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THE DEATH OF HUME.
The account of the closing part of Hume's life has long been
very well known to the public; but we are inclined to print it once more, as exhibiting what would probably be admitted, and even cited by infidels, as an example of the noblest and most magnanimous deportment in the prospect of death that it is possible for any of their class to maintain: an example indeed which very few of them ever, in their serious moments, dare promise themselves to equal, though they may deem it in the highest degree enviable. It may be taken as quite their apostolic specimen, standing parallel in their history to the instance of St. Paul in the records of the Christians, “I have fought a good fight," &c. Mr. Hume had visited Bath, but was returning to Scotland under an increase of his fatal malady. At this period, however,
“ His cheerfulness never forsook him. He wrote letters to his literary friends, informing them of his intention to be at Edinburgh on a certain day, and inviting them to dine with him on the day following. It was a kind of farewell dinner, and among those who came to partake of the hospitality of the dying historian, were Lord Elibank, Dr. Smith, Dr. Blair, Dr. Black, Professor Ferguson, and John Home.
“At his return to Edinburgh, Mr. Hume, though extremely debilitated by disease, went abroad at times in a sedan chair, and called on his friends; but his ghastly looks indicated the rapid approach of death. He diverted himself with correcting his works for a new edition, with reading books of amusement, with the conversation of his friends, and sometimes in the evening with a party at his favourite game of whist.
His facetiousness led him to indulge occasionally in the bagatelle. Among other verbal legacies, in making which he amused himself, the following whimsical one has been related. The author of Douglas is said to have had a mortal aversion to port wine, and to have had frequent disputes with the historian about the manner of spelling his name. Both these circumstances were often the subjects of Mr. Hume's raillery; and he verbally bequeathed to the poet a quantity of port wine, on condition that he should always drink a bottle at a sitting, and give a receipt for it under the signature of John Hume.
“ Dr. Smith has recorded an instance of Mr. Hume's sportive disposition; and it also shows the placidity of his mind, notwithstanding the prospect of speedy dissolution. Colonel Edmonstone caine to take leave of him; and on his way home, he could not forbear writing Hume a letter, bidding him once more an eternal adieu, and applying t) him the French verses in which the Abbé Chaulieu, in expectation of his own death, laments his approaching separation from his friend the Marquis de la Fare. Dr. Smith happened to enter the room while Mr. Hume was reading the letter; and in the course of the conversation it gave rise to, Mr. Hume expressed the satisfaction he had in leaving his friends, and his brother's family in particular, in prosperous circumstances. This, he said, he felt so sensibly, that when he was reading, a few days before, Lucian's Dialogues of the Dead, he could not, among all the excuses which are alleged to Charon for not entering readily into his boat, find one that fitted him. He had no house to finish; he had no daughter to provide for; he had no enemies upon whom he wished to revenge himself.
I could not well imagine,' said he, 'what excuse I could make to Charon, in order to obtain a little delay. I have done every thing of consequence which I ever meant to do ; I could at no time expect to leave my relations and friends in a better situation than that in which I am now likely to leave them ; I therefore have all reason to die contented. “ He then diverted himself," continues Dr. Smith,
" with inventing several jocular excuses, which he supposed he
might make to Charon, and in imagining the very surly answers whico it might suit the character of Charon to return to them.- Upon farther consideration,' said he, I thought I might say to him, “Good Charon, I have been correcting my works for a new edition. Allow me a little time, that I may see how the public receives the alterations." But Charon would answer, “When you see the effect of these, you will be for making other alterations. There will be no end of such excuses ; so, honest friend, please step into the boat.” But I might still urge, “ Have a little patience, good Charon : I have been endeavouring to open the eyes of the public. If I live a few years longer, I may have the satisfaction of seeing the downfall of some of the prevailing systems of superstition." But Charon would then lose all temper and decency: "You loițering rogue, that will not happen these many hundred years. Do you fancy I will grant you a lease for so long a term? Get you into the boat this instant, you lazy, loitering rogue.”'
“ The hour of his departure had now arrived. His decline being gradual, he was in his last moments perfectly sensible, and free from pain. He showed not the slightest indication of impatience or fretfulness, but conversed with the people around him in a tone of mildness and affection ; and his whole conduct evinced a happy composure of mind. On Sunday, the 25th of August, 1776, about four o'clock in the afternoon, this great and amiable man expired."
On this most remarkable exhibition we think there was room for the biographer to have made several observations ; as,
1. Supposing a certainty of the final cessation of conscious existence at death, this indifference to life, if it was not affected, (which indeed we suspect it to have been in part,) was an absurd undervaluation of a possession which almost all rational creatures, that have not been extremely miserable, have held most dear, and which is in its own nature most precious. To be a conscious agent, exerting a rich combination of wonderful faculties, to feel an infinite