David Hume as a Neoclassical Historian

Part of the Studies in Modern History book series (SMH)


A rich secondary literature has developed around Hume’s History of England. In the role of historian, Hume has been described as a reformer of British political culture,1 a Baconian natural historian of morals,2 a failed scientific historian,3 a reactionary struggling with the liberalism of his early career,4 a ‘scientific’ whig who transcended political parties,5 a student of the ‘science of man,’6 a ‘practical’ moralist.7 While most recent studies of Hume have focused on his central place in the history of modern philosophy and his History as somehow a part of that philosophy, they have tended to lose sight of Hume’s ties to classical historiography,8 ties Hume as well as his original readers readily acknowledged. It is the contention of this Chapter that Hume and his audience saw the History as a neoclassical work intended to solve the weakness in English historiography. Perhaps above all other ambitions, Hume’s most ardent wish was to construct such a work. It is the task of this Chapter to show how the various philosophical and political projects just mentioned could be subsumed in a neoclassical narrative that would earn a European reputation as a literary masterpiece.


Seventeenth Century General History Ancient Historian Classical Historian English Culture 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Nicholas Phillipson, Hume (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1989).Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Giuseppe Giarrizzo, David Hume politico e storico (Turin: Einaudi, 1962), reviewed by Duncan Forbes in Historical Journal, 6 (1963), pp. 280–94.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    Donald T. Siebert, The Moral Animus of David Hume (Newark: Univ. of Delaware Press, 1990), pp. 9, 19.Google Scholar
  4. 16.
    Catharine Macaulay, The History of England from the Accession of James 1 to that of the Brunswick Line, 8 vols (London, 1763–83). Bridget Hill, The Republican Virago: The Life and Times of Catharine Macaulay, Historian (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992). I intend to pursue the Macaulay-Hume relationship in a separate study of eighteenth-century historiography. For Hume and women, see Jerome Christensen, Practicing Enlightenment: Hume and the Formation of a Literary Career (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1987).Google Scholar
  5. 112.
    Edward Gibbon, Memoirs of My Life, ed., intro., Betty Radice (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1984), p. 114.Google Scholar
  6. 171.
    David Womersley, The Transformation of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1988), pp. 54, 80–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Patricia B. Craddock, Edward Gibbon, Luminous Historian 1772–1794 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1989), pp. 67–70, 263.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Philip Hicks 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Saint Mary’s CollegeNotre DameUSA

Personalised recommendations