Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Of White Witches, Rattlesnakes, David Hume, and Jean Jacques Rousseau (1807)

And now for something completely different, here's an excerpt from An account of the life and writings of David Hume, by Thomas Edward Ritchie, first published in 1807 ( (The backstory on this is long, and deep, and totally fascinating, btw.):

The following jeu-d'esprit, which was printed in some of the periodicals of the day, is really a pretty accurate abridgment of Rousseau's paper. It has the appearance of having been written by a Scottish lawyer : —

Heads of an Indictment laid by J. J. Rousseau, philosopher, against D. Hume, Esq.

1. That the said David Hume, to the great scandal of philosophy, and not having the fitness of things before his eyes, did concert a plan with Mess. Tronchin, Voltaire, and D'Alembert, to ruin the said J. J. Rousseau for ever, by bringing him over to England, and there settling him to his heart's content.

2. That the said David Hume did, with a malicious and traitor- ous intent, procure, or cause to be procured, by himself, or somebody else, one pension of the yearly value of £100 or thereabouts, to be paid to the said J. J. Rousseau, on account of his being a philoso- pher, either privately or publicly, as to him the said J. J. Rousseau should seem meet.

3. That the said David Hume did, one night after he left Paris, put the said J. J. Rousseau in bodily fear, by talking in his sleep ; although the said J. J. Rousseau doth not know whether the said David Hume was really asleep, or whether he shammed Abraham, or what he meant.

4. That, at another time, as the said David Hume and the said J.J. Rousseau were sitting opposite each other by the fire-side in London, he the said David Hume did look at him, the said J.J. Rousseau, in a manner of which it is difficult to give any idea; that he the said J.J. Rousseau, to get rid of the embarrassment he was under, endeavored to look full at him, the said David Hume, in return, to try if he could not stare him out of countenance; but in fixing his eyes against his, the said David Hume's, he felt the most inexpressible terror, and was obliged to turn them away, insomuch that the said J.J. Rousseau doth in his heart think and believe, as much as he believes anything, that he the said David Hume is a certain composition of a white-witch and a rattle-snake.

5. That the said David Hume on the same evening, after politely returning the embraces of him, the said J. J. Rousseau, and gently tapping him on the back, did repeat several times, in a good-natured easy tone, the words, Why what my dear Sir ! Nay my dear Sir! Oh my dear Sir!— From whence the said J. J. Rousseau doth conclude, as he thinks upon solid and sufficient grounds, that he the said David Hume is a traitor ; albeit he, the said J. J. Rousseau, doth acknowledge, that the physiognomy of the good David is that of an honest man, all but those terrible eyes of his, which he must have borrowed ; but he the said J. J. Rousseau vows to God he cannot conceive from whom or what.

6. That the said David Hume hath more inquisitiveness about him than becometh a philosopher, and did never let flip an opportunity of being alone with the govemante of him the said J. J. Rousseau......