Edward Gibbon

Edward Gibbon

Overview
Edward Gibbon was an English historian and Member of Parliament
Member of Parliament
A Member of Parliament is a representative of the voters to a :parliament. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, the term applies specifically to members of the lower house, as upper houses often have a different title, such as senate, and thus also have different titles for its members,...

. His most important work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is a non-fiction history book written by English historian Edward Gibbon and published in six volumes. Volume I was published in 1776, and went through six printings. Volumes II and III were published in 1781; volumes IV, V, VI in 1788–89...

, was published in six volumes between 1776 and 1788. The Decline and Fall is known for the quality and irony of its prose, its use of primary sources, and its open criticism of organized religion.

Edward Gibbon was born in 1737, the son of Edward and Judith Gibbon at Lime Grove, in the town of Putney
Putney
Putney is a district in south-west London, England, located in the London Borough of Wandsworth. It is situated south-west of Charing Cross. The area is identified in the London Plan as one of 35 major centres in Greater London....

, Surrey
Surrey
Surrey is a county in the South East of England and is one of the Home Counties. The county borders Greater London, Kent, East Sussex, West Sussex, Hampshire and Berkshire. The historic county town is Guildford. Surrey County Council sits at Kingston upon Thames, although this has been part of...

.
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Quotations

The reign of Antoninus is marked by the rare advantage of furnishing very few materials for history, which is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.

Vol. 1, Chap. 3. Compare: "L'histoire n'est que le tableau des crimes et des malheurs" (translated: "History is but the record of crimes and misfortunes"), Voltaire, L'Ingénu, chap. x.

Revenge is profitable, gratitude is expensive.

Vol. 1, Chap. 11.

Amiable weaknesses of human nature.

Vol. 1, Chap. 14. Compare: "Amiable weakness", Henry Fielding, Tom Jones, Book x, Chapter viii.

In every deed of mischief he had a heart to resolve, a head to contrive, and a hand to execute.

Vol. 1, Chap. 48. Compare: "He had a head to contrive, a tongue to persuade, and a hand to execute any mischief", Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon (on Hampden), History of the Rebellion, Vol. iii, Book vii, Section 84.

Our sympathy is cold to the relation of distant misery.

Vol. 1, Chap. 49.

Vicissitudes of fortune, which spares neither man nor the proudest of his works, which buries empires and cities in a common grave.

Vol. 1, Chap. 71.

All that is human must retrograde if it do not advance.

Vol. 1, Chap. 71.
Encyclopedia
Edward Gibbon was an English historian and Member of Parliament
Member of Parliament
A Member of Parliament is a representative of the voters to a :parliament. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, the term applies specifically to members of the lower house, as upper houses often have a different title, such as senate, and thus also have different titles for its members,...

. His most important work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is a non-fiction history book written by English historian Edward Gibbon and published in six volumes. Volume I was published in 1776, and went through six printings. Volumes II and III were published in 1781; volumes IV, V, VI in 1788–89...

, was published in six volumes between 1776 and 1788. The Decline and Fall is known for the quality and irony of its prose, its use of primary sources, and its open criticism of organized religion.

Early life: 1737–1752


Edward Gibbon was born in 1737, the son of Edward and Judith Gibbon at Lime Grove, in the town of Putney
Putney
Putney is a district in south-west London, England, located in the London Borough of Wandsworth. It is situated south-west of Charing Cross. The area is identified in the London Plan as one of 35 major centres in Greater London....

, Surrey
Surrey
Surrey is a county in the South East of England and is one of the Home Counties. The county borders Greater London, Kent, East Sussex, West Sussex, Hampshire and Berkshire. The historic county town is Guildford. Surrey County Council sits at Kingston upon Thames, although this has been part of...

. He had six siblings: five brothers and one sister, all of whom died in infancy. His grandfather, also named Edward, had lost all of his assets as a result of the South Sea Bubble stock market collapse in 1720, but eventually regained much of his wealth, so that Gibbon's father was able to inherit a substantial estate.

As a youth, his health was under constant threat. He described himself as "a puny child, neglected by my Mother, starved by my nurse." At age nine, Gibbon was sent to Dr. Woddeson's school at Kingston upon Thames
Kingston upon Thames
Kingston upon Thames is the principal settlement of the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames in southwest London. It was the ancient market town where Saxon kings were crowned and is now a suburb situated south west of Charing Cross. It is one of the major metropolitan centres identified in the...

