Edward Gibbon.

The life and letters of Edward Gibbon, with his History of the Crusades online

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and a stable-yard, I began to occupy a spacious and convenient man-
sion, connected on the north side with the city, and open on the south
to a beautiful and boundless horizon. A garden of four acres had been
laid out by the taste of Mr. Deyverdun : from the garden a rich scenery
of meadows and vineyards descends to the Leman Lake, and the
prospect far beyond the Lake is crowned by the stupendous mountains
of Savoy. My books and my acquaintance had been first united in
London ; but this happy position of my library in town and country
was finally reserved for Lausanne. Possessed of every comfort in this
triple alliance, I could not be tempted to change my habitation with
the changes of the seasons.

My friends had been kindly apprehensive that I should not be able



to exist in a Swiss town at the foot of the Alps, after having so long
conversed with the first men of the first cities of the world. Such loftj
connections may attract the curious, and gratify the vain ; but I am
too modest, or too proud, to rate my own value by that of my
associates ; and whatsoever may be the fame of learning or genius,
experience has shown me that the cheaper qualifications of politeness
and good sense are of more useful currency in the commerce of life.
By many, conversation is esteemed as a theatre or a school : but,
after the morning has been occupied by the labours of the library, I
wish to unbend rather than to exercise my mind ; and in the interval
between tea and supper I am far from disdaining the innocent amuse-
ment of a game at cards. Lausanne is peopled by a numerous
gentry, whose companionable idleness is seldom disturbed by the
pursuits of avarice or ambition : the women, though confined to a
domestic education, are endowed for the most part with more taste
and knowledge than their husbands and brothers : but the decent
freedom of both sexes is equally remote from the extremes of simplicity
and refinement. I shall add as a misfortune rather than a merit, that
the situation and beauty of the Pays de Vaud, the long habits of the
English, the medical reputation of Dr. Tissot, and the fashion of view-
ing the mountains and Glaciers, have opened us on all sides to the
incursions of foreigners. The visits of Mr. and Madame Necker, of
Prince Henry of Prussia, and of Mr. Fox, may form some pleasing
exceptions ; but, in general, Lausanne has appeared most agreeable in
my eyes, when we have been abandoned to our own society. I had
frequently seen Mr. Necker, in the summer of 1784, at a country house
near Lausanne, where he composed his Treatise on the Administration
of the Finances. I have since, in October 1790, visited him in his
present residence, the castle and barony of Copet, near Geneva. Of
the merits and measures of that statesman various opinions may be
entertained ; but all impartial men must agree in their esteem of his
integrity and patriotism.

In August 1784, Prince Henry of Prussia, in his way to Paris, passed
three days at Lausanne. His military conduct has been praised by
professional men ; his character has been vihfiedby the wit andmahce
of a dsemon (Mem. Secret de la Cour de Berhn) ; but I was flattered
by his affability, and entertained by his conversation.

In his tour of Switzerland (Sept. 1788) Mr. Fox gave me two days
of free and private society. He seemed to feel, and even to envy,
the happiness of my situation ; while I admired tlie powers of a supe-
rior man, as they are blended in his attractive character with the
softness and simplicity of a child. Perhaps no human being was
ever more perfectly exempt from the taint of malevolence, vanity, or

My transmigration from London to Lausanne could not be effected
without interrupting the course of my historical labours. The hurry
of my departure, the joy of my arrival, the delay of my tools, suspended
their progress; and a full twelvemonth was lost before I could resume
tlie thread of regular and daily industry. A number of books most
requisite and least common had been previously selected ; the
academical library of Lausanne, which I could use as my own, con-


tained at least the fathers and councils ; and I have derived some
occasional succour from the public collections of Berne and Geneva.
The fourth volume was soon terminated, by an abstract of the contro-
versies of the Incarnation, which the learned Dr. Prideaux was appre-
hensive of exposing to profane eyes. It had been the original design
of the learned Dean Prideaux to write the history of the ruin oi the
Eastern Church. In this work it would have been necessary, not only
to unravel all those controversies which the Christians made about the
hypostatical union, but also to unfold all the niceties and subtle notions
which each sect entertained concerning it. The pious historian was
apprehensive of exposing that incomprehensible mystery to the cavils
and objections of unbelievers : and he durst not, " seeing the nature of
this book, venture it abroad in so wanton and lewd an age" (Preface
to the Life of Mahomet, p. 10).

