Edward Gibbon: His View of Life and Conception of History

Edward Gibbon: His View of Life and Conception of History

Edward Gibbon: His View of Life and Conception of History

Edward Gibbon: His View of Life and Conception of History

Excerpt

None of the great productions of eighteenth century historiography has enjoyed a more lasting fame than The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. While l'Esprit des Lois or A Treatise on Human Nature can still claim the interest, or at least the humble respect, of millions, Considérations sur la Grandeur et sur la Décadence des Romains is hardly ever read, and who would now seek information on the Civil War in Hume's History of England? Few outside the ranks of the experts have ever heard the names of Robertson or Vico. But Gibbon, both as a man and as a writer, has become a living part of the English national heritage. Although he is no longer widely read, the outline and main characteristics of his work would probably be well known to most educated Englishmen. Many would also remember some of its most characteristic passages, and the sad story of Edward and Suzanne will never be forgotten by lovers of romance.

Many critics have attempted to explain this popularity. Very often, dazzled by a brilliant style and a rare narrative power, they have ascribed his success to these mainly literary merits of his work. There can be little doubt that Gibbon in this field ranks among the greatest. When running through The Decline and Fall for the first time one feels overwhelmed, and even spell-bound, by the magic of his historical visions. The narrative is intensely dramatic . . .

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