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Thursday, 2 April 2015

Edward Gibbon

Edward Gibbon was born on April 27, 1737, the son of Edward and Judith Gibbon at Lime Grove, in the town of Putney, Surrey.

His grandfather, also Edward, had lost all of his assets as a result of the South Sea Bubble stock market collapse in 1720, but eventually regained much of his wealth, so that Gibbon's father was able to live an easygoing life in society and Parliament.

He had six siblings: five brothers and one sister, all of whom died in infancy.

Never a strong or active man, Gibbon was of diminutive stature, little more than 5 ft tall with a large head and uncommonly small bones.

Edward Gibbon, by Henry Walton (died 1813)

In his later years Gibbon became became very fat and corpulent. Boswell referred to him as "an ugly affected and disgusting felloe."

Gibbon suffered from a malady now believed to be hydrocele. This condition caused his testicles to swell with fluid to extraordinary proportions. He underwent numerous procedures to have the fluid removed during his later years, but as his condition worsened, it became both more painful and an embarrassment. His doctor, who actually measured the contents, once drew five quarts of liquid from the protuberance.

This chronic inflammation caused Gibbon great physical discomfort in a time when men wore close-fitting breeches. He refers to this indirectly in his Memoirs, with comments: "I can recall only fourteen truly happy days in my life," and "I am never so content when writing in solitude.”

Personal hygiene during the Eighteenth Century was optional at best; for Gibbon, it was marginal by any standard. The social humiliation Gibbon endured as a result of his hygiene and his protuberance meant he was a lonely figure.

Gibbon wore vivid clothes such as flowered velvet, and was Frenchified in mannerisms, but it was a pathetic attempt to be a dandy. According to one comment Gibbon was so filthy that he couldn't stand close to him.

A lapsed Anglican, Gibbon toiled with Islam before becoming a Catholic at Oxford through reading an account of the miracles of the early church. He came to the conclusion that miracles were genuine and the dogmas they validated, such as purgatory and transubstantiation were true. As a result he sought out the Catholic Chaplain at the Sardinian Embassy in London. His father alarmed at his son becoming a Catholic sent Edward to the home of a Calvinist Swiss Pastor, Monsieur Pavilliard at Lausanne, but intellectual doubts got the better of him. Thereafter he was a skeptic.

Gibbon observed on October 15, 1764, a group of friars singing in the ruined Temple of Jupiter in Rome, which inspired him to begin The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. His most important work, it was published in six volumes between 1776 and 1788.

Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire caused much controversy due to its treatment of Christianity and was opposed by many churchmen. Gibbon blamed Rome's adoption of the Christian faith as the major cause for Rome’s decline and mocked the religion through his use of irony. Only the author's fear of the blasphemy laws prevented him attacking it directly.

He referred to the monks in Roman times as: "The unhappy exiles from social life, impelled by the dark and implacable genius of superstition.”

The famous London based eye surgeon, John Taylor, once operated on Gibbon’s failing sight having earlier done the same for George Frideric Handel and Johann Sebastian Bach. All three operations were unsuccessful.

Gibbon underwent numerous procedures to alleviate his chronic inflammation, but with no enduring success. In early 1794, the last of a series of these operations caused an unremitting peritonitis to set in and spread, from which he passed away at 12:45 pm on January 16, 1794 at age 56.

Gibbon was buried in the Sheffield family graveyard at the parish church in Fletching, Sussex.

Source Encyclopedia of Britannica

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