George Otto Trevelyan.

The life and letters of Lord Macaulay online

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covered in Macaulay' s days ; and indeed he would have cared
very little for the privilege of spending his time outside walls
which contained within them as many books as even he could
read, and more friends than even he could talk to. Wanting
nothing beyond what his college had to give, he reveled in the
possession of leisure and liberty, in the almost complete com-
mand of his own time, in the power of passing at choice from
the most perfect solitude to the most agreeable company. He
keenly appreciated a society which cherishes all that is gen-
uine, and is only too outspoken in its abhorrence of pretension
and display : a society in which a man lives with those whom
he likes and with those only ; choosing his comrades for their
own sake, and so indifferent to the external distinctions of
wealth and position that no one who has entered fully into
the spirit of college life can ever milearn its priceless lesson
of manliness and simplicity.

Of all his places of sojourn during his joyous and shining
pilgrimage through the world. Trinity, and Trinity alone, had
any share with his home in Macaulay's affection and loyalty.
To the last he regarded it as an ancient Greek or a medigeval



80 LIFE AND LETTERS OF [chap. il

Italian felt toward his native city. As long as lie had place
and standing there, he never left it willingly or returned to it
without delight. The only step in his course about the wis-
dom of w^iich he sometimes expressed misgiving was his pref-
erence of a London to a Cambridge life. The only digni-
ty that in his later days he was known to covet was an lion-
orary fellowship w^hich would have allowed him again to look
through his window upon the college grass-plots, and to sleep
within sound of the splashing of the fountain ; again to break-
fast on commons, and dine beneath the portraits of Xewton
and Bacon on the dais of the hall ; again to ramble by moon-
light round Seville's cloister discoursing the picturesque but
somewhat exoteric philosophy which it pleased him to call
by the name of metaphysics. From the door of his rooms,
along the wall of the chapel, there runs a flagged pathway
which affords an acceptable relief from the nigged pebbles
that surround it. Here, as a bachelor of arts, he would walk,
book in hand, morning after morning, throughout the long va-
cation, reading w^ith the same eagerness and the same rapidity
whether the volume was the most abstruse of treatises, the lofti-
est of poems, or the flimsiest of novels. That was the spot where
in his failing years he specially loved to renew the feelings of
the past, and some there are who can never revisit it without
the fancy that there, if anywhere, his dear shade must linger.

He was fortunate in his contemporaries. Among his in-
timate friends were the two Coleridges — Derwent, the son,
and Henry Nelson, who was destined to be the son-in-law of
the poet ; and how exceptional that destiny was, the readers
of Sara Coleridge's letters are now aware. Hyde Yilliers,
whom an untimely death alone prevented from taking an
equal place in a trio of distinguished brothers, was of his year,
though not of his college. - In the year below were the young
men who now bear the titles of Lord Grey, Lord Belper, and
Lord Komilly ;t and after the same interval came Moultrie,

* Lord Clarendon and his brothers were all Johnians.

t This paragraph was written in the summer of 1874. Three of Macan-
lay's old college friends, Lord Romilly, Moultrie, and Charles Austin, died
in the hard winter that followed, within a few days of each other.



18ia-'24.] LORD MACAULAY. g^

who in his " Dream of Life," with a fidelity which he himself
pronounced to have been obtained at some sacrifice of grace,
has ':old us how tlie heroes of his time looked and lived, and
Charles Yilliers, who still delights our generation by show-
ing us how they talked. Then there was Praed, fresh from
editing the Etonian^ as a product of collective boyish effort
unique in its literary excellence and variety ; and Sidney
Walker, Praed's gifted school - fellow, whose promise was
blighted by premature decay of powers ; and Charles Austin,
whose fame would now be more in proportion to his extraor-
dinary abilities had not his unparalleled success as an advocate
tempted him before his day to retire from the toils of a career
of whose rewards he already had enough.

With his vigor and fervor, his depth of knowledge and
breadth of humor, his close reasoning illustrated by an expan-
sive imagination, set off, as these gifts were, by the advantage,
at that period of life so irresistible, of some experience of the
world at home and abroad, Austin was indeed a king among
his fellows.

Grave, sedate,
And (if the looks may indicate the age),
Onr senior some few years: no keener wit,
No intellect more subtle, none more bold,
Was found in all our host.

