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LETTER XCII.: Hume's Injunction about his Papers. - 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 Injunction about his Papers.
It always gives me great uneasiness whenever I am obliged to give an opinion contrary to the inclination of my friend. I am sensible that many of Mr Humes letters would do him great honour and that you would publish none but such as would. But what in this case ought principally to be considered is the will of the Dead. Mr Humes constant injunction was to burn all his Papers, except the Dialogues and the account of his own life1 . This injunction was even inserted in the body of his will2 . I know he always disliked the thought of his letters ever being published. He had been in long and intimate correspondence with a relation of his own who dyed a few years ago. When that Gentlemans health began to decline he was extremely anxious to get back his letters, least the heir should think of publishing them. They were accordingly returned and burnt as soon as returned. If a collection of Mr. Humes letters, besides, was to receive the public approbation, as yours certainly would, the Curls3 of the times would immediately set about rummaging the cabinets of all those who had ever received a scrap of paper from him. Many things would be published not fit to see the light to the great mortification of all those who wish well to his memory4 . Nothing has contributed so much to sink the value of Swifts works as the undistinguished publication of his letters5 ; and be assured that your publication, however select, would soon be followed by an undistinguished one. I should, therefore, be sorry to see any beginning given to the publication of his letters. His life will not make a volume; but it will make a small pamphlet. I shall certainly be in London by the tenth of January at furthest. I have a little business at Edinburgh which may detain me a few days about Christmass, otherwise I should be with you by the new year. I have a great deal more to say to you; but the post is just going. I shall write to Mr. Cadell by next post.
I ever am Dear Sir
Most affectionately yours
2 Dec., 1776.
[Draft of a Letter from Adam Smith to William Strahan.]
Note 1. Hume writing to Millar so early as July 21, 1757, said:— ‘I must beg the Favor of you, that you would burn all my Letters, which do not treat of Business; that is, I may say all of them.... I own to you, that it would be very disagreeable to me, if by any accident these Letters should fall into idle People's hands, and be honoured with a publication.’ M. S. R. S. E.
Note 2. ‘To my friend Dr. Adam Smith, late Professor of Moral Philosophy in Glasgow, I leave all my manuscripts without exception, desiring him to publish my Dialogues on Natural Religion, which are comprehended in this present bequest; but to publish no other papers which he suspects not to have been written within these five years, but to destroy them all at his leisure.’ Hume's Philosophical Works, ed. 1854, i. xxxi. It is clear that this desire that his papers should be destroyed did not apply to his letters; for there was no reason why he should have exempted from destruction those written in the last five years. In the codicil to his will, dated Aug. 7, he says:—‘I desire that my brother may suppress all my other manuscripts’ except the Dialogues and the two Essays (ante, p. 346, n. 2). There can be no doubt, however, that he would not have sanctioned the publication of his letters.
Note 3. ‘One of the passages of Pope's life which seems to deserve some inquiry was a publication of letters between him and many of his friends, which falling into the hands of Curll, a rapacious bookseller of no good fame, were by him printed and sold.’ Johnson's Works, viii. 281.
Note 4. It is not impossible that some of his letters may have contained loose writing. In one to Lord Advocate Dundas, dated Nov. 20, 1754, referring to the expulsion from the Advocates’ Library of three French works for their indecency (ante, Autobiography), he says:—‘By the bye, Bussi Rabutin contains no bawdy at all, though if it did, I see not that it would be a whit the worse. For I know not a more agreeable subject both for books and conversation, if executed with decency and ingenuity. I can presume, without intending the least offence, that as the glass circulates at your Lordship's table, this topic of conversation will sometimes steal in, provided always there be no ministers present. And even some of these reverend gentlemen I have seen not to dislike the subject.’ Arniston Memoirs, ed. 1887, p. 158.
Note 5. ‘of swift's general habits of thinking, if his letters can be supposed to afford any evidence, he was not a man to be either loved or envied. He seems to have wasted life in discontent, by the rage of neglected pride, and the languishment of unsatisfied desire. He is querulous and fastidious, arrogant and malignant; he scarcely speaks of himself but with indignant lamentations, or of others but with insolent superiority when he is gay, and with angry contempt when he is gloomy. From the letters that pass between him and Pope it might be inferred that they, with Arbuthnot and Gay, had engrossed all the understanding and virtue of mankind; that their merits filled the world; or that there was no hope of more. They show the age involved in darkness, and shade the picture with sullen emulation.’ Johnson's Works, viii. 225. Cowper writing on April 20, 1777, says:—‘I once thought Swift's letters the best that could be written; but I like Gray's better. His humour, or his wit, or whatever it is to be called, is never ill-natured or offensive, and yet, I think, equally poignant with the Dean's.’ Cowper's Works, xv. 38.
Note 6. Adam Smith was born at Kirkaldy on June 5, 1723. After his return from France in 1766 he settled there, living in great retirement for nearly ten years. ‘At length (in the beginning of 1776) he accounted to the world for his long retreat, by the publication of his Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.’ Dugald Stewart's Life of Adam Smith, ed. 1811, i. 75. Writing to Hume from Kirkaldy on June 7, 1767, he says:—‘My Business here is Study, in which I have been very deeply engaged for about a Month past. My Amusements are long solitary walks by the sea-side. You may judge how I spend my time. I feel myself, however, extremely happy, comfortable, and contented. I never was perhaps more so in my life.’ M. S. R. S. E. Hume, on his return to Edinburgh in 1769, wrote to him from his house in James's Court:—‘I am glad to have come within sight of you, and to have a view of Kirkaldy from my windows.’ Burton's Hume, ii. 429.