Gibbon, Edward (17371794)

Gibbon, Edward, eminent historian, born at Putney, near London, of good parentage; his early education was greatly hindered by a nervous complaint, which, however, disappeared by the time he was 14; a wide course of desultory reading had, in a measure, repaired the lack of regular schooling, and when at the age of 15 he was entered at Magdalen College, Oxford, he possessed, as he himself quaintly puts it, “a stock of erudition which might have puzzled a doctor, and a degree of ignorance of which a schoolboy might have been ashamed”; 14 months later he became a convert to Roman Catholicism, and in consequence was obliged to quit Oxford; in the hope of reclaiming him to the Protestant faith he was placed in the charge of the deistical poet Mallet, and subsequently under a Calvinist minister at Lausanne; under the latter's kindly suasion he speedily discarded Catholicism, and during five years' residence established his learning on a solid foundation; time was also found for the one love episode of his life—an amour with Suzanne Curchod, an accomplished young lady, who subsequently became the wife of the French minister M. Neckar, and mother of Madame de Staël; shortly after his return to England in 1758 he published in French an Essay on the Study of Literature, and for some time served in the militia; in 1774, having four years previously inherited his father's estate, he entered Parliament, and from 1779 to 1782 was one of the Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations; in 1776 appeared the first volume of his great history “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” the conception of which had come to him in 1764 in Rome whilst “musing amongst the ruins of the Capitol”; in 1787 his great work was finished at Lausanne, where he had resided since 1783; modern criticism, working with fresh sources of information, has failed to find any serious flaw in the fabric of this masterpiece in history, but the cynical attitude adopted towards the Christian religion has always been regarded as a defect; “a man of endless reading and research,” was Carlyle's verdict after a final perusal of the “Decline,” “but of a most disagreeable style, and a great want of the highest faculties of what we would call a classical historian, compared with Herodotus, for instance, and his perfect clearness and simplicity in every part”; he, nevertheless, characterised his work to Emerson once as “a splendid bridge from the old world to the new” (17371794).

Definition taken from The Nuttall Encyclopædia, edited by the Reverend James Wood (1907)

Giaour * Gibbons, Grinling
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