 (now Kingston Grammar School
Kingston Grammar School
Kingston Grammar School is an independent co-educational school in Kingston upon Thames, Greater London. The school was founded by Royal Charter in 1561 but can trace its roots back to at least the 13th century. It is a registered charity under English law....

), shortly after which his mother died. He then took up residence in the Westminster School
Westminster School
The Royal College of St. Peter in Westminster, almost always known as Westminster School, is one of Britain's leading independent schools, with the highest Oxford and Cambridge acceptance rate of any secondary school or college in Britain...

 boarding house, owned by his adored "Aunt Kitty," Catherine Porten. Soon after she died in 1786, he remembered her as rescuing him from his mother's disdain, and imparting "the first rudiments of knowledge, the first exercise of reason, and a taste for books which is still the pleasure and glory of my life." By 1751, Gibbon's reading was already extensive and certainly pointed toward his future pursuits: Laurence Echard
Laurence Echard
-Life:He was son of the Rev. Thomas Echard or Eachard of Barsham, Suffolk, by his wife, the daughter of Samuel and Dorothy Groome, and was born at Barsham. On 26 May 1687, at the age of seventeen, he was admitted a sizar of Christ's College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. in 1692 and M.A. in 1695...

's Roman History (1713), William Howel(l)'s An Institution of General History (1680–85), and several of the 65 volumes of the acclaimed Universal History from the Earliest Account of Time (1747–1768).

Oxford, Lausanne, and a religious journey: 1752–1758


Following a stay at Bath in 1752 to improve his health, at the age of 15 Gibbon was sent by his father to Magdalen College, Oxford
Magdalen College, Oxford
Magdalen College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. As of 2006 the college had an estimated financial endowment of £153 million. Magdalen is currently top of the Norrington Table after over half of its 2010 finalists received first-class degrees, a record...

, where he was enrolled as a gentleman-commoner. He was ill-suited, however, to the college atmosphere and later rued his 14 months there as the "most idle and unprofitable" of his life. Because he himself says so in his autobiography, it used to be thought that his penchant for "theological controversy" (his aunt's influence) fully bloomed when he came under the spell of the deist or rationalist theologian Conyers Middleton
Conyers Middleton
Conyers Middleton was an English clergyman.Middleton was born at Richmond in Yorkshire, and was educated at school in York and at Trinity College, Cambridge. He graduated from the University of Cambridge, took holy orders, and in 1706 obtained a fellowship, which he resigned upon entering into an...

 (1683–1750), the author of Free Inquiry into the Miraculous Powers (1749). In that tract, Middleton denied the validity of such powers; Gibbon promptly objected, or so the argument used to run. The product of that disagreement, with some assistance from the work of Catholic Bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet was a French bishop and theologian, renowned for his sermons and other addresses. He has been considered by many to be one of the most brilliant orators of all time and a masterly French stylist....

 (1627–1704), and that of the Elizabethan Jesuit Robert Parsons
Robert Parsons (priest)
Robert Persons , later known as Robert Parsons, was an English Jesuit priest.-Early life:...

 (1546–1610), yielded the most memorable event of his time at Oxford: his conversion to Roman Catholicism on June 8, 1753. He was further "corrupted" by the 'free thinking' deism of the playwright/poet couple David and Lucy Mallet
David Mallet (writer)
David Mallet was a Scottish dramatist.He was educated at the University of Edinburgh, and went to London in 1723 to work as a private tutor...

; and finally Gibbon's father, already "in despair," had had enough. David Womersley has shown, however, that Gibbon's claim to having been converted by a reading of Middleton is very unlikely, and was introduced only into the final draft of the "Memoirs" in 1792-93. Bowersock suggests that Gibbon fabricated the Middleton story retrospectively in his anxiety about the impact of the French Revolution and Burke's claim that it was provoked by the French philosophes, so influential on Gibbon.

Within weeks of his conversion, the youngster was removed from Oxford and sent to live under the care and tutelage of Daniel Pavillard, Reformed pastor of Lausanne, Switzerland. It was here that he made one of his life's two great friendships, that of Jacques Georges Deyverdun
Jacques Georges Deyverdun
Jacques Georges Deyverdun was a Swiss classical scholar and translator. He translated Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther into French. He met Edward Gibbon in Lausanne and the two became friends...

