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THE LIFE OF
WITH VARIOUS OBSERVATIONS AND EXCURSIONS
GEORGE BIRKBECK HILL, D.C.L., LL.D.
HONORARY FELLOW OF PEMBROKE COLLEGE, OXFORD
METHUEN & CO.
IF, as Johnson said, there had been only three books “written by man that were wished longer by their readers,” the eighteenth century was not to draw to its close without seeing a fourth added. With Don Quixote, The Pilgrim's Progress and Robinson Crusoe, the Autobiography of Edward Gibbon was henceforth to rank as “a work whose conclusion is perceived with an eye of sorrow, such as the traveller casts upon departing day”. It is indeed so short that it can be read by the light of a single pair of candles ; it is so interesting in its subject, and so alluring in its turns of thought and its style, that in a second and a third reading it gives scarcely less pleasure than in the first. Among the books in which men have told the story of their own lives it stands in the front rank.
It is a striking fact that one of the first of autobiographies and the first of biographies were written in the same years.
Boswell was still working at his Life of Johnson when Gibbon began those memoirs from which his autobiography, in the form in which it was given to the orld, was so skilfully pieced together. But a short time had gone by since Johnson had said that “he did not think that the life of any literary man in England had been well written”. That reproach against our writers he himself did much to lessen by his Lives of Cowley and of Milton, of Dryden and of Pope. It was finally removed by two members of that famous club which he had helped to found. However weak was the end of the eighteenth