Jump to content

Edward Gibbon

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Edward Gibbon
Portrait by Joshua Reynolds, 1779
Member of Parliament for Lymington
In office
Preceded bySamuel Salt
Edward Eliot
Succeeded bySamuel Salt
Wilbraham Tollemache
Member of Parliament for Liskeard
In office
Preceded byHarry Burrard
Thomas Dummer
Succeeded byHarry Burrard
William Manning
Personal details
Born8 May 1737
Putney, Surrey, England
Died16 January 1794(1794-01-16) (aged 56)
London, England
Political partyWhig
EducationMagdalen College, Oxford
ProfessionEssayist, historian,

Edward Gibbon FRS (/ˈɡɪbən/; 8 May 1737[1] – 16 January 1794) was an English essayist, historian, and politician. His most important work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, published in six volumes between 1776 and 1789, is known for the quality and irony of its prose, its use of primary sources, and its polemical criticism of organized religion.[2]

Early life: 1737–1752


Edward Gibbon was born in 1737, the son of Edward and Judith Gibbon, at Lime Grove in the town of Putney, Surrey. He had five brothers and one sister, all of whom died in infancy. His grandfather, also named Edward, had lost his assets as a result of the South Sea bubble stock-market collapse in 1720 but eventually regained much of his wealth. Gibbon's father thus inherited a substantial estate.[3] His paternal grandmother, Catherine Acton, was granddaughter of Sir Walter Acton, 2nd Baronet.[4]

As a youth, Gibbon's health was under constant threat. He described himself as "a puny child, neglected by my Mother, starved by my nurse". At age nine, he was sent to Dr. Woddeson's school at Kingston upon Thames (now Kingston Grammar School), 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".[5] From 1747 Gibbon spent time at the family home in Buriton.[6] By 1751, Gibbon's reading was already extensive and 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).[7]



Oxford, Lausanne, and a religious journey: 1752–1758

Magdalen College, Oxford

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. Because he says so in his autobiography, it used to be thought that a penchant from his aunt for "theological controversy" bloomed under the influence of the deist or rationalist theologian Conyers Middleton (1683–1750), the author of Free Inquiry into the Miraculous Powers (1749). In that tract, Middleton denied the validity of such powers; Gibbon promptly objected, or so the argument used to run. 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 8 June 1753. He was further "corrupted" by the 'free thinking' deism of the playwright and poet David Mallet;[8] and finally Gibbon's father, already "in despair," had had enough. David Womersley has shown, however, that Gibbon's claim to having been converted by a reading of Middleton is very unlikely, and was introduced only into the final draft of the "Memoirs" in 1792–93.[9]

Within weeks of his conversion, he was removed from Oxford and sent to live under the care and tutelage of Daniel Pavillard, Reformed pastor of Lausanne, Switzerland. There, 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), and that of 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 various articles of the Romish creed," he wrote, "disappeared like a dream".[10]

Thwarted romance

Suzanne Curchod

He also met the one romance in his life: the daughter of the pastor of Crassy, a young woman named Suzanne Curchod, who was later to 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,[11] but ultimately this 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. No refusal of the elder's wishes could be allowed. Gibbon put it this way: "I sighed as a lover, I obeyed as a son."[12] 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 early 1764, though they did see each other at least one more time a year later.[13]

First fame and the Grand tour: 1758–1765

Portchester Castle came under Gibbon's command for a brief period while he was an officer in the South Hampshire Militia.[14]

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.[15] 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.[16] The following year, he returned, via Paris, to Lausanne, where he made the acquaintance of a "prudent worthy young man" William Guise. On 18 April 1764, he and Guise set off for Italy, crossed the Alps, and after spending the summer in Florence arrived in Rome, via Lucca, Pisa, Livorno and Siena, in early October.[17] In his autobiography, Gibbon vividly records his rapture when he finally neared "the great object of [my] pilgrimage":

...at the distance of twenty-five years I can neither forget nor express the strong emotions which agitated my mind as I first approached and entered the eternal City. 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.[18]

Here, Gibbon first conceived the idea of composing a history of the city, later extended to the entire empire, a moment he described later as his "Capitoline vision":[19]

It was at Rome, on the fifteenth of October 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefooted fryars 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.[20]

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", given that Gibbon, in his autobiography, claimed that his journal dated the reminiscence to 15 October, when in fact the journal gives no date.

