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and most wealthy of our academical corporations, which may be compared to the Benedictine abbeys of Catholic countries ; and I have loosely heard that its estates might be raised in the hands of private avarice to an annual revenue of £30,000! Our colleges are supposed to be schools of science, as well as of education ; nor is it unreasonable to expect, that a body of literary men, devoted to a life of celi. bacy, exempt from the cares of their own subsistence, and amply provided with books, should devote their leisure to the prosecution of study, and that some effects of their studies should be manifested to the world. The shelves of their library groan under the weight of the Benedictine folios, of the editions of the fathers, and the collections of the middle ages, which have issued from the single abbey of St. Germain de Prez at Paris. But if I inquire into the manufactures of the monks of Magdalen, or if I extend the inquiry to the other colleges of Oxford or Cambridge,
-a silent blush, or a scornful frown, will be the only reply. The fellows of my time (not the gentlemen-commoners) were decent easy men, who supinely enjoyed the gifts of the founder: their days were filled by a series of uniform employments,—the chapel and the hall, the coffee-house and the common room, till they retired, weary and well-satisfied, to a long slumber. From the toil of reading, or thinking, or writing, they had absolved their conscience; and the first shoots of learning and ingenuity withered on the ground, without yielding any fruits to the owners or the public. As a gentleman-commoner, I was admitted to the society of the fellows, and fondly expected that some questions of literature would be the amusing and instructive topics of their discourse. Their conversation stagnated in a round of college business, Tory politics, personal anecdotes, and private scandal : their dull and deep potations excused the intemperance of youth ; and their constitutional toasts were not expressive of the most lively loyalty for the House of Hanover. A general election was now approaching: the great Oxfordshire contest already blazed with all the malevolence of party-zeal. Magdalen College was devotedly attached to the old interest ! and the names of Wenman and Dash. wood were more frequently pronounced, than those of Cicero and Chrysostome. Our velvet cap was the cap of liberty. A tradition prevailed that some of our predecessors had spoken Latin declamations in the hall; but of this ancient custom, no vestige remained: the obvious method of public exercises and examinations were totally unknown ; and I have never heard that either the president, or the society interfered in the private economy of the tutors and their pupils. In. stead of guiding the studies, and watching over the behaviour of their disciple, I was never summoned to attend even the ceremony of a lecture. The want of experience and advice, as well as of occupation, soon betrayed me into some improprieties of conduct, ill-chosen company, late hours, and inconsiderate expenses. I eloped from Oxford ; returned to college ; in a few days eloped again,-making four excursions to London in one winter, besides a tour to Bath, and a visit into Buckinghamshire,—yet without once hearing the voice of admonition, or feeling the hand of control, amidst such costly and dangerous follies. It might at least be suspected that an ecclesiastical school should in
culcate the orthodox principles of religion. But our venerable mother had contrived to unite the opposite extremes of bigotry and indifference ; an heretic, or unbeliever, was a monster in her eyes ; but she was always, or often, or sometimes, remiss in the spiritual education of her own children. Without a single lecture, either public or private, either Christian or Protestant, I was left by the dim light of my catechism to grope my way to the chapel and communion-table, where I was admitted, without a question how far, or by what means, I might be qualified to receive the sacrament. Such almost incredible neglect was productive of the worst mischief. From my childhood I had been fond of religious disputation : my poor aunt has been often puzzled by the mysteries which she strove to believe ; nor had the elastic spring been totally broken by the atmosphere of Oxford. The blind activity of idleness urged me to advance without armour into the dangerous mazes of controversy, and at the age of sixteen, I bewildered myself in the errors of the church of Rome.
