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69 WILLIAM ROBERTSON AND DAVID HUME: THREE LETTERS The relationship between David Hume and his fellow Scottish historian William Robertson has always seemed one-sided. Despite the existence of fifteen letters to Robertson in the standard volumes of Hume's correspondence,1 Hume scholars have long had reason to regret the lack of a single extant letter from Robertson to Hume. None are to be found, for example, where one would most expect them to be — in the Royal Society of Edinburgh, alongside the letters to Hume from various other Moderate clergymen and literati in Robertson's circle, such as Hugh Blair and Adam Ferguson. Fortunately, however, two of Robertson's letters to Hume (numbered II and III below) have now turned up where one would not expect them to be — among Robertson's own correspondence in the Robertson2 Macdonald Papers, National Library of Scotland. They are not mere drafts, such as one is accustomed to find among an author's private papers; rather, they are autograph signed letters that appear to have actually been posted. How and when they found their way back to Robertson's personal papers, and what became of the rest of Robertson's letters to Hume, are questions open to speculation. For the moment we are grateful for the letters we now have, neither of which is known to have been published before in whole or in part. Nor has Hume been identified before as the recipient of either of these letters, though internal evidence makes it clear that he was. Both letters date from the late 1760s, when Hume was living in London and Robertson was at the peak of his multi-faceted career in Edinburgh as university principal, parish minister, ecclesiastical leader, and man of letters. The first of them, dated 27 March 1767, was sent to Hume in his capacity as under- 70 secretary of state in the Northern Department (an office he held from February 1767 to January 1768). It is plainly a reply to a letter of 19 March, in which Hume had discussed three topics to which Robertson was 5 responding: Robertson's efforts to secure a military chaplaincy for a certain Scottish minister (evidently named Brodie); Conway's role in the famous dispute between Hume and Rousseau; and the public response to Adam Ferguson's newly published Essay on the History of Civil Society. In addition Robertson addresses a matter that Hume had apparently broached with him at some earlier time: the attempt to find a suitable Scottish church to which Hume might obtain a crown presentation for his nephews' tutor, the Rev. Christopher Tait. The letter concludes on a note of admiration that is characteristic not only of Robertson but of most of Hume's other "Protestant Pastors" in Scotland. The second letter to Hume, dated 31 January 1769, is chiefly concerned with the forthcoming publication of Robertson's History of Charles V and the French translation of it by J.-B.-A. Suard — subjects that had been treated in two letters from Hume to 7 Robertson of autumn 1768. It also contains a strong recommendation for a bright young Scottish writer (in both the legal and literary senses of that term) who would one day become Robertson's most vitriolic critic: Gilbert Stuart. On the personal side, there is encouragement for the now unemployed Hume to return to Edinburgh, as he was then threatening to do, after his "great glut of society" at Paris and London, and there are allusions in the closing paragraph to Hume's part in introducing his friend to polite society when Robertson had visited London to arrange the publication of Charles V in the spring of 1768. 71 To these two letters from Robertson we have prefixed a third from earlier in the same decade, one Q not actually addressed to Hume but largely about him. Robertson wrote it to their common friend Gilbert Elliot (later Sir Gilbert Elliot) on 8 March 1762, two days before the Town Council elected Robertson principal of Edinburgh University. The first paragraph deals with the principalship and relates to Hume only indirectly, as we point out in a footnote. The second paragraph, however, contains interesting...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 69-86
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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