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show that they cannot understand it. If they would
use their eyes and look on what the nations are even
now enduring all around them, they might learn to
appreciate more justly what we owe to the founders
of English liberty. " Laws themselves," says Carlyle
truly enough, " political institutions, are not our life ;
but only the house in which our life is led ; nay, but
the bare walls of the house. " Yet surely the house is



218 LORD MACAULAYS PLACE

somewhat ; and we do well to take good heed that
the walls be strong. If the tenement is insecure, the
life which it shelters will be uncertain and full of
danger. A free constitution is not valuable for itself
alone, but for the security, the peace, the justice, and
the individual happiness which only a free constitu-
tion can guarantee ; and for the knowledge, the
industry, and the elegant cultivation which a free
constitution can best foster. To learn how this price-
less possession has been acquired, is the surest way to
learn how it may be preserved. " To us," says the
historian, " nothing is so interesting and delightful as
to contemplate the steps by which the England of the
Domesday Book, the England of the Curfew and the
Forest laws, the England of crusaders, monks, school-
men, astrologers, serfs, outlaws, became the England
which we know and love, the classic ground of liberty
and philosophy, the school of all knowledge, the mart
of all trade. ... The history of England is the
history of this great change in the moral, intellectual,
and physical state of the inhabitants of our own
island." We never could understand how the author
who could thus feel and thus write should have been
so bitterly disliked by Conservatives. Surely no
history, as a whole, was ever conceived in a more truly
Conservative spirit. We would put Macaulay into the
hands of every one whom we desired to educate in a
healthy pride of race. No writer ever taught more
plainly that important though hard lesson, the rational
and equitable relation of the various classes of society
towards each other ; ever inculcated more strongly an
intelligent love of country, an enlightened understand
ing of the political privileges we enjoy. No man ever
obeyed better the injunction of the poet

" Love thou thy land with love far brought
From out the storied past."



IN ENGLISH LITERATURE. 219

" He loved England as an Athenian loved the city
of the violet crown, as a Roman loved the city of the
seven hills." He seems to cherish the devotion of a
soldier for the emblem of his country's greatness

" The glorious SEMPER EADEM ; the banner of our pride."

His heart is stirred when he but alludes to the
grand or pathetic scenes in English story Elizabeth
at Tilbury, the agony and relief of Derry ; the dying
prayer of Sidney, Russell's last parting from his wife ;
and we, do not we thrill with a proud emotion as we
read ? If Englishmen would have their patriotism
deeply rooted ; if they would be made assured that
the history of their own land is rich in nobler as-
sociations, and bright with the light of purer virtue,
than the vaunted records of Greece or Rome ; if they
would learn reverence for the laws which have been
handed down, would acquire firmness to preserve, or
" patient force " to change them, let them study every
fragment which has been left by the most fervent
annalist of England. And, as he gloried in his
country's past, so he was pleased with her present,
and hopeful of her future. The tendency of our
popular writers is rather the other way. There are
among us many prophets of evil, of whom the fore-
most is Mr. Carlyle. To him, as to Heinrich Heine,
"everything seems pushed uneven." His eyes are
sick for the sight which they see. When he looks
abroad, he beholds not a prosperous and happy nation,
but everywhere folly, mammon-worship, and misery
an aristocracy which cannot lead, a grubbing middle-
class, a depressed and degraded people under all.
Lesser lights cant like their leader, though in feebler
tones.

In a late number of " Macmillan's Magazine," Mr.
Maurice tells his readers to discard the cheerfulness of



220 LORD MACAULAY'S PLACE

Macaulay, exhorting them " not to affect content with
all around them, for they feel discontent." Surely
this is to be sad from mere wantonness. It is true,
of course, that

" We look before and after,
And pine for what is not."

