My Own Life, by David Hume (1776)

Versão em português

My Own Life
by David Hume

It is difficult for a man to speak long of himself without
vanity; therefore I shall be short. It may be thought an instance
of vanity that I pretend at all to write my life; but this
narrative shall contain little more than the history of my
writings; as, indeed, almost all my life has been spent in
literary pursuits and occupations. The first success of most of
my writing was not such as to be an object of vanity.

I was born the twenty-sixth of April, 1711, old style, at
Edinburgh. I was of a good family, both by father and mother: my
father’s family is a branch of the Earl of Home’s, or Hume’s; and
my ancestors had been proprietors of the estate which my brother
possesses, for several generations. My mother was daughter of Sir
David Falconer, President of the College of Justice; the title of
Lord Halkerton came by succession to her brother.

My family, however, was not rich; and being myself a younger
brother, my patrimony, according to the mode of my country, was
of course very slender. My father, who passed for a man of parts,
died when I was an infant, leaving me, with an elder brother and
a sister, under the care of our mother, a woman of singular
merit, who, though young and handsome, devoted herself entirely
to the rearing and educating of her children. I passed through
the ordinary course of education with success, and was seized
very early with a passion for literature, which has been the
ruling passion of my life, and the great source of my enjoyments.
My studious disposition, my sobriety, and my industry, gave my
family a notion that the law was a proper profession for me; but
I found an insurmountable aversion to every thing but the
pursuits of philosophy and general learning; and while they
fancied I was poring upon Voet and Vinius, Cicero and Virgil were
the authors which I was secretly devouring.

My very slender fortune, however, being unsuitable to this
plan of life, and my health being a little broken by my ardent
application, I was tempted, or rather forced, to make a very
feeble trial for entering into a more active scene of life. In
1734, I went to Bristol, with some recommendations to several
eminent merchants; but in a few months found that scene totally
unsuitable to me. I went over to France, with a view of
prosecuting my studies in a country retreat; and I there laid
that plan of life which I have steadily and successfully pursued.
I resolved to make a very rigid frugality supply my deficiency of
fortune, to maintain unimpaired my independency, and to regard
every object as contemptible, except the improvements of my
talents in literature.

During my retreat in France, first at Rheims, but chiefly at
La Flèche, in Anjou, I composed my Treatise of Human Nature.
After passing three years very agreeably in that country, I came
over to London in 1737. In the end of 1738, I published my
Treatise, and immediately went down to my mother and my brother,
who lived at his country house, and was employing himself very
judiciously and successfully in the improvement of his fortune.

Never literary attempt was more unfortunate than my Treatise
of Human Nature. It fell dead-born from the press, without
reaching such distinction as even to excite a murmur among the
zealots. But being naturally of a cheerful and sanguine temper, I
very soon recovered the blow, and prosecuted with great ardor my
studies in the country. In 1742, I printed at Edinburgh, the
first part of my Essays. The work was favorably received, and
soon made me entirely forget my former disappointment. I
continued with my mother and brother in the country, and in that
time recovered the knowledge of the Greek language, which I had
too much neglected in my early youth.

In 1745, I received a letter from the Marquis of Annandale,
inviting me to come and live with him in England; I found also
that the friends and family of that young nobleman were desirous
of putting him under my care and direction, for the state of his
mind and health required it. I lived with him a twelve month. My
appointments during that time made a considerable accession to my
small fortune. I then received an invitation from General St.
Clair to attend him as a secretary to his expedition, which was
at first meant against Canada, but ended in an incursion on the
coast of France. Next year, to wit, 1747, I received an
invitation from the general to attend him in the same station in
is military embassy to the courts of Vienna and Turin. I then
wore the uniform of an officer, and was introduced at these
courts as aid-de-camp to the general, along with Sir Harry
Erskine and Captain Grant, now General Grant. These two years
were almost the only interruptions which my studies have received
during the course of my life: I passed them agreeably, and in
good company; and my appointments, with my frugality, had made me
reach a fortune which I called independent, though most of my
friends were inclined to smile when I said so: in short, I was
now master of near a thousand pounds.

I had always entertained a notion that my want of success in
publishing the Treatise of Human Nature had proceeded more from
the manner than the matter, and that I had been guilty of a very
usual indiscretion in going to the press too early. I, therefore,
cast the first part of that work anew in the Inquiry concerning
Human Understanding, which was published while I was at Turin.
But this piece was at first little more successful than the
Treatise of Human Nature. On my return from Italy, I had the
mortification to find all England in a ferment on account of Dr.
Middleton’s Free Inquiry, while my performance was entirely
overlooked and neglected. A new edition, which had been published
at London, of my Essays, Moral and Political, met not with a much
better reception.

