Author Archives: Matt

The Brilliant Bias of Edward Gibbon

Concluding my series of remarks on Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, I refer once again to Hilaire Belloc’s commentary.* The Anglo-French historian spoke highly of Gibbon, saying that he “fashioned a vehicle wherein could repose in the … Continue reading

Posted in Hilaire Belloc, History

Decline and Fall

The decline of empire may for a time be delayed but it can never be averted. Rome was torn apart by recurring civil wars amidst cultural and moral decay. Barbarian incursions dealt the final blow, yet they were more a … Continue reading

Posted in History, Politics

Johnson’s Existential Quest

“Happiness… must be something solid and permanent, without fear and without uncertainty.”—Samuel Johnson, Rasselas I am returning to the roots of my journal with a discussion of Samuel Johnson’s novel Rasselas (1759), an exotic imaginary travelogue in which the characters … Continue reading

Posted in Literature, Philosophy, Samuel Johnson

The General Condition of Man

“It is not sufficiently considered how much [a person] assumes who dares to claim the privilege of complaining…. why does he imagine that exemptions should be granted him from the general condition of man?”—Samuel Johnson, Rambler, No. 50 At the … Continue reading

Posted in Philosophy, Stoicism

Points of View

Many popularizers of the intellectual life speak of the importance of reflective thought, and not just on the part of scholars and experts. According to Jacob Needleman, philosophy “is an imperative need in our lives and in the life of … Continue reading

Posted in Philosophy

The Uncertainty of Good and Evil

“All fear is in itself painful, and when it conduces not to safety is painful without use.”—Samuel Johnson My latest meditation is based on Johnson’s Rambler essay “The folly of anticipating misfortunes” (No. 29). Few things in life are so … Continue reading

Posted in Literature, Philosophy, Religion, Samuel Johnson

Mankind is Governed by Names

I have continued my reading of Gibbon, with his discussion of the Roman Constitution and the decline of the republic. The true and lasting origins of imperial power, we are told, lay not in the spectacular and short-lived dictatorship of … Continue reading

Posted in History, Literature, Politics

Chronicles of Empire

“I have not read all of the books in the English language, but of such as I have read, Gibbon’s Decline and Fall is far and away the most readable.”—Hilaire Belloc Belloc celebrates Edward Gibbon as one of the masters … Continue reading

Posted in History, Literature

Curing the Irascible Soul

The Greek writer Plutarch is best known for his biographical studies, but he was also an important moralist. I am reading his commentary “On the Control of Anger,” found in volume VI of the Loeb edition. In it he explains … Continue reading

Posted in Philosophy, Plutarch

All the Comforts of Holmes

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories are among my favorite works of fiction. Nor is it even the ingenious elements of detection that make them what they are. Other imaginary mysteries are more clever, though far less entertaining. Rather, … Continue reading

Posted in Literature