Edward Gibbon: Wikis


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Edward Gibbon

Portrait, oil on canvas, of Edward Gibbon (1737–1794) by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792)
Born April 27, 1737
Putney, Surrey, England
Died January 16, 1794 (aged 56)

Edward Gibbon (April 27, 1737[notes 1]  – January 16, 1794) was an English historian and Member of Parliament. His most important work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, was published in six volumes between 1776 and 1788. The Decline and Fall is known principally for the quality and irony of its prose, its use of primary sources, and its open denigration of organised religion, though the extent of this is disputed by some critics.[1]



Edward Gibbon was born in 1737, the son of Edward and Judith Gibbon at Lime Grove, in the town of Putney, Surrey. 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 in the South Sea Bubble stock market collapse (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-on-Thames, shortly after which his mother died. He then took up residence in the Westminster School 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."[2] By 1751, Gibbon's reading was already voracious and certainly pointed toward his future pursuits: Laurence Echard'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).[3]

Oxford, Lausanne, and a religious journey

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, 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. But his penchant for "theological controversy" (his aunt's influence) fully bloomed when he came under the spell of rationalist theologian Conyers Middleton (1683–1750) and his Free Inquiry into the Miraculous Powers (1749). In that tract, Middleton denied the validity of such powers; Gibbon promptly objected. The product of that disagreement, with some assistance from the work of Catholic Bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet (1627–1704), and that of the Elizabethan Jesuit Robert Parsons (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;[4] and finally Gibbon's father, already "in despair," had had enough.

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 (the French language translator of Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther); 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. "The 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; traveled throughout Switzerland studying its cantons' constitutions; and aggressively mined the works of Hugo Grotius, Samuel von Pufendorf, John Locke, Pierre Bayle, and Blaise Pascal.

Thwarted romance

Edward Gibbon, by Henry Walton (died 1813)

He also met the one romance in his life: the pastor of Crassy's daughter, a young woman named Suzanne Curchod, who would later become the wife of Louis XVI's finance minister Jacques Necker, and the mother of Madame de Staël. The two developed a warm affinity; Gibbon proceeded to propose marriage,[5] 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: "After a painful struggle I yielded to my fate: I sighed as a lover, I obeyed as a son."[6] 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.[7]

First fame and the grand tour

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.[8] 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.[9] The following year he embarked on the Grand Tour (of continental Europe), which included a visit to Rome. The Memoirs vividly record Gibbon's rapture when he finally neared "the great object of [my] pilgrimage":

I can neither forget nor express the strong emotions which agitated my mind as I first approached and entered the eternal [C]ity. After a sleepless night, I trod, with a lofty step, the ruins of the Forum; each memorable spot where Romulus stood, or Tully 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.[10]

And it was here that Gibbon first conceived the idea of composing a history of the city, later extended to the entire empire, a moment known to history as the "Capitoline vision":[11]

It was at Rome, on the [fifteenth] of October[,] 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the bare[-]footed fryars were singing [V]espers in the temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the [C]ity first started to my mind.[12]

Magnum opus

Blue plaque to Gibbon on Bentinck Street, London

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's Literary Club, and looked in from time to time on his friend Holroyd in Sussex. He succeeded Oliver Goldsmith 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.[13] And, perhaps least productively in that same year, he was returned to the House of Commons for Liskeard, Cornwall through the intervention of his relative and patron, Edward Eliot. He became the archetypal back-bencher, benignly "mute" and "indifferent," his support of the Whig ministry routinely automatic. Gibbon's indolence in that position, perhaps fully intentional, subtracted little from the progress of his writing.[14]

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, 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 approx. £1000.[15] 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 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;[16] 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. From the Memoirs:

It was on 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 friend.[17]

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).[18] Mounting a bandwagon of praise for the later volumes were such contemporary luminaries as Adam Smith, William Robertson, Adam Ferguson, Lord Camden, and Horace Walpole. Smith remarked that Gibbon's triumph had positioned him "at the very head of [Europe's] literary tribe."