 (the French language translator of Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther
The Sorrows of Young Werther
The Sorrows of Young Werther is an epistolary and loosely autobiographical novel by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, first published in 1774; a revised edition of the novel was published in 1787...

); the other being John Baker Holroyd (later Lord Sheffield). Just a year and a half later, after his father threatened to disinherit him, on Christmas Day, 1754, he reconverted to Protestantism
Protestantism
Protestantism is one of the three major groupings within Christianity. It is a movement that began in Germany in the early 16th century as a reaction against medieval Roman Catholic doctrines and practices, especially in regards to salvation, justification, and ecclesiology.The doctrines of the...

. "The various articles of the Romish creed," he wrote, "disappeared like a dream". He remained in Lausanne for five intellectually productive years, a period that greatly enriched Gibbon's already immense aptitude for scholarship and erudition: he read Latin literature; travelled throughout Switzerland studying its cantons' constitutions; and aggressively mined the works of Hugo Grotius
Hugo Grotius
Hugo Grotius , also known as Huig de Groot, Hugo Grocio or Hugo de Groot, was a jurist in the Dutch Republic. With Francisco de Vitoria and Alberico Gentili he laid the foundations for international law, based on natural law...

, Samuel von Pufendorf
Samuel von Pufendorf
Baron Samuel von Pufendorf was a German jurist, political philosopher, economist, statesman, and historian. His name was just Samuel Pufendorf until he was ennobled in 1684; he was made a Freiherr a few months before his death in 1694...

, John Locke
John Locke
John Locke FRS , widely known as the Father of Liberalism, was an English philosopher and physician regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers. Considered one of the first of the British empiricists, following the tradition of Francis Bacon, he is equally important to social...

, Pierre Bayle
Pierre Bayle
Pierre Bayle was a French philosopher and writer best known for his seminal work the Historical and Critical Dictionary, published beginning in 1695....

, and Blaise Pascal
Blaise Pascal
Blaise Pascal , was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Catholic philosopher. He was a child prodigy who was educated by his father, a tax collector in Rouen...

.

Thwarted romance



He also met the one romance in his life: the daughter of the pastor of Crassy, a young woman named Suzanne Curchod
Suzanne Curchod
Suzanne Curchod was a French-Swiss salonist and writer. She hosted one of the most celebrated salons of the Ancien Régime. She was the wife of Jacques Necker, and is often referenced in historical documents as Madame Necker....

, who would later become the wife of Louis XVI's finance minister Jacques Necker
Jacques Necker
Jacques Necker was a French statesman of Swiss birth and finance minister of Louis XVI, a post he held in the lead-up to the French Revolution in 1789.-Early life:...

, and the mother of Madame de Staël
Anne Louise Germaine de Staël
Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein , commonly known as Madame de Staël, was a French-speaking Swiss author living in Paris and abroad. She influenced literary tastes in Europe at the turn of the 19th century.- Childhood :...

. The two developed a warm affinity; Gibbon proceeded to propose marriage, but ultimately wedlock was out of the question, blocked both by his father's staunch disapproval and Curchod's equally staunch reluctance to leave Switzerland. Gibbon returned to England in August 1758 to face his father. There could be no refusal of the elder's wishes. Gibbon put it this way: "I sighed as a lover, I obeyed as a son." He proceeded to cut off all contact with Curchod, even as she vowed to wait for him. Their final emotional break apparently came at Ferney, France in the spring of 1764, though they did see each other at least one more time a year later.

First fame and the grand tour: 1758–1765



Upon his return to England, Gibbon published his first book, Essai sur l'Étude de la Littérature in 1761, which produced an initial taste of celebrity and distinguished him, in Paris at least, as a man of letters. From 1759 to 1770, Gibbon served on active duty and in reserve with the South Hampshire militia, his deactivation in December 1762 coinciding with the militia's dispersal at the end of the Seven Years' War
Seven Years' War
The Seven Years' War was a global military war between 1756 and 1763, involving most of the great powers of the time and affecting Europe, North America, Central America, the West African coast, India, and the Philippines...

