History of the decline and fall of the roman empire edward Gibbon, Esq

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the historian, by seeming to respect, yet by dexterously confounding the

limits of the sacred land, contrived to insinuate that it was an Utopia

which had no existence but in the imagination of the theologian--as he

suggested rather than affirmed that the days of Christian purity were a

kind of poetic golden age;--so the theologian, by venturing too far into

the domain of the historian, has been perpetually obliged to contest

points on which he had little chance of victory--to deny facts

established on unshaken evidence--and thence, to retire, if not with

the shame of defeat, yet with but doubtful and imperfect success. Paley,

with his intuitive sagacity, saw through the difficulty of answering

Gibbon by the ordinary arts of controversy; his emphatic sentence,

"Who can refute a sneer?" contains as much truth as point. But full and

pregnant as this phrase is, it is not quite the whole truth; it is the

tone in which the progress of Christianity is traced, in comparison with

the rest of the splendid and prodigally ornamented work, which is the

radical defect in the "Decline and Fall." Christianity alone receives

no embellishment from the magic of Gibbon's language; his imagination is

dead to its moral dignity; it is kept down by a general zone of jealous

disparagement, or neutralized by a painfully elaborate exposition of

its darker and degenerate periods. There are occasions, indeed, when its

pure and exalted humanity, when its manifestly beneficial influence,

can compel even him, as it were, to fairness, and kindle his unguarded

eloquence to its usual fervor; but, in general, he soon relapses into a

frigid apathy; affects an ostentatiously severe impartiality; notes all

the faults of Christians in every age with bitter and almost malignant

sarcasm; reluctantly, and with exception and reservation, admits their

claim to admiration. This inextricable bias appears even to influence

his manner of composition. While all the other assailants of the Roman

empire, whether warlike or religious, the Goth, the Hun, the Arab, the

Tartar, Alaric and Attila, Mahomet, and Zengis, and Tamerlane, are each

introduced upon the scene almost with dramatic animation--their progress

related in a full, complete, and unbroken narrative--the triumph of

Christianity alone takes the form of a cold and critical disquisition.

The successes of barbarous energy and brute force call forth all the

consummate skill of composition; while the moral triumphs of Christian

benevolence--the tranquil heroism of endurance, the blameless purity,

the contempt of guilty fame and of honors destructive to the human race,

which, had they assumed the proud name of philosophy, would have been

blazoned in his brightest words, because they own religion as their

principle--sink into narrow asceticism. The glories of Christianity,

in short, touch on no chord in the heart of the writer; his imagination

remains unkindled; his words, though they maintain their stately and

measured march, have become cool, argumentative, and inanimate. Who

would obscure one hue of that gorgeous coloring in which Gibbon has

invested the dying forms of Paganism, or darken one paragraph in his

splendid view of the rise and progress of Mahometanism? But who

would not have wished that the same equal justice had been done to

Christianity; that its real character and deeply penetrating influence

had been traced with the same philosophical sagacity, and represented

with more sober, as would become its quiet course, and perhaps less

picturesque, but still with lively and attractive, descriptiveness? He

might have thrown aside, with the same scorn, the mass of ecclesiastical

fiction which envelops the early history of the church, stripped off

the legendary romance, and brought out the facts in their primitive

nakedness and simplicity--if he had but allowed those facts the benefit

of the glowing eloquence which he denied to them alone. He might have

annihilated the whole fabric of post-apostolic miracles, if he had left

uninjured by sarcastic insinuation those of the New Testament; he might

have cashiered, with Dodwell, the whole host of martyrs, which owe their

existence to the prodigal invention of later days, had he but bestowed

fair room, and dwelt with his ordinary energy on the sufferings of the

genuine witnesses to the truth of Christianity, the Polycarps, or the

martyrs of Vienne. And indeed, if, after all, the view of the early

progress of Christianity be melancholy and humiliating we must beware

lest we charge the whole of this on the infidelity of the historian.

It is idle, it is disingenuous, to deny or to dissemble the early

depravations of Christianity, its gradual but rapid departure from

its primitive simplicity and purity, still more, from its spirit of

universal love. It may be no unsalutary lesson to the Christian world,

that this silent, this unavoidable, perhaps, yet fatal change shall have

been drawn by an impartial, or even an hostile hand. The Christianity

of every age may take warning, lest by its own narrow views, its want

of wisdom, and its want of charity, it give the same advantage to the

future unfriendly historian, and disparage the cause of true religion.
The design of the present edition is partly corrective, partly

supplementary: corrective, by notes, which point out (it is hoped, in

a perfectly candid and dispassionate spirit with no desire but to

establish the truth) such inaccuracies or misstatements as may have been

detected, particularly with regard to Christianity; and which thus, with

the previous caution, may counteract to a considerable extent the

unfair and unfavorable impression created against rational religion:

supplementary, by adding such additional information as the editor's

reading may have been able to furnish, from original documents or books,

not accessible at the time when Gibbon wrote.