In the fifth and sixth volumes the revolutions of the empire and the
world are most rapid, various, and instructive ; and the Greek or Roman
historians are checked by the hostile narratives of the barbarians of
the East and the West.*

It was not till after many designs, and many trials, that I preferred,
as I still prefer, the method of grouping my picture by nations ; and
the seeming neglect of chronological order is surely compensated by
the superior merits of interest and perspicuity. The style of the first
volume is, in my opinion, somewhat crude and elaborate ; in the second
and third it is ripened into ease, correctness, and numbers ; but in the
three last I may have been seduced by the facility of my pen, and the
constant habit of speaking one language and writing another may have
infused some mixture of Gallic idioms. Happily for my ejes, I have
always closed my studies with the day, and commonly with tht morning;
and a long, but temperate, labour has been accomplished, without
fatiguing either the mind or body; but when I computed the remainder
of my time and my task, it was apparent that, according to the season
of publication, the delay of a month would be productive of that of a
year. I was now straining for the goal, and in the last winter many
evenings were borrowed from the social pleasures of Lausanne. I
could now wish that a pause, an interval, had been allowed for a
serious revisal.

I have presumed to mark the moment of conception : I shall now
commemorate the hour of my final deliverance. It was on the day, or
rather 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. After laying down my pen, 1 took several turns
in a bercean, or covered walk of acacias, which commands a prospect
of the country, the lake, and the mountains. The air was temperate,
the sky was serene, the silver orb of the moon was reflected from the
waters, and all nature was silent. I will not dissemble the first emo-
tions of joy on the recovery of my freedom, and, perhaps, the establish-
ment of my fame. But my pride was soon humbled, and a sober

* I have followed the judicious precept of the Abbe de Mably, (Manifre d'ecrire I'Hist.,
p. no,) who advises the historian not to dwell too minutely on the decay of the eastern empire;
but to consider the barbarian conquerors as a more worthy subject of his narrative. " fas est
et ab hoste doceri."


melancholy was spread over my mind, by the idea that I had taken an
everlasting^ leave of an old and agreeable companion, and that what-
soever might be the future date of my History, the life of the historian
must be short and precarious. I will add two facts, which have seldom
occurred in the composition of six, or at least of five quartos. I. My
first rough manuscript, without any intermediate copy, has been sent
to the press. 2. Not a sheet has been seen by any human eyes,
excepting those of the author and the printer : the faults and the
merits are exclusively my own.*

I cannot help recollecting a much more extraordinary fact, which is
affinned of himself by Retif de la Bretorme, a voluminous and original
writer of French novels. He laboured, and may still labour, in the
humble office of corrector to a printing-house ; but this office enabled
him to transport an entire volume from his mind to the press ; and his
work was given to the public without ever having been written with a

After a quiet residence of four years, during which I had never
moved ten miles from Lausanne, it was not without some reluctance
and terror, that I undertook, in a journey of two hundred leagues, to
cross the mountains and the sea. Yet this formidable adventure
was achieved without danger or fatigue ; and at the end of a fort-
night I found myself in Lord Sheffield's house and library, safe,
happy, and at home. The character of my friend (Mr. Llolroyd) had
recommended him to a seat in parliament for Coventry, the com-
mand of a regiment of light dragoons, and an Irish peerage. The
sense and spirit of his political writings have decided the public
opinion on the great c|ucstions of our commercial interest with America
and Ireland.f

The sale of his Observations on the American States was diffusive,
their effect beneficial ; the Navigation Act, the palladium of Britain,
was defended, and perhaps saved, by his pen ; and he proves, by the
weight of fact and argument, that the mother-country may survive and
flourish after the loss of America. My friend has never cultivated the
arts of composition ; but his materials are copious and correct, and he
leaves on his paper the clear impression of an active and vigorous mind.
His " Observations on the Trade, Manufactures, and present State of
Ireland," were intended to guide the industry, to correct the prejudices,
and to assuage the passions of a country which seemed to forget that
she could be free and prosperous only by a friendly connection with
Great Britain. The concluding observations are written with so much
ease and spirit, that they may be read by those who are the least
interested in the subject.

He fell (in 1784) with the unpopular coalition; but his merit has
been acknowledged at the last general election, 1790, by the honourable

* Extract from Mr. Gibbon'j Common-place Book.
The IVth Volume of the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, begun March

I St, 1782 — ended June 1784.
Tl;e Vth Volume, begun July 1784 — ended May ist, 17S6.
Ihe Vlth Volume, begun May iSth, 17S6— ended June 27th, 1787.

