Enquiry Concerning Hereafter

david hume friendship charon

On the friendship between David Hume and Adam Smith



a play by Duane Kelly
"All men have need of the gods."
Homer, The Odyssey

“To philosophize is to learn how to die."
Cicero

“Ay, but to die, and go we know not where.”
Shakespeare, Measure for Measure

Enquiry Concerning Hereafter will be produced by Edinburgh Business School at Panmure House (Adam Smith’s residence in his later years) as part of the 2022 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, August 5-28.

Duane Kelly is a playwright who has authored 11 plays. He lives in Seattle.
©2021 Duane Kelly www.duanekelly.net
NOTE: Performances and public readings of Enquiry Concerning Hereafter, professional or amateur, are subject to a royalty. Particular emphasis is laid upon the question of readings, permission for which must be secured from the author in writing. This play is fully protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America. All rights are strictly preserved.





CHARACTERS 

  • DAVID HUME 
  • ADAM SMITH 
  • CHARON

TIME
August 1776 and June 1790
LOCATIONS
Two late 18th century bedrooms of prosperous gentlemen in Edinburgh
THE STORY
Two men who are the dearest of friends grieve because old age and disease are separating them, perhaps for eternity. Charon comes to take them away.
NOTES
Hume and Smith had their quirks. Hume would at times unconsciously hold a gaze with someone for longer than is customary. This tic once drove Jean-Jacques Rousseau into a fit of hysteria. This quirk is not written into the script. If actor and director choose to do something with it, take care not to overdo it.
Smith had a preoccupied air and a habit of mumbling and smiling to himself. "Absent" is a word that recurs in descriptions of him. He could lose focus in conversation. James Boswell described him as “quite a learned, accurate, absent man.” Other descriptions were “habitually attentive to familiar objects, and to common occurrences", and “the most absent man in company that I ever saw.” He also possessed remarkable powers of observation and analysis. His eccentricities do appear in the script.
The language and phrasing in this script is specific and purposefully chosen. Some phrases that may seem unusual are specific to the 18th century and others are suited to the character, including Charon. Please observe the words as written.
Hume's Scottish accent is broader than Smith's. Charon's name is pronounced "karon". He wears a cloak.
NOTATION
A dash - indicates that a speech is cut off by the next speech. Dialog in brackets [ ] is expressed nonverbally. In this script a "beat" is longer than a "pause" and a "pause" is longer than an ellipsis (. . .).

___________________________________________________





ACT 1

Sunday, August 25, 1776. In this Act Hume is age 65, Smith 53, and Charon - take a wild guess. It is late afternoon. We are in Edinburgh, in David Hume’s bedroom. A light meal has been set out in an adjoining sitting area. Crowd noises from the street rise and fall during this scene. HUME is asleep in bed, sitting up, reclining against pillows. He wears a robe. Close at hand is a short “scratch” wig, which he had removed for comfort. He had dozed off reading Lucian’s The Downward Journey. The book is visible. HUME is having a vivid dream. The scene shifts to his dream world - or does it? We now see CHARON, the boatman who ferries the recently deceased across the river Styx to the afterworld. He carries a long boat pole which doubles as a staff. CHARON observes HUME, then rouses him by banging the pole on something. This startles HUME.


HUME

Who’s there?
(HUME sees CHARON, a sight he never expected. He tries to absorb what his senses seem to be perceiving. He shouts to a room off.)

HUME (to CHARON)

Where’s Peggy?

CHARON 

I know not Peggy.

HUME

Have you harmed her? Who let you in?

CHARON

I believe I am in the book. (points)

HUME

Which is fiction. 

CHARON

O is it?

HUME

You cannot be real.

CHARON

We hear that all the time.

HUME

Did your mother give you a name?

CHARON

She called me Charon.

HUME

The boatman whom mortals are powerless to ignore.

CHARON

Though many try.

HUME

(picks up the book)
I dozed off reading Lucian’s account of you.

CHARON

Please affirm that you are the philosopher and historian David Hume.

HUME

Are you not certain?

CHARON

I’ve learned the hard way it’s good to ask. Souls can throw a holy fit when we fetch the wrong one.

HUME

I am also called infidel and like appellations that would have saddened my mother.
(off the book)
This did make me fancy you might show up. Lucian is one of many authors who tell us about you and your sad river.

CHARON

No one knows its moods better than me. I am senior boatman.

HUME

I am honored.

CHARON

As you should be. Zeus often charges me with bringing across notable or vexing mortals.

HUME

Am I one of those?

CHARON

You are regarded as both.

HUME

In what way do I vex?

CHARON

Reports have reached Mount Olympus that you don’t believe Zeus and the other gods truly exist, and unfortunately many mortals read your books.

HUME

Have I not been sufficiently maligned in this world? Now the gods misapprehend me as well? Sir, I have simply said that gods are unlikely; that it is beyond mortal ken to know with certainty.

CHARON

You have helped convince mortals that they are newly enlightened.

HUME

Why do gods care what mortals believe?

CHARON

You needs take that up with them. I am a simple boatman.

HUME

You know my trade?

CHARON

There is much about you that I know.

HUME

What a piece of ingenious conjuring is this. You float in while I sleep on the cusp of oblivion and start banging a damned stick around. What other magic can you perform? Do you fly through the air or alter your shape? Pull coins out of books, launch lightning and thunder? Speak with faeries? Heal the sick, bring the dead back to life?

CHARON

I convey souls in the opposite direction.

HUME

Of course. If you have the power to disappear I request you exercise it immediately.
(A beat as HUME waits to see what happens. Nothing does.)

HUME

Failing that, I would gladly pay a king’s ransom for you to make the rabble outside vanish.

CHARON

Sorry. [not able to do that]

HUME

Is a magic trick being performed for my dying amusement? Or torment.

CHARON

(scanning the room) Where would be the magician?

HUME

(pointedly)
All the evidence points in one direction.

CHARON

Would that be cause or effect?

HUME

You don’t want to start doing philosophy with me. (off a medicine bottle)
Perhaps the fault lies in here; new drops from the doctor are causing a nasty reaction.

CHARON

(peers at the bottle) No, not those.

HUME

So the simple boatman is also a chemist. This infernal disease has spread to the brain, upended my senses.

CHARON

(in mock test, raises hand and spreads his fingers)
How many fingers do you see?

HUME

I am no child! Please come over here.

CHARON

Why?

HUME

In order to touch you. To discover whether anything is there.

CHARON

I think not. You should only find nothing.

HUME

So you would be a phantom.

CHARON

If you wish.

HUME

On principle, I have a robust tolerance for doubt. You are putting that principle to the extreme test. You pretend to know much about me. Tell something no one would know.

CHARON

(pause to think)
In the summer of your ninth year you went wandering in the fields outside Ninewells.
(pronounced nine-alls)
When you heard loud moans you slipped behind a willow tree and watched a naked shepherd and maid enjoy each other. The sheep were little curious. That scene made quite the impression on our young David. You never told a soul.

HUME

But how can [you know?]

CHARON

Before leaving on this mission I glanced in your memory chest; that was near the top.
(Now giving CHARON more credence, HUME wants to appear more formal so he puts on his wig.)

CHARON

Don’t trouble yourself. You won’t need it where we be going.
(HUME removes it. He feels his body for a heartbeat or a pulse.)

HUME

Speak plainly; am I dead?

CHARON

Sunday, August twenty-five, seventeen seventy-six, has been a slow day. I arrived a little early. Are you in a hurry?

HUME

Not particularly.

CHARON

We must go soon.

HUME

Now that we have perhaps established your identity, I fancy you might find it in your otherworldly heart to grant me a little more time.

CHARON

And why would I do that?

HUME

O let me think. . . I have no house to finish building, no daughter to provide for; I do have enemies but none upon whom I wish to revenge myself.
(picks up manuscript pages near him on the bed)
Ah, there is this. I have been correcting pages for a new book. Please allow a little time, that I may see how the public receives it.

CHARON

Do you know how many expiring authors try that one? You needs be more creative.

HUME

I have been endeavoring to open people’s eyes to the delusion of superstition and religion.

CHARON

So the gods have heard.

HUME

Have a little patience only ‘til I have the pleasure of seeing the churches shut up and the clergy sent about their business.

CHARON

O you are a loitering rogue. Has not this world taught you anything? You know that won’t happen for hundreds of years. Foolish friend, come along.

HUME

A moment. Perhaps you would entertain a more modest appeal. As you can see.
(gestures to the food)
I am expecting a guest. He should have been here by now. Won’t you permit us a final farewell?
(CHARON gestures exasperation with HUME.) 

HUME

I beg your patience. As far as I know, we only leave here once. From your presence one might infer that following death there is something rather than nothing. And, I don’t mind sharing, that idea holds great interest for me.

CHARON

Plenty pleased to lend a hand there.

HUME

One more thing.

CHARON

Do philosophers ever shut up?

HUME

Where we go, will I meet other souls? Can I ask Herodotus why he insisted on writing history as if it were fiction. Will there be an opportunity to debate tragedy with Aristotle? Ask Socrates whether Plato told us the truth about his death.
Whom will I find there?

CHARON

Why, everyone, or if not, they’ll be showing up soon enough. Mind you, it can get a bit crowded, even minus your lumpy, bony bodies.

HUME

Do you know how many years a mortal has to live?

CHARON

My friend you best be thinking in minutes, not years.

HUME

I ask in regard to a friend.

CHARON

Some questions are best left unanswered.

HUME

If you and Hades are real, when I leave him behind, I shall exit with a raw aching hole impossible to fill. . . How difficult is it to locate someone over there?

CHARON

Finding particular souls involves more luck than chance.
(HUME is puzzled, which was CHARON’s teasing intention.)

HUME

How long can that take?

CHARON

Sometimes forever, which be the same as never. One thing you need to understand is time works different across the river. There’s not as much energy. At first you’ll always feel cold. Everything goes slower. Souls move more like snails than mice.

HUME

This is all rather too much.

CHARON

Just be patient. There’ll be more than enough time to get used to it.

HUME

(a beat as he peers at CHARON)
Were you informed of my disdain for miracles?

CHARON

What is it you call a miracle?

