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DAVID HUME TO THE ABBE MORELLET.
London, 10 July, 1769. I CONGRATULATE you, dear Abbé, upon your being so far advanced in your labours. You have now a prospect of the conclusion: I expect great entertainment and instruction from your work; and your prospectus is an excellent specimen of it. -I wish only you had taken care to supply M. Frances with a number of receipts for subscribers. I belong to a very numerous club in London, among whom I could have found many subscribers, if I had receipts to give them, and M. Frances promised to procure them for me; but has not yet been able to make good his engagement. I hope the profit of your subscription is for yourself; and that you, as well as the public, will reap benefit by this undertaking. M. Suard would tell you what noble encouragement is given to literature in England, without the intervention of the great, by means of the booksellers alone, that is, by the public. Dr. Robertson received 40001. for his Charles V., the greatest price that was ever known to be given for any book. It has been published about four months, and has met with universal approbation. It is owned there never was a more elegant spirited narration; and the first volume contains very curious matter, unknown to the generality of readers. But the sale to the booksellers has not quite answered expectation, in which they seem to have been too sanguine. For as the subject consists of a period, which neither interests much the present age nor this nation, the book, though perfectly well writ, and long expected by the public, does not run off so fast as they fondly imagined. There are only about two thousand nine hundred sold, which yet is a great number. The translation is probably publisbed by this time at Paris, and I hope with good success.
That part of your prospectus, in wbich you endeavour to prove that there enters nothing of human convention in the establishment of money, is certainly very curious, and very elaborately composed : and yet I cannot forbear thinking, that the common opinion has some foundation. It is true, money must always be made of some materials, which have intrinsic value, otherwise it would be multiplied without end, and would sink to nothing. But when I take a shilling, I consider it not as a useful metal, but as something which another will take from me: and the person who shall convert it into metal is probably several millions of removes distant. You know that all states have made it criminal to melt their coin ; and though this is a law which cannot well be executed, it is not to be supposed, that, if it could, it would entirely destroy the value of money, according to your hypothesis. You have a base coin, called billon, in France, composed of silver and copper, which has a ready cur. rency, though the separation of the two metals, and the reduction of them to their primitive state, would, I am told, be both expensive and trouble
Our shillings and sixpences, which are almost our only silver coin, are so much worn by use, that they are twenty, thirty, or forty per cent. below their original value ; yet they pass currently, which can arise only from a tacit convention. Our colonies in America, for want of specie, used to coin a paper currency,– which were not bank notes, because there was no place appointed to give money in exchange : yet this paper currency passed in all payments by convention, and might have gone on, had it not been abused by the several Assemblies, who issued paper without end, and thereby discredited the currency.
You mention several kinds of money, sheep, oxen, fish, employed as measures of exchange, or as money in different parts of the world. You have overlooked that, in our colony, in Pennsylvania, the land itself, which is the chief commodity, is coined, and passes in circulation. The manner of conducting this affair is as follows:A planter, immediately after he purchases any land, can go to a public office and receive notes to the amount of half the value of his land, which notes he employs in all payments, and they circulate through the whole colony by convention. To prevent the public from being overwhelmed by this fictitious money, there are two means employed ;-first, the notes issued to any one planter must not exceed a certain sum, whatever may be the value of his land : secondly, every planter is obliged to pay back into the public office every year one-tenth part of his notes: the whole, of course, is annihilated in ten years; after which, it is again allowed him to take out new notes to half the value of his land. An account of this curious operation would enrich your dictionary ;and you may have a more particular detail of it, if you please, from Dr. Franklin, who will be in Paris about this time, and will be glad to see you. I conveyed to him your prospectus, and be expressed to me a great esteem of it.
I see that in your prospectus, you take care not to disoblige your economists by any declara. tion of your sentiments; in which I commend your prudence. But I hope that in your work you will thunder them, and crush them, and pound them, and reduce them to dust and ashes. They are, indeed, the set of men the most arrogant that now exist, since the annihilation of the Sorbonne. I ask your pardon for saying so, as I kpow that you belong to that venerable body. I wonder what could engage our friend, M. Turgot, to herd among them,-I mean, among the economists, though I believe he was also a Sor. bonist.
I sent your prospectus to Dr. Tucker, but have not heard from him since. I shall myself deliver copies to Dr. Robertson and M. Smith, as I go to Scotland this autumn.
And now, my dear Abbé, what remains to me but to wish you success in your judicious labours ; to embrace you, and through you to embrace all our common friends — D'Alembert, Helvetius, Buffon, Baron D'Holbach, Suard, Mille, L'Espinasse ? Poor Abbé le Bon is dead, I hear. The. Abbé Galliani goes to Naples : he does well to leave Paris before I come thither, for I should certainly put him to death for the ill he has spoken of England. But it has happened as he foretold by his friend Caraccioli, who said that
the Abbé would remain two months in this country, would speak all himself, would not allow an Englishman to utter a syllable, and, after returning, would give the character of the nation during the rest of his life, as if he were perfectly well acquainted with them.
Pray make my compliments to M. Maletete: tell him that Prince Masserane says, that he has saved much effusion of blood to this country. It is certain that M. Maletete had a great curiosity to see a riot here, and yet was resolved to keep his person in safety. For this purpose he hired a window, and proposed to be present at one of the mad elections of Wilkes, and to divert himself with the fray. Somebody got a hint of it, and put it into the newspapers ; asking the freeholders if they were so degenerate as to make themselves a laughingstock, even to the French, their enemies whom they despised. Prince Masserane alleges that this incident made that election so remarkably peaceable.
Are you acquainted with Crebillon? I am ashamed to mention his name. He sent me over his last work, with a very obliging letter: but as I must write to him in French, I have never answered him. If all the English were as impertinent as I am, the Abbé Galliani would have reason to abuse us.-I am, dear Abbé, after asking your blessing, yours sincerely,