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gen! Now and then a slight tour amongst the Alps just varied the scene. His faculties were growing for his future Atlantean achievements, without his being conscious perhaps of the real extent to which the world would one day see them successfully exercised. The five years of his exile were now wearing away. His father had relaxed in his wrath, after tidings of a return to Protestantism, on the part of his son, had reached him. An act of filial obedience, in a still tenderer point, might have also helped to appease any remaining ire. A beautiful lady, Mademoiselle Susan Curchod, dwelt amongst the neighbouring mountains, and afterwards removed to Geneva. Her talents and conversation, and we may add, her virtues, were the only rivals to her personal attractions. Our historian beheld her frequently, and loved ber earnestly: yet on finding that his parent would never hear of the match, he surrendered the object of his affection to M. Neckar, without many audible murmurs, and perhaps without the same amount of positive suffering, which might have tortured more excitable dispositions. From the conduct of this lady, throughout prosperity and adversity, and the influence she never failed to exert over both her husband and friends, amongst whom her first lover always was numbered, it is suggested by Mr. Milman, that such a connexion as Gibbon might thus have formed, would have materially altered his destiny. It might, or it might not have done so. No lines of his domestic character seem more pleasing than his preference for good female society. But he never lost his heart afterwards.
Having been permitted to revisit England in the spring of 1758, he went first to the residence of his aunt Catharine Porten,
the only person whom he was really impatient to see. His reception at Buriton proved, however, less disagreeable than he expected. Its master bad married a second time; yet although the risings of prejudice were strong against his step-mother, prudence on her side, and much good sense as well as temper on his own, produced lasting harmony between them. The country and London engaged him in a round of alternate study and dissipation; the former always predominating, and throwing him, when in the metropolis, amongst the Mallets, or such circles as they could introduce him into. The philosophy of deism no longer scandalized him, as it had done some years before. He soon published his first work on the Study of Literature, in the French language; which attracted sufficient attention at the time, though less in London than in France and Switzerland. He now entered the Hampshire Volunteers, the discipline and evolutions of which afforded him, as we may easily believe, clearer notions than he could otherwise have had, of the Macedonian phalanx or Roman legion; whilst it broke up his sedentary habits, and shook off from him that constitutional reserve inherent almost in the British character.
At intervals, he would revolve in his mind, as he had often done before, some subject of history, which might suit his taste, and give him an opportunity of displaying his talents. The Age of Sesostris, the Republic of Florence, the Liberty of Switzerland, followed one upon the other, to be thought over, commenced, and finally thrown aside. On being released from military service, he set out on his travels into Italy, visited Lausanne upon his way, received there the congratulations of his admiring acquaintance, and witnessed the tears of joy with which his aged instructor embraced him; whilst without lingering elsewhere, he hastened forward to Rome, and “trod after a sleepless night, with a lofty step, • the ruins of the Forum,--each memorable spot, where Romulus stood, or Tully spoke, or Cæsar fell.' Several days of mental intoxication, he says, were lost or enjoyed, before he could descend to a cool and minute investigaton.
• It was at Rome, on the 15th of October, 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the bare-footed friars were singing vespers in the temple of Jupiter, now the church of the Zocolants, or Franciscans, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the city first started to my mind. But my original plan was circumscribed to the decay of the city, rather than of the empire ; and though my reading and reflections began to point towards that object, some years elapsed, and several avocations intervened, before I was seriously engaged in the execution of that laborious work.'-p. 184.
