Edward Gibbon (; 8 May 173716 January 1794) was an
English English usually refers to: * English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early medieval England, which has eventually become the World language, leading lan ...
historian A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past and is regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned with the continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the stu ...
writer A writer is a person who uses written words in different styles and techniques to communicate ideas. Writers produce different forms of literary art and creative writing such as novels, short stories, books, poetry, plays, screenplays, telepl ...

, and Member of Parliament. His most important work, ''
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire ''The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'' is a six-volume work by the English historian Edward Gibbon Edward Gibbon (; 8 May 173716 January 1794) was an English historian, writer and Member of Parliament. His most importan ...
'', published in six volumes between 1776 and 1788, is known for the quality and
irony Irony (), in its broadest sense, is a rhetorical device In rhetoric Rhetoric () is the art Art is a diverse range of (products of) human activities involving creative imagination to express technical proficiency, beauty, emoti ...

of its prose, its use of
primary sources In the study of history History (from Greek , ''historia'', meaning "inquiry; knowledge acquired by investigation") is the study of the past. Events occurring before the invention of writing systems are considered prehistory. "History" is ...
, and its
polemical Polemic () is contentious rhetoric Rhetoric () is the Art (skill), art of persuasion, which along with grammar and logic (or dialectic – see Martianus Capella), is one of the Trivium, three ancient arts of discourse. Rhetoric aim ...
criticism Critique is a wikt:method, method of disciplined, systematic study of a written or oral discourse. Although critique is commonly understood as fault finding and negative judgment,Rodolphe Gasché (2007''The honor of thinking: critique, theory, p ...
organised religion Organized religion (or organised religion—see spelling differences), also known as institutional religion, is religion Religion is a social system, social-cultural system of designated religious behaviour, behaviors and practices, morality ...

Early life: 1737–1752

Edward Gibbon was born in 1737, the son of
Edward Edward is an English English usually refers to: * English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early medieval England, which has eventually become the World ...
and Judith Gibbon at Lime Grove, in the town of
Putney Putney () is a district in southwest London, England, in the London Borough of Wandsworth. It is centred southwest of Charing Cross. The area is identified in the London Plan as one of 35 major centres in Greater London. History Putney is an ...
Surrey Surrey () is a county A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposesChambers Dictionary The ''Chambers Dictionary'' (''TCD'') was first published by William Chambers (publisher), William and R ...

. He had six siblings, 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 South is one of the cardinal direction The four cardinal directions, or cardinal points, are the directions north, east, south, and west, commonly denoted by their initials N, E, S, and W. East and west are perpendicular (at right angles) to ...
stock-market collapse in 1720, but eventually regained much of his wealth. Gibbon's father was thus able to inherit a substantial estate. One of his grandparents, Catherine Acton, descended from
Sir Walter Acton, 2nd Baronet Sir Walter Acton, 2nd Baronet (c. 1621 – 1665) was an English landowner and politician who sat in the House of Commons of England, House of Commons in 1660. Life Acton was the son of Sir Edward Acton, 1st Baronet of Aldenham and his wife Sarah My ...
. 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 Kingston upon Thames (hyphenated until 1965, colloquially known as Kingston) is a town in the Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames The Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames is a London boroughs, borough in southwest London. The main town is ...
Kingston Grammar School Kingston Grammar School is an independent co-educational day school in Kingston upon Thames, England. The school was founded by Royal Charter in 1561 but can trace its roots back to at least the 13th century.
), shortly after which his mother died. He then took up residence in the
Westminster School (God Gives the Increase) , established = Earliest records date from the 14th century, refounded in 1560 , type = Public school (United Kingdom), Public school Independent school (United Kingdom), Independent day school, day and b ...
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". From 1747 Gibbon spent time at the family home in
Buriton Buriton is a village A village is a clustered human settlement or community, larger than a hamlet (place), hamlet but smaller than a town (although the word is often used to describe both hamlets and smaller towns), with a population ty ...
. By 1751, Gibbon's reading was already extensive and certainly pointed toward his future pursuits:
Laurence Echard Laurence Echard (c. 1670–1730) was an English historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC and one of the earliest historians whose work survives. A historian is a person who studies and writes about the p ...

