Posted by: ken98 | May 25, 2011

Mighty Ruin, Dismal Folly, Well-Founded Bliss, and Reasonable Blessings

Day 621 – Ken here (W)(5-25-2011)
(DEF II, v.3,4, Grand Finale ch.38,39 pp.510-520)(pages read: 1570)

Sunrise - Gibbon waxes optimistic as the West finally collapses into a set of barbarian successor kingdoms and Gibbon reflects on the Larger Picture With Application To The Present (in his General Observations at the end of volume 3 - where we are RIGHT NOW).

Sunrise - Gibbon waxes optimistic as the West finally collapses into a set of barbarian successor kingdoms and Gibbon reflects on the Larger Picture With Application To The Present (in his General Observations at the end of volume 3 - where we are RIGHT NOW).

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).

 

The Story
 
Praise of Rome
 
  • War
  • Government
  • Conquests
  • Honor, Valor, Patriotism
  •  

    Reasons For Fall
     
  • Vices – the vices of strangers and mercenaries (hmmm – kind of the opposite of relying on the kindness of strangers – I wonder what those vices were)
  • That old workhorse – LUXURY
  • Divided the empire and thereby DOUBLED the cost of government
  • Reason East survives is because Constantinople is SO VERY HARD TO TAKE
  • Christianity – preaching meekness and turning the other cheek and otherworldliness – opp. of what made the Romans great
  • Monks – leeches all – he hates all monks
  • Eunuchs – usual Gibbonian subtext here
  • Overwhelmed by barbarian tribes – the nomads of the Eur-Asian steppes that menaced India, China, Persia, as well as Europe – esp. the Huns of the 400′s
  •  

    Why it Won’t/Can’t Happen Again
     
  • Europe is divided now – into countries, republics, etc – much harder to conquer at one fell swoop
  • There are no more barbarians to invade Europe – the northern ones (Scandinavians) are all PART of Europe now – the Asian ones are bottled up by Russia
  • Europe is now more technologically advanced and can withstand future invasions
  •  

     

    Church at Ivry La Bataille, France with French Revolutionary inscription - from 1793 - Temple of Reason and Philosophy.  Churches were closed and re-opened as Temples of Reason during the first years of the French Revolution.  Almost a holy ecstasy celebrating the powers of men's reason flooded France, Gibbon anticipates this Enlightenment Frenzy in his epilogue to Chapter 38 and the end of his volume 3

    Church at Ivry La Bataille, France with French Revolutionary inscriptions - from 1793 - " Temple of Reason and Philosophy, Liberty Equality Brotherhood. " What more was there to say? Churches were closed and re-opened as Temples of Reason during the first years of the French Revolution. Almost a holy ecstasy celebrating the powers of men's reason flooded France, Gibbon anticipates this Enlightenment Frenzy in his epilogue to Chapter 38 and the end of his volume 3


     

    Amen! Brother Edward, Amen!
     

    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.

     
     

    Portriat of Voltaire and the famous smile (of reason) - although Gibbon was not an unqualified fan of Voltaire, the sunny, rational visage Voltaire presented to the world would have met with Gibbon's enthusiastic approval

    Portriat of Voltaire and the famous smile (of reason) - although Gibbon was not an unqualified fan of Voltaire, the sunny, rational visage Voltaire presented to the world would have met with Gibbon's enthusiastic approval


     

    Last Word…
    Gibbon’s That is….
     

    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)

    And again,

    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)
     

    An etching of a younger, apparently somewhat hesitant, but actually fervently determined Gibbon - the glow of rationality lighting his youthful features

    An etching of a younger (well, he looks younger to me), apparently somewhat hesitant, but actually fervently determined Gibbon - the glow of rationality lighting his youthful features


     

    and now….. finally…… to bed.

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    Responses

    1. I liked his footnote where he said that he was pleased that the Americans spoke English.


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