HUME

‘Tis a violation of nature. Were someone to tell me that he saw a phantom I would immediately ask myself whether the speaker has been deceived or tries to deceive me, or, did that extraordinary event actually occur? I weigh the one miracle against the other, and always reject the greater miracle. If his testimony being false would be more miraculous than the event which he relates, then, and not till then, could he begin to persuade me.

CHARON

Huh? You lost me back at the phantom.

HUME

(off the wig, a playful impulse) Would you care to see if wearing this helps?

CHARON

(joins the playful moment) Why not? I’ll give it a try.
(puts on the wig; hams it up) What do you think?

HUME

Now tell me the square root of forty-nine.
(CHARON doesn’t have a clue.)

HUME

No improvement in the slightest.
(CHARON shrugs and returns the wig.) 

HUME

A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.

CHARON

Is that there miracle talk how your brain goes about its business?

HUME

When it’s working properly.

CHARON

So many philosophers have crossed the river that Zeus himself cannot keep them straight. Their talk so much contradicts one another, we don’t wonder humanity is a mad circus all topsy- turvy.

HUME

Enough talk.

CHARON

(exaggerated relief)
Oh I cannot thank you enough my kind sir.
(Noises off.)

HUME

That must be him. A few final minutes in this world with Adam Smith is all that I ask.

CHARON

That Adam Smith? You know him?

HUME

Like a brother.

CHARON

Oh will the gods please help me - another of your Scottish philosophers. There will be no end of talk. The rumor is he shares your skepticism.

HUME

But unlike me, he has the wisdom to be discreet. Show a little patience won’t you good Charon? I still have to find a coin to go under my tongue for your boat fare.

CHARON

(softening)
How much time will you and Professor Smith be wanting?

HUME

A few breaths only are left in me.

CHARON

But I cannot -
(Knocks are heard at the door. As SMITH enters, CHARON goes quiet; decides to step aside. SMITH is visible to CHARON, but CHARON is not visible to SMITH. CHARON observes them from the side. HUME is anxious about CHARON, including who can see whom.)

HUME

My dear Smith, thank god.
(They embrace.)

HUME

You cannot begin to know how relieved I am to see you.

SMITH

I hastened here. Peggy sent word that . . . well, I should not delay.

HUME

I have been disturbed by the most vivid dream.
(HUME glances at CHARON, who is not pleased with demotion to a dream.)

HUME

Charon himself showed up to ferry me across the river. I bade him go away ‘til after we visit.

SMITH

You need more rest.

HUME

He is a saucy, thick-headed rascal. You wouldn’t care for him.
(Sounds from the crowd outside rise in volume.)

HUME

They’ve been there all day. Worse than a flock of cranky crows.

SMITH

I had to push my way through to reach your door. They are rabid for you to recant your heresies.

HUME

I well know what they want. Why can they not let a peaceful man die in peace?

SMITH

Every eye in Edinburgh, so it would seem, looks this way. Perhaps their ministers tell them the more noise they make, the sooner you will depart.

HUME

Errors in religion are dangerous; those in philosophy only ridiculous.

SMITH

If the crowd could see you, they would be sorely disappointed; you look better than Peggy led me to expect. I feared I had lost you.

HUME

I have little pain but you may be assured I am wasting away.

SMITH

Na, your appearance makes me hope for recovery.

HUME

My recovery would be the miracle of miracles. An habitual diarrhea of more than a year’s standing would be a very bad disease at any age: at sixty-five it is a mortal one. I am sensible that some of my vital parts are affected. These are the very same symptoms that ended my mother's life.

SMITH

I plan on having you around a while longer.

HUME

No Smith, believe me, I am dying as fast as my enemies could wish, and as easily and cheerfully as my best friends could desire.

SMITH

What your many friends desire is that you remain among us. Look, the weather even conspires to keep you here. Despite that obnoxious crowd, the day is fine.

HUME

Too bad I cannot get out.

SMITH

Try to enjoy it by sympathy.

HUME

The professor’s favored faculty. If I may be permitted an instance of sympathy, I am concerned about my friend from across the Firth. After I am gone promise not to over-indulge your fondness for solitude.

SMITH

No need to worry.

HUME

With you I am afraid there is need to worry.

SMITH

Though I may not possess your social gift, I am no hermit. . The water you see out the window - when my spirits get low, I go swim in it, no matter the season.

HUME

The Firth will freeze your tallywags!

SMITH

I find it dependable medicine.

HUME

A perfect solitude is, perhaps, the greatest punishment we can suffer in this world.

SMITH

I do not disagree. Nature does not make us to be alone.

HUME

Let all the powers of nature conspire to serve and obey one man; let the sun rise and set at his command; the seas and rivers roll as he pleases. No matter. He will still be miserable till you give him at least one person with whom he may share his happiness. Our bond has proved this to me.

SMITH

That is why your absence will be a stiletto between the ribs. If you have any credit with Charon, can you petition for a delay?

HUME

I’m afraid he would give me only a few minutes at most.
(HUME looks to CHARON, who remains interested in their conversation.)

SMITH

What about his superior?

HUME

My influence there is less than zero.

SMITH

Could I be allowed to accompany you?

HUME

Your good health disqualifies you. All that cold swimming. (off the food)
Peggy has set out something. How I would have loved to cook for you today. Let’s imagine the menu. Oysters for the hors d’oeuvre. Then, let me see -

SMITH

Your sheep’s head broth.

HUME

Yes, followed by beef and cabbage.

SMITH

No one does it better. Not without reason did our confrères in Paris name you “northern Epicurus.”

HUME

For dessert, three kinds of ice cream, including your favorite with strawberries. Can there be any greater joy than hosting friends and at the end of an evening watch them roll down my front steps toward their beds somewhere in this lovely, odoriferous city?

SMITH

The joy has belonged to your friends who dined here. And drank. Never a shortage of wine at “Chez Le Bon David”.

HUME

Voltaire's shipment of burgundy near ruined me, I was obliged to give so many dinners to share it.

SMITH

I did my part to dry those bottles. T’was a fine vintage.

HUME

Let’s open a bottle now and enjoy what she set out. Ah, where’s the wine, how was that forgot? Call to Peggy.

SMITH

Pshaw, let the poor woman rest. How many times have I retrieved bottles from your cellar? I could find it blind. I’ll be but a minute.
(SMITH exits. CHARON steps forward.) 

HUME

He did not see you.

CHARON

I did not come for him.

HUME

Will he ever see you?

CHARON

When his days run out. What I can see is that your ties go deep. Perhaps you were even worthy of each other. We see that sometimes. Alright, enjoy your last supper. I will return.

HUME

But when -
(CHARON is gone. SMITH returns with a bottle and holds it out for HUME to see.)

HUME

Perfect.
(As SMITH opens the bottle and pours two glasses - )

HUME

This decrepit old frame is filled with disease. Smith, tell me, does my mind seem much disordered this afternoon?

SMITH

No more than usual. Here, this may help.
(SMITH hands him a glass.)

HUME

I am serious now. This afternoon . . . I don’t . . . I fear my mind has slipped its mooring and floats loose as my bowels.
(A beat as SMITH takes the question seriously and studies HUME’s face.)

SMITH

We all travel in the same direction, as surely as a stone tumbles down Castle Mount. I imagine the sight of the ground approaching would unsettle any man. But if you are asking me, Have you turned mad?, the plain answer is no. Trust me to advise when you stop speaking sense.
(HUME is not fully persuaded. We hear rising crowd noise, which turns into a chant:
INFIDELS WHO DON’T REPENT, STRAIGHT TO HELL WILL BE SENT.
HUME
Ugh. Their verse scans badly. Milton may rest easy in the grave. Here, help me up. This is an irksome side of our species I need to witness.
(SMITH helps HUME rise and move to the window, which is perhaps downstage, imagined by us. When they get close to the window and look down, the mob sees them and shouts angrily.)

SMITH

Step back where they can’t see.
(They retreat a pace or two. The shouting subsides. SMITH gets their glasses; they sip.)

HUME

A mob is a monster I could never abide. Bring over a chair for me to lean on.
(SMITH does so.)

HUME

Thank you. We flatter ourselves to imagine our work nudges the human animal in a more virtuous direction. Reason is and ought to be the slave of the passions. But if your impartial spectator goes missing, we can be faced with a sordid scene. Just look out there.

SMITH

We don’t want them shouting louder.

HUME

Do you know the story of Janet Horne?
(SMITH nods No.)

HUME

You were too young. I was maybe fifteen and remember quite clearly the chatter. Horne lived in the highlands town of Dornoch. There she was bound, smeared with hot tar, sealed in a barrel, and burnt - by her Christian neighbors.

SMITH

For whatever reason?
(During this next speech HUME briefly thumbs the manuscript pages he had shown to Charon. Now is not the time. He sets them aside.)

HUME

Sad victim of superstition and hysteria. She was the last alleged witch to be killed in Scotland - as far as I know. A mere fifty years have lapsed from that woman’s murder to the mob outside.

SMITH

For centuries Protestants chopped off Catholic heads and displayed them atop spikes on London Bridge.

HUME

William Wallace among them. Reason is an imperfect crust. With luck it may gain thickness, hold fewer imperfections, be guided by wiser passions, but progress is hardly assured. Society is a fragile thing.

SMITH

It can always use more kindness.
(SMITH gets too close to the window. When the crowd sees him, their clamor rises.)

HUME

We can be confident they haven’t read your Moral Sentiments book. Perhaps they come from south of the Tweed. I do not believe there is one Englishman in fifty, who, if he heard that I broke my neck last night, would not be rejoiced.

SMITH

You have many friends in London.

HUME

Pshaw.

SMITH

Na, David, I was just there. I can vouch for them. You are too harsh on our southern neighbors.

HUME

They’re kinder to you because you can affect their pinched accent. . . When do you return to Kirkcaldy?

SMITH

Mother expects me tomorrow. She is ill and matters need my attention.

HUME

(looks to the window)
On a clear day I can see across to your town. That view would have offered more interest had I known you were out there swimming. Often I would look that way and wonder how you were faring, particularly during the struggles with Wealth of Nations.

