The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 5. Essai sur lÉtude de la Littérature
Gibbon did not leave Lausanne till April, 1758. During his five years’ sojourn there, his life had been the very reverse of that of a recluse—a character to which, indeed, he never made any pretension. As yet, he had not reached his intellectual manhood; nor is it easy to decide in what degree a steadfast ambition had already taken possession of him. Though his reading was various, it was neither purposeless nor unsystematic. He brought home with him, as the fruit of his studies, a work which was in every sense that of a beginner, but, at the same time, not ill calculated to attract the public. Before sending it to the printer, however, he cheerfully took the experienced advice of Paul Maty, editor of The New Review, and entirely recast it. The very circumstance that Gibbon’s Essai sur l’Étude de la Littérature, published in 1761, was written in French shows under what influences it had been composed and to what kind of readers it was primarily addressed. Its purpose is one more defence of classical literature and history, the study of which was then out of fashion in France; but, though the idea is good, the style lacks naturalness—a defect due to the youthfulness of the writer far more than to the fact of his having written his treatise in a foreign tongue; for he had already acquired a mastery over French which he retained through life.