Page:Studies of a Biographer 1.djvu/174
STUDIES OF A BIOGRAPHER
The most fortunate, perhaps, of all the turns of fate now followed. Gibbon's father was apparently not a great philosopher nor a very wise man; but he took, by a kind of dumb instinct, or through occult influence of the son's presiding star, the very best course that could have been taken. Gibbon's exile to Lausanne was meant to break off his old connections. It succeeded, and it placed him in a frugal and industrious circle, with no such distractions as tempted luxurious youths at Oxford. He could fairly devote his whole time to intellectual employment. The father had counted, apparently, upon the dialectical skill of the Swiss tutor. The 'intermixture of sects' had, as Gibbon remarks, made the Swiss clergy acute controversialists, and
the continuity of history. Both the consummation and the start of Gibbon's career represented this instinctive conviction. He was already not only reading ecclesiastical history, but reading it as a record of real events, not as a mere compendium of dates and names. His great work was to bridge the interval between ancient and modern history; and his boyish understanding had already been impressed by the identity of the great institution which connects the two periods.