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Letter from Adam Smith, L.L. D., to William Straham, Esq., giving some account of Mr. Hume, during his last sickness.
Kirkaldy, Fife Shire, Nov. 9, 1776.
IT is with a real, though a very melancholy pleasure, that I sit down to give you some account of the behavior of our late excellent friend, Mr. Hume, during his last illness. Though, in his own judgment, his disease was mortal and incurable, yet he allowed himself to be prevailed upon, by the entreaty of his friends, to try what might be the effects of a long journey. A few days before he set out, he wrote that account of his own life, which, together with his other papers, he left to your care. My account, therefore, shall begin where his ends,
He set out for London towards the end of April, and at Morpeth met with Mr. John Home and myself, who had both come down from London on purpose to see him, expecting to have found him at Edinburgh. Mr. Home returned with him, and attended him during the whole of his stay in England, with that care and attention which might be expected from a temper so perfectly friendly and affectionate. As I had written to my mother that she might expect me in Scotland, I was under the necessity of continuing my journey. His disease seemed to yield to exercise and change of air; and when he arrived in London, he was apparently in much better health than when he left Edinburgh. He was advised to go to Bath to drink the waters, which appeared for some time to have so good an effect upon him, that even he himself began to entertain, what he was not apt to do, a better opinion of his own health. His symptoms, however, soon returned with their usual violence; and from that moment he gave up all thoughts of recovery, but submitted with the utmost cheerfulness, and the most perfect complacency and resignation. Upon his return to Edinburgh, though he found himself much weaker, yet his cheerfulness never abated, and he continued to divert himself, as usual, with correcting his own works for a new edition, with reading books of amusement, with the conversation of his friends;
and, sometimes in the evening, with a party at his favorite game of whist. His cheerfulness was so great, and his conversation and amusements run so much in their usual strain, that, notwithstanding all bad symptoms, many people could not believe he was dying. “I shall tell your friend, Colonel Edmonstone,” said Doctor Dundas to him one day, “that I left you much better, and in a fair way of recovery.” “Doctor,” said he, “as I believe you would not choose to tell any thing but the truth, you had better tell him that I am dying as fast as my enemies, if I have any, could wish, and as easily and cheerfully as my best friends could desire.” Colonel Edmonstone soon after came to see him, and take leave of him ; and on his way home, he could not forbear writing him a letter, bidding him once more an' eternal adieu, and applying to him, as to a dying man, the beautiful French verses, in which the Abbe Chaulieu, in expectation of his own death, laments his approaching separation from his friend, the Marquis De La Fare. Mr. Hume's magnanimity and firmness were such, that his most affectionate friends knew that they hazarded nothing in talking or writing to him as to a dying man, and that so far from being hurt by this frankness, he was rather pleased and flattered by it. I happened to come into his room while he was reading this letter, which he had just received, and which he immediately showed me. I told him, that though I was sensible how very much he was weakened, and that appearances were in many respects very bad, yet his cheerfulness was still so great, the spirit of life seemed to be still so very strong in him, that I could not help entertaining some faint hopes. He answered, “Your hopes are groundless. An habitual diarrhea of more than a year's standing, would be a very bad disease at any age: at my age it is a mortal one. When I lie down in the evening, I feel myself weaker than when I rose in the morning; and when I rise in the morning, I feel myself weaker than when I lay down in the evening. I am sensible, besides, that some of my vital parts are affected, so that I must soon die.” “Well,” said I, “if it must be so, you have at least the satisfaction of leaving all your friends, your brother's family in particular, in great prosperity.” He said that he felt that satisfac. tion so sensibly, that when he was reading a few days before, Lucian's Dialogues of the Dead, among all the excuses which are alledged to Charon, for not entering readily into his boat, he could not find one that fitted him; he had no house to finish, he had no daughter to provide for, he had no enemies upon whom he wished to revenge himself. “I could not well imagine,” said he, “what excuse I could make to Charon.