The work originated in the editor's habit of noting on the margin of his

copy of Gibbon references to such authors as had discovered errors, or

thrown new light on the subjects treated by Gibbon. These had grown

to some extent, and seemed to him likely to be of use to others. The

annotations of M. Guizot also appeared to him worthy of being better

known to the English public than they were likely to be, as appended to

the French translation.
The chief works from which the editor has derived his materials are,

I. The French translation, with notes by M. Guizot; 2d edition, Paris,

1828. The editor has translated almost all the notes of M. Guizot. Where

he has not altogether agreed with him, his respect for the learning

and judgment of that writer has, in general, induced him to retain the

statement from which he has ventured to differ, with the grounds on

which he formed his own opinion. In the notes on Christianity, he has

retained all those of M. Guizot, with his own, from the conviction,

that on such a subject, to many, the authority of a French statesman,

a Protestant, and a rational and sincere Christian, would appear more

independent and unbiassed, and therefore be more commanding, than that

of an English clergyman.

The editor has not scrupled to transfer the notes of M. Guizot to the

present work. The well-known zeal for knowledge, displayed in all

the writings of that distinguished historian, has led to the natural

inference, that he would not be displeased at the attempt to make them

of use to the English readers of Gibbon. The notes of M. Guizot are

signed with the letter G.

II. The German translation, with the notes of Wenck. Unfortunately this

learned translator died, after having completed only the first volume;

the rest of the work was executed by a very inferior hand.
The notes of Wenck are extremely valuable; many of them have been

adopted by M. Guizot; they are distinguished by the letter W. [*]

[Footnote *: The editor regrets that he has not been able to find the

Italian translation, mentioned by Gibbon himself with some respect. It

is not in our great libraries, the Museum or the Bodleian; and he has

never found any bookseller in London who has seen it.]

III. The new edition of Le Beau's "Histoire du Bas Empire, with notes by

M. St. Martin, and M. Brosset." That distinguished Armenian scholar, M.

St. Martin (now, unhappily, deceased) had added much information from

Oriental writers, particularly from those of Armenia, as well as from

more general sources. Many of his observations have been found as

applicable to the work of Gibbon as to that of Le Beau.

IV. The editor has consulted the various answers made to Gibbon on the

first appearance of his work; he must confess, with little profit.

They were, in general, hastily compiled by inferior and now forgotten

writers, with the exception of Bishop Watson, whose able apology is

rather a general argument, than an examination of misstatements. The

name of Milner stands higher with a certain class of readers, but will

not carry much weight with the severe investigator of history.
V. Some few classical works and fragments have come to light, since

the appearance of Gibbon's History, and have been noticed in their

respective places; and much use has been made, in the latter volumes

particularly, of the increase to our stores of Oriental literature. The

editor cannot, indeed, pretend to have followed his author, in these

gleanings, over the whole vast field of his inquiries; he may have

overlooked or may not have been able to command some works, which might

have thrown still further light on these subjects; but he trusts that

what he has adduced will be of use to the student of historic truth.
The editor would further observe, that with regard to some other

objectionable passages, which do not involve misstatement or inaccuracy,

he has intentionally abstained from directing particular attention

towards them by any special protest.

The editor's notes are marked M.
A considerable part of the quotations (some of which in the later

editions had fallen into great confusion) have been verified, and have

been corrected by the latest and best editions of the authors.
June, 1845.
In this new edition, the text and the notes have been carefully revised,

the latter by the editor.

Some additional notes have been subjoined, distinguished by the

signature M. 1845.

Preface Of The Author.
It is not my intention to detain the reader by expatiating on the

variety or the importance of the subject, which I have undertaken to

treat; since the merit of the choice would serve to render the weakness

of the execution still more apparent, and still less excusable. But as

I have presumed to lay before the public a first volume only [1] of the

History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, it will, perhaps,

be expected that I should explain, in a few words, the nature and limits

of my general plan.

[Footnote 1: The first volume of the quarto, which contained the sixteen

first chapters.]