And now occurs the crisis of his life. Without presuming to intrude into the counsels of infinite Wisdom, ordering as it does all things in heaven and earth, we can hardly help indulging in a speculation as to how Edward Gibbon, with his talents and knowledge, could ultimately settle down as an opponent of Christianity
Whose fault his own.-Ingrate, he had of God
Singular enough, no less a person than the celebrated William Law, author of the Serious Call, had been preceptor to his father, and remained for many years an inmate in the family at Putney. It is well known, that the views of religious truth, entertained by this truly pious man, were rather ascetic than evangelical ; and that latterly he got entangled in the mysticism or Jacob Behmen. Any ideas, therefore, upon religion, which Gibbon could have imbibed under the paternal roof, must have been of a very imperfect kind, and connected, we fear, with fanaticism. Himself a gifted boy, fond of religious controversy, with his natural vanity not a little augmented by victories in argument over his aunt Catherine,-there existed few circumstances favourable to the development of that state of mind which feels the sinfulness of sin, or seeks after the guidance of heaven. Hence little if any thing bad he ever heard, at least in all human probability, of the real way of salvation, the atonement made by a crucified Saviour, or the conversion of a fallen heart by the Holy Spirit. Illness had induced indulgence; and indulgence
had not promoted either humility or spiritual-mindedness. Under such auspices he was thrown into the arms of an Established Church, whose most cherished seat was that very university which he has been just describing. He frankly tells us of his exultation at finding himself treated as a man, before he was sixteen, invested in the honours of a silk-gown, located in handsome apartments, and with more money at his command than he had ever before enjoyed. Had Oxford been what it then professed itself to be, or even what some fond dreamers imagine it is now, Edward Gibbon, speaking after the manner of men, need never have been an infidel. But the fact of the matter was,-is,—and must always be, until its usurpations are terminated, that Oxford is neither more nor less than an enormous gilded fraud, -standing out as the Alma Mater of those who are to lead others to eternal life, and yet in reality a Nova Zembla in Christendom,--dead amidst its hoary grandeur of frost and snow, the accumulated winters of ages and generations. He beheld there, uncurtailed, unwarmed, and unmitigated by the force of public opinion, a monstrous system calling itself Christianity, but being in reality worldliness and sensualism, clothed in purple and fine linen, and : faring sumptuously every day.' His sound common sense revolted from the mockery of all godliness, and the formalism of the fat slumbering hypocrites, by whom he was surrounded; though before he could withdraw attention altogether, either the works of Parsons the Jesuit, or the History of Protestant Variations and Exposition of Catholic Doctrine, by Bossuet, gave a new turn to his reflections. Both of them were palpably sincere; a point of mighty and overpowering importance to a youthful mind yearning after something better than the mere tinsel and pomposity of of the then lying Establishment. He was caught too by the plausibility of deciding every controversy through an appeal to tradition, the fathers, and the Pope of 'Rome. The doctrines taught by his own university, if any were propounded at all
, presented little difference from the dogmas of Thomas Aquinas or Bellarmine : its discipline and practical morals were worse.
His ears became more and more open to the promises and pretensions of the successors of St. Peter; so that the end of it was that he resolved to profess himself a Catholic. Youth is simple and impetuous; and a momentary glow of enthusiasm raised him above all temporal considerations. His epistle addressed to those at home, which announced his conversion, was inflated, as he afterwards told Lord Sheffield, with all the dignity and self-satisfaction of a martyr. Was he then really a more religious individual than before ?--not in the remotest degree! Notions of a peculiar class had gained admission into his intellect, and nothing more. His genius had become like an illuminated statue, glared upon by those golden tapers which burn upon the altars of Rome. The
marble of his heart remained unimpressed, as it had ever been; neither broken by the word, which is as a hammer crushing the rock in pieces; nor graven with the letters of the law and the gospel, which are written with the finger of God !
