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lightly. A more eulogistic estimate of the Scotch
character is nowhere to be found than in the article
on Burleigh and his Times.



192 LORD MACAULAY'S PLACE

The inaccuracy of the history, therefore, often as it
has been asserted, has not been satisfactorily proved. 1
Perhaps no history has ever been exposed to such
searching criticism. Some few mistakes have been
detected, which the author has not been slow to cor-
rect. Considering the extent of the work, and the
details upon which it enters, it is astonishing that
those mistakes have been so few, and upon matters
so unimportant. And, on the other hand, the severe
scrutiny to which the book has been subjected, fairly
entitles us to assume that no inaccuracies have escaped
notice. Guizot tells us that he read the "Decline
and Fall" carefully three times over. After the first
reading, he thought the historian superficial and un-
true. A second perusal modified this hasty judgment;
and, at the close of the third, the belief was forced
upon him, that Gibbon's trustworthiness and research
were alike admirable. Candid readers who do the
same justice to Lord Macaulay, will arrive, we think,
at the same conclusion.

The charge of partiality has been urged with not
less vehemence than the charge of inaccuracy. Now,
whatever may be thought of his delineations of indi-
vidual character, it must, we should imagine, be con-
ceded that this historic vice is not apparent in his

1 A late critic in the " Saturday Review" (August 4, 1860), allows him-
self such license of expression as to talk of " Macaulay's perversions and
inventions," and "his violations of nature and distortions of history."
Stronger language cannot well be imagined. It would require some
modification if applied to Mitford's Greece. Now, it will hardly be
believed that this condemnation is totally unsupported by facts. Through-
out the article in which it appears, not a single instance is given even of
inaccuracy there is no attempt made to bring one forward. We take
no exception to the strength of the language, had it been justified. First
prove that an historian perverts and invents, and then condemn him as
severely as you please. But to pronounce sentence with this violence,
without proof, or any attempt at proof thus to sneer down the work of
a lifetime thus to prejudice readers without once appealing to their
reason, admits of no excuse.



IN ENGLISH LITERATURE. 193

treatment of parties. He does not, indeed, conceal
which of the opposing interests commands his sym-
pathies. It would have been impossible to have done
so ; it would have been foolish to have made the
attempt ; for, in truth, it was no vulgar conflict which
then raged, and on the event depended no slight or
ignoble issues. In the struggle of the Great Rebel-
lion we can imagine doubts as to where the right
was to be found fears that the triumph of neither
party would be attended with unmixed good. In the
political strifes subsequent to 1688, principles less
important have been involved ; Oromasdes and Ari-
manes have hardly entered the lists. But, at the
Revolution, we can conceive no doubts as to the
merits of the dispute : we can sympathise with no
fears for the result of William's victory over James ;
and the stake was the future destiny of England.
Freedom and Protestantism against tyranny and
Popery " the side of loyalty, prerogative, church,
and king, against the side of right, truth, civil and
religious freedom " that was the contest which then
fell to be determined, and the result of such a contest
no man can deem a matter of small account. But
while Macaulay makes no pretence of an unreal and
undesirable indifference, he is not therefore unjust.
He rejoices that victory rested where she did; he
appreciates the efforts and the sacrifices by which she
was won ; but he does not the less see clearly and
condemn strongly the errors and the crimes by which
victory was stained. The excesses of contending
factions are visited with rigid justice. An even
balance is held between them ; we have the one
weight and the one measure. The unscrupulousness
of the Whigs during the madness of the Popish Plot
and the Exclusion Bill ; the unscrupulousness of the
Tories when reaction and prudent tactics had brought
VOL. i. N



194 LOKD MACAULAY'S PLACE

round the day of their revenge, are denounced with
equal severity. The murder of Strafford meets with
no milder sentence than the murders of Russell or
of Sidney. The boots and thumbscrews which
delighted James in the torture -chamber at Edin-
burgh, are not allowed to gain a forgiveness for the
assassination of Sharp or the rabbling of the western
clergy. To few passages that we know of in history
would we point, as animated by a spirit of more
perfect fairness, than the sketch of the origin and
characteristics of the two great parties which have
so long struggled for ascendency in the State.

