Barbarism: Triumph in the West (Barbarism and Religion, Volume 6)

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We are happy to accept returns upto 30 days from purchase. Portada J. Imagen del editor. Brand new Book. It makes two general assertions: first, that this is in reality a mosaic of narratives, written on diverse premises and never fully synthesized with one another; and second, that these chapters assert a progress of both barbarism and religion from east to west, leaving much history behind as they do so. In doing so Gibbon struggled with the attempt to write the story of his own life, constantly also hesitating whether he could produce a text that might safely be published in his own lifetime.

The result was six versions, commonly referenced as A to F. In many ways each version was very different, and all but the fifth were incom- plete. The fact that Gibbon seemed undecided on the precise version of the story of his conception of the idea to write the Decline and Fall was symptomatic of the more general problems he encountered regarding his autobiography. The tension be- tween freedom and restriction operated in the Autobiographies as well as in the Decline and Fall, and Gibbon, Roberts claims, used fragmen- tation and incoherence to assert his personal freedom against external pressures from family and society which threatened his selfhood.

Nevertheless, it af- fords an opportunity for examining his general attitude toward historical writing, particularly since in writing about his life he in large measure attempted to describe his development as a historian. In particular, it helps to counter its common historicist critique. In the convergence of erudition, narrative, and philosophy which con- stituted 18th-century historiography, source criticism, of an essentially modern nature, became increasingly common, most conspicuously in almost every page and footnote of the Decline and Fall Pocock ; Momigliano.

It is therefore not surprising that many studies of the Autobi- ographies have been psychological in nature e. He may have considered transforming See Patricia B. Therefore, as has been noted see Parke; Pearson , Gibbon was aware of his own subjectivity, and of the importance of rec- ognizing that he was in fact revising his own life.


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A central interpretative problem in modern studies of Gibbon has been his attitude toward religion. Determining this with greater, even if not conclusive, precision is necessary for understanding his general practice as a historian, since he always wrote with the reception by his readership in mind. He was willing to subdue what were probably his more radical views on religion in his effort to write a broadly appealing and yet serious work. This flexibility makes under- standing his views on religion significant for elucidating his practice as an author.

The most common yet not consensual position among scholars has been that Gibbon was a religious skeptic, contemptuous of Chris- tianity for varying interpretations see Turnbull; Wootton; Young; and Craddock 60— In the fifth volume of Barbarism and Religion J. It is unclear to what extent Gib- bon aimed his criticism at Christianity in general, not just at certain oc- currences in ecclesiastical history.

Consequently, the traditional view of Gibbon as a straightforward critic of Christianity is questionable Pocock —88, —, — Gibbon devoted most of his attention to those aspects of the rise and influence of Christianity which were ame- nable to strict historical examination, and he dealt with theological is- sues mostly in innuendo. Pocock implies that Gibbon evidently did not believe in the traditional religious narrative, yet suspended judgment on this issue with Humean skepticism.

His silence on matters of sacred his- tory was nonetheless critically interpreted as irreligion by some conser- vative contemporaries —10, He was a skeptic but not an atheist , — When he thought that being outrageous regarding religion would guarantee his fame, he indulged in it. The damage, however, was already done, and Gibbon was never able to erase this public image of himself. As an aging, sick man he was horrified by the French Revolution, which endangered the comfortable privileged world he so relied on, yet to his great consternation, he found that he was being accused of contributing to that revolution.

His exertion regarding this task was probably also exacerbated in his last months, troubled by painful illness and his hurried voyage to England to console the suddenly widowed Lord Sheffield. During this last period of his life, Gibbon, at least temporarily, seems to have relinquished the attempt to fashion his image for posterity. Yet his most emphat- ic methodological text was the famous Vindication written against the religious critics of the first volume of the Decline and Fall. This text was in many respects a handbook on how to conduct serious historical research based on a critical reading of sources.

See Womersley and , especially — One also needed to avoid being overawed by authority, whether religious or otherwise, which constituted another po- tential pitfall hindering critical reading. Of course, one could apply this stricture to Gibbon himself, though not at his prompting.

