I enjoy a pint at the Abbotsford pub, traditionally a literary hangout, as I begin this account. Here’s hoping I’ll absorb more of that skill!I’m here at the Abbotsford because it’s near the site where I returned a couple days ago, to see if I could find that invisible plaque marking the site of David Hume’s New Town house. I’ve done some more digging in the meantime, and found that I had formed the wrong impression from my original source. I’ve found some photos of the actual plaque, which is actually just carved into the stone of the building, rather than the embossed brass plate I conceive of from the word ‘plaque’. Another traveler’s article I’ve discovered helpfully remarked it’s higher up than one might expect. Also, it’s at what’s now 21 St David’s St and 8 Rose St, which numbers are on different sides of the same building, not 8 St David’s as the address had been numbered once upon a time.
So here’s the plaque, on this building right by pretty St Andrew’s square, right across the street from Jenner’s. Can you see it?
Look up, way up, above the gray stone part of the building, between the windows.
Up, up, up…..
There it is, up there, near the upper right of this photo. It reads ‘On a house in this site David Hume lived, 1771 – 1776’. This is also where he died.
I also happen to be waiting for someone right across the street from Hume’s statue on the Royal Mile the other day, and while waiting, I decided to snap some photos of passersby rubbing the statues toe for luck, so that some of Hume’s knowledge would rub off on them. I wrote a little essay about that practice.
I’ve been tentatively planning to go to Chirnside, the place where Hume grew up. The house is no longer there, but the gardens are, and the place where the house was is well marked. The fares turn out to be quite expensive, and since the house isn’t there anymore, it seems a lot to pay since I’m traveling on the cheap. I decide to spend the money instead enjoying my remaining time in Edinburgh, immersed in the place, eating locally made delicious food. So I go and have some marvelous pastries at The Manna House instead, planning to visit Chirnside next time I’m here, hopefully on a bike tour.
The last of the David Hume-related sites I visit today is the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. It’s even more beautiful than I expected, inside and out. Sculptures of Hume and his friend Adam Smith, philosopher and economist who wrote The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments, adorn the southeast tower.
Allan Ramsey as a young man
Allan Ramsey’s famous portrait of Hume is here, the portrait where’s he’s facing the artist, wearing a gold-lace-trimmed red jacket. Here’s the artist and some info about him. First, the artist as a young man:
Here’s a little more about Allan Ramsey, David Hume, and the Scottish Enlightenment….
And about David Hume and his portrait...
David Hume by Allan Ramsey, 1766, oil on canvas
Definitely a guy I’d like to have dinner and drinks with, and hours of conversation! A genial man who’s seen the world and knows how to eat well, aside from his intellectual achievements.
What I hadn’t been expecting to find, when coming here to see this portrait was the sheer number of portraits I’d find of friends, associates, and other people whose lives intersected with Hume’s.
Here’s a series of portraits of these people, preceded by the plaques identifying the subject and the artist, and/or telling the story of their relation to Hume. I’ll start with Adam Smith, a good friend of Hume’s, who was influenced by him, supported him in the difficulties he faced due to his unorthodox views, and can be credited most with providing us the account of his last days:
The Author of the Wealth of Nations [Adam Smith] by John Kaye
This next guy shares the same name that Hume was born with; Hume changed the spelling of his last name from ‘Home’ because he was writing for an international audience, most of whom would not know from the spelling that the name is pronounced ‘Hume’ in Scotch-English.
And here’s a last little portrait, a miniature in cameo by this guy…
James Tassie, miniaturist who created the cameo portrait of David Hume below
Cameo portrait of David Hume by James Tassie
It’s hard to take a good photo if it because it’s in a glass case high above my head with many other cameo portraits by Tassie. This cameo was completed a few years after Hume’s death.
The Scottish National Portrait Gallery ends up being one of my favorite museums I visit, not only because of the beautiful artwork and fascinating stories I discover, but because the whole building is lovely, the lighting is perfect, and the feel of the place makes you want to linger. I spend much more time here than I planned, the time just flies by….
So I think my Sites and Monuments series will end here; the last couple days I’ll spend researching, writing, and just wandering and admiring. Soon to come: more ponderings on various subjects, inspired by my man Hume.
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