But with individuals the case is said to be different.
Here, it is alleged, the historian indulges whims and
fancies, forms likings and dislikings without ground,
and expresses them without moderation. Now, im-
partiality in history assumes various forms. Among
the possessors of this virtue many would unhesitat-
ingly assign to Thucydides the foremost place. But a
little reflection will convince us that, in the proper
sense of the term, he does not possess it at all. He
seems impartial because he never judges. Nothing is
more extraordinary in literature than the calmness
amounting to indifference with which he con-
templates the extremes of wickedness and the ex-
tremes of goodness. The most exalted patriotism
never warms him into admiration ; the blackest
treason calls forth no censure. On two occasions
alone, so far as we can remember, are his feelings
with regard to his character permitted to appear ; one,
when the mention of Cleon excites his personal ani-
mosity ; the other when he wastes his sympathy over
the incompetent respectability of Nicias. It is easy
to trace in this unnatural calmness of the moral
nature the sceptical influences of the Sophists, and
the confusing influences of the state of warfare into



IN ENGLISH LITERATURE. 195

which the Greece of his day was thrown. In another
age, similar causes, in an exaggerated form, produced
kindred though worse results. In mediaeval Italy,
the moral indifference of Thucydides deepened into
the moral obliquity of Machiavelli. Some French
writers as Mignet and M. Comte share in this
quality of the great Grecian, deriving it possibly
from similar causes. Such writers cannot be pro-
perly called impartial, because the plan which they
adopt affords no scope for the exercise of the virtue.
Of English historians, the most impartial, perhaps, is
Gibbon. In him this arises from a sarcastic disregard
of the whole matter ; his narrative sweeps along far
beyond the reach of agitation from the struggles and
passions of which it treats. Of a different stamp,
again, is the impartiality of Mr. Hallam, which con-
sists in abusing everybody ; and different from any
is the impartiality of Sir James Mackintosh, which
consists in abusing nobody.

Now, properly speaking, none of these tendencies
constitutes true impartiality. An historian is not
bound to abstain either from forming opinions or from
expressing them. He is under no obligation either to
relinquish his right of judgment or to preserve silence
as to what his judgments are. On the contrary, it is
his duty to form an estimate of the characters whose
actions he records, and to present that estimate to his
readers. If he neglects to do this, he fails in the chief
part of his undertaking. For, after all, the real use
of studying the annals of past times is to acquire a
knowledge of the men of past times. History, in its
best aspect, is but biography on a large scale. The
old idea of the past interpreting the future of philo-
sophy teaching by examples is very much exploded.
It sounds imposing ; yet it contains little real mean-
ing. Events so seldom repeat themselves, that the



196 LOUD MACAULAY'S PLACE

experience is at best of doubtful utility; and the
philosophy is but the chance reflections of the writer.
The philosophy of history in the hands of Sir A. Alison
is but a sorry affair. History, like metaphysics, is
daily becoming more esteemed for its true advantages,
the light which it throws on human nature show-
ing how powerfully it is modified by circumstances
what there is in it which no circumstances have
strength to alter, in a word, for the assistance which
it lends to " the proper study of mankind." But in
order to afford us this light, in order to teach us how
to distinguish what is transitory from what is perma-
nent in morality, historians must state their views of
character, and display impartiality, not by concealing
these views, but in forming them. Silence is not
required, but caution before speaking. The charge of
partiality can then only be justly brought, when, from
a knowledge of the principles professed by any states-
man, we can certainly foretell what will be the esti-
mate formed of that statesman's character. A writer
who always favours Whigs; a writer who always
favours Tories ; a writer who never has a good word
for a Catholic ; a writer who never shows a generous
appreciation of Protestants ; all these are equally
partial and misleading narrators of past events. But
such leanings must be shown uniformly and deli-
berately. An historian may be keenly alive to
demerits in some instances ; he may be too blind to
faults in others ; he may sometimes even take up false
conceptions altogether ; but unless he can be proved
to do so wilfully and on wrong grounds, he is not
fairly open to the reproach of partiality.

