In 1758, he returned to England, and took up his residence at his father's house, where he devoted himself to the gradual collection of a library, and to a strict course of reading. In 1761, he acquired some reputation on the continent, but little at home, by the publication of a small work, written in the French language, entitled, Essai sur l'Etude de la Litterature. His literary occupation received an interruption in the same year, by his entering as captain in the Hampshire militia, in which he remained till the peace of 1763. He then set out for Paris, where the reputation he had acquired by his Essai, procured him an introduction to the first literary and fashion able circles. After a stay of eleven months at Lausanne, he proceeded to Rome, where, as he sat musing amongst the ruins of the capital, while the bare-footed friars were singing vespers in the Temple of Jupiter, the idea of writing the decline and fall of the city first started to his mind.' He re turned from Italy in 1765, and again entered the militia as lieutenant colonel commandant but resigned the situation on the death of his father, in 1770. The interval between these periods was passed by him in a variety of amusements and occupations, partly in the country, and partly in London, where, in conjunction with other travelers, lie established a weekly convivial meeting, under the name of the Roman Club. Alluding to this period of life, he says, lamented that, at the proper age, I had not embraced the lucrative pursuits of the law or of trade, the chances of civil office or India adventure, or even the fat slumbers of the church.' His regret at the want of a profession arose, in a great measure, from an apprehension of being left, in his old age, without a sufficient maintenance; a fear that acted as a stimulus to his subsequent exertions.
He had already made some progress in a History of the Revolutions of Switzerland, and, in conjunction with his friend Mr. Deyverdun, had produced two volumes of a literary journal, entitled Memoires Littéraires de la Grande Bretagne. The former, however, he committed to the flames, before it was finished, and the latter met with little encouragement. His next performance was more successful; it was a masterly refutation of Warburton's hypothesis that Virgil's description of Aeneas descent into the shades was an allegorical representation of the hero's initiation into the Eleusinian mysteries. About two years after the death of his father, he sat down steadily to the composition of the first volume of his celebrated history. 'At the outset,' he says, all was dark and doubtful; even the title of the work, the true era of the decline and fall of the empire, the limits of the introduction, the division of the chapters, and the order of the narrative; and I was often tempted to cast away the labor of seven years; ' and, again, three times did I compose the first chapter, and twice the second and third, before I was tolerably certain of their effect.' At length, in 1776, previously to which he had been returned to parliament for the borough of Liskeard, through the influence of his cousin, Mr. Eliot, appeared the first quarto volume of his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. It was received with a burst of applause, and almost immediately reached a third edition; but the most gratifying result to its author was the spontaneous approbation of Hume and Robertson. My book,' says Gibbon, was on every table, and almost on every toilette. The two chapters, however, in which revealed religion was impugned, gave rise to various attacks; but he only thought fit to reply to one, by Mr. Davis, who called in question not the faith, but the fidelity of the historian.'