Two example letters: David Hume to Andrew Millar, 18 March 1764, and Millar’s reply, 24 April 1764

The philosopher-historian David Hume and the bookseller Andrew Millar enjoyed a long and lucrative business relationship. Some of their letters also suggest a close friendship—although this friendship was tested by Millar’s carelessness in letting aquaintances see letters and essays in which Hume expressed himself with a directness not meant for public view.


In the two letters that illustrate this module, we see another area of contention in their relationship. Hume’s reputation as a man of letters boosted sales of his books, and vice versa. But Hume and Millar did not always agree on how to promote Hume as an author. In the case of Hume’s History of England, discussed in these letters, Hume would have hoped that new research material he had found would be incorporated in a prestigious new quarto edition. Writing from Paris, he delicately asks whether this is likely. But in reply Millar glosses over the fact that he has already saturated the market with a recent, uncorrected, quarto edition, as well as a high print-run of a cheaper octavo edition. Millar had to be careful, because he did not want to discourage Hume from continuing his work on the many-volume, uncompleted History.   


This video introduces Hume’s letter, read by Dr Adam Fox, and Millar’s response, read by Dr Steve Boardman. In the following parts of the module, you’ll learn how to read 18thC letters like these, and how to interpret their content and context.

Hume's letter (read by Dr Adam Fox)


Millar's response (read by Professor Steve Boardman)

Our thanks to the Bodleian Library for the use of the image in our banner: "William Green Jr. (fl. 1732–1752), Scene at an Oxford Book Auction, oil on canvas, 1747; Bodleian Library. Portrait LP.701, 1F.”