Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

Macaulay's essays on Milton and Addison; online

. (page 1 of 17)
Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayMacaulay's essays on Milton and Addison; → online text (page 1 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

'* */ •• ( +''■













£be lake Englisb Classics








c * e . «

• i . . «

• t." < i •

Copyright 1899



Julius Caesar and Lord Macaulay have been
much abused writers. They did not mean to
write immortal works, least of all did they mean
to write immortal exercises for the school-room.
But when a man writes — just as he would fight,
on the field of battle or in the political arena —
with what Quintilian describes as "force, point,
and vehemence of style," he must expect the
school-boy to devour his pages. This is right, —
this is not abuse; the abuse is done when live
literature is transformed into dead rhetoric, a
thing for endless exercises in etymologies and con-
structions, until the very name of the author
becomes odious. Perhaps it is late for this com-
plaint ; we flatter ourselves that we are coming to
reason and balance in our methods. Certainly I
should not try to discourage study, and liberal
study, of the mechanics of composition. And
there is no better medium for such study than
Macaulay 's Essays. But I trust that every teacher
to whom the duty of conducting such study falls
will not at the same time forget that literature is
an art which touches life very closely, and has its
springs far back in the human spirit.



With the hope of encouraging this attitude I
have ventured to assume the responsibility of
setting afloat one more annotated text of Macau -
lay. Realizing that, in dealing with the work of
a writer whose affiliations with literature are
chiefly formal (Introduction, 19), there is no
escape from considerations of style, I have frankly
put the matter foremost. But I have tried to
take a broad view of its significance, and in partic-
ular I have tried to do Macaulay justice. Alto-
gether too many pupils have carried away from the
study of him the narrow idea that his great
achievement consisted in using one or two very
patent (but, if they only knew it, very petty) rhetor-
ical devices. It has been the primary aim of my
Introduction to set these matters in their right
perspective. I have not outlined specific methods
of study, which are to be found everywhere by
those who value them, but both Introduction and
Notes contain many suggestions. It seems better
to stop at this. Even the few illustrations I have
used have been preferably drawn from essays not
here printed. No editor should wish to take from
teacher or pupil the profit of investigation or the
stimulus of discovery.

There is another matter in which I should like
to counsel vigilance, and that is the habit of
requiring pupils to trace allusions, quotations, etc.
The practice has been much abused, and a warning
seems especially necessary in the study of a writer


like Macaulay, who crowds his pages with instances
and illustrations. It is profitable to follow him in
the process of bringing together a dozen things to
enforce his point, but it is not profitable to reverse
the process and allow ourselves to be led away from
the subject in hand into a multitude of unrelated
matters. Such practices are ruinous to the intel-
lect. We must concentrate attention, not dissi-
pate it. Only when we fail to catch the full
significance of an allusion, should we look it up.
Then we must see to it that we bring back from
our research just what occasioned the allusion, just
what bears on the immediate passage. Other facts
will be picked up by the way and may come use-
ful in good time, but for the purpose of our pres-
ent study we should insist on the vital relation of
every fact contributed.

So earnest am I upon this point that I must
illustrate. At one place Macaulay writes: "Do
we believe that Erasmus and Fracastorius wrote
Latin as well as Dr. Robertson and Sir Walter
Scott wrote English? And are there not in the
Dissertation on India, the last of Dr. Robertson's
works, in Waverley, in Marmion, Scotticisms at
which a London apprentice would laugh?" Why
should we be told (to pick out one of these half-
dozen allusions) that Dr. Robertson's first name was
William, that he lived from 1721 to 1793, and
that he wrote such and such books? With all
respect for the memory of Dr. Robertson, I submit


that this is not the place to learn about him and
his histories. Macaulay's allusion to him is not
explained in the least by giving his date. Yet
there is something here to interpret, simple though
it be. Let us put questions until we are sure that
the pupil understands that Dr. Robertson, being a
Scot, could not write wholly idiomatic English —
English, say, of the London type — and that thi3 is
one illustration of the general truth that a man
can write with purity only in his native tongue.
It is such exercises in interpretation that I should
like to see substituted for the disastrous game of
hunting allusions.

