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PRINTED FOR BELL AND BRADFUTE, PETER HILL, SILVESTER NOTE
THIS great historian was born at Putney, in the county
of Surrey, on the 27th April 1737. His paternal ancestors were persons of some distinction. His grandfather, Edward, was first a commissioner of customs, and afterwards a director of the South Sea Company. In this last capacity, he lost the greatest part of his fortune, and no small share of his reputation, though his grandson has endeavoured to justify him from the severe charges brought against that body. He contrived to retrieve his fortune; but, displeased with his son, who was also named Edward, on account of a matrimonial connection, he left him only a small share of the estate. Edward, however, received a liberal education, was twice member of Parliament, and distinguished himself by a persevering opposition to Sir Robert Walpole. He was married to Judith Porten, daughter of a citizen of London, by whom he had six sons and a daughter, all of whom died in their infancy except the subject of the present memoir. His own constitution was so extremely weak, that he was scarcely expected to reach the age of manhood; and his father, that the patronymic name of Edward might not fail from the family, repeated it at the baptism of every successive son. His infancy was nursed in the most tender manner by his aunt, Mrs. Catherine Porten, to
38 X 1084
whom he declares those to be indebted who were re joiced at his having lived.
As soon as young Gibbon became capable of imbibing the rudiments of learning, he was placed under the domestic tuition of a Mr. Kirkby, a learned and unfortunate man, for whom, almost alone of his early instructors, he seems to entertain respect and gratitude. He received from him the rudiments of English and Latin; but poor Kirkby, having one day unfortunately forgot to mention King George in his prayer, the zealous loyalty of old Gibbon prompted his immediate dismissal. Edward was then sent to the school of Kingston upon Thames. Here he made some progress in Latin, though his studies were frequently interrupted. by ill health. At the end of two years, however, his mother died; and this circumstance, it does not exactly appear how, occasioned his return to the parental roof. Here he again found himself under the care of his aunt, who now bestowed the same care in the cultivation of his mind, which she had formerly devoted to the strengthening of his constitution. Here he seems to have first imbibed that passion for study which continued ever after to be his ruling propensity. He indulged in a course of desultory reading, as inclination or curiosity prompted. The following account, given by himself, of his early studies, cannot fail to be interesting.
"I should, perhaps, be astonished, were it possible to ascertain the date at which a favourite tale was engraved, by frequent repetition, in my memory: the Cavern of the Winds, the Palace of Felicity, and the fatal moment, at the end of three months or centuries, when Prince Adolphus is overtaken by Time, who had worn out so many pair of wings in the pursuit. Before I left Kingston school, I was well acquainted with Pope's Homer, and the Arabian Nights Entertainments, two books which will always please, by the moving picture of human manners and specious mi
racles: nor was I then capable of discerning that Pope's translation is a portrait endowed with every merit, except that of likeness to the original. The verses of Pope accustomed my ear to the sound of poetic harmony. In the death of Hector, and the shipwreck of Ulysses, I tasted the new emotions of terror and pity; and seriously disputed with my aunt on the vices and virtues of the heroes of the Trojan war. From Pope's Homer to Dryden's Virgil was an easy transition; but I know not how, from some fault in the author, the translator, or the reader, the pious Eneas did not so forcibly seize on my imagination; and I derived more pleasure from Ovid's Metamorphoses, especially in the fall of Phaton, and the speeches of Ajax and Ulysses. My grandfather's flight unlocked the door of a tolerable library; and I turned over many English pages of poetry and romance, of history and travels. Where a title attracted my eye, without fear or awe I snatched the volume from the shelf, and Mrs. Porten, who indulged herself in moral and religious speculalations, was more prone to encourage than to check a curiosity above the strength of a boy This year, (1748) the twelfth of my age, I shall note as the most propitious to the growth of my intellectual stature."
Another change took place in the state of the family by the bankruptcy of his grandfather, who absconded in consequence. His aunt then, with a becoming pride, resolved not to be dependent on the bounty of her friends. She submitted to the humble employment of keeping a boarding house for Westminster school, and thus earned a competence for her old age. This circumstance led to the plan of sending Edward to that seminary. His attendance, however, was interrupted by frequent intervals of ill health, and his disorder at length became so violent, that it was necessary to remove him from school, and send him to Bath. For two years succeeding, his scholastic instruction was