If we adopt this test, to call Macaulay partial is
absurd. With him, no man's politics are a protection
or a cause of offence. If he speaks in language justly
severe of Tories like Lauderdale and Sunderland,



IN ENGLISH LITERATURE. 197

does he use language at all milder when he speaks of
Whigs like Marlborough or Breadalbane ? Are the
Church and State virtues of Hyde less commended
than the democratic virtues of Sidney ? An unruly
prater like Sir Patrick Hume, or a wild fanatic like
Ferguson, n\eets with no more mercy than the apostate
Melfort or the savage L'Estrange. Can it be main-
tained that he bears too hardly on the mixed char-
acter of Danby, or fails to mark the faults which
marred the gentle nature of Shrewsbury ? The accom-
plishments of Somers move him to no warmer admi-
ration than the integrity of Nottingham; and he
speaks in language of unfeigned reverence of the
almost ideal perfection of Ken. The list might be
indefinitely extended. In truth, had he been more
partial, he would have been less blamed. The vehe-
mence of his assailants, and the opposite quarters from
which the assaults have come, afford the strongest
proof that he has exposed the misrepresentations and
offended the prejudices of all parties alike. Had he
taken a side, writers on that side would have sup-
ported him. As it is, the zealots of every faction
have been hot against him, while no passions have
been roused in his defence. From the first he has
been hated by the extremes of all sects, and this, in
our opinion, constitutes his best claim upon our confi-
dence. One innocent critic cannot get over his con-
demnation of the Whig Marlborough. We would
suggest a very simple explanation. It is merely that
he does not apportion his praise or blame according
to political considerations.

Undoubtedly it behoved Lord Macaulay to form his
views of character with fairness and with care, for he
has not been slack in impressing those views on his
readers. They are reiterated with a persistency and
a strength of language only to be justified by a pro-



198 LORD MACAULAY'S PLACE

found conviction of their truth. Maiiborough cannot
be robbed at St. Albans, without our hearing how
long and how bitterly he regretted his lost money ;
Edward Seymour never steps on the stage without
his pride, his licentiousness, and his meanness being
made present to our minds. All this we are free to
think not merely defensible, but a necessary result of
the life which Lord Macaulay has given to his narrative.
His characters are not allegories of the virtues or the
vices, but beings of flesh and blood, who act in a
manner deserving of praise or blame, and who must
be praised or blamed accordingly, if we are to breathe
the atmosphere of a moral world at all. In the severity
of his judgments we can find no good ground of com-
plaint. The statesmen of the Ee volution deserve no
gentle handling. People are fond of crying out, in a
sort of feeble wonderment, Can the men to whom
England owes her freedom have really been such a
set of knaves ? Can an evil tree bring forth good
fruit, etc. ? Somewhat in the same way, Mr. Froude
assumes that all the known virtues adorned Henry vm.,
because the Reformation was hurried on by the matri-
monial proceedings of that prince : an ingenious style
of argument, according to the principle of which, wise
commercial legislation will suffice to canonise Richard
in., and the Edict of Nantes prove incontestably the
ascetic morality of Henri Quatre.

The fact is that the men of that time were not good
men, in a sense, evil trees did bring forth good fruit.
The task of governing England in the middle of the
seventeenth century was the very thing which im-
parted to them a peculiar stamp. They were bred in
times of trouble, their public life was a series of dark
and dangerous intrigues, in which men shared at the
risk of their necks. Statesmen who spend their exist-
ence in sudden and violent political changes, ending



IN ENGLISH LITERATURE. 199

with a revolution and the overthrow of a dynasty, do
not escape unmarked with the scars of battle. They
will rarely be men of high principle and steadfast
adherence to truth ; but they will be subtle in counsel,
prompt in action, regardless of pledges, skilful in
deceit, keen-sighted to discern the signs of change,
swift to avert its consequences by a timely treason.
Such men were the statesmen of the times of the later
Stuarts. Lord Macaulay has himself compared them
to the French statesmen of the last generation, when
the "same man was a servant of the Eepublic, of
Bonaparte, of Louis xvni., of Bonaparte again after
his return from Elba, of Louis again after his return
from Ghent." Lord Wharton, an old Puritan, in the
debate on the Abjuration Bill, declared with amus-
ing simplicity, that he had spent his political life in
taking oaths which he had not kept, and that he
would not be a party to laying any more such snares
for the consciences of his neighbours. Human nature
is always the same. In times far distant, the same
causes produced the same mental phenomena among
the statesmen of the Grecian Eepublics. The pre-
science and the treacheries of Themistocles may be
compared to the prescience and the treacheries of
Shaftesbury ; Alcibiades, under whom the Athenians
were never defeated by sea or land, and who so cruelly
betrayed his country to her bitterest foe, presents a
striking parallel to Marlborough, always victorious
and never faithful.

