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247 TWO PUZZLES IN MOSSNER'S LIFE OF DAVID HUME It is a tribute to the rare quality of Mossner's great Life of David Hume that in those few instances where he seems to have got something wrong, one feels an irresistible urge to put the record straight. The two puzzles that have perplexed me are: (1) Why was Adam Smith adamant in his refusal to take the responsibility for publishing the Dialogues after Hume's death? ; and (2) why, despite his long-standing resolution not to answer his opponents directly, did Hume in October 1775 take the step of drawing up the short Advertisement, disavowing his Treatise of Human Nature, which was to be prefixed to the second volume of all future editions of Essays and Treatises? The clue to the first puzzle is to be found in Boswell 's Life of Johnson: On the 6th of March [1754] came out Lord Bolingbroke's works, published by Mr David Mallet. The wild and pernicious ravings, under the name of "Philosophy ," which were thus ushered into the world, gave great offence to all well-principled men. Johnson, hearing of their tendency, which nobody disputed , was roused with a just indignation , and pronounced this memorable sentence upon the noble author and his editor. "Sir, he was a scoundrel and a coward; a scoundrel, for charging a blunderbuss against religion and morality; a coward, because he had not resolution to fire it off himself, but left half a crown to a beggarly Scotchman, to draw the trigger after his death!" The editors of the 1934 Oxford Edition note: "Adam Smith, perhaps had this saying in mind when, in 1776, he refused the request of the dying Hume to edit 248 after his death his Dialogues on Natural Religion. Hume wrote back: ? think ... your scruples groundless . Was Mallet any wise hurt by his publication of Lord Bolingbroke? He received an office afterwards from the present King and Lord Bute, the most prudish men in the world... ' ."4 I don't think that this letter of Hume's was an answer to a letter from Smith (who was a notoriously bad correspondent, see below). I think that, on his way back from London to his mother at Kirkcaldy, Smith had made up his mind to tell his beloved friend, to his face, that he was determined not to undertake this task. One must put oneself in Smith's position in 1776. He had (it is true) an annuity of £300 from the Bucci euch estates, and he had just spent ten years writing The Wealth of Nations. But he did not think this annuity sufficient for him to be justified in devoting the rest of his life to literary pursuits, despite the wealth of material which was already more or less complete, and has been posthumously published. He knew his masterpiece was not going to make him much money (single books did not do so in those days), but he hoped that it might put him in the way of a job or a royal pension -- as Beattie's Truth had secured a pension for him, three years earlier. Moreover, Smith had just spent three years in London, where Boswell had engineered that he be elected to the celebrated dining Club presided over by Johnson and Burke (where Smith was none too popular), and he knew well that if he were to bring out the Dialogues after Hume's death, the members of the Club would say (and feel) the same sort of things about Hume and him, as Johnson had said (and felt) about 249 Bolingbroke and Mallet. London society was a small world, and this sort of gossip would not advance his (Smith's) chance of getting a job, nor would it enhance Hume's reputation. He decided to dig in his toes, and was perfectly justified in doing so. So, of course, the modern editors of Boswell 's Johnson are right in their conjecture. But Mossner says that Smith was suffering under a bad conscience about this refusal, when he came to write his marvellous letter (which caused him so much trouble), and which was appended to the posthumous publication...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 247-253
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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