Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

is perspicuous and interesting; his style is elegant and forcible, though in some passages I think rather too laboured, and in others too quaint. But these defects are amply compensated by the beauty of the general flow of language, and a very peculiar happiness in many of his expressions. I have traced him in many of his quotations (for experience has taught me to suspect the accuracy of my brothernmen), and I find he refers to no passage but what he has seen with his own eyes. hope the book will be as successful as it deserves to be. I have not yet read the two last chapters, but am sorry, from what I have heard of them, that he has taken such a tone in them as will give great offence, and hurt the sale of the book.” Mr. Ferguson addresses Mr. Gibbon himself: “I received about eight days ago, after I had been reading your History, the copy which you have been so good as to send me, and for which I now trouble you with my thanks. But even if I had not been thus called upon to offer you my respects, I could not have refrained from congratulating you on the merit, and undoubted success, of this valuable performance. The persons of this place, whose judgment you will value most, agree in opinion, that you have made a great addition to the classical literature of England, and given us what Thucydides proposed leaving with his own countrymen, a possession in perpetuity. Men of a certain modesty and merit always exceed the expectations of their friends; and it is with very great pleasure I tell you, that although you must have observed in me every mark of consideration and regard, that this is, nevertheless, the case, I receive your instruction, and study your model, with great deference, and join with every one else, in applauding the extent of your plan, in hands so well able to execute it. Some of your readers, I find, were impatient to get at the fifteenth chapter, and began at that place. I have not heard much of their criticism, but am told that many doubt of your orthodoxy. I wish to be always on the charitable side, while I own you have proved, that the clearest stream may become foul when it comes to run over the muddy bottom of human nature,” &c. As might be expected, the sceptical notions fostered by Gibbon, and which were now openly avowed, excited the regret and disapprobation of the pious part of the community, who had embraced the Christian religion for the unparalleled excellence of its precepts, and the cheering prospects it unfolds in a future state of existence. With this divine system their dearest hopes were associated, and it was impossible to show an indifference when the foundation whereon those hopes reposed, was assailed by such a potent adversary. The opinion which he formed of the controversy, and his opponents, shall be given in his own words. “Had I believed that the majority of English readers were so fondly attached even to the name and shadow of Christianity; had I foreseen that the pious, the timid, and the prudent, would feel, or affect to feel, with such exquisite sensibility; I might, perhaps, have softened the two invidious chapters, which would create many enemies, and conciliate few friends. But the shaft was shot, the alarm was sounded, and I could only rejoice, that if the voice of our priests was clamorous and bitter, their hands were disarmed from the powers of persecution. I adhered to the wise resolution of trusting myself and my writings to the candour of the public, till Mr. Davies, of Oxford, presumed to attack, not the faith, but the fidelity of the Historian. *My vindication, expressive of less anger than contempt, amused for a moment the busy and idle metropolis; and the most rational part of the laity, and even of the clergy, appear to have been satisfied of my innocence and accuracy. I would not print this vindication in quarto, lest it would be bound and preserved with the history itself. At the distance of twelve years, I calmly affirm my judgment of Davies, Chelsum, &c. A victory over such antagonists was a sufficient humiliation: they, however, were rewarded in this world. Poor Chelsum was indeed neglected; and I dare not boast the making Dr. Watson a bishop; he is a prelate of a large mind and liberal spirit; but I enjoyed the pleasure of giving a royal pension to Mr. Davies, and of collating Dr. Apthorpe to an archiepiscopal living. Their success encouraged the zeal of Taylor the Arian, and Milner the Methodist, with many others, whom it would be difficult to remember, and tedious to rehearse. The list of my adversaries, however, was graced with the more respectable names of Dr. Priestley, Sir David Dalrymple, and Dr. White; and every polemic, of either university, discharged his sermon or pamphlet against the impenetrable silence of the Roman historian. In his history of the Corruptions of

