Edward Gibbon – The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire, Volume. One (introduction and prefaces)



this is a librivox recording all librivox recordings are in the public domain for more information or to volunteer visit librivox.org recorded by kirsten ferreri the decline and fall of the roman empire volume 1 by Edward Gibbon preface of the author it is not my intention to detain the reader by expatiate on the variety or the importance of the subject which I have undertaken to treat since the merit of the choice would serve to render the weakness of the execution still more apparent and still less excusable but as I have presumed to lay before the public of first volume only of the history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire it will perhaps be expected that I should explain in a few words the nature and limits of my general plan the memorable series of revolutions which in the course of about 13 centuries gradually undermined and at length destroyed the solid fabric of human greatness may with some propriety be divided into the three following periods the first of these periods may be traced from the age of Trajan and the Antony ins when the Roman monarchy having attained its full strength and maturity began to verge toward its decline and will extend to the subversion of the Western Empire by the barbarians of Germany and Sofia the rude ancestors of the most polished nations of modern Europe this extraordinary revolution which subjected Rome to the power of a gothic Conqueror was completed about the beginning of the sixth century the second period of the decline and fall of Rome may be supposed to commence with the reign of Justinian who by his laws as well as by his victories restored a transient splendor to the eastern empire it will comprehend the invasion of Italy by the lombards the conquest of the Asiatic and African provinces by the Arabs who embraced the religion of Muhammad the revolt of the Roman people against the feeble princes of Constantinople and the elevation of Charlemagne who in the year 800 established the second or German Empire of the West the last and longest of these periods includes about six centuries and a half from the revival of the Western Empire till the taking of Constantinople by the Turks and the extinction of a degenerate race of princes who continued to assume the titles of Caesar and Augustus after their dominions were contracted to the limits of a single city in which the language as well as manners of the ancient Romans had been long since forgotten the writer who should undertake to relate the events of this period would find himself obliged to enter into the general history of the Crusades as far as they contributed to the ruin of the Greek Empire and he would scarcely be able to restrain his curiosity for making some inquiry into the state of the city of Rome during the darkness and confusion of the Middle Ages as I have been tchard perhaps too hastily to commit to the press a work which in every sense of the word deserves the epithet of imperfect I consider myself as contracting an engagement to finish most probably in a second volume the first of these memorable periods and to deliver to the public the complete history of the decline and fall of Rome from the age of the Antoninus to the subversion of the Western Empire with regard to the subsequent periods though I may entertain some hopes I dare not presume to give any assurances the execution of the extensive plan which I have described would connect the ancient and modern history of the world but it would require many years of health a leisure and of perseverance bending Street February 1st 1776 edition the entire history which is now published of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire in the West abundantly discharges my engagements with the public perhaps their favorable opinion may encourage me to prosecute a work which however laborious it may seem is the most agreeable occupation of my leisure hours bent Nick Street March 1st 1781 edition an author easily persuades himself that the public opinion is still favorable to his Labor's and I have now embraced the serious resolution of proceeding to the last period of my original design and of the Roman Empire the taking of Constantinople by the Turks in the Year 1453 the most patient reader who computes that three ponderous volumes have already been employed on the events of four centuries may perhaps be alarmed at the long prospect of 900 years but it is not my intention to expatiate with the same minut nasaan the whole series of the byzantine history at our entrance into this period the reign of Justinian and the conquests of the muhammadans will deserve and detain our attention and the last stage of Constantinople the Crusades and Turks is connected with the revolutions of modern Europe from the 7th to the 11th century the obscure interval will be supplied by a concise narrative of such facts as may still appear either interesting or important that Nick Street March 1st 1782 preface to the first volume diligence and accuracy are the only merits to which an historical writer may ascribe to himself if any merit indeed can be assumed from the performance of an indispensable duty I may therefore be allowed to say that I have carefully examined all the original materials that could illustrate the subject which I had undertaken to treat should I ever complete the extensive design which has been sketched out in the preface I might perhaps conclude it with a critical account of the author's consulted during the progress of the whole work and however such an attempt might incur the censure of ostentation I am persuaded that it would be susceptible of entertainment as well as information at present I shall content myself with a single observation the biographers who under the reins of Diocletian than Constantine composed or rather compiled the lives of the Emperor's from Hadrian to the sons of Karis are usually mentioned under the names of alias party honest Julius Capitolinus alias limb prettiest volka TS Calacanis true bilious polio and Flavius Ville piscis but there is so much perplexity in the titles of the manuscripts and so many disputes that have arisen among the critics concerning their number their names and their respective property that for the most part I have quoted them without distinction under the general and well-known title of the Augustine history preface to the fourth volume of the original quarto edition I now discharge my promise and complete my design of writing the history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire both in the West and in the east the whole period extends from the age of Trajan and the Antony's to the taking of Constantinople by mohammed ii and includes a review of the crusades in the state of rome