Day 621 – Ken here (W)(5-25-2011)
(DEF II, v.3,4, Grand Finale ch.38,39 pp.510-520)(pages read: 1570)
Its very late (like almost – no past midnight now) and I (stupidly again) put off reading and blogging until AFTER I’d done everything else I could think of doing first (can anyone say procrastination?). Well, and such a wrong day to breeze over. This is Gibbon’s Grand Thesis Statement: “Why It Fell and Why We Won’t.” I almost would like to include it verbatim in one, long unseemly QUOTE – I wish I could (like a congressperson) READ IT INTO THE RECORD – just go and read it yourself sometime – look at the end of Volume 3 – called “General Observations on the Fall of the Roman Empire in the West.”
He has many themes crammed into 8 eloquence-heavy pages: praise of ancient Rome, Reasons for the Fall (vice, luxury, the division of the Empire, Christianity, Monks (he HATES monks), Eunuchs (he HATES eunuchs too), and division and strife. Oh, and the barbarian hordes too.
Gibbon, usefully, makes application of Rome’s example for the present (or “Why it Won’t Happen Again – to ALL OF EUROPE again that is”): the barbarians are all gone (even the Swedes and Norwegians and Finns – all Christians now), Europe is divided into separate countries, and so less likely to fall all at once (like the empire did), Europeans have knowledge and tools greater than the ancients had and will hopefully keep them.
In the end, actually, Gibbon is just happy (oddly for such a crusty character as Gibbon) to be alive at such an amazing time in human history.
Gibbon could have, but Wordsworth did (later) say (about the French Revolution and the Triumph of Reason just a year away from 1788, the publ. date of vol.3) – ”Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very Heaven!” The Prelude; XI. France (l. 108-109) .
Anyways… enough of that – on to, well, the end, I guess (of the 1st half).
Like hearing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, I feel I should have been standing as I read the last 8 pages of volume 3 – What An Ending! Thunderous chords, huge, overarching arguments, an uncharacteristically hope-FUL paean to man and esp. modern man (remembering that modern man to Gibbon is European-Enlightenment-Late-Eighteenth-Century-Pre-Revolutionary-France man).
Ah, the untarnished belief in the positive progression and improvement of man! The sweet, certain and never-failing certainty of reason and reasonable men! Oh, the achingly, inevitable perfection of the future and the growing signs of that gentle, unyielding order in the present (Gibbon’s present – the 1780’s that is).
These last 8 pages have actually some therapeutic value – they induce hope – at least they did in me – granted, at 1am in the morning, and on a school night, but still, the effect was perceived by yours truly – – – but don’t take my word for it – TRY THEM OUT FOR YOURSELF – – – read the General Observations – somewhere around page 508 in the 2nd book, volume 3.
In his own words:
… a philosopher may be permitted to enlarge his views, and to consider Europe as one great republic, whose various inhabitants have attained almost the same level of politeness and cultivation. The balance of power will continue to fluctuate, and the prosperity of our own or the neighbouring kingdoms may be alternately exalted or depressed; but these partial events cannot essentially injure our general state of happiness, the system of arts, and laws, and manners, which so advantageously distinguish, above the rest of mankind, the Europeans and their colonies.
(DEF ii, vol 3, Gen Observ, p.514)
Yet the experience of four thousand years should enlarge our hopes and diminish our apprehensions: we cannot determine to what height the human species may aspire in their advance towards perfection;
(DEF ii, vol 3, Gen Observ, p.515)
And yet, again,
Since the first discovery of the arts, war, commerce, and religious zeal have diffused among the savages of the Old and New World these inestimable gifts: they have been successively propagated; they can never be lost. We may therefore acquiesce in the pleasing conclusion that every age of the world has increased and still increases the real wealth, the happiness, the knowledge, and perhaps the virtue, of the human race.
(DEF ii, vol.3, Gen Observ, p.516)
and now….. finally…… to bed.