* This and many other parts of Gibbon's memoirs, evince a most disgusting degree of self-complacency and anogance. #. scholar does not remember the sentiment of the miser in Horace 3–Populus me

wibilat; at mihi plaudo ipse domi, t ‘....” Dr. Priestley threw down his two gauntlets to bishop Hurd and Mr. Gibbon. I declined the challenge in a letter, exhorting my opponent to enlighten the world by his philosophical discoveries, and to remember that the merit of his predecessor Servetus is now reduced to a single passage, which indicates the smaller circulation of tho blood through the lungs, from and to the heart. Instead of listening to this friendly advice, the dauntless philosopher of Birmingham continued to fire away his double battery against those who believed too little, and those who believed too much. From my replies he has nothing to hope or fear; but his socinian shield has repeatedly been pierced by the spear of Horsley, and his trumpet of sedition may at length awaken the magistrates of a free country. “The profession and rank of Sir David Dalrymple (now a lord of session) has given a more decent colour to his style. But he scrutinized each separate passage of the two chapters with the dry minuteness of a special pleader; and as he was always solicitous to make, he may have succeeded sometimes in finding a flaw. In his Annals of Scotland, he has shown himself a diligent collector, and an accurate critic. “I have praised, and I still praise, the eloquent sermons which were preached in St. Mary's pulpit at Oxford by Dr. White. If he assaulted me with some degree of illiberal acrimony, in such a place, and before such an audience, he was obliged to speak the language of the country.” An engagement of a novel nature now claimed his attention. At the joint request of the lord chancellor and the secretary of state, he vindicated the conduct of Great Britain against a French manifesto, on the beginning of a war with that power. The Memoire Justificatif was greatly applauded, and, as a reward for his services, he was created one of the lords commissioners of trade and plantations, with an annual salary of seven or eight hundred pounds. The duties of his office, he admits, were not very severe; for he was allowed to enjoy several weeks of repose, without being summoned from his library. Some improperly supposed he had been enlisted on the ministerial side, and at the next general election, he was succeeded in parliament by a candidate of opposite sentiments. About this time he published the second and third volumes of his History; which he imagined were received with coldness and prejudice, though they quickly rose to the celebrity of the first. Shortly after the new parliament assembled, he was chosen, at the recommendation of lord North, to represent the borough of Lymington, in Hampshire; but, upon a change in administration, the Board of Trado was abolished, and he was deprived of the lucrative post he had enjoyed about three years. However, his attendance on parliament, besides depriving him of the time he wished to devote to study, began to grow exceedingly irksome to him; and as the recent diminution of his income prevented the continuance of that style of expense he had been accustomed to maintain, he resolved to retire from the tumult altogether, and pursue a mode of living more within the limits of his circumstances. Lausanne appeared to confer every advantage he desired, and in September 1783, he commenced his journey to that favourite spot. The account he gives of himself on this occasion is too interesting to be omitted. “All were ambitious to welcome the arrival of a stranger and the return of a fellow-citizen. The first winter was given to a general embrace, without any nice discrimination of persons and characters. After a more regular settlement, a more accurate survey, I discovered three solid and permanent benefits of my new situation. 1. My personal freedom had been somewhat impaired by the House of Commons and Board of Trade; but I was now delivered from the chain of duty and dependence, from the hopes and fears of political adventure; my sober mind was no longer intoxicated by the fumes of party, and I rejoiced in my escape, as often as I read of the midnight debates which preceded the dissolution of parliament, 2. My English economy had been that of a solitary bachelor, who might afford some occasional dinners. In Switzerland I enjoyed at every meal, at every hour, the free and pleasant conversation of the friend of my youth; and the daily table was always provided for the reception of one or two extraordinary guests, Our importance in society is less a positive than a relative weight. In London I was lost in the crowd; I ranked with the first families of Lausanne, and my style of prudent expense enabled me to maintain a fair balance of reciprocal civilities. 