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BY THE EDITOR.
to Christian reader of Gibbon's “florid page” will be able, cr will desire, to suppress a deep feeling of sorrow that the mind which could plan and compose the most valuable History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, could find no rest in the truths of Christianity ;--that faith was wanting to consecrate, as it were, a work of consummate skill, industry, and learning ;and that Englishmen have thus been deprived of the boast of having him an historian, who, whilst he could with a masterly hand trace the changes or the ruins of various kingdoms, was able fully to appreciate the privileges of that kingdom which cannot be moved. Now, the student of events and revolutions affecting the fortunes of the mightiest empire which ever existed, is compelled to consult, and cannot fail to admire, an author whose penetration, eloquence, and research, raise him to one of the highest places in literature ; but whose want of belief in revealed Religion, lowers him in our confidence and esteem. It is not, therefore, surprising that some should shrink from reading, and some from recommending a writer, who, according to the observation of the keen and unprejudiced critic, Porson,*
* “ often makes, where he cannot readily find, an occasion to insult our religion; which he hates so cordially, that he might seem to revenge some personal injury.”
The feeling of regret, that an author justly eulogized for his great attainments, was chilled by a baneful scepticism, will also be accompanied with a feeling of distrust. For many will be induced to fear that he, who could not understand the force, and was determined not to conceal his disregard, of the evidences of the Divine origin of the Gospel, must be looked upon with suspicion, when he professes to examine and weigh the evidences of various occurrences which his well-chosen and extensive subject brought before him. It is natural to have some hesitation in bowing to the authority of an historian who can neither estimate the character, nor sympathize with the sufferings of the Church's early martyrs ; and who will not be persuaded that no cause, but the cause of truth, could make such patient and devoted disciples; that no power, less than the power of the Spirit of God could deliver the religion of His Son out of the hand of enemies, and ensure
* Preface to lis Leitors to Archdeacon Travis.
PREFACE TO THIS EDITION.
its propagation amidst tumults and corruptions, and in opposition to long-established and fondly-cherished idolatries.
Hence, very soon after the appearance of Gibbon's first volumes, criticism of a twofold character was arrayed against him ; such as reproved him for errors or insinuations in his treatment of Christ's religion, and such as called in question the accuracy of facts, or the fairness of deductions, in other portions of his history. We may be permitted to express a doubt whether, on all occasions, a due distinction was observed between a criticism, which was searching, and such as was vexatious; between a care to expose real faults, and a too hasty and suspicious zeal, which would overlook real excellences, and disparage or distort correct and innocent statements. It was little glory to Gibbon to gain any victory over unskilful antagonists; though the cause of Divine Truth might seem for a time to suffer through the unguarded assaults or the quick defeat of any, even amongst her most humble champions. The sight of an enemy of so much vigour and stratagem as Gibbon exhibited, would naturally enkindle steadfast believers to engage with him; and some appear to have entered the field without sufficient preparation and without sufficient discernment. “I wish,”* said Porson, whose own few but well-directed strictures on the historian must have been severely felt ; “I wish that every writer who attacks the infidels, would weigh the accusations, and keep a strict watch over himself, lest his zeal should hurry him too far. For when an adversary can effectually overthrow one serious charge out of ten brought against him, the other nine, though they may be both true and important, will pass unheeded by the greater part of readers."
Whatever advantage Gibbon may have gained by any part of the Vindication which he published, yet his hostility to the Gospel seemed too clearly proved. If a spirit of impartiality be urged in his defence, it is of such a nature, that we can feel but little obliged to him for it; for it is an impartiality which seems to check all the animation and all the eloquence which he well knew how to display on events, with whose truth and importance he himself was satisfied.
In his Memoirs we plainly learn the opinion which he formed of the controversy, and of the manner in which it had been conducted, and can give but little heed to the boast, in which he indulges, that the most rational part of the laity, and even of the clergy, appear to have been satisfied of his innocence and accuracy.
During the life of the author, those who mourned over his want of faith, or dreaded the evil effects of hostility, supported by his talents, would, in any observations they felt bound to make,
* Preface to Letters to Archdeacon Travis.