Barbarism and Religion: Volume 6, Barbarism: Triumph in the West

At his confident prime when writ- ing this work, he emphatically asserted that the historian owes to himself, to the present age, and to posterity, a just and perfect de- lineation of all that may be praised, of all that may be excused, and of all that must be censured. If he fails in the discharge of his important office, he partially violates the sacred obligations of truth, and disappoints his readers of the instruction which they might have derived from a fair paral- lel of the vices and virtues of the most illustrious characters.

These un- alterable dictates of conscience and reason have been seldom questioned, though they have been seldom observed. III: Did Gibbon observe this call for historiographical veracity? The 18th-century philo- sophic historian by definition needed to take a broad panoramic view of history, even at the expense of critical precision and referenced evidence.

Autobiographies and the Historicist Critique of Enlightenment Historiography 7 causes and effects, to unite the most distant revolutions. Probably writing the first version of these observa- tions slightly before the first volume of the Decline and Fall, and only revising them before actual publication, Gibbon here was exuberantly optimistic about the future prospects of occidental civilization. Europe specifically was secure from any future irruption of Barbarians; since, before they can conquer, they must cease to be barbarous.

Their gradual advances in the science of war would always be accompanied, as we may learn from the example of Russia, with a proportionable improvement in the arts of peace and civil policy; and they themselves must deserve a place among the pol- ished nations whom they subdue. Gibbon II: —15 The only real danger to Western civilization was a new Tartar invasion, in which case the Europeans would be able to find refuge in civilized America. Yet in essence, material and cultural progress could never be See Gibbon and Deyverdun 45—74, esp.

Also see Pocock — Several years later, however, when Gibbon had barely finished the third and final installment of his masterpiece, this sanguine Enlight- enment outlook was shattered by the excesses of the French Revolu- tion. Gibbon, as David Womersley has convincingly argued and — , felt that his own private existence was threatened by the revolution. His letters from this period, primarily to Lord Sheffield who shared his opinions, are replete with vituperative remarks against the revolutionaries and demonstrate that, like Burke and other politically conservative contemporaries, Gibbon was averse to the idea of universal suffrage and democracy, which to him suggested mob rule.

His former optimism was now challenged. Bearing this in mind, we shall now examine, in chronological order, the most important historiographical-methodological observations he made in these memoirs and his vacillations on what was essentially the theoreti- cal foundation for his venture into self-portrayal. At the beginning of the first memoir, probably begun slightly before the revolution, he seemed almost incautious: Truth, naked unblushing truth, the first virtue of more serious history, must be the sole recommendation of this personal narrative: the style shall be simple and familiar; but style is the image of character, and the habits of correct writing may produce, without labour or design, the appearances of art and study.

My own amusement is my motive, and will be my re- ward; and if these sheets are communicated to some discreet and indulgent friends, they will be secreted from the public eye till the author shall be removed from the reach of criticism or ridicule. Autobiographies and the Historicist Critique of Enlightenment Historiography 9 tobiography only posthumously. Slightly later, when he began the second version, Gibbon was evidently feeling even more secure and opened with an air of near bravura: A sincere and simple narrative of my own life may amuse some of my leisure hours, but it will expose me, and perhaps with justice, to the impu- tation of vanity.

Yet I may judge, from the experience both of past and of the present times, that the public is always curious to know the men who have left behind them any image of their minds: the most scanty accounts are compiled with diligence and perused with eagerness; and the student of every class may derive a lesson or an example from the lives most similar to his own.

The author of an important and successful work may hope without presumption that he is not totally indifferent to his numerous readers: my name may hereafter be placed among the thousand articles of a Biographia Britannica, and I must be conscious that no one is so well qualified as myself to describe the series of my thoughts and actions. Gibbon asserted the custody of this, his own, history. Perhaps the reasons why in the later versions he no longer included the type of pre- lude which opened Memoir B was that it contained too much of an admis- sion of his subjectivity and hence was ineffective.

Gibbon was revising his own self, and, in order to be successful, this had to be an essentially surreptitious act. Yet throughout memoir B, more than any of the other Autobiogra- phies, Gibbon was also concerned with the methodological issue of the critical examination of subjectivity. He was now an old man writing about his youth. Yet the moment the historian ceased to examine others, it was almost inevita- ble that he could not apply this maxim to himself.

