MILLMAN'S EDITION OF 0111FION'S DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN
THIS new edition of GIBBON originated in Mr. MILLMAN'S habit of noting on the margin of his copy of the Decline and Fall, re- ferences to authors who " had discovered errors, or thrown new light on the subjects treated by GIBBON:. Besides presenting a correct text in an historical form, (for history should not appear like a boudoir-book, and requires a full octavo,) with illustrative maps, and a type and paper unexceptionable to the most fastidious bibliographer, the object of this edition is to correct the mistakes, or to supply the unavoidable deficiencies of G1BBON,—unavoia: able because the knowledge was not accessible when he wrote. The chief sources of these corrections or addenda are Gutzor's notes to his translation of the Decline and Fall ; the notes of WENCH, an acute and learned German, who commenced a trans. lation, which he did not live to finish; and the con amore reading of Mr. MILLMAN himself, not only amongst the various clerical opponents of GIBBON, (from whom, with a rare candour in one of the cloth, be admits that he has derived " very little profit,") but amongst modern scholars and classical authors.
The preface, which takes a descriptive and critical view of the History, shows that Mr. MILLMAN is perfectly qualified for his task, by freedom from prejudice, sound discrimination, and a just perception of the leading merits and defects of his author. He notes with admiration the architectural skill with which the unity of the subject is preserved, by making Rome the centre of the narrative; to whose downfal, internal decay, the irruptions of the barbarians, the growth and expansion of the Mahometans whether Saracens or Turks, and even the rise of the nations of modern Europe, are made to contribute. till the historian "grasps the ruins of Rome in the fourteenth century." Mr. MILLMAN also bears testimony to the "correctness and accuracy" of GIBBON; and eulogizes, in an eloquent period, "the inherent interest of the subject; the inexhaustible labour bestowed upon it ; the immense condensation of matter; the luminous arrange- ment ; the style which, however monotonous from its uniform stateliness, and sometimes wearisome from its elaborate art, is throughout vigorous, animated, often picturesque, always ore• wands attention, always conveys its meaning with emphatic energy, describes with singular breadth and fidelity, and gene- ralizes with unrivalled felicity of expression." Still, it appears to us that he has scarcely seen, or it did not fall into his plan to develop minutely, the more essential properties and refined qualities of the Decline and Fall, or the manner in which it was produced. Let us endeavour, albeit hand passibus cequis, to indi. cate these omissions.
The first, and perhaps upon reflection the most striking feature of GIBBON'S History, is its extraordinary character ; for it stands alone in the world of literature. Not only other writers, but other historians, have possessed a far profounder knowledge of man, a keener perception of nature both local and general, a wider sympathy with humanity, (of which GIBBON, to speak the truth, has not much,) a judgment more largely just, a greater versatility of mind and manner, with the power of more truly delineating the native characteristics of what they were describing. But whatever criticism, confining itself to ideal standards of his- torical composition, may decide upon other works, they cannot as literary marvels stand comparison for a moment with the Decline and Fall. It is not merely the art with which unity is imparted to the subject, that justly claims admiration,—for this was a ne- cessity of the work, and a similar quality must be displayed in all histories of modern or even ancient states, and with less duc- tile materials to work upon: what really extorts wonder, is the consummate skill with which the history of so many nations, of such great events, and such various customs, of laws, and reli- gions, are preserved as distinct wholes, yet inseparably dovetailed into the main design, combining at once the spirit of episode and
i narrative—and the genius which has rendered them all nte- resting. Still, magnificent as is the structure, the full rand of praise will not be awarded to the author, unless we tie fleet upon the quarries whence his materials were drawn. Won- derful, beyond most mental wonders, are the inexhaustible pa- tience requisite to toil through the dry dull chroniclers of above a thousand years, contrasted, but not always relieved, by the finance, the geography, the laws and commentaries of distant peoples, and the theological fables or disputes of verbose and super-