SMITH

Ten hard years on that.

HUME

I saw that it had depth and solidity and acuteness, and so many curious facts that the public had no choice but to embrace it. Nonetheless, as I know only too well - my first book having fallen dead-born from the press - every author trembles at a book’s birth. Now all signs are that your decade was not squandered. The reviews in London and Paris go from favorable to rapturous.

SMITH

One or two suspected the influence of an obscure writer named Hume.

HUME

Ah, that hack; we’ll keep mum about him. Congratulations my friend. If I had a supply of laurel leaves I would set some round your head.

SMITH

A little restraint, David, please.

HUME

What, am I not allowed to enjoy my friend’s success? What of sales?

SMITH

Strahan is delighted, which means I am pleased. Though we both are perturbed that unauthorized editions have already appeared in Dublin and Philadelphia. Heaven knows how much income we lose.

HUME

What price do the pirated copies sell for?

SMITH

One pound for a bound octavo. Infuriating, but what can an author do?

HUME

If nothing else, your reputation expands.

SMITH

Though not my purse. . . I am slow, a very slow workman, who does and undoes everything I write at least half a dozen times. I wish I could write with just a third your speed. Our countless arguments, many echoing off the walls in this room, made it a more sturdy book.

HUME

Unfortunately your opinions are sometimes in error, especially when you have the misfortune to differ from me.
(now serious)
I was always glad to come within sight of you, if only by this distant view, but as I also longed to speak, I would have crossed the Firth to visit but you know how mortally sick I get at sea.

SMITH

Does Charon know he could have a mess in his boat?

HUME

Styx is said to be gloomy and fog-covered, but also smooth. Maybe in a distant future, engineers will construct a bridge to span the Firth. Can you fancy that?

SMITH

Imagine all the commerce such a project would represent.

HUME

Long after our time. Please help me back to bed.
(SMITH helps him return to his former position in bed.)

SMITH

Peggy did lay out some nice things here.

HUME

Help yourself.

SMITH

Would you care for anything?

HUME

I believe there’s soup.

SMITH

I see that.

HUME

I’ll try a little.
(SMITH brings HUME a bowl of soup. SMITH eats a few things. Seeing that HUME struggles with the soup, he assists him. After a few spoonfuls, HUME declines more.)

HUME

No appetite and anyway it goes straight through me. (off the wine)
This will be my tonic for now.
(As HUME sips wine, SMITH removes from a pocket an object the size of a large coin, and looks at it.)

HUME

What have you there?

SMITH

A story I don’t believe you know.
(Beat.)

HUME

Well come on, man, there’s precious little time. Let’s hear it, chapter and verse.

SMITH

I must warn you, it violates “Hume’s Doctrine on Superstition”.

HUME

My resolve there may be wavering. And in any case, so long as superstition goes by its proper name, I have no quarrel with it.

SMITH

When I was three Mother took me to a harvest faire in Fife. While a couple of gypsies were distracting her, confederates stole me away. Mother was mortified when I couldn’t be found. My uncle located me the next day in a gypsy camp outside Strathendry Castle. They claimed I was wandering alone after dark and had carried me to their camp for safety. Uncle John didn’t buy a word of it but he chose not to press charges. It was a long while before Mother let me out of her sight in public again.

HUME

You must have been in a panic.

SMITH

I recall nothing. I heard my uncle tell the story so many times that I came to believe I did remember what happened, but now I doubt it. Memory and fact can be an unfaithful marriage.

HUME

Indeed.

SMITH

(looks again at the coin-size object)
And there is this. A few years on my uncle handed it to me. Said the gypsies wanted me to have it. Told him it was an amulet with magical properties.

HUME

I can hear the tambourine. Did they speak true?

SMITH

Well, it has been fifty years now, and except for a plague of illnesses - none fatal - and a few miserable years at Oxford, on balance I have led a more or less charmed existence. That includes our friendship.
(irony)
I’m sure this had nothing to do with any of that.

HUME

May I see?
(SMITH hands him the amulet. As HUME studies it, SMITH looks toward the window and slips into an absent-minded state such as he is known for. His lips move as if he were mumbling but no sound is produced. HUME, who has seen SMITH do this on occasion, is not alarmed, and reels him back in.)

HUME

Smith . . . Smith. We were talking. Time is short. . . Smith!
(SMITH returns.)

SMITH

It will be hard. [to have you gone]

HUME

(alert to his meaning; then back to the amulet)
We dwell in a world so full of wonder that no amount of discoveries in natural history -

SMITH

Do not forget mathematics.

HUME

That too - will ever explain all.
(HUME hands back the amulet.)

SMITH

The genius who gave us force equals mass times acceleration, do you know what he spent his last years doing?

HUME

Newton was curious about many things.

SMITH

He was trying to make gold grow like branches on a bush from solutions of mercury.

HUME

That rarest genius was also highly religious, took the Bible as literal. When I hear a man is religious, I conclude he is a rascal, though I have known some instances of very good men- we may include Newton - being religious.

SMITH

If someone of Sir Isaac’s brilliance could wander down that path . . .

HUME

Which reminds me, religion is an area where I owe you an apology.

SMITH

Not so as I know.

HUME

Let’s not pretend, Smith, that our friendship has not been a liability for you in clerical circles.

SMITH

No irreparable harm.

HUME

That we know of. For public restraint in such matters, you exceed me admirably. It would have served me well to follow your example. . . What was James Boswell like as your student in Glasgow?

SMITH

Boswell? Attentive enough, though restless. Lacking in restraint. He could put you in mind of a flea.

HUME

How so?

SMITH

One term he broke off his studies, ran down to London, converted to Catholicism, planned to join a monastery across the Channel, and then decided the life of a libertine was the one for him. All those stages he passed through in a period of three weeks. Had he kept that up his life would have been stuffed with more incident than his Doctor Johnson. Why do you ask?

HUME

He was here last week. Insisted that we meet. Knowing my skepticism about a hereafter, he felt obliged to convert me to a firm belief in immortality, preferably of the Christian variety. I said it was a most unreasonable fancy that we should exist forever and he protested. I politely asked by what argument can we prove any state of existence which no one ever saw. He was hard put. When I said a future state was as likely as a lump of coal not burning after being set onto a fire, a fit of apoplexy seized him. Another encounter with Rousseau would have been more pleasant.

SMITH

Na, I cannot believe that.

HUME

I tell you true. Let them both go to the devil. Two days later he had the gall to come back wishing to disturb me further. I had him turned away. If your former student resembles a flea, he’s a hopping mad one. An honest flea suffers by comparison.

SMITH

We have not spoken since that time in London I cursed Johnson as a son of a bitch for calling you a liar.

HUME

Being insulted by Samuel Johnson puts me in rather good company. He once exalted you for being dull as a dog.

SMITH

I never heard that.

HUME

’Tis true. While you have been in London this house has seen a parade of visitors. Now I have grown so weak that I’ve told Peggy to admit only you, my nephew David, and the doctors. A far more pleasant visitor was Allan Ramsay. His two portraits of me have come in for much praise, he claims.

SMITH

Both are superb and will do you much credit with posterity.

HUME

I am glad of them. And that Allan was able to capture me in my former corpulent splendor. This summer I have lost seventy pounds. A smaller waist does not flatter me. ‘Twas an honor being portrayed by Scotland’s most gifted artist. . . Allan said he approached you to propose your portrait.

SMITH

We met here in town. Ramsay’s a pleasant enough fellow. He appears to know everybody who’s anybody.

HUME

That would be an asset in his trade. He also said you turned him down flat - despite there being no portrait of you extant. Posterity will want to gaze at your eyes and wonder what lay behind them. It is wrong to deprive the world of at least one fair image.

SMITH

The brush would suffer paralysis. I have never been a beau in anything but my books.

HUME

Pshaw. As handsome as any gentleman in Scotland -

SMITH

God help Scotland.

HUME

I am sure that if you dig deep in your abstemious soul, you can find enough vanity to do this small project. Allan fears that history will prosecute him for neglect and prejudice if there are two portraits of me and none of you.

SMITH

I promised to advise when you speak nonsense. You have now entered that realm.

HUME

I tell you as a friend and admirer, you are a fool not to accept Allan’s flattering offer. If you will not do this for future admirers, then agree as a parting gift for me.

SMITH

You would never see it!

HUME

But I will leave here in greater comfort. This is important, Smith. Please do not disappoint me, and the future.
(Beat.)

SMITH

The future will not care a farthing for my appearance. . . But I cannot be insensible to your wishes. How much time does a portrait require?

HUME

Several sittings for several hours, no more. You know how congenial Ramsay is. Sitting for him is nothing less than pleasant.

SMITH

Need I buy a new suit of clothes?

HUME

Not at all.

SMITH

Alright, I will speak with him.

HUME

Thank you.

SMITH

Have you been able to do any work?
(HUME idly picks up the manuscript on the bed.)

HUME

Have certainly not been earning my keep. Reading and sauntering and lounging and dozing, which is now what I call thinking, have been my labor. We can be pleased that a man of sixty-five, by dying, cuts off only a few years of infirmities. Did you see Strahan in London?

SMITH

We had dinner my last evening there. He complains that you have not given him a seventh volume of history. Says it would have made a fortune for both of you.

HUME

The man has no idea how much labor they require. I hope you told him the truth - I got too old, too fat, too lazy, and too rich.

SMITH

Better he should hear that from you.

HUME

Other news from London. What of the colonies?

SMITH

The talk is of little else. Some in Parliament have proposed both the fleet and army come home.

HUME

Could I be present, I would second that opinion. I am an American in my principles.

SMITH

Though their leaders can be over-ambitious and high-spirited, we are of the same mind. The biggest news is that last month, on the fourth of July, they formally declared independence. Ben Franklin was in the middle of it all.

HUME

Does that surprise us? He predicted as much during our dinners here.

SMITH

When he returned to London he embroiled himself in heated debates at Westminster.

HUME

We saw glimpses of his factious side. Faction is combustible material, not far removed from fanaticism.