But is this more true of us than it would have been of
all generations of men who have passed away, than it
will be of all generations of men who are to come? The
admonition to " clear the mind of cant" might be well
retorted. A close companion to this mourning over
the present is a habit of triumphing in some fancied
past, which the " Times " has happily called " the
high-flying style of writing history." Certain writers
have a favourite period during which all men were of
a loftier stature than common, or, to use the approved
expression, " walked in the light of an idea." Spanish
galleons were plundered only from hatred of the
Spanish religion ; Elizabeth was approached with a
servility and adulation which would have revolted
Louis xiv., solely because she was the bulwark of the
Protestant faith ; and, accordingly, the pious sailors
and courtiers are duly exalted above the men of our
degenerate days. Lord Macaulay has avoided these
kindred errors. He can appreciate past times without
disparaging his own. He can reverence Hampden and
Somers without sneering at Fox or Grey ; he does
not see that the nobles who deserted Caroline of
Brunswick at the bidding of George iv. were more
servile than the nobles who found Anne Boleyn
guilty, and who voted for cutting off Cromwell's head
without a trial, at the bidding of Henry ; nor can he
understand how men who \frere half-way between
Protestant and Papist under Henry, good Catholics
under Mary, and good Protestants under Elizabeth,



IN ENGLISH LITERATURE. 221

were more actuated by zeal for religion than a genera-
tion which has sent missionaries over all the world,
and which has raised self-supporting churches in
greater numbers than the numbers of the Establish-
ment. Thinking thus of his own day, he con-
templated the future with a rational hope. He had
passed through times which were not always times
of pleasantness ; he had shared in struggles which
were no child's play ; yet he never lost faith in the
destinies of England. He has told us the grounds
of this faith in his noble address at Glasgow : " Ever
since I began to make observations on the state of
my country, I have been seeing nothing but growth,
and hearing of nothing but decay." In the annals
of England he read a long story of advance and
improvement, and he never discovered any reason to
believe that the advance would be soon arrested,
that the improvement would speedily cease. The
New Zealander may come at last ; but his celebrated
sketch will not be taken at an early date. We prefer,
we own, the hopeful creed. Indeed, we confess to
regarding with peculiar aversion these unexplained
denunciations of our present condition. They owe,
too frequently, their warmth, if not their origin, to an
agreeable feeling in the mind of the denunciator, that
his deeper insight proves him wiser and better than
his fellows. They can do no possible good, for they
are never so definite as to instruct. If we must rail
at the world, let us do so, with Jacques, in good
set terms in language which can be understood.
Till these dwellers in gloom tell us distinctly what is
wrong and how to mend it, we shall take leave to
consider cheerful confidence quite as rational as vague
alarm, and a great deal more pleasant.

As a writer of history, Lord Macaulay possessed a
great advantage in the fact that he had lived history.



222 LORD MACAULAY'S PLACE

Familiarity with the conduct of affairs imparts a great
power in the narration of them. Macaulay, indeed,
never scaled the topmost heights of Olympus ; and it
is sad to think that the claims of a second-rate Cabinet
office should have hindered the completion of the
work of his life. But, though we may regret the years
devoted to such duties as the duties of Paymaster of
the Forces, we cannot regret any time spent in Par-
liament, or in intercourse with leading statesmen.
The greatest historians of antiquity were conversant
with the political world. The most brilliant historians
of France owe much of their attractiveness to the
same cause. The want of this advantage gives a
deadness to the most profound historians of Germany.
Gibbon tells us that the " eight years he sat in Par-
liament were a school of civil prudence, the first and
most essential virtue of an historian." In the frag-
ments of Fox and Sir James Mackintosh, questions of
state policy are handled with an ease and freedom for
which we look vainly in the pages of Lingard or
Hume. Mr. Grote's unsuccessful endeavours to bestow
the ballot on the people of England brought him a
valuable if indirect return when he came to discuss
the reforms of Cleisthenes. It is not good that men
who aspire to treat themes of great concernment
should live apart from the spheres in which such
themes are agitated, estranged within a little circle of
admirers. Some acquaintance with public life might
have shaken Mr. Carlyle's preference for despotic
rule ; a little experience in drawing up statutes might
have disturbed Mr. Froude's belief in the value of
preambles as historical authorities.

It is worthy of remark how little Lord Macaulay's
opinions varied throughout life. Even his judgments
of character remained unaltered. The Bunyan and
the Johnson of 1830 reappear without change in the



IN ENGLISH LITERATURE.

