Front Page Titles (by Subject) I: Before 1789 - David Hume: Prophet of the Counter-revolution
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I: Before 1789 - Laurence L. Bongie, David Hume: Prophet of the Counter-revolution 
David Hume: Prophet of the Counter-revolution (2nd ed.), Foreword by Donald W. Livingston (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).
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In 1763 David Hume arrived in Paris to take up duties with Lord Hertford, Britain’s first peacetime ambassador to France since the outbreak of the Seven Years’ War. Author of a famous History of the Stuarts, David Hume, frequently hailed as the “English Tacitus,” was given an official and personal welcome such as few foreign authors have ever received in the French capital.
The story of France’s adulation is too well known to need retelling here,1 although one example of it is particularly relevant to our purpose. Let us read Hume’s own account of his presentation at Versailles in 1763 to the children of the Dauphin, three future kings of France:
The scene which passed today really pleased me without embarrassing me. I attended Lord Hertford to Versailles in order to be presented to the Dauphiness and the young Princes, the only part of the royal family whom we had not yet seen. When I was presented to the Duc de Berry, a child of ten years of age, he said to me, “Monsieur, you are much admired in this country; your name is very well-known; and it is with great pleasure that I welcome you.” Immediately upon which his brother the Comte de Provence, who is two years younger, advanced to me and said with great presence of mind, “Monsieur, you have been long and impatiently expected in this country: I count on having much enjoyment when I am able to read your fine history.” But what is more remarkable, when we were carried to make our bows to the Comte d’Artois, who is about five years of age, and to a young Madame of between two and three, the infant prince likewise advanced to me in order to make me his harangue, in which, though it was not very distinct, I heard him mumble the word Histoire, and some other terms of panegyric. With him ended the civilities of the royal family of France towards me; and I may say it did not end till their power of speech failed them: for the Princess was too young to be able to articulate a compliment.2
David Hume, we see, was merely flattered. At the time, he could not have known the extent to which events described so skilfully in his History would one day assume a new and urgent meaning in the political life of the French nation. Nor could he have known that, not quite thirty years later, the eldest of these charming children, condemned to die by the will of that same nation, would once more take up the famous Monsieur Hume’s great work as part of his last searching meditations.
The Science and Art of English History
The quite unusual popularity of Hume’s History of England in eighteenth-century France requires perhaps some preliminary general explanation. His Political Discourses and Philosophical Essays introduced on the continent several years earlier had won him little more than the unflatteringly mild contempt of the devout and the intense but largely uncomprehending praise of a number of philosophes and salonnières. Originality in epistemological writings has rarely given any philosopher a great popular audience. The story is complicated too by the fact that the philosophes did not wish originality in a field which they believed had been definitively treated by Locke.
But history was a very different matter. As a genre it represented to the eighteenth-century reading public the most digestible form of narrative and was contrasted frequently with the novel which, though equally appealing to the mass of readers, was rarely considered to be a serious or worthy vehicle of truth. Such was the reputed superiority of history as a vantage point from which to view the human passions that many good and bad novels of the day conventionally attempted to pass themselves off as personal histories, memoirs, or collections of letters.3
Voltaire, Hume, and Gibbon, the three greatest historians of the century, were in agreement that history represented the most popular species of writing. History was an art the models of which were best found in antiquity. To be called, as Hume often was, the Tacitus of the English was to receive, even in that “modern” period, the highest possible tribute. Seen not only as an art, history was viewed too as perhaps the most valuable of the human sciences—a unique storehouse of empirical facts without which no generalizations about man’s nature, his motivations and passions, were possible. Speculation on almost any subject other than the physical sciences was considered worthless unless Clio had first been heard. Grimm, pointing out in 1767 that not a single “line of history” was cited in a work by the economist Le Mercier de La Rivière, concluded: “That in itself proves what we must think of his work.”4 Similarly, Louis de Bonald singled out Rousseau’s Contrat social for attack “because the author . . . constantly sacrifices . . . history to his opinions.”5 De Bonald adds that “general or abstract propositions relating to society, that is to man, apply only through history, or the actions of man in society.”6
Joseph de Maistre, Louis de Bonald’s spiritual ally in the counter-revolution, agreed: “History is applied politics, its only valid form; and as in physics, a hundred volumes of speculative theory can be reduced to nothing by a single experiment, similarly, in political science, no system can be accepted if it is not the probable corollary, more or less, of well-attested facts.”7
The idéologue Volney speaks of history as “the physiological science of governments” and as a “series of experiments that the human race conducts on itself,” the purpose of which is to find “a genealogical order of cause and effect, from which to deduce a theory of rules and principles appropriate for the guidance of both individuals and nations toward goals of survival or advancement.”8
History at its best was thus a pleasantly disguised form of social science long before Cambacérès triumphantly proclaimed to the Institut National on 25 February 1798 the advent of that new saviour: “Legislators, philosophers, jurisconsults, the age of social science has arrived, and, we might add, that of true philosophy.”9 I shall have occasion to come back to this view as well as to an important body of eighteenth-century thought which violently disagreed with it. For the moment it might be worthwhile to quote Hume’s own similar view of history’s purpose as expressed in the Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (1748):
Its chief use is only to discover the constant and universal principles of human nature, by showing men in all varieties of circumstances and situations, and furnishing us with materials, from which we may form our observations, and become acquainted with the regular springs of human action and behaviour. These records of wars, intrigues, factions, and revolutions, are so many collections of experiments, by which the politician or moral philosopher fixes the principles of his science; in the same manner as the physician or natural philosopher becomes acquainted with the nature of plants, minerals, and other external objects, by the experiments, which he forms concerning them. Nor are the earth, water, and other elements, examined by Aristotle, and Hippocrates, more like to those, which at present lie under our observation, than the men, described by Polybius and Tacitus, are to those, who now govern the world.10
It should also be noted that Hume’s earlier writings in philosophy and economics could only add to his potential success and stature as an historian in the eyes of the eighteenth-century reader. History, as we know, had to be “philosophical”—l’histoire raisonnée as opposed to l’histoire simple. Only the profound thinker was judged worthy of attempting it and such non-professionals as Smollett did little more than anger the French with their amateurish and pretentious imitations. “How could Mr. Smollett take it into his head,” indignantly writes Chastellux in 1766, “to write his History at the same time as Mr. Hume is writing his! The match is not equal. . . .”11 That history ought to be written only by men “profoundly versed in the science of politics” is the corresponding sentiment expressed in the fashionable Mercure de France of 1763.12
To recapitulate, then, history in the eighteenth century was a very popular literary genre, vested also with an almost sacred function; and Hume was judged to be of a sufficiently reflective turn of mind to put a soul into its otherwise dead bones.
Another explanation of Hume’s great success in this field lies undoubtedly in the fact that he had chosen to write a history of the English nation at a time when a strange anglomania was at its height on the continent. French interest in all things English from jurys to jockeys, from fist-fights to glorious naval battles, despite the frequently inane sacrifice of national pride involved, hardly subsided, even during the Seven Years’ War. Gibbon tells of his welcome in Paris in 1763 and speaks of how English opinions, fashions, even games were adopted in France at this time and of how every Englishman was viewed as a born patriot and philosopher.13 Garat gives an account of the phenomenon that conveys perhaps a special meaning to readers of our own space age:
After Voltaire published his Letters on the English and Montesquieu his two chapters of the Esprit des Lois, a strange appetite developed in France for knowing everything that happened or might happen, or might be thought, spoken or dreamed of in England. If a telescope like Herschel’s and a listening device with similar range had existed at the time, these would have been pointed at England more often than at the moon and the other heavenly bodies. This enthusiasm was as much a matter of deeply reasoned admiration, as it was a kind of craze.14
British national history naturally reaped the benefits of the current mania and Hume is but the first in rank of many authors on the subject who were read widely in France at this time. In 1765 the Bibliothèque des Sciences et des Beaux-Arts, seeking an appropriate metaphor to describe the great number of recent publications in the field of English history, felt compelled to exclaim: “Histories of England are pouring down on us!”15
Anglomania, however, is not a sufficient explanation of this torrent. One must also bear in mind the fact that English history, per se, was judged to be peculiarly superior to all other modern national histories, both as an artistic theme-source and as a scientific repository. Hume himself had written to the Abbé Le Blanc in 1754 that he esteemed the Stuart period “both for signal events and extraordinary characters to be the most interesting in modern history.”16 Voltaire, who frequently complained of the “insipidness” of French history and wondered even if it were worth writing,17 agreed that the superiority of English events gave Hume an advantage in the field. Writing in 1769 to Gabriel-Henri Gaillard, he expressed the following bitter sentiments on the subject:
I can see nothing, in short, from the time of Saint Louis to Henri IV. That is why the compilations of French history bore everyone to death, myself included. David Hume has a great advantage over the abbé Velly and his ilk, because he has written the history of the English, and in France no one has ever written the history of the French. Every husbandman of means in England is entirely familiar with that nation’s constitution and keeps a copy of Magna Carta in his home. As for our history, it is made up of petty court squabbles, great battles lost, small battles won, and lettres de cachet. Were it not for five or six famous assassinations, and especially the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre, nothing could surpass us in insipidity. Note too that we have never invented anything; and, finally, truth to tell, we exist in the eyes of Europe only in the century of Louis XIV. I’m sorry, but that is how it is.18
Later on in the century, Soulavie, commenting on a similar view of the dullness of French history—this time expressed by Rousseau—showed to what extent the question of whether their subject truly “existed” or not had become a matter of serious concern to French historians. His conclusions were, however, rather hopeful: “Our circumstances . . . have been sufficiently varied, and human passions have exercised their power in our midst with enough energy and effect to provide interest and instruction for every age and every nation. However, even if we have so many literary masterpieces in every genre, we are still lacking a history that will do honour to France.”19
We see that a nation’s history, to be interesting and significant, had to present the greatest possible variety of human social situations; first, because such variety was aesthetically necessary in a literary composition and, second, because the greater the number of events permutated and combined, the greater the resulting information about man’s moral nature. English history best fulfilled both of these requirements according to an anonymous counter-revolutionary work of 1793: “The history of nations, and particularly that of Great Britain, instructs and interests by the variety of its tableaux and events; it is in that faithful mirror that one sees reflected the interplay of every passion that stirs the human heart.”20 The Journal Encyclopédique thirty years earlier had made the same point: “. . . no nation offers more varied scenes, characters more diverse or illustrious; no history provides a richer or more sweeping background of instruction, amazement and pleasure than the history of Great Britain. . . . ; what other European people has witnessed more frequent alteration in its manners, laws and government?”21
Perhaps the only serious competitor to English history was, as could well be expected in this neo-classical age, that of the ancients. Sénac de Meilhan in 1787 expressed his opinion on the problem in the following manner: “Few modern historians can be placed side-by-side with Thucydides, Xenophon, Sallust, Livy, and, especially, Tacitus: Hume and Robertson appear to have followed most closely in their footsteps; perhaps they would have even caught up with them had they written in their language and been provided with equally interesting scenes to depict.”22 Mme de Staël, writing some years later, agreed and also explained the superiority of the ancients in history by the superiority of their subject matter:
“The historians of antiquity remain unsurpassed because no other period in history has witnessed superior men play such influential rôles in the affairs of their country.” English historians, however, were next in rank: “It is the nation in England that possesses greatness, more so even than any particular individual; that is why historians there are less dramatic but more philosophical than the ancients.”23
Other opinions expressed during the first decades of the nineteenth century suggest that this view of English national history still widely prevailed. We read the following observation, for example, in La Quotidienne of 1826: “Of all modern national histories, the most fascinating is unquestionably the history of England: as in a drama, suspense constantly increases, calamities and sudden shifts of fortune are at every moment renewed.”24
We see how important this largely eighteenth-century concept of the art of history still was in 1826—not just the art of the individual historian, but the dramatic art, as it were, of a nation’s own past in its unfolding. The great variety of events in English history and the order in which these had occurred seemed to permit a perfect fusion of both artistic and scientific elements in one literary genre. The modern world had, quite plainly, no greater or more significant story to tell. This view was to change only after a somewhat delayed realization came to Europe that the events of the French revolution had suddenly presented historians with an even greater story.
We shall in the course of this study see that there are many additional reasons which explain why David Hume succeeded so well in eighteenth-century France as an historian. These are of a more particular nature and more complex to analyse. Generally, and perhaps truistically speaking, however, we might initially conclude that his great success was to a large extent founded on the fact that he could have chosen no other topic more suited to satisfy at the same time both the political curiosity and the artistic interests of most French readers of his day.
Jehovah Among the Hebrews
Already in 1754, even before the English publication of his Stuarts, Hume had intimated to the Abbé Le Blanc, translator of his moderately successful Political Discourses, that the History would succeed well in France.25 Hume proposed at this same time that Le Blanc should also translate the History and Le Blanc accepted, although he later found it necessary to give up the translation, which was continued by the Abbé Prévost and published in 1760.26 There is a good deal of evidence to show that, even before the long-delayed appearance of Prévost’s translation, impatient readers in France had turned to the original English version. Morellet tells us how, imprisoned in the Bastille in 1760, he had asked Malesherbes to bring him a copy of Tacitus and Hume’s History in English.27 Chastellux the social historian declared to friends that he had learned English only to read Hume;28 and Turgot at this time felt the Stuarts important enough to justify a personal translation.29 Several hundred pages of excerpts from the Stuarts also appeared in various French journals before 1760. Additional proof of such pre-translation success is provided by the results of a survey which I carried out some years ago in the “Delta” series at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. Out of 240 private library sale catalogues from the pre-revolutionary period chosen completely at random, 109 listed Hume’s historical writings. Of these 109, 12 included versions of the Stuarts in English as well as in French. This work, in fact, was already well enough known in France by 1759 for Hume to convey to his fellow-historian Robertson in March of that year the facetious warning that the latter would find it more difficult to thrust him out of his place in Paris than he had in London.30
Once Prévost’s translation was published in 1760, page after page of acclamatory notices appeared in the leading French journals. Similar editorial attention was generously accorded in 1763 and 1765 to Mme Belot’s translations of the Tudors and the Plantagenets. During this time too Hume received in his correspondence a great many tributes from distinguished continental readers. A letter in 1761 from the Comtesse de Boufflers is extreme in its praise but quite sincere; parts of it are worth quoting here as fairly typical of the reactions to Hume’s Stuarts among the fashionable Parisian nobility:
I cannot find the words to convey to you what I feel as I read this work. I am moved, carried away, and the emotion it causes in me is so sustained that it becomes in a sense painful. My soul is uplifted, my heart is filled with sentiments of humanity and beneficence. . . .
You are, Monsieur, a masterly painter. Your portrayals have a gracefulness, a genuineness and an energy that surpass what even the imagination can attain.
But what expressions shall I employ to tell you how your divine impartiality affects me? I would have need of your own eloquence to express my thoughts fully on this subject. In truth, it is as though I have before my eyes the work of a celestial being, freed of all passions, who for the benefit of mankind has deigned to write an account of recent events. . . .31
Similar references to David Hume as the “angel of truth,” the “voice of pure reason,” the “voice of posterity,” are not uncommon at this time. Rousseau, who was soon to write of Hume in a different tone, made equally laudatory statements in a letter of February 1763 to the Scottish philosopher: “Your grand perspectives, your astonishing impartiality, your genius, would raise you too much above ordinary mortals, did not the kindness of your heart bring you once more near to them. . . .”32 Helvétius too wrote in 1763, bursting with enthusiasm for Hume’s “impartial philosophical spirit,”33 and a year later the Président de Brosses, who judged that Hume had surpassed even Tacitus, repeated the same sentiment: “You have painted with unparalleled impartiality a true picture of your country, its manners, its characters, its government.”34 In another letter Chastellux told Hume that his name had become “as estimable in the republic of letters as was that of Jehovah among the Hebrews.”35
The words impartial and impartiality seem to occur also in nearly every press review of Hume’s History at this time, whether of traditionalist or philosophe inspiration. Fréron, one of Voltaire’s greatest enemies, after making the usual comparison with Tacitus, affirmed that Hume was the first “English” author ever to have “done justice to our nation and to the ministers of our religion when he thought that the truth was favourable to them.”36 The Journal Encyclopédique pointed out that no historian of the Stuart period had been impartial before Hume. Most Englishmen had, like Burnet, written as paid propagandists of the usurper William of Orange. Foreign historians of the English revolution had not succeeded either. Some, like the Huguenot Rapin-Thoyras, were blinded by the prejudices of their religion and had interpreted events only in the light of an apology for Protestantism. Others, like le Père d’Orléans, though not unfavourable to the Catholic side, had shown an inadequate knowledge of the English system of government. “It has been said,” the journal goes on, “and experience has confirmed the maxim only too often, that nations would be supremely happy were they governed by philosopher kings. Let us add that history will never be well written except by philosopher historians; that is to say by men who, without regard to any country, any faction, any sect, have as their only ambition to write the truth. Our author comes very close to that model. . . .”37
Voltaire, the most important historian of the day, praised Hume on much the same grounds in a long review published in 1764:
One can add nothing to the fame of this History, perhaps the best ever written in any language. . . .
Never has the public so clearly sensed that only philosophers should write history. . . .
The philosopher belongs to no country, to no faction. One would like to see the history of the wars between Rome and Carthage written by a man who was neither a Roman nor a Carthaginian. . . .
. . . Mr. Hume, in his History, seems neither a parliamentarian, nor a royalist, nor an Anglican, nor a Presbyterian; we find in him only the fair-minded man. . . .