Aftermath and death

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. 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. 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 hydrocele testis, a condition which causes the scrotum to swell with fluid in a compartment overlying either testicle.[19] In an age when close-fitting clothes were fashionable, his condition led to a chronic and disfiguring inflammation which left Gibbon a lonely figure.[20] 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 to set in and spread, from which he died. The "English giant of the Enlightenment"[21] 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.[22]


Gibbon's work has been criticized for its aggressively 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 in "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, Gibbon's blasphemous 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".[23] 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. Some argue that though it is true that the most famous two chapters are heavily ironical and cutting about religion, that it is interesting that it is in no way utterly condemned, and that the apparent truth and rightness is 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 and Richard Watson stoked the nascent fire, but the most severe of these attacks was an "acrimonious" piece by the young cleric, Henry Edwards Davis. [24] Gibbon subsequently published his Vindication in 1779, in which he categorically denied Davis' "criminal accusations", branding him a purveyor of "servile plagiarism."[25] Davis followed Gibbon's Vindication with yet another reply (1779).

Gibbon's apparent antagonism to Christian doctrine spilled over into the Jewish faith, inevitably leading to charges of anti-Semitism[citation needed]. 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;¹ 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.²[26]

Burke, Churchill and 'the fountain-head'

Gibbon is considered to be a son of the Enlightenment and this is reflected in his famous verdict on the history of the Middle Ages: "I have described the triumph of barbarism and religion."[27] 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."[28]

Gibbon's work has been praised for its style, his piquant epigrams and its effective irony. Winston Churchill 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."[29] 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."[30]

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."[31] 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.[32]

Influence on other writers

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 in his writing of The Foundation Trilogy, which he said involved "a little bit of cribbin' from the works of Edward Gibbon".

Evelyn Waugh admired Gibbon's style but not his secular viewpoint. In Waugh's 1950 novel Helena the early Christian author Lactantius worried about the possibility of " '...a false historian, with the mind of Cicero or Tacitus and the soul of an animal,' and he nodded towards the gibbon who fretted his golden chain and chattered for fruit."[33]

J. C. Stobart, 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."

The German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel cited Gibbon's Decline and Fall in his Jena publication "Über die wissenschaftlichen Behandlungsarten des Naturrechts", Kritisches Journal der Philosophie, Vol. II, No.2/No.3, 1802/1803.[34]


  1. ^ Gibbon's birthday is April 27, 1737 of the old style (O.S.) Julian calendar; England adopted the new style (N.S.) Gregorian calendar in 1752, and thereafter Gibbon's birthday was celebrated on May 8, 1737, N.S.


Most of this article, including quotations unless otherwise noted, has been adapted from Stephen's entry on Edward Gibbon in the Dictionary of National Biography.

