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  Gibbon’s earlier life Essai sur l’Étude de la Littérature  


The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.

XIII. Historians.

§ 4. His residence at Lausanne.

No sooner had Gibbon left Oxford than his taste for study returned, and he essayed original composition in an essay on the chronology of the age of Sesostris. But the situation had another side for a “practical” man like the elder Gibbon, who might well view with alarm the worldly consequences entailed, at that time, by conversion to Roman catholicism. He seems to have tried the effect upon his son of the society of David Mallet, a second-rate writer patronised in turn by Pope, Bolingbroke and Hume. But Mallet’s philosophy “rather scandalised than reclaimed” the convert, and threats availed as little as arguments. For, as he confesses, in his inimitable way, he “cherished a secret hope that his father would not be able or willing to effect his menaces,” while “the pride of conscience” encouraged the youth “to sustain the honourable and important part which he was now acting.” Accordingly, change of scene (and of environment) was resolved upon as the only remedy left. In June, 1753, he was sent by his father to Lausanne, where he was settled under the roof and tuition of a Calvinist minister named Pavillard, who afterwards described to Lord Sheffield “the astonishment with which he gazed on Mr. Gibbon standing before him: a thin little figure” (time was to render the first epithet inappropriate), “with a large head, disputing and urging, with the greatest ability, all the best arguments that had ever been used in favour of Popery.” 11    7
  To Lausanne, Gibbon became so attached that, after he had returned thither in the days of his maturity and established reputation, it became, in Byron’s words  12  one of
the abodes
Of names which unto [them] bequeath’d a name.
His Swiss tutor’s treatment of him was both kindly and discreet, and, without grave difficulty, weaned the young man’s mind from the form of faith to which he had tendered his allegiance. In matters spiritual, Gibbon inclined rather to frivolity than to deliberate change; nor was this the only illustration of a disposition of mind “clear” as the air and “light” like the soil of Attica, and one in which some of the highest and of the deepest feelings alike failed to take root. It is, at the same time, absurd to waste indignation (as, for instance, Schlosser has done) upon his abandonment of an early engagement to a lady of great beauty and charm, Suzanne Curchod, who afterwards became the wife of the celebrated Necker. The real cause of the rupture was the veto of his father, upon whom he was wholly dependent, and whose decision neither of the lovers could ignore. 13 

Note 11Letters, vol. I, p. 2, note. [ back ]
Note 12Childe Harold, canto III, st. 105. For an account of Lausanne and the Gibbon relics there and elsewhere, see Read, Meredith, Historic Studies in Vaud, Berne and Savoy, 2 vols., 1897: vol. II in especial. [ back ]
Note 13. A full account of their relations from first to last, characteristic of both the man and the age, will be found in an editorial note to Letters, vol. I, p. 40, and cf. ibid., vol. I, p. 81, note, as to “the last phase.” In June, 1794, Maria Josepha wrote: “I thought I had told you that Madame Necker had the satisfaction of going out of the world with the knowledge of being Mr. Gibbon’s First and Only love” (Girlhood, p. 288). The passage in the Memoirs referring to Gibbon’s renunciation of his engagement, was, as F. Harrison shows, unscrupulously recast by Lord Sheffield. [ back ]

  Gibbon’s earlier life Essai sur l’Étude de la Littérature  

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