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assigned for the rapid growth of Christianity. By sir David Dalrymple” (lord Hailes), 1786, 4to. *
In addition to these antagonists, it may be mentioned that Dr. Priestley endeavoured to provoke Mr. Gibbon to a controversy. The letters which passed between them are republished in the Memoirs, and are interesting because highly characteristic of both parties. The literary world has seldom seen polemic turbulence and sceptical arrogance so ably contrasted. Of all Mr. Gibbon's antagonists, be speaks with respect only of Dr. Watson. Davis, it is evident, gave him most uneasiness, because he was able to repel but a few of the many charges that writer brought against him. In sound, manly reasoning, clear, perspicuous, and well-founded, without an atom of controversial asperity, sir David Dalrymple’s Inquiry excels; and may perhaps be considered as completely proving, what it is of most importance to prove, that Mr. Gibbon's attack on Christianity was unnecessary as to its connection with his history, and is disingenuous as to the mode in which he conducted it. The controversy was upon the whole beneficial; the public was put upon its guard, and through the thin veil of lofty contempt, it is very evident that Mr. Gibbon repented that he had made a false estimate of the public opinion on the subject of religion.
The prosecution of his history was for some time checked by an employment of a different nature, but for which bis talents were thought preferable to that of any writer connected with administration. At the request of the ministers of state, he was induced to answer a manifesto which the French court had issued against Great Britain, preparatory to war. This Mr. Gibbon ably accomplished in a “Memoire Justificatif," composed in French, which was delivered as a state paper to the courts of Europe. For this service he was appointed one of the lords commissioners of trade and plantations, a place worth about 7001. or 8001. a year, the duties of which were not very arduous. His acceptance of this place, he informs us, provoked some of the leaders of the opposition, with whom he had lived in habits of intimacy, and he was unjustly accused of deserting a party in which he had never enlisted. At the general elec
* In bis third volume Mr. Gibbon Travis addressed « Letters to Edward took an opportunity to deny the au- Gibbon, esq." which were answered by thenticity of the verse, 1 John v. 7, Mr. professor Porson, and produced a “ For there are three,” &c. In sup- controversy of considerable warmtb. port of this verse, Mr. Archdeacon
tion, however, in 1780, he lost his seat in parliament, the voters of Leskeard being disposed to favour an oppositioncandidate.
In April 1781 he published the second and third volumes of his history, which excited as much attention, although less controversy, than his first volume. They were written with more caution, yet with equal elegance, and perhaps more proofs of just and profound thinking. His affection for his work appears to have been too warm to permit him to estimate the reception with which these volumes were honoured. He speaks, in his Memoirs, of what no person acquainted with the literary history of that very recent period can remember, of “the coldness and even preju. dice of the town.” It is certain, and it is saying much, that they were received with a degree of eagerness and approbation proportioned to their merit: but two volumes are not so speedily sold as one, and the promise of a continuation, while it gratified the wishes of his admirers, necessarily suspended that final sentence upon which the fame of the work was ultimately to depend.
Soon after the meeting of the new parliament, he was chosen, on a vacancy, to represent the borough of Lymington in Hampshire, but the administration to which he had attached himself was now on its decline, and with its fall the board of trade was abolished, and “ he was stripped of a convenient salary, after having enjoyed it about three years.” Amidst the convulsions of parties which followed the dissolution of lord North's administration, he adhered to the coalition from a principle of gratitude, but he obtained in return only promises of distant advancement, while he found that an additional income was immediately necessary to enable him to maintain the style of living to which he had been accustomed. And such at the same time was his indifference towards public business, and such his eagerness to pursue his studies, that no additional income would have been acceptable, if earned at the expence of parliamentary attendance, or official duties.
In this dilemma, Mr. Gibbon turned his thoughts once more to his beloved Lausanne. From his earliest knowledge of that country, he had always cherished a secret wish, that the school of his youth might become the retreat of his declining age, where a moderate fortune would secure the blessings of ease, leisure, and independence. His old friend Mr. Deyverdun was now settled there, an
inducement of no small attraction; and to him he communicated his designs. The arrangements of friends are soon adjusted, and Mr. Gibbon, having disposed of all bis effects, except his library, bid adieu to England, in September 1783, and arrived at Lausanne nearly twenty years after his second departure. His reception was such as he expected and wished, and the comparative advantages of his situation are thus stated, nearly in bis own words. His personal freedom had been somewhat impaired by the house of commons and by the board of trade, but he was now delivered from the chain of duty and dependence, from the hopes and fears of political adventure; his sober mind was no longer intoxicated by the fumes of party, and he rejoiced in his escape, as often as he read of the midnight debates which preceded the dissolution of parliament. His English economy had been that of a solitary bachelor, who might afford some occasional dinners. In Switzerland he enjoyed, at every meal, at every hour, the free and pleasant conversation of the friend of his youth; and his daily table was always provided for the reception of one or two extraordinary guests. In London he was lost in the crowd ; but he rapked with the first families of Lausanne, and his style of prudent expence enabled him to maintain a fair balance of reciprocal civilities. Instead of a small house between a street and a stable-yard, he occupied a spacious and convenient mansion, connected on the north side with the city, and open, to the south, to a beautiful and boundless horizon.
