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single paragraph the conclusions of Brown's ' Inquiry into
the Eelation of Cause and Effect.' ' It seems evident,' says
Hume, ' that if all the scenes of nature were continually
shifted in such a manner that no two events bore any re-
semblance to each other, but every object was entirely
new, without any similitude to whatever had been seen
before, we should never, in that case, have attained the



^ James Mill's Essay on Education, in the Encyclopfedia Britaunica.
' Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, vol. ii. p. 37, Loudon,
1829.



144 ESSAYS ON HISTORICAL TRUTH.

least idea of necessity, or of a connection among these
objects. We might say, upon such a supposition, that
one object or event has followed another, not that one
was produced by the other. The relation of cause and
effect must be utterly unknown to mankind. Inference
and reasoning concerning the operations of nature would,
from that moment, be at an end ; and the memory and
senses remain the only canals by which the knowledge of
any real existence could possibly have access to the mind.
Our idea, therefore, of necessity and causation, arises
entirely from the uniformity observable in the operations
of nature ; where similar objects are constantly conjoined
together, and the mind is determined by custom to infer
the one from the appearance of the other. These two
circumstances form the whole of that necessity which we
ascribe to matter. Beyond the constant conjunction ^ of
similar objects, and the consequent inference from one
to the other, we have no notion of any necessity of con-
nection.' ^

I think that this amounts precisely to the conclusion
above expresssed by James Mill as proved by Brown, that,
in all constant successions, besides this, that Cause is the
name of the antecedent. Effect the name of the conse-
quent, the words Cause and Effect denote absolutely
nothing.

I am inclined to infer, from a close examination of
Hume's philosophical writings, that Hume saw farther
than has been supposed by James Mill, who has quoted,
as has been seen, Hume's ' Treatise of Human Nature,'
whereas Hume has said in the advertisement that he

1 The two words, conjunction and inference, are in italics in the original.

2 Hume's Essays, vol. ii. pp. 82, 83, Edinburgh, 1825.



HUME. 145

desires tliat the treatises he published under the titles of
* An Inquiry concerning the Human Understanding,' ' An
Inquiry concerning the Princij)les of Morals,' and ' The
Natural History of Keligion,' ' may alone be regarded as
containing his philosophical sentiments and primnples,'
Wliether or not the world be yet too young, as Hume
said, to fix many general truths in politics, it may now
be considered old enough to have fixed a general truth,
as regards matter, which has received the name of the
law of gravitation, and a general truth, as regards mind,
which has received the name of the law of association.
In the work of establishing this law, Hume has done more
than would be supposed from comparing the space
allotted to the subject of association in Hume's work and
in Hartley's. In the passage last quoted from Hume, the
word ' association ' does not once occur, and ' custom ' is
used, as I will show, in the sense of ' law of association.'
It is remarkable that much about the same time and
quite independently of each other Hume and Hartley
came to the same conclusion respecting the idea of
necessity. Hartley says in his Prefoce, dated 1748, ' I
think that I cannot be called a system-maker, since I
did not first form a system, and then suit the facts to it ;
but was carried on by a train of thoughts from one thing
to another, frequently without any express design, or
even any previous suspicion of the consequences that
might arise. And this was most remarkably the case in
respect of the doctrine of necessity, for I was not at all
aware that it followed from that of association for
several years after I had begun my inquiries, nor did I
admit it at last without the greatest reluctance.' It
would seem that though Hume saw the importance, to a

L



146 ESSAYS ON HISTORICAL TRUTH.

certain extent of the law of association of ideas, he only
recognized the full extent of its importance luider
another name. I think the fate of Hume's ' Inquiry
concerning the Human Understanding ' might have been
different if, instead of confining the section ' Of the Asso-
ciation of Ideas ' to two pages, he had included under the
same title the three following sections, headed respectively
' Sceptical Doubts concerning the Operations of the Under-
standing,' ' Sceptical Solution of these Doubts,' and ' Of
the Idea of Necessary Connection.' Hume says : —
' Custom or habit is the great guide of human life.
It is that principle alone which renders our experience
useful to us, and makes us expect for the future a
similar train of events with those which have appeared
in the past. Without the influence of custom, we should
be entirely ignorant of every matter of fact beyond wdiat
is immediately present to the memory and senses.' ^ It
appears from the following passage that he uses the word
' custom ' or ' habit,' ' customary transition of the imagi-
nation from one object to its usual attendant,' in a sense
equivalent to 'the law of inseparable association,' also
that he considers ' belief ' as one of the results of that law.
' After a repetition of similar instances, the mind is
carried by habit upon tlie appearance of one event, to
expect its usual attendant, and to believe that it will
exist. This connection, therefore, whicli we feel in the
mhid, this customary transition of the imagination from
one object to its usual attendant, is the sentiment or im-
pression from which we form the idea of power or
necessary connection. Nothing further is in the case.
Contemplate tlie subject on all sides ; you will never find

^ Hume's Essays, vol. ii. p. 44.



