‘Voilà un siècle de lumières!’: Horace Walpole and the Hume-Rousseau affair

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In the biographies of David Hume, Horace Walpole’s name has been memorialised as the author of a forged letter assuming the identity of the King of Prussia. However, in the letter, Walpole’s scorn was directed against not only Rousseau, but also other French philosophes and, possibly, even Hume. Walpole drew a line between himself and the ‘pedants and pretended philosophers’, although he sometimes blurred the distinction between the two by considering an author or ‘man of letters’ synonymous with a ‘philosopher’. Walpole broached his lifelong stricture on modern pretentious philosophers to Hume in one of his letters, just after the Concise Account was published. Walpole’s thorough contempt for French philosophers appeared to Hume as a Rousseauian, anti-philosophical stance. In his reply, Hume attempted to advocate his thesis of intellectual improvement and moral cultivation. Meanwhile, in another letter written around the same time, Hume kept away from Turgot’s sanguine view of human progress. The distance that Walpole maintains between himself and the philosophers—through the Hume-Rousseau affair—casts a long shadow on his evaluations of Hume and his historical works, and leads to their differing assessments of the standpoint of philosophers in the age of lumières.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)224-242
Number of pages19
JournalHistory of European Ideas
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Counter-Enlightenment
  • Horace Walpole
  • Hume
  • Rousseau
  • men of letters

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Philosophy


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