. The following year he embarked on the Grand Tour
Grand Tour
The Grand Tour was the traditional trip of Europe undertaken by mainly upper-class European young men of means. The custom flourished from about 1660 until the advent of large-scale rail transit in the 1840s, and was associated with a standard itinerary. It served as an educational rite of passage...

 (of continental Europe), which included a visit to Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

. In his autobiography Gibbon vividly records his rapture when he finally neared "the great object of [my] pilgrimage":

...at the distance of twenty-five years I can neither forget nor express the strong emotions which agitated my mind as I first approached and entered the eternal City. After a sleepless night, I trod, with a lofty step the ruins of the Forum; each memorable spot where Romulus stood, or Tully
Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero , was a Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and Roman constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the equestrian order, and is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.He introduced the Romans to the chief...

 spoke, or Caesar fell, was at once present to my eye; and several days of intoxication were lost or enjoyed before I could descend to a cool and minute investigation.


And it was here that Gibbon first conceived the idea of composing a history of the city, later extended to the entire empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

, a moment known to history as the "Capitoline vision":

It was at Rome, on the fifteenth of October, 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol
Capitoline Hill
The Capitoline Hill , between the Forum and the Campus Martius, is one of the seven hills of Rome. It was the citadel of the earliest Romans. By the 16th century, Capitolinus had become Capitolino in Italian, with the alternative Campidoglio stemming from Capitolium. The English word capitol...

, while the barefooted fryars were singing Vespers
Vespers
Vespers is the evening prayer service in the Western Catholic, Eastern Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran liturgies of the canonical hours...

 in the temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the City first started to my mind.


Womersley (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, p. 12) notes the existence of "good reasons" to doubt the statement's accuracy. Elaborating, Pocock ("Classical History," ¶ #2) refers to it as a likely "creation of memory" or a "literary invention" seeing as how Gibbon, in his autobiography, claimed his journal dated the reminiscence to October 15, when in fact the journal gives no date.

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: 1776–1788



Gibbon returned to England in June 1765. His father died in 1770, and after tending to the estate, which was by no means in good condition, there remained quite enough for Gibbon to settle fashionably in London at 7 Bentinck Street, independent of financial concerns. By February 1773, he was writing in earnest, but not without the occasional self-imposed distraction. He took to London society quite easily, joined the better social clubs, including Dr. Johnson
Samuel Johnson
Samuel Johnson , often referred to as Dr. Johnson, was an English author who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer...

's Literary Club, and looked in from time to time on his friend Holroyd in Sussex. He succeeded Oliver Goldsmith
Oliver Goldsmith
Oliver Goldsmith was an Irish writer, poet and physician known for his novel The Vicar of Wakefield , his pastoral poem The Deserted Village , and his plays The Good-Natur'd Man and She Stoops to Conquer...

 at the Royal Academy as 'professor in ancient history' (honorary but prestigious). In late 1774, he was initiated a freemason of the Premier Grand Lodge of England
Premier Grand Lodge of England
The Premier Grand Lodge of England was founded on 24 June 1717 as the Grand Lodge of London and Westminster and it existed until 1813 when it united with the Ancient Grand Lodge of England to create the United Grand Lodge of England. It was the first Masonic Grand Lodge to be created...

. And, perhaps least productively in that same year, he was returned to the House of Commons for Liskeard
Liskeard
Liskeard is an ancient stannary and market town and civil parish in south east Cornwall, England, United Kingdom.Liskeard is situated approximately 20 miles west of Plymouth, west of the River Tamar and the border with Devon, and 12 miles east of Bodmin...

, Cornwall
Cornwall
Cornwall is a unitary authority and ceremonial county of England, within the United Kingdom. It is bordered to the north and west by the Celtic Sea, to the south by the English Channel, and to the east by the county of Devon, over the River Tamar. Cornwall has a population of , and covers an area of...

 through the intervention of his relative and patron, Edward Eliot
Edward Craggs-Eliot, 1st Baron Eliot
Edward Craggs-Eliot, 1st Baron Eliot was born to Richard Eliot and Harriot Craggs , the illegitimate daughter of the Privy Counsellor and Secretary of State, James Craggs and Hester Santlow, the noted...

. He became the archetypal back-bencher, benignly "mute" and "indifferent," his support of the Whig ministry invariably automatic. Gibbon's indolence in that position, perhaps fully intentional, subtracted little from the progress of his writing.