2IUME, 147

any otliur origin of that idea. Tlie first time a man saw
the communication of motion by impulse, as by the
shock of two billiard-balls, he could not pronounce that
the one event was connected^ but only that it was con-
joined with the other. After he has observed several
instances of this nature, he then pronounces them to be
connected. [The italics are in Ilume.] What alteration
has ha{)pened to give rise to this new idea of connection f
Nothing, but that he now feeh those events to be connected
in his imagination.' ^ This shows how far Hume had ad-
vanced in appreciating the law of inseparable association.

It has been said by a great thinker, who has done far
more than anyone else to raise philosophy from the low
condition into which it had fallen in England, ' that a true
psychology is the indispensable scientific basis of morals,
of politics, of the science and art of education ; that the
didiculties of metaphysics lie at the root of all science ;
that those difficulties can only be quieted by being re-
solved; and that until they are resolved, positively
whenever possible, but at any rate negatively, we are
never assiu-ed that any human knowledge, even physical,
stands on solid foundations.' ^

Of those who have done most to give mankind a true
instead of a false psychology ; in other words, good
instead of bad metaphysics, to coiniteract the bad effects
of the false metaphysics of Descartes, of Leibnitz, of
Spinoza, and of those modern schools, whether German

' Hume's Essays, vol. ii. pp. 75, 7G.

"^ All Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy, by John Stuart
Mill, 3rd edition, London, 1807, p. 2, Hume has an observation to the
same ell'ect : ' We must cultivate true metaphysics with some care in
order to destroy the false.' He adds: 'Accurate and just reasoning is alone
able to subvert that metaphysical jarp^on which gives to false philosophy the
air of science and wisdom.' — Humes Essays, vol. ii. pp. 10, 11.

L 2



148 ass AYS ON UISTORICAL TIIVTH.

or Scotch, which are essentially an emanation of the
metaphysics of Descartes, two of the most distinguished
are Hobbes and Hume. And this renders it the more
important to mark carefully the distinction between the
mental philosophy of those two philosophers and their
political philosophy. I have attempted to do this in a
preceding essay in the case of Hobbes. I will now
attempt the same thing in regard to Hume. And I
would here say, in reference to a remark of Mr. J. S.
Mill on Hume towards the end of his ' Examination of
Sir W. Hamilton's Philosophy,' ^ that my opinion is formed
from reading the series of Hume's metaphysical essays
straight through, instead of judging from a few detached
expressions in a single essay ; and that while agreeing
so far with Mr. Mill that it is often impossible to be
quite certain what the opinions of the free-thinking phi-
losophers of the last century really were ; how far the
reservations they made, expressed real convictions or mere
concessions to supposed necessities of position ; that
Hume's scepticism, or professed admiration of scepticism,
might partly at least be intended rather to avoid
offence than to conceal his opinion ; and that having to
promulgate conclusions which he knew would be re-
garded as contradicting on one hand the evidence of
common sense, on the other the doctrines of religion, he
did not like to declare them as positive convictions ; I
think that the words applied by Mr. Mill to Archbishop
Whateley and to Dr. Brown describe David Hume ; that
Hume was an indolent reader, but an active and fertile
thinker. This, I apprehend, is the key to the incon-
sistency — the apparent puzzle of Hume's cliaracter — his

1 Pp. 626, 627, note, 3rd edition.



HUME. 149

merits in mental pliilosopliy and lii.s defects in poli-
tical philosophy and liistory.

I have quoted at the beginning of this essay Hume's
remark, that if truth be at all attainable by man, its
attainment must certainly be very difficult. It appears,
however, that Hume considered all truth, except what
might be attained by watching the operations of his own
mind, as not worth the trouble of attaining. At least he
gave himself no trouble to examine and weigh the
evidence necessary to form a correct conclusion. I will
here give one remarkable instance, which is, however, only
one out of thousands. That instance is the decided
opinion given of Hobbes by Hume, without having given
himself the trouble to read thoroughly and with sufficient
care Hobbes's writings.

