"He was born in Putney, near London, England into a relatively well-to-do but not wealthy country family. His family had an estate in Hampshire. He was an only child, and after his mother died while he was 10 years old, he was raised by an aunt. His health while a boy was rather poor. He attended Kingston Grammar School. When he was 14 years of age, his father sent him away to the University of Oxford. He later wrote that his father, out of ""perplexity rather than prudence, without preparation or delay, carried me to Oxford, and I was matriculated in the university, as a gentleman commoner of Magdalen College, before I had accomplished the fifteenth year of my age"".
His father became alarmed when young Gibbon began to espouse a belief in the Roman Catholic Church. Religious controversies raged on the Oxford campus. For a proper English gentleman to convert to Catholicism in the 18th century had significant implications for his life. He would have been ostracized by a great deal of society and had many doors of advancement closed to him. To prevent such an event, the elder Gibbon removed him from the University, and sent him instead to M. Pavilliard, a Protestant pastor and private tutor in Lausanne, Switzerland. His education in Lausanne was to have a profound and lasting impact. He wrote in his memoirs, ""Whatsoever have been the fruits of my education, they must be ascribed to the fortunate banishment which placed me in Lausanne... Such as I am, in genius or learning or manners, I owe my creation to Lausanne: it was in that school that the statue was found in the block of marble."" Sir Hugh Trevor-Roper says that ""Without the experience of Lausanne there would have been no Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire"".
In 1758 Gibbon returned to England, and two years later he began a two-year period as a militia officer, gaining experience of military affairs which would be valuable in his later career as a historian. His first book, Essai sur l'?tude de la Litt‚rature (written in French), appeared in 1761. Gibbon later shifted his religious views again, perhaps after conversation with Voltaire, to become one of what Samuel Johnson called the ""infidel wasps."" In 1763-5 he travelled in Europe; this Grand Tour included a visit to Rome, where he conceived the idea of writing his great work; this, however, was not begun until 1773 and the first volume appeared in 1776. It was immediately acclaimed, although Gibbon's treatment of the early history of Christianity was fiercely criticised. Further volumes were published in 1781 and 1788. By this time (after an unimportant venture into Parliament) Gibbon was again living in Lausanne, where he remained until shortly before his death.
His personal habits were peculiar - according to some contemporary comment Gibbon was so filthy that one could not stand close to him, a trait he shared with the Swedish mystic Swedenborg. Gibbon was a short, fat man who had, as Lytton Strachey once delicately put it, ""a protuberance in the lower part of his person, which... had grown to extraordinary proportions..."" Actually, Gibbon had what is known as a hydrocele, which The Merck Manual describes as ""a common intrinsic scrotal mass,"" which ""results from excessive accumulations of sterile fluid within the tunica vaginalis due to overproduction (lymphatic or venous obstruction in the cord or retroperitoneal space)."" To put it in layman's terms, his scrotum filled with fluid until it was the size of a watermelon. When he finally had it dealt with surgically, he died not long after. It is quite possible that inadequate antisepsis, and not the hydrocele, is what killed him.
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is considered to be one of the best known historical works in the English language; it was remarkable for combining an outstanding literary quality with a standard of research and critical judgement which until then had been found only in indigestible reference works."