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Hume Studies Volume 29, Number 1, April 2003, pp. 89-98 Another "Curious Legend" about Hume's An Abstract of a Treatise of Human Nature MARK G. SPENCER I In 1938, J. M. Keynes and P. Sraffa edited and introduced for Cambridge University Press a reprinting of An Abstract of A Treatise of Human Nature.1 The Abstract they claimed in their subtitle was "A Pamphlet hitherto unknown by DAVID HUME." Arguing against a number of nineteenth and early-twentieth -century scholars who attributed authorship of an abstract of the Treatise to Adam Smith, Keynes and Sraffa convincingly documented in their introductory essay many solid reasons for thinking that the pamphlet being reprinted was Hume's.2 Sixty years on, their account dispelling this "curious legend" of Smith's authorship has now become the received opinion. T.E. Jessop accepted Keynes and Sraffa's argument (having seen it in proof before the edition was published) in his bibliography of 1938, and Norman Kemp Smith gave their version an early supportive review.3 E.C. Mossner, in his well-known biography of Hume, accepted wholeheartedly Keynes and Sraffa's findings.4 When in 1978 the Selby-Bigge's edition of Hume's Treatise saw its second edition the text of the Abstract was appended and a note gave P.H. Nidditch's opinion that "Hume's authorship is overwhelmingly likely."5 More recently Mark G. Spencer is Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of History, University of Toronto. Sidney Smith Hall, 100 St. George St., Toronto, Ontario MSS 3GS, Canada. 90 Mark G. Spencer in the pages of this journal, Jeff Broome, David Raynor, and David Fate Norton have all helped buttress the case for Hume's authorship, as did R. W. Connon and M. Pollard elsewhere.6 Despite an occasional dissenting voice,7 the Abstract is now widely, and rightly (or so it seems to this author), thought to have been Hume's. But with all of this scholarly attention focused on confirming Hume's authorship, another much more contentious aspect of Keynes and Sraffa's interpretation has gone largely unnoticed. Keynes and Sraffa's billing of the Abstract as "A Pamphlet hitherto unknown by DAVID HUME," suggested that before 1938 the Abstract had not been attributed publicly to Hume and that the contents of the pamphlet also had been completely unknown. "Students of Hume have known that an abstract of the Treatise was made and intended for publication," wrote a reviewer of Keynes and Sraffa, "[b]ut no copy of this abstract was known to exist: indeed it was usually supposed that the abstract had never been printed at all."8 Relying on Keynes and Sraffa it would be easy to suppose that the Abstract was never publicly ascribed to Hume and even that the contents of the pamphlet had been overlooked entirely until Keynes and Sraffa came along. One of the purposes of the present short essay is to dispel, once and for all, that misunderstanding about the Abstract. Norman Kemp Smith went part of the way toward that end in 1938 when he reviewed Keynes and Sraffa's edition. But in the process Kemp Smith introduced another "curious legend" that has slipped into scholarly acceptance with little comment and no debate. We will see that it is a mistake to argue, as Kemp Smith did, that Hume's authorship of a sixpenny pamphlet was known to readers of An universal biographical and historical dictionary, published in 1800. There is no discussion of Hume's Abstract in that book. However, the Abstract was discussed in print in at least three different publications between 1818 and 1827, long after its initial publication in 1740 and long before Keynes and Sraffa brought it to the attention of their audience in 1938. While pre-1938 Hume scholars had overlooked the Abstract, at least one of Hume's early nineteenth-century critics knew of the Abstract's existence, attributed the work to Hume, and even quoted extensively from Hume's "Preface ." Most interesting of all, Hume's authorship of the Abstract was interpreted in ways that are telling of the historical reception of...


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