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before he was satisfied with the style; but as he advanced, the various parts of his gigantic subject took form and symmetry, and the increasing facility of composition enabled him to advance with steady speed.
With the year 1774 begins Gibbon's political career: he sat in several successive Parliaments as member for Liskeard, and supported, with a silent vote — for both modesty and vanity prevented him from trying his fortune as a speaker - the ministry, during the whole course of the American War, down to the formation of the Coalition Cabinet. Lord North rewarded his constant adhesion with the post of one of the Lords Commissioners of Trade, which Gibbon enjoyed for about three years, till the abolition of the office in 1782. In 1783 Gibbon determined to settle altogether at Lausanne. He established himself in the comfortable house which he had purchased on the lovely shore of Lake Leman, a spot forever memorable from the residence of this great genius. This was perhaps the happiest part of his life; he was able to devote himself in tranquillity to his mighty task, and his leisure hours were enlivened with intellectual society and the companionship of his friend Deyverdun. At length his residence at Lausanne becoming disagreeable in consequence of the agitation which heralded the outbreak of the French Revolution, he returned to London in 1793, and died there in the following year. The personal character of Gibbon was rather respectable than attractive. Of a cold and somewhat selfish disposition, he played a prominent part in the brilliant intellectual circle which surrounded Burke and Johnson; his immense acquirements and refined manners rendered his conversation interesting and valuable, and his vanity, though concealed by good breeding and knowledge of the world, was not incompatible with generosity and benevolence.
$ 4. His History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is undoubtedly one of the greatest monuments of industry and genius. The task he undertook, to give a connected narrative of one of the most eventful periods in the annals of the world,
“Res Romanas, perituraque regna," — was colossal. It embraced, exclusive of the introductory sketch of Roman history from the time of Augustus, of itself a noble monument of philosophical research, a period of upwards of thirteen centuries, that is, from about 180 to 1453 A. D. This immense space included not only the manhood and the decrepitude of the Roman Empire, but the irruption of the Barbarian nations, the establishment of the Byzantine power, the reorganization of the European nations, the foundation of the religious and political system of Mahometanism, and the Crusades. The enormous scope of the undertaking rendered indispensable not only the most vast and accurate knowledge of the whole range of classical, Byzantine, mediæval, and Oriental literature, but such a largeness of view as should give a clear and philosophical account of some of the greatest religious and social changes that have ever modified the destinies of our race; the rise of Christianity, the Mussulman dominion, and the institutions of Feudalism and Chivalry. Nor was the
complexity of the subject less formidable than its extent; while the materials for much of its treatment were to be painfully sifted from the rubbish of the Byzantine annalists, and the wild exaggerations of the Eastern chroniclers. From this immense chaos were to be deduced light, order, and regularity, and the historian was to be familiar with the whole range of philosophy, science, politics, and war. Gibbon has confessed that his experience of parliamentary tactics and the knowledge of military affairs which he had acquired in the House of Commons and in the Hampshire militia, had been of signal service to him in describing the deliberations of senates and the movements of immense armies; for man is everywhere the same, and the historian possessed the rare art of bringing home to our sympathies and understanding the sentiments and actions of remote ages and distant peoples. Gibbon is one of the most dangerous enemies by whom the Christian faith was ever assailed — he was the more dangerous because he was insidious. The following is the plan of his tactics. He does not formally deny the evidence upon which is based the structure of Christianity, but he indirectly includes that system in the same category with the mythologies of paganism. The rapid spread of Christianity he explains by merely secondary causes; and in relating the disgraceful corruptions, persecutions, and superstitions which so soon supplanted the pure morality of the primitive church, he leads the reader to consider these less as the results of human crime, folly, and ambition, than as the necessary consequences of the system itself. He either did not or would not distinguish between the parceque and quoique ; and represents what is in reality an abuse as an inevitable consequence. Byron well described him as
“Sapping a solemn creed with solemn sneer,