I cannot flatter myself that I have achieved con-
sistency in my own notes and glossary. To recur
to the illustration above, I have omitted the name
of Dr. Robertson, because Macaulay seems to tell
us enough about him, while I have added a few
words about Fracastorius in order that he may be
to the reader something more than a name. But
I cannot help suspecting that it is a waste of
energy for any one to try to impress even this name
on his mind, and I should be quite satisfied that a
pupil of mine should never look it up, provided
he had alertness enough to see that Fracastorius
wrote in Latin though he was not a Roman, and
discrimination enough to feel that there are other
allusions of an entirely different character which
must be looked up.

The glossary aims to include only names and


terms not familiar or easily found (provided they
need explaining), and also names which, though
easily found, call for some special comment. In
general, when allusions are self -explaining, we
should rest content with our text. In the first
paragraph of the essay on Milton, for example,
one Mr. Lemon is mentioned. Doubtless the
Dictionary of National Biography would tell us
something more about him, but Macaulay tells us
all we need to know. Again, there is a reference
to a fairy story told by Ariosto. But all the neces-
sary details are given and it will be idle to hunt
the story up in order to cite chapter and verse for
it, though of course if one wants to read Ariosto,
let him do so by all means — that is a different
thing. On the other hand, an allusion to the lion
in a certain fable is not made so clear, because
Macaulay takes it for granted that we know the
fable. If we do not, we must look it up. So,
also, with such phrases as "the Ciceronian gloss,"
"the doubts of the Academy," "the pride of the
Portico." I could have wished to insert into
the glossary nothing which an intelligent pupil
could find for himself, though here an editor
must sin a little in excess for the sake of schools
and homes not well equipped with libraries. I
have tried to decide each case upon its merits in
the interest of genuine education, and only those
who have attempted a similar task will understand
its difficulties.


The text adopted is that of Lady Trevelyan's
edition, with very slight changes in spelling, punc-
tuation, and capitals. A. G. N.

Stanford University, May, 1899.



Preface ... . 7

Introduction ........ 15

Chronologv and Bibliography . 43
The Essays:

Milton 45

The Life and Writings of Addison . . . 125

Notes . 250

Glossary . 268


When, in 1825, Francis Jeffrey, Editor of the
Edinburgh Review, searching for "some clever

l.Macama y ' S Ad-y° l ™g man wh ° WOllld Wfite f ° r

vent in the Edin- us," laid his hands upon Thomas
burgh Review, Ba k ington Macaulay, he did not

know that he was marking a red-letter day in the
calendar of English journalism. Through the two
decades and more of its existence, the Review had
gone on serving its patrons with the respectable
dulness of Lord Brougham and the respectable
vivacity of its editor, and the patrons had appar-
ently dreamed of nothing better until the
momentous August when the young Fellow of
Trinity, not yet twenty-rive, flashed upon its pages
with his essay on Milton. And for the next two
decades the essays that followed from the same pen
became so far the mainstay of the magazine that
booksellers declared it "sold, or did not sell,
according as there were, or were not, articles by
Mr. Macaulay." Yet Jeffrey was not without
some inkling of the significance of the event, for
upon receipt of the first manuscript he wrote to its
author the words so often quoted: "The more I
think, the less I can conceive where you picked



up that style. r ' Thus early was the finger of
criticism pointed toward the one thing that has
always been most conspicuously associated with
Macaulay's name.