Late career: 1765–1776




In June 1765, Gibbon returned to his father's house, remaining there until the latter's death in 1770.[21] These five years were considered by Gibbon as the worst of his life, but he tried to remain busy by making early attempts at full histories. His first historical narrative, known as the History of Switzerland, representing Gibbon's love for Switzerland, was never finished nor published. Even under the guidance of Deyverdun, his German translator, Gibbon became too self-critical and completely abandoned the project after writing only 60 pages of text.[22]

Soon after abandoning his History of Switzerland, Gibbon made another attempt towards completing a full history. His second work, Memoires Litteraires de la Grande Bretagne, was a two-volume set describing the literary and social conditions of England at the time, such as Lord Lyttelton's history of Henry II and Nathaniel Lardner's The Credibility of the Gospel History.[23] Gibbon's Memoires Litteraires failed to gain any notoriety and was considered a flop by fellow historians and literary scholars.[24]

Blue plaque to Gibbon on Bentinck Street, London

After he tended to his father's estate—which was in poor condition—enough remained for Gibbon to settle fashionably in London at 7 Bentinck Street free of financial concern. 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', an honorary but prestigious position. In late 1774, he was initiated as a Freemason of the Premier Grand Lodge of England.[25]

He was also, perhaps least productively in that same year, returned to the House of Commons for Liskeard, Cornwall through the intervention of his relative and patron, Edward Eliot.[26] He became the archetypal back-bencher, benignly "mute" and "indifferent," his support of the Whig ministry invariably automatic. 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." (Murray, p. 322.) 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.[27]

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: 1776–1788


In a distant age and climate the tragic scene of the death of Hosein will awaken the sympathy of the coldest reader.

— Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire[28]

After several rewrites, with Gibbon "often tempted to throw away the labours of seven years," the first volume of what was to become his life's major achievement, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, was published on 17 February 1776. Through 1777, the reading public eagerly consumed three editions, for which Gibbon was rewarded handsomely: two-thirds of the profits, amounting to approximately £1,000.[29]

Volumes II and III appeared on 1 March 1781, eventually rising "to a level with the previous volume in general esteem." Volume IV was finished in June 1784;[30] 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. Gibbon later wrote:

It was on the day, or rather the night, of 27 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 companion, and that, whatsoever might be the future fate of my history, the life of the historian must be short and precarious.[31]

Volumes IV, V, and VI finally reached the press in May 1788, their publication having been delayed since March so it could coincide with a dinner party celebrating Gibbon's 51st birthday (the 8th).[32] 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. Adam Smith told Gibbon that "by the universal assent of every man of taste and learning, whom I either know or correspond with, it sets you at the very head of the whole literary tribe at present existing in Europe."[33] In November 1788, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, the main proposer being his good friend Lord Sheffield.[34]

In 1783 Gibbon had been intrigued by the cleverness of Sheffield's 12-year-old eldest daughter, Maria, and he proposed to teach her himself. Over the following years he continued, creating a girl of sixteen who was both well educated, confident and determined to choose her own husband. Gibbon described her as a "mixture of just observation and lively imagery, the strong sense of a man expressed with the easy elegance of a female".[35]

Later life: 1789–1794

Gibbon's memorial tablet on the Sheffield Mausoleum in St Andrew & St Mary The Virgin's church in Fletching, East Sussex

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. 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 left 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.[36]

Among Edward Gibbon's maladies was gout.[37] Gibbon is also believed to have suffered from an extreme case of scrotal swelling, probably a hydrocele testis, a condition that causes the scrotum to swell with fluid in a compartment overlying either testicle.[38] In an age when close-fitting clothes were fashionable, his condition led to a chronic and disfiguring inflammation that left Gibbon a lonely figure.[39] 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.[citation needed]