The lord of irony, that master-spell.” But the accusations of having intentionally distorted facts or garbled authorities he has refuted in the Vindication in which he replied to his opponents. In the full and complete references and quotations with which he scrupulously fortifies his assertions and his deductions, we see a panoply which offers few weak places to the adversary. The deliberate opinion of Guizot, whom no one can accuse of indifference to religion, will be conclusive as to Gibbon's merit on this point. His style is remarkably pompous, elaborate, and sonorous: originally artificial, it had gradually become the natural garb of his thoughts. In the antithetical and epigrammatic structure of his phrases, and in the immense preponderance of the Latin over the Teutonic element in his diction, Gibbon is the least English of all our writers of the first class : and the ease with which whole pages of his writings may be translated, almost without a change of words or grammar, into French, render credible the statement of his having for some time hesitated whether to compose his work in that language or his mother-tongue. He was so fastidious in his search after elegance, that to avoid the repetition, at close intervals, of a name or event, he is apt, each time it occurs after the first, to express it by a periphrasis or an incidental allusion, to understand which often demands from the reader a degree of knowledge which few readers possess, and this is sometimes the cause of obscurity. His descriptions of events, as of battles, of nations, of individual characters, are wonderfully life-like and animated; and his chief sin against good taste is a somewhat too gorgeous and highlycolored tone. His imagination was sensuous, and he dwells with greater enthusiasm upon material grandeur than upon moral elevation; for his moral susceptibilities do not appear of a very lofty order. He had in common with Voltaire a peculiar and most offensive delight in dwelling upon scandalous and immoral stories, and this tendency, which in Voltaire's light and fleering style is less repulsive, becomes doubly odious when exhibited in combination with Gibbon's solemn and majestic language.
§ 5. Perhaps the most striking figure in the social and literary history of this period is that of SAMUEL JOHNSON (1709-1784). His career was eminently that of a man of letters; and the slow and laborious efforts by which, in spite of every obstacle, personal as well as material, he raised himself to the highest intellectual supremacy present a spectacle equally instructive to us and honorable to him. He was born in 1709, the son of a learned, but poor and struggling provincial bookseller in Lichfield; and he exhibited, from his very childhood, the same singular union of mental power and constitutional indolence, ambition and hypochondriacal gloom, which distinguished him through life. He was disfigured and half blinded by a scrofulous disorder, which seamed and deformed a face and figure naturally imposing, and at the same time afflicted him with strange and involuntary contortions, reacting also upon his mind and temper, and making him sombre, despondent, and irritable. In the various humble seminaries, where he received his early education, he unfailingly took the first place; and being assisted by a benevolent patron with the means of studying at the University, he carried to Pembroke College, Oxford, an amount of scholarship very rare at his age. Here he remained about three years, remarkable for the roughness and uncouthness of his manners, and no less for his wit and insubordination, as well as for that sturdy spirit of independence which made him reject with indignation any offer of assistance. The story of his throwing away a pair of new shoes, which some one, pitying the poverty of the ragged student, had placed at his door, is striking, and even pathetic. His father's affairs being in hopeless confusion, and the promises of assistance not being fulfilled, he was obliged to leave the University without a degree; and receiving, at his father's death, only 2ol. as his share of the inheritance, he abandoned it to his mother's use, for he was ever a most dutiful and generous son, and entered upon the hard career of teacher and usher in various provincial schools. For success in this profession he was equally unfitted by his person, his nature, and the peculiar character of his mind and acquirements; and after unsuccessfully attempting to keep a school himself at Edial, near Lichfield, he began that tremendous struggle with labor and want, which
continued during thirty years. His first literary undertaking was a translation of Father Lobo's Travels in Abyssinia, but his hopes of success meeting with little but disappointment, he determined to launch upon the great ocean of London literary life. In 1736 he had married Mrs. Porter, a widow old enough to be his mother, but whom, notwithstanding her defects of person and cultivation, he always loved with the energy of his masculine and affectionate character. In 1737 he travelled to London in company with David Garrick, one of the few pupils he had had under his charge at Edial, who was destined, in another path, to follow a brilliant career. Garrick's ambition was to appear on the stage, where he speedily took the first place, and Johnson carried with him the unfinished MS. of his tragedy Irene. Without fortune, without friends, of singularly uncouth and forbidding exterior, Johnson entered upon the career-then perhaps at its lowest ebb of profit and respectability of a bookseller's hack, or