stitious monks ; the unwearied attention, or rather intentness, which permitted nothing of moment to escape in all these moure tains of rubbish ; and the perceptive faculty by which whatever was of value and importance—whatever gave its character to the event, or interest to the narrative—was extracted. A Dutch scho- liast or a German " historiker" might have submitted to the drudgery of this reading ; a Frenchman or an Englishman, mira- culously endowed with the knowledge, could perhaps have written a somewhat similar work ; but Ginaort's combination of the intellect as and the genius is as remarkable in the annals of ntellect as the towering genius of HOMER, SHARSPEARE, or MILTON. The execution, though equally extraordinary, cannot challenge
unlimited praise. The manner, indeed, in which the interest is throughout sustained by the conjoint powers of a disciplined perception and a brilliant imagination, together with a style of composition and diction that combines the practical judgment of
n Engliblimaii with the animation and sparkling vivacity of a e
Frenchman, demands the highest admiration, looking at the re-
sult alone. Nor less praiseworthy is the workmanlike art with which the whole mass of original ores are transmuted into one precious metal, and value imparted to the most worthless. But from this process arise the le faults, which even the commonest reader of Ginuote cannot avoid perceiving—for we doubt whether
They are deeply felt. His uniformity, his pompous march, his
tendency towards inflation—his court dress every day and all day long—spying from the thorough melting his materials underwent in his mental crucible, and their subsequent reproduction as his
owns He is deficient in variety,colour, and emotion. His narrative scarcely ever presents the character of the events or persons he is
describing, and not often of the opinions. Very rigorously speak- ing, his work is not so much history—for he does nut reflect things as in a reducing mirror, but a commentary upon history—for he gives us the impressions or conclusions which he has derived from the things. though these impressions are remarkable for their logical truth. Hence he always describes, often pictures, but rhaps never portrays. His narrative never varies ; it is not Imperial, or Gothic, or Saracenic, or Ecclesiastical, or Civil—it is Gibbonian, neither more nor less. Thus, the "uniform stateli- ness" of which Mr. MILLMAN speaks, is u defect but because his subjects are not always stately : and the "elaborate art" strictly analyzed, a want of art, in not adapting his manner to his matter. Of this quality he seems to have been not altogether unconscious. In a passage, which in searching for it now we cannot find, after speaking of the eloquence and nervous compo- sition of ROBERTSON, lie continues, in allusion to Hussy,—" but the calm philosophy, the careless, the inimitable graces of his friend and rival, compel me to close the volume with a mixed feeling of admiration and despair." The History of GIBBON, however, will maintain its ground, not merely fur its intrinsic excellences, but from our necessities ; no single work, nay, so far as we know, no half-dozen (readable) works, would supply its place. The Decline and Fall is a monu- ment that may bid defiance to criticism and time. It is curious to examine, step by step, how such a work was produced. The author himself tells us that lie was directly em- ployed upon it for twenty years; but in reality it was the labour of a life. In childhood, his insatiable curiosity and his delicate health rendered him a voracious reader; and nature or accident, in his early boyhood, directed him to history ; of which, so far as relates to only the Roman empire, he had read more before he was sixteen than would now-a-days suffice a compiler of any kind. We quote from his Autobiography— "My indiscriminate appetite subsided by degrees in the historic line ; and since philosophy has exploded all innate ideas and natural propensities, I must ascribe this choice to the assiduous perusal of the Universal History, as the octavo volumes successively appeared. This unequal work, and a treatise of Hearne, the' Ductor Ilistoricus,' referred and introduced me to the Greek and Roman historians, to as many at least as were accessible to an English reader. All that I could find were greedily devoured, from Littlebury's lame Herodotus, and Spelman's valuable Xenophon, to the pompous folios of Gordon's Tacitus,
nil a ragout] Procupins of the beginning of the last century. • • *
