Yesterday I noted that in his treatment in the Agricola of the Roman conquest of Britain, Tacitus gives pride of place to the speech by Galgacus ahead of the decisive battle. It's an eloquent statement of the argument against empire. It is especially noteworthy that the speech goes well beyond the desire of propertied freedom, and is also an argument in favor of national (or terriotorial) self-determination. Galgacus is reported as fighting for British liberty.
By contrast, Hume, treats the episode very differently:
This great commander [Agricola--ES] formed a regular plan for subduing Britain, and rendering the acquisition useful to the conquerors. He carried his victorious arms northwards, defeated the Britons in every encounter, pierced into the inaccessible forests and mountains of Caledonia, reduced every state to subjection in the southern parts of the island, and chaced before him all the men of fiercer and more intractable spirits, who deemed war and death itself less intolerable than servitude under the victors. He even defeated them in a decisive action, which they sought under Galgacus, their leader; and having fixed a chain of garrisons, between the friths of Clyde and Forth, he thereby cut off the ruder and more barren parts of the island, and secured the Roman province from the incursions of the barbarous inhabitants.
During these military enterprizes, he neglected not the arts of peace. He introduced laws and civility among the Britons, taught them to desire and raise all the conveniencies of life, reconciled them to the Roman language and manners, instructed them in letters and science, and employed every expedient to render those chains, which he had forged, both easy and agreeable to them. The inhabitants, having experienced how unequal their own force was to resist that of the Romans, acquiesced in the dominion of their masters, and were gradually incorporated as a part of that mighty empire--David Hume, History of England.
Before we simply assume that Tacitus's treatment was simply irrelevant to Hume's account in the History of England, it is worth reminding ourselves that Hume quotes Tacitus in the epigraph on the title-page of the Treatise. (Paul Russell has done creative work with this.) And, elsewhere, as Jacky Taylor first pointed out to me, Hume insists that Tacitus is the favorite author of those (at age 50) that prefer "wise, philosophical reflections concerning the conduct of life and moderation of the passions."
In looking at the quoted passage of Hume's History, one might wonder if Hume is even familiar with the Agricola. After all, elsewhere Hume explicitly notes Tacitus's treatment (in the Germania) of the Germans's "fierce and bold liberty" (drawn by the masterly pencil of Tacitus"--explicit and tacit references to this feature of the Germania are sprinkled through Hume's oeuvre). So, Hume does not always overlook this feature of Tacitus's analysis. However, Hume is familiar with the Agricola; he refers to it explicitly in the History of England (here), including in the notes to the passage just quoted where it is his main (only?) source of evidence.
That Hume omits Galgacus's speech, which evidently does not fit the political narrative he wishes to tell, is less remarkable than the fact that he calls attention to the existence of Galgacus, who plays no further role in the overall argument, at all. So, what to make of this?
First, it is quite clear that Hume is a friend of empire (recall) when it extends (i) 'laws and civility' (even by the force of arms) as well as (ii) generates demand for commercial activity ('desire... the conveniencies of life'), and (iii) promotes 'arts and sciences.' Agricola is not just a successful military leader, but is in Hume's hands transformed primarily into (iv) a wise political legislator that is worth emulating. Strikingly -- especially if one recalls Rousseau --, Agricola's political wisdom consist in making a population feel at ease in its chains. Agricola follows his own "regular plan" (which is contrasted with Galgacus's rash decision to seek decisive battle), and shows that some order needs to be imposed (with the sword) before the fruits of civilization can be enjoyed. It would be unfair to Hume to claim that he only promotes this vision of political leadership (recall), but one should not overlook this strain in his thought either. While (i-iv) are not altogether absent in Tacitus's account, Agricola's subordinate position to the emperor leaves little room for treating him as a political legislator in the way that Hume does.
Second, in Hume's hands the opposition between civilization and barbarism is not understood in terms of empire and freedom. The benefits of empire are emphasized, and it's hard not to discern in this Hume's advocacy of British commercial empire and the Union (of Scotland with England). Rather it becomes a distinction between enjoyable chains and fierce (animal-like) un-tamedness. To put the point starker than Hume does, The 'uncivilized' or barbarous are interpreted as willingly choosing death and thereby marking themselves as worth killing. As we know, this is an enduring, dangerous trope that gets recycled even by my Zionist friends when faced, say, with Hamas's propaganda and suicide-killers.