A Vindication by Edward Gibbon

I shall begin this article by the confession of an error which candour might perhaps excuse, but which my Adversary magnifies by a pathetic interrogation.

"When he tells us, that he has carefully examined all the original materials, are we to believe him? or is it his design to try how far the credulity and easy disposition of the age will suffer him to proceed unsuspected and undiscovered?" (26)
Quousque tandem abuteris Catilina patientiâ nostrâ?

In speaking of the danger of idolatry, I had quoted the pictoresque expression of Tertullian, "Recogita sylvam et quantae latitant spinae," and finding it marked c. 10 in my Notes, I hastily, though naturally, added de Idololatria, instead of de Corona Militis, and referred to one Treatise of Tertullian instead of another.(27) And now let me ask in my turn, whether Mr. Davis had any real knowledge of the passage which I had misplaced, or whether he made an ungenerous use of his advantage, to insinuate that I had invented or perverted the words of Tertullian? Ignorance is less criminal than malice, and I shall be satisfied if he will plead guilty to the milder charge.

The same observation may be extended to a passage of Le Clerc, which asserts, in the clearest terms, the ignorance of the more ancient Jews with regard to a future state. Le Clerc lay open before me, but while my eye moved from the book to the paper, I transcribed the reference c. I. sect. 8. instead of sect. I. c. 8. from the natural, but erroneous persuasion, that Chapter expressed the larger, and Section the smaller division: (28) and this difference, of such trifling moment and so easily rectified, holds a distinguished place in the list of Misrepresentations which adorn Mr. Davis's Table of Contents.(29) But to return to Tertullian.

The infernal picture, which I had produced(30) from that vehement writer, which excited the horror of every humane reader, and which even Mr. Davis will not explicitly defend, has furnished him with a few critical cavils.(31) Happy should I think myself, if the materials of my History could be always exposed to the Examination of the Public; and I shall be content with appealing to the impartial Reader, whether my Version of this Passage is not as fair and as faithful, as the more literal translation which Mr. Davis has exhibited in an opposite column. I shall only justify two expressions which have provoked his indignation. 1. I had observed that the zealous African pursues the infernal description in a long variety of affected and unfeeling witticisms; the instances of Gods, of Kings, of Magistrates, of Philosophers, of Poets, of Tragedians, were introduced into my Translation. Those which I had omitted relate to the Dancers, the Charioteers, and the Wrestlers; and it is almost impossible to express those conceits which are connected with the language and manners of the Romans. But the reader will be sufficiently shocked, when he is informed that Tertullian alludes to the improvement which the agility of the Dancers, the red livery of the Charioteers, and the attitudes of the Wrestlers, would derive from the effects of fire.

"Tunc histriones cognoscendi solutiores multo per ignem; tunc spectandus Auriga in flammea rota totus ruber. Tunc Xystici contemplandi, non in Gymnasiis, sed in igue jaculati."

2. I cannot refuse to answer Mr. Davis's very particular question, Why I appeal to Tertullian for the condemnation of the wisest and most virtuous of the Pagans? Because I am inclined to bestow that epithet on Trajan and the Antonines, Homer and Euripides, Plato and Aristotle, who are all manifestly included within the fiery description which I had produced.

I am accused of misquoting Tertullian ad Scapulam, (32) as an evidence that Martyrdoms were lately introduced into Africa.(33) Besides Tertullian, I had quoted from Ruinart (Acta Sincera, p. 84.) the Acts of the Scyllitan Martyrs; and a very moderate knowledge of Ecclesiastical History would have informed Mr. Davis, that the two authorities thus connected establish the proposition asserted in my Text. Tertullian, in the above-mentioned Chapter, speaks of one of the Proconsuls of Africa, Vigellius Saturinus, "qui primus hic gladium in nos egit;" the Acta Sincera represent the same Magistrate as the Judge of the Scyllitan Martyrs; and Ruinart, with the consent of the best Critics, ascribes their sufferings to the persecution of Severus. Was it my fault if Mr. Davis was incapable of supplying the intermediate ideas?

Is it likewise necessary that I should justify the frequent use which I have made of Tertullian? His copious writings display a lively and interesting picture of the primitive Church, and the scantiness of original materials scarcely left me the liberty of choice. Yet as I was sensible, that the Montanism of Tertullian is the convenient screen which our orthodox Divines have placed before his errors, I have, with peculiar caution, confined myself to those works which were composed in the more early and sounder part of his life.

As a collateral justification of my frequent appeals to this African Presbyter, I had introduced, in the third edition of my History, two passages of Jerom and Prudentius, which prove that Tertullian was the master of Cyprian, and that Cyprian was the master of the Latin Church.(34) Mr. Davis assures me, however, that I should have done better not to have "added this note,(35) as I have only accumulated my inaccuracies. One inaccuracy he had indeed detected, an error of the press, Hieronym. de Viris illustribus, c. 53 for 63; but this advantage is dearly purchased by Mr. Davis. ancient greek quote of Cyprian, which he produces as the original words of Cyprian, has a braver and more learned sound, than Da magistrum; but the quoting in Greek, a sentence which was pronounced, and is recorded, in Latin, seems to bear the mark of the most ridiculous pedantry; unless Mr. Davis, consulting for the first time the Works of Jerom, mistook the Version of Sophronius, which is printed in the opposite column, for the Text of his original Author. My reference to Prudentius, Hymn. xiii. 100. cannot so easily be justified, as I presumptuously believed that my critics would continue to read till they came to a full stop. I shall now place before them, not the first verse only, but the entire period, which they will find full, express, and satisfactory. The Poet says of St. Cyprian, whom he places in Heaven,

Nec minus involitat terris, nec ab hoc recedit orbe:
Dissent, eloquitur, tractat, docet, instruit, prophetat;
Nec Libyae populos tantum regit, exit usque in ortum
Solis, et usque obitum; Gallos fovet, imbuit Britannos,
Presidet Hesperiae, Christum sent ultimis Hibernis.
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