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MEMOIRS OF EDWARD GIBBON, ESQ.
THE biographer seldom contemplates a character which he could dwell on with more fatisfaction than the subject of these memoirs; less seldom are we enabled to ascertain, with equal precision, the lise of a man so celebrated in the republic of letters, by the assistance of posthumous papers, of which the writer fays, "Truth, naked, unblushing truth, the sirst virtue of more serious history, must be the sole recommendation." Indeed, the commotion occasioned by an attack on the religion of Jesus, in the 15th chapter of the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, seemed to demand an apology for the lise of one who excited, in the desenders of Christianity, upwards of j;rty answers in support of its doctrines.
Edward Gibbon derives his origin from an ancient family of that name, in the South Weald of the county of Kent, one of whom, John Gibbon, is discerned as the respectable architect to Edward III.; and, in the beginning of the seventeenth century, a younger branch of the Gibbons' of Rolvenden, (from whom he deduces a timeworn genealogy) migrated from the country to the city. He deemed it his s/;;V/"honour to have lineally descended, in the eleventh degree, from James Fiens, Baron Say and Seale, Lord High Treasurer of England in the reign of Henry VI. beheaded in an insurrection in Vol. I. I »45°1450. The arms of the Gibbons' were used at an era when the college of Heralds religiously guarded the distinctions of blood and name: a lion rampant gurdant, between three scallop-shells argent, on a sield azure. Such is the device with which the age of chivalry hath distinguished his family, one of whom, John Gibbon, was every way qualisied and circumstanced by his appointment to the ofsice of blue-mantle, soon after the restoration, to embellish and illustrate these signets. However, it is no disgrace that the father of John was a member of the clothworkers' company, and his brother Robert did not aspire above the station of a linen draper, in Leadenhall-street. Edward, the sirst we meet with of that name, was appointed one of the Commiflioners of the Customs, under the Tory administration of Queen Anne, and a Director of the South Sea Company in 1716; in the fatal catastrophe of which, sixty thoufand pounds, the well earned labours of thirty years, were blasted in a single day. This gentleman, who was Mr. Gibbon's grandfather, appears npt to have been involved in the villainy of that scheme; though a pittance of ten thoufand pounds was the largest sum that an irritated parliament could be induced to allow from the wreck of a princely fortune. On these ruins, with the skill and credit of which parliament had not been able to despoil him, old Mr. Gibbon erected the edisice of a new fortune: the labours of sixteen years were amply rewarded; for there is reason to believe that the second structure was not much inserior to the sirst.
Edward Gibbon (the second), father of the subject of these memoirs, received his education at Westminster-school, afterwards at Emanuel College, Cambridge, and is represented by the son as making the tour of Europe, without many of those benesits the not over fanguine parent might hope for and expect from this fashionable route. He married Judith, youngest daughter of Mr. James Porten, a London merchant,
and sister to Sir Stanier Porten. The produce of this union were sive brothers, besides Edward, all of whom died young, and a sister, whose lise was somewhat prolonged. For this sister, whom he persectly remembers, Mr. Gibbon expresses much affection. He fays, further, "the relation of brother and sister, especially if they do not marry, appear to me of a very singular nature. It is a familiar and tender friendship with a semale much about our own age; an affection, perhaps, softened by the secret influence of sex, but pure from any mixture of sensual desire, the sole species of platonic love that can be indulged with truth, and without danger *."
Though the sirst-born of this short-lived race, Mr. Gibbon did not possess much superior strength of body with the right of primogeniture. From the moment of his birth, at Putney, in the county of Surry, the 17th April, 1737, to his ninth year, the chance of death was multiplied against his infant existence. Continual sickness and frequent pregnancy, prevented his mother from paying the usual attention to this sickly plant; but the maternal office was supplied by his aunt, Mrs. Catherine Porten, at the mention of whose name his manly cheek consessed the tribute of gratitude. To her fostering hand he attributes a lise of painful existence. His grateful heart often returns to the mention of this amiable woman; and biography becomes useful, when enriched with such sentiments as the following: "My weakness excited her pity; her attachment was fortisied by labour and success; and if there be any who rejoice that I live, to that dear and excellent woman must they hold themselves indebted."
After the usual rudiments of education at home, or at a day-school in Putney; master of reading, writing,
* " Without danger"—What is here meant it is not ealy to understand. The question is not now whether Platonic love be possible; but if this be the "sole species," or not?
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