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Mr. Gibbon made his first appearance as an historian a few months before Mr. Hume's death, and began a correspondence with Dr. Robertson the year following.
every other translator. My two volumes last published are at present in the press. She has a very easy natural style : sometimes she mistakes the sense ; but I now correct her manuscript; and should be happy to render you the same service, if my leisure permit me, as I hope it will. Do you ask me about my course of life? can only say, that I eat nothing but ambrosia, drink nothing but nectar, breathe nothing but incense, and tread on nothing but flowers. Every man I meet, and still more every lady, would think they were wanting in the most indispensable duty, if they did not make to me a long and elaborate harangue in my praise. What happened last week, when I had the honor of being presented to the D- -n's children at Versailles, is one of the most curious scenes I have yet passed through. The Duc de B., the eldest, a boy of ten years old, stepped forth, and told me how many friends and admirers I had in this country, and that he reckoned himself in the number, from the pleasure he had received from the reading of many passages in my works. When he had finished, his brother, the Count de P., who is two years younger, began his discourse, and informed me, that I had been long and impatiently expected in France; and that he himself expected soon to have great satisfaction from the reading of my fine history. But what is more curious; when I was carried thence to the Count d’A., who is but four years of age, I heard him mumble something, which, though he had forgot it in the way, I conjectured from some scattered words, to have been also a panegyric dictated to him. Nothing could more surprise my friends, the Parisian philosophers, than this incident. It is conjectured that this honor was paid me by express order from the D. who, indeed, is not, on any occasion, sparing in my praise.
“All this attention and panegyric was at first oppressive to me; but now it sits more easy. I have recovered, in some measure, the use of the language, and am falling into friendships, which are very agreeable ; much more so than silly, distant, admiration. They now begin to banter me, and tell droll stories of me, which they have either observed themselves, or have heard from others; so that you see I am beginning to be at home. It is probable, that this place will be long my home. I feel little inclination to the factious barbarians of London; and have ever desired to remain in the place where I am planted. How much more so, when it is the best place in the world ? I could here live in great abundance on the half of my income;' for there is no place where money is so little requisite to a man who is distinguished either by his birth or by personal qualities. I could run out, you see, in a panegyric on the people ; but you would suspect, that this was a mutual convention between us. However, I cannot forbear observing, on what a different footing learning and the learned are here, from what they are among the factious barbarians above mentioned.
“I have here met with a prodigious historical curiosity, the Memoirs of King James II., in fourteen volumes, all wrote with his own hand, and kept in the Scots' college. I have looked into it, and have made great discoveries. It will be all communicated to me; and I have had an offer of access to the secretary of state's office, if I want to know the despatches of any French minister that resided in London. But these matters are much out of my head. I beg of you to visit Lord Marischal, who will be pleased with your company. I have little paper remaining, and less time; and therefore conclude abruptly, by assuring you that I am, dear doctor, - Yours sincerely."
FROM MR. HUME TO DR. ROBERTSON. “My dear sir,
London, 19th March, 1767. “ You do extremely right in applying to me wherever it is the least likely I can serve you or any of your friends. I consulted immediately with General Conway, who told me, as I suspected, that the chaplains to forts and garrisons were appointed by the war office, and did not belong to his department. Unhappily I have but a slight acquaintance with Lord Barrington, and cannot venture to ask him any favor : But I shall call on Pryce Campbell, though not of my acquaintance, and shall in
A letter dated from Paris, 14th July, 1777, in acknowledgment of a present of Dr. Robertson's book, appears plainly from the contents to have been one of the first that passed between them.
“When I ventured to assume the character of historian, the first, the most natural, but at the same time the most ambitious wish which I entertained was to deserve
quire of him the canals through which this affair may be conducted: perhaps it may lie in my power to facilitate it by some means or other.
“ I shall endeavour to find out the unhappy philosopher you mentioned, though it will be difficult for me to do him any service. He is an ingenious man, but unfortunate in his conduct, particularly in the early part of his life. The world is so cruel as never to overlook those flaws; and nothing but hypocrisy can fully cover them from observation. There is not so effectual a scourer of reputations in the world. I wish that I had never parted with that Lixivium, in case I should time have occasion for it."
“ A few days before my arrival in London, Mr. Davenport had carried to Mr. Conway a letter of Rousseau, in which that philosopher says, that he had never meant to refuse the king's bounty, that he would be proud of accepting it; but that he would owe it entirely to his majesty's generosity and that of his ministers, and would refuse it if it came through any other canal whatsoever, even that of Mr. Davenport. Mr. Davenport then addressed himself to Mr. Conway, and asked whether it was not possible to recover what this man's madness had thrown away? The secretary replied, that I should be in London in a few days, and that he would take no steps in the affair but at my desire and with my approbation. When the matter was proposed to me, I exhorted the general to do this act of charity to a man of genius, however wild and extravagant. The king, when applied to, said, that since the pension had once been promised, it should be granted notwithstanding all that had passed in the interval. And thus the affair is happily finished, unless some new extravagance come across the philosopher, and engage him to reject what he has anew applied for. If he knew my situation with General Conway he probably would : for he must then conjecture that the affair could not be done without my consent.
Fergusson's book goes on here with great success. A few days ago I saw Mrs. Montague, who had just finished it with great pleasure. I mean, she was sorry to finish it, but had read it with great pleasure. I asked her, whether she was satisfied with the style? Whether it did not savour somewhat of the country ? O yes, said she, a great deal : it seems almost impossible that any one could write such a style except a Scotsman.
“ I find you prognosticate a very short date to my administration : I really believe that few, but not evil, will be my days. My absence will not probably allow my claret time to ripen, much less to sour. However that may be, I hope to drink out the remainder of it with you in mirth and jollity. I am sincerely yours usque ad aras.”