The character Hume gives of Hobbes, in his ' History of
England,' could hardly have been given by any man who
had read Hobbes's writings. 'Hobbes's politics,' said
Hume, ' are fitted only to promote tyranny, and his
ethics to encourage licentiousness.' I have pointed out
what appears to me the cause of the defects of Hobbes's
ethics — a cause which has nothing whatever to do with
the encouragement of licentiousness. And as for his
politics being fitted to promote tyranny, that is a strange
charge to come from Hume, who resembles Hobbes
closely in the manner of speaking of tyrants, and indeed
goes farther than Hobbes in discovering in them virtues
which most men failed to discover. Thus Hume says of
Charles I. and James II. : ' These were harmless, if not
in their private character good men.' ^ If Hobbes's
standard of morals was a strange one, Hume's was a still

' Hume's Essays, vol. i. p. 471, 2 vols. Edinburgh, 1825.



150 ASSAYS ON HISTORICAL TRUTH.

stranger, considering that he lived more than a century
later than Hobbes. Accordino; to Hume, James I. was
a most blameless character, and Charles I. and James II.
were, in their private characters, good men.

To anyone who has read the writings of Hobbes and
Hume, it must seem strange to find Hume charging Hobbes
with ' a libertine system of ethics.' Whether Hume had
really not read Hobbes, or only wished to speak un-
favourably of an unfashionable name — for Hobbes's name,
thouo;h fashionable in the reig:n of Charles II., was the
reverse in that of Georcpe II. — his false character of
Hobbes is too much in accordance with his own political
speculations, as well as with those of Hobbes, to both of
whom, in their political writings, may be applied the
words of Hobbes with the substitution of ' trutli ' for
'reason,' that when truth was against them they were
against truth.

Hume's character of Berkeley is open to a similar
objection as his character of Hobbes — that it could hardly
have been given by a man w^ho had read Berkeley's
writings.

The judgments of Hume on Hobbes and Berkeley
evince a considerable amount of carelessness in regard to
evidence. This carelessness or indifierence becomes more
remarkable when we turn from Hume the mental philo-
sopher to Hume the historian and constructor of a politi-
cal philosophy on fictions which he sets forth as facts.
And this carelessness is the more remarkable when we
compare it with a remark of his that ' the love of truth
can never be carried to too high a degree.' ^

In the first place, as regards his speculations respecting

' Essays, vol. ii. p. 41, Edinburgh, 1825.



HUME. 151

the conclusions to be drawn from ancient history, assu-
ming that Hume possessed a suflicieutly accurate know-
ledge of tlie Greek language to turn to useful account
what that language contains, let us see what are his opin-
ions respecting the most valuable historical monuments or
records. He calls ' Xenophon's expedition and Demos-
thenes's orations ' ' the two most authentic pieces of all
Greek history.'^ Whatever may be the authenticity or
authority of ' Xenophon's expedition,' he makes a great
mistake in his assertion about ' Demostlienes's orations ; '
a mistake that presents in a very striking light the contrast
between Hume's carelessness about historical truth and
Mr. Grote's anxious and laborious care to obtain it as far
as possible. I will quote from Mr. Grote's great work
some passages which show that the speeches of the Greek
orators are pretty much on a level, in the matter of histo-
rical truth, with the speeches of Queen Elizabeth,^ of the
Emperor Tiberius, or of the Protector Oliver Cromwell.

'The passages of these orators (^schines, He Fals. Legat.
c. 54, p. 300, and Andokides or the Pseudo-Andokides,
De Pace, c. 1) involve so much both of historical and
chronological inaccuracy, that it is unsafe to cite them,
and impossible to amend them except by conjecture.' ^

1 Essays, vol. i. p. 632, Edinburgh, 1825.

^ Queen Elizabeth's reputation for ability is due to the talent she dis-
played as a speaker, and to the praise she bestowed on herself in her
speeches to her parliaments, when of course nobody dared to contradict her.
Some forty years ago, a Chancery barrister going into the Court of Chancery
just before the rising of the Court at the beginning of the long vacation,
asked the usher if the business was over. ' Yes,' said the man, ' he has
finished with the causes, and now be is praising himself.' The Chancellor
referred to was a mighty man of tongue, as Queen Elizabeth was a mighty
woman of tongue. But her talk in her speeches about her love for her
people forms a strange contrast with her inhuman treatment, on all occasions,
of her soldiers and seamen.