So writes Moultrie, and the testimony of his verse is borne
out by John Stuart Mill's prose. " The impression he gave
was that of boundless strength, together with talents which,
combined with such apparent force of will and character,
seemed capable of dominating the world." He certainly was
the only man who ever succeeded in dominating Macaulay.
Brimming over with ideas that were soon to be known by the
name of Utilitarian, a paneg}n*ist of American institutions, and
an unsparing assailant of ecclesiastical endowments and he-
reditary privileges, he effectually cured the young under-grad-
uate of his Tory opinions, which were never more than skin-
deep, and brought him nearer to Padicalism than he ever
was before or since. The report of this conversion, of which
the most was made by ill-natured tale-bearers who met with
Vol. L— 6



82 LIFE AND LETTEKS OF [chap. ii.

move encouragement than they deserved, created some con-
sternation in the family circle : while the reading set at Cam-
bridge was duly scandalized at the influence which one whose
classical attainments were rather discursive than exact had
gained over a Craven scholar. To this hour men may be
found in remote j^arsonages who mildly resent the fascination
which Austin of Jesus exercised over Macaulay of Trinity.

The day and the night together were too short for one who
was entering on the journey of life amidst such a band of
travelers. So long as a door was open or a light burning in
any of the courts, Macaulay was alwa^^s in the mood for con-
versation and companionship. Unfailing in his attendance at
lecture and chapel, blameless with regard to college laws and
college discipline, it was well for his virtue that no curfew
was in force within the precincts of Trinity. He never tired
of recalling the days when he supped at midnight on milk-
punch and roast turkey, drank tea in floods at an hour when
older men are intent upon any thing rather than on the means
of keeping themselves awake, and made little of sitting over
the fire till the bell rang for morning chapel in order to see a
friend off by the early coach. In the license of the summer
vacation, after some prolonged and festive gathering, the
w^hole party would pour out into the moonlight and ramble
for mile after mile through the country till the noise of their
wide-flowing talk mingled with the twittering of the birds in
the hedges which bordered the Coton pathway or the Mading-
ley road. On such occasions it must have been well worth
the loss of sleep to hear Macaulay plying Austin with sarcasms
upon the doctrine of the Greatest Happiness, which then had
still some gloss of novelty ; putting into an ever-fresh shape
the time-honored jokes against the Johnians for the benefit
of the Yillierses ; and urging an interminable debate on
Wordsworth's merits as a poet, in which the Coleridges, as in
duty bound, were ever ready to engage. In this particular
field he acquired a skill of fence which rendered him the most
redoubtable of antagonists. Many years afterward, at the
time when the " Prelude " was fresh from the press, he was
maintaining against the opinion of a large and mixed society



1818-'24.] LORD MACAULAY. 83

that the poem was unreadable. At last, overborne by the
united indignation of so many of Wordsworth's admirers, he
agreed that the question should be referred to the test of per-
sonal experience ; and on inquiry it was discovered that the
only individual present who had got through the " Prelude "
was Macaulay himself.

It is not only that the witnesses of these scenes unanimously
declare that they have never since heard such conversation in
the most renowned of social circles. The partiality of a gen-
erous young man for trusted and admired companions may
well color his judgment over the space of even half a century.
But the estimate of university contemporaries was abundant-
ly confirmed by the outer world. While on a visit to Lord
Lansdowne at Bowood, Austin and Macaulay happened to get
upon college topics one morning at breakfast. When the
meal was finished they drew their chairs to either end of the
chimney-piece, and talked at each other across the hearth-rug
as if they were in a first-floor room in the Old Court of Trin-
ity. The whole company, ladies, artists, politicians, and diners-
out, formed a silent circle round the two Cantabs, and, with a
short break for lunch, never stirred till the bell w^amed them
that it was time to dress for dinner.

It has all irrevocably perished. With life before them, and
each intent on his own future, none among that troop of
friends had the mind to play Boswell to the others. One
repartee survives, thrown off in the heat of discussion, but
exquisitely perfect in all its parts. Acknowledged without
dissent to be the best-applied quotation that ever was made
within five miles of the Fitzwilliam Museum, it is unfortunate-
ly too strictly classical for reproduction in these pages.

