Edward Gibbon and the Decline and Fall of Roman Civilization

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Edward Gibbon

Zerrrouk (PN)

Edward Gibbon is one of the most famous and influential historical writers of the 18th century. His, “The Decline and Fall of Roman Civilization, “ has been praised and ranked as an historical masterpiece.[1] In Gibbon's writings on the fall of the Roman civilization, he points out that Christians and people that are not civic-minded are the major reason for the fall of Rome. Gibbon comes up with this theory through the major experiences in life: beginning at his early childhood, with a frail and diseased body, to the youthful Gibbon under the constant oppression of a demanding father, to the experiences of his life on the grand tour. These things have helped form his worldview and caused him to create theories, and a seemingly emotional disdain for religion. All of these things have had a tie into influencing his works, and how he became the historian he is famous for today. Edward Gibbon was born April 27, 1737 at Putney, Surrey. Gibbon was the eldest of six children and, as it turned out, was the only child to not die at infancy; thus, Gibbon was their only child. His mother was a “pretty and vivacious woman, and found little time for her son.” The role of “mother” for Edward Gibbon was filled by his maiden aunt, Catherine Porten, who encouraged Edward's “intellectual inclinations.”[2] When Edward was born, he had a disease until the age of fifteen and his “puny constitution was afflicted with almost every species of disease and weakness.”[3] Due to these conditions, Gibbon spend most of his time at home in bed instead of at school; Gibbon did not mind this because he hated school.[4] Due to his weak condition, Gibbon was “kept from the joyous play of his equals”[5]; his condition was the center of many taunts. Due to this childhood, Gibbon carried on a, “lifelong aversion to schools and doctors,” causing him to hold a negative view of all educational affiliations.[6] When Gibbon was fifteen, his disorders suddenly vanished and his father enrolled him at Magdalen College in the town of Oxford. He was enrolled in 1753, as a Gentleman Commoner, and arrived at Oxford delighted by his new found freedom; however, Gibbon was “as unprepared for Oxford as Oxford was for Edward Gibbon.”[7] Gibbon refers to this time of his life as a time where he “lost fourteen valuable months of [his] youth.”[8] While at Oxford, Gibbon was always absent from classes. Despite his recurring absence, he read some controversial books and began religious discussions with a Roman Catholic student. Shortly after this he was converted to Catholicism and Edward Gibbon was kicked out of Oxford and thus, “left the promise of an easy and conventional life.”[9] Gibbon's father sent him into exile to be converted back to Protestantism following his conversion to Catholicism. Gibbon was sent to Lausanne and stayed at the house of Daniel Pavilliard, a Calvinist minister. He spent almost five years in Switzerland and converted back to Protestantism on Christmas day.[10] His time in Lausanne was a big influence on his worldview and his life. It is during this time that he acquired “perfect knowledge” of the French language, which consequently inspired his writing of Essay sur L'etude de la Literature, the first French journal ever written by an English man.[11] It was due to his bilingualism that he was able to read French literature such as Corneille, Voltaire, and one of his greatest influences: the works of the philosophes. The ideas of the philosophes influenced him, “but even more he was seduced by their style.”[12] Writers, such as Voltaire, helped to develop his negative view on Christianity. Gibbon was also influenced by Continental scholarship and wrote essays “on abstruse points of ancient history and literature, and entered into a Latin correspondence with several scholars.”[13] The years that Gibbon spent in Luasanne made him into the scholar that he later became; without that influence, he would not have become the...
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