The fury of parties has for a long time deprived England of both a good history and a good government. What a Tory wrote was denied by the Whigs, themselves given the lie in turn by the Tories. Only Rapin-Thoyras, a foreigner, seemed to have written an impartial history; but the stain of prejudice is yet visible even in the truths that Thoyras recounts; whereas in the new historian we find a mind that rises above his matter, one who speaks of failings, errors and barbarities in the same manner that a physician speaks of epidemic disease.38
The apparent total agreement of such unlike men as Voltaire, Fréron, and Rousseau on the subject of Hume’s impartiality should be enough to indicate in this respect the unanimity of opinion in France. Since, however, many of my later conclusions concerning the influence of the Hume image must stand or fall on the basis of a careful evaluation of that image, and since it is important to show that this view of Hume’s history persists in France39 with a few notable exceptions right up to the time of the Revolution, I may be permitted to labour this point a little longer.
Dom Louis-Mayeul Chaudon in a work of 1772 again reviewed the three most widely read authors of English history: Hume, Rapin-Thoyras, and le Père d’Orléans. Rapin, as was usual in French Catholic estimates at this time, is accused of Huguenot prejudices: “He can be deservedly reproached for showing bias against the land of his birth, made hateful to Protestants by the harshness of Louis XIV, and for favouring the Puritans, those dangerous enthusiasts whose religious views are fit only to make men grimly ferocious and whose system of political independence is calculated only to manufacture malcontents and rebels.” As for le Père d’Orléans, Abbé Chaudon shows surprising frankness in judging his fellow-ecclesiastic: “He is too obviously biased in his treatment of the Stuart period. Most of this French Jesuit’s determinations are designed to fit either the interests of the papacy in Rome or the principles of the French monarchy.” Hume’s fairness is seen, on the other hand, as unique, quite without precedent: “Never before has any author raised himself so much above the sectarian bias and party prejudices that divide the kingdom; ever impartial, he seems to be the spokesman of posterity. . . .”40
Also defending Hume’s impartiality, the Reverend Samuel Formey, secretary of the Berlin Academy and formerly hostile editor of the French translation of Hume’s Philosophical Essays (1758), contrasted in 1777 the anticlericalism of the philosophes with Hume’s fairness toward the representatives of the church:
There is nothing quite so curious as the relentless enmity directed against them by persons who, far from having any cause for complaint against them, owe them a genuine debt of gratitude, since it is they who in the majority of countries preserved learning and a foundation of humanity, beneficence, and charity throughout the centuries of barbarism; were it not for them, the lawlessness of those unhappy times would have been carried to a far greater degree of excess. Hume, whose testimony will not be challenged, formally acknowledges the fact with regard to England and this admission does honour to his impartiality. In contrast, we are roused to indignation when we encounter on every page of the writings of Helvétius those bitter ironies, those derisive and almost always furious sorties against a clergy that certainly deserved his consideration and who became the target of his displeasure only because they attempted to protect France from the venom of his doctrine.41
The section Histoire of the Encyclopédie Méthodique in 1788 gave perhaps the ultimate in praise to the impartiality of Hume’s History of England: “One of the finest pieces of history and philosophy that exists in any language, and perhaps the most impartial and most reasonable work that has come from the hand of man.”42 It is obviously impossible to say more!
Papist or Pyrrhonian?
It is well known that the English at this time did not agree with the French about Hume’s impartiality. The strange combination of two reputations which Hume enjoyed in England, one as a foolish atheist, the other as a perverse Jacobite, was scarcely of a nature to please any large group in that country.
In My Own Life Hume speaks of his disappointment at the domestic reception given the Stuarts:
I was, I own, sanguine in my expectations of the success of this work. I thought that I was the only historian that had at once neglected present power, interest, and authority, and the cry of popular prejudices; and as the subject was suited to every capacity, I expected proportional applause. But miserable was my disappointment: I was assailed by one cry of reproach, disapprobation, and even detestation; English, Scotch, and Irish; Whig and Tory; churchman and sectary, freethinker and religionist; patriot and courtier, united in their rage against the man who had presumed to shed a generous tear for the fate of Charles I and the Earl of Strafford; and after the first ebullitions of this fury were over, what was still more mortifying, the book seemed to sink into oblivion. Mr. Millar told me, that in a twelvemonth he sold only forty-five copies of it. I scarcely, indeed, heard of one man in the three Kingdoms, considerable for rank or letters, that could endure the book. I must only except the Primate of England, Dr. Herring, and the Primate of Ireland, Dr. Stone; which seem two odd exceptions. These dignified prelates separately sent me messages not to be discouraged.
Hume was, nevertheless, discouraged and he tells us in this same brief autobiographical sketch that, had not the war at that time been breaking out between France and England, he would have retired forever from England to some provincial French town. Horace Walpole clearly reflects the typical attitude to the History in England in a letter to Montague from Paris in 1765. Parisians, he affirmed, were totally lacking in literary taste: “. . . could one believe that when they read our authors, Richardson and Mr. Hume should be their favourites? The latter is treated here with perfect veneration. His History, so falsified in many points, so partial in as many, so very unequal in its parts, is thought the standard of writing. . . .”43
The French were fully aware of the discrepancy between their own estimates of Hume’s worth and those of the English. We read, for example, in the Journal Etranger of 1760 the following statement on that subject:
Mr. Hume has been accused by his compatriots of striving too eagerly after singular opinions; it is not our function to debate this reproach. We will note only that, although Mr. Hume is English, a republican, and a Protestant, he has always spoken of the French with esteem, and of kings and Catholics with moderation; and it is possible that this singularity has offended a nation that is too much in the habit of seeing in monarchies only a herd of slaves and in papists only a band of fanatics; a nation, in short, that is too prone to denying the existence of liberty, virtue, and philosophy in any government but its own.44
To show how wrong they feel the English are with respect to Hume, the editors of this very orthodox ancien-régime journal do not hesitate to call his work “the only good history written in English, and undoubtedly one of the best to be found in any language.” Hume is also commended for being “the first English writer who has dared to state that monarchies are about as favourable to progress in the arts, in philosophy and in commerce as republics.”45
In a work intended for the instruction of Marie-Antoinette, the future Historiographe de France, Jacob-Nicolas Moreau, implied that Hume had probably carried impartiality to an undesirable extreme: “. . . he ought only to be impartial but he prides himself on the most exaggerated indifference. The English, who possess the Roman virtue of partiality for their country, have themselves blamed him for this fault and they think a good deal less of this author than we ourselves do.”46
It must be noted, however, that Moreau’s attempt to understand and forgive England’s hostility to Hume the historian is a French attitude rarely encountered at this time. Much more common is the indignant reaction of the former Jesuit and future speech writer for Mirabeau, Joseph-Antoine-Joachim Cerutti, who wrote in 1783: “Mr. Hume’s History could be given the title: The History of English Passions, as written by human reason. The English have reproached him for causing tears to be shed over the fate of Marie Stuart and of Charles I. They have called him ‘old woman Hume’ for it. This simple good heartedness makes his impartiality more noble and his philosophy more touching.”47
More angry still was the response of one of Hume’s French anthologists, Damiens de Gomicourt, who pointed out that the ungrateful English seemed to make more fuss over their racehorses than they did over a Hume. De Gomicourt makes astute conjectures as to the reasons for this neglect: “This dispassionate way of writing about his country and its enemies . . . is precisely what harms him most in the eyes of his fellow-countrymen; if they were as philosophical as M. de Voltaire says they are when he calls England the island of philosophers, they would not allow themselves to be carried away so frequently by their ruling anti-French passions; the good that Mr. Hume has to say about the French nation when he thinks praise is deserved, the moderation with which he speaks of the church of Rome, or of the unfortunate Stuarts, would not be a reason for them to accuse this author of popery, of Jacobitism, and of Francomania, and his works would be as famous in London as they are in Paris.”48
Popery, Jacobitism, and Francomania—three qualities well calculated to enhance an English historian’s reputation in France; their effect would, of course, be just the opposite in England. That Hume himself felt his history would hold a special appeal for Catholic, monarchical France is made clear in his original letter to Abbé Le Blanc in 1754 proposing a French translation of the Stuarts. “Considering,” Hume wrote, “some late transactions in France, your Ministry may think themselves obliged to a man, who, by the example of English history, discovers the consequences of puritanical and republican pretensions. You would have remarked in my writings, that my principles are, all along, tolerably monarchical, and that I abhor that low practice, so prevalent in England, of speaking with malignity of France.”49 One month later, Hume came back to this point, advising Le Blanc to make any necessary attenuations in his translation of the Stuarts: “If there be some strokes of the L’esprit fort too strong for your climate, you may soften them at your discretion. That I am a lover of liberty will be expected from my country, though I hope that I carry not that passion to any ridiculous extreme.”50
For an example of current French reactions to British historians who did indulge in “that low practice” of speaking with malignity of France, we have only to see what the French thought of Smollett’s History. A fairly typical review of it can be found in the Journal Encyclopédique of 1764:
Mr. Smollett believes himself to be entirely above all national prejudice and jealousies; he sees himself as perfectly free of those unjust partisan sentiments that dishonour the works of several English historians; he assures the reader that no religious controversy, no political faction commands his ardent allegiance. . . . This manner of declaration appears to us all the more astonishing in that we can scarcely think of any historian who surpasses Mr. Smollett in partiality, whether in the various parallels he has drawn between the monarchs of France and the kings of Great Britain, or in the exaggerated praises he is forever heaping on his fellow-countrymen. More circumspect at times, but also more satirical and more caustic than Rapin de Thoyras, he rails against Catholicism, he dredges up everything that indecency and irreligion have expounded against the venerable bishops who brought renown to England; he sees their zeal as blind fanaticism, their candour as hypocrisy, their attachment to the Roman church as criminal, outrageously independent, an unpardonable felony.51
To find a French-language equivalent of English hostility to Hume’s history during this early period, it is necessary to look through the pages of the erudite “Dutch” journals, edited by Huguenot refugees. Here the similarity of views seems almost automatic. Maty, in the Journal Britannique, speaking of the first volume of Hume’s Stuarts, declared: “So little does the work I have before me seem a model to imitate that, quite to the contrary, I find in it the various defects that an author whom Mr. Hume would not disown as his master regards as incompatible with the duties of an historian.” Maty then cites Voltaire’s Défense du Siècle de Louis XIV on the necessity for the historian to stick to the truth.52
The Bibliothèque des Sciences et des Beaux-Arts, published at The Hague, spoke unfavourably of the same work in 1756: “We have said nothing of this History because nothing in it seems to us to be worthy of praise except the style, and we have no desire to be constantly at loggerheads with this author. . . . We have never before seen a history so dominated by the dangerous art that makes the most evil characters seem bearable by hiding certain traits and by softening what remains through the use of clever shading and nuances. But that is not all. Mr. Hume has here taken it upon himself to identify fanaticism as the Reformation’s distinctive characteristic. . . .”53
The year following, the same journal reviewed the second volume of the Stuarts and warned its readers again about Hume’s dangerous portraits: “. . . one must be always on one’s guard with his portraits! His taste for paradox and his partiality are often only too glaringly apparent in his character portrayals of several important personages. . . . The portrait of James II is so lacking in features resembling the original that one must needs have seen attached to it the name of this monarch to believe that it is he whom Mr. Hume has sought to depict as a prince who was steady in his counsels, diligent in his schemes, brave in his enterprises, faithful, sincere, and honourable in his dealings with all men.” Obviously, no continental “Whig” could accept such a picture of the monster who had been driven out by the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Quite to the contrary, the Huguenot editor asserts, James II had been, in fact, cruel, vindictive, cowardly and treacherous.54
A fairly similar tone predominates in this same journal’s review of the Tudors in 1759, although, for obvious reasons, now that the Jacobite question was left behind, the editors found, as had contemporary English readers, that Hume’s History was somewhat improved in quality:
The partisan spirit that encumbered the author in his treatment of the Stuart period and caused him, in combination with his affectation of impartiality, to fall into so many revolting contradictions, hinders him less as he moves away from modern times. . . . But on the other hand, one would like to find these same improvements in what he has to say of the origins and progress of the Reformation and of the spirit that inspired the Reformers. There are passages where one is tempted to think that Mr. Hume is a papist, did we not already know him for a pyrrhonian.55
Hume points out in My Own Life that the English accorded at last “tolerable” success to the Plantagenets, the third and last part of the History. The Bibliothèque des Sciences et des Beaux-Arts, reviewing that work in 1761, naïvely confessed to a similar change of heart: “This history improves as the author moves away from our own times. A proper sense of historical writing that sets aside or touches only lightly the unessential, that selects and arranges interesting events judiciously and presents them clearly, can be detected everywhere in these two new volumes.”56 It is perhaps unnecessary to point out that any attacks Hume made against religious fanaticism in this part of the History which deals with the Middle Ages would not normally be interpreted as immoderately hostile by the Protestant editors.
If we now compare these “Dutch” accounts with opinions expressed in the Catholic French journals, we find that the progression of ideas on the subject of Hume’s History of England is neatly reversed. The pious Mémoires de Trévoux enthusiastically devoted many pages to reviewing Hume’s Stuarts and commended Hume as an author who had written “without bias.”57 The manner in which Hume had dealt with the civil war period seemed especially appealing:
The horrendous consequences of it are only too well known: all of Europe was horror-struck and roused to indignation: these just feelings are renewed in their entirety as we peruse this history. Possessing all the virtues of the good king, Charles I reappears here, hunted down, arrested, held a prisoner in captivity. This monarch, charged by unlawful procedure, judged without legitimate authority, condemned for no crime, here moves to tears all readers who will find him even greater on the scaffold, even more steadfast, generous, and virtuous than he had appeared during the triumphs and reversals that were the glory, as they were the misfortune, of his reign.58
Every passage in which Hume rehabilitates the names of English Catholics is underlined by the Jesuit editors. Concerning the London fire, attributed by certain historians to the malevolence of Catholics, they are especially pleased to note that Hume “accuses neither the Catholics nor the Presbyterians of it: he agrees that this imputation was nothing more than a calumny given countenance by popular prejudice.”59 As for the Popish plot, Hume “acknowledges its patent imposture without denying the unfortunate effect the gross absurdities of such an ill-constructed fable had on the English. . . .”60 On one occasion only do the Jesuit editors find Hume biased—when he is seen as “equally hostile to the enthusiasm of the Puritans as he is prejudiced against the Catholics.”61
More significant still were the “lessons” the Mémoires de Trévoux editors derived from their reading of Hume’s Stuarts. These lessons are quite explicit and, in part, anticipate some of the more eccentric and extreme interpretations of the work by counter-revolutionary thinkers after 1789:
One has only to compare this history of the reign of Charles I with others that have also been written in accordance with Protestant prejudice, to sense Mr. Hume’s superior genius, style, accuracy, and impartiality. Without including in this comparison any Catholic writer, we can draw the following conclusions: 1. That since their separation from the Roman Church, Protestants, left to their own thinking, can have only an irresolute and uncertain doctrine which leaves them exposed to the most frightful aberrations, with no solid means to regulate their belief and bring it to true uniformity. 2. That the influence of their doctrine has given rise to the most horrible disruptions in England, and the most abominable crimes against sovereigns. 3. That under the cover of disputes over dogma among the Protestant sects, fanaticism, at first insidiously, and afterward with great clamour, put the finishing touches on the nation’s disorders. 4. That this heretical fanaticism not only spreads with great rapidity, it also provides a rich and inexhaustible breeding ground for dangerous monsters; since the Independents, had their leader Cromwell not forestalled the danger, were on the point of being subjugated by the Agitators, or the Levellers, a sect whose enthusiasm, grafted onto the fanaticism of these same Independents, aimed to introduce perfect equality among the citizens, and, consequently, the most monstrous confusion and anarchy in the government. 5. That debate, as Mr. Hume insinuates, even of a speculative nature, on the extent and limits of the royal prerogative, must never be brought before the people’s tribunal; that in such matters the strictest silence must be imposed, even among philosophical reasoners; and that in general it is safer to keep the people ignorant of the limits of their obedience, than it is to instruct them on the limits that sovereigns ought to observe.62
As I have already pointed out, the question of whether Hume really implies all this, whether the Jesuits made a correct or distorted interpretation of his intentions, is somewhat irrelevant to my purpose. The essential fact is that such interpretations were made and made frequently by an astonishing variety of readers in eighteenth-century France. Of course, the Mémoires de Trévoux editors are forced to dodge about rather awkwardly when they encounter passages inspired by Hume’s more frankly irreligious moods. Still, this aspect of the History was not seen as an insuperable problem. The Stuarts was after all by a “Protestant” and even a Hume must be expected to wander from the truth from time to time. The Protestant Bibliothèque des Sciences et des Beaux-Arts, we remember, had found Hume’s portrait of James II totally false. The Mémoires de Trévoux, on the other hand, did not find it sufficiently “false,” that is to say, sufficiently “true”: “We must not expect Mr. Hume to be strictly impartial in his treatment of this reign: he is too biased against the person, the court, and the religion of James II, as well as against France, Louis XIV, and all forms of zeal, to prevent his pen from leaving traces of his prejudices in this history.”63 Hume’s occasional lapses were seen as faults only in some absolute sense; on this question the journal concluded: “In any case, among Protestant historians who have dealt with English history of the last century, Mr. Hume is still the least biased against the Roman Church, and the least prejudiced in favour of the Protestant sects; for this he deserves due credit.”64
The same aspects of the Stuarts pleased Voltaire’s enemy Fréron in the Année littéraire. He points out first of all that Hume displays none of the “odious prejudices common to English authors, which even French historians show at times.”65 He notes with particular approval Hume’s treatment of Charles I’s trial and execution: “I would have to copy out several entire pages to present to your humanity and sense of outrage the horrifying scene in which this king was judged, condemned, and executed by his own subjects.”66 All the horrors surrounding the monster republican Cromwell, the regicide fanaticism of the hated Puritans, are evoked in this ancien-régime Frenchman’s review. Later, while examining the Tudors, Fréron shows the same highly favourable attitude to the Scottish historian’s impartiality. He underlines the fact that Hume, for example, “stoutly defends Cardinal Wolsey . . . against the attacks of Protestant writers who have sullied his memory.”67 On the question of Henry VIII’s divorce he is happy to point out also that Hume “pertinently justifies the Pope’s inflexible resistance to the English king’s imperious and threatening solicitations.”68 Along the same lines, Hume’s impartiality is contrasted with Burnet’s bias on the question of the suppression of monasteries:
Doctor Burnet complacently relates all the infamies the monks were accused of in the reports prepared by the commissioners Henry VIII sent to all the religious houses to make inquiries regarding the conduct and morals of the nuns and friars. Mr. Hume, wiser and more circumspect in his judgements, does not rely much on the accuracy of these reports; ever on guard against the partisan spirit that dictated them, he acknowledges that in times of faction, especially of the religious variety, little truth is to be expected from even the most ostensibly authentic testimony. . . . He refuses as well to impute to the Catholic religion abuses that the Church in fact condemns, such as exposing false relics, and the pious impostures employed in some places by the monks to increase the devotion and consequently the contributions of the people. Such fooleries, he writes, as they are to be found in all ages and nations, and even took place during the most refined periods of antiquity, form no particular or violent reproach to the Catholic religion. It must be admitted, Monsieur, that nothing resembles less the ordinary rantings of Protestant writers than does such language.69
Fréron too admits that Hume experienced difficulty occasionally in stripping himself entirely of “English” ideas when speaking about religion; he states, however, that it would be ridiculous and unjust to judge the Scot “according to the principles received among us.”70 Hume is occasionally wrong, but he is wrong with sincerity: “It can be seen that he seeks the truth in a sincere manner and if he sometimes drifts from it, it is less the result of a premeditated intention to disguise or corrupt it, than it is a consequence of the fact that the human mind is not always capable of finding it.”71
It would be difficult to find any other subject on which Voltaire and Fréron seem to have been in such complete agreement. But even here we must make a distinction. Fréron’s praise so far has been for the Stuarts and the Tudors. Voltaire, when he extolled Hume’s virtues in the long review of 1764 already referred to, was judging the English edition of the History in its completed form—after, that is to say, the publication of the Plantagenets. It was especially this last section which permitted the French historian to praise the work as a more geographically restricted version of his own Essai sur les Moeurs. Conversely, when Fréron considered the Plantagenets in 1766, his admiration suddenly became considerably less warm: “Half of the first volume is only remotely connected to what is supposed to be its subject. If you remove from the remainder the author’s frequent attacks on the Church and its clergy . . . his harangues against the old Catholic religion, you will discover that this History of all the Plantagenet princes is very succinct.”72 There is no doubt that Fréron was genuinely surprised to find what appeared to be a wealth of insulting epithets and vulgar abuse directed against religion in this work. Hume no longer seemed to be the divinely impartial historian, that rare angel of truth. He is now accused of having failed in the first duty of an historian, and Fréron notes that it was not with works like the Plantagenets that Hume had built up his great reputation in the literary world.73
Just as many traditionalists in France had been disappointed in 1758 to see the free-thinking Philosophical Essays appear only a few years after the fairly orthodox Political Discourses of 1754, a number of conservative French admirers of the Stuarts and Tudors withdrew their support for the historian after the appearance of the Plantagenets. As in the case of the Philosophical Essays, however, a much smaller group, the philosophes, greeted Hume’s apparent return to sanity with a sigh of relief.
