AUB Libraries Online Exhibits

Hume, D. (1766). Histoire de la Maison de Stuart sur le Trône d'Angleterre. London.


“I have often been aware of how much power, dignity, majesty and even divinity there is in history, and just lately I have realized it again.” (Pliny, the Elder, Epistolarum libri)

“Quanta potestas, quanta dignitas, quanta maiestas, quantum denique numen sit historiae, cum frequenter alias tum proxime sensi.” 

David Hume (1711-1776) is now more famous for his philosophical empiricism and skepticism than his 6 volume History of England published between 1754 and 1762, but this has not always been the case. While Hume’s philosophy did not attract much attention at the time, his History of England attracted more interest and dominated the English historical panorama as a seminal work of reference. Hume worked as a Librarian at the University of Edinburgh where he had access to bountiful material that he used in his research on philosophy, history and economics. As Mark Towsey (2013) points out, Hume’s History was an influential pedagogical text, so much so that an abridged edition was published in 1859 entitled Student’s Hume. Hume’s work on history was characterized by its fact-based approach to the narrative and interpretation therewith of the past, “forc[ing] contemporary readers to negotiate for themselves Hume’s various critics, the ‘English, Scotch, and Irish, Whig and Tory, churchman and sectary, freethinker and religionist, patriot and courtier [who] united in their rage’ against him.” In this regard, Hugh Trever-Roper (2010) writes: “Voltaire praised him as a historian such as could only write in a free country. Gibbon regarded him as ‘the Tacitus of Scotland’ (and Tacitus, he once wrote, was the only writer who lived up to his idea of a ‘philosophical historian’); when he read him, he admitted, he put down his own pen in despair of imitation; and when he had completed the first volume of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the labour of years seemed to him rewarded by an approving letter from Hume.”