Passing over those intermediate avocations, it is to “that la• borious work,' we must now hasten. Like a wrestler trying his prowess, or beating the air, he began a long course of preparatory discipline and study. He launched insensibly upon the ocean of Augustan history; and in the descending series, investigated with his pen almost always in his hand, the original records from Dion Cassius to Ammianus Marcellinus, and from the reign of Trajan to the last age of the Western Cæsars. Tillemonte and the Theodosian Code, the latter as illustrated by Godefroy, are enumerated amongst his most useful assistants, in the account furnished by himself: but we are persuaded that both were something more. Where the former ceases, a difference has often struck us as perceptible : and Meuselius, in his preface to the Bibliotheca Historica, offers the same remark: Videmus quidem ubique fere studium veritatemque scribendi maximum, speaking of Gibbon; yet he adds, tamen sine Tillemontio duce, ubi scilicet hujus historia finitur, sæpius noster titubat atque hallucinatur. With regard to the Theodosian Code, no secret is made as to what a magazine of materials it proved for the fourth and fifth centuries. Muratori, Sigonius, Pagi, Baronius, together with the enormous Byzantine Corpus, became mines of golden ore, whence diligence and genius extracted so much that was truly
valuable for the six quarto volumes, which it cost their author nearly twenty years to compose. The death of his father, on the 10th of November, 1770, delivered him from a state of dependance; and although Buriton was embarrassed with mortgages, a genteel income remained even for an English aristocrat, and which would have been considered affluence by any foreign one. At all events, he was now absolute lord, as he ignorantly expresses himself, of his hours and words, his thoughts and his actions. Responsibility or accountability of any kind seems never to have occurred to him. He obtained admission to several fashionable clubs; was nominated a member of parliament; and accumulated, from all quarters, whatever might promote the progress of his Roman history. He was sometimes disheartened. The first chapter was composed and recomposed three times, and the two following ones twice, before he could satisfy himself, and hit • the middle tone between a dull chronicle and rhetorical declama
tion. The fifteenth and sixteenth chapters were reduced by a triple revisal to their present dimensions. Their character is too well known to require any animadversion here. As Professor Porson has observed, the industry of Gibbon is indefatigable; “his accuracy scrupulous; his reading, which is sometimes ostentatiously displayed, immense; his attention ever awake; his memory retentive; his style emphatic and expressive ; his sentences harmonious; his reflections just and profound; nor does his humanity ever slumber, unless when women are ravished, or “the Christians persecuted. He often makes, when he cannot find, an opportuity to insult our religion, which he hates so cordially, that he might seem to revenge some personal injury. Such is his eagerness in the cause, that he stoops to the most despicable pun, or to the most awkward perversion of language, for the pleasure of turning the Scriptures into ribaldry, or of calling Jesus an impostor.' Much of the latter sentence is an exaggeration ; nor, as Mr. Milman says, was Porson the man, from his own profligate habits and style of conversation, who had any right to assume the tone of a moral or religious censor.
Yet he proceeds, and with righteous severity, to denounce that vile obscenity which pervades part of the text, and many of the notes, more especially in the latter volumes, of the Decline and Fall. Gibbon frequently declared that he could never understand such charges; and shelters himself, if we remember rightly, under the shadow of certain prelatical precedents, -alas ! only too numerous in his own day, and before his own time. The fact is, that the
dull and deep potations,' in which he engaged as a young person at Magdalen, among the mass of its fellows, had inured him to a degree of coarseness and indecency, which would not now be tolerated. Hence his obtuseness of perception on the subject, indurated and petrified as it was by that infidelity, which we
cannot but trace to the same unfortunate associations. The editor, indeed, of the autobiography before us, cites a remark from M. Suard implying that Gibbon, in describing the decay of the em-pire, borrowed his first impressions and retained them ever afterwards, from the conception of his subject on the Capitol, when he looked upon the bare-footed friars singing vespers in the ' temple of Jupiter,' all which mummeries he perversely identified with Christianity! But he had then been, upon our hypothesis, an unbeliever for years : so that we feel satisfied, as to both the minister of St. Margaret's, and M. Suard being mistaken altogether. The blame of his apostacy, with respect to its instrumental causes, must be laid at the door not of Rome, but of Oxford ;—that seat of religion rendered nominal, through the influences of an Establishment ;-the Sodom, spiritually speaking, of a Dead Sea, whose apples are externally beautiful and fair, but when gathered, full of dust and ashes !
