THIS celebrated historian was born at Edinburgh, on the 26th of April, 1711. He was of a good family, both by father and mother, and the former dying whilst he was an infant, he was brought up under the care of his mother, whom he describes as a women of singular merit. A passion for literature took possession of him at a very early period of his education, and, in consequence of his sobriety and studious disposition, he was destined by his family for the law; but 'while they fancied,' he says in his autobiography, I was poring upon Voet and Vinnius, Cicero and Virgil were the authors which I was secretly devouring.' His health, however, becoming impaired by sedentary application, he, in 1634, went to Bristol, with a view of engaging in mercantile pursuits, but found them unsuitable to his disposition, that in a few months afterwards he took up his residence in France, and laid down a plan of life which he steadily and successfully pursued. resolved,' he says, '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 improvement of my talents in literature.'
After a stay of three years abroad he returned to England, and, in 1738, published his Treatise of Human Nature, the fate of which he describes by saying, 'it fell dead born from the press.' Of too sanguine a temperament to be discouraged, he continued his literary labors, and in 1742, printed, at Edinburgh, the first part of his Essays, which were received in a manner that fully compensated for his former disappointments. In 1745, he went to England as tutor to the young Marqueis of Annandale, and after remaining in that situation for a twelvemonth, he stood candidate for the professorship of moral philosophy at Edinburgh, but although strongly supported, the notoriety of his sceptical opinions prevented his success. In 1746, he accepted an invitation from General St. Clair to attend him as a secretary to his expedition, which ended in an incursion on the coast of France; and, in 1747, he accompanied him in his military embassy to the courts of Vienna and Turin. During his residence at the latter place, imagining that his Treatise of Human Nature had failed of success from the manner rather than the matter, he published the first part of the work anew, under the title of an Inquiry concerning Human Understanding. Its new shape, however, made but little difference in its success; and on his return from Italy, Hume observes, 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.'
His disappointment was increased by the failure of a new edition of his Essays; but borne up by the natural cheerfulness of his disposition, he, in 1749, went to his brother's residence in Scotland, and composed his Political Discourses, and Inquiry concerning the Principles of Morals, both of which were published at Edinburgh in 1752. At this time his former publications had begun to attract notice, and more than one answer had been written to his Essays, of which, however, he took no notice, having made a fixed resolution, which he inflexibly maintained, never to reply to any body. His Political Discourses were favorably received both abroad and at home, but his Principles of Morals, although, in his own opinion, incomparably the best of all his writings, came, as he says, unnoticed and. unobserved into the world. In the year of its application, already mentioned, he was chosen librarian to the Faculty of Advocates, when the large library, of which he had the command, suggested to him the idea of writing the History of England, Being frightened,' he says, '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 misrepresentation of faction began chiefly to take place.' The history of this period appeared in one quarto volume, in 1754; but instead of meeting with the applause which he confesses he expected, it was assailed , as he tells us, 'by one cry of reproach, disapprobation, and even detestation.' The only individuals of literary consideration from whom he received encouragement to proceed, were the primates of England and Ireland, Drs. Herring and Stone; whilst the sale was so inconsiderable, that, in the course of a twelvemonth, only forty-five copies were disposed of. He attributed the opposition it met with to the regret expressed by the author of the fate of Charles the First and the Earl of Stafford; but, in all probability, it arose from the contemptuous tone in which he spoke of adverse religious parties.
He was so far discouraged by the reception of his work, that he resolved to quit his country for ever, and pass the remainder of his days in France. The war, however, breaking out between that country and England, his intention was frustrated, and he determined to persevere in his historical design. In the meantime he published his Natural History of Religion, which was answered by Warburton in the name of Dr. Hurd, in pamphlet,' says our author, that gave me some consolation for the otherwise indifferent reception of my performance.' In 1756, appeared his second volume of the History of England, containing the period from the death of Charles the First till the Revolution; and, in 1759, it was succeeded by the History of the House of Tudor. This performance was not less obnoxious than his first published volume, but being now grown ' callous against the impressions of public folly, ' he devoted himself, with calm perseverance, of the early part of the English History, which he completed in two volumes, in 1761.