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A Hobbist Tory: Johnson on Hume Paul Russell My concern in this paper is both modest and limited. It is simply to draw the attention of Hume scholars to a largely neglected but nevertheless very interesting remark which Samuel Johnson passed about the Hobbist nature ofHume's political outlook. Furthermore, as I will show, Johnson's remark may also be interpreted as touching on matters of deeper and wider significance for an understanding of Hume's philosophy. The antagonistic relationship between Hume and Johnson is well documented. The principal source ofJohnson's hostility towards Hume was his disapproval of Hume's sceptical attitude to the Christian religion. That is, Johnson could not tolerate a man who had "so little scrupulosity as to venture to oppose those principles which have been thought necessary to human happiness." Similarly, Hume can hardly have found the dogmatic Christianity ofthe "Great Moralist" any more to his taste. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that Boswell reports that Hume often spoke of Johnson "in a very illiberal manner." The attitudes and opinions which these prominent figures ofthe eighteenth century entertained about one another are clearly ofintrinsic interest. More importantly, however, their views in this regard shed considerable light on their overall historical context and reveal somethingofthe character oftheir ownideas andideology. Accordingly, evidence ofthis nature should not be lightly dismissed. One ofJohnson's most famous remarks concerning Hume was that "he was a Tory by chance." This remark is standardly cited by commentators on Hume's political philosophy as well as by others. References to Johnson's remark appear, for example, in recent work by David Miller, Fredrick Whelan, and Brian Barry.3 None of these writers, however, refer to the work in which James Boswell gives us the full quotation in its original context. This, as I will show, is a point of some significance. There are at least three possible sources for Johnson's remark on Hume: (1) The source most familiar to Hume scholars is Boswell's "Interview with David Hume," as reprinted in Norman Kemp Smith's edition of the Dialogues. Johnson's remark appears in the following context: I some how or other brought Dr. Johnson's name into our conversation. I had often heard him speak of that great Man Volume XVI Number 1 75 PAUL RUSSELL in a very illiberal manner. He said upon this occasion, "Johnson should be pleased with my History," Nettled by Hume's frequent attacks upon my revered friend in former conversations, I told him now that Dr. Johnson did not allow him much credit; for he said, "Sir, the fellow is a Tory by chance." I am sorry that I mentioned this at such a time. I was offmy guard. (D 78) (2)Another important source for this remark is Boswell's The Life of Samuel Johnson. The remark appears, in this context, as an isolated comment. "He would not allow Mr. David Hume any credit for his political principles, though similar to his own; saying of him, 'Sir, he was a Tory by chance'." The notes in the standard scholarly edition of Boswell's Life indicate that Johnson's remarks on this occasion are recorded in more detail in Boswell's Journal ofa Tour ofthe Hebrides.0 (3)In 1773 Boswell and Johnson went on a tour of the Scottish Hebrides. Johnson published his Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland the following year. It was not until 1785 that Boswell published his Journal ofa Tour. On the 30th of September he records the following conversation with Johnson: I asked him if it was not strange that governments should permit so many infidel writings to pass without censure. — Johnson. 'Sir, it is might foolish. It is for want of knowing their own power ...' I observed that Mr. Hume, some of whose writings were very unfavourable to religion, was, however, a Tory. — Johnson. 'Sir, Hume is a Tory by chance, as being a Scotchman; but not upon a principle of duty; for he has no principle. Ifhe is any thing, he is a Hobbist', (my emphasis) Clearly, then, Boswell gives us, in this work, not only the original context ofJohnson's remark, but more...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 75-79
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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