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LIVES

OF THE ILLUSTRIOUS.

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Ꭼ Ꭰ Ꮃ Ꭺ Ꭱ Ꭰ THE life of the great author of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" is vividly portrayed in the pages of his autobiography. His vanity and affected indifference, his egotism, his scepticism, his want of lofty enthusiasm, his quaintness and coxcombry, and the coldness and calmness of his temperament are all apparent on the perusal of this singular book. But while we become aware of the man's frailties, we gain no slight insight into the author's powers-the dawning and development of his genius, and the secret of his success. Gibbon lived in an age of literary men. He was well acquainted with all the great authors of France and England. He was the cotemporary of Buffon, Voltaire, and Rousseau, of Hume and Johnson, of Fox and Burke, and, to quote his own words, "there were few persons in the literary or political world to whom he was a stranger." Our knowledge respecting the greatest of all historians is therefore not entirely limited to his own confessions.

The ancestry of an illustrious author is of little importance to the world, and although the historian was somewhat vain of his birth, it will be quite sufficient to say that his father was a gentleman of property and a member of parliament. EDWARD GIBBON was born at Putney, 27th April, 1737. Five brothers and one sister died in infancy, and the boy's childhood was passed in comparative solitude. His constitution was extremely feeble, and he had no experience of a mother's tenderness and love, for Mrs. Gibbon and her husband were fond of amusement and dissipation; and had it not been for the thoughtful care of his aunt Catherine Porten, the child would, in all probability, have died long ere he attained the age of manhood.

But this loving and noble-hearted woman acted the mother's part. She watched over the child with the tenderest solicitude, and spent many a night by his bedside trying to relieve his sufferings. A boy so delicate was permitted to have very much his own way, and to

GIBBON.

follow his own pursuits. In his ninth year," in a lucid interval of comparative health," he was sent to a large school at Kingston-upon-Thames, where "at the expense of many tears and some blood he purchased the knowledge of the Latin syntax." But his studies were often interrupted by the state of his health, and after two years he was recalled home on the occasion of his mother's death. This event proved such a shock to Edward's father that he retired from business, and having bought an estate, took up his residence at Beriton, in Hampshire.

In 1748, Gibbon's fond aunt was left comparatively destitute by the failure of her father, and she was reduced to the necessity of keeping a boarding-house for Westminster school, Thither the future historian was sent. It appears that he did not gain much advantage from his studies there, since they were frequently interrupted by debility, or by severe attacks of illness. He was at length sent to Bath under the care of a servant, then for a time to Winchester, where, however, he derived no benefit from medical skill, so that the Bath waters were again resorted to. He returned to Westminster for a short time, but was unable to struggle with the hardships of a public school. But about the age of fifteen, the disorders to which he had been subject gradually disappeared, and strength and vigour of constitution took the place of pain and lassitude. He was now placed at Esher, in Surrey, under the care of the Rev. Philip Francis, the well-known translator of Horace. It was soon discovered that the master preferred the society and amusements of London to the labour of tuition, and Mr. Gibbon came to the strange resolution of sending his son to Oxford, where he was matriculated as a gentleman commoner of Magdalen College, before he had attained his sixteenth year. Three years of apparent idleness had passed away, but the boy had meanwhile been engaged in his own education, and he informs us that his indiscriminate appetite for

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reading "subsided by degrees in the
historic line." The discovery of the
continuation of Echard's "Roman His-
tory" awakened his interest in the sub-
ject which was destined to occupy his
lifetime. Greedily did young Gibbon
devour all the works he could procure
relative to the Byzantine period of
Roman History, Howel's History of the
World, Ockley's inimitable work upon
the Saracens; and indeed every English
work on that period of history was
perused ere he went to Oxford, and he
earnestly endeavoured to obtain inform-
ation on the same subject from other
sources. "Before I was sixteen," he
says, "I had exhausted all that could
be learned in English of the Arabs and
Persians, the Tartars and Turks; and
the same ardour urged me to guess at
the French of D'Herbelot, and to con-
strue the barbarous Latin of Pocock's
Albufaragius. Such vague and multi-
farious reading could not teach me to
think, to write, or to act; and the only
principle that darted a ray of light into
the indigested chaos, was an early and
rational application to the order of time
and place."
With such tastes and with
a mind undisciplined indeed, but eager
in the pursuit of knowledge, Edward
Gibbon entered upon his academical
career. Behold him in a velvet cap and
silk gown, the owner of three elegant
and well-furnished rooms, with an ample
supply of money at his disposal, and the
free use of a noble library. At an age
when most boys are living under the
watchful eyes of parents or school-
masters, Gibbon was allowed as much
freedom, as if he had reached man's
estate. Professedly a student, and
under the jurisdiction of masters, he was
in reality free to wander whithersoever
it pleased him, free to work or to be
idle, to attend to the college routine, or
to absent himself from the class. Some-
times he would elope from Oxford and
visit Bath or London; his absence passed
unnoticed; he returned to his amuse-
ments or to his self-chosen studies, but no
authority of any kind opposed his youth-
ful inclinations. Will it surprise any one
to learn that the fourteen months spent
at Magdalen College "proved the most
idle and unprofitable of his whole life?"
Gibbon's indignation at the abuses
which were then prevalent at Oxford,
appears well founded; and we cannot
help imagining with regret, how
different his future course might

