Although they break little newnground, the recent biographies ofnRuskin and Gibbon by Joan Abse andnPatricia B. Craddock are full of insightsnand stylistic grace. But the scholar willncontinue to find useful the traditionalnbiographies of Gibbon by G.M.nYoung and D.M. Lowe and of Ruskinnby E.T. Cooke and R.H. Wilenski.nCraddock’s book is the first to makenuse of a substantial body of primarynsources previously unavailable, and hernnotes are both copious and enlightening.nThe major achievement of hernwork is the close examination she givesnto Gibbon’s historical apprenticeshipndown to the year 1773, when he begannwriting The Decline and Pall. Abse’snbook is also well-written, though itnsometimes becomes too romantic.nGibbon worked at a time when historicalnwriting was not far removednfrom hagiography and political propaganda.nThere had been a few historiansn—Voltaire, David Hume, and WilliamnRobertson, for example—who hadnbegun to think of history in a morenanalytic way. But, to borrow a phrase Dr.nJohnson applied to Dryden in a differentncontext, Gibbon found history as bricknand turned it into marble. The Declinenand Fall, which covers almost 14 centuries,nfrom Trajan (98 A.D.) to the fallnof Constantinople (1453), is a monumentnto the author and to the civilizationnhe describes, despite the later work ofnsuch eminent historians of Rome asnTheodor Mommsen and Michael Rostovtzeff.nGibbon saw the demise ofnRome as “the greatest, perhaps, andnmost awful scene in the history ofnmankind.” Fascinated by the spectacle ofnRome, he sought the causal sequencesnthat diminished the empire’s greatness.nAdmiring the political order which nurturednthe arts of civilization, he abhorrednthe effeminate luxury and modes ofnthought which hastened the Romanndecline. Deploring the curtailment ofndemocratic institutions by variousnemperors, he admired the classical virtuesnof reason and restraint which hadnbuilt Rome. Gibbon looked back fromnthe perspective of English neoclassicismnto Rome, and he saw a tragedy in which anmagnificent and noble culture had beennoverthrown by barbarian force, bureaucraticnobesity, and popular ignorance. Asnhe describes it, “The decline of geniusnwas soon followed by the cormption ofntaste.” And near the end of his finalnvolume he sadly summarizes: “I havendescribed the triumph of barbarism andnreligion.”nH is attack on early Christianity stillngrates upon the sensitivities of somenreaders. For example, he characterizesnRoman Christianity as an institution innwhich “Credulity performed the office ofnfaith; fanaticism was permitted tonassume the language of inspiration, andnthe effects of accidents or contrivancenwere ascribed to supernatural causes.” Asna deist and rationalist. Gibbon was tryingnto explain Christianity’s triumph innRome on purely human and rationalngrounds, but he was equally skeptical ofnall Roman religions: “The various modesnof worship which prevailed in the Romannworld were all considered by the peoplenas equally true; by the philosophers asnequally false; and by the magistrate asnequally useful. And thus toleration producednnot only mutual indulgence, butneven relgious concord.”nFor Gibbon, Rome was at its zenithnwhen, in “the second century of thenChristian era, the Empire of Rome comprehendednthe fairest part of the earth,nand the most civilized portion ofnmankind. . . . The gentle but powerfiilninfluence of laws and manners hadngradually cemented the union of thenprovinces. Their peaceful inhabitantsnenjoyed and abused the advantages ofnwealth and luxury. The image of a freenconstitution was preserved with decentnreverence; the Roman senate appeared tonpossess the sovereign authority, andndevolved on the emperors all the executivenpowers of government.” Gibbon admirednperseverance, moderation,njustice, courage, and especially successnwhen it was allied to virtue. The causes ofnnnRome’s decline and fall were not sonmuch individual as cultural: luxury,nvanity, fanaticism, arrogance, sloth, andnpride in all segments of society—Christiannand pagan, Roman and barbarian.nRome was a victim, too, of its success:n”This long peace, and the uniform governmentnof the Romans, introduced anslow and secret poison into the vitals ofnthe empire. The minds of men werengradually reduced to the same level, thenfire of genius was extinguished, and evennthe military spirit evaporated.” Thenpleasure of reading Gibbon is sometimesnmarred by the reader’s uncomfortablenawareness of 20th-century analogies.nJKuskin’s career, unlike Gibbon’s,nwas tempestuous from the beginningnand ended in madness. Brought up in anfanatically religious home, he was a mentalninvalid, an emotional time bomb, andogmatic, petulant, garrulous, capriciousnman who envisioned himself asna prophet. He was, in short, what Gibbonnand his 18th-century contemporariesnwould have called an enthusiast—nSend for your complimentaryncopy of The Rockford Institute’snAnnual Report featuringnthe work of the eminentnartist and designer WarrennChappell.nMail this coupon to:nThe Rockford Instituten934 North Main StreetnRockford, IL 61103nNamenAddressnCity State ZipnFebruary 1983n