English prose, at this date, was still clinging to

the traditions of its measured eighteenth-century

stateliness. But the life had

2. Effect on Prose. .

nearly gone out of it, and the
formalism which sat so elegantly upon Addison
and not uneasily upon Johnson had stiffened into
pedantry, scarcely relieved by the awkward
attempts of the younger journalists to give it spirit
and freedom. It was this languishing prose which
Macaulay, perhaps more than any other one writer,
deserves the credit of rejuvenating with that
wonderful something which Jeffrey was pleased
to call ''style." Macaulay himself would certainly
have deprecated the association of his fame with a
mere synonym for rhetoric, and we should be
wronging him if we did not hasten to add that
style, rightly understood, is a very large and
significant thing, comprehending, indeed, a man's
whole intellectual and emotional attitude toward
those phases of life with which he comes into con-
tact. It is the man's manner of reacting upon the
world, his manner of expressing himself to the
world; and the world has little beyond the man-
ner of a man's expression by which to judge of the
man himself. But a good style, even in its nar-
row sense of a good command of language, of a


masterly and individual manner of presenting
thought, is yet no mean accomplishment, and if
Macaulay had done nothing else than revivify
English prose, which is, just possibly, his most
enduring achievement, he would have little reason
to complain. What he accomplished in this
direction and how, it is our chief purpose here to
explain. In the meantime we shall do well to
glance at his< other achievements and take some
note of his equipment.

Praed has left this description of him: "There

came up a short, manly figure, marvelously upright,

with a bad neckcloth, and one

3. The Man. ,-..». . -, *«

hand in his waistcoat-pocket.
We read here, easily enough, brusqueness, pre-
cision without fastidiousness, and self-confidence.
These are all prominent traits of the man, and
they all show in his work. Add kindness and
moral rectitude, which scarcely show there, and
humor, which shows only in a somewhat unpleasant v y
light, and you have a fair portrait. Now these are
manifestly the attributes of a man who knows
what worldly comfort and physical well-being are,
a man of good digestive and assimilative powers,
well-fed, incapable of worry, born to succeed.

In truth, Macaulay was a man of remarkable
vitality and energy, and though ■ he died too early
— at the beginning of his sixtieth year — he began
his work young and continued it with almost
unabated vigor to the end. But his "work" (as


we are in the habit of naming that which a man
leaves behind him), voluminous as it is, represents
only one side of his activity. There was the
early-assumed burden of repairing his father's
broken fortunes, and providing for the family of
younger brothers and sisters. The burden, it is
true, was assumed with characteristic cheerfulness
— it could not destroy for him the worldly comfort
we have spoken of — but it entailed heavy responsi-
bilities for a young man. It forced him to seek
salaried positions, such as the post of commissioner
of bankruptcy, when he might have been more
congenially employed. Then there were the many
years spent in the service of the government as a
Whig member of the House of Commons and as
Cabinet Minister during the exciting period of the
Reform Bill and the Anti-Corn-Law League, with
all that such service involved — study of politics,
canvassing, countless dinners, public and private,
speech-making in Parliament and out, reading and
making reports, endless committee meetings, end-
less sessions. There were the three years and a
half spent in India, drafting a penal code. And
there was, first and last, the acquisition of the
knowledge that made possible this varied activity,
— the years at the University, the study of law and
jurisprudence, the reading, not of books, but of
entire national literatures, the ransacking of
libraries and the laborious deciphering of hundreds
of manuscripts in the course of historical


research. Perhaps we fall into Macaulay's trick
of exaggeration, but it is not easy to exaggerate the
mental feats of a man who could carry in his
memory works like Paradise Lost and Pilgrim" s
Progress and who was able to put it on record
that in thirteen months he had read thirty clas-
sical authors, most of them entire and many of
them twice, and among them such voluminous
writers as Euripides, Herodotus, Plato, Plutarch,
Livy, and Cicero. Nor was the classical literature
a special field; Italian, Spanish, French, and the
wildernesses of the English drama and the Eng-
lish novel (not excluding the "trashy") were all
explored. We may well be astounded that the
man who could do all these things in a lifetime
of moderate compass, and who was besides such a
tireless pedestrian that he was "forever on his feet
indoors as well as out," could find time to produce
so much literature of his own.

