✍ Edward Gibbon. Making History [1989]

por Teoría de la historia

51Q-RLkvRUL._AC_UL320_SR204,320_So great is the lingering aura of Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire that, next to the Bible, it must be the most well known unread book in the English-speaking world. Consequently, the past fourteen years have seen a flood of books inspired by the bicentennials of its publication (1776-1789). Porter, a distinguished historian of science, thought, and society in the Eighteenth Century, stands out from the rest. Not only is he eminently readable by a general audience, but he also does not concentrate yet again on Gibbon’s debt to Tacitus, the modern accumulation of non-literary data never available to him, his methodological failures in light of the latest historiographical fad, or supposed psycho-sexual links between the man and his work. Those and many other subjects may be followed up through the excellent bibliographical essay at the end, to which now should be added Jaroslav Pelican’s The Excellent Empire and David Womersley’s The Transformation of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Porter seeks to understand Gibbon within the context of eighteenth-century historiography by comparing and contrasting his ideas of history-writing with those of contemporary British and Continental historians. He shows how Gibbon’s early reading helped stimulate his desire to pursue a literary career and how, after several tentative but useful forays as a writer, he finally settled on becoming the historian of the Roman Empire. Thereupon, he self-consciously prepared himself to combine the fruits of original research as practised by English antiquarians and Continental scholar-clerics, the philosophical approach to history advocated by Enlightenment intellectuals, and the literary polish valued by the best critics of the day. Gibbon’s approach is deftly illustrated by three chapters on power, religion and civilization, barbarism, and progress. In the conclusion, Porter sums up Gibbon as one who “was fascinated by history as the creation of the historian’s mind playing upon the mind of the reader and passionately concerned about its capacity to enlighten, entertain, interest and instruct”. Much the same can be said of Porter, and he will even inspire one to read Gibbon too.

[Allen M. WARD. “Roy Porter. Gibbon. Making History. Historians on Historians. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989. Pp. x, 187” (reseña), in The Classical World, vol. LXXXIV, nº 5, mayo-junio de 1991, pp. 394-395]