Prodigious was the earthquake, no doubt, which appeared to shake the walls and hearthstones, in the mansion at Buriton, when his foolish parent received such astounding news. • How shall
they be wise, whose talk is of oxen?' The apothegm was illustrated in this voluntary keeper of beeves, who could not possibly comprehend what religion had to do with conscience, or the university. The remedy hit upon was a transfer of the audacious Papist to the tender mercies of Mallet, the publisher of the works of Bolingbroke,-a deist at best, and according to Whitaker, the historian of Craven, something more ! Menaces of banishment and disinheritance kept up the mental fever, instead of allaying the obstinacy of a rebellious and conceited son; who declares that he was scandalized and not reclaimed by the philosophy of his new protector. After considerable deliberation, it was at length determined to fix him at Lausanne, in Switzerland; and thither the scene now changes. Young Gibbon, in high disgrace, was placed under the care and tuition of M. Pavilliard, a Calvinist minister, himself a sensible man, not without sufficient penetration to perceive that he had obtained no ordinary pupil. He acted, therefore, according to the spirit rather than the litera scripta of sundry instructions, transmitted him from England, displaying irritation and not prudence. He conceived that enough had been already done in the way of punishment with regard to the culprit
. The elegant apartments of Magdalen College were exchanged for a narrow gloomy chamber, looking out upon the dullest street of an unhandsome town. Nothing but necessaries, and these upon a parsimonious scale, could be expected from a poor Swiss pastor, whose wife, moreover, had a look out after pecuniary profit, and spread her daily table with uncleanly avarice.' Young people, however, soon forget the past-adjust themselves, if possible, to the present,--and anticipate the future. Edward Gibbon began to learn French with rapidity, and speak it with fluency. His respectable tutor encouraged and guided his studies, and introduced him by degrees into some of the best families in the Pays de Vaud. A friendship was now formed with a fellow-student about his own age, named Deyverdun, which lasted until the death of the latter, thirty years afterwards. Fencing, dancing, and even the riding-school, for which he had never much taste, helped to polish his manners: nor will the following lines, penned as they were in later life, be deemed any thing but honourable to the two parties concerned:
• My obligations to the lessons of M. Pavilliard gratitude will not
suffer me to forget: he was endowed with a clear head and a warm heart ; his innate benevolence had assuaged the spirit of the church ; he was rational, because he was moderate: in the course of his studies, he had acquired a just though superficial knowledge of most branches of literature ; by long practice, he was skilled in the arts of teaching; and he laboured with assiduous patience to know the character, gain the affections, and open the mind of his English pupil.'
The worthy minister, at a subsequent period, unfolded before Lord Sheffield the astonishment, with which he used to gaze on his extraordinary and gifted charge, who would stand before him, --'a thin little figure, with a large head, disputing and urging,
with the greatest ability, all the best arguments that had ever 'been used in favour of Popery.' His most important duty was of course to reclaim him from those errors; and with the help of a system of logic by M. De Crousaz, he ultimately succeeded. Yet alas,—while the various articles of the Romish creed disappeared
like a dream, and whilst after a full intellectual conviction, he received the sacrament in the church of Lausanne on Christmas day in 1754,-he acknowledges, that he thenceforth suspended all religious inquiries, 'acquiescing with implicit belief in the tenets and mysteries, which are adopted by the general consent of Catholics and Protestants. In other words, his mind had undergone that affecting process, which after agitating human weakness, and flattering human pride, turns away the soul from God, and leaves it the victim of paralysis. Associations with the admirers of Voltaire, as well as an occasional visit to Ferney itself, supplied whatever might yet be wanting to render his scepticism incurable. The implicit belief, of which we have just now heard, is to be read backwards; or at all events it soon became only a scornful phrase, covering the most perfect infidelity.
Meanwhile he diligently studied the Latin classics, and began Greek in good earnest. Whatever he might have acquired before, in this way, must have been trifling indeed. Half the Iliad, and a large portion of both Xenophon and Herodotus were gone through in the original. A solid foundation was laid, which enabled him, in a more propitious season, to prosecute Grecian literature. He entered in a private journal the toils and results of every passing day. Method and arrangement thus grew into a steady habit. Each important author became as it were only a fresh centre, from which he ranged along and around some new sphere of science, or some fresh department of the Belles Lettres. Mathematics, jurisprudence, poetry, logic, and history, absorbed him by turns. He commenced a correspondence with some of the most learned professors in Europe; suggested emendations of Livy; and made his name known at Paris, Zurich, and Göttin