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).


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

Following a stay at
Bath Bath may refer to: * Bathing, immersion in a fluid ** Bathtub, a large open container for water, in which a person may wash their body ** Public bathing, a public place where people bathe * Thermae, ancient Roman public bathing facilities Place ...
in 1752 to improve his health, at the age of 15, Gibbon was sent by his father to
Magdalen College, Oxford Magdalen College ( ) is a constituent college A collegiate university is a university A university ( la, universitas, 'a whole') is an educational institution, institution of higher education, higher (or Tertiary education, tertiary) educ ...

Magdalen College, Oxford
, where he was enrolled as a
gentleman-commoner A commoner is a student at certain universities in the British Isles who historically pays for his own tuition and dining hall, commons, typically contrasted with Scholarship, scholars and exhibitioners, who were given financial emoluments towards ...
. 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 himself says so in his autobiography, it used to be thought that his penchant for "theological controversy" (his aunt's influence) fully bloomed when he came under the spell of the deist or rationalist theologian
Conyers Middleton Conyers Middleton (27 December 1683 – 28 July 1750) was an English clergyman. Mired in controversy and disputes, he was also considered one of the best stylists in English of his time. Early life Middleton was born at Richmond, North Yorkshire ...
(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 Jacques-Bénigne Lignel Bossuet (; 27 September 1627 – 12 April 1704) was a French French (french: français(e), link=no) may refer to: * Something of, from, or related to France France (), officially the French Republic (french: link= ...

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/poet couple David and Lucy Mallet; 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. Bowersock suggests that Gibbon fabricated the Middleton story retrospectively in his anxiety about the impact of the
French Revolution The French Revolution ( ) was a period of radical political and societal change in France France (), officially the French Republic (french: link=no, République française), is a spanning and in the and the , and s. Its ...

French Revolution
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's claim that it was provoked by the French ''philosophes'', so influential on Gibbon. Within weeks of his conversion, the adolescent was removed from Oxford and sent to live under the care and tutelage of Daniel Pavillard, Reformed pastor of
Lausanne, Switzerland , neighboring_municipalities= Bottens Bottens is a municipalities of Switzerland, municipality in the district of Gros-de-Vaud District, Gros-de-Vaud in the Cantons of Switzerland, canton of Vaud in Switzerland. History Bottens is first men ...

Lausanne, Switzerland
. There, he made one of his life's two great friendships, that of Jacques Georges Deyverdun (the French-language translator of
Goethe Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (28 August 1749 – 22 March 1832) was a German poet, playwright, novelist, scientist, statesman, theatre director, critic, and amateur artist. His works include: four novels; epic poetry, epic and lyric poetry; prose ...

's ''
The Sorrows of Young Werther ''The Sorrows of Young Werther'' (german: Die Leiden des jungen Werthers) is a 1774 epistolary novel An epistolary novel is a novel A novel is a relatively long work of narrative A narrative, story or tale is any account of a series of rel ...
''), 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". 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; travelled throughout Switzerland studying its cantons' constitutions; and studied the works of
Hugo Grotius Hugo Grotius (; 10 April 1583 – 28 August 1645), also known as Huig de Groot () and in Dutch as Hugo de Groot (), was a Dutch humanist, diplomat, lawyer, theologian, jurist, poet and playwright. A teenage intellectual prodigy, he was bor ...

Hugo Grotius
Samuel von Pufendorf Samuel Freiherr (; male, abbreviated as ), (; his wife, abbreviated as , literally "free lord" or "free lady") and (, his unmarried daughters and maiden aunts) are designations used as title of nobility, titles of nobility in the German-speak ...