The "English giant of the Enlightenment"[40] finally succumbed at 12:45 pm, 16 January 1794 at age 56. He was buried in the Sheffield Mausoleum attached to the north transept of the Church of St Mary and St Andrew, Fletching, East Sussex,[41] having died in Fletching while staying with his great friend, Lord Sheffield. Gibbon's estate was valued at approximately £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.[42] What happened next suggests that Beckford may have known of Gibbon's moralistic, 'impertinent animadversion' at his expense in the presence of the Duchess of Devonshire at Lausanne. Gibbon's wish that his 6,000-book library would not be locked up 'under the key of a jealous master' was effectively denied by Beckford who retained it in Lausanne until 1801 before inspecting it, then locking it up again until at least as late as 1818 before giving most of the books back to Gibbon's physician Dr Scholl who had helped negotiate the sale in the first place. Beckford's annotated copy of the Decline and Fall turned up in Christie's in 1953, complete with his critique of what he considered the author's 'ludicrous self-complacency ... your frequent distortion of historical Truth to provoke a gibe, or excite a sneer ... your ignorance of oriental languages [etc.]'.[43]



A view frequently attributed to Gibbon, that the Roman Empire fell due to its embrace of Christianity, is not widely accepted by scholars today. Gibbon argued that with the empire's new Christian character, large sums of wealth that would have otherwise been used in the secular affairs in promoting the state were transferred to promoting the activities of the Church. However, the pre-Christian empire also spent large financial sums on religious affairs and it is unclear whether or not the change of religion increased the amount of resources the empire spent on religion. Gibbon further argued that new attitudes in Christianity caused many Christians of wealth to renounce their lifestyles and enter a monastic lifestyle, and so stop participating in the support of the empire. However, while many Christians of wealth did become monastics, this paled in comparison to the participants in the imperial bureaucracy. Although Gibbon further pointed out that the importance Christianity placed on peace caused a decline in the number of people serving the military, the decline was so small as to be negligible for the army's effectiveness.[44][45]

Many scholars argue that Gibbon did not in fact blame Christianity for the empire's fall, rather attributing its decline to the effects of luxury and the consequent erosion of its martial character. Such a view echoes the outlook of the Greek historian Polybius, who similarly explained the decadent Greek world's eclipse by the ascendant Roman Republic in Mediterranean affairs. In this understanding of Gibbon, the process of Rome's decay was well underway before Christian adherents numbered a large proportion of the empire. Hence, although Gibbon might have seen Christianity as hastening Rome's fall, he did not consider it as the root cause.[46][47]

Gibbon's work has been criticised for its scathing view of the Christian church as laid down in chapters XV and XVI, a situation that resulted in the banning of the book in several countries. Gibbon's was accused of disrespecting, and none too lightly, the character of Christian doctrine, by "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, the chapters excoriated the church for "supplanting in an unnecessarily destructive way the great culture that preceded it" and for "the outrage of [practising] religious intolerance and warfare".[48]

Gibbon, in letters to Holroyd and others, expected some type of church-inspired backlash, but the harshness of the ensuing torrents exceeded anything he or his friends had 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.[49]

Gibbon's apparent antagonism to Christian doctrine spilled over into the Jewish faith, leading to charges of anti-Semitism. For example, he wrote:

From the reign of Nero to that of Antoninus Pius, the Jews discovered a fierce impatience of the dominion of Rome, which repeatedly broke out in the most furious massacres and insurrections. Humanity is shocked at the recital of the horrid cruelties which they committed in the cities of Egypt, of Cyprus, and of Cyrene, where they dwelt in treacherous friendship with the unsuspecting natives; 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 mankind.[50]


Portrait of Edward Gibbon by Henry Walton

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."[51] Politically, he rejected the radical egalitarian movements of the time, notably the American and French Revolutions, and dismissed overly rationalistic applications of the rights of man.[52]

Gibbon's work has been praised for its style, his piquant epigrams and its effective irony. Winston Churchill memorably noted in My Early Life, "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."[53] 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."[54]

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."[55] 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.[56]

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".[57]

Evelyn Waugh admired Gibbon's style, but not his secular viewpoint. In Waugh's 1950 novel Helena, the early Christian author Lactantius worries 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."[58]

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).
  • The works of Edward Gibbon, Volume 3 1906.
  • Gibbon's Journal to 28 January 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 0-19-812496-1.

