Books: Country-Squire Roman

EDWARD GIBBON: MEMOIRS OF MY LIFE. Edited from the manuscripts by Georges A. Bonnard. 346 pages. Funk & Wagnalls. $10.

In the contemporary imagination, Edward Gibbon seems to be eternally posed against a painted backdrop of the Roman Empire, proudly holding the six volumes of Decline and Fall as if he presumed to be part of Roman history himself. Yet no matter how long readers stare—it has been nearly 200 years now—the country-squire Englishman and his awesome subject still make a curious match.

Gibbon was a small man, just over five feet, and so fat...

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