Gibbon in Rome 1764

“... At the distance of twenty-five years,” wrote Edward Gibbon, “I can neither forget nor express the strong emotions which agitated my mind as I first ... entered the Eternal City.” By J.J. Saunders .

Two hundred years ago this October, Rome and her greatest historian first met, and Edward Gibbon conceived the idea of writing the story of her decline and fall “as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefooted friars were singing vespers in the temple of Jupiter.”

The plan thus formed in his mind on that October evening in Rome in 1764 was brought triumphantly to completion twenty-three years later in the summerhouse of his garden in Lausanne, where on a June night in 1787 he wrote “the last lines of the last page” of the finest history in our language.

Gibbon was twenty-seven when he entered Rome across the Milvian Bridge at five o’clock in the afternoon of October 2nd, 1764. He had long prepared for this intoxicating moment. As the son of an English country gentleman, he had received a classical education, not indeed at Oxford (where his academic career was cut short by his temporary conversion to Roman Catholicism), but at the hands of a Swiss Calvinist pastor at Lausanne; he had read through all the usual Latin authors and been fascinated by Roman history, and acquired so firm a grasp of the Latin language that at nineteen he was able to debate in that tongue points of scholarship with some of the ablest professors of Switzerland and Germany, and to hold his own with them.

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