Little Bits of History

Chance Chants

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 15, 2012

Edward Gibbon

October 15, 1764: A group of barefoot Friars are heard singing Vespers in the temple of Jupiter in Rome. Edward Gibbon was born in 1737 and was an English historian and Member of Parliament. He was one of seven children and the only one to survive to adulthood, although he was not a healthy child. At age nine, he was sent away to school and shortly afterwards, his mother died. His aunt took him under her wing and began to teach the young boy, but soon she, too, died. At age 15, he was sent to Magdalen College, Oxford but was unsuited to the task. It was during this time that his religious beliefs were greatly influenced and he converted to Roman Catholicism in 1753. He fell in love with Suzanne Curchod but the affair was thwarted and she eventually married Jacques Necker from King Louis XVI’s court.

He left for a grand tour of the Continent and was abroad from 1758 – 1765. It was during this time that he heard the Friars singing in Rome. According to his autobiography, it was this that made him think to write a history of the decline and fall of the Eternal City. He wrote his first book, Essai sur l’Étude de la Littérature, published in 1761 while abroad. This gave him some fame and he enjoyed the celebrity. Although when he returned to England, he didn’t start on his greatest work immediately. His father died in 1770 and Edward had to attend to a poorly maintained family estate. After getting his affairs in order, there was enough for him to live comfortably in London without financial concerns. So he moved to 7 Bentinck Street and took to London society.

For seven years Gibbon worked on his manuscript. He did several rewrites and was “often tempted to throw away the labours of seven years,” but finally published the work on February 17, 1776. His famous work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, was met by an eager public. The work was published in six volumes and only the first was out in 1776. That went through six printings and volumes II and III were published in 1781 with the remained seeing print in 1788-89. The original volumes were published in quarto sections, or small pamphlet sized offerings, which was common at the time. The work covers the Roman Empire as well as Europe and the Catholic Church from 98 to 1590.

The work is noted for being ironically detached and carries a dispassionate, critical tone. Gibbon often took on a moralizing voice and used aphorism for effect. The text includes notes as well as the major story, giving the reader a glimpse into the thought processes of the author. There are also copious citations, many from original sources. His asides or notes show the importance of each document used. The author, unlike many of his time, was given proper remuneration and received two-thirds of the profit. This amounted to £1,000 (about £ 101,000 today) for the first printings of the first volume alone.

Beauty is an outward gift which is seldom despised, except by those to whom it has been refused.

Conversation enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius.

History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.

The pathetic almost always consists in the detail of little events. – all from Edward Gibbon

Also on this day:

Rostov Ripper – In 1992, Andrei Chikatilo, of Russia, was found guilty of 52 murders.
Going Postal – In 1888, a letter was received, purportedly from Jack the Ripper.
You Got Some ‘Splainin To Do – In 1851, I Love Lucy premiered.

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