In this catalogue of advantages, we may perceive somewhat of caprice and weakness, and it may certainly be conjectured that a man of his internal resources might have discovered situations in England, both adapted to the purposes of economy and retirement, and yielding intervals of society. But from his subsequent remarks, it appears that he was, either from pride or modesty, averse to the company of his literary associates, and preferred, in his hours of relaxation, that company in which the conversation leads, not to discussion, but to the exchange of mutual kindness and endearments. In this perhaps he is not singular; and in disliking the polemical turn which literary conversation too frequently takes, he is not to be blamed. What was most commendable, however, and what constantly predominated in the mind of Gibbon, was increase of knowledge. From that aim no opulence of
station could have diverted him, and whatever his friends or the state might have done for him, his own scheme, the constant wish and prayer of his heart, was for a situation in which books might be procured.
He remained at Lausanne about a year, before he resumed bis history, which he concluded in 1787. This event is recorded by him in language which it would be absurd to change, because it is personally characteristic, and of which no change could be an improvement.--"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, I took several turns in a berceau, 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 emotions of joy on the recovery of my freedom, and, perhaps, the esta
, blishment 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 an everlasting leave of an old and agreeable companion, and that whatsoever might be the future date of my History, the life of the historian might be short and precarious. I will add two facts, which have seldom occurred in the composition of six, or at least of
1. My rough manuscript, without any intermediate
copy, has been sent to press. 2. Not a sheet has been seen by any human eyes, excepting those of the author and the printer; the faults and merits are exclusively my own*"
With the manuscript copy of these volumes he set out from Lausanne, and at the end of a fortnight arrived at the house of his friend lord Sheffield, with whom he resided during the whole of his stay in England. Having disposed of the copyright to his liberal publisher, the late Mr. Cadell, and the whole having been printed, the day
Extract from Mr. Gibbon’s Com- 1786. The Vlth Volume, bezin May mon-place book:-The IVth volume of 13th, 1786, ended June 27th, 1787. the History of the Declive and Fall of These three volumes were sent to press the Roman Empire, begun March 1st, Aug. 15ih, 1787, and the whole im1782, ended June 1784. The Vth Vo pression was concluded April follow. jume, begun July 1784, ended May 1st, ing.
of publication, be informs us, was delayed, that it might coincide with the fifty-first anniversary of his birth-day, May 8, 1788, when the double festival was celebrated by a cheerful literary dinner at Mr. Cadell's house. On this occasion some elegant stanzas by Mr. Hayley were read, at which, Mr. Gibbon adds, “I seemed to blush.”
The sale of these volumes was rapid, but the author had a more formidable host of critics to encounter than when he first started, and his style underwent a more rigid examination. He tells us himself that a religious clamour was revived, and the reproach of indecency loudly echoed by the censors of morals. The latter, he professes he could never understand. Why he should not understand what was equally obvious to his admirers and to his opponents, and has been censured with equal asperity by both, is a question which cannot be answered by supposing Mr. Gibbon defective in the common powers of discernment. Persisting, however, in his surprize, he offers a vindication of the indecent notes appended to these volumes, which probably never made one convert. He
that all the licentious passages are left in the obscurity of a learned language; but he forgets that Greek and Latin are taught at every school; that sensuality may be effectually censured without being minutely described ; and that it is not historically just to exhibit individual vices as a general picture of the manners of an age or people.
In the preface to his fourth volume, he announced his approaching return to the neighbourhood of the lake of Lausanne, nor did his year's visit to England once induce him to alter bis resolution. He set out accordingly, a few weeks after the publication of his history, and soon regained his habitation, where, he informs us, after a full repast on Homer and Aristophanes, he involved bimself in the philosophic mazes of the writings of Plato. But the happiness he expected in his favourite retreat was considerably lessened by the death of his friend Deyverdun ; while the disorders of revolutionary France began to interrupt the general tranquillity that had long prevailed in Switzerland. Troops of enigrants flocked to Lausanne, and brought with them the spirit of political discussion, not guided by reason, but inflamed by passion and prejudice. The language of disappointment on the one band, and of presumption on the other, marked the rise of two parties, between whom the peaceful enjoyments of nearly three centuries were finally destroyed.