3. Instead of a small house between a street and a stable-yard, I Legan to occupy a spacious and convenient mansion, connected on the north side with the city, and open on the south to a beautiful and boundless horizon. A garden of four acres had been laid out by the taste of Mr. Po. from the garden a rich scenery of meadows and vineyards descends to the Leman lake, and the prospect far beyond the lake is crowned by the stupendous mountains of Savoy. My books and my acquaintance had been first united in London; but this happy position of my library in town and country was finally reserved for Lausanne. Possessed of every comfort in this triple alliance, I could not be tempted to change my habitation with the changes of the seasons. “My friends had been kindly apprehensive that I should not be able to exist in a Swiss town at the foot of the Alps, after having so long conversed with the first men of the first cities of the world. Such lofty connections may attract the curious, and gratify the vain; but 1 am too modest, or too proud, to rate my own value by that of my associates; and whatsoever may be the fame of learning or genius, experience has shown me, that the cheaper qualifications of politeness and good sense are of more useful currency in the commerce of life. By many conversation is esteemed as a theatre or school; but, after the morning has been occupied by the labours of the library, I wish to unbend rather than to exercise my mind; and in the interval between tea and supper I am far from disdaining the innocent amusement of a game at cards. Lausanne is peopled by a numerous gentry, whose companionable idleness is seldom disturbed by the pursuits of avarice or ambition: the women, though confined to a domestic education, are endowed for the most part with more taste and knowledge than their husbands and brothers; but the decent freedom of both sexes is equally remote from the extremes of simplicity and refinement. I shall add, as a misfortune rather than a merit, that the situation and beauty of the Pays de Vaud the long habits of the English, the medical reputation of Dr. Tissot, and the fashior of viewing the mountains and Glaciers, have opened us on all sides to the incursions of foreigners. The visits of Mr. and Madam Necker, of prince Henry of Prussia, and of Mr. Fox, may form some pleasing exceptions; but, in general, Lausanne has appeared most a ble in my eyes, when we have been abandoned to our own society. I had frequently seen Mr. Necker, in the summer of 1784, at a country house near Lausanne, where he composed his treatise on the Administration of the Finances. I have since, in October, 1790, visited him in his present residence, the castle and barony of Copet, near Geneva. Of the merits and measures of that statesman various opinions may be entertained; but all impartial men must agree in their esteem of his integrity and patriotism. “In the month of August, 1784, prince Henry of Prussia, in his way to Paris, passed three days at Lausanne. His military conduct has been praised by professional men; his character has been vilified by the wit and malice of a demon;" but I was flattered by his affability, and entertained by his conversation. “In his tour of Switzerland (September 1788), Mr. Fox gave me two days of free and private society. He seemed to feel, and even to envy, the happiness of my situation; while I admired the powers of a superior man, as they are blended in his attractive character with the softness and simplicity of a child.” A year had elapsed before he became completely settled in his retirement; he then resumed his historical labours with considerable ardour, and in less than four years, from the period of his quitting England, put the finishing stroke to his great undertaking. “I have presumed (he says) to mark the moment of conception: I shall now commemorate the hour of my final deliverance. It was on the day, or rather night, of the 27th of June, 1787, between the hours of eleven and twelve, that I wrote the last lines of the last page, in a summer-house in my garden. After laying down my pen, I took several turns in a bereeau, or covered walk of acacias, which commands a prospect of the country, the lake, and the mountains. The air was temperate, the sky was serene, the silver orb of the moon was reflected from the waters, and all nature was silent. I will not dissemble the first emotions of joy on the recovery of my freedom, and, perhaps, the establishment of my fame. But my pride was soon humbled, and a sober melancholy was spread over my mind, by the idea that I had taken an everlasting leave of an old and agreeable companion, and that whatsoever might be the future fate of my History, the life of the historian must be short and precarious. I will add two facts, which have seldom occurred in the composition of six, or at least five quartos. 1. My rough manuscript, without any intermediate copy, has been sent to the press. 2. Not a sheet has been seen by any human eyes, excepting those of the author and the printer: the faults and the merits are exclusively my own.”

