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Hume's Abstract of Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments DAVID R. RAYNOR WHEN THE VmST tWO volumes of Hume's Treatise of Human Nature were published in 1739 without attracting much attention, the disappointed young author prepared an abstract of his book, intending to send it to a London literary journal called The History of the Works of the Learned. But before he could submit it, that journal printed a "somewhat abusive" review of the Treatise, so he had the abstract brought out in London as a pamphlet. Unfortunately, the Abstract did not improve matters, and the third volume of the Treatise, "Of Morals," attracted less attention than the earlier volumes.' "Never literary Attempt was more unfortunate than nay Treatise," Hume wrote; "It fell dead-bornfrom the Press; without reaching such a distinction as even to excite a Murmur among the Zealots." He also complained that the recasting of the first part of the Treatise in Philosophical Essays concerning Human Understanding (1748) "was entirely overlooked and neglected," and that the recasting of the third volume of the Treatise in An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals (175~) "came unnoticed and unobserved into the World. ''* When Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments was published in April 1759, Hume sought to prevent a similar fate from befalling his friend's book by distributing copies to influential literary and political figures. 3 Hume I am much indebted to Professor D. D. Raphael for his constructive criticisms of earlier drafts of the present essay. I should also like to acknowledge a long-standing debt to Professor Pfill S. Ardal, who introduced me to Hume's moral philosophy. My research was assisted by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. ' Ernest C. Mossner, The Life of David Hume (Oxford, 198o), 137 (hereafter Life). 2 My Own Life: reprinted in Life, 612f. 3 Hume joined Alexander Wedderburn and John Dalrymple in distributing eighteen com- [51 ] 52 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY or PHILOSOPHY 22:1 JAN 1984 informed Smith of this activity, and of the impending success of his Theory of Moral Sentiments, in a long bantering letter which Ernest Mossner has characterized as "all the more charming because it cannot totally conceal Hume's mortification in his own lack of literary success. TM But Hmne's good offices also appear to have included composing an "abstract" of Smith's theory which was published as an anonymous review in Smollett's CriticaIReview for May 1759 .5That Hume wrote such a highly complimentary review may seem somewhat surprising , in light of his subsequent criticism of "the Hinge" of Smith's moral system, until one recalls that Hume was an intimate friend and mentor of Smith, patron of Scottish letters, and perhaps the main inspiration of his friend's work. From September 1758 until August 1759 Hume was in London overseeing the printing of the Tudor volumes of his History of England. During this sojourn he contributed several pieces to the Critical Review besides the review of Smith's Theory. In November 1758 he composed an artfully ambivalent notice of Helv6tius' De l'esprit; in February 1759 he wrote the unsolicited article on Robertson's History of Scotland; and in April he contributed an anonymous puff of the second edition of William Wilkie's Epigoniad in the form of a letter to the Authors of the Critical Review. 5 Why such concern for the works of potential literary rivals? Apart from his friendship for the authors, Hmne must have been influenced by his experience of reviews of his own works. As he observed in his letter to the Authors of the Critical Review: The great advantages which result from literary journals have recommended the use of them all over Europe; but as nothing is free from abuse, it must be confessed that some inconveniences have also attended these undertakings. The works of the learned multiply in such a surprising manner, that a journalist, in order to give an account to the public of all new performances, is obliged to peruse a smaU library every month, and as it is impossible for him to bestow equal attention on every piece which he...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 51-79
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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