Page images
PDF
EPUB
[graphic]

more familiar acquaintance. She permitted me to make her two or three visits at her father's house. I passed some happy days there, in the mountains of Burgundy, and her parents honorably encouraged the connection. In a calm retirement the gay vanity of youth no longer fluttered in her bosom; she listened to the voice of truth and passion; and I might presume to hope that I had made some impression on a virtuous heart. At Crassy and Lausanne I indulged my dream of felicity: but on my return to England, I soon discovered that my father would not hear of this strange alliance, and that without his consent I was myself destitute and helpless. After a painful struggle, I yielded to my fate: I sighed as a lover, I obeyed as a son; my wound was insensibly healed by time, absence, and the habits of a new life. My cure was accelerated by a faithful report of the tranquillity and cheerfulness of the lady herself; and my love subsided in friendship and esteem. The minister of Crassy soon afterwards died; his stipend died with him; his daughter retired to Geneva, where, by teaching young ladies, she earned a hard subsistence for herself and her mother; but in her lowest distress she maintained a spotless reputation and a dignified behavior. A rich banker of Pans, a citizen of Geneva, had the good fortune and good sense to discover and possess this inestimable treasure; and in the capital of taste and luxury she resisted the temptations of wealth, as she had sustained the hardships of indigence. The genius of her husband has exalted him to the most conspicuous station in Europe. In every change of prosperity and disgrace he has reclined on the bosom of a faithful friend; and Mademoiselle Curchod is now the wife of M. Necker, the minister, and perhaps the legislator, of the French monarchy.1

After spending nenrly five years nt Lausanne, he returned to England in May, 1758. The following is his account of

HIS INTERVIEW WITH HIS FATHER.

It was not without some awe and apprehension that I approached the presence of my father. My infancy, to speak the truth, had been neglected at home; the severity of his look and language at our last parting still dwelt on my memory; nor could I form any notion of his character or my probable reception. They were both more agreeable than I could expect. The domestic discipline of our ancestors has been relaxed by the philosophy and softness of the age; and if my father remembered that he had trembled before a stern parent, it was only to adopt with his own son an opposite mode of behavior. He received me as

* It b curious to speculate on the effect which a union with a remale of such pure dignity ot character and calm religious principle, might have had on the character and opinions of Gibbon.

a man and a friend; all constraint was banished at our first interview, and we ever afterwards continued on the same terms of easy and equal politeness. He applauded the success of my education; every word and action were expressive of the most cordial affection; and our lives would have passed without a cloud, if his economy had been equal to his fortune, or if his fortune had been equal to his desires.

The time spent at his father's Gibbon devoted to study, except about two years and a half, in which he was doing duty in a situation which bore no alTinity to any other period of his studious and social life—as a militia officer. Parliament had resolved to raise a national militia, and he and hi3 father offered their names as major and captain in the Hampshire regiment A short time before this ho had published his first work, "An Essay upon the Study of Literature,'' which was well received. After the militia was disbanded, (December, 1*762,) he resumed his studies, and determined to write upon some historical subject. He went to Paris, where he passed some time —visited Lausanne again, and there studied, preparatory to his Italian journey—travelled into Italy, and returned to England in 1705. In 1770 he lost his father; and as soon as he could, after this event, he arranged his circumstances so as to settle in London. The following is his account of

HIS PUBLICATION OF HIS HISTORY.

No sooner was I settled in my house and library, than I under took the composition of the first volume of my history. At th« outset 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. The style of an author should be the image of his mind, but the choice and command of language is the fruit of exercise. Many experiments were made before I could hit the middle tone between a dull chronicle and a rhetorical declamation: three times did I compose the first chapter, and twice the second and third, before I was tolerably satisfied with their effect. In the remainder of the way I advanced with a more equal and easy pace; but the fifteenth and sixteenth chapters have been reduced, by three successive revisals, from a large volume to their present size; and they might still be compressed without any loss of facts or sentiments. An opposite fault may be imputed to the concise and superficial narrative of the first reigns, from Commodus to Alexander; a fault of which I have never heard, except from Mr. Hume in his last journey to London. Such an oracle might have been consulted and obeyed with rational devotion; but I was soon disgusted with the modest practice of reading the manuscript to my friends. Of such friends, some will praise from politeness, and some will criticise from vanity. The author himself is the best judge of his own performance; no one has so deeply meditated on the subject; no one is so sincerely interested in the event.