Samuel von Pufendorf
John Locke John Locke (; 29 August 1632 – 28 October 1704) was an English philosopher and physician, widely regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment Enlightenment, enlighten or enlightened may refer to: Age of Enlightenment * ...

John Locke
Pierre Bayle Pierre Bayle (; 18 November 1647 – 28 December 1706) was a French philosopher, author, and lexicographer Lexicography is divided into two separate but equally important groups: * Practical lexicography is the art or craft A craft ...

Pierre Bayle
, and
Blaise Pascal Blaise Pascal ( , , ; ; 19 June 1623 – 19 August 1662) was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, philosopher, writer and Catholic Church, Catholic theologian. He was a child prodigy who was educated by his father, a tax collector i ...

Blaise Pascal

Thwarted romance

He also met the one romance in his life: the daughter of the pastor of Crassy, a young woman named
Suzanne Curchod Suzanne Curchod (1737 – 6 May 1794) was a French-Swiss salonist and writer. She hosted one of the most celebrated salon Salon may refer to: * Beauty salon A beauty salon or beauty parlor is an establishment dealing with Cosmetics, cosm ...
, who was later to become the wife of
Louis XVI's
Louis XVI's
finance minister
Jacques Necker Jacques Necker (; 30 September 1732 – 9 April 1804) was a Genevan banker and statesman who served as finance minister A finance minister is an executive or cabinet position in charge of one or more of government finances, economic policy a ...

Jacques Necker
, and the mother of
Madame de StaëlMadame may refer to: * Madam Madam (), or madame ( or ), is a polite and formal form of address for women, often contracted to ma'am (pronounced in American English and in British English). The term derives from the French ''madame'' (); in F ...

Madame de Staël
. The two developed a warm affinity; Gibbon proceeded to propose marriage, 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." 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 Ferney-Voltaire () is a commune A commune is an intentional community of people sharing living spaces, interests, values, beliefs, and often property Property (''latin: Res Privata'') in the Abstract and concrete, abstract is what be ...

, France, in early 1764, though they did see each other at least one more time a year later.

First fame and the Grand tour: 1758–1765

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. From 1759 to 1770, Gibbon served on active duty and in reserve with the South Hampshire
Militia A militia () is generally an army An army (from Latin ''arma'' "arms, weapons" via Old French ''armée'', "armed" eminine, ground force or land force is a fighting force that fights primarily on land. In the broadest sense, it is the land-b ...
, his deactivation in December 1762 coinciding with the militia's dispersal at the end of the
Seven Years' War The Seven Years' War (1756–1763) is widely considered to be the first global conflict in history, and was a struggle for world supremacy between Kingdom of Great Britain, Great Britain and Kingdom of France, France. In Europe, the conflict ar ...
. 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 of for Italy, crossed the Alps, and after spending the summer in Florence arrived in Rome, via Lucca, Pisa, Livorno and Siena, in early October. In his autobiography, Gibbon vividly records his rapture when he finally neared "the great object of
...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 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.
Here, Gibbon first conceived the idea of composing a history of the city, later extended to the entire
empire An empire is a "political unit" made up of several territories and peoples, "usually created by conquest, and divided between a dominant center and subordinate peripheries". Narrowly defined, an empire is a sovereign state called an empire and ...

, a moment he described later as his "Capitoline vision":
It was at Rome, on the fifteenth of October 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the
Capitol A capitol is a building in which a legislature meets, including: Political authority of a territorial unit * United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. * Numerous List of state capitols in the United States, U.S. state and territorial capitols * ...
, while the barefooted fryars were singing
vespers Vespers is a service of evening prayer, one of the canonical hours In the practice of Christianity Christianity is an Abrahamic religions, Abrahamic Monotheism, monotheistic religion based on the Life of Jesus in the New Testament, life ...