'I'hese three volumes were sent to press August isth, 1787, and the whole impression was
concluded April following. \Tlie edition— six t'olnmcs quarto — is referred to.^

A Observations on the Commerce of the American States, by John Lord Sheffield, 6th ed.,
Lond., 1784, in 8vo.


invitation and free clioice of tlic city of Bristol. During tlie wlmle
time of my residence in England I was entertained at Sheftield-ri.;ce
and in Downing-Strcet by his hospitable kindness ; and the most
pleasant period was that which I passed in the domestic society of the
family. In the larger circle of the metropolis I observed the country
and the inhabitants with the knowledge, and without the prejudices, of
an Englishman ; but I rejoiced in the apparent increase of wealth and
prosperity, which might be fairly divided between the spirit of the
nation and the wisdom of the minister. All party-resentment was
now lost in oblivion : since I was no man's rival, no man was my
enemy. I felt the dignity of independence, and as I asked no more. I
was satisfied with the general civilities of the world. The house in
London which I frequented with most pleasure and assiduity was that
of Lord North. After the loss of power and of sight, he was still
happy in himself and his friends ; and my public tribute of gratitude
and esteem could no longer be suspected of any interested motive.
Before my departure from England, I was present at the august spec-
tacle of Mr. Hastings's trial in Westminster Hall. It is not my
province to absolve or condemn the Governor of India ; but Mr.
Sheridan's eloquence demanded my applause ; nor could I hear with-
out emotion the personal compliment which he paid me in the presence
of the British nation.*

From this display of genius, which blazed four successive days, I
shall stoop to a very mechanical circumstance. As I was waiting in
tlie managers' box, I had the curiosity to inquire of the short-hand
writer, how many words a ready and rapid orator might pronounce in
an hour ? From 7000 to 7500 was his answer. The medium of 7200
will afford 120 words in a minute, and two words in each second. But
this computation will only apply to the English language.

As the publication of my three last volumes was the principal object,
so it was the first care of my English journey. The previous arrange-
ments with the bookseller and the printer were settled in my passage
through London, and the proofs, which I returned more correct, were
transmitted every post from the press to Sheffield-Place. The length
of the operation, and the leisure of the country, allowed some time to
review my manuscript. Several rare and useful books, the Assises de
Jerusalem, Ramusius de Bello C. P"'", the Greek Acts of the Synod of
Florence, the Statuta Urbis Romas, &c. were procured, and introduced
in their proper places the supplements which they aftbrded. The
impression of the fourth volume had consumed three months
Our common interest required that we should move with a quicker
pace ; and Mr. Strahan fulfilled his engagement, which few printers
could sustain, of delivering every week three thousand copies of nine
sheets. The day of publication was, however, delayed, that it might
coincide with tlie fifty-first anniversaiy of my own birthday ; the
double festival was celebrated by a cheerful literary dinner at Mr.
Cadell's house ; and I seemed to blush while they read an elegant com-

* He sakl the facts that made up the volume of narrative were unparalleled in atrocioiisness,
and tliat nothing equal in criminality was tii he traced, either in ancient or modt;rn history, in
the correct periods of Tacitus, or the luminous page of Gibbon. — Morning Chroiiide, Juiu
14, 17S8.


plimeiii from Mr. Hayley,* whose poetical talents had more than once
beon employed in the praise of his friend. Before Mr. Hayley inscribed
with my name his epistles on history, I was not acquainted with that
amiable man and elegant poet. He afterwards thanked me in verse
for my second and third volumes ;t and in the summer of 178T, the
Roman Eagle J (a proud title) accepted the invitation of the English

* OCCASIONAL STANZAS, hy Mr. Hayley, read aftey the Dinner at Mr. CadellV,
May 8, 17S8 ; being the Day of the Publication of the three last VohtmesofWx. Gibbon'j
History, and his Birtliday.

Genii of England and of Rome !
In mutual triumph here assume

The honours each may claim !
This social scene with sn.iles survey !
And consecrate the festive day

To Friendship and to Fame !

Enough, by Desolation's tide,
With anguish, and indignant pride,

Has Rome bewail'd her fate ;
And mourn'd that Time, in Havoc's hour,
Defac'd each monument, of power

To speak her truly great.

O'er maim'd Polybius, just and sage,
O'er Livy's mutilated page.

How deep was her regret !
Touch'd by this Queen, in ruin grand.
See ! Glory, by an English hand,

Now pays a mighty debt :

Lo ! sacred to the Roman Name,
And rais'd, like Rome's immortal Fame,
By Genius and by Toil,

The splendid Work is crown'd to-day.
On which Oblivion ne'er shall prey.
Nor Envy make her spoil !

England, e.xult ! and view not now.
With jealous eye each nation's brri'.v,

Where Hist'ry's palm has spread !
In every path of liberal art,
Thy Sons to prime distinction start.

And no superior dread.

Science for Thee a Newton rais'd ;
For thy renown a -Shakespeare blaz'J,

Lord of the drama's sphere !
In different fields to equal praise
See History now thy GIBBON raise

To shine without a peer !

Eager to honour living worth.
And bless to-day the double birfh.
That proudest joy may claim.