To say that the philosophes liked the last part of Hume’s History with its à la Voltaire treatment of the Middle Ages, and disliked the Stuarts and the Tudors, would be to propose a rather neatly symmetrical but not entirely true simplification. One can note, however, among members of this group, a distinct preference for the more “philosophical” Hume who had angered the Frérons with his essay “Of Miracles,” his Natural History of Religion, and his Plantagenets. The philosophes too spoke admiringly of impartiality but felt, certainly, that it should never be allowed to develop to the point where it might become a source of comfort to the enemy. Lockian in their political outlook—one is very tempted to see in them a close French equivalent of the English Whigs—they were chary of the Tory flavour of Hume’s Stuarts. Grimm, perhaps the most critically astute and alertly orthodox of the “brotherhood,” accused Hume as early as 1754, while reviewing the Political Discourses, of having slightly unsound political views: “I have only one grievance against Mr. Hume, it is that he is rather too fond of paradox, a failing that sometimes leads his reasoning astray; he is also a Jacobite.”74 In the same year he expressed certain doubts concerning Hume’s over-all ability as an enlightened thinker and added: “Either I am mistaken, or his fellow-countrymen must reproach him his great fondness for the French, and the French should not feel too flattered by it since he does not really see them from their most estimable side. . . .”75 This same author was one of the first to express dissatisfaction several years later with those essays in the Understanding which did not attack miracles or Providence. Why, Grimm complained, did Hume feel it necessary to add to the confusion of the philosophic battle by discussing rather sceptically—and, yes, with an appalling lack of originality—the epistemological doctrines Locke had settled once and for all?76
Similarly, in the very year that Voltaire praised Hume’s History, the defender of Jean Calas confided to the Marquise Du Deffand: “I like, even much more than his historical writings, Mr. Hume’s philosophy. The best part of all this is that Helvétius, who in his book De l’esprit has not said one-twentieth of the wise, useful, and bold things for which we are grateful to Mr. Hume and twenty other Englishmen, has been persecuted in the land of the Welches [the French] and his book has been burned there. All of which goes to prove that the English are men and the French are children.”77
Hume in his History perhaps flattered those naughty children too much. The more unified story of how English liberty had emerged from despotism as told in the Lettres philosophiques was a much better way to improve les Welches than shedding sympathetic tears for a beheaded king or making statements that the Mémoires de Trévoux could interpret as great lessons. There is more than a hint of the back-handed compliment in at least one of Voltaire’s recorded comments made during the guided tour he sometimes gave visitors through his vast library at Ferney. After pointing to the volumes of Shakespeare, Milton, Congreve, Rochester, Shaftesbury, Bolingbroke, Robertson, and Hume, Voltaire once turned to his guests and added for the last-mentioned author that David Hume had written his history “to be praised” and that he had attained his goal.78
The fact remains that the philosophes did identify or did their best to identify the historical efforts of Hume and Voltaire. They, as well as Dr. Samuel Johnson and Horace Walpole—though not with the same cranky and contemptuous hostility these two Englishmen affected—saw Hume as Voltaire’s pupil: an accusation which Hume, who held a fairly low opinion of Voltaire’s merit as an historian, frequently denied. There is no doubt that it was the occasional Voltairian tone of the History which appealed most to the encyclopédiste party. Helvétius, for example, writing to Hume on Prévost’s forthcoming translation of the Stuarts, characteristically expressed the fear that the Abbé would not dare “tell all.”79 In doing so he probably betrayed unwittingly an interpretation of Hume’s intentions which scarcely corresponds to the very complacent advice Hume had given Le Blanc to attenuate at will all strokes of esprit fort too strong for the French climate. Helvétius speaks of the boldness of the Stuarts but makes no particular mention, on the other hand, of the manner in which Hume had shed a tear for Charles I. Similarly, the Plantagenets aroused his greatest admiration, and in a letter to Hume of 1763 he especially commended that work for its “philosophical and impartial spirit.”80 Moreover, in his own bold composition, De l’homme, Helvétius made good use of the anti-clerical arsenal he was able to find in this part of the History.
Perhaps no better evidence exists of this philosophe view of Hume as yet another soldier in the Voltairian war of propaganda against l’infâme than the numerous, almost urgent, appeals he received from his closest friends among the encyclopédistes to write an ecclesiastical history. In the same letter written to congratulate him on his “esprit philosophique” in the Plantagenets, Helvétius also begged the Scottish historian to continue his efforts with “the finest project in the world”—a history of the Church: “Only think,” he writes, “how worthy the subject is of you, and how you are worthy of the subject. It is therefore in the name of England, France, Germany, Italy, and in the name of posterity, that I entreat you to write this history. Remember that you alone are in a position to write it; that many centuries will pass before another Monsieur Hume is born, and that it is a benefit you owe to the universe, both present and future.”81
Grimm in 1766 formulated the same wish: “During his stay in France, we often begged M. Hume to write an ecclesiastical history. It would be, at this juncture, one of the finest of literary enterprises, and one of the greatest services rendered to philosophy and to humanity. . . . M. de Voltaire no longer has the sustained mental vigour required to undertake such a task; he would turn his subject too much in the direction of jesting and ridicule. . . .”82
Diderot, congratulating Hume for having finally retired from his public functions, added in a letter of 1768 the advice that it was now high time to get on with more serious matters: “Return, return quickly, my dear philosopher, to your books, to your pursuits. I much prefer seeing you whip in hand, dealing out justice to all those celebrated ruffians who have disturbed the peace of your country. . . .”83
After the Plantagenets, Hume abandoned English history. Although he had at one time thought of continuing the work, the plan was never realized. D’Alembert, writing to Hume in 1766, urged him on in this project and showed in his letter that he too saw Hume’s chief historical merit as a wielder of the philosophic scourge: “If you choose to, you will have some very pertinent truths to tell about all the stupidities committed by France and her enemies during the War of Succession, and about the causes of those stupidities. But no matter how interesting that subject might be in your hands, I would nevertheless have preferred to see you undertake an ecclesiastical history. It is a greater curiosity, it seems to me, to see men cutting each other’s throats for theological irrelevancies, than for provinces and kingdoms which are somewhat more deserving of the effort.”84
What the philosophes wanted from an ecclesiastical history is not a matter of doubt. D’Alembert himself had given only a year before an example of the best clichés of the genre in his anonymously published work, Sur la destruction des Jésuites en France (1765). Ecclesiastical history would show all manner of usurpation of the spiritual powers over the temporal, the hideous crimes and bloody wars caused by religious fanaticism, the persecutions and murders committed in the name of Christ—such were the gifts of Christianity to mankind that would be recorded in a good “philosophically” inspired ecclesiastical history. In a letter of 1773, d’Alembert once again solicited Hume on the subject and commiserated at the same time on the fate of that “poor lady” who is called Philosophy: “. . . those who would like to write on her behalf dare not—those like you who could, prefer to sleep and digest, and perhaps they have made the best choice. Still, I shall never get over being denied the ecclesiastical history I requested of you so many times, which you alone perhaps in Europe are capable of writing, which would be quite as interesting as Greek and Roman history, were you willing to give yourself the trouble of painting our holy mother the Church au naturel.”85
It is perhaps not strange that the practical implications of the Stuarts as interpreted by the Mémoires de Trévoux were largely ignored by the philosophes rather than overtly attacked or even commented on. Clearly it was the medieval section of the History which proved most useful to them. In the work, De la félicité publique, which Voltaire perversely judged as at least equal in merit to Montesquieu’s Esprit des Lois, the philosophe Chastellux showed how valuable the Plantagenets could be if properly used—used, that is, as a work to supplement Voltaire’s more famous catalogue of medieval barbarities. A disciple of progress, Chastellux had no patience with those who rhapsodized (as Burke was to do twenty years later) on the glories of the age of chivalry, the former splendour of the nobility, the stability of feudal law, the exalted courage of the crusaders, &c. Those who superstitiously lamented the departure of those good old days could be cured by reading two authors especially: “Let them consult,” Chastellux advises, “l’Essai sur l’histoire générale, the model of historico-philosophical writings; let them consult Mr. Hume, illustrious in the same career. . . .”86
Delisle de Sales, another of Voltaire’s understudies but fond too of calling Hume “the Tacitus of England,”87 found materials for the good cause not only in the Plantagenets but in the Tudors and Stuarts as well. Particularly useful to his purposes was Hume’s account of the religious massacres in Ireland, seen by the French author as having been unequalled even by that of Saint Bartholomew’s Day, the event, we remember, which made French history almost worth writing about in the opinion of Voltaire. Delisle de Sales ignored, curiously enough, Hume’s own estimate of the number of victims, established in the History at the sufficiently horrifying figure of 40,000, and chose instead the more polemically useful figure of 200,000.88
As an illustration of how the same passage from Hume’s History could at times inspire both the philosophes and their enemies to reach completely antithetical conclusions, it is amusing to note that the Abbé Bergier, a Roman Catholic apologist to whom we shall refer again, discussed in 1767 this same massacre; and he was delighted to point out that religion was not the only, nor even the principal, cause of it: “Mr. Hume, a witness whose testimony will not be seen as suspect, admits in good faith that the inveterate animosity of the Irish toward the English, their attachment to freedom, property, and their ancient customs, their envy of the English recently transplanted to Ireland and fear that even worse mistreatment from them would follow, in short, dissatisfaction with the English government, these were the true causes of this civil war. Those who estimate the number of dead to be sixty or eighty thousand, exaggerate by half.”89
Quite obviously there were possibilities for distortion, in this and in other instances, by all sides, including Hume’s no doubt. The major conclusion that emerges from an examination of the evidence is, however, that the History, valuable as it may have seemed to the philosophes, proved to be infinitely more exploitable by the traditionalists. It is, in fact, quite possible that, as a group, the philosophes seriously misjudged Hume’s capacity to further their cause. An anonymous eighteenth-century commentator of the Hume-Rousseau quarrel obliquely suggested that this was the case:
You are aware no doubt that our philosophers had fallen into great disrepute, at the time they concluded that David Hume would make a suitable recruit for their sect and would help to raise it up. He was a foreigner, imperturbably stolid, bold in his speculations, and sufficiently well behaved in his actions. He had written the History of his country for England, and four volumes of philosophy for France. His History, which had little success in London, succeeded very well in Paris, among our philosophers and their disciples, because of the four volumes of philosophy that buttressed their principles. They spoke of it with great enthusiasm: it was purchased, scarcely read, and praised to the skies.90
That Hume was more routinely praised than carefully read by the philosophe party is entirely possible. With the exception of the Turgot-Hume correspondence which we shall examine later and in which are clearly apparent the genuine differences that separated the Scottish philosopher’s rather pessimistic, perhaps complacent, acceptance of the status quo and the young Intendant’s eagerly optimistic hopes for change, the many letters Hume received from his philosophe friends seem strangely misdirected. Helvétius flatters himself, at the beginning of a letter to Hume in 1759, that he is in almost total agreement with his correspondent concerning ethical motivation. A few lines farther along in his letter, however, he shows that nothing could be more distant from the truth and displays an almost wilful tendency to ignore the fact that Hume’s Enquiry specifically combats such simplistic “self-interest” theories as his own. D’Holbach, in a letter of August 1763, calls Hume one of the greatest philosophers of any age. There is evidence to show too that he had read, or at least that he owned, all of Hume’s works and yet, again on the question of ethics, he maintained in several of his own compositions that only ignorant theologians deny self-interest as the basis of morality.91
We have perhaps another example of this basic lack of comprehension, I think, in Helvétius’s rather earnest reaction to Hume’s fairly ironically titled essay on the “perfect” commonwealth. Hume warns in his preliminary remarks that all plans of government that pre-suppose a great change in man’s nature are “imaginary.” He seems to intend, as he does so often in his epistemological inquiries, little more than a good intellectual exercise; but it is a game which we suspect Helvétius takes perhaps too seriously when he solemnly speculates in De l’homme on the practical applicability of the means Hume proposes.92 D’Alembert, though perhaps Hume’s closest friend in Paris, seems to labour under a somewhat similar misconception in a letter to the Scot introducing his neighbour and friend, the latitudinarian Abbé de Vauxcelles: “He is going to England,” d’Alembert writes without any excessive appearance of irony, “in order to have the pleasure of shouting along with you ‘Wilkes and Liberty!’. . . .”93 David Hume, it need hardly be said, never waved a mouchoir à la Wilkes!
The Scottish Bossuet
Ideally for the philosophes, Hume’s presentation of England in the History should have confirmed most of the polemical doctrine of Voltaire’s famous Lettres philosophiques, holding up the English to the French as an enlightened, tolerant, politically and religiously emancipated nation. There is very little in the pages of Voltaire’s Letters which was calculated to give comfort to the French except perhaps the general message that Corneille and Racine wrote better tragedies than Shakespeare.
But, quite to the contrary, there is much evidence to suggest that Hume’s History was often used to show how wrong Voltaire actually was and to illustrate to the French how lucky they were not to be English. Gallic self-esteem, in the thirty years following the first appearance of the Lettres philosophiques, had taken some very hard knocks from France’s intellectual leaders. Reaction was inevitable.
An example of how Hume’s History was used by traditionalists to combat the philosophes’ exploitation of England as a propaganda symbol can be found in the Dictionnaire social et patriotique of the French lawyer Claude-Rigobert Lefebvre de Beauvray. Published in 1770, his work, bearing the epigraph “Be English in London and French in Paris,” was intended as a remedy for the disease of philosophisme anglais, seen thirty years later by some extreme commentators of the Right as one of the chief causes of the Revolution.
Voltaire had spoken of the English as tolerant in religion, moderate and free in politics and, most important of all, profound in their philosophical thinking. If only, Voltaire seemed to be saying, France took England for its model, then all would be well.
