Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

of composition. While all the other assailants of the Roman empire, whether warlike or religious, the Goth, the Hun, the Arab, the Tartar, Alaric and Attila, Mohammed, and Zengis, and Tamerlane, are each introduced upon the scene almost with dramatic animation; their progress related in a full, complete, and unbroken narrative, the triumph of Christianity alone takes the form of a cold and critical disquisition. The successes of barbarous energy and brute force call forth all the consummate skill of composition; while the moral triumphs of Christian benev. olence, the tranquil heroism of endurance, the blameless purity, the contempt of guilty fame and of honours destructive to the human race, which, had they assumed the proud name of philosophy, would have been blazoned in his brightest words, because they own religion as their principle, sink into narrow asceticism. The glories of Christianity, in short, touch on no chord in the heart of the writer; his imagination remains unkindled; his words, though they maintain their stately and measured march, have become cool, argumentative, and inanimate. Who would obscure one hue of that gorgeous colouring in which Gibbon has invested the dying forms of paganism; or darken one paragraph in his splendid view of the rise and progress of Mohammedanism 7 but who would not have wished that the same equal justice had been done to Christianity; that its real character and deeply penetrating influence had been traced with the same philosophical sagacity, and represented with more sober, as would become its quiet course, and perhaps less picturesque, but still with lively and attractive descriptiveness? . He might have thrown aside with the same scorn the mass of ecclesiastical fiction which envelops the early history of the church, stripped off the legendary romance, and brought out the facts in their primitive nakedness and simplicity, if he had but allowed those facts the benefit of the glowing eloquence which he denied to them alone. He might have annihilated the whole fabric of post-apostolic miracles, if he had left uninjured by sarcastic insinuation those of the New-Testament; he might have cashiered, with Dodwell, the whole host of martyrs, which owe their existence to the prodigal invention of later days, had he but bestowed fair room, and dwelt with his ordinary energy, on the sufferings of the genuine witnesses to the truth of Christianity, the Polycarps or the martyrs of Vienne. And, indeed, if, after all, the view of the early progress of Christianity be melancholy and humiliating, we must beware lest we charge the whole of this on the infidelity of the historian. It is idle, it is disingenuous, to deny or to dissemble the early depravations of Christianity, its gradual but rapid departure from its primitive simplicity and purity, still more from its spirit of universal love. It may be no unsalutary lesson to the Christian world that this silent, this unavoidable perhaps, yet fatal change, shall have been drawn by an impartial, or even an hostile hand. The Christianity of every age may take warning, lest by its own narrow views, its want of wisdom, and its want of charity, it give the same advantage to the future unfriendly historian, and disparage the cause of true religion. The design of the present edition is partly corrective, partly supplementary: corrective, by notes, which point out (it is hoped, in a perfectly candid and dispassionate spirit, with no desire but to establish the truth) such inaccuracies or misstatements as may have been detected, particularly with regard to Christianity; and which thus, with the previous caution, may counteract to a considerable extent the unfair and unfavourable impression created against rational religion: supplementary, by adding such additional information as the editor's reading may have been able to furnish, from original documents or books not accessible at the time when Gibbon wrote. The work originated in the editor's habit of .# on the margin of his copy of Gibbon references to such authors as had discovered errors or thrown new light on the subjects treated by Gibbon. These had grown to some extent, and seemed to him likely to be of use to others. The annotations of M. Guizot appeared to him worthy of being better known to the English public than they were likely to be as appended to the French translation. The chief works from which the editor has derived his materials are, I.—The French translation, with notes by M. Guizot; 2d edition, Paris, 1828. The editor has translated almost all the notes of M. Guizot. Where he has not altogether agreed with him, his respect for the learning and judgment of that writer has, in general, induced him to retain the statement from which he has ventured to differ, with the grounds on which he has formed his own opinion. In the notes on Christianity, he has retained all those of M. Guizot, with his own, from the conviction that on such a subject, to many, the authority of a French statesman, a Protestant, and a rational and sincere Christian, would appear more independent and unbiased, and, therefore, be more commanding, than that of an English clergyman. The editor has not scrupled to transfer the notes of M. Guizot to the present work. The well-known zeal for knowledge displayed in all the writings of that distinguished historian has led to the natural inference that he would not be displeased at the attempt to make them of use to the English readers of Gibbon. The notes of M. Guizot are signed with the letter G. II.-The German translation, with the notes of Wenck. Unfortunately, this learned translator died after having completed only the first volume : the rest of the work was executed by a very inferior hand. The notes of Wenck are extremely valuable; many of them have been adopted by M. Guizot; they are distinguished by the letter W.” III.-The new edition of Le Beau’s “Histoire du Bas Empire, with notes by M. St. Martin and M. Brosset.” That distinguished Armenian scholar, M. St. Martin (now, unhappily, deceased), had added much information from Oriental writers, particularly from those of Armenia, as well as from more general sources. Many of his observations have been found as applicable to the work of Gibbon as to that of Le Beau. IV.-The editor has consulted the various answers made to Gibbon on the first appearance of his work; he must confess, with little profit. They were, in general, hastily compiled by inferior and now forgotten writers, with the exception of Bishop Watson, whose able apology is rather a general argument than an examination of misstatements. The name of Milner stands higher with a certain class of readers, but will not carry much weight with the severe investigator of history.