We are more easily consoled for the loss of the eloquence
which then flowed so full and free in the debates of the Cam-
bridge Union. In 1820 that society was emerging from a
period of tribulation and repression. The authorities of the
university, who, as old constituents of Mr. Pitt and warm sup-
porters of Lord Liverpool, had been never very much inclined
to countenance the practice of political discussion among the
under-graduates, set their faces against it more than ever at



84 LIFE AND LETTERS OF [chap, it

an epoch when the temper of the time increased the tenden-
cy of young men to run into extremes of partisanship. At
length a compromise was extorted from the reluctant hands
of the vice-chancellor, and the club w^as allowed to take into
consideration pubHc affairs of a date anterior to the century.
It required less ingenuity than the leaders of the Union had
at their command to hit upon a method of dealing with the
present under the guise of the past. Motions were framed
that reflected upon the existing Government under cover of a
censure on the cabinets of the previous generation. Resolu-
tions which called upon the meeting to declare that the boon
of Catholic Emancipation should have been granted in the
year 1795, or that our commercial policy previous to 1800
should liave been founded on the basis of free trade, were
clearly susceptible of great latitude of treatment. And, again,
in its character of a reading-club, the society, when assembled
for the conduct of private business, was at liberty to review
the political creed of the journals of the day in order to de-
cide which of them it should take in and which it should dis-
continue. The Examiner newspaper was the flag of many a
hard-fought battle ; the Morning Chronicle was voted in and
out of the rooms half a dozen times within a single twelve-
month ; while a series of impassioned speeches on the burning
question of interference in behalf of Greek independence were
occasioned by a proposition of Maiden's, *'that y\ 'EXXr^viKr]
aaXTTiyi do lie upon the table."

At the close of the debates, which were held in a large room
at the back of The Hed Lion in Petty Cury, the most promi-
nent members met for supper in the hotel, or at Moultrie's
lodgings, w^hich were situated close at hand. They acted as a
self-appointed standing committee, which watched over the
general interests of the Union, and selected candidates, whom
they put in nomination for its offices. The society did not
boast a Hansard : an omission which, as time went on, some
among its orators had no reason to regret. Faint recollections
still survive of a discussion upon the august topic of the char-
acter of George the Third. " To whom do we owe it," asked
Macaulay, "that, while Europe was convulsed with anarchy



I818-'24.] LORD MACAULAY. §5

and desolated with war, England alone remained tranquil,
prosperous, and secure? To whom but the Good Old Kino-?
Why was it that, when neighboring capitals were perishino-
in the flames, our own was illuminated only for triumphs ?*
You may find the cause in the same three words : the Good
Old King." Praed, on the other hand, would allow his late
monarch neither public merits nor private virtues. "A good
man ! If he had been a plain country gentleman with no
wider opportunities for mischief, he would at least have bull-
ied his footman and cheated his steward."

Macaulay's intense enjoyment of all that was stirring and
vivid around him undoubtedly hindered him in the race for
university honors ; though his success was safiicient to inspirit
him at the time, and to give him abiding pleasure in the retro-
spect. He twice gained the chancellor's medal for English
verse, with poems admirably planned, and containing passages
of real beauty, but which may not be republished in the teeth
of the panegyric which, within ten years after they were writ-
ten, he pronounced upon Sir Roger JS'ewdigate. Sir Eoger
had laid down the rule that no exercise sent in for the prize
which he established at Oxford was to exceed fifty lines.
This law, says Macaulay, seems to have more foundation in
reason than is generally the case with a literary canon, ^' for
the world, we believe, is pretty well agreed in thinking that
the shorter a prize poem is, the better."

Trinity men find it difficult to understand how it was that
he missed getting one of the three silver goblets given for the
best English declamations of the year. If there is one thing
w^hich all Macaulay's friends and all his enemies admit it is
that he could declaim English. His own version of the affair
was that the senior dean, a relative of the victorious candidate,
sent for him, and said, " Mr. Macaulay, as you have not got

*' This debate evidently made some noise iu the uuiversity world. There
is au allnsiou to it in a squib of Praed's, very finished and elegant, and be-
yond all doubt contemporary. The passage relating to Macaulay begins
with the lines —

Then the favorite comes, with his trumpets and drums,
And his arms and his metaj)hora crossed.