literary drudge. He became a contributor to divers journals, and particularly to the Gentleman's Magazine, then carried on by its founder, Cave; and as an obscure laborer for the press he furnished criticisms, prefaces, translations, in short all kinds of humble literary work, and ultimately supplied reports of the proceedings in Parliament, though the names of the speakers, in obedience to the law which then rendered it penal to reproduce the debates, were disguised under imaginary titles. He first emerged into popularity in 1738, by the publication of his satire entitled London, an adinirable paraphrase or reproduction of the thirteenth satire of Juvenal, in which he adapts the sentiments and topics of the great Roman poet to the neglect of letters in London, and the humiliations which an honest man must encounter in a society where foreign quacks and native scoundrels could alone hope for success. During this miserable and obscure portion of his career, when he dined in a cellar upon sixpennyworth of meat and a pennyworth of bread, when he signed himself, in a note to his employer, “yours, impransus, S. Johnson," when his ragged coat and torn shoes made him ashamed to appear at the table of his publisher, and caused him to devour his dinner behind a screen, he retained all his native dignity of mind and severe honesty of principle. There is something affecting in the picture of this great and noble mind laboring on through toil and distress which would have crushed most men, and which, though it roughened his manners, only intensified his humanity, and augmented his self-respect. In 1744 he published the Life of Savage, that unhappy poet whose career was so extraordinary, and whose vices were not less striking than his talents. Johnson had known him well, and they had often wandered supperless and homeless about the streets at midnight. The vigorous and manly thought expressed in Johnson's sonorous language rendered this biography popular; but the improvement in the author's circumstances was very tardy in making its appearance: no literary life was ever a more correct exemplification than that of Johnson, of the truth of his own majestic line: “ Slow rises worth by poverty depressed.”
§ 6. During the eight years extending from 1747 to 1755 Johnson was engaged in the execution of his laborious undertaking, the compilation of his great Dictionary of the English Language, which long occupied the place among us of the Dictionary of the Academy in France and Spain. The etymological part of this great work, in consequence of Johnson sharing the then almost universal ignorance of the Teutonic languages, is totally without value; but the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the definitions, and above all the interesting quotations adduced to exemplify the different senses of the words, render it a book that may always be read with pleasure. The compilers of the French and Spanish Dictionaries do, indeed, quote passages, in support of the meanings they assign to words, from the great classical writers of their respective literature; but these quotations have no further interest, or even sense, than is necessary to exhibit the particular meaning of the word illustrated, while Johnson's are either some striking passage of poetry and eloquence, or some historical fact or scientific axiom or definition. Thus a page of Johnson's Dictionary always gratifies a curiosity quite independent of mere philological research. When we think of this solitary scholar with painful industry compiling a great national work, at least not inferior to productions which in other countries have occupied the attention of learned and richly endowed societies during a great number of years, we cannot but feel deep admiration for our countryman. While engaged in this laborious task he diverted his mind by the publication of the Vanity of Human Wishes, a companion to his London, being a similar imitation of the tenth satire of his Roman prototype. This is written in a loftier, more solemn and declamatory style than the preceding poem, and is a fine specimen of Johnson's dignified but somewhat gloomy rhetoric. The illustrations, drawn from history, of the futility of those objects which men sigh for, literary, military, or political renown, beauty, wealth, long life, or splendid alliances, Johnson has reproduced with kindred vigor; but he has added several of his own, where he shows a power and grandeur in no sense inferior to that of Juvenal. Thus to the striking picture of the fall of Sejanus, related with such grim humor by the Roman satirist, Johnson has added the not less impressive picture of the disgrace of Wolsey, and his episode of Charles XII. is no unworthy counterpart to the portrait of Hannibal. At about the same time Johnson brought out upon the stage, principally through the friendly interest of Garrick, who was now the principal theatrical manager, the tragedy of Irene, which had long been in vain awaiting the opportunity of representation. Its success was insignificant, and indeed could not have been otherwise, for the plot of the piece is totally devoid of interest and probability; there is no discrimination of character, no painting of passion, and the work consists of a series of lofty moral declamations in Johnson's labored and rhetorical style.