The memorable series of revolutions, which in the course of about

thirteen centuries gradually undermined, and at length destroyed, the

solid fabric of human greatness, may, with some propriety, be divided

into the three following periods:

I. The first of these periods may be traced from the age of Trajan

and the Antonines, when the Roman monarchy, having attained its full

strength and maturity, began to verge towards its decline; and will

extend to the subversion of the Western Empire, by the barbarians of

Germany and Scythia, the rude ancestors of the most polished nations of

modern Europe. This extraordinary revolution, which subjected Rome to

the power of a Gothic conqueror, was completed about the beginning of

the sixth century.

II. The second period of the Decline and Fall of Rome may be supposed

to commence with the reign of Justinian, who, by his laws, as well as by

his victories, restored a transient splendor to the Eastern Empire. It

will comprehend the invasion of Italy by the Lombards; the conquest

of the Asiatic and African provinces by the Arabs, who embraced the

religion of Mahomet; the revolt of the Roman people against the feeble

princes of Constantinople; and the elevation of Charlemagne, who, in the

year eight hundred, established the second, or German Empire of the West

III. The last and longest of these periods includes about six centuries

and a half; from the revival of the Western Empire, till the taking of

Constantinople by the Turks, and the extinction of a degenerate race

of princes, who continued to assume the titles of Caesar and Augustus,

after their dominions were contracted to the limits of a single city; in

which the language, as well as manners, of the ancient Romans, had been

long since forgotten. The writer who should undertake to relate the

events of this period, would find himself obliged to enter into the

general history of the Crusades, as far as they contributed to the

ruin of the Greek Empire; and he would scarcely be able to restrain his

curiosity from making some inquiry into the state of the city of Rome,

during the darkness and confusion of the middle ages.

As I have ventured, perhaps too hastily, to commit to the press a work

which in every sense of the word, deserves the epithet of imperfect. I

consider myself as contracting an engagement to finish, most probably in

a second volume, [2] the first of these memorable periods; and to deliver

to the Public the complete History of the Decline and Fall of Rome, from

the age of the Antonines to the subversion of the Western Empire. With

regard to the subsequent periods, though I may entertain some hopes, I

dare not presume to give any assurances. The execution of the extensive

plan which I have described, would connect the ancient and modern

history of the world; but it would require many years of health, of

leisure, and of perseverance.
[Footnote 2: The Author, as it frequently

happens, took an inadequate measure of his growing work. The remainder

of the first period has filled two volumes in quarto, being the third,

fourth, fifth, and sixth volumes of the octavo edition.]

Bentinck Street, February 1, 1776.
P. S. The entire History, which is now published, of the Decline

and Fall of the Roman Empire in the West, abundantly discharges my

engagements with the Public. Perhaps their favorable opinion may

encourage me to prosecute a work, which, however laborious it may seem,

is the most agreeable occupation of my leisure hours.
Bentinck Street, March 1, 1781.
An Author easily persuades himself that the public opinion is still

favorable to his labors; and I have now embraced the serious resolution

of proceeding to the last period of my original design, and of the

Roman Empire, the taking of Constantinople by the Turks, in the year

one thousand four hundred and fifty-three. The most patient Reader, who

computes that three ponderous [3] volumes have been already employed

on the events of four centuries, may, perhaps, be alarmed at the long

prospect of nine hundred years. But it is not my intention to expatiate

with the same minuteness on the whole series of the Byzantine history.

At our entrance into this period, the reign of Justinian, and the

conquests of the Mahometans, will deserve and detain our attention, and

the last age of Constantinople (the Crusades and the Turks) is connected

with the revolutions of Modern Europe. From the seventh to the eleventh

century, the obscure interval will be supplied by a concise narrative

of such facts as may still appear either interesting or important.
[Footnote 3: The first six volumes of the octavo edition.] Bentinck

Street, March 1, 1782.

Preface To The First Volume.
Diligence and accuracy are the only merits which an historical writer

may ascribe to himself; if any merit, indeed, can be assumed from the

performance of an indispensable duty. I may therefore be allowed to say,

that I have carefully examined all the original materials that could

illustrate the subject which I had undertaken to treat. Should I

ever complete the extensive design which has been sketched out in the

Preface, I might perhaps conclude it with a critical account of the

authors consulted during the progress of the whole work; and however

such an attempt might incur the censure of ostentation, I am persuaded

that it would be susceptible of entertainment, as well as information.

