Hume Sites and Monuments, Part 3

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.
Photo 2014 by Amy Cools

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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Hume Sites and Monuments, Part 2

117 (2)Thursday, ‎May ‎08, ‎2014

…or more accurately this time, Hume sites and artifacts.

On Thursday afternoons, the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust holds an open house for Riddle’s Court (a small square enclosed by the buildings that surround it), where David Hume bought his first house in the 1750’s. In his time, the building was called a ‘land’, and a floor or suite of the building that comprised the rooms where the tenant lived was called a ‘house’. So a ‘land’ held several ‘houses’, today’s ‘flats’.

The rooms that are open to the public are on the opposite side of the court from where his house was; records are not clear from the time, but it’s pretty certain he lived in one of the upper houses on the Royal Mile side of the court. I’ll show you where in a moment.134 (2)

This room with the beautiful ceiling was a drawing room for later inhabitants. You can read about it in the center photo below. The closeup of the ceiling shows David Hume’s monogram, to commemorate his living nearby.779


Here (above) are views looking upwards from inside the court; the reddish color of the walls at the right is a natural color that they would have used at the time, and he probably lived in one of these upper houses. The photo on the left is at the left of the reddish wall, and I include it ’cause it’s pretty!

And here’s the view of the building that I’m in, opposite from Hume’s house, from Victoria Street below. Victoria Street was built in the 1830’s, where a steep, narrow footpath used to run through the gardens behind Riddle’s Court and the neighboring houses. My mother-in-law recommended that I visit Victoria Street; coincidentally, I discover that in constructing it, they almost decided to tear down the Riddle’s Court buildings, one of the most important sites I’ve come to visit. Fortunately, someone decided it was best to keep them since the buildings have such a rich history and Patrick Geddes, who was responsible for saving and restoring so many of Edinburgh’s most important historical buildings, turned it into a student center.

Two views in Riddle’s Court, Old City, Edinburgh

Now I turn to the first artifact I find on this trip that David Hume himself touched: a letter written just a few months before his death. It’s on display at the National Museum of Scotland, where I spend some hours this afternoon gazing at wonderful natural specimens and historical artifacts of Scotland. Hume had gone to Bath in hopes that the mineral springs there would help relieve the symptoms of the intestinal or abdominal disorder, probably cancer, that he died from. In the letter, he’s telling a man named Andrew that he’s feeling better at the moment.

A letter from David Hume to ‘Andrew’ dated May 20th 1776, at an exhibit in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh

Jenner’s department store off St Andrew’s Square in Edinburgh’s New Town

Note: The following story has an update.

The next day, I set out to find the commemorative plaque at the site where David Hume’s New Town house (apartment) was at 8 South St. David’s St. at Rose. I can’t find the plaque anywhere, but his house may have stood about where this large department store stands now….

I return to the National Library of Scotland to catch up on my writing and research, and there’s another letter in Hume’s own hand on display just feet away from where I’m writing this post, at an exhibition celebrating the achievements of the Scots people.

David Hume worked for some years in the 1750’s as the librarian for the Advocate’s Library, which eventually became the National Library. Although he had a falling out with the library over their blocking of some ‘undesirable’ books he had ordered, he continued to work for them since he needed access to their collection for the ambitious, multi-volume History of Britain he was working on, for which he was most famous during his lifetime. He donated the small salary that he earned from the Library to a blind poet friend, Thomas Blacklock.

Throughout my trip, I’ve been working intermittently in the Special Collections reading room at the National Library of Scotland, referring to first editions of David Hume’s books, all published in his lifetime, save for a few ‘dangerous’ works that were published shortly after his death. I’m not allowed to take photos of them, but you’ll find them described in my various Hume essays written during and following this trip, in the section that follows each essay, called ‘Sources and Inspiration’ (my informal brand of works cited page that I use for my blog essays). When I’m back home and have more time and my own computer, I’ll look for more information on these books, with links and photos.

Letter from David Hume to James Balfour dated Mar 15, 1753 on exhibit at the National Library of Scotland

The library is closing, so I must go. More on Hume to come!

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There’s this great little addendum to an edition of Hume’s Political Discourses, a first edition printed in Edinburgh by R. Fleming in 1752, called Scotticisms, that I came across in my research.

