Essai sur Velleius Paterculus, [Lausanne?], -
It is well known that Edward Gibbon’s first publication, the Essai sur l’étude de la littérature (1761), was a belated intervention in the querelle between the ancients and moderns. The foundations of that moderate defence of the utility of erudition against the attacks upon it launched by the acolytes of ‘la Physique et les Mathématiques’ had been laid some years earlier, in a programme of concentrated study which had occupied the final two years of Gibbon’s first period of residence in Lausanne (1755-1758).
Gibbon described this self-imposed course of study most fully in draft ‘B’ of his Memoirs of My Life:
"After finishing this great Author [Cicero], a library of eloquence and reason, I formed a more extensive plan of reviewing the Latin Classics, under the four divisions of (1) Historians, (2) Poets, (3) Orators, and (4) Philosophers, in a Chronological series, from the days of Plautus and Salust to the decline of the language and Empire of Rome; and this plan, in the last twenty-seven months of my residence at Lausanne (January, 1756 – April, 1758), I nearly accomplished. Nor was this review, however rapid, either hasty or superficial. I indulged myself in a second and even a third perusal of Terence, Virgil, Horace, Tacitus, etc., and studied to imbibe the sense and spirit most congenial to my own. I never suffered a difficult or corrupt passage to escape, till I had viewed it in every light of which it was susceptible. Though often disappointed, I always consulted the most learned or ingenious commentators, Torrentius and Dacier on Horace, Catrou and Servius on Virgil, Lipsius on Tacitus, Meziriac on Ovid, etc.; and in the ardour of my enquiries I embraced a large circle of historical and critical erudition. My abstracts of each book were made in the French language; my observations often branched into particular Essays; and I can still read, without contempt, a dissertation of eight folio pages on eight lines (287-294) of the fourth Georgic of Virgil. Mr. Deyverdun, my friend, whose name will be frequently repeated, had joyned with equal zeal, though not with equal perseverance, in the same undertaking. To him every thought, every composition, was instantly communicated; with him I enjoyed the benefits of a free conversation on the topics of our common studies."
Some of the essays Gibbon composed during these years have been preserved amongst his literary papers, and a selection of these was reprinted by Lord Sheffield, in a lightly-redacted form, in the posthumous Miscellaneous Works. Until now, however, it has been impossible to corroborate what Gibbon said in his Memoirs about the collaborative nature of these studies, since the MSS in his hand in the British Library bear no trace of the involvement of his friend, Georges Deyverdun.
The discovery in the Archives de la Ville, Lausanne, of a MS essay on Velleius Paterculus in the hand of Deyverdun (Fonds Grenier, carton 18, cartable 5, enveloppe 12), amongst a cache of documents which includes a number in the hand of the young Edward Gibbon and dateable to the period 1756-1758, makes good that lack and sheds new light on the youth of the historian, on his friendship with Deyverdun (‘a young Gentleman of high honour and quick feelings, of an elegant taste and a liberal understanding: he became the companion of my studies and pleasures’), and on the more general questions of the modes and methods of classical learning amongst the élite of the Pays de Vaud at mid-century.
This MS draws the curtain on the engagement with the literary culture of antiquity by these two young men, as the waves initially provoked by the querelle subsided into ripples. For the érudits, ‘à qui tout plait qui est ancien’, an unmisgiving engagement with antiquity was still possible. However, once this MS by Deyverdun is replaced within the context of its surviving sibling MSS in the hand of Gibbon, it allows us to appreciate how the situation had changed for the generation entering their scholarly majority in the 1750s. Through it we can glimpse two young men attempting together to find an idiom and a mode for the serious investigation of antiquity in the aftermath of the querelle, when the option of mere unreflective, enthusiastic immersion was no longer available, and when – whichever party in the querelle engaged one’s sympathies – one’s standpoint was irrevocably modern.
A fuller account of the manuscript, and a more extensive exploration of its significance, is forthcoming from David Womersley: ‘Two Moderns Read the Ancients: Gibbon, Deyverdun, and their Course of Classical Reading in 1756’, in P. Bullard and A. Tadié (eds.), Ancients and Moderns in Early Modern Europe. Comparative Perspectives (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, probably 2015).
Prof. David Womersley (University of Oxford)
 Edward Gibbon, Essai sur l’étude de la littérature, ed. Robert Mankin (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2010), p. 94.
 The Autobiographies of Edward Gibbon, ed. John Murray (1897), pp. 139-40.
 BL Add. MS 34880, fols. 141v – 149r.
 Miscellaneous Works of Edward Gibbon, ed. John, Lord Sheffield, vol. III (1815), pp. 353-76.
 Autobiographies, p. 238.
 Miscellaneous Works, vol. III, p. 374 (from Gibbon’s essay on Livy).
- 1. Antiquité/Histoire ancienne
- Bon gouvernement/tyrannie
- Béatrice Lovis (intégrale/fini) [afficher]