Papers of David Hume (1711-1776)

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 237 Coll-373
  • Dates of Creation
      18th century
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      6 letters, 1 annotated volume.
  • Location
      Dc.1.42/25; Dc.5.82; Dk.6.27/1-4, 6-7

Scope and Content

The papers are composed correspondence, being: letters to J. Home of Kilduff, 1776; letter to President Hainault, 1765; letter to Rev. J. Jardine, 1758; letter to William Creech, 1775; discourse Of the principle of moral estimation between Hume, Robert Clerk, and Adam Smith; and, letter, incomplete, but authenticated.

Administrative / Biographical History

The philosopher, historian and diplomat David Hume was born in Edinburgh on 26 April 1711. He was the second son of Joseph Hume of Ninewells, near Chirnside, Berwickshire. He studied law at Edinburgh University (matriculation records showing 27 February 1723) but spent more time on reading Virgil, Cicero and other Latin literature than on his intended studies. He abandoned law and followed a brief business career in Bristol but still gave much of his time to intellectual study. In 1734, Hume went to France - to Paris, Rheims, then Anjou - returning to Britain in 1737. While in France he had written much of his Treatise of human nature (1739) but when it was published it failed to engender the interest, understanding and debate that he had anticipated. Settling at the Ninewell estate again, he wrote two volumes of Essays, moral and political (1741-1742) which were more successful.

In 1744 the Chair of Ethics and Pneumatic Philosophy at Edinburgh University was expected to fall vacant and Hume hoped to occupy it. However, support for him fell away not least because of accusations of heresy, scepticism and atheism that were levelled against him. In 1745 he became a companion to the Marquis of Annandale and resided with the family at Weldhall near St. Albans, Hertfordshire. In 1746, Hume accepted an offer to act as Secretary to General St. Clair under whom he served in France and journeyed to the Hague, Vienna, and Italy.

Hume returned to Ninewells in 1749. Meanwhile his earlier Treatise had been recast as An enquiry concerning human understanding (1748) again without success. This was followed by his Enquiry concerning the principles of morals (1751) and then Political discourses (1752). This latter work was particularly well received abroad. By this time Hume was living in Edinburgh and although he had been declined the Chair of Logic at Glasgow University he was appointed Librarian of the Advocates' Library in Edinburgh.

Hume's other publications from this period include Four dissertations (1757) one of which was the Natural history of religion and others a recasting of Suicide and Immortality of the soul written between 1755 and 1757. As a Librarian, Hume was also able to devote himself to historical subjects and his History of England was written between 1753 and 1761.

From 1763 until 1766 Hume was Secretary to the British Embassy in Paris and in 1767 he was Secretary to General Conway in London. He returned to Edinburgh in 1769. David Hume died on 26 August 1776.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance. Note that items at Dc.1.42 are not issued to readers, and that instead Mic.Dup.421 (microfilm copy) will be used.

Acquisition Information

Letters to Home of Kilduff, Hainault, Jardine, purchased Christies, December 1961, Accession no. E62.2. Letter to Creech, acquired April 1973, Accession no. E73.15


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol. 10. Howard-Kenneth. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1908. (2) Keay, John. and Keay, Julia (eds.). Collins encyclopaedia of Scotland. London: Harper Collins Publishers, 1994.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.


Check the local Indexes for details of any additions.

Related Material

The local Indexes show various references to material related to David Hume in the Laing Collection (check the Indexes for more details): letter, circa 1746-1747, at La.II.173/1; letters to Rev. R. Wallace, 1751, at La.II.96/1, ff.47-56, and letter to same, 1767, at La.II.96/1, ff.26-34; letter to Sir Gilbert Elliot, 1770, at La.II.173/2; letter to John Home, 1776, at La.II.173/3; letter from Alexander Murray, 1764, at La.II.503; proof corrections on Rev. R. Wallace's A dissertation on the numbers of mankind, 1753, at La.II.96/2; receipt, 1756, at La.II.508; criticism of Hume's Essay upon human nature, 1742, at La.II.301, ff.13-15; criticism of Hume's discourse Of the populousness of ancient nations, 1752, at La.II.96/1, ff.35-40, ff.41-44, f.10; papers by the Rev. R. Wallace, 1756, at La.II.97/1-2; an essay with criticism, at La.III.789; and, many mentions, anecdotes, notes and references to Hume in other letters, at La.II.81/2, nos. 4-5, La.II.127, La.II.451/2, La.II.483, La.II.503, La.II.509, La.II.589/13, La.II.601, and La.IV.17 (Evans). There is also a reference to 13 volumes of Hume manuscripts, Royal Society of Edinburgh, on microfilm, at Mic.M.597-600. On microfilm too, a letter to Alexander Maconochie-Welwood, Lord Meadowbank, at Mic.M.1071. In addition, there is a photostat of a letter about Hume's theory of causality, dated 1806, at Phot.1144/1, ff.15-16, and an account of his death at Dc.111, ff.46-47. Miscellaneous material in the form of anecdotes and quotes, at Dc.4.41/96, Df.4.51, and in the Black collection at Gen.873/111/40-41. There is also a copy of Hume's Inquiry concerning human understanding, London, 1863, at Dc.5.82, and an essay on Hume by C. M. Grieve (Hugh MacDiarmid) at Gen. 1782. Item Dk.6.27/5 is a letter from Admiral Thomas Smith to Hume, 1764.

In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes: correspondence and papers, National Library of Scotland, Ref. MSS 509, 732-34, 786, 1703, 2619, 5722, and correspondence and papers, 1727-1776, see Annual report 1987-88 p.9, and manuscript relating to the Deity's moral attributes, circa 1739-1740, Ref. Acc 10805, and copies of letters to Jean Jacques Rousseau (11 items) and to Comtesse de Boufflers (34 items), 1771-1776, Ref. Acc 10971, and miscellaneous correspondence, 1747-1844, Ref. MSS 9978-9978, 10279, 10782 Passim; miscellaneous correspondence, 1734-1776, Cambridge University, King's College Archive Centre, Ref. JMK NRA 36972 Keynes, and miscellaneous correspondence (7 items), 1751-1765, Ref. B2 NRA 34805 Sraffa; diary, 1746, British Library, Manuscript Collections, Ref. Add MS 36638; correspondence, 1745-1776, McGill University, McLennan Library; letters (11) to Lord Kames, 1737-1748, National Archives of Scotland, Ref. GD24/551 NRA 29367 Stirling Home; and, correspondence with William Strachan, 1751-1776, Private, Ref. NRA(S)0175 NRA 10461 Primrose.


'Of the principle of moral estimation: a discourse between David Hume, Robert Clerk, and Adam Smith': an unplublished MS by Robert Ferguson is published inJournal of the history of ideas. Vol. 21. No.2. April-June 1960. pp. 222-232. A copy is held in Edinburgh University Library, shelfmark Per. .1 Jou.