Edward Gibbon : biography
Gibbon’s apparent antagonism to Christian doctrine spilled over into the Jewish faith, leading to charges of anti-Semitism. For example, he wrote:
From the reign of Nero to that of Antoninus Pius, the Jews discovered a fierce impatience of the dominion of Rome, which repeatedly broke out in the most furious massacres and insurrections. Humanity is shocked at the recital of the horrid cruelties which they committed in the cities of Egypt, of Cyprus, and of Cyrene, where they dwelt in treacherous friendship with the unsuspecting natives; and we are tempted to applaud the severe retaliation which was exercised by the arms of legions against a race of fanatics, whose dire and credulous superstition seemed to render them the implacable enemies not only of the Roman government, but also of humankind.Womersley, ed., Decline and Fall, vol. 1, ch. XVI, p. 516. Gibbon’s first footnote here reveals even more about why his detractors reacted so harshly: In Cyrene, [the Jews] massacred 220,000 Greeks; in Cyprus, 240,000; in Egypt, a very great multitude. Many of these unhappy victims were sawed asunder, according to a precedent to which David had given the sanction of his examples. The victorious Jews devoured the flesh, licked up the blood, and twisted the entrails like a girdle around their bodies. see Dion Cassius l.lxviii, p. 1145. As a matter of fact, this is a verbatim citation from : Meanwhile the Jews in the region of Cyrene had put one Andreas at their head and were destroying both the Romans and the Greeks. They would cook their flesh, make belts for themselves of their entrails, anoint themselves with their blood, and wear their skins for clothing. Many they sawed in two, from the head downwards. Others they would give to wild beasts and force still others to fight as gladiators. In all, consequently, two hundred and twenty thousand perished. In Egypt, also, they performed many similar deeds, and in Cyprus under the leadership of Artemio. There, likewise, two hundred and forty thousand perished. For this reason no Jew may set foot in that land, but even if one of them is driven upon the island by force of the wind, he is put to death. Various persons took part in subduing these Jews, one being Lusius, who was sent by Trajan.
Gibbon is considered to be a son of the Enlightenment and this is reflected in his famous verdict on the history of the Middle Ages: "I have described the triumph of barbarism and religion."Womersley, Decline and Fall, vol. 3, ch. LXXI, p. 1068. However, politically, he aligned himself with the conservative Edmund Burke’s rejection of the democratic movements of the time as well as with Burke’s dismissal of the "rights of man."Burke supported the American rebellion, while Gibbon sided with the ministry; but with regard to the French Revolution they shared a perfect revulsion. Despite their agreement on the FR, Burke and Gibbon "were not specially close," owing to Whig party differences and divergent religious beliefs, not to mention Burke’s sponsorship of the Civil List and Secret Service Money Act 1782 which abolished, and therefore cost Gibbon his place on, the government’s Board of Trade and Plantations in 1782. see Pocock, "The Ironist," ¶: "Both the autobiography…."
Gibbon’s work has been praised for its style, his piquant epigrams and its effective irony. Winston Churchill memorably noted, "I set out upon…Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire [and] was immediately dominated both by the story and the style. …I devoured Gibbon. I rode triumphantly through it from end to end and enjoyed it all."Winston Churchill, My Early Life: A Roving Commission (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958), p. 111. Churchill modelled much of his own literary style on Gibbon’s. Like Gibbon, he dedicated himself to producing a "vivid historical narrative, ranging widely over period and place and enriched by analysis and reflection."Roland Quinault, "Winston Churchill and Gibbon," in Edward Gibbon and Empire, eds. R. McKitterick and R. Quinault (Cambridge: 1997), 317–332, at p. 331; Pocock, "Ironist," ¶: "Both the autobiography…."