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Hume's eldest nephew, Joseph, at that time just returned from abroad, in very bad health.] Such are the advantages of youth! His uncle declines, if not with so great rapidity, yet pretty sensibly* Sunday, ill; half of yesterday the same; easy at present; prepared to suffer a little to-morrow; perhaps less the day after. Dr Black says I shall not die of a dropsy, as I imagined, but of inanition and weakness. He cannot, however, fix, with any probability, the time, otherwise he would frankly tell me.
"Poor Edmonstone, [Col. Edmonstone of Newton] and I parted to-day, with a plentiful effusion of tears; all those Belxebubians * have not hearts of iron. I hope you met with every thing well at Foggo, and receive nothing but good news from Buxton. In spite of Dr Black's caution, I venture to foretel that I shall be yours cordially and sincerely till the month of October next.
(Signed) "David Hume."
In the beginning of the year 1778, the tragedy of Alfred was performed at Drury-Lane, but did not succeed. I do not mean in this place to enter into any critical discussion of Mr Home's works; but I may just say, that this tragedy is undoubtedly the weakest of his productions, and it was not surprising that it did not please the public. Indeed, had it possessed more merit than it did, an English audience could have hardly been pleased to see their Alfred, the pride of their country in its earliest age, the patriot and the lawgiver, melted down to the weakness of love, like the commonplace hero of an ordinary drama.
* Colonel Edmonstone was a member of what was called the Kiiffian Club; men whose hearts were milder than their manners, and their principles more correct than their habits of life.
In the year 1778, he had another opportunity of indulging his passion for the military character, by accepting a commission in the newly-embodied regiment of Mid-Lothian Fencibles, of which the Duke of Buccleuch was colonel. In this appointment he possessed the advantage of having for the captain of the company of which he was lieutenant, his particular friend Lord Binning, and for his brother lieutenant, Mr W. Adam, the son of that family with whom he had been so long on terms of the strictest intimacy. Of this corps, he attended the duties with all the ardour of a young soldier, till they were interrupted by an unfortunate accident which had a material influence on his future life, a fall from his horse, by which he suffered so violent a contusion on his head, as for some days deprived him of sense, and nearly extinguished his life. Though he recovered the accident so far as his bodily health was concerned, his mind was never restored to its former vigour, nor regained its former vivacity. It did not, however, abate his military ardour; and after being for a short while at home, he thought himself so much re-established, as to join the regiment at Aberdeen, but he found himself not strong enough to go through the duties of his station, nor even to attend the mess, which he was anxious to do. The friendship of Lord and Lady Binning, then at Aberdeen, did every thing for him that kindness or assiduous care could accomplish ; but though his health seemed sufficiently restored, his head was not able for numerous society, and he was obliged, though with great reluctance, and not without the most urgent requests of his friends, to resign his commission and return to Edinburgh, whence he some time after repaired to Bath, at which place, a residence of some months, with attention to regimen and quiet, appeared perfectly to re-establish his health, but his intellectual powers were never restored to their original state. He had very early projected a History of the Rebellion 1745. Indeed, I can perceive from some notes on his earliest papers, that he had thought of such a work immediately after the conclusion of the rebellion, in 1746, or 47. During his intervals of leisure, and more particularly after the unsuccessful performance of Alfred, when he seemed to cease writing for the stage, he resumed the plan of this history, and had been in use to collect materials for it by correspondence and communication with such persons as could afford them, and even by journies or tours to the Highlands of Scotland. In one of these journies, I happened to travel for two or three days along with him, and had occasion to hear his ideas on the subject. They were such as a man of his character and tone of mind would entertain, full of the mistaken zeal and ill-fated gallantry of the Highlanders, the self-devoted heroism of some of their chiefs, and the ill-judged severity, carried (by some subordinate officers,) the length of great inhumanity, of the conquering party. A specimen of this original style of his composition, still remains in his Account of the Gallant Lochiel. But the complexion of his history was materially changed before its publication, which, at ene time, he had very frequently and positively determined should not be made till after his death, but which he was tempted, by that fondness for our literary offspring which the weakness of age produces, while it leaves less power of appreciating their merits, to hasten ; and accordingly published the work at London in 1802. It was dedicated to the King, as a mark of his gratitude for his majesty's former gracious attention to him; a circumstance which perhaps contributes to weaken and soften down the original composition, in compliment to the monarch whose uncle's memory was somewhat implicated in the impolitic, as well as ungenerous use which Mr Home conceived had been made of the victory of Culloden. I need not give any further account of the book, which is fresh in the recollection of the Society; but I may inform them, that it was read in its native state before it was emasculated by his later alterations, by a very competent judge, Mr Ferguson, who was interested and pleased with it. He said to me, however, with his usual frankness, in the recent communication which I have mentioned above, that he himself had contributed to spoil his friend's History of the Rebellion. "I had often laid down to him those principles of historical composition on which I afterwards wrote my Roman History; first, that the narrative should be plain and simple, without embellishment; and, secondly, that it should relate only great public events, and trace only the characters of individuals connected with them, without descending into the minuter details of biography. Now these," said Dr Ferguson, " were perfectly applicable to my subject, but not at all to that of my friend. The Rebellion 1745 was too unimportant in itself to make a history, without borrowing such ornament from style, and such interest from anecdote, as Voltaire has given to what may be called his Historical Romance of the Expedition of Charles Edward Stuart."