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Archive for December, 2007

The Luminous Historian, Part III

Remember, this week is your last chance to see the exhibit. We’ll be closed after Friday until the New Year, when I have to take it down.

The first volume of the Decline and Fall was originally planned for a run of 500 copies, but halfway through printing advance demand was such that this was increased to 1,000. Nevertheless, the entire edition sold out within a fortnight, necessitating a second edition of 1,500 copies. This too sold briskly, and the work was in its fourth edition by 1781, notwithstanding the appearance of a cheaper Dublin piracy. This receipt for the profits from the first two editions of the first volume is signed by Gibbon and the publisher, Thomas Cadell.

Edward Gibbon Decline and Fall receipt

Gibbon was just ten years old when his mother died, after which he was largely raised by his aunt, Catherine Porten. Some sense of the bond between them can be gleaned from the gratitude that comes through in his presentation inscription on this volume, despite its 18th century formality.

Eward Gibbon inscription to Catherine Porten

Published in:John Overholt |on December 19th, 2007 |Comments Off on The Luminous Historian, Part III

The Luminous Historian, Part II

As I mentioned last time, Edward Gibbon had a very large personal library, which he kept track of with a then very modern device: the card catalog. Though most of the catalog now resides in the British Library, we’re fortunate enough to have one of his cards which, like the majority of them, is written on the blank back of a playing card, in this case an ace of diamonds. In the exhibit, I’ve propped it up in front of a mirror so that visitors can see both sides of the card.

Edward Gibbon catalog card

In 1774, Gibbon was elected to The Club (also known as The Literary Club) a group founded by Sir Joshua Reynolds and consisting initially of Samuel Johnson’s circle of friends, but eventually expanding to include most of the great minds of the period. Gibbon was apparently admitted over the objections of James Boswell, who disliked him intensely. Gibbon later served as president of The Club, and in that capacity sent this letter to the great Shakespearean scholar Edmond Malone, informing him of his admission.

Edward Gibbon welcomes Edmund Malone to The Club

One more post still to come, hopefully before the exhibit ends!

Published in:John Overholt |on December 2nd, 2007 |Comments Off on The Luminous Historian, Part II