Gibbon, Edward

Gibbon, Edward

Gibbon, Edward, 1737-94, English historian, author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. His childhood was sickly, and he had little formal education but read enormously and omnivorously. He went at the age of 15 to Oxford, but was forced to leave because of his conversion to Roman Catholicism. His father sent him (1753) to Lausanne, where he was formally reconverted to Protestantism. Actually, he became a skeptic and later greatly offended the pious by his famous chapters of historical criticism of Christianity in his great work. In Lausanne he fell in love with the penniless daughter of a pastor, Suzanne Curchod (who was later to be the great intellectual, Mme Necker). The two were engaged to be married, but Gibbon's father refused consent. Gibbon "sighed as a lover" but "obeyed as a son" and gave up the match. He left Lausanne in 1758. It was on a visit to Rome that he conceived the idea of his magnificent and panoramic history. This appeared as The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (6 vol., 1776-88) and won immediate acclaim, despite some harsh criticism. Gibbon himself was assured of the greatness of his work, which is, indeed, one of the most-read historical works of modern times. He entered upon a short and highly inglorious political career, serving as a member of Parliament from 1774 to 1783. He violently opposed the American Revolution, although later he was to look with favor on the more radical French Revolution. In 1783 he withdrew to Lausanne, where he completed his masterpiece. His own Memoirs of His Life and Writings, commonly called the Autobiography, first appeared in a heavily bowderlized form in the edition of his miscellaneous works by Lord Sheffield in 1796 (repr. 1959). The autobiography is, however, one of the most subtle and interesting works of its kind in English. An edition of Gibbon's original six drafts appeared as The Autobiographies in 1896. A new edition, edited by G. A. Bonnard, was published in 1969 (Am. ed.). Editions of the Decline and Fall are legion. The modern standard edition is that of J. B. Bury (7 vol., 1896-1900).

See his collected letters (ed. by J. E. Norton, 3 vol., 1956); biographies by J. W. Swain (1966), G. De Beer (1968), P. B. Craddock (1982, 1988), and J. W. Burrow (1985); studies by D. P. Jordan (1971) and R. N. Parkinson (1974).

(born May 8, 1737, Putney, Surrey, Eng.—died Jan. 16, 1794, London) British historian. Educated at the University of Oxford and in Switzerland, Gibbon wrote his early works in French. In London he became a member of Samuel Johnson's brilliant intellectual circle. On a trip to Rome he was inspired to write the history of the city. His Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 6 vol. (1776–88), is a continuous narrative from the 2nd century AD to the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Though Gibbon's conclusions have been modified by later scholars, his acumen, historical perspective, and superb literary style have given his work its lasting reputation as one of the greatest historical works.

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Matthew Charles Howard-Gibbon (13 November 179616 December 1873) was a long-serving officer of arms at the College of Arms in London. He was born Matthew Charles Howard Gibbon in London, and was the oldest son of Charles Howard, 11th Duke of Norfolk and Mary Ann Gibbon–his long-time mistress and purportedly his third wife. Matthew was married to Charlotte Blackman in 1822, and they originally lived on a small estate in Yapton, but were not known to have had any children. Matthew received his hyphenated surname and family coat of arms in 1842 by Royal License obtained by his brother, Edward Howard-Gibbon, with consent of the 13th Duke of Norfolk.

He was appointed by the Duke of Norfolk to the office of Richmond Herald of Arms in Ordinary at the College of Arms in 1846. In 1869, he was noted as the last member of the College to actually reside there during his long tenure in that position. He died 16 December 1873 in Yapton, and he left most of his estate to his niece and accomplished Canadian schoolteacher-artist Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon.

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