See also




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.[36]


  1. ^ O.S. 27 April. Gibbon's birthday is 27 April 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 8 May 1737 N.S.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ D. M. Low, Edward Gibbon. 1737–1794 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1937), p. 7.
  4. ^ Burke's Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage, 106th edition, vol. 1, ed. Charles Mosley, Burke's Peerage Ltd, 1999, p. 28
  5. ^ Norton, Letters, vol. 3, 10/5/[17]86, 45–48.
  6. ^ "Local Luminaries".
  7. ^ Stephen, DNB, p. 1130; Pocock, Enlightenments of Edward Gibbon, 29–40. At age 14, Gibbon was "a prodigy of uncontrolled reading"; Gibbon himself admitted an "indiscriminate appetite". p. 29.
  8. ^ Pocock, Enlightenments of Edward Gibbon. for Middleton, see pp. 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, appertaining 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.
  9. ^ Womersley, Gibbon and the 'Watchmen of the Holy City': The Historian and His Reputation, 1776–1815 (Oxford University Press, 2002), as cited by G. M. Bowersock in The New York Review of Books, 25 November 2010, p. 56.
  10. ^ John Murray (ed.). The Autobiographies of Edward Gibbon. (London: John Murray, 1896), p. 137.
  11. ^ Norton, Biblio, p. 2;   Letters, vol. 1, p. 396. a concise summary of their relationship is found at 396–401.
  12. ^ Murray, p. 239. 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.
  13. ^ Womersley, 11–12.
  14. ^ Goodall 2008, p. 38
  15. ^ 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). Womersley, p. 11; and The Miscellaneous Works, First edition, vol. 2.
  16. ^ 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." Murray, p. 190.
  17. ^ Edward Chaney, "Reiseerlebnis und 'Traumdeutung' bei Edward Gibbon und William Beckford", Europareisen politisch-sozialer Eliten im 18.Jahrhundert, eds. J. Rees, W. Siebers and H. Tilgner (Berlin 2002), pp.244-45; cf. Chaney, "Gibbon, Beckford and the Interpretation of Dreams," pp. 40-41.
  18. ^ Chaney, p. 40 and Murray, pp. 266–267.
  19. ^ Pocock, "Classical History," ¶ #2.
  20. ^ Murray, p. 302.
  21. ^ Cecil, Algernon. Six Oxford thinkers: Edward Gibbon, John Henry Newman, R.W. Church, James Anthony Froude, Walter Pater, Lord Morley of Blackburn. London: John Murray, 1909, p. 59.
  22. ^ Cecil, Algernon. Six Oxford thinkers: Edward Gibbon, John Henry Newman, R.W. Church, James Anthony Froude, Walter Pater, Lord Morley of Blackburn. London: John Murray, 1909, p. 60.
  23. ^ Cecil, Algernon. Six Oxford thinkers: Edward Gibbon, John Henry Newman, R.W. Church, James Anthony Froude, Walter Pater, Lord Morley of Blackburn. London: John Murray, 1909, p. 61.
  24. ^ Morley, John (May 1878). English Men of Letters. Macmillan and Co. pp. 61–62. Retrieved 3 May 2020.
  25. ^ i.e., in London's Lodge of Friendship No. 3. See Gibbon's freemasonry.
  26. ^ "Gibbon, Edward (1737–94), of Bentinck St., London; Buriton, Hants; and Lenborough, Bucks". History of Parliament Online. Retrieved 10 May 2016.
  27. ^ Gibbon's Whiggery was solidly conservative, in favour 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, which he referred to as "the wild & mischievous system of Democracy" (Dickinson, "Politics," 178–179).
  28. ^ Gibbon, Edward (1911). The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 5. London. pp. 391–392.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  29. ^ 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.
  30. ^ Norton, Biblio, 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.
  31. ^ Murray, pp. 333–334
  32. ^ Norton, Biblio, p. 61.
  33. ^ The Autobiography and Correspondence of Edward Gibbon, the Historian. Alex. Murray. 1869. p. 345.
  34. ^ "Fellow Details". Royal Society. Archived from the original on 16 November 2018. Retrieved 10 May 2016.
