Front Page Titles (by Subject) LAST ILLNESS AND DEATH OF GIBBON - Autobiography
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LAST ILLNESS AND DEATH OF GIBBON - Edward Gibbon, Autobiography 
The Autobiography of Edward Gibbon (London: Dent, 1911). Introduction by Oliphant Smeaton.
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LAST ILLNESS AND DEATH OF GIBBON
[Gibbon’s autobiography only extends to the year 1789. He continued to reside at Lausanne till 1793, when he returned to England to alleviate by his presence and sympathy a domestic affliction of his friend Lord Sheffield. He arrived in England in the beginning of June, and died at London on the 16th of January in the following year. Lord Sheffield has given an account of the last illness and death of his friend, from which the following extracts are taken.]
“Mr. Gibbon arrived in the beginning of June at my house in Downing Street in good health; and after passing about a month with me there, we settled at Sheffield Place for the remainder of summer, where his wit, learning, and cheerful politeness, delighted a great variety of characters. Although he was inclined to represent his health as better than it really was, his habitual dislike to motion appeared to increase; his inaptness to exercise confined him to the library and dining-room, and there he joined my friend Mr. Frederick North in pleasant arguments against exercise in general. He ridiculed the unsettled and restless disposition that summer, the most uncomfortable, as he said, of all seasons, generally gives to those who have the free use of their limbs. Such arguments were little required to keep society, Mr. Jekyll, Mr. Douglas, etc., within doors, when his company was only there to be enjoyed; for neither the fineness of the season nor the most promising parties of pleasure could tempt the company of either sex to desert him.
“Those who have enjoyed the society of Mr. Gibbon will agree with me that his conversation was still more captivating than his writings. Perhaps no man ever divided time more fairly between literary labour and social enjoyment; and hence, probably, he derived his peculiar excellence of making his very extensive knowledge contribute, in the highest degree, to the use or pleasure of those with whom he conversed. He united, in the happiest manner imaginable, two characters which are not often found in the same person, the profound scholar and the peculiarly agreeable companion.
“It would be superfluous to attempt a very minute delineation of a character which is so distinctly marked in the Memoirs and Letters. He has described himself without reserve, and with perfect sincerity. The Letters, and especially the Extracts from the Journal, which could not have been written with any purpose of being seen, will make the reader perfectly acquainted with the man.1
“Excepting a visit to Lord Egremont and Mr. Hayley, whom he particularly esteemed, Mr. Gibbon was not absent from Sheffield Place till the beginning of October, when we were reluctantly obliged to part with him, that he might perform his engagement to Mrs. Gibbon at Bath, the widow of his father, who had early deserved, and invariably retained, his affection. From Bath he proceeded to Lord Spencer’s at Althorp, a family which he always met with uncommon satisfaction. He continued in good health during the whole summer, and in excellent spirits (I never knew him enjoy better); and when he went from Sheffield Place, little did I imagine it would be the last time that I should have the inexpressible pleasure of seeing him there in full possession of health.
[1 ] Elsewhere Lord Sheffield observes—“His [Gibbon’s] letters in general bear a strong resemblance to the style and turn of his conversation; the characteristics of which were vivacity, elegance, and precision, with knowledge astonishingly extensive and correct. He never ceased to be instructive and entertaining; and in general there was a vein of pleasantry in his conversation which prevented its becoming languid, even during a residence of many months with a family in the country.
“It has been supposed that he always arranged what he intended to say before he spoke; his quickness in conversation contradicts this notion: but it is very true that, before he sat down to write a note or letter, he completely arranged in his mind what he meant to express. He pursued the same method in respect to other composition; and he occasionally would walk several times about his apartment before he had rounded a period to his taste. He has pleasantly remarked to me that it sometimes cost him many a turn before he could throw a sentiment into a form that gratified his own criticism. His systematic habit of arrangement in point of style, assisted, in his instance, by an excellent memory and correct judgment, is much to be recommended to those who aspire to perfection in writing.”