Lefebvre de Beauvray disagreed vehemently. Quoting as evidence Hume’s sentiments on England’s lack of an equivalent of the French Academy, he stated that the city of Paris by itself had more to offer the intellectual than the whole of Great Britain.94
As for England’s hideous “republican” liberty, so often praised by the encyclopédistes, de Beauvray proposed the following counterarguments in his article “Frondeurs”:
We are harangued every day on how little liberty is afforded under monarchical government. . . .
To silence these critics, I shall ask them only to weigh the following considerations, set out in good faith by Mr. Hume himself, in his Histoire de la Maison de Stuart, volume III, page 429 [VIII. 143-44]: “Government is instituted in order to restrain the fury and injustice of the people; and being always founded on opinion, not on force, it is dangerous to weaken, by these speculations, the reverence which the multitude owe to authority. . . . Or should it be found impossible to restrain the license of human disquisitions, it must be acknowledged that the doctrine of obedience ought alone to be inculcated and that the exceptions, which are rare, ought seldom or never to be mentioned in popular reasonings and discourses. Nor is there any danger that mankind, by this prudent reserve, should universally degenerate into a state of abject servitude.”95
The bloody revolutions of England’s history strongly suggest to de Beauvray that liberty is not a worthwhile political goal. Hume’s paraphrased opinion of the British parliamentary leaders during the Civil War is seen as sufficient proof of this point:
“If one cannot deny that the first group (the extreme supporters of English liberty) had more noble aims and held views more advantageous to mankind, it must also be admitted that their methods are more difficult to justify. . . . Obliged to curry favour with the Populace, they saw themselves obliged to applaud its folly, or to fall in with its rage. . . .” (Hist. de la Maison de Stuart, t. 1 & 6.)96
Hume is especially commended as a “judicious writer” for having analysed with great truth and force the character of the usurper Cromwell. Cromwell was not just the worst of these parliamentary leaders; no man since Mohammed, de Beauvray affirms, had exhibited to the same degree such a harmful mixture of genius and low cunning.97
Voltaire had painted a very rosy picture of religious toleration in England; each Englishman, we remember, is seen as going to heaven by the road of his choice. Hume, in his descriptions of the Civil War period, gives us a rather different version of things and, still according to Lefebvre de Beauvray, his picture is one which deprives the British people of any right to accuse other nations of religious persecution:
Never was there an Inquisition like that instigated by the Puritans of England and the Covenanters of Scotland. The supposedly religious confederation known as the Covenant brought fire and sword to all parts of the Three Kingdoms. It was, in a sense, this league that prepared the horrific tragedy whose outcome was so fatal to the royal family and still causes sons to lament the crime of their fathers.
Never, perhaps, has any writer preached humanity in harsher tones, or liberty in more despotic terms, than the author of the Émile. Similarly, those who make a great show of tolerance often reveal a most intolerant character. Without themselves deigning to tolerate anyone, they want everyone to tolerate them.
We are confirmed in this opinion by the singular admission of an English historian: “It must be acknowledged, to the disgrace of that age and of the British Isles, that the disorders in Scotland entirely, and those in England mostly, proceeded from so mean and contemptible an origin, such as aversion to the surplice, the rails placed about the altar, the liturgy, embroidered copes, the use of the ring in marriage and of the cross in baptism.” (See l’Histoire de la Maison de Stuart sur le trône d’Angleterre, t. 2, p. 327.)98
De Beauvray also cites Hume on the advantages of the monarchical form of government as compared with the English “republican” system.99 In support of such anti-liberal views, the article “Liberté” of the Dictionnaire reproduces a long quotation from Hume which de Beauvray interprets as a lesson to the French on the worthlessness of England’s much-vaunted Magna Carta.100
Intellectually backward, intolerant in religion and bloody in politics, the English are seen by de Beauvray as perversely wrong even in the way that they treat their only good historian, the judicious David Hume: “It is far from being the case that Mr. Hume’s work has received an equally favourable welcome from all Englishmen. Some reproach him his Scottish birth and his predilection for the Court party. As a consequence they deny him the acclaim his writings and research deserve. If they persist in the assertion that Mr. Hume is not a good historian, then England does not yet have a national history and can never have one.”101 Not only is Hume a great historian, he is, “among all the political philosophers, the one who is most familiar with the interests and resources of his country.”102
We see that it was only too easy, albeit with a certain measure of misrepresentation, for anti-philosophes like de Beauvray to interpret much of Hume as supporting the cause of the ancien régime against the lessons of Voltaire’s Lettres philosophiques. Voltaire had also praised the English for their civic virtues. He had especially applauded the English nobility for its modern commercial spirit and contrasted its efforts at honest capitalism with the nonexistent contributions of the foppishly ornamental French petits-maîtres who refused to engage in trade and commerce because of feudal prejudices. To show his feelings in this respect, Voltaire had even set a precedent in French theatre by dedicating his tragedy Zaïre to an English businessman.
But was England really such a model island of patriots and philosophers? Another French lawyer, Basset de la Marelle, asked the question in a speech delivered in 1762 to the Académie de Lyon. His answer, given while the Seven Years’ War was still in progress, was, of course, vehemently negative. What is significant for us is that he too found proofs for his arguments in the impartial Mr. Hume. Hume frankly admitted, for example, that the English at the time of the Norman Conquest showed very little of that patriotism which they liked to boast of as almost hereditary in their nation.103 Moreover, there was little to admire in Britain’s modern commercial conquests. The British attitude to trade formed the basis of a vicious imperialism and was a constant cause of England’s unjust wars. The British Cabinet had always known that its unruly subjects had either to be amused or to be feared:
To avoid being reduced to this last extremity, it seeks to keep its restless population occupied. If the people fall into a state of calm, it is always a sign of danger ahead, of stormy times or revolution; it seeks therefore to engage them on the continent in matters foreign to their interests, matters it represents to them as their own; it holds up the dominion of the seas as an Englishman’s natural right, to the exclusion of all other nations; it tempts the greed of its citizens with projects to capture, to the detriment of all other nations, through commercial enterprise in both the New World and the Old, the wealth of the entire universe. . . . And if such enterprises turn out to be ruinous for the nation, it lulls the people with celebrations of these glorious triumphs that in fact exhaust it. That is why one of the most astute political thinkers of England (Mr. Hume, Of the Balanceof Power) states that above half of England’s wars with France, and all its public debts, are owing more to its own imprudent vehemence than to the ambition of its neighbours. . . . 104
Let us proceed now to examine the writings of a number of French traditionalists who exploited Hume’s impartiality as they defended not only the ancien régime’s national self-esteem and its politics but its religion as well. Here too the philosophes’ false brother, David Hume, was deemed to have made valuable contributions. Immediately after the French publication of his Philosophical essays, for example, he was recognized by yet another enemy of Voltaire, the Abbé Trublet, as a useful source of ideas against the current irreligion. Voltaire and the philosophes had made a great man of John Locke and had praised especially Locke’s rejection of innate ideas. In the Journal Chrétien of 1758 Abbé Trublet applauded the “judicious” Hume for having shown at last that Locke’s ideas on this subject, as well as on many other subjects, were totally confused.105
It is a strange irony that the philosophes, who at this time praised Hume so highly as a kindred spirit, had failed to recognize his originality in epistemology even as Christian apologists, however insincerely, were using Hume’s theory of knowledge to attack the very basis of Enlightenment philosophy. Hume’s scepticism, perhaps even charitably viewed as an unavoidable first step toward fideism, seemed particularly useful to Trublet against the dogmatic conclusions of rationalism. In the same way, the French abbé had earlier defended Berkeley against the charge made by some Catholic apologists that the Irish bishop’s strange idealism was impious. British philosophers, it had to be admitted, could be rather eccentric but they were “unequally erroneous” and proper distinctions had to be made if one rejected them.106 With such distinctions in mind, Trublet and other eighteenth-century apologists occasionally attempted to revive the old technique of retortion, the rhetorical engine of war that had earlier been used with success against the Protestants and rationalists of the Renaissance.
David Hume’s scepticism, with its dialectic based on the maximum multiplication of view-points, was particularly vulnerable to exploitation by this technique. The philosophes were not to be allowed the satisfaction of thinking that all of modern philosophy supported their cause. They prided themselves on having recourse to reason alone, but if a sceptic could show, as David Hume, for example, had shown, that many of their arguments were based on Lockian “acts of faith,” then that sceptic, though not a religious man, could be useful in the defence of religion. Hume was not really an angel of truth, but he could be spirited away from his evil brothers and put to work against their incredulity. “Monsieur Trublet’s purpose in most of the articles that appear throughout this journal,” notes the Abbé Joannet, editor of the Journal Chrétien, “. . . has always been to remove from the rosters of impiety and irreligion the men of letters whom our so-called philosophers have had the vanity to list as supporters of materialism and incredulity.”107
In 1768, although all of Hume’s works were by then on the Index, the future cardinal, Hyacinthe-Sigismond Gerdil, showed that even some of the higher church officials were on occasion able to view David Hume in this same friendly light. In his Discours sur la divinité de la religion chrétienne, for example, Gerdil attacked the philosophes for their irreverent views on the lives of the Christian saints. Happily, there was a remedy for their blindness:
More judicious authors have remedied this failing with more accurate studies, based on authentic documentation. If among those persons who have fallen away from religion because of unfortunate prejudices there can be found minds of rectitude and equity and hearts inclined to virtue, what better way for them to be cured of their prejudices and reconciled to Christianity than by reading the life of Jesus Christ and the lives of the saints who, imbued with the spirit of Jesus Christ, have exemplified in all of their conduct the grandeur and simplicity of the Gospels? There they will find human nature ennobled by the most exalted virtues, practiced in full brilliance and without ostentation.108
Apparently a perusal of Hume could be added profitably to readings from the gospels. Gerdil continues: “The portrait that Mr. Hume has sketched of the celebrated Lord Chancellor Thomas More can serve to substantiate the idea we bring forward of Christian justice in all of life’s stations and situations.” Gerdil then quotes Hume’s portrait of the English saint at length.109
In a much more significant work of 1769, the Discours philosophiques sur l’homme considéré relativement à l’état de nature et à l’état social, Gerdil once again returned to Hume for inspiration and anticipated in his use of the Scot’s political ideas the almost identical lines of reasoning proposed later on by such counter-revolutionary ideologists as Maury, Ferrand, de Bonald, and de Maistre. Already author of an anti-Emile and an anti-Contrat social, Gerdil set out again to attack the artificiality of contract theory. Society, he asserted, is a moral and political fact of man’s nature. Quoting Hume’s own analysis of the subject, Gerdil agreed that man is not solely motivated by self-interest. Man is born for society; the contracts of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau are false, the concept of natural equality is a harmful myth; ultimately, the organization of man in society is a reflection of the government of God.110
One is not surprised to find this learned ecclesiastic defending theocracy as the true basis of government. What is mildly astonishing, however, is the way he transforms David Hume’s social naturalism into a specific defence of the divine-right doctrine attacked by Hume in the same essay in which he assails contract theory. Little more than a clever transition is required to perform this textual miracle. Society, it is agreed, is not based on an arbitrary contract but on the natural fact of man’s sociability. The origin of public authority does not rest, then, in the free consent of individuals who have given up for this purpose part of their natural rights. Public authority takes all its force from the right that nature implicitly gives every society to see to its well-being and survival:
Sovereign power in society is thus established by nature’s law, and since natural law is decreed by God, it follows that sovereign power is founded on the very order established by God for the preservation and well-being of mankind: Qui potestati resistit, ordinationi Dei resistit [Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God]: thus spoke the Apostle.
Mr. Hume pays homage to this truth in his twenty-fifth moral and political essay: Once we admit a general providence, he writes, “and allow that all events in the universe are conducted by an uniform plan, and directed to wise purposes,” we cannot deny that the Deity is the ultimate author of all government. And “as it is impossible for the human race to subsist, at least in any comfortable or secure state, without the protection of government, this institution must certainly have been intended by that beneficent Being, who means the good of all his creatures: And as it has universally, in fact, taken place, in all countries, and all ages, we may conclude, with still greater certainty, that it was intended by that omniscient Being, who can never be deceived by any event or operation.”111
Gerdil applauds this argument as entirely solid. Unfortunately, Hume spoils his line of reasoning somewhat by his subsequent conclusions. Gerdil then quotes the passage in Hume’s essay “Of the Original Contract,” which his friend, the Abbé Maury, another “Hume-inspired” future Cardinal of the Church, did not dare cite later while debating the concept of sovereignty with Mirabeau on the floor of the Assemblée Nationale.112 If the nature of things and providential arrangement are equated, the authority exercised by a pirate or a common robber is, Hume archly contends, as inviolable as that of any lawful prince. Gerdil gives the obviously confused but no doubt well-intentioned Monsieur Hume a kindly correction on this point:
“God who means the good of all his creatures, also intends that they be governed”: that is Mr. Hume’s principle. The establishment of government conforms to the intentions of the omniscient Being, and the sovereign occupies a place in society that is designated expressly by Providence; but the abuse that a bandit makes of his physical power in order to rob the passerby is a crime against the laws of God, who, while allowing this evil, disapproves of it, condemns and punishes it. How then could Mr. Hume suggest that the authority of the most lawful prince is not more sacred, or more inviolable than that of a brigand?113
After thus disposing of this minor lapse in what is otherwise seen as a brilliant argument, Gerdil returns to base his conclusion on Hume’s authority:
We must therefore look upon the establishment of government not only as the simple effect of this secret influence that animates all of nature but also as an institution that God desires, that conforms to the intentions of the all wise Being and to his supreme beneficence. This conformity that Mr. Hume acknowledges is revealed to us by right reason, informs us by clear and immediate logic that we cannot attack the sovereign authority of government without at the same time defying the intentions, the laws, and the will of the omniscient Being. This proves sufficiently that such authority is sacred and inviolable. What reason demonstrates on this subject is fully confirmed by the testimony of the Scriptures which reveal to us in a more distinct and authentic manner the will of the Supreme Being. To be entirely convinced on this point, one has only to read the third book of Bossuet’s Politique tirée de l’Ecriture Sainte.114
It can be easily imagined how Hume’s alleged testimony in favour of what is in fact a full-blown system of theocracy was seen as all the more valuable by religious conservatives precisely because it did not come from Bossuet but rather from the sceptical and therefore “impartial” Hume. Joseph de Maistre, who was later probably even more thoroughly “influenced” by Hume in this direction, expressed the belief that one could trust such a man to speak the truth because, as he tells us, “Hume . . . believed in nothing and consequently held back nothing.”115
On another matter, the Jesuit Claude-François Nonnotte, remembered today especially as an adversary of Voltaire’s Essai sur les Moeurs and Dictionnaire philosophique, also occasionally invoked the testimony of David Hume. In the article “Christianisme” of his own antidotal Dictionnaire philosophique de la religion, Nonnotte set out to disprove the common philosophes’ contention that Christ’s kingdom has been the scene of mankind’s bloodiest wars. Christianity, he maintained to the contrary, has been a civilizing and beneficial factor in good government throughout the ages:
. . . Christianity has had a civilizing effect on customs, it has checked the spirit of sedition, it has uprooted and destroyed the seeds of civil war. It is therefore undeniable that it has been a force for good in the universe.
These same frenzied tubthumpers who constantly proclaim Christianity to be a religion of disorder and discord, a disruptive force that overturns states, kingdoms, and empires, also seek to depict it as a bloodthirsty religion, the most dangerous to crowned heads.
In that, they are not of the same opinion as one of the most celebrated learned men of this century who, though a Protestant, acknowledges that, of all religions, Catholicism is the most favourable to sovereigns. (Hume, Hist. de la Maison de Stuart.)116
Nonnotte also attacks Voltaire for what he considers to be the French historian’s too favourable attitude to the hypocritical assassin Cromwell and to the entire Puritan rebellion.117 Moreover, Voltaire lies in his teeth when he praises Elizabeth as tolerant and attacks Mary as a persecutor: that “wise author, Monsieur Hume” in his “excellent Histoire” easily proves how wrong the great infidel is in both cases.118
In an article attacking d’Alembert’s eulogy of George Keith, Hereditary Earl Marischal of Scotland and Governor of Neuchâtel, the future counter-revolutionary journalist Abbé Royou also illustrated how it was possible to appeal to Hume for aid in protecting the ideological inertia of the ancien régime.119
D’Alembert in his Eloge had spoken disparagingly of the Stuart kings and had referred specifically to James II as Jesuit-inspired and intolerant. As we have already noted, eighteenth-century French Catholics seemed to find it particularly important to defend James II’s memory: “. . . the Jesuitism of King James,” Abbé Royou insists, “is one of those popular opinions that are spawned by hatred and adopted through gullible malevolence; it has, however, never been testified to by any credible witness. Hume does not speak of it. . . .”120 As for the alleged intolerance of James II, that too, Royou affirms, is a malicious lie. Quite to the contrary, James was forced to leave the English throne because he was excessively tolerant. “Had he favoured the atrocious and sanguinary laws of the Anglican sect, he and his family would still be enjoying the entire affection of his subjects, earned for him from the beginning by his virtues. But he wished to grant complete freedom of conscience to all sects within his kingdom, and to mitigate the harshness of the laws against Catholics, without, however, as he persisted in asserting to his last breath (Hume, t. 6, p. 536), intruding on the privileges and prerogatives of the Protestants. That was the source of his misfortunes!”121
D’Alembert’s radical view of Stuart intolerance inspired this brother-in-law of Fréron and future editor of the counter-revolutionary journal l’Ami du Roi to attack the philosophes generally for endlessly speaking of tolerance and, at the same time, for being highly intolerant toward Catholics. Coming back to d’Alembert’s portrait of James II, he proposed to show what that monarch was really like: “Let us contrast this truly odious and culpable depiction of the conduct of King James with the portrait drawn by Mr. Hume: a Protestant in origin, an unbeliever by profession, a subject and partisan of the House of Hanover: his authority should not be suspect to our panegyrist. Here is how he ends his history of James II. . . .”122 Royou’s attack concludes with a triumphant confrontation of the impartial Hume and his vanquished philosophe friend d’Alembert.