SMITH

Some connect his views with the time he spent in this house. And they join you and me with Locke and Tom Paine as contributing to the American problem. My reputation further suffers because Thomas Jefferson has praised Wealth of Nations as the finest book ever written on political economy. Now one of the colonists’ arguments for revolt is “The wealth of nations is not increased by taxes on tea.”

HUME

To the barricades with Professor Smith. You were fortunate to get out of London alive. Does the fighting continue?

SMITH

Brutal. Heavy casualties on both sides. Plunging many mothers into grief. The sympathy of soldiers’ mothers is too often overlooked. They care that their sons’ hearts beat more than what flag they wave.

HUME

Some of those dead are Scottish lads.

SMITH

Has not the obscene corruption with the East India Company taught us anything? If an accurate accounting were drawn up, I expect we would find the expense to maintain the colonies exceeds whatever financial benefits flow to our shores.

HUME

Leave the Americans to govern or misgovern themselves as they think proper.

SMITH

(off the manuscript) What have you been revising?

HUME

(holds the manuscript)
In January when we spoke about my will, you graciously agreed to serve as trustee for my manuscripts. Including this one.

SMITH

(wary) The Dialogues?

HUME

(in a mock-formal manner)Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion by David Hume. (now normal)
I made a few last revisions and had three fresh copies made: for you, for nephew David, and for Strahan.

SMITH

If he chooses to publish it.

HUME

(alert to that) This is your copy.
(HUME extends the manuscript but SMITH declines to receive it. HUME lays it on the bed between them.)

HUME

Is there some question about Strahan?

SMITH

He and I both hold reservations.

HUME

What reservations?

SMITH

The same I touched on in January.

HUME

You’re concerned about controversy.

SMITH

So is Strahan.
(now picks up his copy of the manuscript)
I would prefer this remain in manuscript to be shared with a circle of trusted friends.

HUME

For caution, no one excels you Smith. This is no more controversial than other things I have published and suffered abuse for.
(Their conversation gradually grows heated.)

SMITH

Surely you realize this is a powder keg.

HUME

I realize no such thing. This is hardly the first time the world has heard questions about gods and a future state.
Furthermore do not presume this represents my final position.

SMITH

Then why publish it?

HUME

Because it airs a nuanced range of views, which presented in one volume can serve to enlighten, and increase tolerance.

SMITH

You have enemies in high places who delight in attacking you and here you give them ammunition on every page.

HUME

I wonder why you exaggerate.

SMITH

The wonder is why you have waited two and a half decades to publish this, only to now foist the burden upon me.

HUME

Society has changed in that time.

SMITH

Shall we step outside and ask?

HUME

If I expected clamor, you are the last person I would burden. Who better than I knows how you prize tranquility?
(A beat as SMITH studies HUME, who looks in the direction Charon was and then at the manuscript.)

SMITH

No questions are more fundamental to the human condition than ones in here, but society is unready.

HUME

Wealth of Nations does not avoid controversy.

SMITH

Of this sort it does. I want nothing more than for you and your ideas to be read and respected and debated and built upon hundreds of years hence. You want my portrait painted for posterity; well it is for the same reason I want to shelter this.

HUME

Is it my legacy that worries you?

SMITH

That is unkind, David.

HUME

Is it? I leave this world any minute now.

SMITH

Perhaps you are right - your mind is slipping. How else to explain blindness to the outrage this would incite.

HUME

Do not be foolish.

SMITH

Foolish?!
(exasperated; thumbs the pages and reads a chance selection)
Look here: “A great number of men join in building a house or ship: Why may not several deities combine in contriving and framing a world?” While I commend you for appreciating the utility of dividing labor, many will read this as blasphemy.

HUME

But Smith, please look who is speaking there. It is Philo, a fictional character I invented. David Hume is not speaking.

SMITH

Few will draw that distinction. Elsewhere in here you suggest that the reason so many defects and sorrows plague this world is because it was the first draft generated by an incompetent god. Good luck with that one.

HUME

Do we call Milton a bad poet because he wrote fine speeches for Lucifer?

SMITH

An army would be required to defend this. There are too many who already judge you hostile to religion, who view your opposition as its own type of dogma. You are the one being foolish.

HUME

(having reached the boiling point, he extends a hand toward Smith’s manuscript)
Forget it then. If ‘tis that incendiary, give it back.

SMITH

(holds the manuscript out of HUME’s reach) No, I will be glad to hold this copy.

HUME

You are the least glad person I ever set eyes on. (starts to rise from bed)
I say give the damned thing back. Before you burst into flames.
(HUME struggles out of bed.)

SMITH

David, please, you are in no condition -
(HUME reaches again for the manuscript, loses his balance, and crashes to the floor. SMITH rushes to HUME.)

SMITH

Good God! What are you thinking?!

HUME

Damn it to hell, that you are a stubborn senseless beast.

SMITH

Are you hurt?
(SMITH helps HUME rise and steers him toward the bed.)

HUME

Not the bed! I am sick to death of bed! Bring me the chair.
(SMITH does and HUME sits. SMITH brings him his glass of wine.)

HUME

You are a bloody fool. . . And my dearest friend. Though for the life of me I cannot recall why.

SMITH

(offering the manuscript) If you want it that badly, here.

HUME

(anger now more feigned than real) Why would I want it?

SMITH

Because - [you demanded it]

HUME

I have the original don’t I? You know very well that my position is and always has been skeptical, the very opposite of dogma.
(A few beats as they allow the temperature to come down.)

SMITH

David, I would ask you to kindly consider a further point. Could there be any worse time to ask this of me? Wealth of Nations is just now finding its way in the world. Perhaps with a chance to fulfill the ambitions we both hold for it. Do you now wish to put all that at risk?
(A beat to reflect.)

HUME

(disappointed)
I will board Charon’s vessel with no hope of this getting published.

SMITH

(pauses to think; frustrated)
Arghh. . . What I will promise is this: I will see it published, by someone, somewhere, while I yet breathe. But understand, in no way will my name be associated with it.

HUME

(making light)
Published somewhere other than a remote province in China.

SMITH

(a slight smile) 
Not in China. Somewhere near enough to Europe to provoke the controversy you are so eager to invite. France would supply a more ready audience than England.

HUME

I’m not so sure. On this side of the Channel I am thought to have too little religion, over there I am thought to have too much. Does that cast me into limbo?

SMITH

(a joke about Catholicism and the Vatican) I refer that question to Rome.

HUME

The next time you are in Paris there is a favor, a very private matter, I could ask of you.

SMITH

Of course, anything, if I am able.

HUME

(pause)
Do you have an inkling?

SMITH

You wish me to run down Rousseau and drown him.

HUME

(laughs)
If you should cross paths with the scoundrel and water is convenient, I would have no objection.
(as he searches for something)
There is no one I would more trust than you in such a delicate matter.
(HUME locates the ring he was looking for and shows it to SMITH.)

HUME

I would like this returned to its owner.
(HUME hands the ring to SMITH. A beat as SMITH examines it.)

SMITH

Do I know the owner?

HUME

You do.
(pause)
There was a time, years ago, in France, when love - that word is not too much here - love from one who possesses as much wit and beauty as affection, saved me from total indifference to life. I had been lost in a shadow-land for a time.

SMITH

“Shadow-land”. That could serve as apt title for my years at Oxford. Melancholy seized me and I feared all doors leading out were barred.

HUME

You know the affliction.

SMITH

O indeed I do. Am I to know her name?

HUME

The Comtesse de Boufflers, Marie-Charlotte.

SMITH

I am happy for you my friend. And sorry the affair became interrupted. She made the deepest impression on all who came within her orbit. Her salon was the warmest and most lively in Paris.

HUME

Some evenings did not end for me until the sun rose. Her maid would wake us with a gentle knock on her bedchamber door and bring in coffee. Those memories have been a treasure-house I oft drew from . . . but now . . . knowing I will never see her . . .
(chooses not to finish the sentence)
I ask that you tell no one. I also have a letter for her somewhere.
(Spread out during the following is this action: HUME scans the room for the letter. His focus is on finding the letter rather than on SMITH. Thoughts of women have somehow pulled SMITH into an absent spell. He goes to the food table. As he looks mostly into the distance, he takes a roll, pulls off a bite size, butters it, dips it in his wine, and eats. He does not notice anything amiss with his bread.)

SMITH

I cannot give you a firm date but you have my promise to call on her. No one will hear a whisper of this.

HUME

(now seeing the sealed letter; points) There it is, over there. It goes with the ring.
(HUME sees that SMITH has become absently engaged with the bread and wine. As before, this sight does not alarm him; rather he is touched and amused by his eccentric friend.)

SMITH

Ah, you found it. Just a moment.
(gestures that his hands are full; continues to nibble)

HUME

I don’t understand how you dodged Cupid’s darts these many years.

SMITH

When I was young his missiles could graze me, even tore my garments a few times. I’m not sure . . . that a woman ever found me . . . sufficiently lovely.

HUME

Rubbish.

SMITH

Is it? By now we may reliably infer that a wife was not our fate.

HUME

Should we regret that?

SMITH

Have you? 

HUME 

Have you?

SMITH

(pause; there is some regret)
The Lord grants us only one life to live.

HUME

That is the commonest view. Our lives left us all the more time for books, ideas, and companionship. Though it must be admitted books can lack for softness, curves, and bodily warmth.

SMITH

Ideas and books - they are our forebears and our children. We would be the envy of some gods.
(takes a sip of wine)
This is the poorest claret I’ve ever tasted in your house.

HUME

(bemused)
Something may have fallen in the glass.

SMITH

(swirls his glass and looks) How did you know?

HUME

Set it aside and pour a new one. You can put more in here (into Hume’s glass)
while you’re at it.

SMITH

Would the doctors approve?

HUME

A man at the end of his life may be permitted a second glass.
(SMITH refills Hume’s glass and pours himself a new one.)

SMITH

I am a doctor too, though unfortunately it’s moral philosophy, not medicine. Nevertheless I approve. You may even have a third if you desire.

HUME

(smiles)
No approbation means more to me than yours. Help me back into bed, would you please?
(SMITH does so. These men love each other. Crowd noise is heard again but at a low level. SMITH remembers the letter, puts it in a pocket, and steps toward the window. They are silent with their wine. CHARON enters from a direction HUME cannot see. SMITH cannot see CHARON regardless. CHARON silently observes.)

