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The philosopher had aspired to the post of Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh, and been, it seems, very sanguine of success; but failing through the laxity of his opinions, and his offences against the religion of his country, he deemed himself persecuted by the zealots,' because the authorities, with whom rested the appointment, did not choose to commit the education of youth to a man who taught universal scepticism, and openly repudiated the very fundamentals even of natural religion. Yet they must have been, and ought to have been, branded as traitors to their trust, if they had given him the post; for assuredly it would have been difficult to find a less suitable man. To compensate him, however, for this disappointment and felt disgrace, a very few years after, the situation of Librarian to the Faculty of Advocates was procured for him; and to this appointment, most probably, is owing his fame, whatever it may be, as historian of the house of Stuart, and afterwards of Great Britain.
After publishing the first volume of his History of the Stuart Dynasty,'-everywhere received with disgust and execration, he brought out his Natural History of Religion;' that was followed by successive portions of his historical work, which gradually gained upon the public, and slowly extended the author's fame. His fellow-countryman, Lord Bute, being now prime minister, a man pre-eminently gifted in discovering meritorious Scotsmen, Hume managed to procure a handsome pension from the crown; though no living mortal, not to say conjuror, could divine what claim he had either upon crown or people. Besides this, he is selected as the fittest person to accompany Lord Hertford, the British ambassador, to Paris, most probably because his well-known principles comported better with those of the court and coteries of that country, than with those of his own. Subsequently, he was made secretary. At Paris, he becomes the star of all the literary and fashionable circles; is flattered by the ladies, courted by the savans, honoured by the princes. He seems now to have arrived at the very goal of his ambition, when he came to be consulted as an oracle by the young philosophers of France, among whom he unquestionably sat upon a higher pinnacle than was ever conceded to him among his own countrymen. But his continuance at Paris was not protracted. Political changes called him back to England within three years, having under his wing that most genuine son of genius, Jean Jacques Rousseau. This celebrated, fitful, paradoxical, brother philosopher, had been outlawed in France, exiled from Switzerland, and harrassed by his self provoked misfortunes into a state bordering sometimes upon misanthropy, and sometimes upon
madness. Hume was moved by his misery and poverty, generously to offer him an asylum in England, which the eccentric Frenchman embraced with extravagant gratitude. The issue of this act of humanity and friendship proved, probably, the greatest source of pain and vexation which the grave philosopher ever experienced. It might, if he had philosophized upon it, have corrected some of his favourite notions of human nature; for, after providing a comfortable residence at Wooton, in Derbyshire, for the unhappy and intractable Frenchman, and after securing from the same friend who had granted him the residence, a decent provision for himself and his maid, La Vasseur, the ungrateful Frenchman chose to take umbrage, professedly at some desperate plot formed against him, but really at the phantasms of his own distempered brain; and, without grace or ceremony, quitted his abode and returned to France, pouring forth volcanic torrents of eloquent execration upon his benefactors, whose whole conduct had been characterized by equal generosity and delicacy. But what else could have been expected from that strange compound of brilliant sensibility, bloated vanity, and hoary vice.
Mr. Hume's association with political men had given him a pleasant relish of those more gainful pursuits to which he had always had an eye, and the year after his return from France, his friends obtained for him the appointment of under secretary of state. His political chief, General Conway, however, soon after abdicated, and two years were the limit of Hume's official service. He was now in his fifty-eighth year, and had secured an income of £1,000 per annum, upon which he retired to Edinburgh, where he had long possessed a convenient house, though subsequently he built a new one, and where his ample fortune enabled him to attract men of learning and genius around him, in whose society he determined to spend the remainder of his life, and where, at last, he died seven years after-we cannot say, in sadness, though it was sad enough to die joking about old Charon, and the spelling of the family name. William Strahan, to whom he committed his papers, was the only one of all his friends, though they were aware of his approaching end many months before; and though among them were several distinguished clergymen of the Church of Scotland, who had the courage to question him at the last, as to the consolations of his philosophy. Thus he wrote faithfully, yet tenderly, to the philosophic sceptic, just six days before his death :
'MY DEAR SIR,-Last Friday I received your affectionate farewell, and therefore melancholy letter, which disabled me from sending an immediate answer to it, as I now do, in hopes this may yet
find you, not much oppressed with pain, in the land of the living. I need not tell you, that your corrections are all duly attended to, as every particular shall be that you desire or order. Nor shall I now trouble you with a long letter.
'Only, permit me to ask you a question or two, to which I am prompted, you will believe me, not from a foolish or fruitless curiosity, but from an earnest desire to learn the sentiments of a man who had spent a long life in philosophic inquiries, and who, upon the extreme verge of it, seems, even in that awful and critical period, to possess all the powers of his mind in their full vigour, and in unabated tranquillity.
I am more particularly led to give you this trouble, from a passage in one of your late letters, wherein you say, 'It is an idle thing in us to be concerned about anything that shall happen after our death; yet this,' you added, is natural to all men.' Now, I would eagerly ask, if it is natural to all men to be interested in futurity, does not this strongly indicate that our existence will be protracted beyond this life?
Do you now believe, or suspect, that all the powers and faculties of your own mind, which you have cultivated with so much care and success, will cease and be extinguished with your vital breath?
Our soul, or immaterial part of us, some say, is able, when on the brink of dissolution, to take a glimpse of futurity; and for that reason I earnestly wish to have your last thoughts on this important subject.
