Scottish empiricist philosopher historian, economist, and essayist; deeply influenced metaphysical thought.
Autograph Check Signed, one page, narrow oblong octavo, Bath, June 8, 1776. Drawn on Thomas Coutts & Co., London and made out to dramatist John Home in the amount of fifty pounds.
David Hume, the major figure of the Enlightenment, wrote this rare check in the last few days of his visit to Bath on his final trip to England, where he had attempted to regain his failing health. Hume was known especially for his philosophical skepticism and Empiricism, restricting human knowledge to the experience of ideas and impressions and denying the possibility of ultimately verifying their truth. He tried to describe how the mind works in acquiring what is called knowledge. He concluded that no theory of reality is possible; there can be no knowledge of anything beyond experience. His significance may be assessed in four areas. As a writer, his style exemplifies the classical standards of his day, with his scientific prose standing among the best. As a historian, David Hume’s History of England must be regarded as an event of cultural importance. It was unprecedentedly readable. Persons and events were woven into causal patterns that furnished a narrative with the goals and resting points of recurrent climaxes. This was to be the plan of future history books for the general reader. As an economist, Hume introduced several of the new ideas around which the ‘classical economics’ of the 18th century was built. As a philosopher, his impact was enduring, influencing such philosophers as Immanuel Kant, Auguste Comte, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, the positivists of the nineteenth century, and the analytic philosophers of the twentieth century.
David Hume traveled to London with his distant kinsman John Home from April 22 to May 1, 1776 in a vain attempt to regain his health. In London, Sir John Pringle examined him and declared that the Bath waters would most certainly provide a cure. Hence, Hume and Home traveled on to Bath, arriving on May 10. The waters, however, did not cure Hume. A month after his arrival, on the same day he wrote the present check to Home, Hume also wrote to William Strahan declaring that “he must retract all the good Accounts which I gave you of my health. The Waters, after seeming to agree with me, have sensibly a bad Effect, and I have entirely dropped the Use of them.” The next day, on June 9, he was first told of a tumor on his liver, which had been diagnosed by the renown anatomist and surgeon John Hunter. It seems likely that, as a result of the failure of the Bath waters and his ever deteriorating health, David Hume would have made out this check to cover the expenses that he and John Home had incurred on their travels, with a view to ending his visit to Bath and returning home to Scotland. He returned to Edinburgh on June 20, where he died on the August 25, 1776.
David Hume’s friendship with John Home (1722-1808) can be traced back to at least the early 1750s and Hume was to dedicate his Four Dissertations to him in 1757. Home was the author of several plays, most notably the highly successful Douglas.
Matted in tan and chocolate with a waist-length portrait engraving of Hume. Framed in beaded gilt measuring 19 inches wide by 11 inches high.
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