  1. ^ The most recent and also the first critical edition, in three volumes, is that of David Womersley. For commentary on Gibbon's irony and insistence on primary sources whenever available, see Womersley, "Introduction". While the larger part of Gibbon's caustic view of Christianity is declared within the text of chapters XV and XVI, Gibbon rarely neglects to note its baleful influence throughout the remaining volumes of the Decline and Fall.
  2. ^ Norton, Letters, vol. 3, 10/5/[17]86, 45–48.
  3. ^ Stephen, DNB, p. 1130; Pocock, Enlightenments of Edward Gibbon, 29–40. At age 14, Gibbon was "a prodigy of uncontrolled reading;" Gibbon himself admitted of an "indiscriminate appetite." p. 29.
  4. ^ Pocock, Enlightenments of Edward Gibbon. for Middleton, see p. 45–47; for Bossuet, p. 47; for the Mallets, p.23; Robert Parsons [or Persons], A Christian directory: The first booke of the Christian exercise, appertayning to resolution, (London, 1582). In his 1796 edition of Gibbon's Memoirs, Lord Sheffield claims that Gibbon directly connected his Catholic conversion to his reading of Parsons.  Womersley, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, p. 9.
  5. ^ Norton, Biblio, p.2;   Letters, vol. 1, p. 396. a concise summary of their relationship is found at 396–401.
  6. ^ Gibbon, Memoirs, paragraph begins (¶): "I hesitate, from the apprehension of ridicule...." see References, Project Gutenberg. The phrase, "sighed [etc.]" alludes to the play Polyeucte by "the father of French tragedy," Pierre Corneille. Womersley, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, p. 11.
  7. ^ Ibid., 11–12.
  8. ^ In the Essai, the 24 year-old boldly braved the reigning philosoph[e]ic fashion to uphold the studious values and practices of the érudits (antiquarian scholars). Ibid., p. 11; and The Miscellaneous Works, First edition, vol. 2.
  9. ^ Womersley, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, pp. 11, 12. Gibbon was commissioned a captain and resigned a lieutenant colonel, later crediting his service with providing him "a larger introduction into the English world." There was further, the matter of a vast utility: "The discipline and evolutions of a modern battalion gave me a clearer notion of the phalanx and the legion; and the captain of the Hampshire grenadiers (the reader may smile) has not been useless to the historian of the Roman empire." Gibbon, Memoirs, ¶: "The loss of so many busy and idle hours."
  10. ^ Gibbon, Memoirs, ¶: "I shall advance with rapid brevity."
  11. ^ Pocock, "Classical History," ¶ #2.
  12. ^ Gibbon, Memoirs, ¶: "The use of foreign travel."  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 Memoirs, claimed his journal dated the reminiscence to October 15, when in fact the journal gives no date.
  13. ^ i.e., in London's Lodge of Friendship No. 3. see Gibbon's freemasonry.
  14. ^ Gibbon lost the Liskeard seat in 1780 when Eliot joined the opposition, taking with him "the electors of Leskeard [who] are commonly of the same opinion as Mr. El[l]iot." (Gibbon, Memoirs, ¶: "The aspect of the next session.") The following year, owing to the good grace of Prime Minister Lord North, he was again returned to Parliament, this time for Lymington on a by-election. Gibbon's Whiggery was solidly conservative: in favor of the propertied oligarchy while upholding the subject's rights under the rule of law; though staunchly against ideas such as the natural rights of man and popular sovereignty, what he referred to as "the wild & mischievous system of Democracy" (Dickinson, "Politics," 178–79). Gibbon also served on the government's Board of Trade and Plantations from 1779 until 1782, when the Board was abolished. The subsequent promise of an embassy position in Paris ultimately aborted, serendipitously leaving Gibbon free to focus on his great project.
  15. ^ Norton, Biblio, pp. 37, 45. Gibbon sold the copyrights to the remaining editions of volume 1 and the remaining 5 volumes to publishers Strahan & Cadell for £8000. The great History earned the author a total of about £9000.
  16. ^ Ibid., pp. 49, 57. Both Norton and Womersley (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, p. 14) establish that vol. IV was substantially complete by the end of 1783.
  17. ^ Gibbon, Memoirs, ¶: "I have presumed to mark."
  18. ^ Norton, Biblio, p. 61.
  19. ^ the term hydrocele specifies that the compartment is not connected to the peritoneal cavity, whereas the term inguinal hernia specifies a connecting passageway, however narrow. -ed.
