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LETTER XCIV.: Information asked for about the proposed Publication of Hume's Manuscripts. - 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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Information asked for about the proposed Publication of Hume's Manuscripts.
Jany. 30th, 1777.
Presuming upon my connection with a Gentleman whose memory must undoubtedly be very dear to you, as to everyone who had the Happiness of his intimate Acquaintance, I take the liberty of addressing you. You already perceive, that I speak of the late Mr. David Hume; to whom I had the singular Felicity and Advantage of being Nephew.
I have never been able to learn, so fully and distinctly as I desire, your intention with regard to the Publication of those Manuscripts and Essays which he left behind him, and committed to your care. On this head, I am naturally very much interested: I hope, therefore, that you will excuse me, if I request it of you as the friend of my Uncle, that you would communicate to me all the information with regard to the extent, the time and manner of Publication, which consistently with your own convenience you can. A few Lines, in compliance with this Request, will be regarded as a great favour, and afford me the utmost Satisfaction1 .
I am Sir, your most obedt most Humble Servt
David Hume2 .
Directn at Professor Millar's3 , College—Glasgow.
[John Home to William Strahan.]
Note 1. Strahan replied on Feb. 13:—‘As for Mr. Hume's Dialogues on Natural Religion, I am not yet determined whether I shall publish them or not. I have all possible regard to the will of the deceased: But as that can be as well fulfilled by you as by me, and as the publication will probably make some noise in the world, and its tendency be considered in different lights by different men, I am inclined to think it had better be made by you. From you some will conclude it comes with propriety as done in obedience to the last request of your Uncle; as he himself expresses it; from me it might be suspected to proceed from motives of interest. But in this matter I hope you will do me the justice to believe I put interest wholly out of the question. However, you shall not, at any rate, be kept long in suspense, as you shall soon have my final resolution. The two Essays that were formerly printed, but not published, I think with all your Uncle's other friends whom I know, should never appear again in print.’ M. S. R. S. E. For these two Essays, see ante, p. 230, and p. 346, n. 2.
Note 2. ‘David Hume [the nephew of the historian] was born on 27th February, 1757, and died on 27th July, 1838. He was successively sheriff of the counties of Berwick and Linlithgow. He was professor of Scots law in the University of Edinburgh, and a principal Clerk of Session. He resigned these offices on his being appointed a Baron of the Scottish Exchequer. His works are of great authority in the practical departments of the law. While he taught in the University, his students zealously collected notes of his lectures; and as he refused to permit any version of them to be published, the well-preserved collections of these notes have been considered valuable treasuries of legal wisdom. In 1790 he published Commentaries on the law of Scotland respecting trials for crimes; and in 1797 Commentaries on the law of Scotland respecting the description and punishment of crimes.... Few literary reputations have been more unlike each other than those of the two David Humes, uncle and nephew. The former hated legal details and the jargon of technical phraseology; to the latter they were the breath of his literary life.... On one point only did they agree—their political opinions.... Baron Hume was a supporter of all those parts of the criminal law of Scotland,—in his day not a few,—which put the subject at the mercy of the Crown and of the Judges.’ Burton's Hume, ii. 401. ‘I remember,’ wrote Sir Walter Scott in 1826, ‘the late Lord Melville defending, in a manner that defied refutation, the Scots law against sedition, and I have lived to see these repealed by what our friend Baron Hume calls “a bill for the better encouragement of sedition and treason.” It will last my day probably; at least I shall be too old to be shot, and have only the honourable chance of being hanged for incivisme.’ Lockhart's Life of Scott, viii. 297. For an instance of the cruel severity of the Scotch law of sedition, see Boswell's Johnson, iv. 125, n. 2. Lord Cockburn in his Memorials, p. 163, while he admits the usefulness of Hume's Commentaries ‘for ordinary practice,’ denies that ‘it is a great work of original thought... The proceedings of the savage old Scotch Privy Council are held up by him as judicial precedents, even in political cases.’ As an enlightened exposition of law ‘there is no book that has worse stood the test of time. There is scarcely one of his favourite points that the legislature, with the cordial assent of the public and of lawyers, has not put down.’ In the Speculative Society, about the year 1799, ‘Hume tried to bear down the younger members, who led by Brougham, Jeffrey, Horner,...were as defying in their Whiggism as their opponents in their Toryism... Being supposed to have applied some offensive imputation to the junior party, it was arranged (by lot, I believe) that Jeffrey should require an explanation. This was given; but still they were bound over to keep the peace.’ Ib. p. 74.
Note 3. Professor John Millar, in whose house David Hume was living in his student days at Glasgow, was the author of some historical works. ‘Let me venture strongly to recommend to you the books of Professor Millar,’ wrote Mackintosh to Professor Smyth of Cambridge,—‘his excellent treatise On Ranks, and even his tedious and unequal work On the English Government, which contains at least an excellent half-volume of original matter.’ Mackintosh's Life, i. 412.