Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

REPRINTED FROM STEREO-PLATES BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED,

STAMFORD STREET AND CHARING CROSS.

LONDON:

[ocr errors][merged small]

LG 311 (35

1271

that no power, less than the power of the Spirit of God could deliver the religion of His Son out of the hand of enemies, and ensure

vil PREFACE

BY THE EDITOR. No Christian reader of Gibbon's "florid page

" will be able, or will desire, to suppress a deep feeling of sorrow that the mind which could plan and compose the most valuable History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, could find no rest in the truths of Christianity ;—that faith was wanting to consecrate, as it were, a work of consummate skill, industry, and learning ; and that Englishmen have thus been deprived of the boast of having in him an historian, who, whilst he could with a masterly hand trace the changes or the ruins of various kingdoms, was able fully to appreciate the privileges of that kingdom which cannot be moved. Now, the student of events and revolutions affecting the fortunes of the mightiest empire which ever existed, is compelled to consult, and cannot fail to admire, an author whose penetration, eloquence, and research, raise him to one of the highest places in literature ; but whose want of belief in revealed Religion, lowers him in our confidence and esteem. It is not, therefore, surprising that some should shrink from reading, and some from recommending a writer, who, according to the observation of the keen and unprejudiced critic, Porson, * * “ often makes, where he cannot readily find, an occasion to insult our religion, which he hates so cordially, that he might seem to revenge some personal injury."

The feeling of regret, that an author justly eulogized for his great attainments, was chilled by a baneful scepticism, will also be accompanied with a feeling of distrust. For many will be induced to fear that he, who could not understand the force, and was determined not to conceal his disregard, of the evidences of the Divine origin of the Gospel, must be looked upon with suspicion, when he professes to examine and weigh the evidences of various occurrences which his well-chosen and extensive subject brought before him. It is natural to have some hesitation in bowing to the authority of an historian who can neither estimate the character, nor sympathize with the sufferings of the Church's early martyrs, and who will not be persuaded that no

Cause, the cause of truth, could make such patient and devoted disciples ;

but

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

his talents, would, in any observations they felt bound to make,

facts,

which was

to expose real faults, and a too hasty and suspicious zeal, which and innocent statements. It was little glory to Gibbon to gain guarded assaults or the quick defeat of any, even amongst her enkindle steadfast believers to engage with him ; and some appear to have entered the field without sufficient preparation and without sufficient discernment. “I wish,” whose own few but well-directed strictures on the historian must have been severely felt; “I wish that every writer who attacks the infidels, would weigh the accusations, and keep a strict watch over himself, lest his zeal should hurry him too far. For when ten brought against him, the other nine, though they may be Gospel seemed too clearly proved. If a spirit of impartiality be to check all the animation and all the eloquence which he well knew how to display on events, with whose truth and importance

In his Memoirs we plainly learn the opinion which he formed of the controversy, and of the manner in which it had been collducted, and can give but little heed to the boast, in which he indulges, that the most rational part of the laity, and even of the clergy, appear to have been satisfied of his innocence and accuracy.

During the life of the author, those who mourned over his want of faith, or dreaded the evil effects of hostility, supported by iv

PREFACE TO THIS EDITION. its propagation amidst tumults and corruptions, and in opposition to long-established and fondly-cherished idolatries.

Hence, very soon after the appearance of Gibbon's first volumes, criticism of a twofold character was arrayed against him ; such as reproved him for errors or insinuations in his treatment of Christ's religion, and such as called in question the accuracy of

or the fairness of deductions, in other portions of his history. We may be permitted to express a doubt whether, on all occasions, a due distinction was observed between a criticism,

searching, and such as was vexatious; between a care would overlook real excellences, and disparage

or distort correct Divine Truth might

seem for a time to suffer through the un

as Gibbon exhibited, would naturally vigour and stratagem, an adversary can effectually overthrow one serious charge out of both true and important, will pass unheeded by the greater part of readers.”

