Gibbon’s solitude

September 21 2013

Edward Gibbon, during his voluntary spells of residence in his father’s country house at Buriton, [...] found himself goaded into making time for intellectual work by early rising, under pressure [...] of “social” demands on his time.

“At home I occupied a pleasant and spacious apartment; the library on the same floor was soon considered as my peculiar domain, and I might say with truth that I was never less alone than when I was by myself. My sole complaint, which I piously suppressed, arose from the kind restraint imposed on the freedom of my time. By the habit of early rising I always secured a sacred portion of the day, and many scattered moments were stolen and employed by my studious industry. But the family hours of breakfast, of dinner, of tea, and of supper were regular and long: after breakfast Mrs. Gibbon expected my company in her dressing-room; after tea my father claimed my conversation and the perusal of the newspapers; and in the midst of an interesting work I was often called down to receive the visit of some idle neighbours. Their dinners and visits required, in due season, a similar return; and I dreaded the period of the full moon, which was usually reserved for our more distant excursions.” – The Autobiographies of Edward Gibbon (London 1896, Murray), Memoir B, pp. 162-3. Cp. Memoir C, p. 286.

The version in Memoir C reads:

“My litterary leisure was much less compleat and independent than it might appear to the eye of a stranger: in the hurry of London I was destitute of books; in the solitude of Hampshire I was not master of my time. By the habit of early rising I always secured a sacred portion of the day; and many precious moments were stolen and saved by my rational avarice. But the family hours of breakfast and dinner, of tea and supper, were regular and tedious: after breakfast Mrs. Gibbon expected my company in her dressing-room; after tea my father claimed my conversation and the perusal of the Newspapers. In the heat of some interesting pursuit, I was called down to receive the visits of our idle neighbours; their civilities required a suitable return; and I dreaded the period of the full moon, which was usually reserved for our more distant excursions. My quiet was gradually disturbed by our domestic anxiety; and I should be ashamed of my unfeeling philosophy, had I found much time or taste for study in the last fatal summer (1770) of my father’s decay and dissolution.”

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

One Response to “Gibbon’s solitude”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    The visitor, not the host, was showing civility.


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