The same ardour as ever in study, and the same gaiety in company

Bah. Oliver Sacks. Running out of road. Multiple metastases in the liver; terminal. He’s taking his inspiration from Hume.

It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can. In this I am encouraged by the words of one of my favorite philosophers, David Hume, who, upon learning that he was mortally ill at age 65, wrote a short autobiography in a single day in April of 1776. He titled it “My Own Life.”

“I now reckon upon a speedy dissolution,” he wrote. “I have suffered very little pain from my disorder; and what is more strange, have, notwithstanding the great decline of my person, never suffered a moment’s abatement of my spirits. I possess the same ardour as ever in study, and the same gaiety in company.”

What a fabulous sentence.

Hume continued, “I am … a man of mild dispositions, of command of temper, of an open, social, and cheerful humour, capable of attachment, but little susceptible of enmity, and of great moderation in all my passions.”

Here I depart from Hume. While I have enjoyed loving relationships and friendships and have no real enmities, I cannot say (nor would anyone who knows me say) that I am a man of mild dispositions. On the contrary, I am a man of vehement disposition, with violent enthusiasms, and extreme immoderation in all my passions.

Ha! Same here.

I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming.

This is not indifference but detachment — I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future. I rejoice when I meet gifted young people — even the one who biopsied and diagnosed my metastases. I feel the future is in good hands.

I don’t much want to do without him, I must say. One of the best.


  1. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Damn it. He’s . . .”a treasure” seems too twee by far. But he’s that. Damn it all to hell.

  2. says

    That’s an incredibly moving piece (and it doesn’t hurt that I love me some Hume, any time). I hope I have half that much grace and courage when I face my final dissolution. We’re losing one of our best.

  3. Francisco Bacopa says

    Hume was a total badass. His student Adam Smith argued that religion was useful for controlling the “little people”. Hume disagreed.

    BTW, both Hume and Smith should be counted as pro-feminist men. Especially Smith. He was very mindful of women’s work as part of total production and pointed out that the trade laws of his time favored large mill owners over women-led shearing and carding operations.

  4. Trebuchet says

    Very sad. Even sadder since the actor who played him in Awakenings has so unnecessarily preceded him.

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