After several rewrites, with Gibbon "often tempted to throw away the labours of seven years," the first volume of what would become his life's major achievement, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is a non-fiction history book written by English historian Edward Gibbon and published in six volumes. Volume I was published in 1776, and went through six printings. Volumes II and III were published in 1781; volumes IV, V, VI in 1788–89...

, was published on February 17, 1776. Through 1777, the reading public eagerly consumed three editions for which Gibbon was rewarded handsomely: two-thirds of the profits amounting to approximately £1,000. Biographer Leslie Stephen wrote that thereafter, "His fame was as rapid as it has been lasting." And as regards this first volume, "Some warm praise from David Hume
David Hume
David Hume was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, known especially for his philosophical empiricism and skepticism. He was one of the most important figures in the history of Western philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment...

 overpaid the labour of ten years."

Volumes II and III appeared on March 1, 1781, eventually rising "to a level with the previous volume in general esteem." Volume IV was finished in June 1784; the final two were completed during a second Lausanne sojourn (September 1783 to August 1787) where Gibbon reunited with his friend Deyverdun in leisurely comfort. By early 1787, he was "straining for the goal" and with great relief the project was finished in June. Gibbon later wrote:

It was on the day, or rather the night, of the 27th of June, 1787, between the hours of eleven and twelve, that I wrote the last lines of the last page in a summer-house in my garden. ... I will not dissemble the first emotions of joy on the recovery of my freedom, and perhaps the establishment of my fame. But my pride was soon humbled, and a sober melancholy was spread over my mind by the idea that I had taken my everlasting leave of an old and agreeable companion, and that, whatsoever might be the future date of my history, the life of the historian must be short and precarious..


Volumes IV, V, and VI finally reached the press in May 1788, publication having been delayed since March to coincide with a dinner party celebrating Gibbon's 51st birthday (the 8th). Mounting a bandwagon of praise for the later volumes were such contemporary luminaries as Adam Smith
Adam Smith
Adam Smith was a Scottish social philosopher and a pioneer of political economy. One of the key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, Smith is the author of The Theory of Moral Sentiments and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations...

, William Robertson
William Robertson (historian)
William Robertson FRSE FSA was a Scottish historian, minister of religion, and Principal of the University of Edinburgh...

, Adam Ferguson
Adam Ferguson
Adam Ferguson FRSE, also known as Ferguson of Raith was a Scottish philosopher, social scientist and historian of the Scottish Enlightenment...

, Lord Camden
Charles Pratt, 1st Earl Camden
Charles Pratt, 1st Earl Camden was an English lawyer, judge and Whig politician who was first to hold the title of Earl of Camden...

, and Horace Walpole. Smith remarked that Gibbon's triumph had positioned him "at the very head of [Europe's] literary tribe."

Later years: 1789–1794


The years following Gibbon's completion of The History were filled largely with sorrow and increasing physical discomfort. He had returned to London in late 1787 to oversee the publication process alongside Lord Sheffield
John Baker-Holroyd, 1st Earl of Sheffield
John Baker-Holroyd, 1st Earl of Sheffield was an English politician who came from a Yorkshire family, a branch of which had settled in the Kingdom of Ireland.- Biography :...

. With that accomplished, in 1789 it was back to Lausanne only to learn of and be "deeply affected" by the death of Deyverdun, who had willed Gibbon his home, La Grotte. He resided there with little commotion, took in the local society, received a visit from Sheffield in 1791, and "shared the common abhorrence" of the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

.

In a letter to Lord Sheffield on 5 February 1791, Gibbon praised Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France
Reflections on the Revolution in France
Reflections on the Revolution in France , by Edmund Burke, is one of the best-known intellectual attacks against the French Revolution...

: "Burke's book is a most admirable medicine against the French disease, which has made too much progress even in this happy country. I admire his eloquence, I approve his politics, I adore his chivalry, and I can even forgive his superstition...The French spread so many lyes about the sentiments of the English nation, that I wish the most considerably men of all parties and descriptions would join in some public act declaring themselves satisfied with, and resolved to support, our present constitution".

In 1793, word came of Lady Sheffield's death; Gibbon immediately quit Lausanne and set sail to comfort a grieving but composed Sheffield. His health began to fail critically in December, and at the turn of the new year, he was on his last legs.

