This introductory chapter sets out the general subject of the book and illustrates Gibbon's evolving relationship with his reader by analysing changes in the footnotes to The Decline and Fall as it moves through its three instalments (published in 1776, 1781, and 1788). These changes in the style of the footnotes are related to the historian's increasingly deft management of his reputation. The final paragraphs describe and defend the deliberately promiscuous methodology of the book.
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