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This blog makes liberal use of AB's journals, letters, travel notes, and other sources.
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Thursday, 10 August 2017
Decline and Fall
There are no doubt many people, like myself, who have a complete "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" on their bookshelves and yet have never read it. It must be admitted to be just the least bit daunting! I bought Gibbon's master work in an eight volume set about twenty years ago and it has looked very handsome on the shelves ever since. I have occasionally "dipped in" but more from an outbreak of conscience than from any real intent to get to grips with the book. Not so now - I am feeling determined and have found a literary source who knows the book well and promises to guide me through it. Interestingly he regards it more in the light of a work of literature than of history which appeals to me greatly. So far I have only read the first chapter which sets the scene as it were.
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is a book of history written by the English historian Edward Gibbon, which traces the trajectory of Western civilization (as well as the Islamic and Mongolian conquests) from the height of the Roman Empire to the fall of Byzantium. It was published in six volumes. Volume I was published in 1776 and went through six printings. Volumes II and III were published in 1781; volumes IV, V, and VI in 1788–1789. The original volumes were published in quarto sections, a common publishing practice of the time. The work covers the history, from 98 to 1590, of the Roman Empire, the history of early Christianity and then of the Roman State Church, and the history of Europe, and discusses the decline of the Roman Empire in the East and West. Because of its stress on objectivity and heavy use of primary sources, unusual at the time, its methodology became a model for later historians. This led to Gibbon being called the first "modern historian of ancient Rome".
Gibbon's references to the subjugation of Britain to Roman rule put me in mind of Conrad's great work "The Heart of Darkness". If memory serves, near the beginning, Marlowe says something like "This also was once one of the dark places of the world", referring to the River Thames - so indeed it must have appeared to the Romans. No doubt I was put in mind of this because I am presently re-reading "Lord Jim". Conrad really can write! And Marlowe is one of the great creations in literature as far as I am concerned. I wonder how much of his own character Conrad mined, consciously or not, for his remarkable narrator?