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HUME'S “ HISTORY OF ENGLAND." After his return to Britain he lived for two years in his brother's house, engaged chiefly in the composition of his Political Discourses and his Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. In 1752 he undertook the charge of the Advocates' Library in Edinburgh; not so much for the sake of the nominal salary then attached to the office, as for the great command of books which such a position gave him.
There he seems first to have formed the idea of writing that Iristory of England which made him famous. The work grew to completeness in a most irregular fashion, Afraid at first to face so long a story as the entire range of English history, he
began with the accession of the Stuart race. The first 1754 volume, closing with the Regicide, appeared in 1754. A.D.
Only forty-five copies were sold in a twelvemonth! His
sympathy for the slain king and Thorough-grinding Strafford excited a cry of disapproval and rebuke from almost every sect and every party. So deeply did he feel this mortifying reception of his book, that, but for a French war breaking out, he would have hidden himself, with changed name, in some country town of France, and there have tried to forget his native land, and the defeat of his literary ambition. But the ill wind of that French war, which gave us Canada, also blew to our libraries the remaining volumes of Hume's England. The second, treating of the years between the Regicide and the Revolution, came out in 1757. The tide had turned. Everybody began to read and praise the book. The year 1759 saw the publication of the third volume, containing the history of the Tudors; and two other volumes, in 1762, added the narrative of earlier events, and brought the work to a triumphant close. beauty, and picturesque power of style, there was then nothing like it in the range of English historical literature : and for these qualities it yet holds an honoured place on our book-shelves. Yet the day of Hume as an authority on English history has long gone by. The light of modern research has detected countless flaws and distortions in the great book, which was carefully, even painfully, revised as to its style, but which was formed in great part of a
SCEPTICISM OF HIUME. 327
mass of statements often gathered from very doubtful sources, and heaped together, almost unsifted and untried. The diligence of that eminent modern historian, who often read a quarto volume to obtain material for a single sentence, and travelled a hundred miles to verify a solitary fact, was utterly unknown to David Hume. He wrote exquisitely; but he sometimes spent the beauty of his style upon mere chaff and saw-dust. Much the same thing it was, as if a jeweller should frame a costly casket and grace it with every adornment of art, that its rich beauty might at last enshrine a few worthless pebbles or beads of coloured glass. The completion of his History made Hume a famous man. The Earl of Hertford invited him to join the embassy at Paris, there to act as interim secretary. His fame had gone before him, and he became a sort of lion in the French capital. When he re-crossed the Straits of Dover, it was to find promotion awaiting him at home. For about two years he acted as Under-Secretary of State, and in 1769 he returned to spend the evening of his life in the beautiful city of his birth, “passing rich.” with £1000 a year, the result of a prudent life, and the profits of his pen. For seven years longer he enjoyed the best society Edinburgh could afford, and then, in August 1776, he died. A journey to Bath, in the spring of that fatal year, was of no avail to stop the progress of his disease. In philosophy and in religion Hume was a sceptic. He doubted almost everything, and attacked the Christian faith, especially by striving to cut away the foundations on which our belief in miracles rests. This being so, we cannot look in his great historical work for that recognition of religion as the main-spring of civilization, which our Bible and our common sense alike lead us to require from a true historian. Unable to resist a paradox, or a strange theory, he lost his way too often in the chase of flitting, unsubstantial meteors. In his system of morality he traces the goodness and badness of human actions or motives altogether to considerations of utility. These things take much from his lustra as an ornament of English literature.
328 SPECIMEN OF HUME's PROSE.
DEATH OF QUEEN ELIZABETH.
