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

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

CHAPTER 12
The journey to Rome and the transformation of intentions

Gibbon's Italian journey of 1764 inaugurates the period which presents the greatest difficulties to his biographers. There are two sets of reasons for this. In the first place, the journal which he had begun to keep in camp withthe militia breaks o ff at his arrival in Rome on 2 October 1764, and is never resumed, so that for the remainder of his life we are without this intermittent daily record of his studies and social activities, though not for some years without the manuscript essays on scholarly and historical subjects which he wrote in the course of the former. In the second place, his Memoirs, written many years later, make – and he persisted in making– important claims about his Roman experiences, in which he saw and obliges us to see the moment of conception of the Decline and Fall, but which in the absence of the journal are hard to document, validate or interpret. As a result, we face problems in tracing what the Decline and Fall began as being, what it became, and consequently what it was and is; and these problems extend beyond the sojourn at Rome, to the whole of the decade before Gibbon's first volume was published in 1776. The Decline and Fall is of course more than its author intended it to be at any single moment; but in order to understand how it exceeded his intentions, and how these intentions changed and grew in consequence, it is important to know what these were at the several moments of their formation. It is therefore necessary to enquire whether a moment of conception occurred at Rome, and how this conception stands in relation to the gestation which subsequently occurred; and we are bothfrustrated and stimulated by the evidence and its deficiencies.

The method being followed here is that of focusing on texts written by Gibbon, and situating them in various contexts, immediate and remote (or deeper in the background) and possessing diverse kinds of explanatory value. The texts currently under study consist of two kinds of manuscripts written at Lausanne in 1763–4: the journal kept at that

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