A new Treasures display opening today at the National Library of Scotland celebrates the 300th birthday of David Hume, the great Scottish philosopher although better known in his own time as historian and essayist. It runs until 28 June.
The curators working on this display found it very close to their hearts. In addition to his other achievements, David Hume was Keeper of the Advocates Library 1752-1757. The foundation of the National Library in 1925 would not have happened without the generosity of the Faculty of Advocates who presented the non-legal collections of the Advocates Library to the nation to form the basis of the new National Library. We don’t know to what extent Hume got involved in the day-to-day work of running the library, but he was certainly responsible for purchasing books to add to the collections — the collections which are now for the most part in the National Library. Purchasing books is something that we curators do now, and so Hume is one of our direct predecessors: we carry on the work that he did.
In the 18th century Advocates Library books all contained a hand-written statement of ownership — an “ex libris” so-called because they often began “Ex libris … (From the books …)”. I’ve tracked down very few of these written by Hume himself. The one shown here is a bit exceptional because it is from a copy of a book that he himself wrote, An enquiry concerning the principles of morals, published in late 1751 just before he became Keeper (January 1752).