David Hume

David Hume, the shy tory with the famous uncle, appears to have been loved for his personal qualities and hated for his political ones. His legal abilities were tremendous, yet it was in academia he excelled: he owed his series of lucrative appointments to his loyalty to the Dundas regime, even though he lacked the qualities required for them. Yet the untimely death of his only son showed how fragile fortunes in a patriarchal society could be.

Ninewells, Berwickshire
John Hume of Ninewells, brother of the famous philosopher (who died when young David was 19). James Boswell met John Hume in 1762 and described him as, 'a sensible good man, who reads more than usual. He has an anxiety of temper which hurts him. Very different from his brother.' John's parents were Joseph Hume and Catherine Falconar. (3) When he got engaged to Agnes in 1751, his brother David wrote, 'this is the first action of his life, wherein he has engaged himself without being able to compute exactly the consequences.' (4)
Agnes Carre, daughter of Robert Carre of Cavers in Roxburghshire
47 George Street
Ninewells, Berwickshire. He inherited it in 1832 on the death of his brother Joseph.
Political views
Advocate. University of Edinburgh 1770-1774. Moved to Glasgow to study with John Millar, the most celebrated law teacher 1775-7. Advocate 1779. Sheriff depute Berwickshire 1783. Professor of Scots law 1786. 1793 Sheriff of Linlithgow 1793. Principal Clerk of Session 1811. Baron of Exchequer 1822. When he resigned as professor, 'the university conferred upon him the degree of LLD; the writers to the signet had his portrait painted by Henry Raeburn; and some former pupils who were judges and advocates had his bust sculpted by Chantrey. These unparraleled celebrations of Hume's period as professor mark hs outstanding success as a teacher of law.' (5)
Assessed taxes 1811
His house had 40 windows and a rental value of £120. He had one male house servant and a clerk, and paid armorial bearings and hair powder duty.
Walter Scott was his friend, collegue and to some extent rival. Scott wanted the Principal Clerkship which Hume gained in 1811, but was mollified by having the man who's work he was doing pensioned off. Scott said of Hume,
I am far from being offended at the preference given to my friend Mr David Hume a most excellent & highly accomplished man but of a temper so shy & reserved unless to his intimate friends that he has repeatedly said he would not accept the offer unless with the view of the assitance which I can easily & will cheerfully give him.' (6 vol.2 p.450)
When Scott published Waverley, Hume appears to have been fairly sure who the author was. Scott wrote,
David Hume Nephew of the historian says the author must be of a jacobite family and predilictions, a yeomanry cavalry man and a Scottish lawyer and desires me to guess in whom these happy attributes are united. I shall not plead guilty. (6 vol.3 p.478)
In 1815 Scott gave an appealing and self-deprecating description of his working day with Hume, when commenting on the scandal which had engulfed Lord Melville. Scott thought Melville had been as capable of peculation,
as I am of picking the pocket of my brother in office Mr. David Hume who is now sitting quietly on his stool beside me and apprehensive of no such matter. To understand this you will please to be informed that I am writing while specially attending my duty as a Clerk of Court -- a fine occupation for a literary man combining a comfortable salary, light attendance, and no labour or responsibility. (6 vol.4 p.31)
In 1819, soon after being widowed, Hume lost his only son Joseph. Scott's report captures the enormity of the catastrophe in which a whole family's prospects were destroyed in a moment:
You must have heard of the death of Joseph Hume, david's only son -- Christ what a calamity -- just entering life with the fairest prospects -- full of talent the heir of an old & considerable family -- a fine career before him and as we now learn engaged to a daughter of Sir John Hay -- the estate of Ninewells to be settled by his whimsical uncle in the marriage contract -- All this he was one day or rather one hour or rather in the course of five minutes so sudden was the death & then a heap of earth -- his disease is unknown something about the heart I believe but it had no alarming appearance nothing worse than a cold and sore throat when convulsions came on and death ensued. It is a complete smash to poor David who [had] just begun to hold his head up after his wifes death but he bears it stoutly & goes about his business as usual. A woeful case. (6 vol.5 p.355-6)
Chapel connection
Trustee of Charlotte Chapel
Married on
Jane Alder
Joseph d.1819, Elizabeth, Agnes, Catherine.
Related to
family tree
Worked with Clerks of Session Walter Scott and Colin Mackenzie.


  1. Registers of Charlotte Chapel (NAS CH12/3)
  2. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1818
  3. 'John Hume' in James Boswell .info (web resource accessed 4 July 2011)
  4. Ernest Campbell Mossner, The life of David Hume (Oxford, Oxford University Press 1980) p. 238
  5. John W. Cairns, 'David Hume, 1757-1838' in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004)
  6. H.J.C. Grierson, Letters of Sir Walter Scott (London, Constable and Co. 1932)
  7. Baron David Hume's Lectures, edited G. Campbell H Paton, vol 2 (The Stair Society, Edinburgh 1949)

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