Such is the force of natural temper, that these
disappointments made little or no impression on me. I went down,
in 1749, and lived two years with my brother at his country
house, for my mother was now dead. I there composed the second
part of my Essays which I called Political Discourses, and also
my Inquiry concerning the Principles of Morals, which is another
part of my Treatise that I cast anew. Meanwhile, my bookseller,
A. Millar, informed me, that my former publications (all but the
unfortunate Treatise) were beginning to be the subject of
conversation; that the sale of them was gradually increasing, and
that new editions were demanded. Answers by reverends and right
reverends came out two or three in a year; and I found, by Dr.
Warburton’s railing, that the books were beginning to be esteemed
in good company. However, I had fixed a resolution, which I
inflexibly maintained, never to reply to any body; and not being
very irascible in my temper, I have easily kept myself clear of
all literary squabbles. These symptoms of a rising reputation
gave me encouragement, as I was ever more disposed to see the
favorable than unfavorable side of things; a turn of mind which
it is more happy to possess, than to be born to an estate of ten
thousand a year.

In 1751, I removed from the country to the town, the true
scene for a man of letters. In 1752 were published at Edinburgh,
where I then lived, my Political Discourses, the only work of
mine that was successful on the first publication. It was well
received at home and abroad. In the same year was published, at
London, my Inquiry concerning the Principles of Morals; which, in
my own opinion (who ought not to judge on that subject) is, of
all my writings, historical, philosophical, or literary,
incomparably the best. It came unnoticed and unobserved into the

In 1752, the Faculty of Advocates chose me their librarian,
an office from which I received little or no emolument, but which
gave me the command of a large library. I then formed the plan of
writing the History of England; but being frightened with the
notion of continuing a narrative through a period of seventeen
hundred years, I commenced with the accession of the house of
Stuart, an epoch when, I thought, the misrepresentations of
faction began chiefly to take place. I was, I own, sanguine in my
expectations of the success of this work. I thought that I was
the only historian that had at once neglected present power,
interest and authority, and the cry of popular prejudices; and as
the subject was suited to every capacity, I expected proportional
applause. But miserable was my disappointment; I was assailed by
one cry of reproach, disapprobation, and even detestation;
English, Scotch, and irish, whig and tory, churchman and sectary,
freethinker and religionist, patriot and courtier, united in
their rage against the man who had presumed to shed a generous
tear for the fate of Charles I and the Earl of Strafford; and
after the first ebullitions of their fury were over, what was
still more mortifying, the book seemed to sink into oblivion. Mr.
Millar told me that in a twelvemonth he sold only forty-five
copies of it. I scarcely, indeed, heard of one man in the three
kingdoms, considerable for rank or letters, that could endure the
book. I must only except the primate of England, Dr. Herring, and
the primate of Ireland, Dr. Stone, which seem two odd exceptions.
These dignified prelates separately sent me messages not to be

I was, however, I confess, discouraged; and had not the war
been at that time breaking out between France and England, I had
certainly retired to some provincial town of the former kingdom,
have changed my name, and never more have returned to my native
country. But as this scheme was not now practicable, and the
subsequent volume was considerably advanced, I resolved to pick
up courage and to persevere.

In this interval, I published, at London, my Natural History
of Religion, along with some other small pieces. Its public entry
was rather obscure, except only that Dr. Hurd wrote a pamphlet
against it, with all the illiberal petulance, arrogance, and
scurrility, which distinguish the Warburtonian school. This
pamphlet gave me some consolation for the otherwise indifferent
reception of my performance.

In 1756, two years after the fall of the first volume, was
published the second volume of my History, containing the period
from the death of Charles I till the revolution. This performance
happened to give less displeasure to the whigs, and was better
received. It not only rose itself, but helped to buoy up its
unfortunate brother.

