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Hume Studies Volume XX, Number 1, April 1994, pp. 73-84 Beattie's Lost Letter to the London Review JAMES FIESER The most well known written attack on Hume's philosophy during his life was James Beattie's Essay on the nature and immutability of truth (1770). Beattie's target was Hume's Treatise and its skeptical discussions of personal identity, the origin of ideas, causality, and virtue. His Essay was highly praised and resulted in a yearly pension from King George III. Hume is reported to have reacted with anger to the publication of the Essay,1 and Hume's advocates retaliated by charging Beattie with unjustly abusing Hume. One such advocate was the London Review. The last issue of the London Review contains an editorial response to a letter they received from James Beattie. The context of the London Review response indicates that Beattie's letter was to have been printed in that journal. Strangely, however, the letter never appeared. Enough detail is provided in the London Review's response to reconstruct the thrust of Beattie's letter: Beattie contends that, contrary to the London Review's accusations, he did not abuse Hume in the Essay, and that Hume's criticisms of Beattie's poetic writings were based on prejudice. The letter is important since it represents Beattie's only attempt at a public defense of his treatment of Hume, and an explanation of Hume's unfavorable reaction to his poetical writings. After presenting the London Review's "Answer," I will discuss the nature of the conflict between Beattie and the London Review, and reconstruct the key James Fieser is at the Department of Philosophy, University of Tennessee at Martin, Martin, TN 38238 USA. e-mail: JFIESER@UTMARTN.BITNET 74 James Fieser points in Beattie's letter. It will be helpful to begin with background on the London Review itself. The London review of English and foreign literature was founded in January 1775 by William Kenrick as a monthly book review journal styled after, and in competition with, the Monthly Review and Critical Review. The review lasted for twelve Volumes with its final issue in December 1780. Kenrick, born in 1725, reviewed for the Monthly Review for seven years and was himself the author of books and articles on a range of subjects. As early as 1759 Kenrick voices his praise for Hume in an article for the Monthly Review, referring to him as a "masterly writer."2 Kenrick had a reputation for maliciously and deceptively provoking disputes with other writers, including Johnson, Garrick, and Goldsmith. Unlike the Monthly Review and Critical Review, which zealously preserved the anonymity of their reviewers,3 the London Review hinted at the authorship of their reviews by providing a single initial at the close of each article. The initial "W" refers to Kenrick himself. Kenrick's son, William Shakespeare Kenrick, assumed editorship of the journal when Kenrick was taken ill in the Spring of 1779 and after his death in June 1779. The Response to Beattie's Letter The reply to Beattie's letter appeared as the final item in the July 1780 issue of the London Review under the heading "Correspondences," and under the subheading "Answer to an Extract from a Letter from Dr. Beattie." The complete reply is as follows: Having, we apprehend, done Dr. Beattie ample justice by publishing his defence, let us now be equally just to the memory of a man who can no longer defend himself. Dr. Beattie's defence charges Mr. Hume with the meanness of contradicting himself in a fit of disgust, and of being swayed by passion in pronouncing sentence upon his poetical works. Till he produces his evidence, this attack upon the established character of Mr. Hume will have but little weight with the public, who have been long apprised of his exemplary probity, and strict honour. Why should Dr. Beattie suppose that we should be misinformed by a disinterested person, and desire us to disbelieve his testimony, when he would have us believe himself, who is not disinterested ? Does he wish to prove that "we believe in all unbelief?" The Dr. says, "I never had any personal pique at Mr. Hume...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 73-84
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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