Gibbon is believed to have suffered from an extreme case of scrotal swelling, probably a hydrocele testis
Hydrocele testis
A hydrocele testis is an accumulation of clear fluid in the tunica vaginalis, the most internal of membranes containing a testicle. A primary hydrocele causes a painless enlargement in the scrotum on the affected side and is thought to be due to the defective absorption of fluid secreted between...

, a condition which causes the scrotum to swell with fluid in a compartment overlying either testicle. In an age when close-fitting clothes were fashionable, his condition led to a chronic and disfiguring inflammation that left Gibbon a lonely figure. As his condition worsened, he underwent numerous procedures to alleviate the condition, but with no enduring success. In early January, the last of a series of three operations caused an unremitting peritonitis
Peritonitis
Peritonitis is an inflammation of the peritoneum, the serous membrane that lines part of the abdominal cavity and viscera. Peritonitis may be localised or generalised, and may result from infection or from a non-infectious process.-Abdominal pain and tenderness:The main manifestations of...

 to set in and spread, from which he died. The "English giant of the Enlightenment" finally succumbed at 12:45 pm, January 16, 1794 at age 56. He was buried in the Sheffield family graveyard at the parish church in Fletching, Sussex.

Legacy


Gibbon's work has been criticised for its scathing view of Christianity as laid down in chapters XV and XVI. Those chapters were strongly criticised and resulted in the banning of the book in several countries. Gibbon's alleged crime was disrespecting, and none too lightly, the character of sacred Christian doctrine, by "treat[ing] the Christian church as a phenomenon of general history, not a special case admitting supernatural explanations and disallowing criticism of its adherents". More specifically, the chapters excoriated the church for "supplanting in an unnecessarily destructive way the great culture that preceded it" and for "the outrage of [practicing] religious intolerance and warfare".
Gibbon, though assumed to be entirely anti-religion, was actually supportive to some extent, insofar as it did not obscure his true endeavour – a history that was not influenced and swayed by official church doctrine. Although the most famous two chapters are heavily ironical and cutting about religion, it is not utterly condemned, and its truth and rightness are upheld however thinly.

Gibbon, in letters to Holroyd and others, expected some type of church-inspired backlash, but the utter harshness of the ensuing torrents far exceeded anything he or his friends could possibly have anticipated. Contemporary detractors such as Joseph Priestley
Joseph Priestley
Joseph Priestley, FRS was an 18th-century English theologian, Dissenting clergyman, natural philosopher, chemist, educator, and political theorist who published over 150 works...

 and Richard Watson
Richard Watson (bishop)
Rt Rev Richard Watson was an Anglican clergyman and academic, who served as the Bishop of Llandaff from 1782 to 1816. He wrote some notable political pamphlets....

 stoked the nascent fire, but the most severe of these attacks was an "acrimonious" piece by the young cleric, Henry Edwards Davis.
Gibbon subsequently published his Vindication in 1779, in which he categorically denied Davis' "criminal accusations", branding him a purveyor of "servile plagiarism." Davis followed Gibbon's Vindication with yet another reply (1779).

Gibbon's apparent antagonism to Christian doctrine spilled over into the Jewish faith, leading to charges of anti-Semitism. For example, he wrote:

Humanity is shocked at the recital of the horrid cruelties which [the Jews] committed in the cities of Egypt, of Cyprus, and of Cyrene, where they dwelt in treacherous friendship with the unsuspecting natives; and we are tempted to applaud the severe retaliation which was exercised by the arms of legions against a race of fanatics, whose dire and credulous superstition seemed to render them the implacable enemies not only of the Roman government, but also of humankind.


Gibbon is considered to be a son of the Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

 and this is reflected in his famous verdict on the history of the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

: "I have described the triumph of barbarism and religion." However, politically, he aligned himself with the conservative Edmund Burke's rejection of the democratic movements of the time as well as with Burke's dismissal of the "rights of man."

Gibbon's work has been praised for its style, his piquant epigrams and its effective irony. Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

 memorably noted, "I set out upon...Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire [and] was immediately dominated both by the story and the style. ...I devoured Gibbon. I rode triumphantly through it from end to end and enjoyed it all." Churchill modelled much of his own literary style on Gibbon's. Like Gibbon, he dedicated himself to producing a "vivid historical narrative, ranging widely over period and place and enriched by analysis and reflection."

