Back to school!

 Well I’m about 1/3 of the way through David Womersley’s introduction to the Decline and Fall.  The bulk of the introduction is devoted to a very broad overview of the work with commentary on Gibbon’s main influences and evolution of his style and substance during the many years it took him to write his work.  The book was published in 6 volumes, in three installments over twelve years (1776, 1781, and 1778).  The first installment made quite a splash, mostly because of some rather strong criticism of the early Christian church, which engendered a large number of critical publications primarily by members of the English clergy.  Gibbon actually published a “vindication” in reply to his critics in 1779 addressing some of this criticism.  Womersley puts the whole affair in context by pointing out the anti-clerical tendencies in among European intellectuals around that time, the most prominent of whom was Voltaire.

 One thing I’ve found reading the introduction is that I have needed to pull out my dictionary for the first time in a long time!  Here are a few of the words that I had to look up, not knowing what they meant (definitions courtesy of the OED:

sedulous: Diligent, constant in application to the matter at hand

pyrrhonist: A follower or adherent of Pyrrho of Elis; an advocate of Pyrrhonism; a sceptic

risible: Capable of provoking laughter; laughable, ludicrous, comical

persiflage: Light raillery or mockery; bantering talk; a frivolous or mildly contemptuous manner of treating any subject

captious: Apt to catch at faults or take exception to actions; disposed to find fault, cavil, or raise objections; fault-finding, cavilling, carping

stochastic: Randomly determined; that follows some random probability distribution or pattern, so that its behaviour may be analysed statistically but not predicted precisely

So if I get nothing else out of reading this book, I will hopefully end up with a few good Scrabble words!

Last note for today…Womersley’s highly readable introduction is for the most part fairly matter-of-fact in tone but there are moments where some classic dry British wit pokes through, like this comment on Gibbon’s financial situation around the time of the publication of the first volume:

Because of an amiable tendency to regard luxuries as necessity, [Gibbon’s] expenditure comfortably exceeded his income.

Yanks don’t write like that, least not anymore…

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One Response to “Back to school!”

  1. Scrabble Girl Says:

    Love the new scrabble words. Thanks!

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