• Mémoires Secrets de la Cour de Berlin.

To facilitate the printing of the three last volumes, he again visited England, and resided with his friend lord Sheffield. On the 8th of May, 1788 (being the fifty-first anniversary of the Author's birth), the remaining part of the work was presented to the public; and, in commemoration of the event, a cheerful literary dimer was given at the house of the late Mr. Cadell, his bookseller. In the course of the day some complimentary verses, from the pen of Mr. Hayley, were spoken, at which Mr. Gibbon tells us, he “seemed to blush.”

The quarto edition was soon sold, and another in octavo was published at a cheaper rate. Translations of the work in French, Italian, and German, were executed with various success: instead of patronising them, Mr. Gibbon declared he would much rather suppress such imperfect copies which injured his character while they propagated his name. Two letters from Dr. Robertson and Dr. Adam Smith will serve to show the high estimation in which they held the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. From the former writer we extract the following observations:

“During my solitude the perusal of your book has been my chief amusement and consolation. I have gone through it once with great attention, and am now advanced to the last volume in my second reading. I ventured to predict the superior excellence of the volumes lately published, and I have not been a false prophet. Indeed, when I consider the extent of your undertaking, and the immense labour of historical and philosophical research requisite towards executing every part of it, I am astonished that all this should have been accomplished by one man. I know no example, in any age or nation, of such a vast body of valuable and elegant information, communicated by any individual. I feel, however, some degree of mortification mingled with my astonishment. Before you began your historic career, I used to pride myself in being at least the most industrious historian of the age; but now, alas! I can pretend no longer even to that praise, and must say, as Pliny did of his uncle, Si comparer illi sum desidiosissimus. Your style appears to me improved in these new volumes; by the habit of writing, you writ with greater ease. I am sorry to find that our ideas on the effects of the crusades do not altogether coincide. I considered that point with great care, and cannot help thinking still that my opinion was well founded. I shall consult the authorities to which I refer; for when my sentiments differ from yours, I have some reason to distrust them, and I may possibly trouble you with a letter on the subject. I am much flattered with the manner in which you have so often mentioned my name. Latus sum laudari a te laudato viro. I feel much satisfaction in having been distinguished by the two historians of my own times, whose favourable opinion I was most ambitious of obtaining.”

The concise eulogium conferred by Dr. Smith is more flattering.

“I have ten thousand apologies to make, for not having long ago returned you my best thanks for the very agreeable present you made me of the three last volumes of your History. I cannot express to you the pleasure it gives me to find, 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.”

Having made every necessary arrangement connected with his History, he left London for Tunbridge; and after remaining there a few weeks, once more set forward for Lausanne. Upon reaching that interesting place, he renewed his study of Homer and Aristophanes, and involved himself in the philosophic mazes of the writings of Plato, of which he preferred the dramatic to the argumentative part. But these enjoyments were soon embittered by the loss of his beloved friend Mr. Deyverdun, whose sufferings, for some time prior to his decease, had been extreme; so that his friends who esteemed him most, hardly wished to see his life continued under such

ainful circumstances. “The voice of reason (says Mr. Gibbon) might congratulate

is deliverance, but the feelings of nature and friendship could be subdued only by time: his amiable character was still alive in my remembrance; each room, each walk, was imprinted with our common footsteps; and I should blush at my own philosophy, if a long interval of study had not preceded and followed the death of my friend.”