SMITH

(as he looks to the window)
Charon’s boat is about to pull away, isn’t it?

HUME

Do you know the lines from Pope: “A heap of dust alone remains of thee, / ‘Tis all thou art, and all the proud shall be.” The doctor has promised that all shall be over soon.
This last week my infirmities have so multiplied that life has become a burden. Peggy would readily tell you just how much. Did you know you were always her favorite guest? She once remarked you possessed a kind soul and I failed to disabuse her. . . You being here is good medicine.

SMITH

(looks to HUME)
‘cept when you crash onto the floor.
(SMITH moves closer to the window. The crowd sees him; their clamor rises.)

SMITH

So vile an insect man can be. They remind just how spiteful and ill-natured.

HUME

Pshaw. I grant them no credence as an adversary. They are an ignorant hornets’ nest stirred up without cause. Here am I, who have written on all sorts of subjects calculated to excite hostility - moral, political, and religious - one book so scandalous not even you will touch it - and yet I have no enemies . . .
(pause for comic effect)
except for all the Whigs, all the Tories, and all the Christians.
(A beat as they enjoy the joke. HUME sees CHARON. Their eyes meet. HUME is slightly surprised but not alarmed.)

SMITH

Do you feel ready, David? For the undiscovered country.

HUME

The author of Hamlet presupposes a creature exists to do the discovering.

SMITH

I am inclined to think Shakespeare is right there.

HUME

But we don’t know, do we?

SMITH

Ever the skeptic.
(As SMITH is looking elsewhere, HUME looks at CHARON.)

HUME

My thoughts may be shifting in your direction. What have you and I spent our lifetime doing? Cicero put it plainly: “To philosophize is to learn how to die.” Now is my test.
(Mournful bagpipe music slowly rises and continues to end of scene. SMITH takes HUME’s hand.)

SMITH

(fighting emotion)
We arm ourselves with as much wisdom as we can find, yet even the staunchest stoic cannot keep the heart from tearing at a time like this.

HUME

Come on Smith, I believe I am the one dying.

SMITH

And who is now condemned to live in a world without his brother? . . . I don’t know how it will be [with you gone] .
. . I don’t wish to let go.

HUME

Please hand me my wig.
(SMITH is puzzled by this request but with his free hand gives him the wig. HUME now addresses CHARON, invisible to SMITH.)

HUME

Oh that’s right, there’s no need.
(SMITH is confused but lets it slide. HUME sets the wig aside. He lifts his and SMITH’s joined hands and squeezes. Their eyes meet. HUME stops breathing. HUME’s head goes slack. He has died. As SMITH fights grief, CHARON approaches the bed. SMITH kisses HUME and slides down his eyelids. From his pocket SMITH retrieves the gypsy amulet, kisses it, and places it in HUME’s mouth. He draws the sheet up over HUME’s head. Grief-stricken, he embraces the shrouded body. In the following, from SMITH’S perspective HUME’s body remains present and still under the sheet. SMITH is unable to see or hear CHARON nor does HUME appear to move. CHARON pulls down the sheet, confirms that an obol rests under HUME’s tongue, and removes it. He briefly examines this obol because it’s an odd one, shrugs that he guesses it will do, and pockets it. CHARON then lightly touches HUME. HUME opens his eyes and looks at CHARON.)
It is time.

 CHARON

(HUME nods that he understands. With CHARON guiding him by the arm, HUME rises and they exit. SMITH is left alone. Lights fade.)


END OF ACT ONE



ACT 2

Fourteen years later. Sunday, July 17, 1790. Early evening. We are in Adam Smith’s bedroom at Panmure House, his home in Edinburgh. Smith, now age 67, is weak and near death. This Act opens with SMITH asleep in bed, reclining against pillows. He wears a wig. He had dozed off working on papers containing handwritten notes. These are visible. CHARON enters. As he does so, crows caw outside. CHARON goes to a window to observe the birds. He waves his pole in their direction and they abruptly go silent. Throughout this Act crows are heard now and then in the distance. CHARON turns to SMITH and silently observes him. He then rouses him by banging his pole on something. This startles SMITH.


SMITH

(Seeing CHARON, SMITH struggles to absorb what his senses are telling him. He scrambles out of bed and retreats. He shouts to a room off.)
Who's there? Peggy!
(to CHARON)
Where’s Peggy? Have you harmed her?

CHARON

I know not this Peggy. If she be breathing, however, we are like to meet one day.

SMITH

Who let you in?

CHARON

Do I need permission?

SMITH

Charon?

CHARON

That’s what my mother called me.

SMITH

O my good lord, at last I have gone fully mad.

CHARON

You have gone nowhere near that crazy country. The sight of me can make old boats spring a leak but you were built of sturdy stuff.

SMITH

When my friend died a delirium persuaded him you were come to fetch him.

CHARON

I do remember.

SMITH

You do? So now is my time.

CHARON

Aren’t you clever. My boat awaits you.

SMITH

Hold on. What if I prefer not to go?

CHARON

Prefer? How mortals like to inflate their agency. Here’s what could happen: a raving monster leaps out of the water and eats you for dinner.

SMITH

And what becomes of me after he enjoys his meal?

CHARON

Cannot speak to that but the return voyage would go easier with you in a creature’s belly instead of my boat.

SMITH

How could one ever trust your verity?

CHARON

You’ll trust soon enough when the shore goes small behind us.

SMITH

(pauses to think, then testing) Tell me more about yourself.

CHARON

There are but few of us who work the river. War and pestilence, such as the plague that almost destroyed London last century, can outrun our capacity and make delays. Being senior boatman, I am expected to fetch souls of wide repute, including those of a certain skeptical persuasion.

SMITH

Would that category include me?

CHARON

You and Mr. Hume have made Scotland famous for doubting troublemakers, but lately, or so I gather, France has surpassed you in that regard.

SMITH

Whatever doubts I may hold have been kept a private matter.

CHARON

Your long and public friendship with Mr. Hume would throw doubt on that claim.

SMITH

What deserves the most extreme doubt is your appearance in this room. Where is the alleged boat?

CHARON

Not far.

SMITH

(now tries another angle for testing Charon; off the papers on the bed)
I have been preparing a new edition of my book, which, as it happens, addresses naval trade. Would you allow a few questions?

CHARON

Time is short.

SMITH

I can be brief. Do you serve a master?

CHARON

A lord and master. I believe he is the same as yours.

SMITH

Does he have a name?

CHARON

Zeus be one of them. Boats and the river are what I know best. What questions there?

SMITH

Yes. Is the vessel your private property?
(SMITH sees that CHARON is confused.) 

SMITH

(to clarify)
Do you own your boat? Or receive free use of it, or pay a rent?

CHARON

What I may say is my ferry is ancient and esteemed for its history of grand passengers. Anyone who dares use it without permission, why this pole would whack them something fierce.
(CHARON demonstrates by striking something. SMITH flinches.)

SMITH

A substantial weapon. The few who work the river, do you form a guild?

CHARON

I don’t know guild.

SMITH

I see. Passengers pay a fee, I believe.

CHARON

I trust your obol is at the ready.

SMITH

If you prove real, I assure you a coin will be supplied. Do boatmen compete on price?

CHARON

Each pilot judges whether the obol be sufficient. If not, the cheap soul is left to rot in his carcass a while longer.

SMITH

So the obol procures faster service. Is your trade a monopoly?

CHARON

Monopoly?

SMITH

Do you and your colleagues have competitors?

CHARON

What are you, philosopher or merchant?

SMITH

Are there others who could convey me to the next world? Do I have a choice?

CHARON

I told you, you have no choice. Passengers are assigned to us.

SMITH

Are you obliged to pay a tariff or customs duty on your cargo?

CHARON

Never heard of such.

SMITH

What of smugglers - do they harass you?

CHARON

On the river Styx? You can’t be serious.

SMITH

I am acquainted with the villains. Do you keep fully occupied?

CHARON

My dear sir, please understand there be no end to dying. Nor to your questions either.

SMITH

That cloak is curious. Do you earn enough to be tolerably clothed, and fed, and lodged?

CHARON

Cannot complain.

SMITH

Good. A society that wants for those necessities may need some repair. Were conditions otherwise, there is a book I could recommend.

CHARON

I know some who can read.

SMITH

Thank you for sharing your naval knowledge, though, meaning no offense, you speak with tenuous authority.

CHARON

I knows what I know.

SMITH

Ah, one last question. On the far shore does a dog with three heads keep guard?

CHARON

Cerberus may growl and show his sharp teeth, but just stick close to me. His job is to stop souls from getting out, not coming in.

SMITH

I wish to be no bother to you, or your dog, or any other creature. My friend showed us the noble way to exit this world. How well do you pretend to know David?

CHARON

Better than most mortal souls. He likes to wander down to the river and ask questions. At the moment I find myself in a most unusual circumstance.

SMITH

We both do.

CHARON

See, your friend, of late he did a favor for the gods.

SMITH

What kind of favor?

CHARON

You would have to ask him. Too bad you cannot see him again.

SMITH

His absence still grieves me deeply.
(CHARON bangs his pole on the floor three times.)

CHARON

(shouting off) You may join us.
(HUME enters.)

HUME

Hello my dear Smith. What a delight.

SMITH

(overwhelming amazement) This is entirely too much for one dying man. (to HUME) My senses have played me double-false - first him, then (grasps his head)
I am descended beyond delirium.

HUME

Though that inference has merit, let it be countered by your sixty-seven years of practical experience.

SMITH

Precisely. I have every reason to disbelieve the creature I see before me is one David Hume.

HUME

I admit to some alteration.

SMITH

And that creature.
(Charon)
What species of logic can explain him?

HUME

Did I not insist there are limits to man’s reason?

SMITH

Is he the one from your dream when you left us?

HUME

The same, though he proved more than a dream.

SMITH

Some magician torments me with a trick.

CHARON

I beg your pardon.

HUME

I actually did meet a magician in Hades.

SMITH

Agh! And poor Peggy, you’d give her such a fright that she would leap into his boat.

