David Hume (1711-1776) is one of the most influential Enlightenment writers in the English language. Although distantly related to minor nobility, Hume started life with no known advantages but a prodigious curiosity. His father’s sojourn among mortals ended soon after the boy’s second birthday. His mother Katherine (nee Falconer) – whom David in his autobiography called “a woman of singular merit, who though young and handsome” – raised David, his older brother and his younger sister in “slender” circumstances. Whatever occupational choices this handsome woman made obviously did not include the one choice women of different times chose to pave their ways to tainted gains.
David’s college admission papers and SAT scores gather dust in an as yet undiscovered storage bin. When unearthed they may settle the dispute whether he entered the University of Edinburgh at age 10 or 12. His classmates didn’t usually enter those hallowed halls until the riper age of 14.
College did not agree with the wee lad. Following his father’s footsteps into business law would have been the logical key to a bespoke life. But that darn restless curiosity steered him in a dodgier direction. He used his college years plus several more to drill himself in classical literature. He essentially home schooled himself, asserting that “there is nothing to be learnt from a Professor, which is not to be met with in Books.”
Another important figure in English letters and arts was William Blake (1757-1827). Hume was comfortable among Enlightenment thinkers, while Blake was not. Yet both agreed on the issue of learning. Blake wrote: Thank God I never was sent to School, To be Flogg’d into following the Stile of a Fool.”