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

By J. G. A. Pocock | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
The Hampshire militia and the problems of modernity

(I)

Gibbon left Lausanne and returned to England early in 1758, travelling at some risk in disguise as a Swiss officer in the Dutch army, in order to pass through France at a time of war with England —

the resentment of the French at our taking their ships without a declaration had rendered that polite nation somewhat peevish and difficult.1

He was needed at home; his father had remarried and desired to break the entail, and in good eighteenth-century fashion the son needed to ensure his hopes of the inheritance. Gibbon recognised— at least in recollection— that he needed to leave Lausanne, and separate from Suzanne Curchod,2 if he was ever to be an Englishman again, and he soon found himself a young country gentleman, dividing his time between the family estate in Buriton, Hampshire — where he worked on the French manuscript of the Essai sur l'etude de la littératuré3 — and London, where he found English polite culture a little less than congenial. Lady Hervey figures in the Memoirs as the nearest equivalent England had to a salonnière, and there are hints of something less than an affinity with Samuel Johnson's Club which he was to join later. It may also be significant that he tells us of this time that he decided against the profession of the law, partly because black-letter was not his kind of scholarship but also because he lacked the gift of eloquence necessary

____________________
1
Memoirs, p. 87 (A, p. 153, Memoir B). These seizures had occurred as far back as August 1755, when Anglo-Frenchhostilities in the Atlantic and America had not yet reached the formal declaration of war in 1756. They are denounced in heated terms by Raynal's Histoire des deux Indes (1772, 1780).
2
For the history of this honourable and sentimental affair, see Gibbon's biographers.
3
YEG, pp. 126–33, 135–6. He also records (Memoirs, p. 211; A, pp. 249–50, Memoir C) that in late 1759 he made a detailed study of Grotius's De veritate religionis Christianae, which did not much reinforce his faith.

-94-

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