The last example we will consider with regard to the influence of Hume’s conservative image in the pre-revolutionary period is much along the same lines. It cannot be ignored, however, because of the sheer quantity of references to Hume’s works involved and because of the importance of the Abbé Nicolas-Sylvestre Bergier, the apologist in question.
Abbé Bergier saw himself as rather like a new Samson sent by God to destroy the Philistines of eighteenth-century French philosophy. Some idea of the stature of his attacks may be had, perhaps, from the fact that, for a time, he frequented the d’Holbach côterie and that rival apologists occasionally complained that he treated his philosophe opponents with more respect and temperance than he accorded the Jansenists.123
The extent of Hume’s philosophical influence on Bergier, following in the tradition already established by Trublet, is a question that need not detain us here.124 More important to our purpose is an examination of the religious, social, and political image of David Hume that emerges from the mass of references found in the Abbé’s works published between 1765 and the Revolution.
Any statement made by Hume that could be construed or, to be quite frank, half-construed and even misconstrued as testifying in favour of religion or of the Catholic Church is laboriously noted down in Bergier’s works. The Abbé records emphatically, for example, that Hume “has expressed himself in a most forceful manner on the beneficial effects of religion: ‘Those who attempt to disabuse mankind of religious prejudices, may, for aught I know, be good reasoners, but I cannot allow them to be good citizens and politicians; since they free men from one restraint upon their passions and make the infringement of the laws of equity and of society, in this respect, more easy and secure.’ ”125 Like Voltaire quoting the Bible, Bergier does not hesitate to repeat his favourite Hume passages and he used this particular one, wrenched from the essay “Of Providence,” in at least four different works.
The philosophes maintain that religion is unnecessary in a well-run society. But, objects Bergier, “no nation since the beginning of the world has possessed good civil laws, sound polity and government, without religion. No legislator has set out to bring under the rule of law a people deprived of a belief in God and in a future life. It is sheer folly to consider feasible an enterprise that no sage has ever dared to attempt. ‘Look out for a people, entirely destitute of religion,’ states Mr. Hume; ‘if you find them at all, be assured, that they are but a few degrees removed from brutes.’ (Hist. nat. de la relig., p. 133). . . . From this undeniable fact we may conclude that religion is an integral part, so to speak, of man’s constitution. . . .”126
Hume is also cited against those who maintain that religion takes its origins in the duplicity of priests and the credulity of the masses: “It would be fruitless to reply to the noisy clamours of those who claim that religion was invented by priests out of self-interest. First of all, it is absurd to suppose that there were priests before there was religion. Mr. Hume, who is anything but biased in their favour, acknowledges in good faith that they are not the original authors of religion or of superstition; that at most they may have helped to foster it. (Hist. nat. de la relig., [section] 14, p. 127.)”127
Bergier defends religious belief as a normal part of man’s nature. Is it sensible, then, he asks, to spend one’s lifetime questioning a duty which is born with us, which makes for the happiness of virtuous people and determines our eternal fate? Even Hume—for the moment a Hume pascalisant—was forced to admit that no good can come of religious scepticism: “David Hume, a zealous partisan of philosophical scepticism, after setting forth all the sophisms he could devise for its foundation, is forced to admit that no good can come of it, that it is ridiculous to attempt to destroy reason by argument and ratiocination; that nature, more powerful than philosophical pride, will always maintain its rights over all abstract speculations. We can conclude without hesitation that the same is true of religion, since it is grafted on nature. . . .”128
Even a certain fanaticism in a nation is preferable to the total absence of religion: “Fanaticism occurs, moreover, only when the people are much agitated and religion appears to be in peril; it is a passing frenzy that grows weak from its own efforts, and its crises cannot be frequent. ‘Its fury,’ writes Mr. Hume, ‘is like that of thunder and tempest, which exhaust themselves in a little time, and leave the air more calm and pure than before.’ Atheism is a slow poison that destroys the principle of social being and its effects are incurable. . . .”129
With Hume defending religious fanaticism in small doses and even proving to the Abbé’s satisfaction that the ancients were very much in need of Christ’s mission,130 let us now turn to hear what he has to say, still according to Bergier, specifically in defence of Christianity and the Catholic Church.
Bergier quotes from Hume’s Tudors to show the important rôle played by the Church during the Dark Ages: “The barbarian nations that ravaged Europe in the fifth century and afterwards would have smothered even the last vestige of human knowledge, had religion not opposed barriers to their fury. . . . If some traces of humanity, morals, order, and learning are to be found in the fifteenth century, it is undeniably to Christianity that we must be grateful.”131 We remember that the Protestant minister Formey had cited Hume to the same effect. The clergy, Hume is quoted as maintaining, also served during this time as a barrier against political despotism.132
Attacking the Reformation, Bergier finds himself able to quote profitably page after page of Hume’s works. Not only did the clergy of the pre-Reformation Church stand as a barrier against despotism, but the union of the Western Churches under one sovereign pontiff facilitated commerce and was a highly desirable, politically unifying principle. The wealth and splendour of the Church had the effect of encouraging the arts. Though some corruption in the Church indeed existed, it was not the main cause of the Reformation, nor was the issue of religion the main cause of the massacres which took place in England, Scotland, and Ireland at that time.133 After giving consecutively five “impartial” Hume quotations to support this view, Bergier adds: “Here, it seems to me, is confirmation of everything we have already said about the so-called Reformation, and it is a Protestant who provides it for us.”134 Were the Protestants right, Bergier asks, to attack the Church for depriving the faithful of scripture in the vernacular? “David Hume tells us that in England, after the advent of the so-called Reformation, access to the English translation of the Bible had to be withdrawn from the people for fear of the consequences and the fanaticism fostered by such readings. (Tudor, II. p. 426.)”135 Hume also states that the destruction of the monasteries at the time of the Reformation in England did no possible good to the country: “A fine lesson,” Bergier adds, “for those who would seek to reform the wealth of the clergy!”136 For his defence of the utility of convents and for his denial that the celibacy of priests has base political motives, Hume receives once again the French Abbé’s benediction. The Scot had shown on these matters “more discernment than our philosophes.”137 Like Louis de Bonald later on, Bergier also cites Hume’s authority to support his arguments against divorce.138
One last example of Bergier’s use of Hume must suffice although it by no means exhausts the list of references scattered throughout the Abbé’s voluminous works. After stating on the great historian’s authority that the philosophes were wrong to attach intolerance exclusively to religious opinions, that, in fact, any opinions men hold dear, whether out of vanity or self-interest, can occasion intolerance and that, consequently, atheists can be found who are just as intolerant as believers,139 Bergier approached the problem of toleration in seventeenth-century France:
The question is to determine whether the Calvinists had a legitimate claim, whether the government was obligated, in terms of natural law, to satisfy it, and whether it could do so as a matter of sound policy. In this regard, we invite dispassionate consideration of the following:
. . . The character of the first Calvinist ministers is well known, as is the nature of their doctrine; they taught that the Catholic religion was an abomination and that its adherents were denied salvation . . . that the Church of Rome was the whore of Babylon and the Pope the antichrist; that it was necessary to abjure, proscribe, and exterminate that religion by all possible means. . . . David Hume acknowledges that in Scotland, in the year 1542, a bare toleration of the new preachers would have been equivalent to a deliberate plan to destroy the national religion; he proves the point by his account of the fanatical conduct of these sectaries, Histoire de la Maison de Tudor, t. III, p. 9; t. IV, p. 59 and 104; t. V, p. 213, etc. In France the situation was no different. Where the Calvinists managed to gain control, no practice of the Catholic religion was allowed: by what right then could they claim that their own should be tolerated?140
We see how Hume’s impartiality, far from supporting the philosophes, often served the cause of their enemies. Apologists like Bergier and Gerdil quote Hume as naturally, almost, as they quote Bossuet. In fact, they both sometimes quote Hume and Bossuet together on the same point. Moreover, since Bossuet’s authority meant much less to the eighteenth-century philosophes than Hume’s, there was all the more reason to prefer Hume. Here was a Protestant Bossuet, nay even an atheist Bossuet, saying all the right things apparently and yet he was a member of the enemy camp and highly praised by Voltaire and d’Holbach. Bergier’s sincerity and fairness in many of these quotations can certainly be questioned, but it is equally evident that he felt, at least some of the time, that he and Hume were in genuine agreement. Even during the Hume-Rousseau quarrel his sympathies were not with the “religious” Rousseau, but totally with the unbeliever Hume.141 It is significant too that the philosophes themselves finally found it impossible to ignore Bergier’s tricks. After he had quoted Hume for about the fourth time to the effect that those who disabuse the human race of its religious prejudices may be good reasoners but are certainly not good citizens or legislators,142 the d’Holbach côterie decided to mount a protest in their anonymously published Recueil Philosophique ou Mélange de Pièces sur la Religion & la Morale.143 The work attacks Bergier on this very point:
Monsieur Bergier, as is customary with theologians, ends by indicting his adversaries as disturbers of the peace and as bad citizens; he bases his claim on the authority of a renowned philosopher (Mr. Hume) who acknowledges that those who attack the established religion of a country may be good reasoners, but are clearly bad citizens. We will answer Monsieur Bergier by pointing out that it is scarcely fitting for theologians and priests to accuse philosophers of causing disorder in the state. We will say to him that it is theology, with its shameful abuses of power, that has been in a position over nearly the last eighteen centuries to disturb the peace of nations; . . . We will say to him that . . . we are no longer in the twelfth century . . . and that humanity, weary of authority, seems willing, finally, to have recourse to common sense and reason.
As for the opinion of Mr. Hume which seems to provide Monsieur Bergier with such a triumphant victory, we will respond by saying to him that the authority of a philosopher does not carry the same weight for other philosophers, as the authority of a Church Father or Council might for a theologian; we will say to him that Mr. Hume could have been mistaken in his judgement of those who oppose established opinion and that if he had taken careful note of the countless evils brought down on the world by Christianity, he would have been obliged to admit that those who forcefully attack prejudice and superstition are, on the contrary, very good citizens indeed. Mr. Hume himself has done so in a manner that has earned him, and rightly so, the great reputation he enjoys throughout Europe where his history and his philosophical writings are everywhere read and admired by all those who do not think like Monsieur l’Abbé Bergier.144
Debate with Turgot
As their answer to Bergier indicates, the philosophes were fairly confident that Hume belonged, despite occasional appearances to the contrary, heart and soul to the camp of the d’Alemberts and d’Holbachs. Moreover, even though this first generation of philosophes saw the success of their cause as largely dependent on a victory over traditionalists in the religious controversy, they were probably quite willing to forgive not only David Hume’s laziness or lack of militancy in not writing an ecclesiastical history but also the general ignorance of the harsher “religious” facts of life he at times displayed as when, for example, he confided naïvely to the astonished baron d’Holbach that he had never seen an atheist and that he did not believe such creatures existed.145 Such errors were amusing or at least pardonable in a man who had already written so cleverly on miracles, divine providence, and the immortality of the soul. As for Hume’s apparent lack of a liberally orientated political philosophy, the philosophes of this generation from about 1750 to 1770 could have no insurmountable objections on this point either. Revolution, if not reform, was as far from their aims as it was from Hume’s. Few philosophes showed any real objections to living under a political despot provided he, like Frederick the Great, for example, was witty and a good priest-hater as well.
As is well known, the intellectual mood in France was soon to change. A second generation of philosophes begins to emerge in the 1770s and 1780s, still anti-clerical—although this question was by now rather old hat—but more interested in investigating and pointing out the sins of kings than of priests. These last very definitely do not claim David Hume as an ally. There is even some apprehension on their part that he might be just what Trublet, Bergier, Nonnotte, Royou, Gerdil, Lefebvre de Beauvray, and others in their use of him had suggested he was—a treacherous enemy in disguise.
It is in the correspondence of Turgot and Hume exchanged between the years 1766 and 1768 that we catch perhaps our first real glimpse—and it is still only a glimpse—of what was to be a consciously acknowledged fundamental disagreement between Hume and the politically idealistic French intellectuals of this later period. Turgot was with d’Alembert one of Hume’s closest friends on the continent. Unlike the other philosophes, however, he showed on the occasion of the Hume-Rousseau quarrel a certain unflattering if sincere reserve in judging the wrongs of the affair which left unsatisfied the wounded feelings of the Scottish historian. After receiving letters from Turgot in which Rousseau’s ingratitude is called real but unpremeditated, more the result of madness than of villainy,146 Hume could not help accusing the French physiocrat of “partiality” for the black-hearted citoyen de Genève.147 This aspect of the correspondence will not concern us further here, but what is especially significant for us is the fact that it led finally to an open discussion between Hume and one of his liberal French admirers of their genuine political differences—differences which the earlier uncritical praise of Hume by the philosophes had all but totally obscured.
Hume opened the controversy by pointing out that Rousseau’s writings, however eloquent, were extravagant and sophistical. Their tendency, moreover, was surely rather to do hurt than service to mankind.
In his reply the distinguished Intendant of Limoges, who was soon to attempt his great reforms and was already aware of the difficulties presented by ill-will and the routine immobility of privilege, defended Rousseau, and at the same time defended his own political involvement in the Enlightenment’s hopes to improve the world. Speaking in the new political tones to be heard more and more frequently in France as 1789 approached, he warmly praised Rousseau’s works:
Unlike you, I am far from judging them to be harmful to the interests of mankind; on the contrary, I think that he is one of the authors who has contributed most to morals and the good of humanity. Far from reproaching him for having on this point set himself too much apart from common notions, I believe, on the contrary, that he has respected still too many prejudices. I think that he has not gone far enough along that road, but it is by following his road that we shall one day reach the goal of bringing mankind closer to equality, justice, and humanity.148
Turgot adds that of course Hume will not think he is defending Rousseau’s early writings against the arts and sciences. These, he says, were the products of a beginning writer’s vain desire to make his mark; Rousseau was consciously paradoxical here to avoid being trite. The Contrat social, however, is a different matter:
In truth, this book sums up the precise distinction between the sovereign and the government; and that distinction offers a most luminous truth, one that settles for all time, no matter the form of government, our notions of the people’s inalienable sovereignty. To my mind, Emile seems inspired by the purest morality ever taught in lesson form, although I think one could go even farther; but I shall be very careful not to tell you my ideas on that subject, for you would judge me to be even more mad than Rousseau. . . .149
We have here, at last, the beginnings of an honest recognition of the vast distance between Hume’s political views and those of the French reformers. Hume’s History had been before the French reading public for several years already without eliciting anything approaching a similar response. Only the extreme right had taken grateful notice of his conservatism. Moreover, to the “lessons” of the History remarked upon by the Journal de Trévoux, Bergier, and others, had to be added the fairly explicit anti-liberal doctrine available in Hume’s political essays. In these as well the French had been able to read Hume’s opinion that the world was still too young and human experience too short to allow much in the way of scientifically valid political speculation. Hume had also declared that the contract theory and the corollary doctrine of the people’s inalienable sovereignty were totally without foundation. Opinion, not contract, was at the basis of human government and most governments had, in fact, been founded on conquest or usurpation.150 Hume implies too that those who reject the lessons of history in favour of a priori natural rights are to be condemned. Few changes in government can ever be wisely carried out on such “philosophical” grounds. Established government bears a sacred authority by the very fact that it is established. Resistance to it is always unwise and must be considered only as a last resort since nothing is more terrible to contemplate than the anarchy that would result from a complete dissolution of government:
Did one generation of men go off the stage at once, and another succeed, as is the case with silk-worms and butterflies, the new race, if they had sense enough to choose their government, which surely is never the case with men, might voluntarily, and by general consent, establish their own form of civil polity, without any regard to the laws or precedents, which prevailed among their ancestors. But as human society is in perpetual flux, one man every hour going out of the world, another coming into it, it is necessary, in order to preserve stability in government, that the new brood should conform themselves to the established constitution, and nearly follow the path which their fathers, treading in the footsteps of theirs, had marked out to them. Some innovations must necessarily have place in every human institution, and it is happy where the enlightened genius of the age gives these a direction to the side of reason, liberty, and justice: but violent innovations no individual is entitled to make: they are even dangerous to be attempted by the legislature: more ill than good is ever to be expected from them: and if history affords examples to the contrary, they are not to be drawn into precedent, and are only to be regarded as proofs, that the science of politics affords few rules, which will not admit of some exceptions. . . .151
Hume may not have been entirely sure that the old gods existed but, in the best sceptical tradition, he held that they ought to be worshipped. An acquiescence in the status quo, a shrinking from change, a pessimistic desire to retrench, to set up comforting barriers against the “frenzy of liberty” permeates many of his personal comments on political events at this time. The course of history is cyclical; the new ideals of liberty and progress represent recurrent political delusions. In his answer to Turgot, Hume expressed a weary unwillingness to believe in man’s ability to improve his lot by seeking such lofty goals:
I know you are one of those, who entertain the agreeable and laudable, if not too sanguine hope, that human society is capable of perpetual progress towards perfection, that the increase of knowledge will still prove favourable to good government, and that since the discovery of printing we need no longer dread the usual returns of barbarism and ignorance. Pray, do not the late events in this country152 appear a little contrary to your system? Here is a people thrown into disorders (not dangerous ones, I hope) merely from the abuse of liberty, chiefly the liberty of the press; without any grievance, I do not only say, real, but even imaginary; and without any of them being able to tell one circumstance of government which they wish to have corrected: They roar liberty, though they have apparently more liberty than any people in the world; a great deal more than they deserve; and perhaps more than any men ought to have. . . . You see, I give you freely my views of things, in which I wish earnestly to be refuted: The contrary opinion is much more consolatory, and is an incitement to every virtue and laudable pursuit.153
With all the idealism and moderate optimism which he shared with the Enlightenment’s better political prophets, Turgot returned Hume a frank rebuttal:
If my departure allowed me a few moments, I would add a word or two in defence of my ideas on the perfectibility and the perfecting of our poor species. These minor disorders now taking place before our eyes do not shake my confidence one whit; and I say, with more justification than the General of the Jesuits—alios ventos alias tempestates vidimus. . . . [we have seen other winds, other storms]. Good government will not come without crises, and these will be accompanied by disorder. Should we blame enlightenment and liberty for guiding us through this turbulence to a happier state? Obviously not. Injuries will be suffered during our passage, of course! But will these be more harmful than the injuries suffered under the rule of tyranny and superstition that seeks to smother liberty and enlightenment, and strives to do so through means that, once things have progressed beyond a certain point, are either totally useless or entirely abominable, and often both one and the other? I doubt that you think so any more than I do. The people preoccupied with their necessities, the great with their pleasures, have no time to be savants and to shake off their prejudices on their own; but a consequence of the progress in knowledge is that one does not need to be a savant to have good sense and to popularize truths that today can be made convincing only with work and effort. Adieu, Monsieur—time is short and I must hurry. . . .154
In fact time was running short; there were many important reforms to carry out; perhaps even, for others if not for Turgot, there was a revolution to prepare. Not long after, the unsuccessful minister Turgot would warn in fateful words his young King, Louis XVI, about the dangers of ineffective political leadership: “Never forget, Sire, that it was weakness that placed the head of Charles I on the block; . . .”155
Early Hostility: Mirabeau, Mably, and Brissot
Perhaps the earliest work by a future revolutionary expressing open dissatisfaction with Hume’s political conservatism is Mirabeau’s Des lettres de cachet et des prisons d’état. Himself a victim of the lettre de cachet, Mirabeau, composing this work in prison in 1778,156 protested against all forms of ministerial despotism. Both natural and positive law, he affirmed, condemned arbitrary imprisonment.