Encyclopaedia Essays of 1854-56. On disputed points
of English history, on great questions of government,
the same uniformity is preserved. As youth did not
hurry him into extremes, so age did not frighten him
into reaction. In the dialogue between Milton and
Cowley we have the same estimate of the Great
Rebellion, and the actors in it, as in the introductory
chapter of the History. The solution of the franchise
difficulty proposed in the review of Mitford's Greece
is maintained in the articles on the Utilitarian Con-
troversy, and was expressed at the very last in the
celebrated letter on the character of Jefferson. Nor
can it be said that his opinions, though formed early,
show any traces of being formed hastily. The right
of the people to the franchise has of late been much
debated ; but we have improved nothing upon the
doctrine, that the government of a community should
be intrusted only to the educated and enlightened
portion of it. From that doctrine may our statesmen
never swerve, either from a restless craving for self-

' O

advancement, or from an abject deference to the pas-
sions of the crowd. That great party to which
Macaulay on his entrance into life elected to belong,
commanded his adherence till the close. If there be
any prudence in moderation, if there be any wisdom
in timely reform, if veneration for the past has any
beauty, if a true understanding of the present affords
any safety, if, in a word, there be any glory in Whig-
gery, Macaulay was the man to set it forth. His
historical mind was naturally attached to that political
creed which alone can trace its historical development,
which alone can boast great historical associations.
He was, in the best sense of the word, a thorough
party-man. He understood, what now-a-days so
few appear to understand, that a member of a re-
presentative body must often yield on some point



224 LORD MACAULAY'S PLACE

to the opinions of the majority of those with whom he
generally agrees, if government is to be carried on at
all. He never consented to sacrifice what he con-
sidered a vital question ; but, on the other hand, he
knew that capricious isolation is not statesmanship.
His life was a protest, and his writings abound in
warnings against that vain love of independent
action which afflicts a country with a succession of
feeble administrations, and which brings about a state
of confusion and weakness such as no lover of repre-
sentative institutions can contemplate without anxiety.
He was the last of a long series of eminent English-
men, including such names as the names of Addison,
Burke, and Mackintosh, whose allegiance has been the
chiefest honour of the Whig party, who have served
their country in public life, but have rendered to their
country, and to mankind, services far more valuable
and more enduring by the labours of their retire-
ment.

It has been often remarked that no great power of
humour, or play of irony, can be discovered in Mac-
aulay's writings. His wit, on the other hand, is
brilliant ; and of the sarcastic tone he was a master.
There is considerable fun in the remarks on Dr.
Nares' Life of Burleigh, and in the allusions to "the
Sweet Queen " in the article on Madame D'Arblay.
The reviews of Montgomery's Poems, and of Croker's
edition of Johnson, could hardly have been more
biting ; and for a combination of sarcasm and crush-
ing invective, we hardly know where the Sketch of
Barere can find a parallel. But he was not a humor-
ist. On this subject a great deal of cant is talked
now-a-days. " A man's humour," says the author of
" Friends in Council/' " is the deepest part of his
nature." This saying, like most sayings which strive
to be very fine, may be true or false according as it is



IN ENGLISH LITERATURE. 225

explained. If it mean that the humour of a character
shows much of the real nature of that character,
that a universal play of "any man in his own humour"
would tell us not a little of men's dispositions, then it
may be true. But if it mean that a man of humours
is a deeper or a clearer thinker than a man without
them, then we suspect it is false. A humorist sees,
perhaps, more than other people, but he does not see
with greater distinctness or greater truth. Humour
is like the ointment of the dervise in the Eastern tale :
if partially applied, it reveals many hidden treasures ;
but if it cover both eyes, the whole mental vision is
darkened. Men ardent in the search of truth are
impatient of its whims and vagaries. With regard to
irony the case is much the same. As an intellectual
art, irony is a sort of yielding in order to gain at last,
valuable as a weapon of controversy, of no avail in
the discovery of truth. Even as wielded by its
greatest master, it affords a victory over an opponent,
but it does not advance an investigation. In those
dialogues in which Socrates employs it most, nothing
strikes the reader so forcibly as the reflection that no
progress is ever made. And it is precisely when
Socrates desires to make progress, to teach something
real, to inculcate some great lesson, that the ironical
tone disappears. It then gives place to earnest
reasonings, or to the sublimity of his gorgeous myths.
As a habit of the moral nature, irony is even more
questionable. It is often an affectation ; and even
when unconscious and sincere, it repels the generality.
Plain men regard it as an impertinence ; zealous men
regard it as an unwarrantable concealment, or as a
cowardly reluctance to meet questions fairly. For an
historian especially, in whom simplicity of view is
essential, humour and irony alike are dangerous and
misleading gifts. They may impart a charm, but it is

