1 Rose Street

Listen to David Hicks from Edinburgh World Heritage explain more about David Hume’s house

1 Rose Street on soundcloud

We’re projecting lines by Allan Ramsay’s onto 1 Rose Street, a stone’s throw from David Hume’s Edinburgh residence:

‘Schools polite shall lib’ral Arts display,
And make auld barb’rous Darkness fly away
Allan Ramsay

Find out more about this line on our ‘Quotes’ page, listen to Gavin Inglis’ lovely response, ‘Starfield’ or why not visit our virtual trail and navigate our enLIGHTen sites on foot or online?

South St David Street was one of the first places in Edinburgh’s New Town to be completed in the 1770s. Tucked on the edge of St Andrew Square, between Princes Street and George Street, and looking on to Rose Street, one of its earliest, and perhaps most famous residents was the philosopher, historian and great enlightenment thinker, David Hume. He lived at number 8 South St David Street and there is an engraving to commemorate where his house once stood. If you stand with your back to the side entrance of Jenners and crane your neck up, you’ll see it there.

The quote by poet Allan Ramsay, encapsulates Hume’s ambitions as a philosopher and the consequences of his influential work:

‘Schools polite shall lib’ral Arts display,
And make auld barb’rous Darkness fly away

Hume was a visionary who sought to overturn the superstition that dogged progress and rational thought. In his time, religion dominated education and his ideas made him unpopular with university authorities. However, Hume was far from alone in his mission to shine a light on the shadowy regions of human nature.

When Hume moved in, the New Town was still being built. The square was not the pleasant green space you see today, but a building site. Moving to the New Town in 1772 was a bold move and most Edinburgh residents took a long time to be convinced of its attractions. Princes Street and North Bridge could be extremely windy, and all the business and entertainment was still to be found in the Old Town.

Certainly his new home would have many better features – it was a house in the ‘English manner’, rather than his old apartment in James Court. This meant more space and the ability to entertain at home in style. Hume enjoyed a lavish life of dinner parties and high society. He even hosted the American polymath Benjamin Franklin who visited Edinburgh, and held the University of Edinburgh in very high esteem. It was once said you can ‘stand at the Mercat Cross and, in half an hour, shake fifty men of genius by the hand.’

Dr Samuel Johnson, author of the landmark publication ‘The Dictionary of the English Language’, and his famous biographer James Boswell, had a rather more reserved view of David Hume.

Even the vice-ridden James Boswell commented ‘I was not clear that it was right in me to keep company with him.’ Hume’s atheism  and rejection of the ‘divine right’ of kings prompted Dr Johnson to remark ‘A man who has so much conceit  as to tell all mankind that they have bubbled for ages […] is he to be surprised if another man comes and laughs at him?’

Hume died in 1776 but had his life extended as far as his influence, he may not have been delighted to see the Sir Walter Scott Monument from his window, looking on to Princes Street. The monument’s gothic architecture, in today’s City of Literature, is reminiscent of a mistier, more superstitious past.

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