Gibbon was unabashed in acknowledging that his career as an historian was fuelled by a desire for fame, and the success of The Decline and Fall indeed furnished him with 'a name, a rank, a character, in the World' to which he would not otherwise have been entitled. Eventually this public reputation was pleasing to him, and nourished his innocent vanity. Initially, however, it was a reputation he resented, and was determined to resist. In particular, the denunciation by the spokesmen for religious orthodoxy of Gibbon's treatment of Christianity was (so Gibbon contended) a vicious misrepresentation. The subject of this book is the story of the conflict between Gibbon and those he mockingly dubbed the 'Watchmen of the Holy City', and it explores the ramifications of an elusive aspect of authorship. By considering the sequence of interactions between the historian and his readership, Womersley makes possible a more intimate understanding of what might be called Gibbon's experience of himself.
At the same time he deepens our knowledge of the conditions of English authorship during the later decades of the eighteenth and the early decades of the nineteenth centuries, from the opening of the war with the American colonies, down to the successful conclusion of the wars with revolutionary and Napoleonic France.
a delightful book ... Womersley's scholarship is both impressive and endearing. Journal of Religious History Womersley has produced a signally effective study of the various processes which create an authorial reputation, assiduously demonstrating how careful documentary reconstruction can restore the rich textuality of a writer's life ... This is a major contribution not only to Gibbon scholarship but also to methodology. Review of English Studies Erudite and absorbing new book ... David Womersley has written an important book; it greatly increases our sense of the ways in which Gibbon's self-fashioning went on within the pages of his major works ... Womersley has taken us where none have ventured before, in showing Gibbon as a Bowdler-like censor of his own ongoing productions. Pat Rogers, Times Literary Supplement
Note on References
I: The Historian and his Reputation, 1776-1788
1: Revision and Religion
2: Forging a Polemical Style: Gibbon's Vindication and Literary Warfare, 1694-1779
3: 'Too deeply into the mud of the Arian controversy': Gibbon and the early Church Fathers
4: 'Enthusiasm and Imposture': Gibbon and Mahomet
II: After The Decline and Fall
5: Gibbon's Unfinished History
6: The 'Memoirs': Autobiography in Time of Revolution
7: 'As common as any the most vulgar thing to sense': Three Versions of the Death of a Father
8: 'Fourteen months, the most barren and unprofitable of my whole life': Five Versions of Residence in Oxford
III: Miscellaneous Works
9: The Making of Gibbon's Miscellaneous Works