequence. Thirty-three years earlier, in his Essay entitled Of the Jealousy of Trade, he had written:—‘I shall venture to acknowledge that, not only as a man but as a British subject, I pray for the flourishing commerce of Germany, Spain, Italy, and even France itself.’ Essays and Treatises, ed. 1770, ii. 111.
Note 11. See ante, p. 128, n. 16.
Note 12. Horace Walpole, writing a fortnight later to Mason the poet, said:—‘What shall I say more? talk politics? no; we think too much alike. England was, Scotland is—indeed by the blunders the latter has made one sees its Irish origin,—but I had rather talk of anything else. I see nothing but ruin, whatever shall happen; and what idle solicitude is that of childless old people, who are anxious about the first fifty years after their death, and do not reflect that in the eternity to follow, fifty or five hundred years are a moment, and that all countries fall sooner or later.’ Letters, vi. 284. See ante, p. 179, n. 15.
Note 13. Dr. William Hunter, the famous physician, had taken his Doctor's degree at Glasgow. Perhaps it was already known that he intended to make a munificent bequest to the University. Knight's Biog. Dict. iii. 526. Dr. James Baillie was elected. Dr. Wight succeeded Baillie in 1778. Caldwell Papers, ii. 260.