The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 2. Lord Sheffields Memoirs
The facts of Gibbon’s life—in themselves neither numerous nor startling—are related by him in an autobiography which, by general consent, has established itself as one of the most fascinating books of its class in English literature. This is the more remarkable, since the Memoirs of My Life and Writings, as they were first printed by Gibbon’s intimate friend the first earl of Sheffield (John Baker Holroyd), who made no pretence of concealing his editorial method, were a cento put together out of six, or, strictly speaking, seven, more or less fragmentary sketches written at different times by the author. Lord Sheffield was aided in his task (to what extent has been disputed) by his daughter Maria Josepha (afterwards Lady Stanley of Alderley), described by Gibbon himself as “a most extraordinary young woman,” and certainly one of the brightest that ever put pen to paper. The material on which they worked was excellent in its way, and their treatment of it extraordinarily skilful; so that a third member of this delightful family, Lord Sheffield’s sister “Serena,” expressed the opinion of many generations of readers in writing of the Memoirs: “They make me feel affectionate to Mr. Gibbon.” The charm of Gibbon’s manner as an autobiographer and, in a lesser degree, as a letter-writer, lies not only in his inexhaustible vivacity of mind, but, above all, in his gift of self-revelation, which is not obscured for long either by over-elaboration of style or by affectation of chic (such as his more than filial effusions to his stepmother or his facetious epistles to his friend Holroyd occasionally display). Out of all this wealth of matter, we must content ourselves here with abstracting only a few necessary data.