HUME, David (1711-1776). A Treatise of Human Nature: Being an attempt to introduce the experimental method of reasoning into moral subjects. Vol. I Of the Understanding [Vol. II Of the Passions; Vol. III Of Morals]. London: for John Noon [vol. III for Thomas Longman], 1739-1740.
3 volumes, 8 (198 x 120mm). (Minute stain affecting one word on D6r of vol. I, E6 of vol. I spotted, and final 2 leaves creased at upper outer corner, vol. II with slight dampstaining on title and following leaf, light soiling on B1r, and lower outer corner of H4 torn away, vol. III with soiling to outer margin of B1, and both staining and slight soiling to B4-B7), contemporary speckled calf, gilt spines in six compartments with raised bands, red morocco lettering-piece in one with volume number directly lettered on the compartment beneath, repeated floral ornament in the remaining compartments, the bands outlined with dots, red speckled edges (upper joints cracking but cords holding firm, spines rubbed). Provenance: early ownership inscription on titles (deleted with pen crosses).
FIRST EDITION of this work of Hume's youth which 'sums up a century of speculation on knowledge and of theological discussion' (PMM). The Treatise not only represents the greatest achievment of English philopsophy in the 18th century, but in its clarity is among the finest examples of 18th-century English prose style. Yet in his Autobiography (1777, p. 7), Hume only exaggerated somewhat when he claimed that his Treatise 'fell dead-born from the press'. The first two volumes were largely written not in Scotland but France where he arrived in the middle of 1734. Two of his three years in France were spent at La Flche in Anjou, the town where Descartes had been educated. Leaving France in 1737, he then stayed in London for some time in order to see his work through the press. John Noon agreed to give him 50 and twelve bound copies for an edition of one thousand copies for the first two volumes. These appeared anonymously in January, 1739. Deciding that a country retirement would enable him to wait the explosive result of his attempt 'to produce almost a total alteration of philosophy' with greater compsoure, the author returned to his birthplace at Ninewells in Berwickshire. But the immediate reception of his Treatise was mainly one of indifference. Hume was not deterred from completing the last part, on morality, and wishing to 'have some check upon his bookseller', sold the third volume to Thomas Longman who published it in 1740. Jessop, p. 13; Rothschild 1171; PMM 194. (3)