She rejected all consolation; she even refused food and sustenance; and, throwing herself on the floor, she remained sullen and immovable, feeding her thoughts on her afflictions, and declaring life and existence an insufferable burden to her. Few words she uttered; and they were all expressive of some inward grief, which she cared not to reveal: but sighs and groans were the chief vent which she gave to her despondency, and which, though they discovered her sorrows, were never able to ease or assuage them. Ten days and nights she lay upon the carpet, leaning on cushions which her maids brought her: and her physicians could not persuade her to allow herself to be put to bed, much less to make trial of any remedies which they prescribed to her. Her anxious mind at last had so long preyed on her frail body, that her end was visibly approaching; and the Council being assembled, sent the keeper, admiral, and secretary, to know her will with regard to her successor. She answered with a faint voice, that as she had held a regal sceptre, she desired no other than a royal successor. Cecil requesting her to explain herself more particularly, she subjoined that she would have a king to succeed her; and who should that be but her nearest kinsman, the king of Scots? Being then advised by the archbishop of Canterbury to fix her thoughts upon God, she replied that she did so, nor did her mind in the least wander from him. Her voice soon after left her; her senses failed; she fell into a lethargic slumber, which continued some hours, and she expired gently, without further struggle or convulsion (March 24, 1603), in the seventieth year of her age and forty-fifth of her reign.
A COUNTRY MINISTER. 329
Born 1721 A.D................ Died 1793 A.D.
Removal to Edinburgh. History of America.
Professional success. Historic style.
SECOND, in date of birth, of the illustrious historic triad that graced the eighteenth century, was William Robertson, the son of a Scottish clergyman. Born at Borthwick, in Mid-Lothian, in the year 1721, he studied for the profession of his father; and at the age of twenty-two was presented to the living of Gladsmuir, in Haddingtonshire. The quietude of his country manse was broken by few incidents, annual visits to the General Assembly at Edinburgh being, perhaps, the greatest events of the young minister's life. But the completion of every week's sermon left his pen trained to greater skill in the weaving of eloquent and dignified English sentences; and every new book, which the weekly carrier brought to the moorland manse from some dim old shop in the High Street of the metropolis, widened his views of society and civilization. In his country retirement history became his favourite study. Most ministers in his sphere are content with their pulpit-work, and their round of farm-house visits, travelling beyond the literary work required for their professional duty only to pen an occasional letter to the newspapers, or to prepare for a telling appearance, when summer calls the great Church Court into session. But Robertson was not content with this. He preached, and visited, and spoke admirably upon the great questions which in his day came to be debated in the General Assembly; but while he did these well, his leisure hours were devoted to building up a kind of reputation which these could never build. The Rev. William
330. IroBERTSON's “HISTORY OF SCOTLAND.”
Robertson, a distinguished minister of the Scottish Church, would probably long ago have been forgotten, or, at least, only confounded with all the other Robertsons that have donned the pulpit-gown; but the name of William Robertson, the historian of Scotland, of Germany, and of America, cannot perish from the annals of our literature, while history is read by Englishmen. In 1758 the country pastor, whose “Recreations” took a shape so noble and enduring, was promoted to Lady Yester's Church in Edinburgh. And in the following year, the reading 1759 public—especially the literary men of London—were A.D. electrified by the appearance of A History of Scotland from this unknown minister's pen. Dealing with the reigns of Mary Stuart and her son, down to the accession of the latter to the English throne, he described, in pure, pathetic, and dignified language, the sorrows of that wretched Scotchwoman with a French soul, who saw so little of Holyrood and so much of English jails. He stands midway between those who believe her to have been a beautiful martyr, and those who brand her as a beautiful criminal. Agreeing with all writers as to the great loveliness of this beheaded Scottish queen, he considers that the intensity and long continuance of the sorrows, darkening over her whole life until the bloody catastrophe of Fotheringay, have blinded us to her faults, and that we therefore “approve of our tears, as if they were shed for a person who had attained much nearer to pure virtue.” The minister of Lady Yester's became, in three years after the publication of this book, Principal of the University of Edinburgh; and soon received a striking mark of royal approval in his appointment as historiographer for Scotland. Not content to rest on the fame he had won, he pushed on to higher ground. His greatest work, the History of Charles the Fifth of Germany, was 1769 published in 1769, ten years after the appearance of his first A.D. production. A rapid view of European politics and society previous to the accession of the great Emperor, precedes the story of the reign, which is narrated in clear, majestic English. The materials from which Robertson drew his account of this