86 LIFE AND LETTERS OF [chap. ii.

the first cup, I do not suppose that you will care for either of
the others." He was consoled, however, by the prize for
Latin declamation, and in 1821 he established his classical re-
pute by winning a Craven university scholarship in company
with his friend Maiden, and Mr. George Long, who was subse-
quently Professor of Latin at University College, London.

Macaulay detested the labor of manufacturing Greek and
Latin verse in cold blood as an exercise, and his hexameters
were never up to the best Etonian mark, nor his iambics to
the highest standard of Shrewsbury. He defined a scholar as
one who reads Plato wdth his feet on the fender. When al-
ready well on in his third year, he whites : " I never practiced
composition a single hour since I have been at Cambridge."
" Soak your mind with Cicero," was his constant advice to
students at that time of life w^hen writing Latin prose is the
most lucrative of accomplishments. The advantage of this
precept was proved in the fellowship examination of the year
1824, wdien he obtained the honor which in his eyes was the
most desirable that Cambridge had to give. The delight of
the young man at finding himself one of the sixty masters of
an ancient and splendid establishment ; the pnde with which
he signed his first order for the college plate, and dined for
the first time at the high table in his own right ; the reflection
that these privileges were the fruit, not of favor or inheritance,
but of personal industry and ability, were matters on which
he loved to dwell long after the world had loaded him w4th
its most envied prizes. Macaulay's feeling on this point is
illustrated by the curious reverence which he chenshed for
those junior members of the college who, some ninety years
ago, by a spirited remonstrance addressed to the governing
body, brought about a reform in the Trinity fellowship exam-
ination that secured to it the character for fair play and effi-
ciency which it has ever since enjoyed. In his copy of the
"Cambridge Calendar" for the year 1859 (the last of his
life), throughout the list of the old mathematical triposes the
words " one of the eight " appear in his handwriting opposite
the name of each of these gentlemen. And one, at any rate,
among his nephews can never remember the time when it was



1818-'-24.] LORD MACAULAY. 8Y

not diligently impressed upon him that, if he minded his syn-
tax, he might eventually hope to reach a position which would
give him three Imndred pounds a year, a stable for his horse,
six dozen of audit ale every Christmas, a loaf and two pats of
butter every morning, and a good dinner for nothing, with as
many almonds and raisins as he could eat at dessert.

Macaulay was not chosen a fellow until his third trial,
nominally for the amazing reason that his translations from
Greek and Latin, while faithfully representing the originals,
were rendered into English that was ungracefully bald and
inornate. The real cause was, beyond all doubt, his utter neg-
lect of the special study of the place : a liberty which Cam-
bridge seldom allows to be taken with impunity even by her
most favored sons. He used to profess deep and lasting re-
gret for his early repugnance to scientific subjects ; but the
fervor of his penitence in after -years was far surpassed by
the heartiness with which he inveighed against mathematics
as long as it was his business to learn them. Every one who
knows the Senate-house may anticipate the result. When
the tripos of 1822 made its appearance, his name did not grace
the list. In short, to use the expressive vocabulary of the uni-
versity, Macaulay was gulfed : a mishap which disabled him
from contending for the chancellor's medals, then the cro\^^l-
ing trophies of a classical career. " I well remember," says
Lady Trevelyan, " that first trial of my life. We were spend-
ing the winter at Brighton, when a letter came giving an ac-
count of the event. I recollect my mother taking me into her
room to tell me ; for even then it was known how my whole
heart was wrapped up in him, and it was thought necessary to
break the news. Wlien your uncle arrived at Brighton I can
recall my mother telling him that he had better go at once
to his father, and get it over, and I can see him as he left the
room on that errand."

