The Influence of Switzerland on the Life and Writings of Edward Gibbon

Norman, Brian (1999). The Influence of Switzerland on the Life and Writings of Edward Gibbon. PhD thesis The Open University.



The purpose of this thesis is to demonstrate, through close examination of Gibbon’s lesser writings, in addition to his well-known works, the importance of Switzerland in his life and thinking. The texts used for this study are his Journal de mon voyage, written at the age of eighteen in 1755, his Letter on the Government of Berne, which is established here as a composition of the 1750’s, his Essai sur l'Étude de la Littérature, the Journals which cover the years up to his tour of Italy in 1764, the topographical survey of classical Italy entitled Nomina, gentesque antiquae Italiae, and his Introduction à l'Histoire Générale de la République des Suisses, with reference throughout to The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the Memoirs and his Letters.

It was in Lausanne that he completed his education, began his first published work, the Essai, and entered into a society which was close to the centre of “The Enlightenment”, enlivened as it was by the presence of Voltaire. Switzerland remained persistently in Gibbon’s thoughts after his return to England in 1758; its society caused him to reside in Lausanne eleven months while he prepared for his tour of Italy in 1763/4; and the origins and evolution of Switzerland continued to be his preferred subject for his historical writings until 1767. Later, Lausanne offered him the society and historical resources which he desired when completing the last three volumes of his major work.

The main findings of this study establish Switzerland as a major influence on his feelings for liberty, independence and industry; the example of its communal assemblies and commitment to military preparedness formed an essential political reference in the historical judgements in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. As a result of his experience of Switzerland, Gibbon is more aware of the value of a free peasantry, and he applauds the benefits of industry and commerce to the community as a whole.

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