Quotes by Edward Gibbon
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Edward Gibbon's Biography
English historian and scholar‚ the supreme historian of the Enlightenment‚ who is best-known as the author of the monumental THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE‚ often considered the greatest historical work written in English. "It was at Rome... as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol‚ while barefoot friars were singing vespers in the Temple of Jupiter‚ that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the city first started to my mind." However‚ Gibbon's first works were written in French.

Edward Gibbon was born in Putney in South London into a prosperous family. His father was a wealthy Tory member of Parliament who went into seclusion and left his son to the care of an aunt. Gibbon was a sickly child and his education at Westminster and at Magdalen College‚ Oxford‚ was irregular. According to Gibbon's own explanation he was too bashful to spend his time in taverns‚ but his studies ended anyway after one year: he was expelled for turning to Roman Catholicism - a decision which was undoubtedly directed against one of his intellectually lazy Anglican college tutors. In 1753 Gibbon was sent by his father to Lausanne‚ Switzerland. He boarded with a Calvinist pastor and scholar‚ who was very demanding in his teaching‚ and rejoined the Anglican fold. In Lausanne he fell in love with Suzanne Curchod‚ who eventually married Jacques Necker‚ a banker. Their relationship was ended by his father‚ and Gibbon remained unmarried for the rest of his life. Suzanne became the mother of the famous writer and early champion of women's rights‚ Madame de Staël.

From 1759 to 1762 Gibbon hold a commission in the Hampshire militia‚ reaching the rank of colonel. Before 1763 Gibbon had considered various subjects as worthy of the type of philosophical analysis that he wished to apply to history: the life of Sir Walter Raleigh‚ the history of Switzerland‚ and others. However‚ he felt that he had nothing original to say about Elizabethan politics and he could not read German.

In 1764 he visited Rome and was inspired to write the history of the city from the death of Marcus Aurelius to the year 1453. After his father died Gibbon found himself in some difficulties‚ but he was able to settle in London to proceed with his great work. The first volume appeared in 1776‚ with a certain amount of public reaction to Gibbon's ironical treatment of the rise of Christianity and the actions of early church fathers. Like Voltaire‚ Gibbon was himself a deist who had little appreciation of the metaphysical side of religion. He examined the secular side of religion as a social phenomenon - religion did not have for Gibbon special sanctity. But Christianity had a special role in the fall of the Roman empire: "... the church and even the state were distracted by religious factions‚ whose conflicts were sometimes bloody and always implacable; the attention of the emperors was diverted from camps to synods; the Roman world was oppressed by a new species of tyranny‚ and the persecuted sects became the secret enemies of their country."

Between 1774 and 1783 Gibbon sat in the House of Commons‚ and became a lord commissioner of trade and plantations‚ partly because he was considered a nuisance as a politician. In 1774 he was elected to Dr Johnson's Club. From 1783 Gibbon spent much of his time in Lausanne and in England with Lord Sheffield (John Baker Holroy) in his Sussex and London houses. After Decline and Fall Gibbon wrote a memoir. It went through many drafts and was not published during his lifetime. Lord Sheffield later prepared Gibbon's MEMOIRS OF MY LIFE AND WRITINGS for publication (1796) and MISCELLANEOUS WORKS (1796).

The last three volumes of Decline and Fall were published in 1788. The book was a bestseller‚ and offered the reading public a vivid narrative of the past instead of an antiquarian picture. "If he had been more vulnerable to the glittering abstractions of his age he might have become an English Montesquieu‚ writing for scholars of political thought. If he had sought historical laws or cycles or found some single cause‚ he might have been bedside reading no more than Vico or Marx." (Daniel J. Boorstin in The Creators‚ 1992) Gibbon‚ who did not much value contemporary historians‚ developed his own approach and adopted influences from such diverse sources as the "Protestant Enlightenment‚" Parisian philosophers‚ and the Scottish Enlightenment. Although Gibbon's conclusions have been modified‚ his masterful historical perspective and literary style have secured his place as the forerunner of English historiographers. On the other hand‚ his personal habits were peculiar - according to some contemporary comment Gibbon was so filthy that one could not stand close to him. How did Lord Sheffield manage to do so? Gibbon's devotion to routine was also a source of jokes - this harmless personal trait he shared with‚ amongst others‚ the German philosopher Kant and the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard. When Benjamin Franklin was visiting England he wanted to see Gibbon‚ who refused to meet him. It did not diminish Franklin's admiration of the historian and he promised to help Gibbon when he came to write the history of the decline and fall of the British Empire.

In The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-1788) Gibbon himself was grateful to Jean Mabillon (1632-1707)‚ Bernard Montfasucon (1655-1741)‚ and Ludovico Muratori (1672-1741) for their collections of facts and documents. The work covers more than 13 centuries from the 2nd century AD to the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Christianity is dealt with in detail‚ he examines the encroachment of the Teutonic tribes who eventually held the Western Empire in fee‚ the rise of Islam‚ and the Crusades. Gibbon viewed the Roman Empire as a single entity in undeviating decline from the ideals of political and intellectual freedom that had characterized the classical literature he had read. For him‚ the material decay of Rome was the effect and symbol of moral decadence. "Many a sober Christian would rather admit that a wafer is God than that God is a cruel and capricious tyrant." With powerful narrative‚ fluid prose‚ and persuasive arguments the work has a remained a classic in historical literature.

Some rights reserved Petri Liukkonen (author) & Ari Pesonen. Kuusankosken kaupunginkirjasto 2008