Although, especially when dealing with the medieval period, Mirabeau occasionally cites Hume’s authority and even refers to him as “this philosopher who was the first modern historian to rival the ancients,”157 he cannot accept the timid reservations Hume seems to have concerning the protection of habeas corpus. Like Montesquieu in the Esprit des Lois (Book XII, ch. 19), Hume believed that there were times of crisis in the affairs of men when certain civil liberties should be suspended. There is even much to suggest that, had he been alive, he would have heartily approved the suspension of habeas corpus in England during the period when Mirabeau was actually composing his work.
“The celebrated Hume,” Mirabeau writes, “in giving an account of the Habeas Corpus Bill, states: ‘. . . it must be confessed that there is some difficulty to reconcile with such extreme liberty the full security and the regular police of a state, especially the police of great cities’. . . .”158 Hume, Mirabeau adds, is guilty of excessive circumspection in the defence of liberty: “This equivocal style of writing, to which this famous author is a little too prone in all matters relating to government, almost leaves us to question whether he unreservedly approves or disapproves of this famous law. The great philosopher certainly forgot himself most strangely if it is true that he seriously hesitated on this occasion.”159
Mirabeau admits that Hume in a preceding passage had seemed to call this law necessary for the protection of liberty in a mixed monarchy and had seemed to say that, since it existed nowhere but in England, it alone was a consideration sufficient to induce the English to prefer their constitution to all others. To this Mirabeau adds the following comment:
If the law which prohibits all forms of arbitrary imprisonment is essentially requisite for the protection of liberty, it is forever sacred and irrefragable; for what is the benefit of government if not the protection of liberty? And what can authorize it to commit evils it must prevent? The supposed disadvantages that this much slandered liberty entails for the police are manifestly, and could not be other than, the consequences of an administration’s clumsiness, its lack of vigilance, firmness, and integrity. In any case, if the sole object of government is not to guarantee our liberty and property, what care we for its fine police; what care we for the advantage of society that serves as a pretext for all forms of individual injustice if that advantage can only be obtained at the cost of the rights and benefits whose protection and enhancement formed the original purpose of our uniting with our fellow-creatures.160
Habeas corpus, contrary to Hume’s fears, has not produced great disorders. The lesson, Mirabeau concludes, is obvious: France could do away with its system of lettres de cachet and its complicated apparatus of despotism which induced foreigners to laugh at Frenchmen as poor, down-trodden slaves. The raison d’état, moreover, can never be legitimately invoked to suspend such measures of legal protection:
Let us not then abuse this word necessity, capable of authorizing every act of tyranny, as well as arbitrary imprisonment. Never let it be introduced into a legal cause, or in any circumstance that is anticipated in the law. When this deadly necessity exists in fact, it requires no explanation: no one will call it into question. . . . This supposition of a state of emergency is thus entirely irrelevant to the present discussion; we have asked the question: Is the use of lettres de cachet just? Is it beneficial? We are given the answer that there are circumstances when they become necessary.
Why this ridiculous evasion? Do such circumstances exist? No, they do not, and if they did, it is highly doubtful that the lettres would be obeyed; for orders so arbitrary can have force only in times of the most peaceful and complete obedience. . . .161
Mirabeau, who, like Turgot, shows unbounded admiration for Rousseau’s political writings, goes on for an entire chapter defending habeas corpus against Hume’s objection. He hints that practical observers like Hume are guilty, through their pride in being “empirical politicians,” of a certain scholarly charlatanism. Mirabeau does in fact condescend to cite facts to support his arguments but, in the typical radical tradition of many later revolutionists, he prefers to talk of principles rather than precedents. History is somehow irrelevant in a question of right:
Polemical details should never be more than a secondary consideration in politico-philosophical writings, if I may employ that term, and the principles of natural law must be given first place . . . for natural law is the only law that men have not the power to abrogate. Arguments of reason are always infinitely stronger than those of any other authority and in political and philosophical matters they render historical dissertations that are subject to interminable debate quite superfluous. Everyone will agree that it would be most unfortunate if a nation’s liberty and rights hinged on a point of grammar. . . .162
Besides rejecting history altogether, another possibility open to the revolutionary who finds the evidence of history in apparent contradiction with his principles is, of course, to rewrite history or at least to find historians whose ideas are more in keeping with those principles. We shall see that Mirabeau attempted this last solution as well when he set out later, partially, no doubt, because of dissatisfaction with Hume, to translate and publish the “republican”-inspired History of England by Catherine Macaulay-Graham as well as some of the political doctrine of Milton. But more on that later. Let us now examine the work of another radical theoretician who found it necessary at this time to attack the historian Hume.
Although Mably in 1757 had called Hume the economist “a man of genius,”163 he was unable, later, to find any words of praise for Hume the historian. In the work Des droits et des devoirs du citoyen, this disciple of Rousseau, who tended in his own writings to defend a primitive form of idealistic communism, gives us a fairly good idea why. History, first of all, must be a source-book of liberalism: “Let it show the rights of peoples; let it never stray from that primary truth from which all the others are derived.” Pre-requisite to the writing of history is the study of natural law or of just political theory which is based on “the laws that nature has established for providing mankind with the happiness she has made them capable of.” These laws, Mably tells us, are invariable and “the world would have been a happy place had it observed them.”164 History then has an explicit propaganda purpose: “. . . the object of history is not simply to enlighten the mind, its function is also to guide the heart and give it an inclination for the good.”165 Thus it is that Mably judges Rapin-Thoyras, the Huguenot historian of England who was generally seen as biased against France and in every way inferior to Hume, as in fact superior to the Scottish historian: “. . . his views are upright, he loves justice, and his politics are based on the principles of natural law.”166
Unusual too in France at this time is Mably’s emphasis on the love of liberty rather than on the fanaticism shown by the seventeenth-century Puritans.167 Beginning as he did with these revolutionary premises, it is perhaps only to be expected that Mably found Hume wanting: “His own reflections are commonplace, and too often based on false politics that morality cannot sanction.”168 In some parts of the History Hume is even judged to be “unintelligible,” and Mably, contemptuous of the great praise given Hume in France only twenty years earlier, asks: “. . . and how can I approve of a work that, whether because he was ignorant of his art, or lazy, or slow-witted, the historian has only sketched out? All these unconnected facts slip from my memory, I have wasted my time. . . .”169
During this same period we find the future revolutionary leader Brissot de Warville largely agreeing that history should be, first and foremost, a school of liberalism. Discussing the duties of an historian in 1783, Brissot takes up a position similar to that of Mirabeau and Mably: “. . . his purpose is to instruct his times, posterity, princes especially, and ministers; for it is they who can profit from history. Who among them will not amend an inclination for arbitrary government after contemplating the fate of Charles I and James II? . . . The first duty of the historian is thus to be courageous and fearless, if he wishes to be useful. . . .”170
Impartiality is seen by Brissot as a rather secondary virtue in the historian. In fact, Brissot makes it something of a sin for the historian to be impartial in the wrong way. Speaking of Catherine Macaulay’s History, which was later to influence the revolutionary Brissot and several other leading Girondins to a surprising extent, he writes:
She has been blamed as an historian whose partiality for republicanism is too marked. But how could she have avoided partiality while depicting the tyrannical excesses that signalled the ministries of the Buckinghams, the Lauds, and the Straffords? Her partiality in favour of that system speaks highly of both her spirit and her intellect. Partiality for characters alone dishonours the historian. . . . Respect for the sacred rights that nature has granted to mankind is what distinguishes this history and places it well above that of Hume, whose fawning courtier spirit often alters or effaces the colours of truth. . . . Madame Macaulay has had the courage to . . . go off the beaten track that other historians have followed, to open up a new path, to censure the servile principles of Hume, to defy the body of public opinion he had managed to captivate. . . . And now I have but one wish: that her History be translated into French.171
Defence and Defiance
The change in political climate which took place between the 1760s and the 1780s is well illustrated by earlier French reactions to republican interpretations of the English revolution. The Journal Encyclopédique, not the least liberal of ancien-régime periodicals, refused in its highly laudatory review of Hume’s Stuarts in 1760 to go into any detail concerning the most guilty activities of Cromwell and his hot-brained parliamentarians: “Our readers would shudder if the bounds of this journal allowed us to place before their eyes portraits depicting some of the features of these tyrants.”172 Nor is it easy to find at this time in France a very much more favourable opinion of the English Protector and his Puritan supporters. The hostility expressed by Bossuet in the seventeenth century toward these fiendish regicides is still very much alive a century later. Rousseau speaks of Cromwell as irredeemably vile and perhaps best sums up the general view: “What has never yet been seen,” he wrote in 1751, “is a hypocrite turning into a good man: one might reasonably have attempted the conversion of Cartouche, but never would a wise man have undertaken that of Cromwell.”173 Some further idea of the Protector’s reputation in France as the most evil of men may be had from the fact that Crébillon found himself able to use parts of the first two acts of an abandoned tragedy on Cromwell in his Catilina.174 An unsuccessful tragedy, Cromwel, by Antoine Maillet-Duclairon, was in fact performed by the Comédiens Français in June 1764, and depicts the prevailing view of the Protector as a murderer and usurper. The last two lines of the play, significantly, are spoken by the heroic General Monk:
[And let us show our subjects that the first of all laws Is to love our country and to serve our kings.]
The youthful poet François de Neufchâteau in a work of 1766 also displays this classic reaction to the leading figures in Stuart history. Charles I is seen as an “unfortunate and innocent” prince.176 Cromwell, on the other hand, is looked upon as the supreme hypocrite:
[None more cleverly than he with innocent air, did ever hide great schemes so deeply. Valour, eloquence, and even virtues were Heaven’s gifts, but these he corrupted and degraded in guilty use. ’Neath religion’s sacred guise he masked crime and rebellion: With purpose veiled he seeks a tyrant’s throne, relentless foe, unjust magistrate, cunning politician, dreaded warrior; there you have Cromwell, this thriving traitor who denied Englishmen their true master.]
In 1764 the Journal Encyclopédique reviewing Catherine Macaulay’s work in the English edition illustrates much the same attitude. It begins by translating (or, rather, “colourfully adapting”) the “horrifying” introduction of this female historian, this “Amazon,” whose “patriotic scoldings” would soon remind Burke of the “heroines in Billingsgate” and earn from him the designation “our republican Virago”:178
From my early youth, I have nourished my mind by reading those histories which exhibit liberty in its most exalted state; the word Republic alone is enough to raise up my heart, and my soul rejoices every time I think of the independence of the Greeks or the free and noble pride of the Romans. Reading and studying the authors of those two nations nurtured in me an extreme love of Freedom, that intense and irresistible passion which is nature’s gift to every rational being. . . . The mind of the historian must be similarly disposed, in my view, if he wishes to see the events he recounts in a manner that differs from the productions of most of our political writers, those outrageous and contemptible sycophants whose only talent lies in casting a seductive veil over the most monstrous vices; . . . insipid authors who lack even that discernment required to distinguish truly virtuous and exalted patriots from time-serving place-men who sacrificed the most essential interests of the public to the baseness of their private affections. I propose in my history to accord praise only to true virtue, paying no heed to the rank or fame of those who have dishonoured their name, etc., etc. . . .
The Journal Encyclopédique editors, choking with indignation, seem scarcely able to believe that such a writer could exist. Still commenting on Catherine Macaulay’s introduction, they warn their French readers of her seditious intent:
Miss Macaulay’s purpose in this introductory speech is to predispose her readers in favour of the history, or rather the libel, she is about to present, and for which she pleads in advance. . . . She protests that she will say nothing that is improper, nothing that breathes licence or sedition; but does she speak the language of the good citizen, does she seem to love the public peace when she asserts that whoever attempts to reconcile monarchy with liberty is a rebel in the blackest and fullest sense; he is a rebel to the laws of his country, the laws of nature, the laws of reason, and the laws of God. . . . We shall note only a few isolated passages in this History; our readers would be too outraged at the author’s effrontery were we to give them an account of the criminal lengths to which she goes to inspire in her fellow-citizens a hatred of royalty and scorn for the memory of Great Britain’s most respectable princes.
Significantly, the Journal Encyclopédique cites as an example of Catherine Macaulay’s bias her portrait of James I and then adds: “what we have said about this monarch, following Mr. Hume, exempts us from having to recount here Miss Macaulay’s observations . . . because, in this regard, we cannot possibly give an account of her inaccurate narrations and insulting commentaries.”179
The next two decades were to witness a rapid evolution of French political attitudes. This same journal which in 1764 could not even bring itself to reproduce examples of Catherine Macaulay’s criminally seditious republicanism for fear of shocking its readers (and, of course, the censors) was able to speak in 1778 of the “sound ideas, the solid judgement of Miss Macaulay, and the profound knowledge she has of human nature. . . .”180
A similar evolution in political attitudes is reflected to some extent by the opinions of a few pre-revolutionary writers who take a more positive approach to the idea of Cromwell as the central figure in philosophical tragedy. Delisle de Sales, for example, ponders in 1772 the question of a Cromwel in which Locke would play an important rôle.181 Later, the future conventionnel Louis-Sébastien Mercier almost begs dramatic authors to treat the subject of Cromwell: “What can you tragic poets be thinking of? You have such a subject to deal with and yet you speak to me always of ancient Persians and Greeks, you give me novels in rhyme! Pray, bestir yourselves! Paint me a Cromwell!”182 Mercier imagines himself at the theatre in the year 2440, just after attending an historical play on the Calas affair. He hears announced that the following day the tragedy Cromwell, or the Death of Charles I is to be performed: “. . . the assembled spectators,” this visitor to the future informs us, “appeared extremely happy with the announcement. I was told that the play was a masterpiece, and that the case of kings and the people had never before been presented with such force, eloquence, or truth. Cromwell was the avenger, a hero worthy of the sceptre he had dashed from a treacherous hand that was guilty of criminal actions against the state. Kings inclined in their hearts to commit injustice had never managed to read through this drama without sensing that a deathly paleness had crept over their arrogant brow.”183
Mercier’s attitude, unheard of earlier in France, is still extremely rare even at this time. Not only, as we have seen, did the French of the ancien régime generally consider Cromwell to be one of the greatest of political criminals, they were also quite certain, and Monsieur Hume had not contradicted their belief in the matter, that the eighteenth-century English fully shared this view. Frequent allusions are made in traditionalist ancien-régime literature suggesting that the English nation still felt desperately guilty concerning the crime of regicide committed in its name in the seventeenth century—so guilty, in fact, that it annually held a commemorative day of national mourning for the tragic loss of Charles I. A typical expression of this belief is found in Pierre-Jean Grosley’s Londres:
January 30th is dedicated everywhere in the Anglican church to a lengthy annual service commemorating the martyred Prince. During the prayers of this service, worshippers beg for Divine mercy and implore God to never again ask England for the blood of the holy martyr who faced with calm serenity the outrages leading up to death, following in the footsteps of his Saviour who died praying for his assassins and executioners.184
So strong indeed were official French feelings on the subject that in 1779 Louis XVI’s council, preparing a war manifesto against Great Britain, included among its accusations the charge that the House of Hanover held its power through usurpation and also reproached the English with the assassination of Charles I and Mary Stuart. Louis XVI in marginal comments on the draft manifesto typically pointed out that England was already sufficiently remorseful concerning those crimes and that it would be unwise to include such a reminder: “Regarding the assassination of King Charles and Mary Stuart, those are crimes for which England still feels such deep shame a century and more later, that we should not remind her with reproaches that would seem all the more bitter and humiliating since it is a King of France, enjoying the love of his subjects, who would be including them in a declaration of war. The House of Hanover, moreover, played no part in those crimes.”185 Where the manifesto pointed out that, since Cromwell’s day, all English treaties had shown revolting and subtle traces of base and envious policy, Louis XVI further observed: “I would prefer to remove entirely the word Cromwell and replace it with the date of his government; the English also blame us for giving recognition to the regime of this odious man. I would remove the entire sentence; after all, since Cromwell’s time we have acquired many territories and possessions.”186
In total disagreement with such sentiments, Mercier sees the English of the year 2440 as a wiser race and favouring a rather different attitude towards the Protector:
The English are still the leading nation of Europe: they continue to enjoy their ancient glory for having shown their neighbours the kind of government that befits men who are jealous of their rights and their happiness.
