Novel Minds pp 116-140 | Cite as

Hume: Reading Romance, Writing the Self

  • Rebecca Tierney-Hynes
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the Enlightenment, Romanticism and Cultures of Print book series (PERCP)


Jerome Christensen has observed that ‘[f]or Hume and his fellow men of letters the general term that subsumed “discourse” and “conversation” was “correspondence”‘, and that ‘correspondence’ was so multivalent in the eighteenth century that it could signify the ‘empiricist ethic of sympathy’ at the same time that it ‘was deftly employed to perform the chiasmic balance of keeping the sexual social and giving the social the edge of the sexual’.1 Christensen’s analysis of the place of sympathy in Hume’s vision of the social — that is, that it finds its clearest expression in correspondence, in Hume’s identification of himself as a ‘man of letters’ — is essentially a pinpointing of the inextricable connection between sympathy and the literary that is also the subject of this chapter. My focus, however, is on the moments in Hume’s writing in which correspondence fails, in which the letter — in the broadest sense — overbalances, disorders, or undermines the sympathetic ethic Hume wishes to establish as a basis for right understanding, taste, and social cohesion. Like Christensen, I am interested in correspondence, which, he writes, ‘made possible both a horizontal exchange across the boundaries of the mind, the self, and the state and a vertical integration of particulars — discrete ideas and occupations — within a more general, regulative discourse’ (11).


Personal Identity Literary Culture Reading Practice Early Eighteenth Century Narrative Fiction 
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  1. 1.
    Jerome Christensen, Practicing Enlightenment: Hume and the Formation of a Literary Career (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987), 10.Google Scholar
  2. 9.
    William B. Warner, Licensing Entertainment: The Elevation of Novel-Reading in Britain, 1684–1750 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 137.Google Scholar
  3. 38.
    Annette C. Baier, A Progress of Sentiments: Reflections on Hume’s Treatise (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), 1.Google Scholar

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© Rebecca Tierney-Hynes 2012

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  • Rebecca Tierney-Hynes

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