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have proved if, during that period of susceptibility and impression, some great and good man, like Arnold of Rugby, had directed his thoughts and watched over his studies. About that time Dr. Middleton's "Free Inquiry was exciting some interest in the theological world; the curious and inquisitive boy was induced to peruse it, as well as the answers which it called forth. Instead of making him a sceptic, as might have been imagined, it gave a new direction to his thoughts and studies, and he was led by degrees to believe in all the mysteries of the Church of Rome. The boy was brave or vain enough to avow his convictions, and to renounce the Church in which he had been brought up. On informing his father of the step which he had taken, he was so angry that he immediately divulged the secret, and the future infidel was dismissed from the college for his adherence to a time-worn superstition. We do not find that he received a word of admonition, or that any effort was made to remove the perplexities with which he was troubled. He prides himself, in his autobiography, on this sacrifice of interest to conscience, and shelters his want of judgment beneath the names of Chillingworth and Bayle, who had both been drawn aside by the sophistries of the Roman Catholic Church. To overcome the belief in which his son had taken refuge, Mr. Gibbon placed him for a short time, we are not told how long, under the roof of Mallet, the author of a life of Bacon, and of several poems and plays; his principles were deistical: and if the boy were really desirous to know the truth, he could of course gain no assistance from such a friend.

At length it was determined that he should be sent to Switzerland, and educated at Lausanne, by M. Pavilliard, a Protestant and a Calvinist. From a state of freedom he was degraded to the condition of a schoolboy; his expenses were managed for him by the pastor, and he received only a small monthly allowance of pocket-money; everything was strange to him; he could neither speak nor understand French, and "during some weeks was incapable, not only of enjoying the pleasures of conversation, but even of asking or answering a question in the common intercourse of life." But to struggle with difficulties, and to overcome them, is the common

make very large collections of what I read. But what I esteem most of all, from the perusal and meditation of De Crousaz's Logic' I not only understood the principles of that science, but formed my mind to a habit of thinking and reasoning I had no idea of before."

He adopted a method in translating from French or Latin, which he recom

heritage of genius, and the discipline which Edward Gibbon underwent proved of infinite advantage to him in the future. His means did not enable him to associate on equal terms with his own countrymen at Lausanne, and thus, at this critical period of his life, he was thrown upon his own resources. By practice and perseverance, however, it was not long before he gained amends to the attention of students. thorough mastery over the French language, and with this knowledge his circumstances were altered. He was received into the best families of Lausanne, and endeavoured, but without success, to gain some proficiency in the accomplishments of a gentleman. He took no delight in bodily exercise, and his choicest pleasures were associated with literature and study. His assiduity at this time was very great, and it was, we imagine, chiefly owing to the fact of his thoughts diverging into a fresh channel, that he was willing, before long, to renounce his temporary creed, and to suspend his religious inquiries altogether.

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Gibbon is another striking example of what well-directed and systematic efforts may accomplish. He was conscious of genius, but not on that account did he relax from an almost unremitting toil which he had voluntarily imposed upon himself, and it will be useful and stimulating to future students, if we detail somewhat fully the course and measure of his studies at Lausanne. It was during the last three years of his residence there, that his application became most apparent, and the following account of the work which he accomplished in a few months, will serve as an illustration of his lifelong activity. In the space of eight months, from the beginning of April, I learnt the principles of drawing; made myself complete master of the French and Latin languages, with which I was very superficially acquainted before, and wrote and translated a great deal in both; read Cicero's Epistles Ad Familiares,' his Brutus,' all his Orations,' his Dialogues De Amicitia,' and 'De Senectute;' Terence, twice; and Pliny's Epistles;' in French, Giannone's History of Naples,' and L'Abbé Bannier's Mythology,' and M. de Bochat's Mémoires sur la Suisse;' and wrote a very ample relation of my tour. I likewise began to study Greek, and went through the Grammar. I began to

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Choosing some classic writer of acknowledged purity and elegance of style, he would translate select passages into French, and then after awhile, when all memory of the original paragraphs was obliterated, retranslate them into the original language. He followed the same plan with one of the French classics, and found the effort extremely beneficial. The study of the Latin authors proved a labour of love; having thoroughly studied and imbibed the spirit of Cicero, he appears to have read and pondered nearly all the Latin classics, in the brief space of twenty-seven months, and some of them he even found leisure to peruse two or three times. "I never suffered," he writes, "a difficult or corrupt passage to escape, till I had viewed it in every light of which it was susceptible. and in the ardour of my inquiries, I embraced a large circle of historical and critical erudition." He had happily found a friend who sympathised with him in these pursuits, and in the company of Mr. Deyverdun, "enjoyed the benefit of a free conversation on the topics of their common studies." From the Latin language and literature he advanced to the Greek, which for awhile he prosecuted with equal ardour; but it was not until a later period of his life that he became thoroughly conversant with Grecian literature. For some time, at the request of his father, Gibbon pursued the study of mathematics, but he felt no interest in the science; and as soon as he understood the principles, gladly abandoned it for ever. To add to these varied labours, which for a young man who had not yet attained the age of twenty might be deemed sufficient, Gibbon made himself acquainted with Grotius and Puffendorf, with Locke and Bayle; but his chief delight was in the frequent perusal of Montesquieu, "whose energy of style, and boldness of hypothesis, were powerful to awaken and stimulate the genius of the age."

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