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قراءة كتاب Life and Correspondence of David Hume, Volume I (of 2)

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‏اللغة: English
Life and Correspondence of David Hume, Volume I (of 2)

Life and Correspondence of David Hume, Volume I (of 2)

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 7

power. For the perfectly wise man, that outbraves fortune, is surely greater than the husbandman who slips by her; and, indeed, this pastoral and saturnian happiness I have in a great measure come at just now. I live like a king, pretty much by myself, neither full of action nor perturbation,—molles somnos. This state, however, I can foresee is not to be relied on. My peace of mind is not sufficiently confirmed by philosophy to withstand the blows of fortune. This greatness and elevation of soul is to be found only in study and contemplation—this can alone teach us to look down on human accidents. You must allow [me] to talk thus, like a philosopher: 'tis a subject I think much on, and could talk all day long of. But I know I must not trouble you. Wherefore I wisely practise my rules, which prescribe to check our appetite; and, for a mortification, shall descend from these superior regions to low and ordinary life; and so far as to tell you,

that John has bought a horse: he thinks it neither cheap nor dear. It cost six guineas, but will be sold cheaper against winter, which he is not resolved on as yet. It has no fault, but bogles a little. It is tolerably well favoured, and paces naturally. Mamma bids me tell you, that Sir John Home is not going to town; but he saw Eccles in the country, who says he will do nothing in that affair, for he is only taking off old adjudications, so it is needless to let him see the papers. He desires you would trouble yourself to inquire about the Earle's affairs, and advise us what to do in this affair.

"If it were not breaking the formal rule of connexions I have prescribed myself in this letter—and it did not seem unnatural to raise myself from so low affairs as horses and papers, to so high and elevate things as books and study—I would tell you that I read some of Longinus already, and that I am mightily delighted with him. I think he does really answer the character of being the great sublime he describes. He delivers his precepts with such force, as if he were enchanted with the subject; and is himself an author that may be cited for an example to his own rules, by any one who shall be so adventurous as to write upon his subject."[16:1]

This is certainly a remarkable letter to have been written by a youth little more than sixteen years old. If it had been written by one less distinguished by the

originality of his mature intellect, it might be looked upon as one of those illustrations of the faculty of imitation, for which some young persons display peculiar powers; but its grave and high-toned philosophical feeling is evidently no echo of other people's words, but the deeply felt sentiments of the writer. In some measure, perhaps, he deceived himself in believing that he had attuned his mind to pastoral simplicity, and had weeded it of all ambitious longings. If he had a sympathy with Virgil, it was not, as he has represented, with the poet's ideas of life, but with his realizations of it; not with the quiet sphere of a retired and unnoticed existence, but with the lustre of a well-earned fame. Through the whole, indeed, of the memorials of Hume's early feelings, we find the traces of a bold and far-stretching literary ambition; and though he believed that he had seared his mind to ordinary human influences, it was because this one had become so engrossing as to overwhelm all others. "I was seized very early," he tells us, in his 'own life,' "with a passion for literature, which has been the ruling passion of my life, and a great source of my enjoyments." Joined to this impulse, we find a practical philosophy partaking far more of the stoical than of that sceptical school with which his metaphysical writings have identified him; a morality of self-sacrifice and endurance, for the accomplishment of great ends. In whatever light we may view his speculative opinions, we gather from the habits of his life, and from the indications we possess of his passing thoughts, that he devotedly acted up to the principle, that his genius and power of application should be laid out with the greatest prospect of permanent advantage to mankind. He was an economist of all his talents from early youth: no memoir of a literary

man presents a more cautious and vigilant husbandry of the mental powers and acquirements. There is no instance of a man of genius who has wasted less in idleness or in unavailing pursuits. Money was not his object, nor was temporary fame; though, of the means of independent livelihood, and a good repute among men, he never lost sight: but his ruling object of ambition, pursued in poverty and riches, in health and sickness, in laborious obscurity and amidst the blaze of fame, was to establish a permanent name, resting on the foundation of literary achievements, likely to live as long as human thought endured, and mental philosophy was studied.

There is among Hume's papers a fragment of "An Historical Essay on Chivalry and Modern Honour." It is evidently a clean copy from a corrected scrawl, written with great precision and neatness, and no despicable specimen of caligraphy. From the pains that appear to have been bestowed on the penmanship, and from many rhetorical defects and blemishes which do not appear in any of his published works, it may be inferred that this is a production of very early years, and properly applicable to this period of his life; although its matured thought, and clear systematic analysis, might, in other circumstances, have indicated it as the fruit of a mind long and carefully cultivated. It is scarcely necessary to frame an excuse for quoting such a document on the present occasion. It could not be legitimately incorporated with his works; because, whatever is given to the public in that shape, is presumed to consist of those productions which the author himself, or those entitled to represent him, have thought fit to lay before the public, as the efforts by which the full stretch and compass of his intellectual powers are to be tested. From such

collections, the editor who performs his functions with a kind and respectful consideration for the reputation of the illustrious dead, will exclude whatever is characterized by the crudeness of youth, or the feebleness of superannuation. To the reputation of Hume it would be peculiarly unjust to publish among his acknowledged and printed works, any productions of extreme youth; because, from his earliest years to an advanced period of his life, his mind was characterized by constant improvement, and he was every now and then reaching a point from which he looked back with regret and disapprobation at the efforts of earlier years.

But in a biographical work, where the chief object is the tracing the history of the author's mind, not the representation of its matured efforts, these early specimens of budding genius have their legitimate place, and receive that charitable consideration for the circumstances in which they were written, which their author's reputation demands.

The essay commences with a sketch of the decline of virtue, and the prevalence of luxury among the Romans; and describes their possession of the arts which they had learned in their better days, when not seconded by bravery and enterprise, as furnishing, like the fine clothes of a soldier, a temptation to hostile cupidity. He then represents the conquerors adapting themselves, after the manner peculiar to their own barbarous state, to the habits and ideas of the civilized people whom they had subdued. He represents the conquered people as sunk in indolence, but imperfectly preserving the arts and