Gibbon Edward

Gibbon Edward, historian, was born at Putney, in Surrey, April 27, 1737. He was sent to Oxford too young, and did not learn much there. At sixteen he embraced Romanisin. He was immediately placed under the care of a Calvinist minister at Lausanne, whose instructions led him in a few months back to Protestantism. "The five years he spent at Lausanne, closing in 1758, when he was just of age, formed the real commencement of his education; and at their close, be wan not only a ripe scholar in French and Latin, but possessed of an extraordinary amount of historical and other information. He found leisure, however, for falling in love, unsuccessfully, with a young lady, who afterwards became the wife of M. Necker, and the mother of Madame de Staël. For several years after Gibbon's return to England he lived chiefly at his father's house is Hampshire, and, failing in attempts to obtain diplomatic employment, he accepted a militia commission, attended zealously to his duties, and rose to be lieutenant colonel. But the studious habits and literary ambition which he had acquired never flagged. In 1761 he published, in French, a short essay On the Study of Literature. He extended his acquaintance with English authors, and, beginning to learn Greek thoroughly, pursued the study zealously when, in 1763, he was allowed again to visit the Continemt. In Rome, next year, he conceived the design of his great historical work. Returning home: in 1765, he passed some years unsatisfactorily to himself, but not without much improvement both in knowledge and in skill of writing. In 1774 he entered the House of Commons, in which he sat for eight sessions; and he was rewarded for his silent votes in favor of Lord North's administration by holding for three years a seat at the Board of Trade. In 1770 he published, in answer to Warburton his spirited Dissertation on the Sixth Book of the AEneid. In the same year, the death of his father placed him in possession of a fortune, which, though embarrassed, he was able to extricate so far that it afforded a handsome competence, and enabled his to devote himself exclusively to study and composition. In 1776 he, published the first volume of The History of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the first edition of which was sold in a few days, and was rapidly followed by others. The second and third volumes, appearing in 1781, brought down the narrative to the fall of the Western Empire; and for a while the author hesitated whether be should not here allow the work to drop" (Rich, Biog. s.v.). He resumed the design, however, in 1783, when he fixed his abode at Laussansne, and prepare the remaining volumes, the last of which appeared in 1788. He died January 16, 1794, during his last visit to England. His posthumous works were published by his friend Lord Sheffield. The best editions of the "Decline and Fall" are that of Milman (Lond. 1846, 6 volumes, 8vo, 2d edit.), and that by Dr. Wnm. Smith, (1855, 8 volumes, 8vo). In a literary point of view, the merits of this history are very great; its style has a loftiness in harmony with the grandeur of the theme; its erudition is vast to a degree unknown before in English writers of history; its arrangement is luminous, and its execution is sustained at the same point of excellence throughout. But Gibbon was an infidel, and his unbelief lurks in every page of his work where Christianity is nearly or remotely touched on. His skepticism leads him into manifold displays of unfairness, and even into inaccuracies, many of which are corrected in Milman's notes. Dr. J.M. Macdonald wrote an able article in the Bibliotheca Sacra (July 1868), defending Gibbon from the charge of infidelity, and seeking to account for the opposite opinion about him so generally adopted. The attempt is very ingenious, but will not shake the established opinion. — Milman, Life of E. Gibbon (Lond. 1839, 8vo); Quarterly Review, 12:375; 62:196; Literary and Theol. Review, 2:38; Christian Review, 13:34; National Review, January 1856.

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