The first volume of his History was published about the 17th of February, 1776, and attracted instant attention. To use his own language, the book was on every table, and almost on every toilette. So moderate had been his hopes, that he did not intend to print above five hundred copies, when the prophetic taste of Mr. Strahan insisted upon a thousand. These were sold in a few days. An atmosphere of praise forthwith surrounded the author, who listened however with greater, and more natural pleasure, to the applauses of Hume and Robertson. Edition after edition followed ; succeeded by not a few singularly clumsy, and ill-conducted attacks, from worldly and high-church clergymen; who courted the empty praise of notoriety, as well as the solid pudding of preferment. The second and third volumes came out together in April 1781: the three last exactly seven years afterwards. He had sat in parliament during the heat of the American war for Liskeard and Lymington, and held office as a Commissioner of the Board of Trade : but at the peace, he withdrew once more to his beloved Lausanne, where his income would go much further than in England, and his studious habits be uninterupted. An arrangement had previously been made with M. Deyverdun, that he should share with him a spacious and convenient mansion, connected on the north side with the city, and open on the south to a beautiful and boundless horizon over the Leman Lake, and the Savoy mountains. Here he reviewed, carried forward, and finally completed the work, which has astonished Europe. Its former moiety had embraced the period from the Antonines to Augustulus; but he now brought down his luminous review of Roman affairs to their ultimate limit in the fifteenth century. The civilized world may be said to have wondered at the comprehensiveness, the variety, and the accuracy of the entire survey.
Besides executing in the most masterly man
ner a long gallery of imperial portraits, he had drawn attention to that extraordinary movement along the frontiers of China, which first set in motion the barbarian tribes, destined to occupy in succession the Roman territories. No other pen could have painted, as he has done, Alaric and the Visigoths,
-Genseric and the Vandals,--Attila and the Huns,- Odoacer and the Heruli,Clovis and the Franks,- Theodoric and the Ostrogoths,-- Alboin and the Lombards,—not forgetting the Sarmatians, the Alans, the Burgundians, Sueves, Anglo-Saxons, Danes, Normans, Slavi, Russians, Avars, and Hungarians. These all pass over the stage, as if summoned alive from the womb of time; clad, and armed, and in action,--slaughtering their enemies or one another, sweeping away old abuses, casting down and building up again the framework of society,—the whole scene a moving picture of human realities. Meanwhile at Constantinople a shadow of Roman domination still lingers, for a thousand years, after its total extinction in the west. The gorgeous phantom is displayed, as it actually existed, a form of pride, and pomp, and degeneracy, of ostentation and magnificent weakness, far different from Octavius, Trajan, Aurelian, or the Flavian emperors. After the posterity of Theodosius the Great have transmitted their diadem to Marcian, Leo, Zeno, Anastasius, and Justin, Justinian the nephew of the last, revives once more the imperial power in Africa, Sicily, and Italy, as well as along the coasts of Spain. Another Justin, a second Tiberius, the unfortunate Maurice, the guilty Phocas, with five successive dynasties, the Heraclian, the Isaurian, the Amorian, the Basilian or Macedonian, and the Comnenian, besides a few intermediate sovereigns, govern with strange and multifarious fortunes, hardly pressed on their Asiatic boundaries, by the Arabian followers of the false prophet.
Now blazes up before us the talismanic empire of the Saracens, extending eastward to the Ganges, and westward to the Mediterranean, overrunning Egypt, Lybia, Numidia, Mauritania, Spain, and even for a brief interval, some provinces beyond the Pyrenees. The courts of the Caliphate reflect alternate splendours on Damascus, Coufa, Bassora, and Bagdat: the Ommiades and Abassides, with Haroun Alraschid, the Mahometan Augustus of the ninth century, swallow up Candia, Cyprus, Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, and the Balearic isles, until Italy itself is more than threatened; but while all Christendom thrills with alarm, the string of the Arabian bow relaxes; disunion weakens and divides the assailants; Charles Martel breaks their sword on the barks of the Loire; Cordova, Fez, Tunis, and Grand Cairo, become the capitals of independant kingdoms; and the Saracens, as well as the Romans, give way to the Turks. These we behold issuing from the regions of Taurus and Imaus, desolating Muscovy, and rushing down upon the Caspian. Bagdat is taken ; the