2 Grote's History of Greece, vol. v. p. 450, note (1).



152 ESSAYS ON HISTORICAL TRUTH.

' Tlie loose language of these orators (Demosthenes,
Lykurgiis, Isokrates) renders it impossible to determine
what was the precise limit in respect of vicinity to the
coast.' ^

' The boastful and inaccurate authors of the ensuing
century — orators, rhetors, and historians — indulged in so
much exaggeration and untruth respecting this conven-
tion, that they have raised a suspicion against them-
selves.'^

' Indeed these orators (the Athenian) are })erpetually
misconceiving the facts of their past history.'^

' One among many specimens of the careless manner
in which these orators deal with past history.'^

In the same note in which Hume's remark respecting
Demosthenes's orations occurs, Hume says, ' Plutarch and
Appian seem scarce ever to have read Cicero's epistles.'^
If Plutarch seems scarce ever to have read Cicero's epis-
tles, Hume may be at least as truly said 'scarce ever to
have read ' a collection of letters throwing more light on
the history of the reign of Charles I. than Cicero's epistles
threw on the latter years of the Eoman republic. There
is a tradition in the State Paper Office that when
Hume was shown the vast mass of MSS. in that repository,
he said that if he were to attempt to read them his
history would never be written. But if Hume had read
one half, or even one quarter, of the printed documents
within his reach, he must have seen at least some part of
the truth. The springs of the conduct of Laud and Straf-

' Grote's History of Greece, vol. v. p. 452, note (1).

^ Ibid. p. 453. By ' rhetors ' are meant the teachers of rhetoric, oratory,
or eloquence.
3 Ibid. p. 169, note. ^ j^^i p_ 203, note.

^ Ilume'a Essays, vol. i. p. 532, Edinburgh, 1825.



HUME. 158

ford are laid open in a manner tliat few men's have ever
been in the two large folio volumes of Strafford's 'Letters
and Dispatches,' published in 1739, more than ten years
before Hume began to write his history. The correspon-
dence between Laud and Strafford in those volumes,
•which forms one of the most valuable collections of State
papers, both in a historical and political point of view,
ever made public, contains the most conclusive evidence
that it was the settled and deliberate intention of these
two men to make the king absolute, and to make
all Englishmen, Scotchmen, and Irishmen, slaves; and not
only them, but their children and their children's children
to all generations. It is impossible that a man of Hume's
acuteness and reasoning power coidd have read even a
moderate portion of Strafford's letters and dispatches,
and then could have written such a history as Hume has
written of the reign of Charles I. Such a history, in fact,
is a romance, with all the bad and none of the good
features of romance. For Hume had not imagination
enough to be a good romance writer ; and we shall see in
the next essay that a writer like Scott, with far more ima-
ginative power than Hume, though he succeeded in
writing a splendid romance when the subject was enve-
loped in the mist of far-distant time, as in the case of
* Ivanhoe,' has not by any means been equally successful
in turning into history the falsehoods devised by James I.
to hide from the knowledge of mankind one of the
blackest and most atrocious of his many crimes.

From Hume's opinion above cited of the value of
Demosthenes's orations on historical evidence, it may be
inferred that Hume considered Strafford's eloquent speech
on his trial as afTordinfr rrround for the character he has



154 ESSAYS OX HISTORICAL TRUTH.

drawn of Strafford. But the real character of Strafford
was very different indeed from the fancy portrait drawn
by Hume. I have said that Strafford's object was to make
tlie king absolute and the people slaves. These words
will convey but a vague meaning. I will give a case,
which, though printed in Eushw^orth's valuable collection,
has not, as far as I know, been noticed by any historian ;
a case in which a picture is drawn to the life of the con-
dition to which the people of Ireland had been reduced
by Strafford; and to which, had he succeeded in his
designs, the people of England would very soon have been
reduced.

On his trial the Earl of Strafford excepted against Sir
Pierce Crosby as a witness, ' for that the said Sir Pierce
hath been sentenced in the Star Chamber for a very undue
practice against me, tending to no less than the taking
away of my life, charging me (and practising to prove it
by testimony of witness) that I had killed a man in
Ireland, whom I protest I did never so much as touch.' \
Let the reader judge from what follows of the truth or
falsehood of the earl of Strafford's protestation.

