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operations—that the looks, the tears, the whole conduct of surrounding friends, excite artificial emotions in the dying—that superstition has a prodigious ascendancy over their imagination— that their joyful impressions of heaven, are the mere reveries of a disturbed brain—that their serenity, their steady hope, their placid faith, are only the natural consequence of long habit, which never operates more freely than when the faculty of reflection is impaired. All this, and more like this, do unhappy mortals who take, or pretend to take, pleasure in putting an extinguisher upon the light of life, detail with an air of superiority, as if they had fallen upon a discovery which merits the plaudits of the world. But were it even so—were the Christian victory over death only a dream, it is a dream so sweet and blessed, that with the scourger of Lord Bolingbroke's philosophy, I should “account that man a villain that awoke me—awoke me to truth and misery.” But I am not going to discuss this question. The poor infidel does not believe himself, and why should others believe him " With one breath he endeavors to cry down the argument to be derived in favor of their religion, from the peaceful death of Christians; and with the next to enlist
* Hunter's view of the philosophical character and writings of Lord Wiscount Bolingbroke.
it in his own service. He omits no opportunity of celebrating the intrepidity or composure displayed by sceptical brethren in their last moments. Let the letter of Dr. Adam Smith, concerning the death of David Hume, Esq., be a proof. Every sentence betrays his anxiety to set off his friend to the best advantage. The dullest observer cannot but perceive his design to compare Mr. Hume dying an infidel, with a Christian dying in the faith of Jesus. Let us draw out, at length, that comparison which he has only insinuated; and that the effect may be more decisive, let us remember, that the whole annals of unbelief do not furnish a more favorable example than he has selected. Mr. Hume was a man of undisputed genius. His versatile talent, his intense application, his large acquirements, and his uncommon acuteness, place him, perhaps, at the head of those enemies of revelation who attempt to reason; as Voltaire stands without a rival among those who only scoff. He had, besides, what rarely belongs to the ascertained infidel, a good moral reputation. We mean that he was not addicted to lewdness, to drunkenness, to knavery, to profane swearing,”
* On further recollection, we are compelled to deduct from Mr. Hume's morality, his freedom from profane swearing. For, in an account of the life and writings of the Rev. Dr. Robertson, the great historian, drawn up by Professor Dugald Stewart, there is a letter from Mr. Hume to the doctor, in which he descends to the coarse and vulgar profanity of the ale-house, and the main-deck.
VOL. III. 47
or any of those grosser vices which are the natural and ordinary companions of enmity to the gospel. For otherwise, as he labored to unsettle all fixed principles of belief; to overturn the whole system of moral obligation; to obliterate a sense of God's authority from the conscience; and positively to inculcate the innocence of the greatest crimes, he must be accounted one of the most flagitiously immoral men that ever lived. His panegyrist, too, was a man of superior parts and profound erudition. The name of Adam Smith will always rank high in the republic of letters, and will never be pronounced but with respect by the political economist. Mr. Hume can have lost nothing, has possibly gained much, by the pen of his friend. Taking him, therefore, as the letter to Mr. Strahan represents him, let us contrast him with that servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, Dr. Samuel Finley. Whatever be a man's opinions, one of his most rational occupations in the prospect of leaving the world is to look back upon the manner in which he has passed through it, to compare his duties with his conduct, and to inquire how far he deserves the approbation or the reproach of his own conscience. With a Christian this admits not of dispute. Nor will it be disputed by a Deist, who professes his faith in the being and providence of God, and a state of rewards and punishments hereafter proportioned to the degree of crime or of virtue here. To such a one it is, upon his own principles, a question of unspeakable importance, whether he shall commence his future existence with hopes of happiness or with fears of misery; especially as he relies much upon the efficacy of penitence and prayer in procuring forgiveness of his faults, indulgence to his infirmities, and a general mitigation of whatever is unfavorable. Nay, the mortal Deist, or the Atheist himself, for they are not worth the trouble of a distinction, ought, for their own sakes in this life, to be so employed. If, with the rejection of all religious constraint, they have not also uprooted every affection of their nature, nothing could afford them more gratification in the evening of their days than the consciousness of their having contributed something to the mass of human comfort. In short, whether we argue upon Christian or unchristian grounds, it can be the interest of none but the worthless and the malignant to shut their eyes upon their own history, and sink down in death as a bullock drops under the knife of his executioner. Yet strange as it may appear, and inconsistent as it certainly is with his high pretensions, there are few things so rare as a dying infidel taking a deliberate retrospect of life. We say a deliberate retrospect; for it is undeniable, that on many of those, who, like the apostate Julian, waged implacable war with the Galilean, conscience, recovering from its slumbers, has at the hour of death, or the apprehension of it, forced an unwilling and tormenting recollection of their deeds. The point of honor in their philo
To ask his reverend correspondent, the principal of the University of Edinburgh; the ecclesiastical premier of the church of Scotland, “What the devil he had to do with that old fashioned, dangling word, wherewith ?” and to tell him, “I will see you d-d sooner,” viz. than “swallow your hath.”—are such gross violations of decency, that unless Mr. Hume had been accustomed to adorn his speech with similar expletives, they never could have found their way into a familiar letter; much less into a letter designed for the eye of a man to whom, considering his profession only, they were a direct insult. We do not wonder that Mr. Stewart should “hesitate about the propriety of subjecting to the criticisms of the world so careless an effusion.” But, knowing as we do, the urbanity of that gentleman's manners, the elegance of his mind, and his high sense of decorum, we much wonder that his hesitation had not a different issue. We fear that all men of sobriety, we are sure that all men of religion, will refuse to accept Mr. Hume's “gayety and affection,” as an apology for his vileness; or to let it pass off under the mask of “playful and good-natured irony.” If a philosopher’s “affection” must vent itself in ribaldry, if he cannot be “playful and good-natured,” without plundering the waterman and scavenger of their appropriate phraseology, we own, that his conversation has no attractions for us. Such a “glimpse” as this letter affords, of the “writer and his correspondent in the habits of private intercourse,” is far from “suggesting not unpleasing pictures of the hours which they borrowed from business and study.” But the most melancholy reflection is, that such intimacies and correspondences furnish an index of Dr. Robertson's own character. The infidels never allowed that he had any thing of the Christian minister but his canonicals and his sermons. With these exceptions they claimed him as their own, and their claim appears to have been too well founded.
* An account of the Life and writings of William Robertson, D. D., prefixed to his works. p. 80, 81.