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Portrait of David Hume (detail) by Allan Ramsey (1754)

J. Y. T. Greig (1891 - 1963)

Johannesburg, 1955

John Young Thomson Greig was born in Manchuria, where his father was a Presbyterian missionary. He earned the MA at Glasgow University in 1913, and served in WWI as Captain and Adjutant in the 15th Northumberland Fusiliers. In 1923 he published The Psychology of Laughter and Comedy, while on the administrative staff of Armstrong College in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and in the following year receivied the DLitt from Glasgow University. He later published four novels under the name of John Carruthers.

Greig’s 1931 biography, David Hume, won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for that year, an award whose recipients are selected by the Professor of English Literature at Edinburgh University. The biography was reissued in 1934 and 1983. In 1932 Greig published a two-volume edition of The Letters of David Hume, in the same year he moved to Johannesburg to chair the English Department at the University of Witwatersrand. The first volume of the set contains Hume’s correspondence from 1727 to 1765; the second, from 1766 to 1776. Included among Hume’s correspondents are such famous thinkers and public figures as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith, James Boswell, and Benjamin Franklin. Grieg also published a biography of W.M. Thackeray in 1950.


Professor Greig’s writing [in David Hume] is fresh and direct and well-seasoned with expressive Scotticisms. He has packed nearly every page with observations of the special wit and brilliance which are the peculiar charm of eighteenth century letters and memoirs. If the book has a fault as a literary work, it is that that great number of persons, introduced because of some slight commerce with Hume, but not developed as individuals, sometimes distract attention from the chief figures. But those who read the book out of interest in Hume rather than in literary biography, will not be willing to spare a single one of these incidental encounters.

–W.R. Dennes, The Saturday Review (May 6, 1933)


Documents do not exist to enable us to decide [the matter of Hume’s own religious belief] with finality. But Mr. Greig makes out a very plausible case. Hume, says Mr. Greig, held to belief in “God as Creative Intelligence–though not, perhaps, as Perfect Goodness”; he sanctioned a theism of “the harmless, philosophic, rather watery kind.” Mr. Greig takes the opening pages of The Natural History of Religion and the closing sentiments of the Dialogues concerning Natural Religion at their face value, as genuine and not as ironic. He interprets the argument of the Dialogues as intended to culminate in the reconciliation of Philo and Cleanthes, though recognizing that this reconciliation “carries no conviction” and is dramatically weak. Hume, he says, “failed to realize the strength and significance of the Philoesque elements in his own thought.” But while it is true that Philo “proved too strong for his creator,” it does not follow, so Mr. Greig contends, that Hume himself meant in the Dialogues to imply an atheism that he did not dare openly to avow.

–Sterling P. Lamprecht, The Journal of Philosophy (February 1933)


[The Letters of David Hume] is a definitive edition. The efforts of the editor make it improbable that any considerable number of Hume’s letters remain undiscovered; moreover, the editorial work is done so carefully that it will not need doing over. The collection consists of 544 letters written by Hume. Where the autographs still exist, they have been transcribed with all peculiarities of spelling and punctuation. The editor has added twelve appendixes including chiefly letters addressed to Hume. The annotation is excellent. It gives all the information about persons and events needed in reading the letters; it is genuinely learned without being dull; and it does not overload the text.

–George H. Sabine, The American Historical Review (January 1933)


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