The History of Leith

November 26, 2011

John Home, Patriot, Minister, Dramatist-Part 5

Voltaire knew John Home, and paid him the curious compliment of using his name to cover, as a blind, a work of his own, speaking thus—’

” Mr Home, pastor of the Kirk of Edinburgh, already known by his fine tragedies produced in Edinburgh.” Macpherson of Ossian fame was discovered by Home when on a visit to Moffat, and was introduced by him to his Edinburgh literary set. Through all his strange career Home remained faithful to this man of mystery. Macpherson made a financial success of life, and at his death left £2000 to Home. Principal Robertson, the great leader of the Moderates in the Church, had been a fellow-student, and was a lifelong friend. Home used to appear in the General Assembly, after his resignation of Athelstaneford, arrayed in the striking uniform of the Fencibles—a most unusual thing in those days. He always spoke in favour of Dr. Robertson’s policy—a policy, I may remark,
which was afterwards to have such evil fruits that the Church was rent in twain.
The national poet, on his visit to Edinburgh, is bound to have spoken to Home. In adulatory lines he thus refers to Douglas among others :
” Here History paints with elegance and force
The tide of Empire’s fluctuating course ;
Here Douglas forms wild Shakespeare into plan,
And Harley rouses all the God in man.”
But his greatest friend, not even excepting Adam Smith, the absent-minded author of The Wealth of Nations, was David Hume, one of the world’s greatest philosophers. Apart from his philosophy, he was probably no more an unbeliever than the majority of the able men around him, or than, say, the brilliant and subtle author of Philosophic Doubt in our own day. John Home and David Hume were continually poking fun at one another. When John got married. David said to him, ” I wonder what made you take her.” John’s reply was apt, though scarcely gallant—” If I had not taken her, who would have done it ? ” The lady’s looks inclined to the plain side evidently. Another story proves that she exemplified the saving, ” Homekeeping wits have ever homely sense.” When he also was very old, Adam Ferguson paid a visit to the Homes. When he spoke of the Peace of Amiens, just concluded, the lady asked, ” Will it mak’ onie difference in the price o’ nitmugs ? ” It was a drinking age.
Very few abstained from ale or wine, except men like Black and Hutton the geologist. Adam Ferguson was one of them. Taking a shock at sixty, he lived to the age of ninety-three on vegetables and milk and water, thin, hale and hearty. But John and David differed over claret and port, John preferring the French wine and David the Portuguese. They also constantly debated about the spelling of their clan name. Was it Home or Hume ? It was pronounced the same way. David wished to settle the variance by drawing lots. ” Nay,” said John, ” that is an extraordinary proposal; for if you lose, you take your own name ; and if I lose, I take another man’s name! ” On another occasion the conversation turned on a young man who had gone astray, misappropriating money. ” Need you wonder ? ” said John Home. ” He had only two books in his library. One of these was Boston’s Fourfold State (a famous evangelical book of the period), and the other David Hume’s Essays.” On this occasion we are told that David was rather nettled. The controversy about the name and the wines was carried to the very edge of the grave, David getting the last word, for he put it into his will, leaving so much of his claret to Home on condition that he would sign a certificate ” John Hume ” that he had drunk a bottle of Hume’s Port. Adam Smith and John Home were on their way to Edinburgh from London in 1776, when they met David Hume at Morpeth making his way to Bath ; he was in his last illness. They brought him back at last to Edinburgh to die. He was cheerful and composed to the last as befitted a philosopher. Who can tell what intimate talk concerning a future state the three of them entered into ? From Socrates on it has always been a preoccupation of philosophers as well as of the humble. Sir Walter Scott, in the article referred to, draws an affecting picture of a meeting of the Poker Club, which was held in Home’s house either in Hanover Street or Merchiston, at which he, a young advocate, was the only man present under eighty years of age. It was too sad. The former vivacity was gone beyond recall. Home died within a few days of the completion of his eighty-sixth year.

Source-South Leith Records

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