  20. ^ After more than two centuries, the exact nature of Gibbon's ailment remains a bone of contention. Womersley's version here matches Patricia Craddock's. She, in a very full and graphic account of Gibbon's last days, notes that Sir Gavin de Beer's medical analysis of 1949 "makes it certain that Gibbon did not have a true hydrocele...and highly probable that he was suffering both from a 'large and irreducible hernia' and cirrhosis of the liver." (emphasis added). Also worthy of note are Gibbon's congenial and even joking moods while in excruciating pain as he neared the end. Both authors report this late bit of Gibbonian baudiness: "Why is a fat man like a Cornish Borough? Because he never sees his member." see Womersley, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, p.16; Craddock, Luminous Historian, 334–342; and Beer, "Malady."
  21. ^ so styled by the "unrivalled master of Enlightenment studies," historian Franco Venturi (1914–1994) in his Utopia and Reform in the Enlightenment (Cambridge: 1971), p. 132. See Pocock, Enlightenments of Edward Gibbon, p. 6; x.
  22. ^ Gibbon's estate was valued at approx. £26,000. He left most of his property to cousins. As stipulated in his will, Sheffield oversaw the sale of his library at auction to William Beckford for £950. Womersley, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 17–18.
  23. ^ Craddock, Luminous Historian, p.60; also see Shelby Thomas McCloy, Gibbon's Antagonism to Christianity (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1933). Gibbon, however, began chapter XV with what appeared to be a moderately positive appraisal of the Church's rise to power and authority. Therein he documented one primary and five secondary causes of the rapid spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire: primarily, "the convincing evidence of the doctrine itself, and... the ruling providence of its great Author;" secondarily, "exclusive zeal, the immediate expectation of another world, the claim of miracles, the practice of rigid virtue, and the constitution of the primitive church." (first quote, Gibbon in Craddock, Luminous Historian, p. 61; second quote, Gibbon in Womersley, Decline and Fall, vol. 1, ch. XV, p. 497.)
  24. ^ Henry Edwards Davis, An Examination of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Chapters of Mr. Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (London: J. Dodsley, 1778). online.
  25. ^ See Gibbon monographs.
  26. ^ Womersley, ed., Decline and Fall, vol. 1, ch. XVI, p. 516. Gibbon's first footnote here reveals even more about why his detractors reacted so harshly: "In Cyrene, [the Jews] massacred 220,000 Greeks; in Cyprus, 240,000; in Egypt, a very great multitude. Many of these unhappy victims were sawed asunder, according to a precedent to which David had given the sanction of his examples. The victorious Jews devoured the flesh, licked up the blood, and twisted the entrails like a girdle around their bodies. see Dion Cassius l.lxviii, p. 1145."
  27. ^ Womersley, Decline and Fall, vol. 3, ch. LXXI, p. 1068.
  28. ^ Burke supported the American rebellion, while Gibbon sided with the ministry; but with regard to the French Revolution they shared a perfect revulsion. At first (1789–1790), Gibbon cautiously withheld his condemnation of the latter (David Womersley, "Gibbon's Unfinished History," in Gibbon and the 'Watchmen of the Holy City', 195–196. see Further reading), but he quickly came to see it as "the Gallic phrenzy" spewing "wild theories of equal and boundless freedom." And of his colleague, "I...subscribe my assent to Mr. Burke's creed on the Revolution of France. I admire his eloquence, I approve his politics, I adore his Chivalry, and I can almost excuse his reverence for Church establishments." Gibbon, Memoirs, ¶: "A swarm of emigrants;" ¶: "I beg leave to subscribe." See also his letter to Sheffield in which "Burke's book is a most admirable medicine against the French disease. ...The French spread so many lyes [sic] about the sentiments of the English nation." Norton, Letters, vol. 3, 5/2/[17]91, 212–217, at p. 216; cf. also p. 243. Despite their agreement on the FR, Burke and Gibbon "were not specially close," owing to Whig party differences and divergent religious beliefs, not to mention Burke's sponsorship of a revenue bill which abolished, and therefore cost Gibbon his place on, the government's Board of Trade and Plantations in 1782. see Pocock, "The Ironist," ¶: "Both the autobiography...."
  29. ^ Winston Churchill, My Early Life: A Roving Commission (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1958), p. 111.
  30. ^ Roland Quinault, "Winston Churchill and Gibbon," in Edward Gibbon and Empire, eds. R. McKitterick and R. Quinault (Cambridge: 1997), 317–332, at p. 331; Pocock, "Ironist," ¶: "Both the autobiography...."
  31. ^ Womersley, Decline and Fall, vol. 2, Preface to Gibbon vol. 4, p. 520.
  32. ^ Stephen, DNB, p. 1134.
  33. ^ London: Chapman and Hall, 1950. Chapter 6, p. 122.
  34. ^ "(...) das Bild von welcher Veraenderung Gibbon in diesen Zuegen ausdrueckt: Der lange Friede und die gleichfoermige Herrschaft der Roemer (...)" - in section III of Hegel's Naturrechts essay, Jena 1802/1803.

