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very irregular, and even, in a great measure, neglected. His real education was carried on at home, wbere he still continued his course of desultory studies. He resumes his account of them in the following terms :
“ The curiosity which had been implanted in my infant mind, was still alive and active ; but my reason was not sufficiently informed to understand the value, or to lament the loss, of three precious years, from my entrance at Westminister to my admission at Oxford. Instead of repining at my long and frequent confinement to the chamber or the couch, I secretly rejoiced in those infirmities, which delivered me from the exercises of the school, and the society of my equals. As often as I was tolerably exempt from danger and pain, reading, free desultory reading, was the employment and comfort of my solitary hours. At Westminster my aunt sought only to amuse and indulge me; in my stations at Bath and Winchester, at Buriton and Putney, a false compassion respected my sufferings, and I was allowed, without controul or advice, to gratify the wanderings of an unripe taste. 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 Ductus Historicus, 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, and a ragged Procopius of the beginning of the last century. The cheap acquisition of so much knowledge confirmed my dislike to the study of languages ; and I argued with Mrs. Porten, that, were 1 master of Greek and Latin, I'must interpret to myself in Eng.
lish the thoughts of the original, and that such extemo porary versions must be inferior to the elaborate translations of professed scholars; a silly sophism, which could not easily be confuted by a person ignorant of any other language than her own. From the ancient I leaped to the modern world ; many crude lumps of Speed, Rapin, Mezeray, Davila, Machiavel, Father Paul, Bower, &c. I devoured like so many novels; and I swallowed with the same voracious appetite the descriptions of India and China, of Mexico and Peru.
“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 1751, I accompanied my father on a visit to Mr. Hoare's, in Wiltshire; but I was less delighted with the bcauties of Stourhead, than with discovering in the library a common book, the Continuation of Echard'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; and I was immersed in the passage of the Goths over the Danube, when the summons of the dinner-bell reluctantly dragged 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 Howel's History of the World, which exhibited the Byzantine period on a larger scale. Mahomet 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 book 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'Herbelot, 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 indigested 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 Helvicus and Anderson, the Annals of Usher and Prideaux, distinguishcd the connection 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 l' presumed to weigh the systems of Scaliger and Petavius, of Marsham and Newton, which I could seldom study in the originals; and my sleep bas been disturbed by the difficulty of reconciling the septuagint with the Hebrew computation. I arrived at Oxford with a stock of erudition that might have puzzled a doctor, and a degree of ignorance of which a schoolboy would have been ashamed.”
To his residence at Oxford Mr. Gibbon looks back with no satisfaction. Instead of improving by the opportunities there afforded, he seems even to have lost that taste for reading which he had previously acquired. He fell into habits of idleness and dissipation, frequently absented himself, and settled to no plan of study. In short, he declares the fourteen months which he
pent in Magdalen College to be the most idle and unprofitable of his whole life. Unwilling to take upon himself the whole blame of this lost period, he endeavours to throw it partly upon the institutions of the university. No controul or superintendence, he says, were exercised over him : he was allowed to attend or not as inclination prompted. “ During the first weeks,” says he, “ I constantly attended these lessons in my tutor's room; but as they appeared equally devoid of profit and pleasure, I was once tempted to try the experiment of a formal apology. The apology was accepted with a smile. I repeated the offence with less ceremony; the excuse was admitted with the same indulgence : the slightest motive of laziness or indisposition, the most trifling avocation at home or abroad, was allowed as a worthy impediment; nor did my tutor appear conscious of my absence or neglect. Had the hour of lecture been constantly filled, a single hour was a small portion of my academic leisure. No plan of study was recommended for my use; no exercises were prescribed for his inspection ; and, at the most precious season of youth, whole days and weeks were suffered to clapse, without labour or amusement, without advice or account.”
About this time, however, his constitution strengthened, without any visible cause, and he was delivered from those complaints under wbich he had laboured. At the end of fourteen months, a long recess enabled him to spend two months at his father's house in Hampshire. It is remarkable, that the moment he arrived there his taste for books began to revive. He now wrote his first composition, marked by that taste for research and exotic history, which strongly predominated in his mind. It was entitled “ The Age of Sesostris ;" and the object was to prove that monarch to bave been contemporary with Solomon.
On Gibbon's return to college, he entered upon the same round of dissipation as before. He made, in one winter, a visit to Bath, an excursion into Buckinghamshire, and four to London. He still retained, however, bis old turn for research and controversy ; but it took a most singular direction. By reading the works of Roman Catholic divines, he became a convert to that religion. Two works of Bossuet were, he asserts, those which completed his conversion. His resolution was completely made up from books, before he saw or conversed with any priest of that persuasion. He was then, however, introduced to one in London, in whose presence he solemnly abjured the errors of heresy. He then wrote an elaborate letter to his father, announcing
and justifying this extraordinary step. His father, in the first paroxysm of anger, published what would have been more wisely concealed, and the gates of the uni. versity were shut against the young apostate,
It became now a very serious consideration for old Gibbon, in what manner this extraordinary, malady might be banished from the mind of his son. After much deliberation, it was determined to send him to reside for some years at Lausanne, in Switzerland. Thither he was accordingly dispatched, and lodged in the house of M. Pavilliard, a calvinist minister. He has described in a lively manner his feelings on first ar. riving in this exile.
“ When I was thus suddenly cast on a foreign land, I found myself deprived of the use of speech and of hearing ; and, during some weeks, incapable not only of enjoying the pleasures of conversation, but even of asking or apswering a question in the common intercourse of life. To a home-bred Englishman every obe ject, every custom was offensive ; but the native of any country might have been disgusted with the general aspect of his lodging and entertainment. I had now exchanged my elegant apartment in Magdalen College, for a narrow gloomy street, the most unfrequented of an unhandsome town, for an old inconvenient house, and for a small chamber, ill contrived, and ill furnished, which, on the approach of winter, instead of a companionable fire, must be warmed by the dull invisible beat of a stove, From a man, I was again degraded to the dependence of a schoolboy. M. Pavilliard managed my expences, wbich had been reduced to a diminutive state. I received a small monthly allowance for my pocket-money; and helpless and awk. ward as I have ever been, I no longer enjoyed the indispensible comfort of a servant. My condition seemed as destitute of hope, as it was devoid of pleasure. I was separated for an indefinite, which appeared an infinite, term from my native country ; and I had