Wednesday 8 May 2019

Gibbon, Not

The great historian and prose stylist Edward Gibbon was born on this date in 1737. While few these days undertake the demanding project of reading his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in its entirety, Gibbon's reputation lives on, partly in the form of quotations widely circulated on the internet. One of these goes like this:

'The five marks of the Roman decaying culture:
Concern with displaying affluence instead of building wealth;
Obsession with sex and perversions of sex;
Art becomes freakish and sensationalistic instead of creative and original;
Widening disparity between very rich and very poor;
Increased demand to live off the state.'

You don't need to be George Saintsbury to sense that there's something wrong here. Gibbon, who wrote in beautifully balanced sentences and paragraphs, was not a man much given to bullet-point presentation, nor was he an early adopter of the numerous anachronisms that pepper this supposed quotation. However, it thrives on many quotation sites on the internet and is no doubt passed around in meme form, along with similarly bogus quotations from the likes of Lincoln and Jefferson, Churchill, Orwell and Gandhi.
  Never mind. Here's one of my favourite genuine quotations from Gibbon:

'Unprovided with original learning, unformed in the habits of thinking, unskilled in the arts of composition, I resolved to write a book.'

I'm tempted to use it as an epigraph for my book...


1 comment:

  1. Like doctor Johnson, i detest Gibbon. But i like this phrase