During the same year he engaged in a less arduous compe-
tition. A certain Mr. Greaves, of Fulbourn, had long since
provided a reward of ten pounds for ''the junior bachelor of
Trinity College who wrote the best essay on the ' Conduct and
Character of William the Third.' " As the prize is annual, it

1)2



«8 LIFE AND LETTERS OF [chap. ii.

is appalling to reflect upon the searching analysis to which the
motives of that monarch must by this time have been sub-
jected. The event, however, may be counted as an encourage-
ment to the founders of endowments, for amidst the succes-
sion of juvenile critics whose attention was by his munificence
turned in the direction of his favorite hero, Mr. Greaves had
at last fallen in with the right man. It is more than probable
that to this old Cambridgeshire Whig was due the first idea
of that " History " in whose pages William of Orange stands
as the central figure. The essay is still in existence, in a close
neat hand wdiicli twenty years of reviewing never rendered
illegible. Originally written as a fair copy, but so disfigured,
by repeated corrections and additions, as to be unfit for the
eyes of the college authorities, it bears evident marks of hav-
ing been held to the flames, and rescued on second, and in this
case, it w^ill be allowed, on better, thoughts. The exercise,
which is headed by the very appro^^riate motto,

Primus qui legibus nrbem
Fnndabit, Curibus i)arvis et paupeie teirX
Missus ill imperium maguum,

is just such as will very likely be produced in the course of next
Easter tei-m by some young man of judgment and spirit wdio
knows his Macaulay by heart, and w^ill paraphrase him with-
out scruple. The characters of James, of Shaftesbury, of
William himself ; the Popish plot ; the straggle over the Ex-
clusion Bill ; the reaction from Puritanic rigor into the license
of the Bestoration, are drawn on the same lines and painted
in the same colors as those with which the world is now famil-
iar. The style only wants condensation, and a little of the
humor which he had not yet learned to transfer from his con-
versation to his writings, in order to be worthy of his mature
powers. He thus describes William's life-long enemy and
rival, whose name he already spells after his own fashion :
•' Lewis was not a great general. He was not a great legisla-
tor. But he was, in one sense of the words, a great king. He
was a perfect master of all the mysteries of the science of roy-
alty — of all the arts which at once extend power and concili-



1818-'24.] LORD MAC AULA Y. 89

ate popularitj — which most advantageously display the mer-
its, 01* most dexterously conceal the deliciencies, of a sovereio:n.
lie was surrounded by great men, by victorious commanders,
by sagacious statesmen. Yet, while he availed himself to the
utmost of their services, he never incurred anv dano:er from
their rivalry. His was a talisman which extorted the obedi-
ence of the proudest and mightiest spirits. The haughty and
turbulent warriors whose contests had agitated France during
his minority yielded to the irresistible spell, and, like the gi-
gantic slaves of the ring and lamp of Aladdin, labored to dec-
orate and aggrandize a master whom they could have crush-
ed. With incomparable address he appropriated to himself
the glory of campaigns which had been planned and counsels
which had been suggested by others. The arms of Turenne
were the terror of Europe. The policy of Colbert was the
strength of France. But in their foreign successes and their
internal prosperity the people saw only the greatness and wis-
dom of Lewis." In the second chapter of the " History" much
of this is compressed into the sentence, " He had shown, in an
eminent degree, two talents invaluable to a prince — the talent
of choosing his servants well, and the talent of appropriating
to himseK the chief part of the credit of their acts."

In a passage that occurs toward the close of the essay may
be traced something more than an outline of the peroration in
which, a quarter of a century later on, he summed up the
character and results of the Revolution of 1688. " To have
been a sovereign, yet the champion of liberty ; a revolutionary
leader, yet the supporter of social order, is the peculiar glory
of William. He knew where to pause. He outraged no
national prejudice. He abolished no ancient form. He al-
tered no venerable name. He saw that the existing institu-
tions possessed the greatest capabilities of excellence, and that
stronger sanctions and clearer definitions were alone required
to make the practice of the British constitution as admirable
as the theory. Thus he imparted to innovation the dignity
alid stability of antiquity. He transferred to a happier order
of things the associations which had attached the people to
their former Government. As the Homan warrior, before he



90 LIFE AND LETTERS OF [chap. ii.

assaulted Yeii, invoked its guardian gods to leave its walls,
and to accept the worship and patronize the cause of the be-
siegers, this great prince, in attacking a system of oppression,
summoned to his aid the venerable principles and deeply
seated feelings to which that system was indebted for protec-
tion."

A letter written during the later years of his life expresses
Macaulay's general views on the subject of university honors.
" If a man brings away from Cambridge self-knowledge, ac-



Online LibraryGeorge Otto TrevelyanThe life and letters of Lord Macaulay → online text (page 7 of 79)