Edward Gibbon : biography
And it was here that Gibbon first conceived the idea of composing a history of the city, later extended to the entire empire, a moment known to history as the "Capitoline vision":Pocock, "Classical History," ¶ #2.
It was at Rome, on the fifteenth of October 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefooted fryars were singing Vespers in the temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the City first started to my mind.Murray, p. 302.
Womersley (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, p. 12) notes the existence of "good reasons" to doubt the statement’s accuracy. Elaborating, Pocock ("Classical History," ¶ #2) refers to it as a likely "creation of memory" or a "literary invention" seeing as how Gibbon, in his autobiography, claimed his journal dated the reminiscence to 15 October, when in fact the journal gives no date.
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: 1776–1788
Blue plaque to Gibbon on Bentinck Street, London
Gibbon returned to England in June 1765. His father died in 1770, and after tending to the estate, which was by no means in good condition, there remained quite enough for Gibbon to settle fashionably in London at 7 Bentinck Street, independent of financial concerns. By February 1773, he was writing in earnest, but not without the occasional self-imposed distraction. He took to London society quite easily, joined the better social clubs, including Dr. Johnson’s Literary Club, and looked in from time to time on his friend Holroyd in Sussex. He succeeded Oliver Goldsmith at the Royal Academy as ‘professor in ancient history’ (honorary but prestigious). In late 1774, he was initiated a freemason of the Premier Grand Lodge of England.i.e., in London’s Lodge of Friendship No. 3. see . And, perhaps least productively in that same year, he was returned to the House of Commons for Liskeard, Cornwall through the intervention of his relative and patron, Edward Eliot. He became the archetypal back-bencher, benignly "mute" and "indifferent," his support of the Whig ministry invariably automatic. Gibbon’s indolence in that position, perhaps fully intentional, subtracted little from the progress of his writing.Gibbon lost the Liskeard seat in 1780 when Eliot joined the opposition, taking with him "the Electors of Leskeard [who] are commonly of the same opinion as Mr. El[l]iot." (Murray, p. 322.) The following year, owing to the good grace of Prime Minister Lord North, he was again returned to Parliament, this time for Lymington on a by-election. Gibbon’s Whiggery was solidly conservative: in favour of the propertied oligarchy while upholding the subject’s rights under the rule of law; though staunchly against ideas such as the natural rights of man and popular sovereignty, what he referred to as "the wild & mischievous system of Democracy" (Dickinson, "Politics," 178–79). Gibbon also served on the government’s Board of Trade and Plantations from 1779 until 1782, when the Board was abolished. The subsequent promise of an embassy position in Paris ultimately aborted, serendipitously leaving Gibbon free to focus on his great project.
After several rewrites, with Gibbon "often tempted to throw away the labours of seven years," the first volume of what would become his life’s major achievement, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, was published on 17 February 1776. Through 1777, the reading public eagerly consumed three editions for which Gibbon was rewarded handsomely: two-thirds of the profits amounting to approximately £1,000.Norton, Biblio, pp. 37, 45. Gibbon sold the copyrights to the remaining editions of volume 1 and the remaining 5 volumes to publishers Strahan & Cadell for £8000. The great History earned the author a total of about £9000. Biographer Leslie Stephen wrote that thereafter, "His fame was as rapid as it has been lasting." And as regards this first volume, "Some warm praise from David Hume overpaid the labour of ten years."