Davis, Henry Edwards (DNB00)

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DAVIS, HENRY EDWARDS (1756–1784), opponent of Gibbon, was the son of John Davis of Windsor. He was born 11 July 1756, and educated at Ealing. On 17 May 1774 he entered Balliol, and graduated as B.A. in 1778. In the same spring he had the courage to attack the first volume of Gibbon's ‘Decline and Fall’ (published in 1776), in an ‘examination’ of the famous fifteenth and sixteenth chapters. Davis, it is said, ‘evinced more knowledge than is usually found at the age of twenty-one.’ David, however, was in this case no match for Goliath; and Gibbon's famous ‘Vindication,’ chiefly directed against Davis, justified his statement that ‘victory over such antagonists was a sufficient humiliation.’ Davis, in fact, had merely followed Gibbon's references without even the knowledge required for verification. Gibbon states that Davis was rewarded for the attack by a ‘royal pension.’ He took priest's orders in 1780, and became fellow and tutor of Balliol. His health broke down, and he died, after a lingering illness, 10 Feb. 1784. He is said to have been very amiable, poetical, and patient under sufferings.

[Chalmers's Dict. (evidently from friends); Gibbon's Miscellaneous Works, i. 230, ii. 156, iv. 515–95.]

L. S.