페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

But the most illustrious of that circle was David Hume, who had a sincere affection for his poetical namesake,—an affection which was never abated during the life of that celebrated man. The unfortunate nature of his opinions with regard to the theoretical principles of moral and religious truth, never influenced his regard for men who held very opposite sentiments on those subjects—subjects which he never, like some vain and shallow sceptics, introduced into social discourse; on the contrary, when at any time the conversation tended that way, he was desirous rather of avoiding any serious discussion on matters which he wished to confine to the graver and less dangerous consideration of cool philosophy. He had, it might be said, in the language which the Grecian historian applies to an illustrious Roman, two minds; one which indulged in the metaphysical scepticism which his genius could invent, but which it could not always disentangle; another, simple, natural, and playful, which made his conversation delightful to his friends, and even frequently conciliated men whose principles of belief his philosophical doubts, if they had not power to shake, had grieved and offended. During the latter period of his life I was frequently in his company amidst persons of genuine piety, and I never heard him venture a remark at which such men, or ladies—still more susceptible than men—could take offence. His good nature and benevolence prevented such an injury to his hearers; it was unfortunate that he often forgot what injury some of his writings might do to his readers. The sentiments which such good nature and benevolence might suggest, I ventured to embody, in a sort of dramatic form, in the story of La Roche in the Mirror, in which Mr Hume is made to say, "That there were times when, recollecting that venerable pastor and his lovely daughter, he forgot the pride of literary fame, and wished that he had never doubted." It will not, I hope, be an offensive egotism, if I inform the Society, that, when I wrote that story, being anxious there should not be a single expression in it that could give offence or uneasiness to any friend of Mr Hume's, I read it to Dr Adam Smith, and begged that he would tell me if any thing should be left out or altered. He heard it attentively, and declared he did not find a syllable to object to; but added, with his characteristic absence of mind, that he was surprised he had never heard of the anecdote before.

In the same bonhommie, Mr Hume bore with perfect good nature the pleasantries which humorous deductions from his theoretical scepticism sometimes produced. Once, I have been told, he was in a small degree ruffled by a witticism of Mr John Home's, who, though always pleasant, and often lively, seldom produced what might be termed or repeated as wit. The clerk of an eminent banker in Edinburgh, a young man of irreproachable conduct, and much in the confidence of his master, eloped with a considerable sum with which he had been entrusted. The circumstance was mentioned at a dinner where the two Humes, the historian and the poet, and several of their usual friendly circle, were present. David Hume spoke of it as a kind of moral problem, and wondered what could induce a man of such character and habits as this clerk was said to possess, thus to incur, for an inconsiderable sum, the guilt and the infamy of such a transaction. "I can easily account for it," said his friend John Home, " from the nature of his studies, and the kind of books which he was in the habit of reading," *' What were they?" said the philosopher. "Boston's Four, fold State," rejoined the poet, " and Hume's Essays." David was more hurt by the joke than was usual with him, probably from the singular conjunction of the two works, which formed, according to his friend's account, the library of the unfortunate young man.

Such was the free and cordial communication of sentiments, the natural play of fancy and good humour, which prevailed among the circle of men whom I have described. It was very different from that display of learning—that prize-fighting of wit, which distinguished a literary circle of our sister country, of which we have some authentic and curious records. There all ease of intercourse was changed for the pride of victory; and the victors, like some savage combatants, gave no quarter to the vanquished. This may, perhaps, be accounted for more from the situation than the dispositions of the principal members of that society. The literary circle of London was a sort of sect, a caste separate from the ordinary professions and habits of common life. They were traders in talent and learning, and brought, like other traders, samples of their goods into company, with a jealousy of competition which prevented their enjoying, as much as otherwise they might, any excellence in their competitors.

The learned and ingenious men whom I have just mentioned, were the principal founders of the society established in Edinburgh under the deno- ^ mination of the Select Society, of which Mr Stewart / has given a list iSTEisTLife of Dr Robertson. That' list, according to the information of a member, is not quite complete. Among other names omitted, may be mentioned those of the Duke of Hamilton, a man, not only of elegant manners, but of classical acquirements; but careless and dissipated in the highest degree ; Lord Dalmeny, cut off, like "the duke, in the prime of life, though very different in the temperance of its habits. Mr Robert Alexander was also a zealous member of that so

ciety; a very worthy, intelligent, and accomplished man, but plain and awkward in his person, and devoid of that readiness of thought and command of expression which might qualify him for a speaker. "But his suppers," says my authority, " were delightful, formed on the model of Paris, where Mr A. had occasion frequently to be; they were elegant and enjoue's, frequented by all the literary, and most of the fashionable, persons of the time. By those meetings (continued he) some of the most distinguished members of the Select Society were more improved than by the debates at its sittings. Those meetings of easy but improving sociality rubbed off the corners of mere learning and science, and thus made the literati of Edinburgh less captious and less pedantic than those of any other place."

About this time (1755) was produced a periodical publication, which attracted less notice at the time than it has since excited, when its principal authors had attained such celebrity as to make the world anxious to know the smallest of their productions,—I mean the Original Edinburgh Review, of which only two numbers were published; the article by Adam Smith, a Criticism on Johnson's Dictionary, was very conspicuous.

David Hume was not among the number of the writers of the Review, though we should have thought he would have been the first person whose

« 이전계속 »