BAM March--Craft

A craft is something that is developed over time, something that someone does for entertainment, for fun, and something that gives depth to an individual. This could be just about anything. Making music, knitting, cooking, reading, writing...all assuming that there is some skill involved. These skills may derive from practice, they may derive from some genetic brilliance. Either way, these skills and what we do with them define us as individuals. That being said, for my birthday at the beginning of the month, I bought myself The Autobiography of Edward Gibbon. I've read it before--twice, actually--but did not pay much attention to the first 1/3 of the text.

Edward Gibbon was an 18th century historian, considered a son of the enlightenment who spent a considerable amount of time and energy writing his epic Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. He was incredibly well educated, well derived, and well-connected through his many family acquaintances. It is about the first 80 pages of his memoirs that he introduces his purpose, that he gives his family history, and that he discusses his education. These are the beginnings of the man.

Most historical texts offer, in the beginning, an explanation of purpose. This gives the reader some understanding of the motives of the author and a basis on which to analyze the facts based on the appearance of bias. For example, a biography commissioned by the subject him/herself, for the purpose of self-interest would be expected to be filled with half-truths in the interest of promoting the good characteristics while making excuses for the bad.

Gibbon's explanation for writing his memoirs is for his own entertainment. He eludes to vanity being the reason he records what he knows of his family's history saying, "In the investigation of past events, our curiosity is stimulated by the immediate or indirect reference to ourselves..."

He was born an ill child, spending many of his young years in the home, bedridden. But, when he was well enough to enter school, he excelled at most subjects. Now this is stated by him in some regards, others of which I am inferring based on what I have read and on my own education. One thing is for sure: Things have changed. Not only was Gibbon reading and translating Latin and Classical Greek from a very young age, he positively devoured anything that he could read. As a librarian, this fills me with both joy and sorrow. If only modern American education was so good. If only education anywhere was so good.

Clearly, if you've ever read or attempted to read this man's work, you would have a much better understanding of it's brilliance and of his skill by learning about the man himself.

Let me just mention that what I've described above is only about 1/3 of the book itself. He details his brief visit with Voltaire in Lausanne and what he learned there. He describes, quickly and quite poetically, his first love. He describes the circumstances around the publication of Decline and Fall. This is a life! This is a man!

There are very few people in this world today who's works, whose importance, and whose acquaintances can be measured equally to someone like Gibbon. It seems that the time for greatness has come and gone.

In comparison, mediocrity seems to rule the world today.

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