Writer and historian of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon was
born in England on April 27, 1737 and spent his youth on the banks of Lake
Geneva. As was the tradition with upper class English families, he came
to Switzerland to complete his education. The young man studied at the faculty
of law, language and history in Lausanne,
where he also frequented the literary salons to read the foreign press and play
whist. He fell head over heels with the pastor's daughter, Suzanne Curchod,
and wanted to marry her, but her father was categorically opposed. Gibbon had
to resign himself to a life of celibacy. The young man thus left the city to
forget his sorrows, only to return five years later.
He wrote his life's work, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, after his travels to Italy. This monumental six-volume tome became the reference for students of Roman history and would remain so for nearly 200 years. Some of his devoted readers included Winston Churchhill, who kept it by his bedside and used it as a constant source of inspiration for his speeches, and, more recently, George Lucas, who drew on it for several ideas for his Star Wars trilogy.
Gibbon returned to Lausanne to complete his monumental work in a villa called La Grotte (the cave) near Place Saint-François. He sat on a bench opposite the lake, on a magnificent terrace overlooking a panorama of the mountains and Lake Geneva. It is said that there is where he perfected his masterpiece. A hotel on Place Saint-François bore his name from 1839 to 1920. You can see the building - which has now become a bank - on Micheloud's webcam.