VOL. I. P



226 LORD MACAULAY'S PLACE

a charm which will lure astray. An ingenious critic
in the " Saturday Be view " has summed up Lord
Macaulay's imperfections by saying, that he wanted
" the fitful, reserved, and haughty temperament which
characterises the highest order of genius." A more
absurd sentence was never written. Every one of the
qualities here so placidly ascribed to the highest
natures is a weakness. Fitfulness marks a want of
strength and a want of balance ; reserve arises from a
fear lest frankness should betray deficiencies ; and
haughtiness is a sign simply of a very unamiable
feeling of superiority to others, often cherished by
merely clever men, but to which genius is uniformly
a stranger. We can readily believe that these un-
pleasant qualities characterise the highest as well as
the lowest order of Saturday Eeviewers ; but we shall
be slow to think that they existed in "my gentle
Shakespeare/' or that they marred the manliness of Sir
Walter Scott. They are to be found only in second-
rate men who wish to be esteemed geniuses, and when
so found, are very heartily and very justly disliked by
all mortals.

Some historians, aware that great things have been
done in their own day, write of what they have seen
and known. Among the historians of the past, some
write because they are possessed by an idea which
they long to enforce, as Hume by his love for the
Stuarts, Thierry by his theories of race. Others,
again, conscious of literary power, devote that power
to history because history is a popular study, and
elect to write of a period because that period seems
picturesque, to celebrate a character because that
character seems imposing. Possibly the period they
determine upon may be unsuited to their powers ;
the character they would exalt may be unworthy ;
but their choice is made, and by that choice they



IN ENGLISH LITERATURE. 227

must abide. Possibly experience may show that they
have no aptitude for historical investigation, no faculty
of discerning character, no power of weighing evidence ;
but the discovery comes too late, and these defects are
supplied by wayward opinions and arbitrary judg-
ments. To such an origin we may, without unfairness,
ascribe the " historic fancies " of Mr. Carlyle and
Mr. Froude. But the true historian of past times
is he who selects some epoch because long familiarity
has made that epoch present to him as his own. He
does not read that he may write ; he writes because
he has read. So only will he be able to rival the ex-
cellencies of an historian who writes of his own times.
Study will have given almost as intimate an acquaint-
ance with his subject ; and his narrative will therefore
be almost as vivid and as truthful. It was in this
way that knowledge forced authorship on Gibbon.
He had been long conversant with his great theme
before. "At Rome, on the 15th of October 1764, as
I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while
the barefooted friars were singing vespers in the
Temple of Jupiter, the idea of writing the decline
and fall of the city first started to my mind." So
too the history of England was no novel subject to
Macaulay. It had been his favourite study from boy-
hood. The torment devised for him by Sydney Smith
was, that he should constantly hear people making
false statements about the reign of Queen Anne,
without being able to set them right. Much as he
knew about many things, he knew most, and cared
most, about the annals of his country. We may learn
some day when the idea of writing them first took
possession of his mind. Unhappily, though we may
have a companion to the scene at Rome, we shall
never have a companion to that passage in which
Gibbon describes a yet happier moment of his life,



228 MACAULAY'S PLACE IN ENGLISH LITERATURE.

when, "on the day, or rather night, of the 27th of
June 1*787, between the hours of eleven and twelve,
I wrote the last lines of the last page in a summer-
house in my garden." The " establishment of fame"
has been indeed accomplished even by the fragment ;
but we have had a painful illustration of the truth
of the reflection which spread " a sober melancholy "
over the mind of Gibbon the reflection that " what-
soever might be the future fate of the history, the
life of the historian must be short and precarious."

