Volume 5 of “Hume’s great History of England the theme of which is liberty, above all English constitutional development from the Anglo-Saxon period to the Revolution of 1688. This Liberty Fund edition is based on the edition of 1778, the last to contain corrections by Hume.
THE CROWN OF ENGLAND was never transmitted from father to son with greater tranquillity, than it passed from the family of Tudor to that of Stuart. During the whole reign of Elizabeth, the eyes of men had been employed in search of her successor; and when old age made the prospect of her death more immediate, there appeared none but the king of Scots, who could advance any just claim or pretension to the throne. He was great grand-son of Margaret, elder daughter of Henry VII. and, on the failure of the male-line, his hereditary right remained unquestionable. If the religion of Mary queen of Scots, and the other prejudices contracted against her, had formed any considerable obstacle to her succession; these objections, being entirely personal, had no place with regard to her son. Men also considered, that, though the title, derived from blood, had been frequently violated since the Norman conquest, such licences had proceeded more from force or intrigue, than from any deliberate maxims of government. The lineal heir had still in the end prevailed; and both his exclusion and restoration had been commonly attended with such convulsions, as were sufficient to warn all prudent men not lightly to give way to such irregularities. If the will of Henry VIII. authorised by act of parliament, had tacitly excluded the Scottish line; the tyranny and caprices of that monarch had been so signal, that a settlement of this nature, unsupported by any just reason, had no authority with the people. Queen Elizabeth too, with her dying breath, had recognized the undoubted title of her kinsman James; and the whole nation seemed to dispose themselves with joy and pleasure for his reception. Though born and educated amidst a foreign and hostile people, men hoped, from his character of moderation and wisdom, that he would embrace the maxims of an English monarch; and the prudent foresaw greater advantages, resulting from a union with Scotland, than disadvantages from submitting to a prince of that nation. The alacrity, with which the English looked towards the successor, had appeared so evident to Elizabeth, that, concurring with other causes, it affected her with the deepest melancholy; and that wise princess, whose penetration and experience had given her the greatest insight into human affairs, had not yet sufficiently weighed the ingratitude of courtiers, and levity of the people.
The most important philosopher ever to write in English, David Hume (1711-1776) — the last of the great triumvirate of “British empiricists” — was also well-known in his own time as an historian and essayist. A master stylist in any genre, Hume's major philosophical works — A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-1740), the Enquiries concerning Human Understanding (1748) and concerning the Principles of Morals (1751), as well as the posthumously published Dialogues concerning Natural Religion (1779) — remain widely and deeply influential. Although many of Hume's contemporaries denounced his writings as works of scepticism and atheism, his influence is evident in the moral philosophy and economic writings of his close friend Adam Smith. Hume also awakened Immanuel Kant from his “dogmatic slumbers” and “caused the scales to fall” from Jeremy Bentham's eyes. Charles Darwin counted Hume as a central influence, as did “Darwin's bulldog,” Thomas Henry Huxley. The diverse directions in which these writers took what they gleaned from reading Hume reflect not only the richness of their sources but also the wide range of his empiricism. Today, philosophers recognize Hume as a precursor of contemporary cognitive science, as well as one of the most thoroughgoing exponents of philosophical naturalism.