Life and Works of David Hume (3)

Diplomatic Life in Paris

In 1763, Hume journeyed to Paris with the Earl of Hertford to become Secretary to the British Embassy. His fame was now well-established in intellectual circles and he found easy entry into Parisian society where he charmed people with his gentle and joyous nature.

The Rousseau Episode

In 1766, he returned to England, bringing the persecuted Jean-Jacques Rousseau with him. Hume’s plan was to help establish Rousseau following his political banishment from his home in Switzerland. Rousseau (1712-1778) was a major Genevan philosopher, writer and composer. His political philosophy heavily influenced the French and American Revolutions and the overall development of modern political thought.

But Rousseau, with a history of paranoia began to suspect that Hume was conspiring against him and denounced him publicly for treachery. To clear the record, Hume published their mutual correspondence – ‘A Concise and Genuine Account of the Dispute between Mr Hume and Mr Rousseau.’

His Last Years

In 1769, Hume tired of life in England and returned again to Edinburgh and to the company of numerous friends. At this point his major works were being re-printed including an edition of his History of England and his Essays and Treatises.
Very shortly before his death on the 25th August 1776, he finished his autobiography entitled ‘My Own Life’. This was finally published the following year thanks to his good friend Adam Smith.

Tomb of David Hume at Calton Hill, Edinburgh

Tomb of David Hume at Calton Hill, Edinburgh

Hume’s mausoleum on Calton Hill, Edinburgh was designed by Robert Adam. It bears, as he requested, simply his name and dates.

Some of his writings were not published until after his death, because of the hostile reaction they were expected to stir up. His two essays on suicide and immortality were published in 1777, without author’s or publisher’s name, and his nephew published the in 1779.


On Human Understanding

The foundation of all Hume’s philosophical works is his theory of how it is we come to understand things. His original and subsequent re-writings were devoted to this very question and it is what, unquestionably, established him as an outstanding philosopher.

“The sweetest and most inoffensive
path of life leads through the avenues of science and learning;
and whoever can either remove
any obstructions in this way,
or open up any new prospect,
ought so far to be esteemed a
benefactor to mankind.”

References for the Life and Works of David Hume 1 – 3
Roderick Graham (2004) ‘The Great Infidel – A Life of David Hume’
Miles Hodges (2000) David Hume 1711-1776
Illustration: Tomb of David Hume at Calton Hill, Edinburgh

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