The date of July 4, 1776, has other claims to fame, of course. But while Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and their fellow revolutionaries were meeting in Philadelphia to publish the Declaration of Independence and launch a new nation, across the Atlantic a private gathering of even greater intellectual distinction was in progress.
David Hume was dying. Slipping away fast; so fast indeed that in February he told his great friend Adam Smith that he had “fallen five compleat stones”. Hume had installed himself some years before in the New Town in Edinburgh, in a house big enough “to display my great Talent for Cookery, the Science to which I intend to addict the remaining Years of my Life”. Now, knowing he was near his end, he had gathered Smith and a few other friends around him for one last dinner in company.
In The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship that Shaped Modern Thought, Dennis Rasmussen, an academic at Tufts University, tells the story of their friendship well. Fourteen nicely-judged chapters take the reader through the overlapping lives of the two men, including such incidents as Hume’s notorious falling-out with Rousseau, through to the natural climax of their friendship at Hume’s death, and Smith’s own demise 14 years later.