HUME

Peggy?

CHARON

Don’t worry yourself. She can’t see or hear him. He came with me and you’re the one dying today.
(SMITH looks at CHARON with exasperation.) 

SMITH

(to HUME)
Yes our lovely Peggy Irvine. She’s up in years with a weak heart. After you left I offered her employment helping care for Mother and overseeing my household. She was a godsend.

HUME

Good good and triple good. That pleases me no end.

CHARON

While you two be pleasing yourselves no end, I’ll take a look around. I’ve never seen so many books under one roof. Be back before too long.
(CHARON exits.)

HUME

He’s a creature of shrewd parts, but honest. Knows more than he lets on. Superb with the boat. Good of him to give us a little more time.

SMITH

I cannot emphasize enough how confused is my confusion.

HUME

I understand.

SMITH

Ohhh
(a huge breath)
what does this mean? I don’t . . . I can’t . . . Did not a dear friend once declare a reasonable man does not believe in miracles?

HUME

He did, once upon a time.

SMITH

It is now my turn to exceed him in skepticism. If your presence here has any substance, despite your lifelong doubt of deities and a hereafter, then I must ask bluntly: Do such things truly exist?

HUME

It would not be the first time I was in error.

SMITH

(peering at him; hoping for assurance)
If [true] . . . then would I greet that testament with joy. The very suspicion of a fatherless world has always been the most melancholy of reflections. All the splendor in the universe could never lighten the gloom spreading from that prospect. Have you really met gods, as he says?

HUME

They were carrying on a fierce commotion about - you would never guess - causation. I speak true. Factions had formed and Athena, being the goddess of philosophy, was losing patience with all the bickering. She happened to hear I was esteemed on that subject and so she sent a request: Would I mediate? Meanwhile I had caught wind that you were suffering a disease likely to be fatal and I feared that once you crossed the river I would never find you. I told them I was willing to mediate in exchange for a fee.

SMITH

You wish me to believe you bargained with Athena?

HUME

I knew that would delight you.

SMITH

Delight is hardly the word. What was your fee?

HUME

Why, permission to accompany Charon back here.

SMITH

But for what reason?

HUME

In the hope of our being reunited. The hereafter is vast and contains billions of souls, with little chance of finding someone you seek.

SMITH

This is beyond all belief.

HUME

Alas, my plan may come to naught.

SMITH

Why?

HUME

Our reputations cause gods to worry and some are determined to keep us apart.

SMITH

If you are indeed David Hume - and as yet I remain fat with doubt - this world has sorely missed you. Would you have missed it?

HUME

O have I! And missed what most of all? The hours when we would truck, barter, and exchange ideas. Followed closely by roasted hen. What I would not give to taste that one more time. While sharing a bottle of claret.

SMITH

(still discombobulated)
I believe I should miss strawberries.

HUME

It is shameful (because it implies wish that Smith dies) how I wish you to rejoin me on the other side. What affliction has brought you to Charon’s attention?

SMITH

A pain all through here
(gestures to his abdomen)
has plagued me for months and gets no better. When I insisted on candor, the doctor said I should take care that all my affairs are in order. That was candor enough.
(shows HUME a medicine bottle)Did you have experience with Clinker’s laxative?

HUME

Boiled prunes I believe were reliable.

SMITH

Nothing helps. The doctor does not pretend to know the specific ailment, but guesses obstruction by tumor. I dread the thought of one more useless enema. Now you know more than you cared to.

HUME

You were never an optimist about health.

SMITH

Believe me my friend, the heart goes tired with beating; the machine is worn out.

HUME

(having noticed a tremor in SMITH’s hands) Your hands did not used to shake.

SMITH

Just the last year. I never wrote with much ease but now it’s nigh impossible. I have outlived my usefulness.

HUME

Did you attend my funeral?

SMITH

Need you ask?

HUME

And? [tell me more] I was not in a position to witness it.

SMITH

Your exit made the heavens weep, as a fierce storm fell. Claps of thunder left us unsure ‘twas celestial rebuke or acclaim. The sizable crowd was not entirely friendly. Afterwards we had to post guards round your grave to keep zealots from desecrating it.

HUME

What a bother can be both religion and death.

SMITH

I must say you overdid it with the tomb.

HUME

He was a fine architect.

SMITH

David, it is the greatest piece of vanity I ever saw you exhibit. You forgot - your lasting monument is ideas.

HUME

Where will your body rest?

SMITH

Canongate churchyard.
(pointedly)
And simply. Your noble manner of passing inspired me to report it in a letter to Strahan. He persuaded me the world deserved to know how David Hume died, and so I permitted him to publish it. I have it around somewhere.
(locates it) 
How seditious does this sound?

HUME

Seditious?
(reads)

SMITH

“Thus died our most excellent, and never to be forgotten friend; concerning whose philosophical opinions men will, no doubt, judge variously; but whose temper, indeed, seemed to be more happily balanced than that of any other man I have ever known.” Et cetera et cetera. I closed with: “Upon the whole, I have always considered him, both in his lifetime and since his death, as approaching as nearly to the idea of a perfectly wise and virtuous man, as perhaps the nature of human frailty will permit.”

HUME

I am touched.

SMITH

What, not incited to atheism? This single piece of paper brought upon me ten times more abuse than the violent attack my thousand-page book made upon the whole commercial system of Great Britain.

HUME

I regret to hear that.

SMITH

Some days after your funeral I was back in Kirkcaldy and went for a walk, reminiscing on our many dinners and arguments.
Church bells ringing made me ask where I was. Thinking I must me mad, someone told me I was in Dunfermline.

HUME

Where is that?

SMITH

Some fifteen miles from Kirkcaldy. I needed to ask the way home.

HUME

A goodly time has now lapsed since my funeral. Am I still remembered?

SMITH

Remembered? My good friend, have you lost all sense? You are spoken of in the same breath as Socrates and Newton and Cicero. Whenever present-day Edinburgh is boasted as the Athens of the eighteenth century, you are the first reason why. Not only are you remembered, a great many still miss you.
(A cawing of crows rises. The noise draws them to a window. The cawing peters out.)

HUME

(looking toward the crows)
They’re a noisy crowd. Does my work continue to provoke controversy?

SMITH

Some of it; not the histories. Do you recall that unpleasant meeting with Boswell?

HUME

Ugh. Had he listened better to your lectures at Glasgow, he might have turned out sane.

SMITH

What I am about to relate will not improve your opinion. You witnessed how your equanimity in the face of death filled him with a kind of terror. Later he sought me out for a private meeting. Claimed you visited his dreams and confessed you had been a true and devout Christian all the while. Called it “a dream most agreeable.”

HUME

I’m sure it was. It comports with my view that when a man ardently wishes to believe something, he will often find a way.

SMITH

You have never visited him from beyond the grave?

HUME

‘Twere that possible, he is the last creature I would attend.

SMITH

He carried to our meeting a compulsion to confess, as if he were Papist and I his priest. One night after your burial, he took a prostitute to a garden shed next to the cemetery. While holding a steady gaze upon your grave, he took full frenzy with her.

HUME

What on earth was such defiant perversion meant to communicate?

SMITH

No man knows himself less than James Boswell. The mysteries of our species can be unfathomable.

HUME

Even if ten thousand more philosophers were to study us for ten thousand more years. I hope you offered his sad soul absolution.

SMITH

I have seen little of him since that excruciation. He continued to follow Johnson everywhere, grabbing what crumbs of conversation fell off his highness’s table. Then he stuffed all those crumbs into a book that he now wagers will make his fortune. If fortune is to visit, she best arrive soon.

HUME

Why is that?

SMITH

Years of vice have harmed his body, I am told. Johnson is no longer around; he died the same year as Mother.

HUME

I’m sorry. I hope she did not suffer.

SMITH

The pain was considerable but we had medicine. She was ninety. As death approached, she asked my view. I replied, if she had seen her fill of life and felt ready to leave, she had my blessing. She passed away in this house.

HUME

Growing up without fathers, our mothers were obliged to serve us double-duty. The three Fates blessed us with two remarkable women. Your constant devotion added to my esteem for you.

SMITH

My “tinker brother” was what she called you, because we were always tinkering with ideas. She loved me more than any other person ever did. You were next to her in my affections.

HUME

She knew my reputation among the clergy?

SMITH

Did not everyone? But she knew that if I loved you, she could not fail to do but likewise. Early on she aspired for me to enter the ministry but soon forgave me for showing no inclination.

HUME

I still recall words preached on Sundays: "Let it not grieve us to look upon ourselves without flattery” -

SMITH

“or blind affection of love." Calvin got one or two things right. We drank religion from the same cup.

HUME

What it takes to swallow religion is a large gulp of faith. Smith, a different mystery demands that I pick a quarrel with you.

SMITH

Hold your fire; my powder has grown damp.

HUME

So much the worse for you. Pray tell, when did you move to Edinburgh?

SMITH

Some years ago.

HUME

Some years ago? How often did I beg you to move here? Why did you wait ‘til Charon’s boat floated me away? Is that how one treats a dear friend?

SMITH

There were many developments after you . . . For one, I was appointed Commissioner of Customs for Scotland.

HUME

Wait; what did I just hear?

SMITH

You happen to be meeting with Scotland’s Commissioner of Customs. That position required me to be in Edinburgh frequently so I purchased Panmure House and moved my household here.

HUME

How could the world’s famous champion of free trade have done such a thing? A Catholic might as well turn Muslim, pack up his things in Rome, and move to Istanbul.

SMITH

You did not read Wealth of Nations closely. I am opposed to customs duties used as an instrument of monopoly, but I've no objection to reasonable duties applied fairly and being a source of government revenue.

HUME

You wish me to believe it was more important for Adam Smith to chase smugglers than write his next book.

SMITH

The salary was substantial.

HUME

You have a pension and your books sell well.

SMITH

And . . . I felt the need for a reprieve from philosophy. A sensibility you had some acquaintance with.

HUME

But I did not run out and start collecting taxes!

SMITH

David, please try to understand. My choice was not so different from yours.