Monographs by Gibbon

  • Essai sur l’Étude de la Littérature (London: Becket & De Hondt, 1761).
  • Critical Observations on the Sixth Book of [Vergil's] 'The Aeneid' (London: Elmsley, 1770).
  • The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (vol. I, 1776; vols. II, III, 1781; vols. IV, V,VI, 1788–1789). all London: Strahan & Cadell.
  • A Vindication of some passages in the fifteenth and sixteenth chapters of the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (London: J. Dodsley, 1779).
  • Mémoire Justificatif pour servir de Réponse à l’Exposé, etc. de la Cour de France (London: Harrison & Brooke, 1779).

Other writings by Gibbon

  • "Lettre sur le gouvernement de Berne" [Letter No. IX. Mr. Gibbon to *** on the Government of Berne], in Miscellaneous Works, First (1796) edition, vol. 1 (below). Scholars differ on the date of its composition (Norman, D.M. Low: 1758–59; Pocock: 1763–64).
  • Mémoires Littéraires de la Grande-Bretagne. co-author: Georges Deyverdun (2 vols.: vol. 1, London: Becket & De Hondt, 1767; vol. 2, London: Heydinger, 1768).
  • Miscellaneous Works of Edward Gibbon, Esq., ed. John Lord Sheffield (2 vols., London: Cadell & Davies, 1796; 5 vols., London: J. Murray, 1814; 3 vols., London: J. Murray, 1815). includes Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Edward Gibbon, Esq.;
  • Autobiographies of Edward Gibbon, ed. John Murray (London: J. Murray, 1896). EG's complete memoirs (six drafts) from the original manuscripts.
  • The Private Letters of Edward Gibbon, 2 vols., ed. Rowland E. Prothero (London: J. Murray, 1896).
  • Gibbon's Journal to January 28, 1763, ed. D.M. Low (London: Chatto and Windus, 1929).
  • Le Journal de Gibbon à Lausanne, ed. Georges A. Bonnard (Lausanne: Librairie de l'Université, 1945).
  • Miscellanea Gibboniana, eds. G.R. de Beer, L. Junod, G.A. Bonnard (Lausanne: Librairie de l'Université, 1952).
  • The Letters of Edward Gibbon, 3 vols., ed. J.E. Norton (London: Cassell & Co., 1956). vol.1: 1750–1773; vol.2: 1774–1784; vol.3: 1784–1794. cited as 'Norton, Letters'.
  • Gibbon's Journey from Geneva to Rome, ed. G.A. Bonnard (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1961). journal.
  • Edward Gibbon: Memoirs of My Life, ed. G.A. Bonnard (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1969;1966). portions of EG's memoirs arranged chronologically, omitting repetition.
  • The English Essays of Edward Gibbon, ed. Patricia Craddock (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972); [hb: ISBN 0198124961].


