Edward Gibbon

In parliament, our author was a silent supporter of ministers, and was employed by them to compose, in the French language, a manifesto against that government, which was sent as a state paper to all the courts of Europe, under the title of Memoire Justificatif. For this service he was appointed one of the lords commissioners of trade and the plantations, but on the retirement of the North administration, his place being abolished, he meditated a retirement to Lausanne, for the purpose of completing his History. Previously to his departure from England, the second and third volumes had appeared in 1781, in which he tells us, his Ecclesiastical History still breathed the same spirit of freedom ' but, that his obstinate silence, with regard to former attacks, had damped the ardor of the polemics.' In 1783, he sold every thing but his library, and proceeded to Lausanne where, in conjunction with his friend, Mr. Deyverdun, he took an elegant and beautifully situated house, and devoted himself to the composition of his History, and the pleasures of the society which the place afforded. In four years he brought his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to a termination, and seems to have arrived at the close of his literary labors with mingled feelings of regret and delight. It was,' he says, on the day, or rather night, of the 27th of June, 1787, between the hours of eleven and twelve, that I wrote the last lines of the last page, in a summer-house in my garden. After laying down my pen, I took several turns in a berceau, or covered walk of acacias, which commands a prospect of the country, the lake, and the mountains. The air was temperate, the sky was serene, the silver orb of the moon was reflected from the waters, and all nature was silent. I will not dissemble the first emotions of joy, on the recovery of my freedom, and, perhaps, the establishment of my fame. But my pride was soon humbled, and a sober melancholy spread over my mind, by the idea that I had taken an everlasting leave of an old and agreeable companion, and that whatsoever might be the future date of my history, the life of the author might be short and precarious. I will add two facts, which have seldom occurred in the composition of six, or at least five, quartos: First - My rough manuscript, without any intermediate copy, has been sent to press. Second - Not a sheet has been seen by any human eyes excepting those of the author and the printer. The faults and merits are exclusively my own.'

In April, 1788, the publication of the concluding volumes took place, under his own superintendence, for which purpose he had come to London, where he passed most of his time with Lords North and Sheffield, and resided with the family of the latter. In July, he returned to Lausanne, but the death of his friend Deyverdun, which occurred shortly afterwards, and the tide of emigration and wretchedness,' caused by the explosion of the French revolution, had broken the charm which that place once had for him. In 1791, he was visited by Lord Sheffield, and in 1793, on the death of that nobleman's wife, he, at the earnest desire of the former, proceeded to England, and again took up his residence at his friend's house. After some months spent in familiar intercourse with the principal political and literary characters of the time, he sunk under the effects of a hydrocele, the result of a rupture, with which he had been afflicted for nearly thirty years. He was tapped several times previously to his decease, which took place on the 16th of January, 1794. On the preceding day he had talked as usual, and, so far from anticipating his death, said, that he thought himself good for a life of ten, twelve, or perhaps twenty years.'

The character of Gibbon, in many points, resembled that of Hume he died a bachelor was a gentleman, a sceptic, and a historian; treated his literary antagonists with contempt, and had a dignified sense of his own abilities. He was careful to retain his place in society, by a strict adherence to its established rules; and as he lived for the world, took care not to lose its esteem by any conduct inconsistent with the calmness of a philosopher, the dictates of honor, or the maxims of morality. He possessed a lofty mind and spirit, but acted rather from motive than principle and, as a politician, he can be considered in no other character than that of a ministerial follower for the sake of convenience and emolument. His conduct in his domestic relations was in the highest degree exemplary; and in his friendships he was sincere, constant, and ardent. He possessed great natural powers of mind, which he assiduously studied to improve: in conversation he is described, by Lord Sheffield, as ready, cheerful, entertaning, brilliant, illuminating, and interesting. As an author, he is among the most distinguished of the eighteenth century; but the lapse of forty years has somewhat impaired his reputation for a style which is now generally admitted to be enigmatical, pompous, and elaborate, where it should have been concise, simple, and explicit. Dr. Beattie says, Such is the affectation of his style, that I could never get through the half of one of his volumes; ' and a celebrated bishop observed of his bulky quartos,' that they were only fit for the gloom and horror of wintry storms.' None can deny to it, however, a pervading splendor, stateliness, and majesty; and, indeed, the writer seems to be always on his guard against a common expression, as if he were afraid of degrading his own powers, by descending to the level of ordinary capacities. It is thus that he has some passages of surprising and matchless beauty; and where his language is in keeping with his subject, the understanding is readily captivated, and the ear unconsciously delighted.