  35. ^ Stern, Marvin (2004). "Stanley [née Holroyd], Lady Maria Josepha (1771–1863), letter writer and liberal advocate". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/74489. Retrieved 4 January 2021. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  36. ^ a b Original text: Stephen, Leslie (1890). "Gibbon, Edward" . In Stephen, Leslie (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 21. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 250–256.
  37. ^ Roy Porter and G.S. Rousseau (1998). "Gout, The Patrician Malady". The New York Times.
  38. ^ Jellinek, E. H. (1999). "'Varnish the business for the ladies': Edward Gibbon's decline and fall". J R Soc Med. 92 (7): 374–79. doi:10.1177/014107689909200716. PMC 1297297. PMID 10615283.
  39. ^ After more than two centuries, the exact nature of Gibbon's ailment remains a bone of contention. Patricia Craddock, 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." 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 bawdiness: "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".
  40. ^ 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.
  41. ^ "Sheffield Mausoleum - Mausolea & Monuments Trust". www.mmtrust.org.uk. Archived from the original on 25 July 2015. Retrieved 25 July 2015.
  42. ^ Womersley, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 17–18.
  43. ^ Edward Chaney, "Gibbon, Beckford and the Interpretation of Dreams, Waking Thoughts, and Incidents", The Beckford Society Annual Lectures 2000-2003 (Beckford Society, 2004), pp. 45-47
  44. ^ Heather, Peter. The fall of the Roman Empire. Oxford University Press, 2005, 122–123.
  45. ^ Gerberding, Richard (2005). "The later Roman Empire". In Fouracre, Paul (ed.). The New Cambridge Medieval History, Volume 1, c.500–c.700. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 25–26. ISBN 978-1-13905393-8.
  46. ^ Ghosh, P. R. (1991). "Gibbon Observed". The Journal of Roman Studies. 81: 132–56. doi:10.2307/300494. JSTOR 300494. S2CID 250351907. p. 137
  47. ^ Pocock, Religion: The First Triumph. See p. ix, xiii.
  48. ^ 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.)
  49. ^ 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.
  50. ^ Womersley, ed., Decline and Fall, vol. 1, ch. XVI, p. 516. see online 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. As a matter of fact, this is a verbatim citation from Dio Cassius, Historia Romana LXVIII, 32:1–3: The Jewish Uprising Archived 6 March 2013 at the Wayback Machine: Meanwhile, the Jews in the region of Cyrene had put one Andreas at their head and were destroying both the Romans and the Greeks. They would cook their flesh, make belts for themselves of their entrails, anoint themselves with their blood, and wear their skins for clothing. Many they sawed in two, from the head downwards. Others they would give to wild beasts and force still others to fight as gladiators. In all, consequently, two hundred and twenty thousand perished. In Egypt, also, they performed many similar deeds, and in Cyprus under the leadership of Artemio. There, likewise, two hundred and forty thousand perished. For this reason no Jew may set foot in that land, but even if one of them is driven upon the island by force of the wind, he is put to death. Various persons took part in subduing these Jews, one being Lusius, who was sent by Trajan.
  51. ^ Womersley, Decline and Fall, vol. 3, ch. LXXI, p. 1068.
  52. ^ Burke supported the American rebellion, while Gibbon sided with the ministry; but with regard to the French Revolution they shared a perfect revulsion. 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 the Civil List and Secret Service Money Act 1782 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...."
  53. ^ Winston Churchill, My Early Life: A Roving Commission (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1958), p. 111.
  54. ^ 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...."
  55. ^ Womersley, Decline and Fall, vol. 2, Preface to Gibbon vol. 4, p. 520.
  56. ^ Stephen, DNB, p. 1134.
  57. ^ Groat, Brian. "Asimov on How to Be Prolific". Medium.com, 25 October 2016. Retrieved 30 April 2018
  58. ^ London: Chapman and Hall, 1950. Chapter 6, p. 122.