" My first introduction to the historic scenes which have since engaged so many years of my life, must be ascribed to an accident. In the summer of 1731, (he was then fourteen,) I accompanied my father on a visit to Mr. Hoare's, in Wiltshire ; bat I was less delighted with the beauties of Stourhead than with discovering in the library a common book, the Continuation of Ecliard's Roman History, which is indeed executed with more skill and taste than the previous work. To me the reigns of the successors of Constantine were absolutely new ; sad I was immersed in the passage of the Goths over the Danube, when the summons of the dinner- bell reluctantly dragger] me from my intellectual feast. This transient glance served rather to irritate than to appease my curiosity and as soon as I returned to Bath, I procured the second and third volumes of Howes History of the World, which exhibits the Byzantine period on a larger scale. Alahomet and his Saracens soon fixed my attention ; and some instinct of criticism directed me to the genuine sources. Simon Ockley, an original in every sense, first opened my eyes ; and I was led from one hook to another till I had ranged round the circle of Oriental history. Before I was sixteen, I had exhausted all that could be learned in English of the Arabs and Persians, the Tartars and Turks ; and the same ardour urged me to guess at the French of D'Ileibelot, and to construe the barbarous Latin of Pocock's Abulfaragius. Such vague and multifarious reading could not teach me to think, to write, or to act; and the only principle that darted a ray of light into the intligested chaos, was an early and rational application to the order of time and place. The maps of Cellarius and Wells imprinted in my mind the picture of ancient geography : from Stranchius I imbibed the elements of chronology ; the Tables of ilelvicus and Anderson, the Annals of Usher and l'rideaux, distinguished the connexion of events, and engraved the multitude of names and dates in a clear and indelible series. But in the discussion of the first ages I overleaped the bounds of modesty and use. In my childish balance I presumed to weigh the systems of Scaliger and Petavius, of Marsham and Newton, which I could seldom study in the originals ; and may sleep has been disturbed by the difficulty of reconciling the Septuagint with the Hebrew computation. I arrived at Ox- ford with a stock of erudition that might have puzzled a doctor, and a degree of ignorance of which a schoolboy would have been ashamed."
His character of the University—how he fared amid "the port and prejudice of the monks of Oxford"—his conversion to Catho- licism—and his banishment, as a boarder and pupil, to a clergy- man's at Lausanne—may be read in his Autobiography. When M. PAVI WARD'S instruction had somewhat disciplined his mind, he applied himself with renewed ardour to study ; and one of his early efforts was a " copious and voluntary abstract " of the " His- toire de l'Eglise et de l'Empire," by LE SUEUR, which he places in "a middle line" between his childish and his manly studies.
• An edition in eight duodecimo volumes, some of them very thick, is now before us. The writer is a chronicler who narrates with equal temper the most important events or the smallest circumstances, not omitting the miracles of the }ethers. To read bins through regularly and continuously, though his style is clear and his manner gossipy, would seem a task,, but a " copious and voluntary abstract" a feat indeed. Shortly afterwards, be commenced a course of methodized reading for himself; part of which was a " review of the Latin classics. under the four divisions of (1.) historians, (2.) poets, (3.) orators, end (4.) philosophers, in a chronological series from the days of Pseurte and SALLUST to the decline of the language and empire of Rome." And before he quitted Lausanne, which he did when twenty-one, lie had read and digested (he indeed digested all his reading into a commonplace-book) three books, which he considers "mays have remotely contributed to form the historian of the Roman Empire:' " 1. From the Provincial Letters of Pascal, winch almost every year I have perused with new pleasure, I learned to assuage the weapon of grave and tem- perate irony, even on subjects of ecclesiastical solemnity. 2. The Life of Julian, by the Abloas de Is Bletotie, first introduced me to the man and the times ; and I should be glad to recover my tint e-oay on the truth of the miracle which stopped the rebuilding of the temple of Jerusalem. 3. In Giannone's Civil History of Naples, I observed with a critical eye the progress and abuse of sacerdotal power, and the revolutions of Italy in the darker ages."