How great soever may be the obligations which we
owe to men of this stamp, to forgive them everything
on that account is surely to forget a very old rule of
morality. But, in truth, our debt to most of the
leading statesmen of that period is very small. What
they did was to serve James until James's tyranny
began to reach themselves, to squabble for places



200 LOKD MACAULAY'S PLACE

under William when William ascended the throne,
and as soon as they had got those places, to commence
intriguing with St. Germains. The lump was indeed
leavened with material of a different sort. We owe
the perfected success of the Revolution not to these
men, but to the few conscientious Whigs who opposed
James from the first, and the few upright Tories who
served William faithfully when the kingly power had
been transferred. We owe it to the zeal of such men
as Burnet, to the integrity of such men as Nottingham,
to the ability of Somers, to the serene intellect of
Halifax. Above all, we owe it to the steadiness of
the bulk of the people hating Popery and despotism,
to the sagacity and tolerance of the Prince who won,
to the bigotry, folly, and obstinacy of the Prince who
lost. We owe little to a body of unscrupulous though
experienced statesmen, who served and deserted both
princes with an edifying impartiality, who condescended
occasionally to guide the fortunes of the Revolution,
and who did not betray the cause of the Revolution
more than half-a-dozen times. It is not services like
these which can win the gratitude of posterity for
looser principles and not greater abilities than those
of Fouche or Talleyrand. History has another duty
to discharge than to whine over such offenders a
plaintive "surely they can't have been so very bad."
There is nothing praiseworthy in that affected amia-
bility which persists in devising excuses for what is
inexcusable, which shrinks from an expression of
honest indignation. It has its origin in mere cow-
ardice, in a reluctance to look at things as they
really are. In everyday life nothing is more irritat-
ing or more tiresome ; and it is too bad that the same
folly should be imported into history. We greatly
prefer the severity of Mr. Hallam to the overstrained
lenity of Sir James Mackintosh.



IN ENGLISH LITERATURE. 201

We have mentioned Marlborough, Upon what
grounds the manifold perfidies of this man have been
defended, we are wholly at a loss to conceive. We
would not try him by a high standard. We would give
him the full benefit of the principle, that men are to
be judged according to the sentiments of their own
time. We think, indeed, that this principle is at
present carrying us rather too far. In general, it is
doubtless sound ; but its indefinite extension may be
dangerous. Circumstances produce an almost bound-
less effect upon opinion ; but there is something per-
manent in morality over which circumstances have no
effect. It is not good that the power of circumstance
should be strengthened that the changeful element in
morality should be magnified, and the abiding element
overlooked that historians should suffer right and
wrong to melt into each other, as if no real distinction
could be maintained. The present style of " making
allowance " savours too much of the easy indifference
of Lucio. It tends to excuse all vice, and to obscure
all virtue, degrading the latter into an accident, exalt-
ing the former into a discreet, almost an unavoidable
conformity to the spirit of the age. It is the duty of
history to oppose that morality which forgives every-
thing which contemporaries did not condemn, which
would palliate the crimes of Csesar Borgia, which can
see nothing very revolting in the atrocities of the
Black Prince at Limoges. But even if we strain this
principle to the utmost, it cannot avail Marlborough.
To him was assigned by his contemporaries an easy
pre-eminence in treason over all the traitors who sur-
rounded the last Stuart. In the bitterest extremity of
despair, James declared that Churchill could never be
forgiven. When he sought forgiveness by acts as
base as those by which he had incurred hatred, even
the desperate Jacobites would not trust him. In their



