11/22/10

His Father's Son

On May 8, 1757, a sickly boy was born into the world. His father named him Edward, after himself.

Edward stayed sickly but stayed alive, his six siblings all dying in infancy. Too frail to attend classes, his father employed tutors to make sure he kept up. And when at nine years old he was well enough to go off to grammar school, his mother died and he was brought back home. Edward shed no tears, she’d always been neglectful, but now it was just he and his father in the seclusion of that damp and drafty South London mansion.

He was sent off to live in a boarding house.

“Your Aunt Kitty will see to your upbringing,” he said as he closed the carriage door, “don’t disappoint me, Edward.”

He didn’t. He studied voraciously and with an appetite for reading that surprised even him. At fifteen, his father deemed him ready for Oxford. But after an unprofitable 14 months, he was back at his father’s house, expelled from college because of a religious conversion.

“I’ve arranged for you to study in Switzerland with a Reformed pastor,” his father fumed, “He’ll see to it that you abandon your disgraceful Romishness.” An additional threatened disinheritance produced in him a sudden reconversion to the faith of his father.

When he fell in love and considered marriage, his father disapproved and he abandoned her.

When his father joined the militia, Edward did too.

He even followed his father into Parliament.

When Edward Gibbon completed his unsurpassed magnum opus, he laid ruinous cause upon the shoulders of a distant and domineering power: organized religion. Perhaps if he had been healthier at the end of his unhappy life, he may have also recognized the long shadow of a distant and domineering power in his own.

2 comments:

pennyyak said...

Such a influential writer - and his life was fraught with all those rather ordinary tangles. A humanizing story - I sure liked it.

cyurkanin said...

"ordinary tangles" - good phrase. Thanks Penny!