But though I had been taught by experience that the whig
party were in possession of bestowing all places, both in the
state and in literature, I was so little inclined to yield to
their senseless clamor, that in above a hundred alterations,
which further study, reading, or reflection engaged me to make in
the reigns of the two first Stuarts, I have made all of them
invariably to the tory side. It is ridiculous to consider the
English constitution before that period as a regular plan of

In 1759, I published my History of the House of Tudor. The
clamor against this performance was almost equal to that against
the history of the two first Stuarts. The reign of Elizabeth was
particularly obnoxious. But I was now callous against the
impressions of public folly, and continued very peaceably and
contentedly, in my retreat at Edinburgh, to finish, in two
volumes, the more early part of the English History which I gave
to the public in 1761, with tolerable, and but tolerable,

But, notwithstanding this variety of winds and seasons, to
which my writings had been exposed, they had still been making
such advances, that the copy-money given me by the booksellers
much exceeded anything formerly known in England; I was become
not only independent, but opulent. I retired to my native country
of Scotland, determined never more to set my foot out of it; and
retailing the satisfaction of never having preferred a request to
one great man, or even making advances of friendship to any of
them. As I was now turned of fifty, I thought of passing all the
rest of my life in this philosophical manner: when I received, in
1763, an invitation from the Earl of Hertford, with whom I was
not in the least acquainted, to attend him on his embassy to
Paris, with a near prospect of being appointed secretary to the
embassy; and, in the meanwhile, of performing the functions of
that office. This offer, however inviting, I at first declined;
both because I was reluctant to begin connections with the great,
and because I was afraid that the civilities and gay company of
Paris would prove disagreeable to a person of my age and humor’.
but on his lordship’s repeating the invitation, I accepted of it.
I have every reason, both of pleasure and interest, to think
myself happy in my connections with that nobleman, as well as
afterwards with his brother, General Conway.

Those who have not seen the strange effects of modes, will
never imagine the reception I met with at Paris, from men and
women of all ranks and stations. The more I resiled from their
excessive civilities, the more I was loaded with them. There is,
however, a real satisfaction in living at Paris, from the great
number of sensible, knowing, and polite company with which that
city abounds above all places in the universe.

I thought once of settling there for life. I was appointed
secretary to the embassy; and, in summer, 1765, Lord Hertford
left me, being appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. I was chargé
d’affaires till the arrival of the duke of Richmond, towards the
end of the year. In the beginning of 1766, I left Paris, and next
summer went to Edinburgh, with the same view as formerly, of
burying myself in a philosophical retreat. I returned to that
place, not richer, but with much more money, and a much larger
income, by means of Lord Hertford’s friendship, than I left it;
and I was desirous of trying what superfluity could produce, as I
had formerly made an experiment of a competency. But in 1767, I
received from Mr. Conway an invitation to be undersecretary; and
this invitation, both the character of the person, and my
connections with Lord Hertford, prevented me from declining. I
returned to Edinburgh in 1769, very opulent (for I possessed a
revenue of one thousand pounds a year), healthy, and though
somewhat stricken in years, with the prospect of enjoying long my
ease, and of seeing the increase of my reputation.

In spring, 1775, I was struck with a disorder in my bowels,
which at first gave me no alarm, but has since, as I apprehend
it, become mortal and incurable. I now reckon upon a speedy
dissolution. I have suffered very little pain from my disorder;
and what is more strange, have, notwithstanding the great decline
of my person, never suffered a moment’s abatement of my spirits;
insomuch, that were I to name a period of my life which I should
most choose to pass over again, I might be tempted to point to
this later period. I possess the same ardor as ever in study, and
the same gayety in company. I consider, besides, that a man of
sixty-five, by dying, cuts off only a few years of infirmities;
and though I see many symptoms of my literary reputation’s
breaking out at last with additional luster, I know that I could
have but few years to enjoy it. It is difficult to be more
detached from life than I am at present.

To conclude historically with my own character: I am, or
rather was (for that is the style I must now use in speaking of
myself, which emboldens me the more to speak my sentiments); I
was, I say, a man of mild disposition, of command of temper, of
an open, social, and cheerful humor, capable of attachment, but
little susceptible of enmity, and of great moderation in all my
passions. Even my love of literary fame, my ruling passion, never
soured my temper, notwithstanding my frequent disappointments. My
company was not unacceptable to the young and careless, as well
as to the studious and literary; and as I took a particular
pleasure in the company of modest women, I had no reason to be
displeased with the reception I met with from them. In a word,
though most men, anywise eminent, have found reason to complain
of calumny, I never was touched, or even attacked, by her baleful
tooth; and though I wantonly exposed myself to the rage of both
civil and religious factions, they seemed to be disarmed in my
behalf of their wonted fury. My friends never had occasion to
vindicate any one circumstance of my character and conduct; not
but that the zealots, we may well suppose, would have been glad
to invent and propagate any story to my disadvantage, but they
could never find any which they thought would wear the face of
probability. I cannot say there is no vanity in making this
funeral oration of myself, but I hope it is not a misplaced one;
and this is a matter of fact which is easily cleared and

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