in the
temple A temple (from the Latin ) is a building reserved for spiritual rituals and activities such as prayer and sacrifice. Religions which erect temples include Christianity (whose temples are typically called church (building), churches), Hinduism (w ...
Jupiter Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and the List of Solar System objects by size, largest in the Solar System. It is a gas giant with a mass more than two and a half times that of all the other planets in the Solar System combined, but ...
, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the City first started to my mind.
Womersley (''
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography The ''Dictionary of National Biography'' (''DNB'') is a standard work of reference on notable figures from History of the British Isles, British history, published since 1885. The updated ''Oxford Dictionary of National Biography'' (''ODNB'') ...
'', 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, and remained there until the latter's death in 1770. These years were considered by Gibbon as the worst five of his life, but he tried to remain busy by making early attempts towards writing full histories. His first historical narrative known as the ''History of Switzerland'', which represented Gibbon's love for Switzerland, was never published nor finished. Even under the guidance of Deyverdun (a German translator for Gibbons), Gibbon became too critical of himself, and completely abandoned the project, only writing 60 pages of text. However, after Gibbon's death, his writings on Switzerland's history were discovered and published by Lord Sheffield in 1815. 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 which described the literary and social conditions of England at the time, such as Lord Lyttelton's history of Henry II and
Nathaniel Lardner Image:Nathaniel Lardner.jpg, Nathaniel Lardner Nathaniel Lardner (6 June 1684 – 24 July 1768) was an England, English theology, theologian. Life Lardner was born at Hawkhurst, Kent in 1684. He was the elder son of Richard Lardner (1653–1740) ...

Nathaniel Lardner
's ''The Credibility of the Gospel History''. Gibbon's ''Memoires Litteraires'' failed to gain any notoriety, and was considered a flop by fellow historians and literary scholars. After he tended to his father's estate—which was by no means in good condition— quite enough remained for Gibbon to settle fashionably in London at 7
Bentinck Street
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 Oliver Goldsmith (10 November 1728 – 4 April 1774) was an Anglo-Irish Anglo-Irish () is a term which was more commonly used in the 19th and early 20th centuries to identify an ethnic group An ethnic group or ethnicity is a grouping of p ...

Oliver Goldsmith
at the Royal Academy as 'professor in ancient history' (honorary but prestigious). In late 1774, he was initiated as a
Freemason Freemasonry or Masonry refers to Fraternity, fraternal organisations that trace their origins to the local guilds of Stonemasonry, stonemasons that, from the end of the 13th century, regulated the qualifications of stonemasons and their inte ...

of the
Premier Grand Lodge of England The organisation known as the Premier Grand Lodge of England was founded on 24 June 1717 as the 'Grand Lodge of London and Westminster'. Originally concerned with the practice of Freemasonry in London and Westminster, it soon became known as the G ...
. He was also, perhaps least productively in that same year, 1774, returned to the House of Commons for
Liskeard Liskeard ( ; kw, Lyskerrys) is small town in south-east Cornwall, South West England. It is an ancient Stannary town, stannary and market town, situated approximately 20 miles (32 km) west of Plymouth, west of the River Tamar and the bor ...
, 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 Whig or Whigs may refer to: Parties and factions In the British Isles * A pejorative nickname for the Kirk Party The Kirk Party were a radical Presbyterian faction of the Scotland, Scottish Covenanters during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. ...
ministry invariably automatic. Gibbon's indolence in that position, perhaps fully intentional, subtracted little from the progress of his writing. Gibbon lost the Liskeard seat in 1780 when Eliot joined the opposition, taking with him "the Electors of Leskeard
are commonly of the same opinion as Mr. El ot." (Murray, p. 322.) The following year, owing to the good grace of Prime Minister
Lord North Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford (13 April 17325 August 1792), better known by his courtesy title Courtesy (from the word ''courteis'', from the 12th century) is gentle politeness and courtly manners. In the Middle Ages I ...

Lord North
, he was again returned to Parliament, this time for
Lymington Lymington is a port town on the west bank of the Lymington River on the Solent, in the New Forest (district), New Forest district of Hampshire, England. It faces Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, to which there is a Roll-on/roll-off, car ferry service ...
on a by-election.