That literature — so to style the body of work

which has survived him — divides itself into at least

five divisions. There are, first,

4. His Work. ' '

the Essays, which he produced
at intervals all through life. There are the
Speeches which were delivered on the floor of
Parliament between his first election in 1830 and
his last in 1852, and which rank very high in that
grade of oratory which is just below the highest.
There is the Indian Penal Code, not altogether his
own work and not literature of course, yet praised


by Justice Stephen as one of the most remarkable
and satisfactory instruments of its kind ever
drafted. There -are the Poems, published in
1842, adding little to his fame and not a great
deal to English literature, yet very respectable
achievements in the field of the modern romantic
ballad. Finally, there is the unfinished History of
England from the Accession of James the Second,
his last, his most ambitious, and probably, all
things considered, his most successful work.

The History and Essays comprise virtually all of
this product that the present generation cares to
5. History of read. Upon the History, indeed,
England. Macaulay staked his claim to
future remembrance, regarding it as the great work
of his life. He was exceptionally well equipped
for the undertaking. He had such a grasp of uni-
versal history as few men have been able to secure,
and a detailed knowledge of the period of English
history under contemplation equalled by none.
But he delayed the undertaking too long, and he
allowed his time and energy to be dissipated in
obedience to party calls. Death overtook him in
the midst of his labors. Even thus, it is clear
that he underestimated the magnitude of the task
he had set himself. For he proposed to cover a
period of nearly a century and a half; the four
volumes and a fraction which he completed actually
cover about fifteen years. His plan involved too
much detail. It has been called pictorial history


writing, and snch it was. History was to be as
vital and as human as romance. It was to be in
every sense a restoration of the life of the past.
Macaulay surely succeeded in this aim, as his
fascinating third chapter will always testify;
whether the aim were a laudable one, we cannot
stop here to discuss. Historians will continue to
point out the defects of the work, its diffuseness,
its unphilosophical character, perhaps its partisan
spirit. But it remains a magnificent fragment, and
it will be read by thousands who could never be
persuaded to look into dryer though possibly
sounder works. Indeed, there is no higher tribute^
to its greatness than the objection that has some-
times been brought against it, namely, that it
treats a comparatively unimportant era of Eng-
land's history with such fulness and brilliance, and
has attracted to it so manv readers, that the other
eras are thrown sadly out of perspective.

But Macaulay 's name is popularly associated
with that body of Essays which in bulk alone
(always excepting Sainte-
Beuve's) are scarcely exceeded
by the product of any other essay-writer in an
essay-writing age. And the popular judgment
which has insisted upon holding to this sup-
posedly ephemeral work is not far wrong. With
all their faults upon them, until we have something
better in kind to replace them, we cannot consent
to let them go. In one sense, their range is not


wide, for they fall naturally into but two divisions,
the historical and the critical. To these Mr.
Morison would add a third, the controversial,
comprising the four essays on Mill, Sadler,
Southey, and Gladstone ; but these are comparatively
unimportant. In another sense, however, their
range is very wide. For each one gathers about a
central subject a mass of details that in the hands
of any other writer would be bewildering, while
the total knowledge that supports the bare arrays
of fact and perpetual press of allusions betrays a
scope that, to the ordinary mind, is quite beyond

And the more remarkable must this work appear
when we consider the manner of its production.
Most of the essays were published anonymously in
the Edinburgh Revieiv, a few early ones in
Knight's Quarterly Magazine, five (those on
Atterbury, Bunyan, Goldsmith, Johnson, and
Pitt), written late in life, in the Encyclopaedia
Britannica. The writing of them was always an
avocation with Macanlay, never a vocation. Those
produced during his parliamentary life were usually
written .in the hoars between early rising and
breakfast.. Some were composed at a distance
from his books. He scarcely dreamed of their
living beyond the quarter of their publication, cer-
tainly not beyond the generation for whose enter-
tainment they were written with all the devices to
catch applause and all the disregard of permanent


merit which writing for such a purpose invites.
He could scarcely be induced, even after they were
pirated and republished in America, to reissue
them in a collected edition, with his revision and
under his name. These facts should be remem-
bered in mitigation of the severe criticism to which
they are sometimes subjected.