There are no longer solemn processions commemorating Charles I; people see more clearly in politics.
The new statue of the Protector Cromwell has just been erected. . . . The people’s assemblies will henceforth take place in the presence of this statue, since the great man it represents is the true author of the glorious and immutable constitution.187
We will see that not even in the Convention a decade later was such an enthusiastic attitude to Cromwell anywhere to be found. Although during the Revolution his ostensible opinion was to be quite different, the pre-revolutionary Brissot also greatly admired Cromwell if we are to believe his own retrospective account of certain cherished youthful dreams:
This notion of revolution, which I dared not avow, often occupied my thoughts. As can be easily imagined, I gave myself a leading rôle. I had been singularly impressed by the history of Charles I and Cromwell; I constantly thought of the latter, tearing up the portrait of his king while he was still a child, crowning his career by having him decapitated, and owing solely to his own genius the great rôle he had played in the English revolution. It seemed to me not impossible to renew that revolution. . . .188
Brissot in fact was, perhaps more than any other revolutionary figure, deeply influenced by the events of Stuart history. As in the case of Mirabeau, his favourite historian of those events, several years before the Revolution, was Catherine Macaulay. In May 1784 Brissot expressed the hope that she would also write the history of the American revolution so that Americans might learn how to avoid the faults of the English, who had allowed republicanism to die in their own country.189 Hume, on the other hand, Brissot singles out as the great enemy; only the Capuchin friar, the Père d’Orléans, had written a worse history,190 but Hume is judged, because of his popularity, to be much more dangerous. Brissot speaks of the need to diminish “the implicit political faith people have in him.”191
In September 1784, on the occasion of the English publication of Hume’s essays “Of Suicide” and “Of the Immortality of the Soul,” Brissot devoted fourteen pages of his journal to a general review of Hume’s reputation. He praises Hume’s early philosophical essays and judges that they had been mistakenly neglected by the public since, after all, they contained a good deal of useful material against superstition and prejudice.192 It was because he had failed to please with these, Brissot maintains, that Hume decided to prostitute his pen, vowing to succeed in history at any cost: “. . . and he succeeded. Perhaps he owed some of his enormous success to the party whose principles he embraced, the party of the Crown against the people; he espoused it in all his undertakings and made himself odious in the eyes of the partisans of republicanism; but philosophers forgave him his attachment, his devotion to the Crown of England, because of his philosophical observations which, moreover, he scattered throughout his History.”193
Brissot thus admits that the early philosophes had admired Hume for his “philosophy,” meaning his anti-clericalism. This was not in itself bad but French intellectuals had now outgrown that intermediate stage of enlightenment and needed something more. The struggle now had to be more political than religious in emphasis. Now was the time for history to attach itself to a loud and clear defence of the people’s liberty; the long-neglected rights of humanity had to be avenged:
Hume did not, in my view, advance that kind of philosophy far enough: clearly, he belonged to those times when one protested more against the influence of priests than in favour of men. That was Voltaire’s failing as well; the step they took led to those we are now taking, and theirs was the more difficult: we must thank them for risking it, the word is not inappropriate, given the character of the English clergy. We must, however, blame Hume rather more severely for his apology of the Stuarts, as well as his unduly pompous encomiums on the English constitution and on Roman law; he must be censured as well for confounding too often the people and the populace. . . .194
Even Hume’s arguments against immortality are cited by Brissot as additional proof of his callous insensibility: “Hume, one can see, had never been tortured by oppression. He had never heard the dismal, soul-wrenching sound of a prison gate closing behind him. . . . Hume had no need of such beliefs; his soul was desiccated and his character matched the cause he defended, a cause in which nothingness is a resource.”195 To complete the picture Brissot adds a note on Hume’s Political Discourses; it is in these that Hume especially betrays his selfish character: “You will find such aridness, such insensibility, such unfeeling, if I may be allowed to coin this English word, in his discourses on commerce, luxury and money; he there declares himself to be an apologist of luxury, and why? Because as a recipient of pensions and great income he enjoyed drinking champagne and living the Epicurean life. . . .”196 How corrupt, how unclean the sage Monsieur Hume seems now! One almost hears in the distance, not the intellectual Brissotins of a decade later, but the ostentatiously austere and often frankly obscurantist followers of Robespierre.197
Anticipating the Storm
Such bitter attacks on the Scottish historian are still fairly rare before 1789. On the eve of the Revolution, proof of Hume’s continuingly great historical reputation can be seen in the appearance of a new edition of the Stuarts in 1788—possibly the tenth separate French edition since 1760 of this the most popular part of the History. Additional proof of his enduring success is provided by the police records which show that on 20 June 1786 the Paris authorities seized in a book shipment from Marseilles the proof sheets of a counterfeit edition of Hume’s History.198 Quite obviously, book pirates do not go to the trouble of printing works whose popularity has run out.
Not only was Hume’s History still popular on the eve of the Revolution, its authority continued to mould the opinions held by most Frenchmen, whether of traditionalist or liberal persuasion, on the English revolution. If we find, for example, a Mably attacking Hume at this time, we find also a Gudin de La Brenellerie defending him. In fact Gudin de La Brenellerie’s important analysis of the British parliamentary system, published in 1789, follows Hume very closely, because, the author tells us, “he is the least partial of English historians, and the least opposed to the royal prerogative.”199
Hume, moreover, could still appeal in the 1780s to the fashionable nobility he had pleased so much a quarter of a century earlier. The Comtesse de Boufflers’s gracious letter to Hume on his History200 should be contrasted with the following note by the same author to Gustavus III of Sweden concerning, not her great good friend the respectable statesman David Hume, but the rabble-rousing, squalid Raynal: “. . . of low birth, lacking wit, driven out of France for having attacked with impudence and folly the very principles that hold society together and assure the safety of princes; and, on top of all that, a dreadful bore.”201 Hume, if nothing else, had never been found “dreadfully boring.” We can especially appreciate the force of the comtesse’s words when we learn that this famous salon hostess on one occasion had lovingly spent an entire day trying to equal in French translation one paragraph of Hume’s elegant History!202
Our chapter on Hume’s pre-revolutionary image can perhaps best be concluded with the quotation of an opinion expressed by Malesherbes late in 1788. At the time he was writing, all of France was waiting for the promised convocation of the States-General. Malesherbes, less than one year before the fall of the Bastille, runs over in his mind the intellectual achievements of the century and the titles of important works which, because of censorship restrictions, had not appeared in France with the express or sometimes even tacit permission of the authorities and yet which were necessary. Montesquieu’s Esprit des Lois was one such work; another was Hume’s History of England: “Mr. Hume is generally regarded in France as a paragon of wise and impartial historians, and now that the entire French nation is discussing the Constitution, and even expressly invited to do so by its King, we must find our instruction in this author’s account of the constitution of his country, either to extract from it what might be useful to us or to reject what would not accord with our customs and laws.”203
Someone once said of Malesherbes that he devoted his lifetime to pleading the cause of the people before the tribunal of the king and that he died pleading the cause of the king before the tribunal of the people. We shall see that once more, not long before his death on the revolutionary scaffold, while pleading the cause of his king, he would have occasion to deal with David Hume’s History. In 1788 his plea is more general; it is for the people as much as for the king and he speaks for that peculiarly sane group of moderates who worked actively for reform within the structure of the ancien régime and who followed Montesquieu rather than Rousseau. On the whole, it is also to this same group that Hume the historian—despite the extreme reactions of the Bergiers and the Brissots—appealed most during this period. After Montesquieu’s death, Hume had been hailed as the only man in Europe capable of replacing the author of the Esprit des Lois.204 With the arrival of the Revolution, the stars of both writers fell considerably. Both were eventually to recover their losses in prestige but at different times and in different ways. Montesquieu would take up his now permanent place as one of the eighteenth century’s greatest political theoreticians. Hume, on the other hand, was to be recognized as one of the eighteenth century’s most highly original philosophers. But before that, within only a few years, Hume the historian would play his greatest political role ever, as prophet of the French counter-revolution.
[1. ]See E. C. Mossner, The Life of David Hume (Nelson), 1954, pp. 441-506.
[2. ]David Hume to Alexander Wedderburn, from Paris, 23 November 1763, in The Letters of David Hume, ed. J. Y. T. Greig, Oxford, 1932, I. 414-15.
[3. ]Note on this point the common eighteenth-century antithesis of the words novel and history, as in Voltaire’s Lettres philosophiques (13th Letter), where we find the terms contrasted in a parallel of Locke (who wrote “the history of the soul”) and Descartes (“the novel of the soul”). For a defence of the truth of the novel, see Choderlos de Laclos’s review of Fanny Burney’s novel, Cecilia, in the Mercure de France, 17 April 1784, pp. 103ff. See also Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, Oeuvres complètes (Pléiade), Paris, 1943, pp. 523-25.
[4. ]Correspondance littéraire, philosophique et critique, ed. Tourneux, Paris, 1877-82, 15 October 1767, VII. 449.
[5. ]Théorie du pouvoir politique et religieux dans la société civile, démontrée par le raisonnement et par l’histoire (1796); in Oeuvres de M. de Bonald, Paris, 1843, XIII. 14.
[6. ]Ibid., XIII. 17.
[7. ]Etude sur la souveraineté (1794-96); in Oeuvres complètes de J. de Maistre, Lyon, 1884, I. 426.
[8. ]Séances des écoles normales, Paris, 1800, I. 78; II. 219, 441.
[9. ]“Discours sur la science sociale,” in Mémoires de l’Institut National des Sciences et Arts, III. 13.
[10. ]Essays Moral, Political and Literary, by David Hume, ed. T. H. Green and T. H. Grose, London, 1875, II. 68.
[11. ]Gazette littéraire de l’Europe, February 1766, p. 382.
[12. ]June issue, p. 54.
[13. ]Edward Gibbon, Autobiography, Everyman’s Library, p. 114.
[14. ]D.-J. Garat, Mémoires historiques sur le 18e siècle et sur M. Suard, Paris, 1821, I. 72.
[15. ]January-March 1765, p. 232.
[16. ]Greig, op. cit., I. 193.
[17. ]See, for example, his letter to the Marquise Du Deffand, 20 June 1764, in Voltaire’s Correspondence, ed. Besterman, D11939.
[18. ]Ibid., 28 April 1769; Best.D15614.
[19. ]Jean-Louis Giraud Soulavie, Traité de la composition et de l’étude de l’histoire, 1792, p. 64.
[20. ]L’Angleterre instruisant la France, Londres, 1793, p. 70.
[21. ]August 1764, V. 8-10. See also ibid., June 1760, IV. 3-4.
[22. ]Considérations sur l’esprit et les moeurs, Londres, 1787, pp. 364-65.
[23. ]De l’Allemagne; in Oeuvres complètes de Mme La Baronne de Staëal, publiées par son fils, Paris, 1820-21, XI. 113.
[24. ]La Quotidienne, No. 39, 8 February 1826.
[25. ]Greig, op. cit., I. 193.
[26. ]For further details on Hume’s French translations, see my “David Hume and the Official Censorship of the Ancien Régime,” French Studies, 1958, XII. 234-46.
[27. ]Mémoires de l’Abbé Morellet, Paris, 1821, I. 92.
[28. ]Greig, op. cit., II. 348.
[29. ]See Oeuvres de Turgot et documents le concernant, ed. G. Schelle, Paris, 1913, I. 27. Turgot’s translation was not published.
[30. ]Greig, op. cit., I. 302-3.
[31. ]Greig, op. cit., II. 366-67.
[32. ]Ibid., II. 382.
[33. ]Letters of Eminent Persons addressed to David Hume, ed. J. H. Burton, Edinburgh, 1849, p. 13.
[34. ]Ibid., p. 275.
[35. ]Greig, “Some Unpublished Letters to David Hume,” Revue de littérature comparée, 1932, XII. 830.
[36. ]Année littéraire, 1763, III. 39-40; see also ibid., 1760, IV. 313.
[37. ]June 1760, IV. 3-6.
[38. ]Gazette littéraire de l’Europe, 2 May 1764, I. 193-200; see also Oeuvres complètes de Voltaire, ed. Moland, XXV. 169-73.
[39. ]Hume’s great reputation in history was, of course, by no means restricted to France. In Italy, for example, such men as Beccaria, Algarotti, and Genovesi were no less flattering in their praise.
[40. ]Bibliothèque d’un homme de goût, Avignon, 1772, II. 178-80. See also similar opinions of Court de Gébelin and de Tressan, in Le guide de l’histoire, ed. Jean-François Née de la Rochelle, Paris, 1803, I. 161-62, 280.
[41. ]“Examen de la question si toutes les vérités sont bonnes à dire?” in Nouveaux Mémoires de l’Académie Royale des Sciences et Belles-Lettres, Berlin, 1777, XXXIII. 336.
[42. ]Encyclopédie Méthodique: Histoire (1788), III. 111.
[43. ]W. S. Lewis and R. S. Brown, Horace Walpole’s Correspondence with George Montague, New Haven, 1941, II. 176, letter of 22 September 1765.
[44. ]See May issue, 1760, pp. 169-70.
[45. ]Ibid., p. 171.
[46. ]Bibliothèque de Madame la Dauphine: No. 1, Histoire, Paris, 1770, p. 125.
[47. ]“L’Aigle et le Hibou,” in Oeuvres diverses de M. Cerutti ou recueil de pièces composées avant et depuis la Révolution, Paris, 1792, II. 47. Hume in fact shed few tears for Mary Stuart: see my article “The Eighteenth-Century Marian Controversy and an Unpublished Letter by David Hume,” Studies in Scottish Literature, April 1964, pp. 236-52.
[48. ]L’Observateur Français à Londres, Londres, 1769, I. 349-50; IV. 109.
[49. ]Greig, op. cit., I. 193-94, letter of 12 September 1754.
[50. ]Ibid., I. 198, letter of 15 October 1754.
[51. ]August 1764, V. 6-7. The probable author of the above is J.-L. Castilhon, who repeated his charges six years later in Le Diogène moderne ou le désapprobateur, Bouillon, 1770, II. 228. See also E. Joliat, Smollett et la France, Paris, 1935.
[52. ]Journal Britannique, May-June 1755, p. 133.
[53. ]April-June 1756, p. 498.
[54. ]January-March 1757, pp. 245-46.
[55. ]January-March 1759, pp. 211-12.
[56. ]October-December 1761, p. 460.
[57. ]Mémoires de Trévoux, February 1759, p. 468.
[58. ]Ibid., p. 471.
[59. ]Ibid., March 1759, p. 184.
[60. ]Ibid., p. 188.
[61. ]Ibid., January 1759, p. 217.
[62. ]Ibid., February 1759, pp. 475-76.
[63. ]Ibid., March 1759, p. 197.
[64. ]Ibid., p. 198.
[65. ]Année littéraire, 1760, IV. 313.
[66. ]Ibid., IV. 323.
[67. ]Ibid., 1763, II. 297.
[68. ]Ibid., II. 301.
[69. ]Ibid., II. 302-3.
[70. ]Ibid., 1760, IV. 313.
[71. ]Ibid., 1763, III. 35.
[72. ]Ibid., 1766, II. 4.
[73. ]Ibid., II. 28.
[74. ]Correspondance littéraire, 15 August 1754, II. 393.
[75. ]Ibid., 1 October 1754, II. 415.
[76. ]See the Correspondance littéraire, 15 January 1759, IV. 70, and my article “Hume, ‘Philosophe’ and Philosopher in Eighteenth-Century France,” French Studies, 1961, XV. 216.
[77. ]See Best.D11939, letter of 20 June 1764.
[78. ]See Lettres de Madame de Graffigny, Paris, 1879, p. 431.
[79. ]Correspondance générale d’Helvétius, ed. A. Dainard, J. Orsoni, D. Smith, and P. Allan, II. 258, letter of 12 July 1759.
[80. ]Ibid., III. 73, letter of 2 June 1763.
[81. ]Loc. cit.
[82. ]Correspondance littéraire, 1 April 1766, VII. 13.
[83. ]Oeuvres complètes, ed. Lewinter, VII. 653, letter of 22 February 1768.
[84. ]Letters of Eminent Persons, p. 183, letter of 28 February 1766.
