David Hume (1711-1776)
David Hume (1711-1776)
Philosopher and historian
David Hume was one of the leading figures of the Scottish Enlightenment. He was sent to university in Edinburgh to study law but turned to philosophy. His 'Treatise of Human Nature' was published anonymously in 1739, but as its author freely admitted it "fell dead-born from the press". He was one of the 42 men of the Edinburgh Defence Volunteers to turn out to oppose the Jacobite army in 1745, and in that same year was invited to become tutor to the marquis of Annandale. He was denied chairs in ethics and logic at the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow in 1745 and 1757 respectively because of his unorthodox religious views. He was Librarian to the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh from 1752 to 1757, secretary to the British Ambassador to Paris from 1763 to 1766; and Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department from 1767 to 1769. Now better known for his empirical philosophy, David Hume accumulated wealth from writing histories. His last volume of 'The History of England from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution in 1688' (1754-1762) was completed when he was 50. As well as being a bon viveur in Edinburgh society he was secretary to the Edinburgh Philosophical Society in 1752 and one of the founders of the Select Society in 1754.
David Hume is one of the famous Scots commemorated in our Archivists' Garden. The entry on the common violet includes a quote from his work. In 2011 a tree was planted by Lord Sutherland to mark the 300th anniverary of his birth.
Birth in 1711
David Hume was born on 26 April 1711 the son of Joseph Hume of Ninewells, advocate, and Katherine Falconer. An annotation in the margin beside the entry in the Old Parish Register for Edinburgh reads ‘the child here registered is the celebrated David Hume historian and philosopher'. There are four witnesses named.
Birth entry for David Hume in the Old Parish Register for Edinburgh (27 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, OPR 685-1/15, page 76
Death in 1776
David Hume died in August 1776. The entry in the Old Parish Register for Edinburgh gives his date of burial as 29 August, his address as St David Street, New Town and his age as 65.
Burial entry for David Hume in the Old Parish Register for Leith South (11 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, OPR 692-2/28
Testament of David Hume
National Records of Scotland, CC8/8125/2 pp 858-868
The 'Monsieur Dalembert' mentioned in his will may have been the French mathematician, Jean-le-Rond d'Alembert, as Hume lived in Paris for some years and was much admired by the philosophes of the salons who called him 'Le Bon David'. Several leading thinkers and personal friends are mentioned in his will. They include Adam Ferguson and Adam Smith, to whom Hume entrusts his unpublished papers.
The money he left for his young nephew's education was put to good use, as his namesake became professor of Scots law at Edinburgh University in 1786. He also made provision for a modest tomb in the graveyard on Calton Hill in Edinburgh.
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