Gerhard Streminger, David Hume: Sein Leben und sein Werk.
Bulletin of the Hume Society, Fall 1994, Vol. XXIII, No. 2, S. 3
reviewed by Annette Baier
Author, publisher, and the Humboldt-Stiftung who subsidized the research for and the publication of this splendid book, have occasion for pride, and the rest of us, especially those who can read German, occasion for rejoicing. In particular the Hume Society should rejoice in a likely influx of German-speaking new members, for Stremingerís book introduces the reader to Hume in such a way that they, like those who met Hume in his lifetime, will, whatever their preconceptions, come to be very fond of him. Streminger himself obviously is. We in the Hume Society know him as the author of several English articles about Hume, some in Hume Studies. He teaches at the University of Graz, Austria, and in 1981 co-authored, with Ernst Topitsch, a slim little book on Hume, in which Topitsch provided the chapter on religion. Now we have Stremingerís own big fat book on Hume, and he says plenty about religion.
Even those who do not read much German (and Stremingerís German seems unusually lucid) may want this book on their shelves, if for no other reason than for its splendid illustrations. There are 16 color plates, including fine reproductions not just of four Hume portraits but also Ramsayís of Hutcheson and Raeburnís of Robertson, Blair, and Ferguson. And there are color plates of a painting of the battle of Culloden and of Riddleís Close (both from "Sammlung Streminger") and of M. B. Olivierís "Tea in the English Manner" (from the Louvre). In addition there are 39 black and white reproductions of all sorts of interesting things. (I especially appreciated the engravings of Cologne, Nurnburg, Frankfurt, Turin, more or less as Hume saw them as military secretary.)
So is this just a more lavishly illustrated German version of Mossner? No. Although of course indebted to Mossnerís book (and often echoing his chapter headings and subheadings), it goes beyond it in several ways. First, there is an attempt to give summaries of absolutely all Humeís publications, all the essays, one by one, and the History, volume by volume. (The summaries are, naturally enough, uneven in quality. I found the summary of Treatise Bk. III positively misleading on the natural virtues.) Secondly, Streminger has found a hitherto unnoticed Hume publication, a 1768 review in French of Horace Walpoleís book, Historical Doubts, in a journal edited by Edward Gibbon, who may have had some input into the review. Since it is Gibbon who refers to Hume as the author, and since Walpole had attacked Humeís treatment of Richard III, in The History of England, we have here a rare case of Hume publishing a reply to a critic. Thirdly, and most importantly, Streminger goes into more depth than Mossner in describing the cultural context of Humeís thought, in particular the climate of religious opinion and sentiment in Britain. Not just John Knox and the Whole Duty of Man, but sermons given at Chirnside are quoted verbatim, and, among Hume attackers, Wesley as well as Warburton are given close attention. This book presents Hume not just in his setting in intellectual history, but in a broader cultural setting, and treats him as a cultural reformer, as well as a deep thinker.
Would that we had such a book in English! Would that someone translate it forthwith! Would that some wealthy and wise foundation and some painstaking publisher bring out an English version as handsome as the original! Meanwhile, bravo Gerhard Streminger! And bravo the Schöningh-Verlag! And bravo the Humboldt-Stiftung! Scholars are bound to find small inaccuracies, as they always do, and readers of Hume will query, as I do myself, the emphasis in some of the summaries. But Stremingerís is a huge achievement, and his book is bound to be influential.