Anatomist and Painter: Hume's Struggles as a Sentimental Stylist

In Heather Kerr, David Lemmings & Robert Phiddian (eds.), Passions, Sympathy and Print Culture: Public Opinion and Emotional Authenticity in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 223-244 (2014)
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When David Hume wrote to Baron de Montesquieu ‘J’ai consacré ma vie à la philosophie et aux belles-lettres’,1 he was not describing himself as having two separate callings. His was a single vocation — one involving the expression of deep thought through beautiful writing.2 This vocation did not come naturally or easily to Hume. He struggled continually to reshape his approach to prose, famously renouncing the Treatise of Human Nature as a literary failure and radically revising the presentation of his philosophy in the Essays and two Enquiries. This essay will focus on Hume’s struggle between two modes of moral-philosophical composition prevalent in his day: the cold, unemotional style associated with experimental science that Hume metaphorically labels anatomy’ and the warm, rhetorical style which he labels ‘painting’.

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Michael L. Frazer
University of East Anglia


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