The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume II : A.D. 395 to A.D. 1185 (A Modern Library E-Book)
"I have described the triumph of barbarism and religion," wrote the author in the famous epigram that summed up his towering achievement in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Indeed, Gibbon, the supreme historian of the Enlightenment -- the illustrious scholar who envisioned history as a branch of literature -- seemed almost predestined to write his monumental account of the Roman Empire's terrible self-destruction.
The second volume contains chapters twenty-seven through forty-eight of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
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February 28, 2005
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Excerpt from The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume II by Edward Gibbon
The fame of Gratian, before he had accomplished the twentieth year of his age, was equal to that of the most celebrated princes. His gentle and amiable disposition endeared him to his private friends, the graceful affability of his manners engaged the affection of the people: the men of letters, who enjoyed the liberality, acknowledged the taste and eloquence, of their sovereign; his valour and dexterity in arms were equally applauded by the soldiers; and the clergy considered the humble piety of Gratian as the first and most useful of his virtues. The victory of Colmar had delivered the West from a formidable invasion; and the grateful provinces of the East ascribed the merits of Theodosius to the author of his greatness and of the public safety. Gratian survived those memorable events only four or five years; but he survived his reputation; and, before he fell a victim to rebellion, he had lost, in a great measure, the respect and confidence of the Roman world.
The remarkable alteration of his character or conduct may not be imputed to the arts of flattery which had besieged the son of Valentinian from his infancy; nor to the headstrong passions which that gentle youth appears to have escaped. A more attentive view of the life of Gratian may perhaps suggest the true cause of the disappointment of the public hopes. His apparent virtues, instead of being the hardy productions of experience and adversity, were the premature and artificial fruits of a royal education. The anxious tenderness of his father was continually employed to bestow on him those advantages which he might perhaps esteem the more highly, as he himself had been deprived of them; and the most skilful masters of every science and of every art had laboured to form the mind and body of the young prince. The knowledge which they painfully communicated was displayed with ostentation and celebrated with lavish praise. His soft and tractable disposition received the fair impression of their judicious precepts, and the absence of passion might easily be mistaken for the strength of reason.