Gibbon however was not even dissimulating, particularly for those who were reading him critically. During his first sojourn in Lausanne, where his father had sent him following his youthful conver- sion to Catholicism, he continued to progress in critical reading , Memoir B. Nevertheless, it was precisely at this time again, according to the memory of the older historian , that a new type of historiographical consciousness matured in his mind, as he studied algebra and geometry.

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There was thus something more important than complete exactitude, which in any event was impossible. The historian had a moral duty to a higher truth. Once again this was the 18th-century combination of erudition, narrative, and philosophy.

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Yet there was a fine line here between dilettantism and the extemporizing of a mature mind. Autobiographies and the Historicist Critique of Enlightenment Historiography 11 when he felt on firmer ground as an erudite, he often allowed himself those famous derisive, ironic pronouncements on various authors, which were totally uncalled for by any strict scientific requirements yet cumu- latively gave the work much of its critical panache. This kind of scholarship also entailed further practical difficulties with which most historians today would easily sympathize.

For example, Gibbon had no problem with working, at least up to a point, with translated editions of texts, for example from German which he did not read. The comments of the compilers of these editions were also not to be dismissed, serving as what we today would call secondary literature. If one remained alert to their prejudices and imperfections they could be highly relevant for illuminating histori- cal issues.

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The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire - Wikipedia

It should also be remembered that Gibbon was never considered, or seems to have considered himself, an accomplished classical linguist; in particular, he struggled for many years with his command of Greek. For example, Leo Braudy —71, esp. Other scholars Brownley; Mandel; Pop- kin 92— have noted the problematic shift of the historian from the Decline and Fall to the different terrain of autobiography. Indeed, he believed that it was his social position as a gentleman which fostered his scholarly work.

A higher social position would have discouraged scholarly labor, and a lower one would have hampered it. Few works of merit and importance have been executed either in a garret or a palace. With perhaps less justification, she sees this as an approach that was un-philosophic compared with the more philosophic approach of Enlightenment historiography practiced by someone like Voltaire see Roberts — In any event, the possibility that Gibbon was similarly and intentionally writing for both a more and a less attentive readership in the Autobiographies cannot be ruled out.

Autobiographies and the Historicist Critique of Enlightenment Historiography 13 and reward; but wretched is the author and wretched will be the work, where daily diligence is stimulated by daily hunger. Gibbon related how the death and loss of his father nonetheless left him in a comfortable and independent situation which enabled the combination of scholarly and gentlemanly pursuits in fashionable London, as well as in Lausanne, which resulted in the composition of his great work. The clear untainted remains of my patrimony have been always sufficient to support the rank of a Gentleman, and to satisfy the desires of a philoso- pher.

This is not merely a synoptic exercise, though the scope and relative obscurity of the history related in these volumes necessitate much synopsis. Readers of the series will know that this is a more catholic enterprise than it sounds.

Conquest- Weapons of the Barbarians - Part 1

For even when Pocock descends into the narrow gullies of specialist or antiquarian interest, it is always in search of wide vistas lying beyond. Barbarism and religion are seen to be moving east to west. But Gibbon chooses largely to partition the history of the Roman empire from that of the Christian church; the history of the east from that of the west. It is in the interplay of these narratives most of all that Pocock finds his subject. Part one sees Gibbon wrestling with the challenge of dividing imperial history between eastern and western narratives, as well as that of describing Constantinople, a city not visited by him or his expected readers.

Part two finds Gibbon returning to the history of the church, begun in chapters 15 and 16 of volume one. Yet even as civil and ecclesiastical history become inseparable, according to Pocock, early modern historiographical convention forbids Gibbon from narrating them together. Pocock shows Gibbon following the Jansenist Tillemont in seeing disputes over the Trinity as a consequence of the inability of partial language to comprehend an absolute God.

Part four witnesses two turning points of greater consequence, as Gibbon takes up the history of barbarian peoples and exhausts his favorite source, Ammianus Marcellinus. The former directs Gibbon towards philosophical, the latter critical, historiography. The reign of Theodosius, treated in part five, momentarily forces Gibbon to bring ecclesiastical into closer correspondence with imperial history: it is Ambrose, bishop of Milan, who compels the emperor to make penance after the massacre at Thessalonica in Part six follows the Decline and Fall to its climax.

More important, if less explored, developments are Vandal control of the Roman corn supply and the emergence of Vandal sea power.


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