Unusually for the 18th century, Gibbon was never content with secondhand accounts when the primary sources were accessible (though most of these were drawn from well-known printed editions). "I have always endeavoured," he says, "to draw from the fountain-head; that my curiosity, as well as a sense of duty, has always urged me to study the originals; and that, if they have sometimes eluded my search, I have carefully marked the secondary evidence, on whose faith a passage or a fact were reduced to depend." In this insistence upon the importance of primary sources, Gibbon is considered by many to be one of the first modern historians:

In accuracy, thoroughness, lucidity, and comprehensive grasp of a vast subject, the 'History' is unsurpassable. It is the one English history which may be regarded as definitive. ...Whatever its shortcomings the book is artistically imposing as well as historically unimpeachable as a vast panorama of a great period.


The subject of Gibbon's writing as well as his ideas and style have influenced other writers. Besides his influence on Churchill, Gibbon was also a model for Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov was an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books. Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000...

 in his writing of The Foundation Trilogy
The Foundation Series
The Foundation Series is a science fiction series by Isaac Asimov. There are seven volumes in the Foundation Series proper, which in its in-universe chronological order are: Prelude to Foundation, Forward the Foundation, Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation, Foundation's Edge, and...

, which he said involved "a little bit of cribbin' from the works of Edward Gibbon".

Evelyn Waugh
Evelyn Waugh
Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh , known as Evelyn Waugh, was an English writer of novels, travel books and biographies. He was also a prolific journalist and reviewer...

 admired Gibbon's style but not his secular viewpoint. In Waugh's 1950 novel Helena
Helena (1950 novel)
Helena, published in 1950, is the sole historical novel of Evelyn Waugh.It follows the quest of Helena to find the relics of the cross on which Christ was crucified. Helena, a Christian, was the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine I....

, the early Christian author Lactantius
Lactantius
Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius was an early Christian author who became an advisor to the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine I, guiding his religious policy as it developed, and tutor to his son.-Biography:...

 worried about the possibility of " '...a false historian, with the mind of Cicero
Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero , was a Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and Roman constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the equestrian order, and is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.He introduced the Romans to the chief...

 or Tacitus
Tacitus
Publius Cornelius Tacitus was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. The surviving portions of his two major works—the Annals and the Histories—examine the reigns of the Roman Emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero and those who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors...

 and the soul of an animal,' and he nodded towards the gibbon
Gibbon
Gibbons are apes in the family Hylobatidae . The family is divided into four genera based on their diploid chromosome number: Hylobates , Hoolock , Nomascus , and Symphalangus . The extinct Bunopithecus sericus is a gibbon or gibbon-like ape which, until recently, was thought to be closely related...

 who fretted his golden chain and chattered for fruit."

J. C. Stobart
J. C. Stobart
John Clarke Stobart , commonly known as J.C. Stobart, wrote two famous and influential books, The Glory that was Greece and The Grandeur that was Rome...

, author of The Grandeur that was Rome (1911), wrote of Gibbon that "The mere notion of empire continuing to decline and fall for five centuries is ridiculous...this is one of the cases which prove that History is made not so much by heroes or natural forces as by historians."

See also

  • The Work of J.G.A. Pocock: Edward Gibbon section.
  • The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Further reading.
  • The Miscellaneous Works of Edward Gibbon
    Miscellaneous Works of Edward Gibbon
    Let us do justice to that intrepid spirit, whose leaps havesometimes led to truth and whose very excesses, like popularrebellions, have struck salutary fears in the heart of the despot.Let our thoughts be filled with all that we owe to the geometric...

    .
  • A Gibbon chronology.