In spite of the incompleteness of his work, the
name of Macaulay will have no lowly place even in
the long roll of English worthies. His labours in
literature have done more to spread abroad a true
understanding of English history than those of any
English writer, and his conduct in political life need
not fear comparison with the most upright of English
statesmen. It is perhaps too much to hope that
another such historian will appear to tell of the past
greatness of England ; but we may surely entertain
the expectation, that the men to whom England's
future may be confided in times of trouble will have
something of the masculine sense, the lofty love of
truth, the unswerving adherence to principle, which
ennobled the nature of Lord Macaulay.



HISTORY OF FREDERIC THE GREAT. 1

ME. CARLYLE'S " History of the French Revolution,"
published twenty- eight years ago, ended with
the following passage :

" And so here, reader, has the time come for us two to
part. Toilsome was our journeying together ; not without
offence; but it is done. To me thou wert as a beloved
shade, the disembodied or not yet embodied spirit of a
Brother. To thee I was but as a Voice. Yet was our rela-
tion a kind of sacred one ; doubt not that ! For whatsoever
once sacred things become hollow jargons, yet while the
voice of man speaks with man, hast thou not there the living
fountain out of which all sacrednesses sprang, and will yet
spring? Man, by the nature of him, is definable 'as an
incarnated word.' Ill stands it with me if I have spoken
falsely : thine also it was to hear truly. Farewell."

The "History of Frederic" closes with a very dif-
ferent leave-taking :

" I define him to myself as hitherto the Last of the Kings ;
when the Next will be, is a very long question ! But it
seems to me as if Nations, probably all Nations, by and by,
in their despair, blinded, swallowed like Jonah, in such a
whale's-belly of things brutish, waste, abominable (for is not
Anarchy, or the Kule of what is Baser over what is Nobler,
the one life's-misery worth complaining of, and, in fact, the

1 " History of Friedrich II. of Prussia, called Frederick the Great."
By Thomas Carlyle. 6 vols. London: Chapman and Hall. 1864.
[Reprinted from the " North British Review," No. 85. September 1865.]



230 CARLYLE'S HISTORY OP

abomination of abominations, springing from and producing
all others whatsoever ?) as if the Nations universally, and
England too if it hold on, may more and more bethink them-
selves of such a Man and his Function and Performance,
with feelings far other than are possible at present. Mean-
while, all I had to say of him is finished : that too, it seems,
was a bit of work appointed to be done. Adieu, good
readers ; bad, also, adieu."

In the tone and spirit of these two passages we
seem to discern clear marks of a change which has
taken place in Mr. Carlyle; a change not for the
better. He has grown hardened in self-confidence ; a
grim yet not unkindly humour has given place to
savage intolerance; the deep and warm sympathies
which ever and again relieved his sternest moods of
indignation have sunk out of sight, and there remains
a cheerless uniformity of harshness and contempt,
forgotten only when some of the strange favourites of
his wayward fancy step upon the scene. It is hardly
too much to say that he appears to have lost what
was once his leading characteristic a genuine insight
into what is really noble in human action, and exalted
in human character.

Worst of all is that, in the theme Mr. Carlyle has
here chosen, these unhappy tendencies will have pecu-
liar power to work mischief. Except religion, there
is no subject on which the people of this country
think so much as politics; and it is a subject on
which, fortunately for them, though greatly to Mr.
Carlyle's disgust, their thoughts can be carried out
into action. It is plainly, then, a matter of no small
moment that they should think rightly on political
questions ; and Mr. Carlyle has here done all in his
power to make them think wrongly. In his life of
Sterling he treated the religious beliefs of his country-
men in a manner that even a critic so favourable as



FREDERIC THE GREAT. 231

Mr. Brimley was forced to condemn as "wholly
unjustifiable;" and now he is doing all he can to
upset their political creed. We shall hardly be
suspected of affectation when we say that to mark
Mr. Carlyle's errors is not a grateful task. It is diffi-
cult to do so without misgiving ; it is impossible to
do so without regret ; it is hopeless to do so without
incurring the charge of presumption. Yet Mr. Carlyle
is not a writer whose errors, if they be such, should
be passed in silence. A man of genius preaching a
morality at once pretentious and unsound, is the most
dangerous of all teachers. And he is never more
dangerous than when he teaches by means of history.
Such diatribes as the " Latter-Day Pamphlets" carried



Online LibraryHenry H LancasterEssays and reviews → online text (page 18 of 38)