Although David Hume was born in Edinburgh, his roots were firmly in the Borders. His father, Joseph Hume, was the laird of Ninewells, a modest family estate on the Whiteadder, just south of Chirnside. His mother was Katherine Falconer from an eminent legal family in Edinburgh, who had three children in rapid succession, John, Katherine and David.
His father died in 1713, just after David’s second birthday,
“leaving me, with an elder Brother and a Sister under the care of our Mother, a woman of singular Merit, who, though young and handsome, devoted herself entirely to the rearing and educating of her Children.” David spent his childhood at Ninewells and was educated in the village school in Chirnside.
His mother realised that young David was “uncommon wake-minded” (precocious, in her lowland dialect), so when his brother went up to Edinburgh University, David, not yet twelve, joined him.
The original Ninewells House that David Hume knew, has over the years been altered, burnt down, rebuilt several times and latterly demolished. But in Hume’s day, it was a compromise between a farmhouse and a country house. The family was not rich, but there was enough income for a comfortable way of life, an education for the boys and a suitable ‘tocher’ or dowry for the daughter Katherine.
The boys would have had a carefree life around Ninewells under the wing of neighbouring farmers and gamekeepers. At night, there would have been books by candlelight from his father’s library – probably a collection of legal and classical texts, and more recent literature.
His whole childhood was influenced by Ninewells and the life and society of the area. He developed an intense devotion for his childhood home to which he returned for solace whenever possible. In later years, he admitted how he was soothed by the pastoral surroundings of Ninewells.
“Beauty is no quality in things themselves:
it exists merely in the mind which contemplates them”
Ref: Roderick Graham (2004) ‘The Great Infidel – A Life of David Hume’ Ref: Erica Hunt (1975) ‘Chirnside Past and Present’
Portrait by Archibald Shirving reputed to be Katherine Falconer Hume -National Gallery, Scotland
Ninewells House – National Library of Scotland
1771 Map – National Library of Scotland