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

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 ''The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'' is a six-volume work by the English historian Edward Gibbon Edward Gibbon (; 8 May 173716 January 1794) was an English historian, writer and Member of Parliament. His most importan ...
'', 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. Biographer
Leslie Stephen Sir Leslie Stephen (28 November 1832 – 22 February 1904) was an English author, critic, historian, biographer, and mountaineer, and father of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell. Life Sir Leslie Stephen came from a distinguished intellectual fa ...
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 David Hume (; born David Home; 7 May 1711 NS (26 April 1711 OS) – 25 August 1776) Cranston, Maurice, and Thomas Edmund Jessop. 2020 999999 or triple nine most often refers to: * 999 (emergency telephone number) 250px, A sign on a beach ...

David Hume
overpaid the labour of ten years." 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; 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: 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). Mounting a bandwagon of praise for the later volumes were such contemporary luminaries as
Adam Smith Adam Smith ( 1723 – 17 July 1790) was a Scottish economist, philosopher as well as a moral philosopher Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that "involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and ...

Adam Smith
William Robertson
William Robertson
Adam Ferguson Adam Ferguson, FRSE Fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (FRSE) is an award granted to individuals that the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland's national academy of science and Literature, letters, judged to be "eminently distingu ...
Lord Camden Image:Charles Pratt, 1st Earl Camden by Nathaniel Dance, (later Sir Nathaniel Dance-Holland, Bt).jpg, 250px, Charles Pratt, 1st Earl Camden, by Nathaniel Dance-Holland Marquess Camden is a title in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. It was create ...
, and
Horace Walpole Horatio Walpole (), 4th Earl of Orford (24 September 1717 – 2 March 1797), better known as Horace Walpole, was an English writer, art historian, man of letters, antiquarian and Whigs (British political party), Whig politician. He had Strawbe ...

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." In November 1788, he was elected a
Fellow of the Royal Society Fellowship of the Royal Society (FRS, ForMemRS and HonFRS) is an award granted by the judges of the Royal Society The Royal Society, formally The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, is a and the 's national . Found ...
, the main proposer being his good friend Lord Sheffield. In 1783 Gibbon had been intrigued by the cleverness of Sheffield's 12 year-old eldest daughter,
Maria Maria may refer to: People * Maria (given name), a popular given name in many languages Placenames Extraterrestrial *170 Maria, a Main belt S-type asteroid discovered in 1877 *Lunar maria (plural of ''mare''), large, dark basaltic plains on Eart ...
, 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".

Later life: 1789–1794

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 The French Revolution ( ) was a period of radical political and societal change in France France (), officially the French Republic (french: link=no, République française), is a spanning and in the and the , and s. Its ...

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. Gibbon is believed to have suffered from an extreme case of scrotal swelling, probably a hydrocele testis, a condition which causes the scrotum to swell with fluid in a compartment overlying either testicle. In an age when close-fitting clothes were fashionable, his condition led to a chronic and disfiguring inflammation that left Gibbon a lonely figure. 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 Peritonitis is inflammation of the peritoneum, the lining of the inner wall of the abdomen and cover of the abdominal organs. Symptoms may include severe pain, swelling of the abdomen, fever, or weight loss. One part or the entire abdomen may be ...
to set in and spread, from which he died. The "English giant of the Enlightenment" 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 Fletching is a village and civil parish in the Wealden District, Wealden District of East Sussex, England. It is located three miles (4.8 km) to the north-west of Uckfield, near one of the entrances to Sheffield Park Garden, Sheffield Park. Th ...
, 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 for £950. 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 shattering critique of 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 .