  • Beer, G. R. de. "The Malady of Edward Gibbon, F.R.S." Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 7:1 (December 1949), 71–80.
  • Craddock, Patricia B. Edward Gibbon, Luminous Historian 1772–1794. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989. HB: ISBN 0801837200. Biography.
  • Dickinson, H.T . "The Politics of Edward Gibbon". Literature and History 8:4 (1978), 175–196.
  • Norton, J. E. A Bibliography of the Works of Edward Gibbon. New York: Burt Franklin Co., 1940, repr. 1970.
  • Norton, J .E. The Letters of Edward Gibbon. 3 vols. London: Cassell & Co. Ltd., 1956.
  • Pocock, J. G. A. The Enlightenments of Edward Gibbon, 1737–1764. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. HB: ISBN 0521633451.
  • Pocock, J. G. A. "Classical and Civil History: The Transformation of Humanism". Cromohs 1 (1996). Online at the Università degli Studi di Firenze. Accessed 20 November 2009.
  • Pocock, J. G. A. "The Ironist". Review of David Womersley's The Watchmen of the Holy City. London Review of Books 24:22 (November 14, 2002). Online at the London Review of Books (subscribers only). Accessed 20 November 2009.
  • Gibbon, Edward. Memoirs of My Life and Writings. Online at Gutenberg. Accessed 20 November 2009.
  • Stephen, Sir Leslie, "Gibbon, Edward (1737–1794)". In the Dictionary of National Biography, eds. Sir Leslie Stephen and Sir Sidney Lee. Oxford: 1921, repr. 1963. Vol. 7, 1129–1135.
  • Womersley, David, ed. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. 3 vols. (London and New York: Penguin, 1994).
  • Womersley, David. "Introduction," in Womersley, Decline and Fall, vol. 1, xi–cvi.
  • Womersley, David. "Gibbon, Edward (1737–1794)". In the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, eds. H.C.G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. Vol. 22, 8–18.

Further reading


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.

See also

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Edward Gibbon (1737-05-08 [or 1737-04-27, O.S.] - 1794-01-16) was arguably the most important historian since the time of the ancient Roman Tacitus. Gibbon's magnum opus, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, published between 1776 and 1788, is a groundbreaking work of early modern erudition, the broad influence of which endures to this day.



The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire (1776)

For more from this see the article The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
  • The policy of the emperors and the senate, as far as it concerned religion, was happily seconded by the reflections of the enlightened, and by the habits of the superstitious, part of their subjects. The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful. And thus toleration produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord.
    The superstition of the people was not embittered by any mixture of theological rancour; nor was it confined by the chains of any speculative system. The devout polytheist, though fondly attached to his national rites, admitted with implicit faith the different religions of the earth. Fear, gratitude, and curiosity, a dream or an omen, a singular disorder, or a distant journey, perpetually disposed him to multiply the articles of his belief, and to enlarge the list of his protectors. The thin texture of the Pagan mythology was interwoven with various but not discordant materials.
  • Antoninus diffused order and tranquility over the greatest part of the earth. His reign 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.
  • 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.
  • The winds and waves are always on the side of the ablest navigators.
    • Vol. 1, Chap. 68. Compare: "On dit que Dieu est toujours pour les gros bataillons" (translated: "It is said that God is always on the side of the heaviest battalions"), Voltaire, Letter to M. le Riche. 1770; "J'ai toujours vu Dieu du coté des gros bataillons (translated: "I have always noticed that God is on the side of the heaviest battalions"), De la Ferté to Anne of Austria.
  • 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.

Memoirs (1796)

  • The successors of Charles the Fifth may disdain their brethren of England; but the romance of Tom Jones, that exquisite picture of human manners, will outlive the palace of the Escurial and the imperial eagle of the house of Austria.
  • Decent easy men, who supinely enjoyed the gifts of the founder.
  • It was here [at the age of seventeen] that I suspended my religious inquiries.
  • I saw and loved.
    • Vol. i. p. 106. Compare: "None ever loved but at first sight they loved", George Chapman, The Blind Beggar of Alexandria.
  • I sighed as a lover, I obeyed as a son.
  • Crowds without company, and dissipation without pleasure.
    • Referring to London.
  • The captain of the Hampshire grenadiers...has not been useless to the historian of the Roman Empire.
  • It was Rome, on the fifteenth of October 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the 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.
  • On the approach of spring I withdraw without reluctance from the noisy and extensive scene of crowds without company, and dissipation without pleasure.
    • Vol. i. p. 116.


  • Every man who rises above the common level has received two educations: The first from his teachers; the second, more personal and important, from himself.
  • From my childhood, I had been fond of religious disputation.

See also

About Edward Gibbon

External links

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