Histories of England

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    In your recent Q&A, you suggested Hume’s THE HISTORY OF ENGLAND as a good history up to around 1700. I was wondering if you had any thoughts about the allegations (made by such figures as Thomas Jefferson) that it twisted the history to promote toryism.

    Also, having suggested Hume’s history, I was wondering what you thought of Macaulay’s THE HISTORY OF ENGLAND.


    I know you were directing this question at Dr. J (I want to see his answer as well), however, I’m currently in the research phase of a syntopical term paper covering the Scottish Enlightenment. I found a quote about the History of England quoting Hume himself on the matter in “Rousseau’s Dog: Two Great Thinkers at War in the Age of Enlightenment”.

    “Hume congratulated himself on arriving at a balance between both interpretations. [Whig and Tory] “My views of things are more conformable to Whig principles; my representations of persons to Troy prejudices.” But as Hume also understood, his readers were more influenced by his character studies, and so saw him as writing from a Tory viewpoint. “Nothing can so much prove that men commonly regard more persons than things, as to find that I am commonly numbered among the Tories.” (Edmonds pg 24)

    In Western Civilization to 1500 the lecture 13 The Enlightenment, Part 1 has a link in the references to a Dr. Livingston talk/lecture where he actually covers this aspect. It’s a pretty decent video and the site has a breakdown to quickly find different aspects: Hume’s Histories are listed and there are further remarks.

    Jason Jewell

    I think the Edmonds quote is probably a fair assessment. Anyone familiar with Hume’s philosophy could hardly consider him a strident Tory.

    Americans of Jefferson’s era tended to look at the 17th-century conflicts in England from a strongly pro-Whig perspective. As we know, this view has its own problems, such as an uncritical acceptance of the democratic principle. Hume makes a decent attempt to strike a balance.


    I was also wondering what you thought of Macaulay’s THE HISTORY OF ENGLAND, especially as compared to Hume’s.

    Jason Jewell

    Macaulay was a great writer and tells a great story. His main weakness is his adherence to the Whig theory of history. His view is that all of history was culminating in 19th-century British political and social institutions. I like Macaulay’s writing, particularly some of his essays, but just make sure you read Herbert Butterfield or someone similar as an antidote to the Whiggishness.

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