HUME, David (1711-1776)
Four Dissertations. I. The Natural History of Religion. II. Of the Passions. III. Of Tragedy. IV. Of the Standard of Taste.
London: A. Millar, 1757. 12mo. , vii, , 240 pp. Half-title with ad on verso; errata at bottom of p. 240. Leaves C12 and D1 cancels.
Contemporary speckled calf, covers ruled in gilt, spine with raised bands, red morocco lettering piece. Housed in a cloth box.
First edition of a Scottish Enlightenment classic: a fine example in a contemporary binding.
"Hume first suggested the volume to Andrew Millar in 1755, proposing essays on the natural history of religion, the passions, tragedy, and geometry and natural philosophy. The second of these derived from book 2 of the Treatise, and completed its abridgement; the fourth may have been a reworking of book 1, part 2. But it was dropped on the advice of Lord Stanhope, a mathematician; and Hume had proposed to replace it with two essays on suicide and on the immortality of the soul. Though 'Five dissertations' were printed in proof, Warburton's interference and Hume's 'abundant prudence' led to their withdrawal, and Hume substituted another, on the standard of taste, to make up the final four dissertations. The most substantial of these was the 'Natural history of religion'. When it was first drafted is uncertain; it may have been contemporary with the still-unpublished Dialogues. It offered an experimental history of religious belief and practice, with a comparative analysis of the respective characteristics of polytheism and monotheism. Hume found that polytheism had not only preceded monotheism, but was much less dangerous, being less liable to join a philosophical enthusiasm to a religious superstition. This error he attributed specifically to the Stoics; but all theists were implicated. The only remedy, he concluded, was to set one species of superstition against another, 'while we ourselves happily make our escape into the calm, though obscure, regions of philosophy'" (ODNB). One of 800 copies, issued without the exceedingly rare dedication to John Home which had been withdrawn shortly after publication had begun. This issue with the corrected first words on pages 9 and 131.
ESTC T4011; Rothschild 1176. E. C. Mossner, "Humes Four dissertations: an essay in biography and bibliography" Modern Philology 48:1 (August 1950), pp. 37-57; William B. Todd, "David Hume: a preliminary bibliography", in Hume and the Enlightenment: essays presented to Ernest Campbell Mossner (Edinburgh and Austin, 1974), pp. 200-201.