I know you will kindly excuse this singular application; and believe that I wish you, living or dying, every happiness that our nature is capable of enjoying, either here or hereafter; being, with the most sincere esteem and affection, my dear sir, faithfully yours.'
Mr. Burton, the editor of the present 'Life,' observes, that 'this letter, if ever it reached him for whom it was designed, must have done so too late to receive an answer. But if he did peruse it, with his mind so collected and clear, yet so close on the point of being severed from those objects of literary ambition which had been its chief glory and occupation, how valuable would have been the first thought that passed across it, when the great question was brought so distinctly before his understanding.'
Thus closed the brilliant career of this great philosopher, the result of all whose studies was a metaphysical philosophy which manifestly tended to diffuse universal scepticism; an ethical system which tended to weaken virtue and strengthen vice; a history of his country, which, though well written, was a tissue of misrepresentations, designedly intended to sully the glory both of patriotism and heroism, and to reprove the resentment of mankind against tyrants and arbitrary power.
Let us take now the other side of the proposed contrast, and fix
upon the salient points. David Nasmyth was a moral reformer and philanthropist from his youth, a philosopher of the best and purest class. His career was much shorter than that of Hume, but it was all devoted to the improvement of the intellect, the heart, the character, and condition of his fellow men. He was no mere speculator in ethics, but a sturdy practitioner.
His life was spent neither in constructing nor demolishing theories, which when constructed or demolished add nothing to the virtue of actions, or the strength of conscience. The philosopher spent his long life in refining upon principles and ideas, till truth itself evaporated in his philosophic alembic, or became so subtilized that he doubted whether he held it himself, or whether any one else could ascertain its existence. The philanthropist surely was the truer disciple of the Inductive Philosophy, and pursued it to better purpose. He grappled with things as they are, and possessed an intuitive perception of the causes of human misery, against which he brought to bear all the resources of strong good sense, heroic firmness, inventive genius, and a benevolent heart. The degraded and suffering condition of human nature presented to his energetic and comprehensive soul a grand sphere for the exercise of all his energies. This was noble, self-renouncing, and worthier of perpetuation in perennial brass, or monumental marble, than all the achievements of David Hume. The ruling passion of the philosopher was, probably, the love of fame, and it was 'strong in death;' and next to this was the love of wealth. Self was uppermost in all he wrote and all he did, and yet he was neither an envious, vicious, nor unamiable man. The philanthropist's sphere was as far above that of the philosopher, as a moral nature is above mere intellect. He proceeded to his great work of improving his species with the courage of a hero, the tenderness of a woman's heart, the purity of a saint, and the devotedness of a martyr. His magnanimity was not limited even by his own powers, for he aimed at large, almost universal, schemes of usefulness, with no resources of his own, save such as pertained to a scheming head, a loving heart, and an inflexible will. It may be said, that he accomplished those schemes to a wonderful extent, and set them fairly on the road to complete success. Yet, in the literary sense of the term, he would be described as utterly destitute of genius; though no philosopher of the Utilitarian School, or any other, ever evinced a bolder genius for great and philanthropic enterprises, or greater skill in executing what he designed. True, he wrote no philosophy, yet he possessed and evinced it in his intuitive perceptions of the true and the fair: he composed no poetry, and yet he
enacted scenes surpassing fable, and possessed an imagination which was thrilled with rapturous joy, or agonizing grief, amidst the dramas of real life with which he was hourly surrounded: he constructed no schemes of ethical philosophy, but he had discovered the purest, and extensively promoted the best: he employed no time in analysing the human understanding, or anatomising human nature; but he came, like the skilful surgeon, opportunely, to cut off the diseased part, and to administer the elixir of life to the drooping spirit: he wrote no histories of his country, and probably understood little of its political economy; and yet he more effectually subserved social improvement, and individual happiness, by his plans and personal labours, and is accomplishing more at this hour, than if he had followed his namesake to the arena of philosophical speculation, and had acquired an equal or superior fame. His name, while he lived, was little known to his own countrymen, and never heard of in foreign nations; and yet it stands recorded higher in the list of benefactors to the human race, commands a more affectionate reverence in the hearts of the good, and will be more permanently embalmed for future ages, than that of the man of philsophy, whose renown once filled the civilized world.
This eminent philanthropist may be said to have lived and died in comparative poverty. He had no revenues to dispense, and yet he opened and directed perennial springs of benevolence, which have fertilized thousands of desert fields, and made fruitful in virtue and benevolence tens of thousands, where, but for the energies of his genius, nothing would have been brought forth but briars and thorns. The fields that he cultivated, and the seeds that he planted, are still producing fresh and progressive harvests. Thousands have blessed his name who understood neither his philanthropy nor his philosophy; and thousands more are reaping the fruits of both, who never heard of his name, and never will hear of it, till they reach that blessed immortality, where they will be permitted to trace the causes of their felicity through its human agents up to its Divine source. Yet the philanthropist, who has thus improved human understandings which he probably could not analyze, and purified human hearts which he only knew were human and depraved, and by whose schemes these incalculable blessings will be perpetuated through ages to come, received no pension for his services to the state; but bequeathed a wife and family to be saved from pauperism by the practical influence of that charity, which he had so eminently taught and practised. The philosopher, however, whose pernicious scepticism has probably wrecked the moral principles of thousands, was flattered and rewarded while