[85. ]Ibid., p. 218, letter of 1 May 1773. Hume’s sceptical lack of anti-clerical or anti-religious militancy was also a source of considerable disappointment to the atheist Naigeon. Writing in 1792 he tells us how, try as he might, and after two careful readings of Hume’s posthumously published Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, he was unable to find in the work any clear-cut statement that God did not exist. Why, he asks, should a man be timid about the truth once he is dead? “One may be forgiven for compromising with error and vulgar prejudice when, by overtly trampling them underfoot, one might fear the reprisals of fanatics and persecutors; but when one is supposed to be addressing men from the depths of the tomb, one must tell them the truth, plainly and bluntly. . . .” (See the Encyclopédie Méthodique: Philosophie ancienne et moderne, par M. Naigeon, Paris, 1792, II. 748.) It would have been better, Naigeon added, had Hume remained entirely silent on the matter of religion, since his last word on the subject “basically offers only the same difficulties, the same doubts, that he had proposed forty years earlier in his essays on human understanding. Whence we may conclude that Hume, with respect to the most fundamental of all theological truths, never advanced beyond scepticism. . . .” Diderot, Naigeon concluded, had handled the whole question of God rather more skilfully. (Ibid., II. 750-51.)
[86. ]De la félicité publique (1772), nouvelle édition, augmentée de notes inédites de Voltaire, Paris, 1822, II. 48-49; see also II. 10, 13, 24, 31, 43, 91.
[87. ]De la philosophie de la nature ou Traité de morale pour l’espèce humaine tiré de la philosophie et fondé sur la nature, troisième édition, Londres, 1777, II. 274; VI. 412.
[88. ]Ibid., VI. 317-18. Hume’s text is as follows: “By some computations, those who perished by all these cruelties are supposed to be a hundred and fifty, or two hundred thousand: by the most moderate, and probably the most reasonable account, they are made to amount to forty thousand; if this estimation itself be not, as is usual in such cases, somewhat exaggerated.” (The History of England, VII. 388.)
[89. ]Oeuvres complètes de Bergier, publiées par M. l’Abbé Migne, Paris, 1855, VIII. 228.
[90. ]Réflexions posthumes sur le grand procès de Jean-Jacques avec David (1767), p. 12.
[91. ]G.-J. Holland, in the most valuable of the many contemporary refutations of d’Holbach’s Système de la Nature, pointed out on this question that Hume—who did defend ethical motivation as involving more than self-interest—could hardly be classed as an ignorant theologian. See Réflexions philosophiques sur le Système de la Nature, Paris, 1773, p. 129. Also in this work, in an analysis quite unusual before Kant, Holland uses Hume’s causality doctrine to combat d’Holbach’s determinism. (See ibid., pp. 5-6, 16-17.)
[92. ]See Oeuvres complettes de M. Helvétius, Londres, 1781, IV. 268. This same essay was commented on at great length in the revolutionary period by Joseph-Michel-Antoine Servan, Correspondance entre quelques hommes honnêtes, Lausanne, 1795, III. 136-78. See also Joseph de Maistre, Considérations sur la France (1796) in Oeuvres complètes, I. 72-73.
[93. ]Letters of Eminent Persons, p. 214.
[94. ]Dictionnaire social et patriotique ou précis raisonné des connaissances relatives à l’économie morale, civile et politique, Par M.C.R.L.F.D.B.A.A.P.D.P., Amsterdam, 1770, p. 141.
[95. ]Ibid., pp. 176-78.
[96. ]Ibid., pp. 179-80.
[97. ]Ibid., pp. 225-26.
[98. ]Ibid., pp. 257-58.
[99. ]Ibid., pp. 356, 365, 469, 514-15.
[100. ]Ibid., pp. 275-78.
[101. ]Ibid., p. 284.
[102. ]Ibid., p. 446. Readers of de Beauvray’s Dictionnaire may be somewhat surprised after such praise to discover that in a parallel of English and French thinkers matching Hobbes and Gassendi, Shaftesbury and Montaigne, and in which no English equivalent of Montesquieu can be found, Hume is labelled the English equivalent of Buffier. (Ibid., p. 26.) The mystery is solved, however, when we encounter, buried away in another part of the Dictionnaire, proof that de Beauvray considered Buffier to be “the most judicious, and perhaps the most profound, of all our philosophers” (p. 329).
[103. ]La différence du patriotisme national chez les François et chez les Anglois, Lyon, 1762, pp. 16-17. The author was executed during the Terror.
[104. ]Ibid., pp. 60-62. French anglophobes of the Napoleonic era seized upon similar passages from Hume’s writings. See, for example, the anonymous pamphlet, Le peuple anglais bouffi d’orgueil, de bière et de thé, jugé au tribunal de la raison, Paris, An IX-1803, pp. 67-87.
[105. ]August 1758, IV. 59-63. The same debate is repeated in Abbé Chaudon’s Dictionnaire anti-philosophique, Avignon, 1767, pp. 375-77.
[106. ]See ibid., May 1759, III. 91-92; March 1760, II. 36-38.
[107. ]Ibid., September 1762, p. 5.
[108. ]Oeuvres du Cardinal Gerdil de l’ordre des Barnabites, publiées par M. l’Abbé Migne, Paris, 1863, p. 989.
[109. ]Loc. cit.
[110. ]Ibid., pp. 1326-30. Gerdil, incidentally, also quotes a fragment of Hume’s Natural History of Religion as evidence against deism (p. 1393).
[111. ]Ibid., pp. 1414-15.
[112. ]See below, chapter III. pp. 107-8.
[113. ]Ibid., p. 1416.
[114. ]Ibid., p. 1417.
[115. ]Du Pape (1817); in Oeuvres complètes, II. 413.
[116. ]Dictionnaire philosophique de la religion, où l’on établit les points de la religion attaqués par les incrédules, et où l’on répond à toutes leurs objections. Nouvelle édition, Besançon, 1774, I. 368-69.
[117. ]An example of Voltaire’s opinion of the Protector may be found in the article “Cromwell” of the Dictionnaire philosophique, in Oeuvres complètes de Voltaire, XVIII. 294-99; see also Essai sur les Moeurs, ibid., XIII. 74-82.
[118. ]Nonnotte, op. cit., I. 370; III. 328-29. See also his Erreurs de Monsieur de Voltaire, Paris, 1770, I. 273-77; II. 407-10.
[119. ]Abbé Royou’s publication appeared in the Année littéraire, June 1779, IV. 73-113, and was reprinted in S.-N.-H. Linguet’s Annales politiques, civiles et littéraires du dix-huitième siècle, 1779, VI. 15-48. Linguet, himself an enemy of d’Alembert, also lauded Hume’s impartiality and quoted his authority in 1774 to prove that so-called English liberty was nothing more than the muddle-headed delusion of those who wished to foment political disorder. (Oeuvres de M. Linguet, Londres, 1774, II. 139, 244.) It is well known that Linguet, following a two-year imprisonment in the Bastille, was destined to revise his opinion somewhat on this last point.
[120. ]Linguet, Annales, VI. 21; Année littéraire, 1779, IV. 77.
[121. ]Linguet, VI. 21-23; Année littéraire, IV. 79-80.
[122. ]Linguet, VI. 23-24; Année littéraire, IV. 81.
[123. ]See the correspondence of Bergier published by Léonce Pingaud in the proceedings of the Académie des sciences, belles-lettres et arts de Besançon (1891). Bergier, whose dates are 1718-90, spent his last days editing the massive three-volume Théologie section of the Encyclopédie Méthodique (Paris, 1788-90).
[124. ]Bergier, unlike the philosophes, gives ample proof of having recognized the originality of Hume’s contributions to epistemology. Like Holland (see supra p. 34, n. 91), he makes clever polemical use of Hume’s analysis of causation against the determinism of such materialist philosophers as d’Holbach. See in Oeuvres complètes de Bergier the following references: I. 38-42, 61-72, 624-30, 691-93; II. 40-44, 713; III. 749-50; IV. 786-87; V. 385-87; VI. 340-42, 358, 561-62, 602-15, 696-97, 941-42, 1002-3, 1031-32, 1346-47; VII. 813; VIII. 412-13, 527. It is fairly evident, however, that Bergier merely exploits Hume’s scepticism against the philosophical dogmatists. He makes it clear, at the same time, that he wholeheartedly disapproves of the Scottish philosopher’s irreligion.
[125. ]Ibid., VI. 137, 451; III. 1357; VIII. 195.
[126. ]Ibid., VI. 156-57, 1347.
[127. ]Ibid., VI. 105.
[128. ]Ibid., V. 385-87.
[129. ]Ibid., VI. 149.
[130. ]Ibid., VI. 269, 289.
[131. ]Ibid., II. 34-35.
[132. ]Ibid., VIII. 571.
[133. ]Ibid., V. 82; VII. 896, 902; VIII. 228.
[134. ]Ibid., VIII. 228.
[135. ]Ibid., VII. 925-26.
[136. ]Ibid., VIII. 584.
[137. ]Ibid., VIII. 538-39.
[138. ]Ibid., III. 237-38; IV. 571; VIII. 1302.
[139. ]Ibid., I. 329.
[140. ]Ibid., IV. 286-87; VII. 890-96.
[141. ]See Bergier’s letter to the lawyer Jacquin, from Besançon, 28 April 1767 (ibid., VIII. 1490).
[142. ]See supra, p. 48. The future counter-revolutionary theoretician Abbé Duvoisin also quotes the passage in 1780, adding that “the political usefulness of the dogma of an afterlife is so obvious that impiety itself has been obliged to acknowledge it” (Essai polémique sur la religion naturelle, in Oeuvres complètes de Duvoisin, évêque de Nantes, publiées par M. l’Abbé Migne, Montrouge, 1856, p. 146).
[143. ]. . . par différents auteurs, Londres, 1770; possibly edited by Naigeon and containing works by d’Holbach and others.
[144. ]Recueil philosophique, II. 204-6. Bergier answered by pointing out that he was puzzled as to why Hume’s testimony should not be used if he indeed had the great reputation his philosophe admirers attributed to him (Bergier, op. cit., VIII. 259). Ironically, the Recueil philosophique published at the same time, but anonymously, two of Hume’s strongest dissertations, “Of the Immortality of the Soul” and “Of Suicide,” both probably translated by d’Holbach. It also included in its pages some rather different comments by Hume on the clergy—chosen this time by the philosophes (Recueil philosophique, II. 237). All this was perhaps to show Bergier whose ally Hume really was. For the French Abbé’s reactions to the two anonymous dissertations, see Bergier, op. cit., VIII. 262.
[145. ]See Diderot’s letter of 6 October 1765 to Sophie Volland; Lewinter, V. 946.
[146. ]See Letters of Eminent Persons, pp. 139, 144-45, letters of 27 July and 7 September 1766.
[147. ]Greig, op. cit., II. 91.
[148. ]Letters of Eminent Persons, pp. 150-51, letter of 25 March 1767.
[149. ]Ibid., p. 152.
[150. ]It is interesting to note that the future monarchien Pierre-Victor Malouet quoted Hume’s authority in rejecting the contract theory in 1777. See Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Suard, Mélanges de littérature, Paris, 1803-4, I. 277.
[151. ]“Of the Original Contract” in Green and Grose, op. cit., I. 452-53. The passage just quoted, which first appeared in the 1777 edition of Hume’s essays, corresponds with the increasing conservatism he expressed in the later revisions of his History. Hume found that the first editions of that work were still too full of “those foolish English prejudices” and he tells us in My Own Life that in “above a hundred alterations, which farther study, reading, or reflection, engaged me to make in the reigns of the two first Stuarts, I have made all of them invariably to the Tory side.” (See Greig, op. cit., I. 5.)
[152. ]The “Wilkes and Liberty!” riots.
[153. ]Greig, op. cit., II. 180-81, letter of 16 June 1768.
[154. ]Letters of Eminent Persons, p. 163, letter of 3 July 1768.
[155. ]Letter to Louis XVI, 30 April 1776, quoted in Journal de l’Abbé de Véri, publié par le baron Jehan de Witte, Paris, 1928-30, I. 455. See also Jean-Louis Giraud Soulavie, Mémoires historiques et politiques du règne de Louis XVI, Paris, 1801, II. 55; III. 165; VI. 518-19.
[156. ]I have found no serious evidence to support the once-current opinion that this work is not by Mirabeau.
[157. ]Des prisons d’état, in Oeuvres de Mirabeau, Paris, 1835, VII. 443.
[158. ]Des lettres de cachet, op. cit., VII. 184.
[159. ]Ibid., VII. 184-85.
[160. ]Loc. cit.
[161. ]Ibid., VII. 205.
[162. ]Ibid., VII. 388.
[163. ]Collection complète des oeuvres de l’Abbé de Mably, Paris, An III, V. 197.
[164. ]De la manière d’écrire l’histoire (1783), in Oeuvres, XII. 379.
[165. ]Ibid., p. 397.
[166. ]Ibid., p. 430.
[167. ]Ibid., pp. 111, 226.
[168. ]Ibid., pp. 430-31.
[169. ]Ibid., p. 520.
[170. ]Correspondance universelle sur ce qui intéresse le bonheur de l’homme et de la société, Neuchâtel, 1783, II. 54.
[171. ]Journal du Licée de Londres ou Tableau de l’état présent des sciences et des arts en Angleterre, Paris, No. 1, January 1784, pp. 33-34. A resident of London at this time, Brissot was personally acquainted with Catherine Macaulay. A letter of 30 January 1784 sent by her to his Newman Street address indicates that discussions concerning the translation of some of her work into French were already taking place (Archives Nationales, 446 AP2).
[172. ]June 1760, IV. 25.
[173. ]Réponse de J.-J. Rousseau au Roi de Pologne, Duc de Lorraine, in Oeuvres complètes de J.-J. Rousseau, Paris, 1852, I. 492.
[174. ]See Oeuvres complètes de Voltaire, XXIV. 359.
[175. ]Cromwel, tragédie en cinq actes et en vers. Par M. Du Clairon. Représentée pour la première fois par les Comédiens Français Ordinaires du Roi, le 7 juin 1764, Paris, 1764. The play closed after the fifth performance.
[176. ]Lettre de Charles Ier, Roi d’Angleterre, de la Maison de Stuart à son fils le prince de Galles retiré en France, par M. François de Neufchâteau en Lorraine. Neufchâteau, 1766. See the Avertissement.
[177. ]Ibid., p. 6.
[178. ]See letter to R. Shackleton, in The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, ed. Lucy S. Sutherland, Cambridge, 1960, II. 150. Bridget Hill has graciously adopted the appellation as a title for her excellent study, The Republican Virago: The Life and Times of Catharine Macaulay, Historian, Oxford, 1992.
[179. ]January 1764, I. 91-100. Brissot (Mémoires de Brissot, Paris, 1877, p. 422) was highly indignant on reading the following anecdote reported by Boswell in his Life of Johnson:
[180. ]Journal Encyclopédique, July 1778, V. 109. In December 1781, however, the editors, albeit more gently than in 1764, again chide her for her anti-royalist bias. (Ibid., 1 December 1781, VIII. 230-31.)
[181. ]Essai sur la tragédie: Par un philosophe, 1772, p. 368.
[182. ]L’An deux mille quatre cent quarante, nouvelle édition, Londres, 1785, I. 162, note A.
[183. ]Ibid., I. 163.
[184. ]Londres, Lausanne, 1770, I. 354-55. In fact the English seem to have had three days commemorating the Stuarts: January 30 in memory of Charles I; May 29 to celebrate the Restoration; and, paradoxically perhaps, November 5 to celebrate the expulsion of James II.
[185. ]Oeuvres de Louis XVI, Paris, 1864, II. 49.
[186. ]Ibid., II. 51.
[187. ]Mercier, op. cit., I. 382-83.
[188. ]Mémoires de Brissot, p. 19.
[189. ]Journal du Licée de Londres, I. 335-36.
[190. ]Ibid., July 1784, II. 150-51.
[191. ]Ibid., p. 151.
[192. ]Ibid., p. 159.
[193. ]Ibid., p. 161.
[194. ]Ibid., p. 164.
[195. ]Ibid., pp. 171-72.
[196. ]Ibid., p. 172.
[197. ]Some hint too of the culte de l’Etre suprême can be found in Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s virtuous charge of the same year concerning writers like Hume: “. . . reading them is such an arid, disheartening exercise. . . . Posterity will prefer Herodotus to David Hume . . . because we still prefer to hear related the fables of the Divinity in the history of men than the reasonings of men in the history of the Divinity.”—Etudes de la Nature (1784), in Oeuvres complètes de Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, Paris, 1830-31, V. 111-12.
[198. ]See “Journal des livres suspendus depuis janvier 1778,” Bibliothèque Nationale, Fonds Fr. 21,934, f. 67.
[199. ]Essai sur l’histoire des comices de Rome, des Etats-Généraux de la France et du Parlement d’Angleterre, Philadelphie, 1789, III. 111. See also Gudin de La Brenellerie’s defence of Hume against Mably in Supplément à la manière d’écrire l’histoire ou réponse à l’ouvrage de M. l’abbé de Mably, 1784, pp. 113-14.
[200. ]See supra, p. 11.
[201. ]Lettres de Gustave III à la comtesse de Boufflers et de la comtesse au Roi, de 1771 à 1791, Bordeaux, 1900, letter 62.
[202. ]See Nouveaux mélanges extraits des manuscrits de Mme Necker, Paris, An X, I. 202.
[203. ]Mémoires sur la librairie et sur la liberté de la presse, par M. de Lamoignon de Malesherbes, Ministre d’Etat, Paris, 1809, p. 306. Additional evidence of Malesherbes’s extremely high regard for the wisdom of Hume’s Stuarts may be found in the following fragment of Abbé de Véri’s Journal, dated 5 October 1788:
[204. ]Greig, op. cit., I. 259.