during the Middle Ages since the publication of my first volume twelve years have elapsed twelve years according to my wish of health of leisure and of perseverance I may now congratulate my deliverance from a long and laborious service and my satisfaction will be pure and perfect if the public favor should be extended to the conclusion of my work it was my first intention to have collected under one view the numerous authors of every age and language from whom I have derived the materials of this history and I am still convinced that the apparent ostentation would be more than compensated by real use if I have renounced this idea if I have declined an undertaking which had obtained the approbation of a master artist my excuse may be found in the extreme difficulty of assigning a proper measure to such a catalogue a naked list of names and additions would not be satisfactory either to myself or my readers the characters of the principal authors of the Roman and Byzantine history have been occasionally connected with the events which they describe a more copious and critical inquiry might indeed deserve but it would demand an elaborate volume which might swell by degrees into a general library of historical writers for the present I shall content myself with renewing my serious protestation that I have always endeavored to draw from my Fountainhead that my curiosity as well as the sense of duty has always urged me to study the originals and that if they have sometimes eluded my search I have carefully marked the secondary evidence on whose faith a passage or fact were reduced to depend I shall soon revisit the banks of the lake of lassen a country which I have known and loved from my early youth under a mild government amidst a beauteous landscape in a life of leisure and independence and among a people of easy and elegant manners I have enjoyed and may again hope to enjoy the varied pleasures of retirement and society but I shall ever glory in the name and character of an Englishman I am proud of my birth in a free and enlightened country and the approbation of that country is the best and most honorable reward of my Labour's where I ambitious of any other patron than the public I would inscribe this work to a statesman who in a long a stormy and at length an unfortunate administration had many political opponents almost without a personal enemy who has retained in his fall from power many faithful and disinterested friends and who under the pressure of severe infirmity enjoys the lively figure of his mind and the Felicity of his incomparable temper Lord North will permit me to express the feelings of friendship in the language of truth but even truth and friendship should be silent if he is still dispensed the favors of the crown in a remote solitude vanity may still whisper in my ear that my readers perhaps may inquire whether in the conclusion of the present work I am now taking an everlasting farewell they shall hear all that I know myself and all that I could reveal to the most intimate friend the motives of action or silence are now equally balanced nor can I pronounce in my most secret thoughts on which side the scale will preponderate I cannot dissemble that 6-quart hose must have tried and may have exhausted the indulgence of the public that in the repetition of similar attempts a successful author has much more to lose than he can hope to gain that I am now descending into the veil of years and that the most respectable of my countrymen the men whom I aspired to imitate have resigned the pen of history about the same period of their lives yet I consider that the annals of ancient and modern times may afford many rich and interesting subjects that I am still possessed of health and leisure that by the practice of writing some skill and facility must be acquired and that in the ardent pursuit of truth and knowledge I am not conscious of decay to an active mind indolence is more painful than labour and the first months of my Liberty will be occupied and amused in the excursions of curiosity and taste by such temptations I have been sometimes seduced from the rigid duty even of a pleasing and voluntary task but my time will now be my own and in the use or abuse of Independence I shall no longer fear my own reproaches or those of my friends I am fairly entitled to a year of Jubilee next summer and the following winter will rapidly pass away and experience only can determine whether I shall still prefer the freedom and variety of study to the design and composition of a regular work which animates while it confines the daily application of the author Caprice and accident may influence my choice but the dexterity of self-love will contrive to applaud either active industry or philosophic repose Downing Street May 1st 1788 edition I shall embrace this opportunity of introducing to verbal remarks which have not conveniently offered themselves to my notice one as often as I use the definitions of beyond the Alps the Rye in the Danube etc and generally suppose myself at Rome and afterwards at Constantinople without observing whether this relative geography may agree with the local but variable situation of the reader or the historian – in proper names of foreign and especially of Oriental origin it should always be our aim to Express our English version a faithful copy of the original but this rule which is founded on a just regard to uniformity and truth must often be relaxed and the exceptions will be limited or enlarged by the custom of the language in the taste of the interpreter our alphabets may often be defective a harsh sound an uncouth spelling might offend the ear or eye of our countrymen and some words notoriously corrupt are fixed as it were naturalized in the vulgar tongue the Prophet Mohammed can no longer be stripped of the famous though improper appellation of Mohammed the well-known cities of Aleppo Damascus and Cairo would be almost lost in the strange descriptions of Halab dimashq and al-qahirah the titles and offices of the Ottoman Empire are fashioned by the practice of 300 years and we are pleased to blend the three Chinese mono syllables compute C in the respectable name of Confucius or even to adopt the Persian corruption of Mandarin but I would vary the use of Zoroaster introduced as I drew my information from Greece or Persia since our connection with India the genuine temor is restored to the throne of Tamerlane our most correct writers have retrenched the all the superfluous article from the Quran and we escape an ambiguous termination by adopting Moslem instead of muscleman in the plural number in these and in a thousand examples the shades of distinction are often minut and I can feel where I cannot explain the motives of my choice and of the premises

Michael Martin

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