The Great Infidel: A Life of David Hume
This book is the story of the life of David Hume, one of Scotland’s greatest men. It is not an academic critique of his philosophy or an in-depth study of his political economy. Library shelves already groan under the weight of such works.
Through Hume’s life, we are shown the Enlightenment from its roots through its sometimes difficult growth to its flowering in eighteenth-century Edinburgh.
Using original sources, some for the first time, we witness Hume’s disappointment with the reception of his Treatise of Human Nature – ‘it fell dead-born from the press’ – although it is now seen as a pivotal work in European thinking, and follow his adventures during a farcical invasion of France. His Essays and History at last brought him the fame he had sought, but also caused the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland to attempt to excommunicate him. The accusation that Hume was an atheist is disproved while, more light-heartedly, his time as a diplomat shows him at the heart of the gossip of pre-Revolutionary Paris, where he was Le Bon David.
Back in Edinburgh, James Boswell nicknamed him ‘The Great Infidel’ yet, like everyone else, sought invitations to Hume’s well-stocked table and wine cellar. Hume never married, although he was always a favourite with the ladies for whist and conversation, and he was involved in a preposterous courtship in Turin. He also had a lengthy intellectual involvement with a married aristocrat who was already another man’s mistress.
The Great Infidel gives a rounded picture of the man, the century in which he lived, his thought, and, above all, his humanity.
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