'A'. this period, the agitated state of revolutionary France prompted a multitude of emigrants, of both sexes, to seek a peaceful asylum in the neighbourhood of Lausanne; a party spirit soon prevailed, and domestic harmony was often interrupted by the turbulence of political discussion. Amidst this general confusion, it was not likely that our author could enter upon any great literary undertaking; he, however, wrote those memoirs of himself, which were afterward published by lord Sheffield, and intended, at a convenient opportunity, to give a biographical account of the most conspicuous military and political characters of Great Britain, from Henry VIII to his own time. The murder of the king of France, and the war in which England was involved, made Switzerland no desirable station, and Mr. Gibbon, we find, in May, 1793, resolved to return to his native country. He arrived in the following month, and took up his residence with lord Sheffield, in Downing-street, and went from thence to Sheffield-place, where he staid during the summer. In October he paid a visit to his father's widow at Bath, and lord Spencer at Althorpe, and afterward came back to London. He now disclosed to his friend lord Sheffield the latent cause of his declining health. It appears he was afflicted with a hydrocele, which proceeded from a rupture that he discovered as early as the year 1761; and the symptoms had become so very alarming, he was obliged to undergo the operation of tapping: this was repeatedly resorted to, but without any permanent benefit. Although the concluding scene of his life exhibited nothing particularly remarkable, we shall, for the reader's satisfaction, extract from lord Sheffield's narrative, some account of him at that solemn period. “After I had left him, on Tuesday afternoon (Jan. 14, 1794), he saw some company, lady Lucan and lady Spencer, and thought himself well enough at night to omit the opium draught, which he had been used to take for some time. He slept very indifferently: before nine the next morning he rose, but could not eat his breakfast. However he appeared tolerably well, yet complained at times of a pain in his stomach. At one o'clock he received a visit of an hour from Madame de Sylva, and at three, his friend Mr. Crauford, of Auchinames (whom he always mentioned with particular regard) called, and staid with him till past five o'clock. They talked, as usual, on various subjects; and twenty hours before his death, Mr. Gibbon happened to fall into a conversation not uncommon with him, on the probable duration of his life. He said, that he thought himself a good life for ten, twelve, or perhaps twenty years. About six, he ate the wing of a chicken, and drank three glasses of Madeira. After dinner he became very uneasy and impatient; complained a good deal, and appeared so weak that his servant was alarmed. Mr. Gibbon had sent to his friend and relation, Mr. Robert Darell, whose house was not far distant, desiring to see him, and adding, that he had something particular to say. But, unfortunately, this desired interview never took place. “During the evening he complained much of his stomach, and of a disposition to vomit. Soon after nine, he took his opium draught, and went to bed. About ten he complained of much pain, and desired that warm napkins might be applied to his stomach. He almost incessantly expressed a sense of pain till about four o'clock in the morning, when he said he found his stomach much easier. About seven, the servant asked, whether he should send for Mr. Farquhar * He answered, no; that he was as well as he had been the day before. About half-past eight, he got out of bed, and said that he was “plus adroit” than he had been for three months past, and got into bed again, without assistance, better than usual. About nine, he said that he would rise. The servant, however, persuaded him to remain in bed till Mr. Farquhar, who was expected at eleven, should come. Till about that hour he spoke with great facility. Mr. Farquhar came at the time appointed, and he was then visibly dying. When the valet de chambre returned, after attending Mr. Farquhar out of the room, Mr. Gibbon said, Pourquois est ce que vous me quittee o This was about half-past eleven. At twelve he drank some brandy and water from a tea-pot, and desired his favourite servant to stay with him. These were the last words he pronounced articulately. To the last he preserved his senses; and when he could no longer speak, his servant having asked a question, he made a sign, to show that he understood him. He was quite tranquil, and did not stir; his eyes half shut. About a quarter before one he ceased to breathe. The valet de chambre observed, that Mr. Gibbon did not at any time show the least sign of alarm or apprehension of death; and it does not appear that he ever thought himself in danger, unless his desire to speak to Mr. Darell may be considered in that light.”—His remains were interred in lord Sheffield's burial-place in Sussex. When his death was known, some anxiety was manifested to learn the state of his mind, relative to religion, at the important crisis; but those who attended him employed no pains to ascertain the weighty point; neither inquiry nor confession was made; and, therefore, though the cause of truth may have little to hope. infi

« ForrigeFortsett »