During that period of the reign of Charles I. when he
attempted to govern without parhaments, the Attorney-
General instituted proceedings before the Council in
England against Sir Pierce Crosby, the Lord Esmond, and
others, for raising and divulging scandals of the Lord
Deputy of Ireland (Viscount Wentworth, afterwards Earl
of Strafford), giving out that he was guilty of the death of
one Eobert Esmond. ^ Eobert Esmond having refused to
take the king's timber into his bark as well because it was

> Rushworth, vol. viii. p. 109.

2 Paishwortb, vol. iii. p. 888, et seq. ; Rushworth abr. vol. iii. p. 43, et seq.



HUME, 155

before laden with timber for tlie Lord Cliief Justice, as
because the king's timber was too long for the bark, the
Lord Deputy committed him. After about six days' im-
prisoimient in Dublin Castle, Esmond returned home, and
within a few days after died ; and the information was for
raising and divulging a report that Esmond died of the
blows the Lord Deputy gave him when he committed
him, and for inciting Esmond's wife, after her husband's
death, to go into England and complain of the Lord
Deputy.

Esmond's w^ife deposed that hearing after her husband's
death a report that he received several blows from the
Lord Deputy, she made her moan to the Lord Esmond ;
but withal deposed, that long before his death her
husband was wounded in the back with a small knife by
one Egerton (which wound was admitted by all), and spit
blood for about a year before he died ; that he had
a cough of the lungs about seven years, and died of a con-
sumption.

The admission of this fact, however, does not set aside the
question whether certain blows said to have been inflicted
on Esmond by Wentworth hastened his death. And the
solution of the question whether or not the Lord Deputy
Wentworth struck Esmond must depend upon the balance
of the testimony of the witnesses present. The deposi-
tions of the witnesses are as follows : —

' William Atkins. — About November 1634 Eobert Es-
mond Avas brought before the Lord Deputy, who com-
mitted him to Dublin Castle. He (Atkins) was present
when Esmond was brought in. The Lord Deputy was
angry with him, and said, " Sirrah, Sirrah," and struck
Esmond on the head and shoulders three or four strokes



156 ESSAY^S ON HISTORICAL TRVTIL

with a cane, and tlien committed liim. Immediately
after Eobert Esmond's death he lieard Ricliard Eoach
and divers others report that the said strokes occasioned
it; he did daily visit Robert Esmond, and he still com-
plained of the blows ; and this deponent's wife anointed
liis shoulders ; he often wept and grieved, and he would
often say his heart was broken.'

' William IJolloway saw the Lord Deputy strike three
or four strokes over the pate with a cane.'

' Sir Philip Manwairiiig saith he was present when
Esmond was brought to the Lord Deputy. Esmond was
charged with contempt in refusing to take aboard the
king's timber, and takhig in other timber ; the Lord
Deputy shook his cane at Esmond, and said he would
teach him better manners ; but whether he touched him
or not he cannot depose.'

''Joshua Carpenter said that about November 1634
Esmond was pressed to carry timber, and refused it,
saying he had undertaken to carry timber for the use of
the Lord Chief Justice ; that the Lord Deputy shook his
cane, but whether touched him with it or not, he knows
not ; that the Lord Deputy committed Esmond for neglect
of the king's service.'

It is to be observed that Sir Philip Manwairing and
Joshua Carpenter were both the servants of the Lord
Deputy; notwithstanding which, even they do not take
upon them to say there were no blows given, while the
other two witnesses most distinctly and explicitly declare
that there were three or four strokes given. It appears,
indeed, that WiUiam HoUoway afterwards said in his
answer that he 'believed the Lord Deputy did Esmond
no wrong ; ' but he does not say that the Lord Deputy



HUME, 157

did not strike Esmond. Now observe what shape and
colour this evidence assumes in the hands of Lord Chief
Justice Finch, ^ that member of tlie Council best qualified
from his education, his profession, and liis place, to weigh
evidence. Lord Chief Justice Finch thus sums up and
comments on the evidence which has been given above.

* For Sir Philip Manwairing, your Lordships know his
quality and reputation in the kingdom, and I know he
beareth it as worthily in your Lordships' judgment : he
expressly sweareth his lordship did but shake the cane,
and that he believeth in his conscience (for so he said
here in Court) he did not so much as touch him ; and I



Online LibraryAndrew BissetEssays on historical truth → online text (page 12 of 40)