Let artless Truth this homage pay.
And consecrate the festive day
To Friendship and to Fame !
O71 the Pnblication of his Second attd Tliird Volnincs, ij8l.
WITH proud delight th' imperial founder gaz'd

On the new beauty of his second Rome,

When on his eager eye rich temples blaz'd.

And his fair city rose in youthful bloom ;

A pride more noble may thy heart assume,

O Gibbon ! gazing on thy growing work.

In which, constructed for a happier doom.

No hasty marks of vain ambition lurk :
Thou may'st deride both Time's destructive sway.

And baser En-vy's beauty-mangling dirk ;
Thy gorgeous fabric, plann'd with wise delay.

Shall baflle foes more savage than the Turk ;
As ages multiply, its fame shall rise.
And earth must perish ere its splendour dies.

Hayley's Works, Svo. ed. i. 162.
X A Card 0/ Invitation to Mr. GIBBON, at Brighthelmstonc, 1781.

AN English sparrow, pert and free,
Who chirps beneath his native tree.
Hearing the Roman eagle's near,
And feeling more respect than fear,
Thus, witjr united love and awe.
Invites him to his shed of straw.

Tho' he is but a twittering sparrow,
The field he hops in rather narrow.
When nobler plumes attract his view,
He ever pays them homage due.
He looks with reverential wonder
On him whose talons bear the thunder;
Nor could the Jackdaws e'er inveigle
His voice to vilify the eagle,
Tho' issuing from the holy tow'rs.
In which they build their warmest bow'rs.
Their sovereign's haunt they slyly search,

In hopes to catch him on his perch,
(For Pindar says, beside his God
The thunder-bearing bird will nod,)
Then, peeping round his still retreat.
They pick from underneath his feet
Some moulted feather he lets fall.

And swear he cannot fly at all.

Lord of the sky ! whose pounce can tear
These croakers, that infest the air.
Trust him ! the sparrow loves to sing
The praise of thy imperial wing !
He thinks thoul't deem him, on his word,
An honest, though familial bird :
And hopes thou soon wilt condescend
To look upon thy little friend ;
That he may boast around his grove
A visit from the bird of Jove.

Havlev'.s- Works, i. 189.


Sparrow, who chirped in the groves of Eartham, near Chichester. As
most of the former purchasers were naturally desirous of completing
their sets, the sale of the quarto edition was quick and easy ; and an
octavo size was printed, to satisfy at a cheaper rate the public demand.
The conclusion of my work was generally read, and variously judged.
Tlie style has been exposed to much academical criticism ; a religious
clamour was revived, and the reproach of indecency has been loudly
echoed by the rigid censors of morals. I never could understand the
clamour that has been raised against the indecency of my three last
volumes, i. An equal degree of freedom in the former part, especially
in the fust volume, had passed without reproach. 2. I am justified in
painting the manners of the times ; the vices of Theodora form an
essential feature in the reign and character of Justinian. 3. My
English text is chaste, and all licentious passages are left in the
obscurity of a learned language. Le Latin dans ses mots brave r/iou-
itetcte, says the correct Boileau, in a country and idiom more scrupu-
lous than our own. Yet, upon the whole, the History of the Decline
and P^all seems to have struck root, both at home and abroad, and
may, perhaps, a hundred years hence still continue to be abused. I
am less flattered by Mr. Person's high encomium on the style and
spirit of my history, than I am satisfied with his honourable testimony
to my attention, diligence, and accuracy ; those humble virtues, which
religious zeal had most audaciously denied. The sweetness of his
praise is tempered by a reasonable mixture of acid. As the book may
not be common in England, I shall transcribe my own character from
the Bibliotheca Historica of Meuselius, a learned and laborious
German. " Summis asvi nostri historicis Gibbonus sine dubio adnu-
nierandus est. Inter capitolii ruinas stans primum hujus operis
scribendi concilium cepit. Florentissimos vitas annos colligendo et
laborando eidem impendit. Enatum inde monumentum asre perennius,
licet passim appareant sinistre dicta, minus perfecta, veritati non satis
consentanea. Vidcmus quidem ubique fere studium scrutandi vcrita-
temque scribendi maximum : tamen sine Tillemontio duce ubi scilicet
hujus historia finitur saepius noster titubat atque hallucinatur. Quod
vel maxime fit ubi de rebus Ecclesiasticis vel de juris prudentia Ro-
mana (torn, iv.) tradit, et in aliis locis. Attamen nasvi hujus generis
baud impediunt quo minus operis summam et oiKoj'o/nrtv prtedare dis-
positam, delectum rerum sapicntissimum, argutum quoque interdum,
dictioncmque scu stylum historico a^que ac philosopho dignissimum,
et vix a quoque alio Anglo, Humio ac Robertsono baud exceptis

Online LibraryEdward GibbonThe life and letters of Edward Gibbon, with his History of the Crusades → online text (page 16 of 69)