HUME

(not satisfied)
Alright. Point made. But I remain aggrieved you waited ‘til I was dead to move here. Just imagine how many more dinners and debates we could have shared. It would have been heaven. At least your move to Edinburgh made it easier for Ramsay to do your portrait. Where does the painting hang?

SMITH

You will not be pleased.

HUME

Do not tell me ‘tis in London.

SMITH

‘Tis nowhere. Didn’t happen.

HUME

How can that be? Allan was eager and you promised.

SMITH

I promised to try. We were both busy - he was often in London and Italy - our schedules never could join. And then we lost him, the same year we lost Mother and Johnson.

HUME

Has your portrait been painted by anyone?

SMITH

(pause)
There are one or two credible sketches.
(SMITH locates and shows a simple printed sketch of himself.)

HUME

The artist knows how to push a pencil but he -

SMITH

She.

HUME

She does not begin to do you justice. I and the future are sorely disappointed Smith. Posterity will want to know what philosophy looked like when it flourished in our day, and you have denied them that pleasure.

SMITH

They may read my books. And when they feel the need to gaze upon a handsome Scottish philosopher, they can always visit two fine portraits of yourself.

HUME

You are a stubborn cur. Did it ever occur to you that lack of vanity is sometimes no virtue? Forget the damn painting. Now tell me, what has happened to America. I’ve heard not a word.

SMITH

The war dragged on and finally ended with our total surrender. Last year the colonists elected General Washington president. When they wrote up their Constitution, Burke delivered me a copy straight away. It expresses many fine principles but harbors a singular peril: They allowed slavery to continue. After righteously declaring that all men are created equal and proclaiming their intent to form a more perfect union - greed and prejudice won out.

HUME

Even as all mankind stands staring at one another, there is no beating it into their heads that the turban of the African is just as good or bad as the cowl of the European. Slavery is among the most pernicious institutions man ever devised, with prejudice its frequent handmaiden.

SMITH

Nature plants that flaw in each of us.

HUME

I confess I was no exception.

SMITH

Pitt said many colonists did attempt to outlaw slavery and the debates were shouting fierce. But in the end the planters and merchants and ship owners, having grown rich, proved too powerful. Now I fear America nurses a tumor in its youthful frame that may one day turn deadly cancer. It has squandered a chance to be a shining light to the world.

HUME

Being dead alters one’s view of time, to put it mildly. Though America has made a grave moral error, I doubt it has abandoned forever the imperfect struggle toward a more perfect union. More colonists will follow Jefferson and read your words that indict slavery and warn that excessive wealth buys political influence, which endangers society.

SMITH

Did you know Jefferson owns slaves on his Virginia plantation? So does Washington.

HUME

No. I recall Franklin once did but to his great credit, he freed them.

SMITH

What a chasm can divide our ideals from our practices. You said you were in the dark about America. Are you equally uninformed about France?

HUME

Indeed, and with so many friends there, all the more eager for news.
(SMITH finds a newspaper and plops it before HUME.)

SMITH

Look there. The headlines are France France and more France. The news is bleak. Does your ferryman not return soon?

HUME

Be brief. Tell me the worst.

SMITH

You were aware of the simmering unrest. Well, last year revolution did break out, inspired partly by America.

HUME

The two countries differ entirely.

SMITH

We know history is too little studied and too often ignored. Rebels stormed the Bastille in order to free its horde of prisoners.
The seven convicts they actually found were quite pleased to be liberated. Later thousands of women marched on Versailles and forced Louis to move to Paris. Because our books associate us with the American cause, some have also yoked us to this crisis.

HUME

As illogical as it is unjust.

SMITH

I have been corresponding with our friends. While Condorcet is sympathetic to the rebels’ complaints, he fears things could turn nasty, very nasty.

HUME

Tyrants, a cruel club the Bourbons have oft belonged to, produce rebels. But as history informs us, when rebels prevail they are just as apt to become tyrants in turn.

SMITH

When trouble broke out I was distressed not to have acted on your dying request. I took Condorcet into my confidence and he insisted on helping, at no little risk to himself. Last winter, with your letter and ring in my pocket, I traveled incognito. At first no one could find the Comtesse. Imagine where we finally located her: La Force prison. Aristocrats and intellectuals have been jailed willy-nilly and she got ensnared in the chaos. By bribing guards I was able to see her. As she read your letter her cheeks became moist. Your affections, she said, relieved months of misery. She kept the letter and after holding the ring to her lips, handed it back. Said it would only be stolen. Condorcet did not wish to be responsible for it, so it came back here.
(SMITH retrieves the ring, holds it up, then places it on a furniture’s surface, where it is visible to HUME and the audience.)

SMITH

The Comtesse was willing to accept my currency. She whispered her thanks; said she could make good use of it in prison.

HUME

How did you perceive she was bearing up?

SMITH

She still displays more learning and wit than any ten professors.

HUME

You know professors with wit?

SMITH

Do be nice. I was once in that trade.

HUME

Quite true. Apologies.

SMITH

As you would know better than I, she possesses reserves of fortitude. And, good news just arrived: she is out of prison. Whether by escape, bribery, or acquittal, we don’t know. She now hides in the countryside. If matters get worse, and I lay a hundred guineas to ten they will, she’ll make haste to Leiden or London.

HUME

Ugh. The lives of mortals are of no greater importance to the universe than that of an oyster.

SMITH

Diderot talks of strangling the last king with the entrails of the last priest.

HUME

Does he?

SMITH

Condorcet is not sure whether he can secure even his own life.

HUME

Many friends may meet their end, regardless of their politics. Were I King Louis or his young queen, my sleep would be uneasy.

SMITH

You were justly perturbed that some in Parliament made our books convenient to blame for the American debacle.

HUME

Were it possible for me to write another book I would draw and quarter and gut the scoundrels.

SMITH

All that has made me realize how little able we are to guard our future reputation.
(holds up a pamphlet)
This shows my point. A professor in Vienna praises my invisible hand as unassailable proof for a laissez faire system. I say nothing of the kind.

HUME

Distortions like that could also be my fate. Your Austrian scholar makes a poor student.

SMITH

Perhaps I am at fault for not writing more clearly.

HUME

Na, your books display more clarity than most.

SMITH

Better I had written no books, taught no students, than that my principles be so abused. Laissez faire would lead to monopolies, corruption, extreme concentration of wealth. Who would want to live in such a world, other than the few at the top? And even they would soon tire of the misery around them. My ardent desire has been to increase virtue; expand prosperity; have it shared by more citizens; and promote honest government.

HUME

Here here.

SMITH

Extremes of opulence corrupt moral sentiments. They dispose us to admire the rich and the great, and to despise or neglect persons of poor and mean condition.

HUME

(lightly applauds in good humor)
Thank you for the enlightened lecture, Professor Smith. What humanity requires on its menu is skepticism, humility, moderation, distrust of grand schemes -

SMITH

Do not forget self-command.

HUME

And sympathy. With a bit of luck, at the end of that virtuous meal, our species just might find itself dwelling in a less imperfect world. That would be no mean accomplishment. Do you have any idea how much I have missed you?

SMITH

(allows himself to be moved)
One reason I’ve enjoyed having Peggy here is she reminds me of you.

HUME

(a pause to enjoy that sentiment)
The doctor advised you put your affairs in order. Did you?

SMITH

It was a simple matter; there is little to bequeath.

HUME

That cannot be.

SMITH

I have lived a simple life. There is no end of people in need. I silently helped many. Now as I take my leave, I am most pleased to have done so.

HUME

I helped a few, but should have done more.

SMITH

What can be added to the happiness of a man who is in health, out of debt, and has a clear conscience? My literary executor
- which had been your duty ‘til you rudely left us - will have an easy job.

HUME

I had urged you to complete your theories on taste and criticism and get them to the printer.

SMITH

I did produce hundreds of manuscript pages but came up short with the energy to assemble them into something coherent.

HUME

That’s right, you were off collecting taxes.

SMITH

Yesterday I directed that every page be burned and that that be done before my eyes.

HUME

O Smith, I fear you have made a grievous error.

SMITH

I did not wish my memory to be marred by an ill-formed manuscript. And the fire took off chills from a fever.

HUME

There was gold in your scribbles, I am certain of it. You have acted rashly and made the world poorer.

SMITH

I am afraid future biographers will also be annoyed: I burnt our correspondence.

HUME

You should be flogged for arson. . . Even though the world will not be able to enjoy your science of man treatise, have you ever stopped to think how strange that in an epoch when Scotland has lost its lairds, our own parliament, our independent government; when we were maligned for our accent and pronunciation; spoke - nay continue to speak - a very corrupt dialect of English; is it not strange that in these circumstances a wide number of our authors have become most distinguished for literature in Europe? My Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, did that orphan ever get hatched into the world? 
(SMITH searches for a book. As he shuffles about, he grimaces with pain.)

HUME

You should go back to bed.

SMITH

Na, it won’t be long now. And I’m accustomed to the discomfort.
(SMITH locates the book and hands it to HUME.)

SMITH

Your nephew, with me advising from behind the curtain, handled the business ably. Strahan was tired of scandal so he passed, but we found a printer here happy to take it on.

HUME

Thank you, Smith. This would not have happened without you. (examining the book)
The printer did a capable job.

SMITH

We were pleased.

HUME

How was it received?

SMITH

Praise in some quarters; from others, rebukes for more blasphemy from the Great Infidel. A journal in Germany expressed regret that - I think I have this right - you had flung a stain on the otherwise beautiful canvas of your character.

HUME

(a laugh)
At least they thought my character tolerable before. Is it sacrilege to explore whether the existence of God could be established by natural law, without recourse to revelation or superstition?

SMITH

Is this really an apt time?
(Ignoring this, HUME thumbs pages, chances upon a passage, and reads. As HUME continues to focus on the book, SMITH slips into an absentminded state such as we saw in Act One.He looks into the distance and his lips move as if he were mumbling but there’s no sound.)

HUME

(reading)
Here is the character Cleanthes. “You ask me, what caused the creator? I know not; I care not; that concerns not me. I have found a deity; and here I stop my inquiry. Let those go farther, who are wiser or more enterprising.”
(shifting his gaze toward SMITH, but with his attention still mostly on the book)
I have not seen these words in fourteen years and though I commit the sin of conceit I believe this book to be one of the finest things my pen ever spilled.
(now realizing that SMITH’s mind has wandered; sharply)
Smith.
(SMITH returns.)