Edward Gibbon's central thesis in his explanation of how the Roman Empire fell, that it was due to embracing 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 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. Gibbon's work has been criticised for its scathing view of Christianity as laid down in chapters XV and XVI, a situation which 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, by "treatthe 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 ractisingreligious intolerance and warfare". 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 Joseph Priestley (; 24 March 1733 – 6 February 1804) was an English chemist A chemist (from Greek ''chēm(ía)'' alchemy; replacing ''chymist'' from Medieval Latin Medieval Latin was the form of Latin Latin (, or , ) is a cla ...
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. Gibbon subsequently published his ''Vindication'' in 1779, in which he categorically denied Davis' "criminal accusations", branding him a purveyor of "servile plagiarism." Davis followed Gibbon's ''Vindication'' with yet another reply (1779). 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 humankind.


Gibbon is considered to be a son of the
Enlightenment Enlightenment, enlighten or enlightened may refer to: Age of Enlightenment * Age of Enlightenment, period in Western intellectual history from the late 17th to late 18th century, centered in France but also encompassing: ** Midlands Enlightenment ...
and this is reflected in his famous verdict on the history of the
Middle Ages In the history of Europe The history of Europe concerns itself with the discovery and collection, the study, organization and presentation and the interpretation of past events and affairs of the people of Europe since the beginning of ...
: "I have described the triumph of barbarism and religion." However, politically, he aligned himself with the conservative Edmund Burke's rejection of the radical egalitarian movements of the time as well as with Burke's dismissal of overly rationalistic applications of the "rights of man". Gibbon's work has been praised for its style, his piquant epigrams and its effective irony.
Winston Churchill Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, (30 November 187424 January 1965) was a British statesman who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom The prime minister of the United Kingdom is the head of government The hea ...

Winston Churchill
memorably noted in '''', "I set out upon...Gibbon's ''Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'' 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." 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." 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." 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.
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 Isaac Asimov (; 1920 – April 6, 1992) was an American writer and professor of biochemistry at Boston University. During his lifetime, Asimov was considered one of the "Big Three" science fiction writers, along with Robert A. Heinlein and A ...
in his writing of '' The Foundation Trilogy'', which he said involved "a little bit of cribbin' from the works of Edward Gibbon".
Evelyn Waugh Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh (; 28 October 1903 – 10 April 1966) was an English writer of novels, biographies, and travel books; he was also a prolific journalist and book reviewer. His most famous works include the early satires ''Declin ...
admired Gibbon's style, but not his secular viewpoint. In Waugh's 1950 novel '' Helena'', the early Christian author
Lactantius Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius (c. 250 – c. 325) was an early Christian The history of Christianity concerns the Christian religion Christianity is an Abrahamic The Abrahamic religions, also referred to collectively as the ...

worried about the possibility of "'a false historian, with the mind of
Cicero Marcus Tullius Cicero ( ; ; 3 January 106 BC – 7 December 43 BC) was a Ancient Rome, Roman statesman, lawyer, scholar, philosopher and Academic skepticism, Academic Skeptic, who tried to uphold optimate principles during crisis of ...

Tacitus Publius Cornelius Tacitus ( , ; – ) was a Roman historian and politician. Tacitus is widely regarded as one of the greatest Roman historians by modern scholars. He lived in what has been called the Silver Age of Latin literature Classi ...

and the soul of an animal,' and he nodded towards the
gibbon Gibbons () are ape Apes (Hominoidea ) are a branch of Old World tailless simians native to Africa and Southeast Asia Southeast Asia or Southeastern Asia is the United Nations geoscheme for Asia#South-eastern Asia, southeastern sub ...

who fretted his golden chain and chattered for fruit."London: Chapman and Hall, 1950. Chapter 6, p. 122.

Monographs by Gibbon

* ''Essai sur l’Étude de la Littérature'' (London: Becket & De Hondt, 1761). * ''Critical Observations on the Sixth Book of ergil'sThe Aeneid'' (London: Elmsley, 1770). * ''
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire ''The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'' is a six-volume work by the English historian Edward Gibbon Edward Gibbon (; 8 May 173716 January 1794) was an English historian, writer and Member of Parliament. His most importan ...
'' (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 My Life and Writings, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Edward Gibbon, Esq.''.
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: .