* The editor regrets that he has not been able to find the Italian translation, mentioned by Gibbon himself with some respect. It is not in our great libraries, the Museum or the Bodleian; and he has never found any bookseller in London who has seen it.

W.—Some few classical works and fragments have come to light since the appearance of Gibbon's History, and have been noticed in their respective places; and much use has been made, in the later volumes particularly, of the increase to our stores of Oriental literature. The editor cannot, indeed, pretend to have followed his author in these gleanings over the vast field of his inquiries; he may have overlooked or may not have been able to command some works, which might have thrown still farther light on these subjects; but he trusts that what he has adduced will be of use to the student of historic truth.

The editor would farther observe, that with regard to some other objectionable passages, which do not involve misstatement or inaccuracy, he has intentionally abstained from directing particular attention towards them by any special protest.

The editor's notes are marked M.

A considerable part of the quotations (some of which, in the later edi. tions, had fallen into great confusion) have been verified, and have been corrected by the latest and best editions of the authors.

Note-In the present edition it was found convenient to place the additional matter at the end of each volume respectively. The original notes of Gibbon stand as in former editions, and are indicated by figures. The additional notes will be known by being marked with the usual references, and will be found at the end of each volume, with the page also pointed out, thus: PAGE 2.-".

ADWERTISEMENT

To

THE FIRST O C T A VO EDITION.

THE History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is now delivered to the public in a more convenient form. Some alterations and improvements had presented themselves to my mind; but I was unwilling to injure or offend the purchasers of the preceding editions. The accuracy of the corrector of the press has been already tried and approved; and, perhaps, I may stand excused, if, amidst the avocations of a busy winter, I have preferred the pleasures of composition and study to the minute diligence of revising a former publication.

Bentick-Street, April 20, 1783.

DILIGENCE and accuracy are the only merits which an historical writer may ascribe to himself; if any merit indeed can be assumed from the performance of an indispensable duty. I may therefore be allowed to say, that I have carefully examined all the original materials that could illustrate the subject which I had undertaken to treat. Should I ever complete the extensive design which has been sketched out in the Preface, I might perhaps conclude it with a critical account of the authors consulted during the progress of the whole work; and, however such an attempt might incur the censure of ostentation, I am persuaded that it would be susceptible of entertainment, as well as information. At present I shall content myself with a single observation. The biographers, who, under the reigns of Diocletian and Constantine, composed, or rather compiled, the lives of the emperors, from Hadrian to the sons of Carus, are usually mentioned under the names of Ælius Spartianus, Julius Capitolinus, AElius Lampridius, Vulcatius Gallicanus, Trebellius Pollio, and Flavius Vopiscus. But there is so much perplexity in the titles of the MSS., and so many disputes have arisen among the critics (see Fabricius, Biblioth. Latin. lib. iii. cap. 6) concerning their number, their names, and their respective property, that for the most part I have ... quoted them without distinction, under the general and well-known title of the Augustan History.

« ForrigeFortsett »