It ‘translates’ and compares phrases in Scotch to their corresponding phrases in English (English spoken in London and by academics, I suppose). David Hume was among the Scottish authors of his time who tried to make his writing more accessible to a wider British and European audience, who often had difficulty understanding Scotch. So he made of habit of using the English phrases and/or including a glossary like this one.

Interestingly, there’s a surprising number of cases where the Scotch phrases are the same as we use in the US today, while the English version has died out. Makes sense, I guess, since we have had such a large Scotch-Irish population throughout our history, but I would have thought the English influence would have been even more pervasive at the time, through governance, literature and commerce. Overall, more of the English versions persisted here, but not many more, and those seem to be the more common phrases or single words. Of course, being that this list is from so long ago, even more of the phrases in both have fallen out of use entirely, at least in the US.

Here are some examples, with the Scotch first, and the English second

 – conform to / conformable to
– friends and acquaintances / friends and acquaintance
– incarcerate / imprison
– tear to pieces / tear in pieces
– in the long run / at long run
– out of hand / presently
– a park / an enclosure
– ’tis a question if / ’tis a question whether (of course we say ‘it’s’ instead of ‘ ’tis’ )
– nothing else / no other thing
– there, where / thither, whither
– compete / enter into competition
– a chimney / a grate
– deduce / deduct

There are some cases where I wish we kept the Scotch version, more fun, though we use the English, or something closer to it

 – notour / notorious
– to be difficulted / to be puzzled
– dubiety / doubtfulness
– superplus / surplus
– yesternight / last night
– to extinguish an obligation / to cancel an obligation
– to condescend upon / to specify (is this indicative of pride to easily wounded, where even to give details is offensive?)
– butter and bread / bread and butter (different priorities, I suppose!)

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To Edinburgh I Go, In Search of David Hume

Hello, friends of Ordinary Philosophy! I’m pleased and excited to announce my upcoming adventure: my first philosophical-historical themed adventure, and my first trip to Edinburgh, Scotland!

Here’s my plan:

I’m taking a series of trips to places around the world, where I explore the lives and ideas of great thinkers in the places where they lived and worked. I’ll follow in the footsteps of thinkers who are no longer alive, since those who are still telling their own stories. But those who are no longer alive in the body live on in the ideas that they pass on, and in the example they provide for us to follow.

I’ve decided to start with the philosopher I most admire as a person as well as a thinker, the great David Hume. He was not only revered for the brilliance of his ideas and his honesty in presenting them, but also as a premier example of a genial, generous, great-hearted person; so much so, in fact, that one of his closest friends nicknamed him ‘Saint David’.

Hume is often described as the greatest philosopher to write in English and among the greatest philosophers of all time, period. He was a central figure in the Scottish Enlightenment, and a profoundly influential empiricist and moral philosopher

So off to beautiful Edinburgh I go! There, I’ll visit the places where he worked, thought, wrote, studied, and rested. I’ll be traveling there in the first two weeks of May, and will be writing throughout the trip. I’ll be writing in this blog not only about his ideas, but about what I can discover about his everyday life, and whatever feeling of his time and place I manage to uncover in my time there.

If you have any questions for me to answer while I’m there, or pictures you’d like me to take for you, or any information you have that could help me with this project, I’d love to hear from you!


Here are my essays on Hume as I discover him in my travels, in (roughly) chronological order:

First Day in Old Edinburgh: Hume Sites and Monuments
Hume’s New Scene of Thought, and, It’s Good to Be Able to Say ‘I Don’t Know’
Hume Sites and Monuments, Part 2
The Consolations of Philosophy, and A Death Free from Fear
Happy 303rd Birthday, David Hume!
Cycling Through Edinburgh, First Time
The Debate Over Government and Freedom
The Tale of the Magic Toe – Superstition? Or What?
Hume Sites and Monuments, Part 3
Water of Leith
Last Day in Edinburgh, May 13th, 2014
Hume, Aristotle, and Guns
and a memory quilt I created for my 2014 Edinburgh trip: A Hill and a Wall in Edinburgh, 2015, 102″ x 69″
Chirnside and Ninewells, Scottish Borders, Childhood and Summer Home of David Hume

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!