See also

* The Work of J.G.A. Pocock#Edward Gibbon, ''The Work of J.G.A. Pocock'': ''Edward Gibbon'' section * ''The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire#Further reading, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Further reading'' * ''The Miscellaneous Works of Edward Gibbon'' * ''Outline of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire#A Gibbon chronology, A Gibbon chronology'' * Historiography of the United Kingdom


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''.Original text:


* 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: . Biography. * Dickinson, H.T . "The Politics of Edward Gibbon". ''Literature and History'' 8:4 (1978), 175–196. * *D. M. Low, 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: . * Pocock, J. G. A. "Classical and Civil History: The Transformation of Humanism". ''Cromohs'' 1 (1996). Online at th
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 th
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: . * 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: . 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: . * Porter, Roger J. "Gibbon's Autobiography: Filling Up the Silent Vacancy". ''Eighteenth-Century Studies'' 8:1 (Autumn 1974), 1–26. * Leslie Stephen, Stephen, Leslie, "s:Studies of a Biographer/Gibbon's Autobiography, 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. * * White, Jr. Lynn, ed. ''The Transformation of the Roman World: Gibbon's Problem after Two Centuries''. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966. HB: .

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: . PB: . * Carnochan, W. Bliss. ''Gibbon's Solitude: The Inward World of the Historian''. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987. HB: . * 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: . A comprehensive listing of secondary literature through 1985. See als
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. * O'Brien, Karen. "English Enlightenment Histories, 1750–c.1815" in . * Pocock, J. G. A. ''Barbarism and Religion'', 4 vols.: vol. 1, ''The Enlightenments of Edward Gibbon, 1737–1764'', 1999 [hb: ]; vol. 2, ''Narratives of Civil Government'', 1999 [hb: ]; vol. 3, ''The First Decline and Fall'', 2003 [pb: ]; vol. 4, ''Barbarians, Savages and Empires'', 2005 [pb: ]. all Cambridge Univ. Press. * Porter, Roy. ''Gibbon: Making History''. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989, HB: . * 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: . * Womersley, David P., John Burrow, and J.G.A. Pocock, eds. ''Edward Gibbon: bicentenary essays''. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1997. HB: . * Womersley, David P. ''Gibbon and the ‘Watchmen of the Holy City’: The Historian and His Reputation, 1776–1815''. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. PB: .

External links

Complete ''History of the Decline and Fall'' including Gibbon's ''Vindication'', courtesy: Christian Classics Ethereal Library of Calvin College, Grands Rapids, Michigan.

* [http://www.his.com/~z/gibho2.html Edward Gibbon, Historian of the Roman Empire. Part 2: A closer look at The Decline and Fall
''Archive link''
* ** * *

* [http://www.declineandfallresources.com/ DeclineandFallResources.com – Original Maps and Footnote Translations]
Biographer Patricia Craddock's comprehensive bibliography through May 1999.

{{DEFAULTSORT:Gibbon, Edward 1737 births 1794 deaths 18th-century diarists 18th-century English historians 18th-century English male writers 18th-century English non-fiction writers Acton family, Edward Alumni of Magdalen College, Oxford British book and manuscript collectors British classical scholars British Freemasons British historians British historians of religion British male essayists British monarchists British MPs 1774–1780 British MPs 1780–1784 British Protestants British rhetoricians Burials in Sussex Converts to Protestantism from Catholicism Critics of religions Cultural critics Deaths from peritonitis English book and manuscript collectors English classical scholars English essayists English historians English male non-fiction writers English Protestants English rhetoricians Fellows of the Royal Society Freemasons of the Premier Grand Lodge of England Historians of ancient Rome Historians of Christianity Historians of religion Irony theorists Members of the Parliament of Great Britain for constituencies in Cornwall Members of the Parliament of Great Britain for English constituencies Scholars of Roman history Social critics People educated at Kingston Grammar School People educated at Westminster School, London People from Buriton People from Putney Rhetoric theorists Theorists on Western civilization