David Hume (1711-1776) was born in Ninewells in Berwickshire, the son of an advocate who died when he was only two years old, and was brought up by his mother. He entered Edinburgh University at the age of twelve, but did not graduate, finding he could learn more from his own reading than from his professors. He did, however, make his career as the University’s librarian. In 1748 Hume published An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, a philosophical essay which was to have a lasting influence. Its rationalist analysis and rejection of the possibility of miracles caused him to be accused of atheism. From 1754 to 1762 he published in six volumes The History of England, from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution in 1688, which for many years was considered the standard work of English history. Hume was a supporter of monarchy and considered revolution unnecessary to achieve reform. (His fellow-historian Catharine Macaulay, a staunch republican, took the opposite view in her own eight-volume work The History of England from the Accession of James I to that of the Brunswick Line, published from 1763-1783.) In 1766 Hume offered a refuge in England to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whom he had met in Paris when he was secretary to Lord Hertford, the British ambassador, and who was suffering persecution following the publication of The Social Contract and Émile. Hume had been warned against Rousseau by a number of his French friends, and the two soon quarrelled. Rousseau accused Hume of conspiring with his enemies, and wrote a lengthy indictment of his behaviour which Hume feared would be published. He responded by producing his own version of events, the Concise and Genuine Account of the Dispute between Mr Hume and Mr Rousseau, blackening Rousseau’s reputation. His now unwelcome guest left England within a year and returned to France.
Also known as:
- David Hume
|Oxford DNB DOI|
Mentioned in 7 letters
Please note that all dates and location information are provisional, initially taken from the library and archive catalogues. As our section editors continue to work through the material we will update our database and the changes will be reflected across the edition.