1804 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

David Hume

William Tooke, Note to The Journey; Poetical Works of Charles Churchill (1804) 2:372n.



If fashionable grown, and fond of pow'r,
With hum'rous Scots let them disport their hour;
Let them dance, fairy like, round Ossian's tomb;
Let them forge lies and histories for Hume....

The strong bias in favour of the Stuarts, discernible in Hume's history, rendered him extremely obnoxious to the whigs, and to those who considered the fundamental rights and privileges of the people of this country as having their root in the Saxon constitution, and not as so many encroachments upon regal prerogative. Party spirit ran very high at the period of its publication, and Hume was loaded with imputations, which he did not deserve to the extent to which they were carried by the virulence of faction. Public opinion has now sealed his work, as the first historical composition in the language, for though it possesses not the richness of Gibbon, nor the uniform correctness of Robertson, it excells them both in that elegant perspicuity of language, and that profundity of thought and comprehensiveness of view, which open a wide field of meditation to the reader, and for which we look in vain in other historians. A mere grammarian like Wakefield, might in the exercise of his hypercritical talents, discover some Gallic blemishes and verbal misconstructions, while the spirit and essence of the historian would escape his jaundiced eye. Making due allowance for the prejudices of Hume in behalf of his favourite political system, we must pronounce his to be the only history of England, which can be read as such with mingled profit and delight. In a search for information as to the detail of facts, Rapin may be depended upon; and for anecdotes of particular epochs, Clarendon and Burnet will prove our safest guides, but taken as a whole, it remains, and will probably long remain, unequalled. Attempts to supersede him have repeatedly been made, but have hitherto been attended with only negative success, and from partial Smollett down to crabbed Coote, not one narrator of English history, has stood the test of competition with David Hume.