  • 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 0-8018-3720-0. Biography.
  • Dickinson, H. T. "The Politics of Edward Gibbon". Literature and History 8:4 (1978), 175–196.
  • Goodall, John (2008), Portchester Castle, London: English Heritage, ISBN 978-1-84802-007-8
  • Low, D. M., Edward Gibbon. 1737–1794 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1937).
  • Murray, John (ed.), The Autobiographies of Edward Gibbon. Second Edition (London: John Murray, 1897).
  • 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 0-521-63345-1.
  • Pocock, J. G. A. Religion: The First Triumph. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. HB: ISBN 0-521-760720.
  • Pocock, J. G. A. "Classical and Civil History: The Transformation of Humanism". Cromohs 1 (1996). Online at the Università degli Studi di Firenze. Retrieved 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 (14 November 2002). Online at the London Review of Books (subscribers only). Retrieved 20 November 2009.
  • Gibbon, Edward. Memoirs of My Life and Writings. Online at Gutenberg. Retrieved 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

  • Barlow, J. W. (1879). “Gibbon and Julian”. In: Hermathena, Volume 3, 142–159. Dublin: Edward Posonby.
  • Beer, Gavin de. Gibbon and His World. London: Thames and Hudson, 1968. HB: ISBN 0-670-28981-7.
  • 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 0-8018-2714-0. 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 0-8240-6372-4.
  • Porter, Roger J. "Gibbon's Autobiography: Filling Up the Silent Vacancy". Eighteenth-Century Studies 8:1 (Autumn 1974), 1–26.
  • Stephen, Leslie, "Gibbon's Autobiography" in Studies of a Biographer, Vol. 1 (1898)
  • Swain, J. W. Edward Gibbon the Historian. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1966.
  • Turnbull, Paul (1982). "The Supposed Infidelity of Edward Gibbon". Historical Journal. 5: 23–41. doi:10.1017/S0018246X00009845. S2CID 159801709.
  • White, Jr. Lynn, ed. The Transformation of the Roman World: Gibbon's Problem after Two Centuries. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966. HB: ISBN 0-520-01334-4.

Since 1985

  • Berghahn, C.-F., and T. Kinzel, eds., Edward Gibbon im deutschen Sprachraum. Bausteine einer Rezeptionsgeschichte. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2015.
  • 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 0-19-287553-1. PB: ISBN 0-19-287552-3.
  • Carnochan, W. Bliss. Gibbon's Solitude: The Inward World of the Historian. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987. HB: ISBN 0-8047-1363-4.
  • Chaney, Edward, "Reiseerlebnis und 'Traumdeutung' bei Edward Gibbon und William Beckford", Europareisen politisch-sozialer Eliten im 18.Jahrhundert, eds. J. Rees, W. Siebers and H. Tilgner (Berlin 2002), pp. 243–60.
  • Chaney, Edward, "Gibbon, Beckford and the Interpretation of Dreams, Waking Thoughts, and Incidents", The Beckford Society Annual Lectures 2000-2003, ed. Jon Millinton (Beckford Society, 2004).
  • Craddock, Patricia B. Edward Gibbon: a Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987. PB: ISBN 0-8161-8217-5. 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.
  • Kapossy, Béla, Lovis, Béatrice (dir.), Edward Gibbon et Lausanne. Le Pays de Vaud à la rencontre des Lumières européennes. Gollion: Infolio, 2022, 528 p.
  • 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.
  • O'Brien, Karen. "English Enlightenment Histories, 1750–c.1815" in José Rabasa, ed. (2012). The Oxford History of Historical Writing: Volume 3: 1400–1800. OUP Oxford. pp. 518–35. ISBN 978-0199219179..
  • Pocock, J. G. A. Barbarism and Religion, 4 vols.: vol. 1, The Enlightenments of Edward Gibbon, 1737–1764, 1999 [hb: ISBN 0-521-63345-1]; vol. 2, Narratives of Civil Government, 1999 [hb: ISBN 0-521-64002-4]; vol. 3, The First Decline and Fall, 2003 [pb: ISBN 0-521-82445-1]; vol. 4, Barbarians, Savages and Empires, 2005 [pb: ISBN 0-521-72101-6]. all Cambridge Univ. Press.
  • Porter, Roy. Gibbon: Making History. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989, HB: ISBN 0-312-02728-1.
  • 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 0-521-35036-0.
  • Womersley, David P., John Burrow, and J. G. A. Pocock, eds. Edward Gibbon: bicentenary essays. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1997. HB: ISBN 0-7294-0552-4.
  • 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 0-19-818733-5.
Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Liskeard
With: Samuel Salt
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Lymington
With: Harry Burrard
Succeeded by