Before 1985

  • Beer, Gavin de. Gibbon and His World. London: Thames and Hudson, 1968. HB: ISBN 0670289817.
  • Bowersock, G. W., et al. eds. Edward Gibbon and the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1977.
  • Craddock, Patricia B. Young Edward Gibbon: Gentleman of Letters. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982. HB: ISBN 0801827140. Biography.
  • Jordan, David. Gibbon and his Roman Empire. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1971.
  • Keynes, Geoffrey, ed. The Library of Edward Gibbon. 2nd ed. Godalming, England: St. Paul's Bibliographies, 1940, repr. 1980.
  • Lewis, Bernard. "Gibbon on Muhammad". Daedalus 105:3 (Summer 1976), 89–101.
  • Low, D. M. Edward Gibbon 1737–1794. London: Chatto and Windus, 1937. Biography.
  • Momigliano, Arnaldo. "Gibbon's Contributions to Historical Method". Historia 2 (1954), 450–463. Reprinted in Momigliano, Studies in Historiography (New York: Harper & Row, 1966; Garland Pubs., 1985), 40–55. PB: ISBN 0824063724.
  • Porter, Roger J. "Gibbon's Autobiography: Filling Up the Silent Vacancy". Eighteenth-Century Studies 8:1 (Autumn 1974), 1–26.
  • Swain, J. W. Edward Gibbon the Historian. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1966.
  • Turnbull, Paul. "The Supposed Infidelity of Edward Gibbon", Historical Journal 5 (1982), 23–41.
  • White, Jr. Lynn, ed. The Transformation of the Roman World: Gibbon's Problem after Two Centuries. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966. HB: ISBN 0520013344.

Since 1985

  • Bowersock, G. W. Gibbon's Historical Imagination. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988.
  • Burrow, J. W. Gibbon (Past Masters). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985. HB: ISBN 0192875531. PB: ISBN 0192875523.
  • Carnochan, W. Bliss. Gibbon's Solitude: The Inward World of the Historian. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987. HB: ISBN 0804713634.
  • Craddock, Patricia B. Edward Gibbon: a Reference Guide. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1987. PB: ISBN 0816182175. A comprehensive listing of secondary literature through 1985. See also her supplement covering the period through 1997.
  • Ghosh, Peter R. "Gibbon Observed". Journal of Roman Studies 81 (1991), 132–156.
  • Ghosh, Peter R. "Gibbon's First Thoughts: Rome, Christianity and the Essai sur l'Étude de la Litterature 1758–61". Journal of Roman Studies 85 (1995), 148–164.
  • Ghosh, Peter R. "The Conception of Gibbon's History", in McKitterick and Quinault, eds. Edward Gibbon and Empire, 271–316.
  • Ghosh, Peter R. "Gibbon's Timeless Verity: Nature and Neo-Classicism in the Late Enlightenment," in Womersley, Burrow, Pocock, eds. Edward Gibbon: bicentenary essays.
  • Ghosh, Peter R. "Gibbon, Edward 1737–1794 British historian of Rome and universal historian," in Kelly Boyd, ed. Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing (Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1999), 461–463.
  • Levine, Joseph M., "Edward Gibbon and the Quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns," in Levine, Humanism and History: origins of modern English historiography (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987).
  • Levine, Joseph M. "Truth and Method in Gibbon's Historiography," in Levine, The Autonomy of History: truth and method from Erasmus to Gibbon (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1999).
  • McKitterick, R., and R. Quinault, eds. Edward Gibbon and Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
  • Norman, Brian. "The Influence of Switzerland on the Life and Writings of Edward Gibbon," in Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century [SVEC] v.2002:03. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2002.
  • Pocock, J. G. A. Barbarism and Religion, 4 vols.: vol. 1, The Enlightenments of Edward Gibbon, 1737–1764, 1999 [hb: ISBN 0521633451]; vol. 2, Narratives of Civil Government, 1999 [hb: ISBN 0521640024]; vol. 3, The First Decline and Fall, 2003 [pb: ISBN 0521824451]; vol. 4, Barbarians, Savages and Empires, 2005 [pb: ISBN 0521721011]. all Cambridge Univ. Press.
  • Porter, Roy. Gibbon: Making History. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989, HB: ISBN 0312027281.
  • Turnbull, Paul. "'Une marionnette infidele': the Fashioning of Edward Gibbon's Reputation as the English Voltaire," in Womersley, Burrow, Pocock, eds. Edward Gibbon: bicentenary essays.
  • Womersley, David P. The Transformation of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988. HB: ISBN 0521350360.
  • Womersley, David P., John Burrow, and J.G.A. Pocock, eds. Edward Gibbon: bicentenary essays. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1997. HB: ISBN 0729405524.
  • Womersley, David P. Gibbon and the ‘Watchmen of the Holy City’: The Historian and His Reputation, 1776–1815. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. PB: ISBN 0198187335.

External links