At present I shall content myself with a single observation.
The biographers, who, under the reigns of Diocletian and Constantine,

composed, or rather compiled, the lives of the Emperors, from Hadrian

to the sons of Carus, are usually mentioned under the names of Aelius

Spartianus, Julius Capitolinus, Aelius Lampridius, Vulcatius Gallicanus,

Trebellius Pollio and Flavius Vopiscus. But there is so much perplexity

in the titles of the MSS., and so many disputes have arisen among the

critics (see Fabricius, Biblioth. Latin. l. iii. c. 6) concerning their

number, their names, and their respective property, that for the most

part I have quoted them without distinction, under the general and

well-known title of the Augustan History.

Preface To The Fourth Volume Of The Original Quarto Edition.
I now discharge my promise, and complete my design, of writing the

History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, both in the West

and the East. The whole period extends from the age of Trajan and the

Antonines, to the taking of Constantinople by Mahomet the Second; and

includes a review of the Crusades, and the state of Rome during the

middle ages. Since the publication of the first volume, twelve years

have elapsed; twelve years, according to my wish, "of health, of

leisure, and of perseverance." I may now congratulate my deliverance

from a long and laborious service, and my satisfaction will be pure and

perfect, if the public favor should be extended to the conclusion of my

It was my first intention to have collected, under one view, the

numerous authors, of every age and language, from whom I have derived

the materials of this history; and I am still convinced that the

apparent ostentation would be more than compensated by real use. If I

have renounced this idea, if I have declined an undertaking which had

obtained the approbation of a master-artist, [4] my excuse may be found

in the extreme difficulty of assigning a proper measure to such a

catalogue. A naked list of names and editions would not be satisfactory

either to myself or my readers: the characters of the principal Authors

of the Roman and Byzantine History have been occasionally connected

with the events which they describe; a more copious and critical inquiry

might indeed deserve, but it would demand, an elaborate volume, which

might swell by degrees into a general library of historical writers.

For the present, I shall content myself with renewing my serious

protestation, that I have always endeavored to draw from the

fountain-head; that my curiosity, as well as a sense of duty, has always

urged me to study the originals; and that, if they have sometimes eluded

my search, I have carefully marked the secondary evidence, on whose

faith a passage or a fact were reduced to depend.
[Footnote 4: See Dr. Robertson's Preface to his History of America.]
I shall soon revisit the banks of the Lake of Lausanne, a country which

I have known and loved from my early youth. Under a mild government,

amidst a beauteous landscape, in a life of leisure and independence,

and among a people of easy and elegant manners, I have enjoyed, and may

again hope to enjoy, the varied pleasures of retirement and society.

But I shall ever glory in the name and character of an Englishman: I am

proud of my birth in a free and enlightened country; and the approbation

of that country is the best and most honorable reward of my labors. Were

I ambitious of any other Patron than the Public, I would inscribe

this work to a Statesman, who, in a long, a stormy, and at length an

unfortunate administration, had many political opponents, almost

without a personal enemy; who has retained, in his fall from power,

many faithful and disinterested friends; and who, under the pressure of

severe infirmity, enjoys the lively vigor of his mind, and the felicity

of his incomparable temper. Lord North will permit me to express the

feelings of friendship in the language of truth: but even truth and

friendship should be silent, if he still dispensed the favors of the

In a remote solitude, vanity may still whisper in my ear, that my

readers, perhaps, may inquire whether, in the conclusion of the present

work, I am now taking an everlasting farewell. They shall hear all that

I know myself, and all that I could reveal to the most intimate friend.

The motives of action or silence are now equally balanced; nor can I

pronounce, in my most secret thoughts, on which side the scale will

preponderate. I cannot dissemble that six quartos must have tried,

and may have exhausted, the indulgence of the Public; that, in the

repetition of similar attempts, a successful Author has much more to

lose than he can hope to gain; that I am now descending into the vale

of years; and that the most respectable of my countrymen, the men whom

I aspire to imitate, have resigned the pen of history about the same

period of their lives. Yet I consider that the annals of ancient and

modern times may afford many rich and interesting subjects; that I am

still possessed of health and leisure; that by the practice of writing,

some skill and facility must be acquired; and that, in the ardent

pursuit of truth and knowledge, I am not conscious of decay. To an

active mind, indolence is more painful than labor; and the first months

of my liberty will be occupied and amused in the excursions of curiosity

and taste. By such temptations, I have been sometimes seduced from the

rigid duty even of a pleasing and voluntary task: but my time will now

be my own; and in the use or abuse of independence, I shall no longer

fear my own reproaches or those of my friends. I am fairly entitled to a

year of jubilee: next summer and the following winter will rapidly pass

away; and experience only can determine whether I shall still prefer the

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