The Hume-Rousseau affair – The Property Chronicle
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The Hume-Rousseau affair

The Historian

When David Hume learned in 1762 that Jean-Jacques Rousseau was interested in relocating to Britain, he got busy to make that happen. The two men first met in Paris in 1765. They travelled together from Paris to England in January 1766. Hume arranged lodging for Rousseau, otherwise tended to him and successfully procured a pension for him from King George III.

Within a few months, things turned very sour. Rousseau wrote hateful letters to Hume, accusing him of having plotted for his disgrace and humiliation by way of petty torments. An especially long letter, declaring enmity towards Hume, was written as though for publication. Hume felt the need to counter Rousseau’s version, and defend himself against accusation and besmirchment.

What was published was a rushed version of the account, first in French in Paris in October 1766, then in English in London the next month. The English version was, apart from the letters therein, mainly a retranslation of a French translation of Hume’s manuscript. Mishaps and communication problems between Edinburgh and London led to Hume’s extreme dissatisfaction with the English version.

The blow-up between two of Europe’s most illustrious intellectuals was an affaire célèbre throughout Europe at the time. The two protagonists could not have disagreed more in their moral and political tendencies and influence. The spectator feels divided sympathies with each of the two men. Their interpretations disagree wildly. Was Hume innocent in the matter? Was Rousseau?






The Historian

About Daniel B Klein

Daniel Klein is professor of economics and JIN Chair at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, where he leads a programme in Adam Smith. He is also associate fellow at the Ratio Institute (Stockholm), research fellow at the Independent Institute and chief editor of Econ Journal Watch.

Articles by Daniel B Klein

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