Barbarism and Religion: The Enlightenments of Edward Gibbon, 1737-1764 - Vol. 1

By J. G. A. Pocock | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 1
Putney, Oxford and the question of
English Enlightenment

THE GIBBON FAMILY AND THE CRISIS IN CHURCH AND STATE

The purpose of this volume will be to effect a series of contextualisations: to situate Gibbon's life in a succession of settings, in which his creation of the text of the Decline and Fall may be usefully understood. It will be observed that I take him to have been the author of that text, and believe the text to be intelligible as the product of his activity.1 At the same time, that activity was carried on in a number of contexts, of some of which he may occasionally have been more aware than of others, while some may not have preoccupied his attention at any time at all; the possibility that some of the contexts which will be distinguished operated to form his text indirectly, subconsciously or unconsciously, is not ruled out before it occurs. Of these contexts some will be national, or regional, and cultural: English, since Gibbon was born in England, spent much of his life there, and wrote his greatest work in English; Lausannais, since he spent crucial years of his life and completed the Decline and Fall there, and first wrote history in the French which he acquired in the Pays de Vaud; and it will be necessary to pay attention to the intellectual climates of Amsterdam, Paris, and Edinburgh, where he did not reside but which were important to him. He must also be considered as a 'citizen', that is a reader and correspondent, of several républiques des lettres and scholarly connections; and we shall also be thinking of him as an associate of several 'enlightenments', since it is a premise of this book that we can no longer write satisfactorily of 'The Enlightenment' as a unified and universal intellectual movement. Finally, Gibbon and his book will be situated in contexts formed by a number of continuous patterns of discourse, humanist, philosophical, juridical, theological and controversial, which joined with the discourse of historiography proper to con

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A bibliography of the extensive literature by those who deny the reality of authors and the readability of texts will not be included in this book.

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