Five years after his return to England, lie made a tour in Italy, and, as he says-
. . . 'formed and executed a plan of study for the rise of my Transalpine ex- pedition,—the topography of old Rome, the ancient geography of Italy, and the science of medals. 1. I diligently read, almost always with a pen in my hand, the elaborate treatises of Natilini, Dunatus, &e. which fill the fourth volume of the Roman Antiquities of Go trellis. 2. 1 next undertook and finished the Italia Antique of Covering, a learned native of Prussia, who had measured on foot every spot, and has compiled and digested every passage of the ancient writer,. These passages in Greek or Latin authors I perused in the text of Cluverius, in two folio volumes: but I separately read the descriptions of Italy by Strobel, Pliny, and Pompouius Mela, the catalogue of the epic poets, the Itineraries of Wesseling's Aotoninits, and the coasting voyage of XuBlioa Numa- tianus ; and I studied two kindred subjects in the Memel Itineraires of D'Auville. and the copious work of Ilergier, Ilistoire des grands Chemins de ]'Empire Romain. From these materials I formed a table of roads and di-- tances reduced to our English measure; filled a folio commonplace-book with my collections and remarks on the geography of Italy ; and inserted in toy jour- nal many long and learned notes on the ineulw :end populousness of home, the social war, the passage of the Alps by Hanniloil, &c. 3. After glancing my eye over Addison 's agreeable dialoges, I more seriously read the great work of Exechiel Spanheim, de Prwstantia et Usu Numiomatuin ; and applied with him the medals of the kings and emperors, the families and colonies, to the illustra- tion of ancient history. And thus was I armed for my Italian journey."
It was on this journey, on the 15th October 1764, at Rome, as be sat " musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the bare- footed friars were singing vespers in the Temple of Jupiter," that the idea of writing the Decline and Fall of the city first started to his mind. The intention thus formed was diverted or sus- pended, but never lost sight of fur four years, when he began to prepare himself for his task.
" As soon as I was released front the fruitiest; task of the Swiss revolutions,. (17118,) I began gradually to advance from the wish to the hope, from the hope to the design, horn the design to the execution, of my historical wink ; of whose limits and extent I had yet a very inadequate notion. The Classics, as low as
Tacitus, theYounger and Juveual, were my old and familiar companions. I insensibly plunged into the ocean of the Augustan blowsy ; ant in the destxml- ing series I investigated, with my pen almost always hr my hand, tire original records, both Greek and Latin, from Dion Cassius to Ammianno Marcellinus, from the reign of Trojan to the last age of the Western Cie-ars.
rays of medals, and inscriptions of geography and chrorology, were thrown on their proper objects ; and I applied the collections of Tilleinont, who., inimi- table accuracy alm.sot ri,oitines the character of genius, to fix :rod arrange within my reach the louse and scattered atoms of historical infrmation. Through the darkness of the middle ages, I explored my way in the Annals and Antiquities of Italy of the learned Murano i, alai diligently compare 1 them with the parallel or transverse lines of Sigonina and Maffei, Baroniu. and Pagi, till I almost grasped the ruin* of Borne in the fourteens century, without sus- pecting that this final chapter must be attained by the labour of six quartos and- twenty years."
When he at last commenced composing, notwithstanding his previous incessant practice, he tells us-
" Many experiments were made before I could hit the middle tone between a dull chronicle and a rhetorical declamation ! three time, did I compose the first chapter, and twice the second and third, before I was tolerably satisfied with their effect. In the remainder of the way I advanced with a more equal and easy pace ; but the fifteenth and sixteenth chapters have been reduced, by three successive rev:sals, from a large volume to their present size ; and they might still be compressed without auy loss of facts or sentiments."
" Such," in the language of JOHNSON, " is the labour of those. who write for immortality."
low, it will naturally be asked, has theological zeal and scho- lastic emulation, occupied fur more than half a century in scruti- nizing this production of learning, labour, and genius, succeeded in detecting flaws or errors: Not very extensively in the two volumes before us ; though modern discoveries may throw some fuller light upon his pages, w hen the current of events carries the commentary more directly into the affairs of Asia and Northern Europe.. At present, if we except a brief abstract of DIOCLETIAN'S lately- discovered edict, and the note on ZOBOASTER, the corrections or omissions are on minor points,=finance, or chronology, or names ; valuable to the student, but not impugning in any way tire ac- curacy of the work ; whilst some of them perhaps arose from the condensation of the author. All that can even be said upon the celebrated Fifteenth and Sixteenth Chapters is, that perhaps GIBBON may have understated the numbers who suffered under the Imperial persecutions, and that he depreciates Christianity.. The perfect fairness, however, with which Mr. MILLMAN has not only managed his delicate task, but the soundness he has displayed in correcting the occasional jumps of Gutzon in his notes, is entitled to all praise. His edition is unquestionably one of the best of the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, fur typographical excellence, while in illustrative matter it stands alone.