“Unprovided with original learning, unformed in the habits of thinking, unskilled in the arts of composition, I resolved to write a book.”
There is a book that I have not had the courage to start. It comes in three volumes and resides quite contentedly on one of my bookshelves behind two wooden elephants. It was a gift from a dear friend who has since passed away, which makes it all the more poignant. I decided to thumb through the first volume which weighs, in my conservative opinion, approximately 8 pounds.
Edward Gibbon’s “The History of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” despite all criticisms that come with historical debate, is the most celebrated historical work in the English language. It was published in three installments between 1776 and 1788, and covers thirteen centuries, from 98 – 1590. Gibbon’s insistence on relative objectivity and the use of primary sources became the model for later historians to emulate.
But why would I decide to take out the “Rise and Decline” at this particular time. Quite simply, to celebrate! For today, on June 27, 1787, Edward Gibbons finished his monumental task. His life’s work complete, I can only imagine that his elation was tinged with a hint of sorrow.
“It was on the day, or rather the night, of 27 June 1787, between the hours of eleven and twelve, that I wrote the last lines of the last page in a summer-house in my garden. … I will not dissemble the first emotions of joy on the recovery of my freedom, and perhaps the establishment of my fame. But my pride was soon humbled, and a sober melancholy was spread over my mind by the idea that I had taken my everlasting leave of an old and agreeable companion, and that, whatsoever might be the future date of my history, the life of the historian must be short and precarious.”