Whatever advantage Gibbon may have gained by any part of the Vindication which he published, yet his hostility to the urged in his defence, it is of such a nature, that we can feel but little obliged to him for it; for it is an impartiality which seems he himself was satisfied,

said Porson,

. Prefnee to Letters to A-hdeacon Travie.

instruction when we are also permitted to see how the author had fitted himself for the task. M. Guizot, has, therefore ciously confined his notice of Gibbon's life to such trustworthy We observe the great range of his historical studies, even

be influenced not only by a desire to ward off danger from others, but also by a desire that the enemy himself should become a friend. Upon these, therefore, a responsibility rested, which does not belong to us-the responsibility of pressing the soundest reasons in the most kind and earnest way, in the hope that his heart might be opened to receive the truth. But now his ear can no longer listen to argument or to entreaty, and modern editors can only endeavour to prevent others from being misled by errors in the narrative of facts, and from drawing wrong inferences from the mode, in which true facts themselves may be related. The public owe a debt of gratitude to Wenck, M. Guizot, and Dean Milman, for the care they have bestowed on those portions of the history where religion demanded their services, as well as on other parts which either required correction, or admitted of extension, or, from apparent inconsistency, called for explanation. M. Guizot in the preface to his transtation, gives a very interesting account of his repeated and sifting examination both of the text and of the notes, showing his anxiety to avoid all prejudiced judgments, and, at the same time, his determination not to spare censure, where he deemed it imperative on him, as a Christian and as a scholar, to administer it.

The result of the labours of these editors has been altogether favourable to the character of Gibbon as an accurate historian; and the student may confidently use his work as the text bookmay we not add, the best text-book-for the very remarkable period which it embraces. Wherever Gibbon is enabled to consult authors of acknowledged ability and good faith, their value to us is enhanced by the graces of his own composition, and by the skilful arrangement or condensation of his materials. And in the more intricate paths of the history, we shall find our toil lightened and our time saved, by the manner in which he has drawn from writers of an inferior order, from tedious, contradictory, and voluminous records, whatever can most attract, and most deserve attention.

A few remarks may be here made with respect to the biography of Gibbon. He himself has rendered us the best assistance by his own record of the principal passages in his life, and by the estimate he has made of his own character.

The life of any distinguished writer is made peculiarly valuable when we are enabled to understand the circumstances which led to the choice of the subject to which he most devoted his time, and on which his fame is chiefly founded ; and we gain aec mits, as give us a slight understanding of these circunstances.

[ocr errors]

little

judi

from an

that his curiosity

fountain head."

PREFACE TO THIS EDITION. early period of life ; we learn that his memory was very retentive,

was unbounded ; that his diligence was un

are satisfied with the truth of his "serious protestation, that he always endeavoured to draw from the

As we are not discerners of the thoughts of the heart, we must not condemn him for want of sincerity either in his conversion but his own Memoirs show, that there was not that child-like to Romanism, or in his re-conversion to the Protestant faith; and humble spirit, which is the spirit most necessary for adany defects in education. It is doing grievous wrong to the care of God for an immortal soul to suppose that such defects can excuse a being accountable for the use of his understanding, in his rejection of heavenly truth. There must be some fault in the

some self-will, some pride of intellect, which giories in shaking off the yoke of religious restraint, and which fancies that the powers of reason are insulted because God himself wishes to guide or employ them. great learning ostentatiously; that he had no desire to engross It is said that in society Gibbon did not attempt to display his

period it appears that he shewed a greater wish to be received as a man of fashion than merely as one of literary reputation. He gained the regard and confidence of his friends; his attachment to them was sincere ; he never left any, nor neglected any in changes of fortune.

A new edition of this valuable history is now offered in a tional notes. Since the time of Gibbon, new light has been thrown on many parts of his subject. To collect this for the use of the student, the labours of foreign scholars have been made available. These will assist readers in forming a correct judgment of the opinions or the mistakes of the author, whilst he is des

as by

It is in vain for any sceptic opposition to the Gospel by pleading

mitting and for retaining the truth.

his or

the chief attention. At one

convenient form, and rendered as

cribing those " revolutions which gradually undermined, and es: length destroyed, the solid fabric of human greatness."

« ForrigeFortsett »