In comparing the amiable qualities displayed in Mr. Hume's familiar letters, and (according to the universal testimony of his friends) exhibited in the whole tenor of his private conduct, with those passages in his metaphysical writings which strike at the root of the moral and religious principles of our nature, I have sometimes pleased myself with recollecting the ingenious argument against the theories of Epicurus, which Cicero deduces from the history of that philosopher's life. “ Ac mihi quidem, quod et ipse vir bonus fuit, et multi Epicurei fuerunt et hodie sunt et in amicitiâ fideles, et in omni vitâ constantes et graves, nec voluptate sed officio consilia moderantes, hoc videtur major vis honestatis et minor voluptatis. Ita enim vivunt quidam, ut eorum vitâ refellatur oratio. Atque ut cæteri existimantur dicere inelius quain facere, sic hi mihi videntur facere melius quam dicere."
the approbation of Dr. Robertson and Mr. Hume, two names which friendship united, and which posterity will never separate. I shall not therefore attempt to dissemble, though I cannot easily express, the honest pleasure which I received from your obliging letter, as well as from the intelligence of your most valuable present. The satisfaction which I should otherwise have enjoyed in common with the public, will now be heightened by a sentiment of a more personal and flattering nature; and I shall often whisper to myself, that I have in some degree obtained the esteem of the writer whom I admire.
“A short excursion which I have made to this place during the summer months, has occasioned some delay in my receiving your letter, and will prevent me from possessing, till my return, the copy of your history, which you so politely desired Mr. Strahan to send me. But I have already gratified the eagerness of my curiosity and impatience; and though I was obliged to return the book much sooner than I could have wished, I have seen enough to convince me that the present publication will support, and, if possible, extend the fame of the author; that the materials are collected with care, and arranged with skill; that the progress of discovery is displayed with learning and perspicuity ; that the dangers, the achievements, and the views of the Spanish adventurers, are related with a temperate spirit; and that the most original, perhaps the most curious portion of human manners, is at length rescued from the hands of sophists and declaimers. Lord Stormont, and the few in this capital who have had an opportunity of perusing the History of America, unanimously concur in the same sentiments; your work is already become a favorite subject of conversation, and M. Suard is repeatedly pressed, in my hearing, to fix the time when his translation will apIn most of the other letters received by Dr. Robertson on this occasion, I have not remarked any thing very interesting. Mr. Walpole is liberal, as formerly, in his praise, but does not enter so much into particular criticisms; and as for his other correspondents (among whom were various names of the first distinction in the kingdom) the greater part of them were probably restrained, by motives of delicacy, from offering any thing more than general expressions of admiration to a writer whose fame was now so fully established. A letter from William, Lord Mansfield, though it bears no marks of the superior mind of that eminent man, is valuable at least as a testimony of his respect for Dr. Robertson : nor will it, perhaps, when contrasted with the splendor of his professional exertions be altogether unacceptable to those who have a pleasure in studying the varieties and the limits of human genius.
* The letter from which the foregoing passage is extracted has been already published by Lord Sheffield in the posthumous works of Mr. Gibbon. As the copy found among Dr. Robertson's papers corresponds verbatim with that which Mr. Gibbon appears to have retained in his own possession, it affords a proof of the care which he bestowed on his epistolary compositions.
“I delayed returning you my warmest acknowledgments for your most valuable present, till I could say that I had enjoyed it. Since my return from the circuit I have read it with infinite pleasure. It is inferior to none of your works, which is saying a great deal. No man will now doubt but that you have done judiciously in making this an entire separate work, and detaching it from the general history. Your account of the science of navigation and naval discovery is admirable, and equal to any historical map of the kind. If I knew a pen equal to it, I would advise the continuation down to the next arrival of Captain Cook. Nothing could be more entertaining or more instructive. It is curious that all great discoveries are made, as it were by accident, when men are in search of something else. I learn from you that Columbus did not, as a philosopher, demonstrate to himself that there must be such a portion of the earth as America is, but that meaning to go to the East Indies, he stumbled on the West. It is a more interesting speculation to consider how little political wisdom had to do, and how much has arisen from chance, in the peopling, government, laws, and constitution of the New World. You show it strongly in the revolutions and settlement of Spanish America. I hope the time will come for fulfilling the engagement you allude to in the beginning of the preface. You will then show how little political wisdom had to do in forming the original settlements of English America. Government left private adventurers to do as they pleased, and certainly did not see in any degree the consequence of the object.”
One letter, containing the judgment of an author who is supposed to have employed his own abilities in a very masterly sketch on the same subject, I shall publish entire. It is long for a quotation ; but I shall not mutilate what comes from the pen of Mr. Burke.
“I am perfectly sensible of the very flattering distinction I have received in your thinking me worthy of so noble a present as that of your History of America. I have however suffered my gratitude to lie under some suspicion, by delaying my acknowledgment of so great a favor. But my delay was only to render my obligation to you more complete, and my thanks, if possible, more merited. The close of the session brought a great deal of very troublesome, though not important business on me at once. I could not go through your work at one breath at that time, though I have done it since. I am now enabled to thank you, not only for the honor you have done me, but for the great satisfaction, and the infinite variety and compass of instruction I have received from your incomparable work. Every thing has been done which was so naturally to be expected from the author of the History of Scotland, and of the age
of Charles V. I believe few books have done more than this, towards clearing up dark points, correcting errors, and removing prejudices. You have too the rare secret of rekindling an interest on subjects that had so often been treated, and in which every thing which could feed a vital flame appeared to have been consumed. I am sure I read many parts of your history with that fresh concern and anxiety which attend those who are not previously apprised of the event. You have besides, thrown quite a new light on the present state of the Spanish provinces, and furnished both materials and hints for a VOL. VII.