I am old enough to have a home library filled with real books, not e-books that I can read on my watch or my glasses. One of my favorite books – favorite as a physical object, not merely for its content – is the thick, stubby, hard-covered Clarendon Press edition of Hume’s Treatise with the extraordinary 68 page Selby-Bigge analytical index. The pages are soft, nubbly, and off white, and it has for almost my entire life been a pleasure simply to hold it in my hands.
My copy is roughly sixty years old, filled with underlinings and marginal notes in several inks. A long time ago the cover started to come loose, and I taped it up with brown paper tape that has itself grown hard and brittle with the decades. Today, as I finished re-reading Part II of Book I, I decided something had to be done, so with Susie’s help I removed as much of the old tape as I could pick off and secured the cover with three straps of grey sealing tape. I rather suspect that will do it for the remainder of my life.
Fifty-six years ago, I briefly held in my hands David Hume’s own copy of Books I and II of the Treatise. My first wife and I were in London for the summer so that she could do research in Dr. Williams’ Library for her doctoral dissertation on the Puritan sources of Samuel Richardson’s novels. One day, having nothing to do, I went to the British Museum and, sitting in the large circular Reading Room [as I recall it], filled out a call slip for the Treatise. Some while later, a silent librarian handed me Hume’s own copy, WITH HIS HAND-WRITTEN MARGINAL CORRECTIONS!! I was too freaked out actually to page through the volume. Instead, I handed it back and fled, terrified that I would be apprehended as an impostor.