Edward Gibbon, ‘Essai sur l’étude de la littérature’
A critical edition
Volume: SVEC 2010:07
Series editor: Jonathan Mallinson
Volume editor(s): Robert Mankin
Description: Before he had even conceived of the Decline and fall of the Roman Empire there was another Edward Gibbon, a young expatriate living in Switzerland and writing in French. In the Essai, a work of remarkable erudition and energy completed by the age of twenty-one, Gibbon reflects on the present state of knowledge in post-Renaissance Europe – what he calls littérature.
The first publication of the Essai since 1761, this critical edition sets Gibbon’s work in its intellectual context. A detailed introduction examines the biographical, cultural and historical background to this text: the young writer’s perception of European intellectual life as he observed it from Lausanne, his relation to the Encyclopédie and the French académies, the fate of erudition, and the modern organization of learning in books. An extensive commentary completes this edition, providing invaluable annotation of each chapter, including the important but little-known sections on religion that were replaced by Gibbon in the final text. As current debates revisit the meaning of Enlightenment, readers will find in this edition of Gibbon’s Essai a new approach to the intellectual networks and tensions that lie at its heart.
Guide to this edition
Circumstances of writing
Character of the text
‘France’: a context
From Belles-Lettres to littérature
The rise of the author
Religions of the mind
Essai sur l’étude de la littérature
• To Edward Gibbon
• Avis au lecteur
• A l’auteur
• Essai sur l’étude de la littérature
Collaborator biographies: Robert Mankin is Professor of English studies at the Université Paris-Diderot where he teaches intellectual history. The author of studies on Gibbon, Hume, Locke and Smith, he is currently researching the interpretation of British empiricism from the standpoint of book history. The text of the Essai is prepared by Patricia Craddock, Emerita Professor, University of Florida.