Between the historical and the critical essays we
are not called upon to decide, though the decision
is by no means difficult. Macaulay was essentially
a historian, a story-teller, and the historical essay,
or short monograph on the events of a single period
that usually group themselves about some great
statesman or soldier, he made peculiarly his own.
He did not invent it, as Mr. Morison points out,
but he expanded and improved it until he "left it
complete and a thing of power." Fully a score of
his essays — more than half the total number — are
of this description, the most and the best of them
dealing with English historv. Chief among them
are the essays on Hallam, Temple, the Pitts, Clive,
and "Warren Hastings. The critical essays — upon
Johnson, Addison, Bunyan, and other men of
letters — are in every way as admirable reading as v
the historical. They must take a lower rank only
because Macaulay lacked some of the prime
requisites of a successful critic — broad and deep
sympathies, refined tastes, and nice perception of
the more delicate tints and shadings that count for
almost everything in a work of high art. His


critical judgments are likely to be blunt, positive,
and superficial. But they are never actually shal-
low and rarely without a modicum of truth. And
%they are never uninteresting. For, true to his
narrative instinct, he always interweaves biog-
raphy. And besides, the essays have the same
rhetorical qualities that mark with distinction
all the prose he has written, that is to say, the
same masterly method and the same compelling
style. It is to this method and style, that, after
our rapid review of Macaulay's aims and accom-
plishments, we are now ready to turn.

There were two faculties of Macaulay's mind
that set his work far apart from other work in

7. organizing the same field — the faculties of
Faculty. organization and illustration.
He saw things in their right relation and he knew
how to make others see them thus. If he was
describing, he never thrust minor details into the
foreground. If he was narrating, he never "got
ahead of his story." The importance of this is not
sufficiently recognized. Many writers do not know
what organization means. They do not know that
in all great and successful literary work it is nine-
tenths of the labor. Yet consider a moment.
History is a very complex thing: divers events may
be simultaneous in their occurrence; or one crisis
may be slowly evolving from many causes in many
places. It is no light task to tell these things one
after another and yet leave a unified impression, to


take np a dozen new threads in succession without
tangling them and without losing the old ones, and
to lay them all down at the right moment and
without confusion. Such is the narrator's task,
and it was at this task that Macaulay proved him-
self a past master. He could dispose of a number
of trivial events in a single sentence. Thus, for
example, runs his account of the dramatist
AVycherley's naval career: "He embarked, was
present at a battle, and celebrated it, on his
return, in a copy of verses too bad for the bell-
man." On the other hand, when it is a question
of a great crisis, like the impeachment of Warren
Hastings, he knew how to prepare for it with
elaborate ceremony and to portray it in a scene of
the highest dramatic power.

This faculty of organization shows itself in what
we technically name structure; and logical and
rhetorical structure may be studied at their very best ,
in his work. His essays are perfect units, made
up of many parts, systems within systems, that
play together without clog or friction. You can
take them apart like a watch and put them
together again. But try to rearrange the parts and
the mechanism is spoiled. Each essay has its
subdivisions, which in turn are groups of para-
graphs. And each paragraph is a unit. Take the
first paragraph of the essay on Milton : the word
manuscript appears in the first sentence, and it
reappears in the last ; clearly the paragraph deals


with a single very definite topic. And so with all.
Of course the unity manifests itself in a hundred
ways, but it is rarely wanting. Most frequently it
takes the form of an expansion of a topic given in
the first sentence, or a preparation for a topic to
be announced only in the last. These initial and
final sentences — often in themselves both aphoristic
and memorable — serve to mark with the utmost
clearness the different stages in the progress of the

Illustration is of more incidental service, but as
used by Macaulay becomes highly organic. For

s. illustrating his illustrations are not far-
Facuity. fetched or laboriously worked
out. They seem to be of one piece with his story
or his argument. His mind was quick to detect re-
semblances and analogies. He was ready with a
comparison for everything, sometimes with half a

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayMacaulay's essays on Milton and Addison; → online text (page 1 of 17)