The volume of my history, which had been somewhat delayed by the novelty and tumult of a first session, was now ready for the press. After the perilous adventure had been declined by my friend Mr. Elmsly, I agreed upon easy terms with Mr. Thomas Cadell, a respectable bookseller, and Mr. William Stmhan, an eminent printer; and they undertook the care and risk of the publication, which derived more credit from the name of the shop than from that of the author. The last revisal of the proofs was submitted to my vigilance; and many blemishes of style, which had been invisible in the manuscript, were discovered and corrected in the printed sheet. So moderate were our hopes, that the original impression had been stinted to five hundred, till the number was doubled by the prophetic taste of Mr. Stmhan. During this awful interval I was neither elated by the ambition of fame, nor depressed by the apprehension of contempt. My diligence and accuracy were attested by my own conscience. History is the most popular species of writing, since it can adapt itself to the highest or the lowest capacity. I had chosen an illustrious subject. Rome is familiar to the schoolboy and the statesman; and my narrative was deduced from the last period of classical reading. I had likewise flattered myself that an age of light and liberty would receive, without scandal, an inquiry into the human causes of the progress and establishment of Christianity.1

After publishing two more volumes of his History, he went to Lausanne, the place endeared to him by early recollections, there to settle for the rest of his life, and complete his great work. The following arc his remarks on

THE COMPLETION OF HI8 HISTORY.

I have presumed to mark the moment of conception: I shall now commemorate the hour of my final delivemnce. It was 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 hist page, in a summer-house in my garden. After laying down my pen, I took several turns in a berccau, 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 recovery of my freedom, and perhaps the establishment of my fame. But my pride was soon humbled, and a sober melancholy was 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 historian must be short and precarious. I will add two facts which have seldom occurred in the composition of six, or at least of five, quartos. 1. My first rough manuscript, without any intermediate copy, has been sent to the press. 2. Not a sheet has been seen by any human eyes excepting those of the author and the printer: the faults and the merits are exclusively my own.

INVENTION AND USE OF GUNPOWDER.

The only hope of salvation for the Greek empire and the adjacent kingdoms, would have been some more powerful weapon, some discovery in the art of war, that should give them a decisive superiority over their Turkish foes. Such a weapon was in their hands; such a discovery had been made in the critical moment of their fate. The chemists of China or Europe had found, by casual or elabomte experiments, that a mixture of saltpetre, sulphur, and charcoal, produces, with a spark of fire, a tremendous explosion. It was soon observed, that if the expansive force were compressed in a strong tube, a ball of stone or iron might be expelled with irresistible and destructive velocity. The precise era of the invention and application of gunpowder is involved in doubtful traditions and equivocal language; yet we may clearly discern that it was known before the middle of the fourteenth century; and that before the end of the same, the use of artillery in battles and sieges, by sea and land, was familiar to the states of Germany, Italy, Spain, Fmnce, and England. The priority of nations is of small account; none could derive any exclusive benefit from their previous or superior knowledge; and in the common improvement, they stood on the same level of relative nmvpr nnd militarv science. I*1— -* - "» - "» indeed unsuccessful; but in the general warfare of the age, the advantage was on their side who were most commonly the assailants; for a while the proportion of the attack and defence was suspended; and this thundering artillery was pointed against the walls and towers which had been erected only to resist the less potent eDgines of antiquity. By the Venetians, the use of gunpowder was communicated without reproach to the sultans of Egypt and Persia, their allies against the Ottoman power; the secret was soon propagated to the extremities of Asia; and the advantage of the European was confined to his easy victories over the savages of the New World. If we contrast the rapid progress of this mischievous discovery with the slow and laborious advances of reason, science, and the arts of peace, a philosopher, according to his temper, will laugh or weep at the folly of mankind.

SIR WILLIAM JONES. 1746—1794.

Fsw names in English literature recall such associations of worth, intellect, and accomplishments, as thnt of Sir William Jones. He was born in London in 1746. He lost his father when only three years old, and the care of his education devolved upon his mother. "She was a person," says Campbell, "of superior endowments, and cultivated his dawning powers with a sagacious assiduity, which undoubtedly contributed to their quick and surprising growth. We may judge of what a pupil she had, when we are told that, at five years oi age, one morning, in turning over the leaves of a Bible, he fixed his attention with the strongest admiration on a sublime passage in the Revelations. Human nature, perhaps, presents no authentic picture of its felicity more pure or satisfactory, than that of such a pupil superintended by a mother capable of directing bim."

At the age of seven ho went to Harrow school, where he made the most astonishing progress in his studies; and at the age of seventeen he went to Oxford, his mother going with him, and taking up her residence in the town. Here he pursued the study of the Oriental languages, which he had commenced at Harrow, and on leaving the university, he was, perhaps, possessed of as much varied learning as any one who ever took his degree at that renowned seat of literature. The same year (1760) he accepted the invitation of the Earl of Spencer to become the tutor to his son; at the same time he was constantly adding to his own stores of knowledge. He journeyed with the family twice upon the Continent, and on his return after his second tour, in 1771, he resolved to devote himself to the study of the law. He had already published a small volume of poems, and two dissertations on Oriental literature^ and after he was called to the bar, he gave to the world a translation of the Greek Orations of Isa?us. He was at this time a member of the Royal Society, and maintained an epistolary correspondence with several emi ncnt foreign scholars.

During the progress of our Revolutionary war, Sir William Jones expressed his decided disapprobation of the measures of his own government, having

« PreviousContinue »