HUME

I was reading.
(beat)

SMITH

You have oft been inclined, David - if that is who you are - to overlook how a large share of humanity takes comfort from a belief in God.

HUME

That’s unfair. I call heaven to witness that never did I claim God does not exist. I allowed that a belief in God and immortality - quite apart from their truth - can soften one’s pillow at night. Where I did draw the line, as you full know, was at revelations and other superstitions.

SMITH

You mean such as your friend Charon, to take just one example.

HUME

Well, yes, things have become rather complicated, haven’t they?

SMITH

Your presence produces infinite mischief to the mind.

HUME

Every subject, like a chamber pot, has two handles.

SMITH

At least two.

HUME

I suppose at some point here you will want to decide what I am.

SMITH

Whatever creature you may be, would you say that mortals possess free will?

HUME

What an impossible knot that has been to unravel.

SMITH

Across the river have you had occasion to meet philosophers and argue the question?

HUME

Not a one. But I did come across a playwright - a philosopher of sorts.

SMITH

Would I have heard of him?

HUME

Of course. Aeschylus was one of the greatest. When I commended his six or seven tragedies, he sank into grief. “Do you realize I wrote over eighty plays?“ he cried. How is that for tragedy? Imagine how many works of philosophy and poetry and drama were lost to us from Athens’s golden age.

SMITH

Did he offer an opinion on agency?

HUME

He holds that mortals are neither free nor is their fate determined, and where the balance lies can never be known with certainty, even by the gods. Tragedies, he says, of the sort that he wrote, show how to live with ambiguity. But man goes truant at that school. Do you know how his end came?

SMITH

Was he not a soldier; fought in the Persian wars.

HUME

Yes. But like you, he lived to be an old man. He was killed when an eagle mistook his bald head for a rock and dropped a large tortoise on it.

SMITH

(scoffs) He told you that?
(HUME nods yes.)

SMITH

Have you abandoned all doubt in Hades? You know you cannot trust a playwright. Their habit is to invent stories.

HUME

I consider myself a fair judge of sincerity.

SMITH

Pshaw. Though I will grant ‘tis a good story – and a potent reminder to wear one’s wig outdoors. . . My energy is escaping. Where is your rascal with the boat?

HUME

Let’s hope he hasn’t abandoned us. What would that reveal?

SMITH

That a ghost of David Hume can supply a most entertaining vision. Come help me to bed.
(HUME does so. He props SMITH up with pillows.)

HUME

Might mortal belief in gods be something like a magic trick? Self-administered. Here, while we wait for the ferryman, let me amuse you. A magician in Hades taught me a few tricks.

SMITH

(still trying to discern the reality here)
Would that have been before or after your Greek playwright? I have never been an enthusiast for magic tricks.

HUME

I am strictly amateur but please make an effort. It will distract the pain.

SMITH

If I fall asleep, feel free to wake me. If that be possible.
(HUME holds up the Dialogues book.) 

HUME

What do you see here?
(SMITH is not getting into the spirit of this.)

HUME

Come on, Smith. Show some life.

SMITH

Forgive me if confidence in my senses goes lacking today.

HUME

But a magician needs an audience.

SMITH

Alright, a book is perhaps what I see.

HUME

One that I hear is finely written.
(HUME holds the book upside down by the spine, and leafs through the downward facing pages.)

HUME

Would you agree it is intact and contains nothing but pages?

SMITH

And scandal.

HUME

You are not cooperating.

SMITH

From my supine, skeptical position, yes I would agree.
(HUME now holds the book in the normal reading position and pretends to read.)

HUME

Once upon a time there was a prince and princess who became separated by a storm so violent on an ocean so vast that they were lost to each other. This cast a heavy, dark spell everywhere, and most especially upon the sad prince. Then one day he discovered a book. When he opened it, he found -
(In the ta-da manner of a magician, HUME extracts from the book the Comtesse’s ring and holds it out for SMITH to see. SMITH glances to the furniture where the ring had been.)

HUME

He saw it was the ring the princess wore.

SMITH

Children might call that a miracle.

HUME

That is how a magician counts success. (back to the improvised fairytale)
The ring lightened the prince’s heart beyond measure. Though fate never brought the lovers back together, for all the rest of his days the prince kept the ring close, clasped it to his heart daily, and never forgot his beloved.
(CHARON enters, unseen by HUME and SMITH. He keeps his distance and observes.)

HUME

One last story.

SMITH

Your prince puts me in mind of a ball.
(pause)

HUME

Yes?

SMITH

I don’t know that you ever attended one. Did you?

HUME

In Paris, and once in London. My dancing drew more fright than praise from the ladies.

SMITH

I never did. Now, I cannot help but wonder, did I cheat myself?

HUME

(tenderly) I don’t imagine.
(back to the book) May I? [continue]

SMITH

Please.
(HUME turns to a later page in the book and pretends to read.)

HUME

The prince is now a stooped old fellow. He is helping his dearest friend pack for a long and uncertain journey. There have been tears because this may be their final hour together. When the prince asks where is the money for the trip, his friend, who it must be admitted possessed an absent side, grew alarmed - his purse is nowhere to be found. How will he pay for the boat passage? Then the prince happens to see another book.
(sniffs the book) One that smells of dusty shelves in old dark libraries. (turns to another part of the book, which he now pretends to be the newfound, antique book)
When he opens it, lo and behold
(In another ta-da gesture, HUME pulls from the book Smith’s gypsy amulet and holds it up.)

HUME

he finds a coin so rare and valuable it could buy passage round the world.

SMITH

(now impressed) Where did you get that?

HUME

(pause)
The magician taught me the first rule of his trade is never reveal a secret. The audience may believe they desire the secret, but here is the truth: they want most of all - a miracle.

SMITH

Ah, that desire is midwife to religion.

HUME

He said if we believe in illusion enough, it will become truth.

SMITH

(recalling Horatio’s line to the Ghost early in Hamlet)
“Stay, Illusion!”

CHARON

(stepping forward) What’s this about religion?

SMITH

He was worried you had forgot him - whatever he and you may be.

HUME

(to SMITH)
Are you ready?

SMITH

Cannot say that I am.

SMITH

(to CHARON)
May I be permitted one last question?

CHARON

High time to stop asking about boats and get inside one.

SMITH

Is it true there are gods, some of whom are less than pleased with David Hume and myself?
(Not wanting to go down that path again, CHARON shrugs.)

SMITH

If there is an “over there” over there, of some shape and hue, and if he
(Hume)
possesses a measure of real-ness, I would prefer the two of us stay together. Might the boatman have any counsel?
(CHARON ponders. He takes the Dialogues book from HUME and looks at a page or two. Then he looks at SMITH and HUME.)

CHARON

Fresh out of counsel. . . Could have a story though.

SMITH

Let’s hear that.

CHARON

(as he tells the tale, he holds the book but doesn’t look at it)
Once upon a time in a dark forest far, far away, magpies were being threatened by a pair of eagles.

SMITH

What are their names?

CHARON

Not part of the story. Having discovered the magpies’ nests high in the trees, the eagles began raiding them to eat their eggs and nestlings. The magpies realized something must be done or their flock would perish. Scouts found the eagles’ nest in a lofty snag at the edge of the forest. The magpies made counter-raids, diving down on the eagles in noisy unison. This angered the eagles no end but failed to separate them or drive them away. One night, deep in the forest, the magpies convened their grand council. Ideas and arguments and fury crackled through the trees but no plan was good. Their chac-chac-chac-ing was stopped by a hoo-hooo. Hidden in branches at the edge of their meeting was an owl. She asked if they would care to hear her idea. They readily agreed. The owl asked had they ever known an eagle to bother a wren’s nest. Of course no one had. Where do the clever wrens build their nests?, the owl asked. Low enough in the trees where the eagles, hindered by their big wings, cannot penetrate.
Deciding she had said enough for one night, the owl gave a final hoo-hooo and flew away to find her dinner in the farmer’s field.
The magpies soon built new nests lower and where the branches grew thick. The eagles no longer raided them. After this trouble, whenever magpies found themselves with an extra bit of food, they would set it on a branch near the owl’s hollow.
(CHARON stops the tale and sets down the book. An expectant beat.)

SMITH

Is that it?
(CHARON just looks at him.)

SMITH

Thank you but I fail to see how that sheds light on my predicament.

CHARON

All I had was a story, you said you wanted a story, so I gave you a story.
(CHARON goes to the window and looks out. Crows see him and caw appreciatively. They enjoyed his story.)

SMITH

(to HUME)
Do you find sense here?

HUME

‘Tis a charming folktale from god-knows-where.
(Mournful bagpipe music begins to be heard and gradually rises to end of play.)

CHARON

You will have forever to ponder these things.

SMITH

Forever? That be another mystery - (to HUME) In the hereafter, have you penetrated infinity? (meaning: developed a deeper understanding of it)

HUME

As much a mystery as ever.
(wry)
No end to that one.
(SMITH reacts with a weak smile.)
(formal) Now is time to go.


 CHARON

(HUME extends his hand, intending to offer SMITH reassurance by holding his hand.SMITH is hesitant; draws back his hand. Their eyes lock for a beat or two. Then SMITH advances his hand to allow HUME to meet it and hold it.)

SMITH

I know not where we go but am glad we go together.
(Holding each other’s gaze, HUME squeezes SMITH’S hand reassuringly. SMITH dies. HUME closes SMITH’s eyes and kisses him. CHARON gently opens SMITH’S jaw to collect the obol. It’s not there.)

HUME

Aye, here it is.
(HUME takes the amulet from his pocket and hands it to CHARON. CHARON has doubts about this obol but decides to let it slide. He pockets it. HUME and CHARON help SMITH rise and lead him off. After a few steps, CHARON lets HUME lead SMITH alone while he hangs back and, without HUME or SMITH seeing this, deftly picks up the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion book and slips it under his cloak. CHARON rejoins HUME and SMITH as all three exit.)


END OF PLAY