202 LORD MACAULAY'S PLACE

greatest extremity they gave up the most feasible
plot ever formed against William, simply because it
had been suggested and was to be carried out by
Marlborough. Yet the men who thus judged him
did not know his worst. Among his compeers his
character alone was darkened with military dishonour,
as well as by political treason. Even Kussell fought
honestly at La Hogue. " Understand this," said he
to Lloyd, " if I meet them I fight them ; ay, even if
his Majesty were on board/' Marlborough fought
too, when it was for his own interest, and he never
failed to fight successfully. But when he wanted to
" hedge " politically, he was restrained by no profes-
sional feeling. He was faithless to his colours as
readily as to his promises. Desertion was as easy to
him as lying. Even this was not all. Few soldiers,
however depraved, will wish to bring about the defeat
and death of their fellow-soldiers. Marlborough,
without a pang, betrayed Talmash and eleven hundred
Englishmen to destruction. The infamy of having
revealed to James the intended attack on Brest
exceeds, to our thinking, almost any infamy recorded
in history. Lord Macaulay's estimate of Marlborough
is much the same as that formed by a great writer of
our day, who, though not a professed historian, is, we
suspect, as shrewd a judge of the men of the past, as
he has shown himself to be of the men of the present.
So, too, with regard to Claverhouse, the similarity
between the portraiture drawn by Macaulay and the
portraiture drawn by Scott is very striking. The
judgments passed upon the character are widely dif-
ferent ; but the representations given of the character
are very much the same. The historian considers DO
amount of courage and ability should win forgiveness
for wilful oppression, for utter contempt for the rights,
and utter callousness to the sufferings of others. The



IN ENGLISH LITERATURE. 203

novelist, less judicial and more imaginative, forgets
the bad citizen and the cruel oppressor in the distin-
guished soldier, and the faithful adherent to a fallen
dynasty. Yet, as the historian admits the professional
ability, so the novelist does not conceal the hardness
of heart. Claverhouse paints his own character in a
conversation with Morton during the celebrated ride
from Drumshinnel to Edinburgh. The total want of
conscience and the absolute indifference to human life
which he there avows, is more than sufficient to justify
any condemnation.

Every reader remembers the Marlborough of
Esmond ; but some may have forgotten the following
passage in the lecture on the first George :

" We are not the historic muse, but her ladyship's atten-
dant, tale-bearer, valet de chambre for whom no man is a
hero ; and as yonder one steps from his carriage to the next
handy conveyance, we take the number of the hack ; we
look all over his stars, ribbons, embroidery ; we think
within ourselves, you unfathomable schemer ! you war-
rior invincible ! O you beautiful smiling Judas ! What
master would you not kiss or betray? What traitor's
head, blackening on the spikes on yonder gate, e'er hatched
a tithe of the treason which has worked under your peri-
wig?"

"What have we to set against all this ? That he was
a man of surpassing ability, and very fond of his wife.
As to the latter plea, we can only say that nothing
else was to be expected from his singular prudence.
It was even more important to be on good terms with
his imperious spouse, than with the Dutch deputies.
But, though his wife may have been beholden to him
for his love and obedience, we cannot see that his
country was. Let us cheerfully award him all praise
as a complaisant husband. Yet meditations on the
domestic happiness of Duchess Sarah would have



204 LORD MACAU LAY S PLACE

afforded but insufficient consolation to the dying
Talmash. This plea is simply childish, but the former
opens up a wide subject. As an administrator, Marl-
borough might have rivalled Kichelieu ; as a warrior,
he excelled Conde. Are all his crimes to be, on that
account, forgiven 1 Is history thus to make intellect
her god ? The question is not unworthy of a little
attention.

Our most popular living historian has announced
the doctrine, that force of character covers all sins.
Completed success requires unreserved honour; the
energy which deserves, though it may fail to command
success, obtains respectful admiration. A man who
achieved the heights of Cromwell can have committed
no fault ; our sympathies are asked even for the im-
perfect career of Mirabeau. The greatest work of this
new philosophy has been the glorification of Frederic
Wilhelm. When that Amiable monarch deserts his allies
in a peculiarly blackguard manner, he is described as
" advancing in circuits spirally, with his own reason-
able private aim sun-clear to him all the time." When
he shoots the companion of his son's flight, and is
hardly restrained, by the outcry of all Europe, from
shooting his son, we are told that we are not yet
sufficiently enlightened to pass a judgment on the
proceeding. So, too, when Cromwell sullies his fame
by the butcheries of Wexford and Drogheda, he is



Online LibraryHenry H LancasterEssays and reviews → online text (page 16 of 38)