Hume attended the University of Edinburgh at the unusually early age of twelve at a time when fourteen was normal. At first he considered a career in law, but came to have, in his words, “an insurmountable aversion to everything but the pursuits of Philosophy and general Learning; and while fancyed I was poring over Voet and Vinnius, Cicero and Virgil were the Authors which I was secretly devouring.” He had little respect for the professors of his time, telling a friend in 1735,“there is nothing to be learnt from a Professor, which is not to be met with in Books.”
As Hume’s options lay between a traveling tutorship and a stool in a merchant’s office, he chose the latter. In 1734, after a few months occupied with commerce in Bristol, he went to La Fleche in Anjou, France. There he had frequent discourse with the Jesuits of the College of La Fleche. As he had spent most of his savings during his four years there while writing A Treatise of Human Nature, he resolved “to make a very rigid frugality supply my deficiency of fortune, to maintain unimpaired my independency, and to regard every object as contemptible except the improvements of my talents in literature” . He completed the Treatise at the age of 26.
Although many scholars today consider the Treatise to be Hume’s most important work and one of the most important books in Western philosophy, the critics in Great Britain at the time did not agree, describing it as “abstract and unintelligible” . Despite the disappointment, Hume later wrote, “Being naturally of a cheerful and sanguine temper, I soon recovered from the blow and prosecuted with great ardour my studies in the country.” There, he wrote the Abstract without revealing his authorship, he aimed to make his larger work more intelligible. However, only in about 1770, with the praise by Immanuel Kant, did scholars begin to notice its value.