Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

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The Task of the Modern Historian

by the handsome favorites whom she never
trusted, and the wise old statesmen whom she
never dismissed, uniting in herself the most
contradictory qualities of both her parents — ■
the coquetry, the caprice, the petty malice of
Anne — the haughty and resolute spirit of
Henry. We have no hesitation in saying,
that a great artist might produce a portrait of
this remarkable woman, at least as striking as
that in the novel of Kenilworth, without em-
ploying a single trait not authenticated by
ample testimony. In the mean time, we
should see arts cultivated, wealth accu-
mulated, the conveniences of life improved.
We should see the keeps, where nobles, in-
secure themselves, spread insecurity around
them, gradually giving place to the halls of
peaceful opulence, to the oriels o-f Longleat,
and the stately pinnacles of Burleigh. We
should see towns extended, deserts cultivated,
the hamlets of fishermen turned into wealthy
havens, the meal of the peasant improved,
and his hut more commodiously furnished.
We should see those opinions and feelings
which produced the great struggle against the
house of Stuart, slowly growing up in the
bosom of private families, before they mani-
fested themselves in parliamentary debates.
Then would come the civil war Those


The Task of the Modern Historian

skirmishes, on which Clarendon dwells so
minutely, would be told, as Thucydides would
have told them, with perspicuous conciseness,
They are merely connecting links. But the
great characteristics of the age, the loyal en-
thusiasm of the brave English gentry, the
fierce licentiousness of the swearing, dicing,
drunken reprobates, whose excesses disgraced
the royal cause — the austerity of the Presby-
terian Sabbaths in the city, the extravagance
of the Independent preachers in the camp, the
precise garb, the severe countenance, the petty
scruples, the affected accents, the absurd
names and phrases which marked the Puri-
tans — the valor, the policy, the public spirit
which lurked beneath these ungraceful dis-
guises — the dreams of the raving Fifth-mon-
archy-man — the dreams, scarcely less wild, of
the philosophic republican — all these would
enter into the representation, and render it at
once more exact and more striking.

The instruction derived from history thus
written would be of a vivid and practical char-
acter. It would be received by the imagina-
tion as well as by the reason. It would be not
merely traced on the mind, but branded into
it. Many truths, too, would be learned, which
can be learned, in no other manner. As the
history of states is generally written, the


The Task of the Modern Historian

greatest and most momentous revolutions
seem to come upon them like supernatural
inflictions, without warning or cause. But
the fact is, that such revolutions are almost
always the consequence of moral changes,
which have gradually passed on the mass
of the community, and which ordinarily pro-
ceed far before their progress is indicated by
any public measure. An intimate knowledge
of the domestic history of nations is there-
fore absolutely necessary to the prognosis
of political events. A narrative defective in
this respect is as useless as a medical treatise
which should pass by all the symptoms at-
tendant on the early stage of a disease, and
mention only what occurs when the patient
is beyond the reach of remedies.

An historian, such as we have been attempt-
ing to describe, would indeed be an intel-
lectual prodigy. In his mind, powers, scarcely
compatible with each other, must be tempered
into an exquisite harmony. We shall sooner
see another Shakspeare or another Homer.
The highest excellence to which any single
faculty can be brought would be less surpris-
ing than such a happy and delicate combina-
tion of qualities. Yet the contemplation of
imaginary models is not an unpleasant or
useless employment of the mind. It cannot


The Task of the Modern Historian

indeed produce perfection, but it produces
improvement, and nourishes that generous
and liberal fastidiousness, which is not incon-
sistent with the strongest sensibility to merit,
and which, while it exalts our conceptions of
the art, does not render us unjust to the artist.

The Puritans

From the essay on Milton, Edinburgh Review.
August, 1825.

We would speak first of the Puritans, the
most remarkable body of men, perhaps, which
the world has ever produced. The odious
and ridiculous parts of their character lie on
the surface. He that runs may read them ;
nor have there been wanting attentive and
malicious observers to point them out. For
many years after the Restoration, they were
the theme of unmeasured invective and deri-
sion. They were exposed to the utmost
licentiousness of the press and of the stage, at
the time when the press and the stage were
most licentious. They were not men of
letters ; they were, as a body, unpopular ;
they could not defend themselves ; and the
public would not take them under its protec-
tion. They were therefore abandoned, with-
out reserve, to the tender mercies of the
satirists and dramatists. The ostentatious
simplicity of their dress, their sour aspect,
their nasal twang, their stiff posture, their
lorig graces, their Hebrew names, the Scrip-


The Puritans

tural phrases which they introduced on every
occasion, their contempt of human learning,
their detestation of polite amusements, were
indeed fair game for the laughers. But it is
not from the laughers alone that the philos-
ophy of history is to be learnt. And he who
approaches this subject should carefully guard
against the influence of that potent ridicule,
which has already misled so many excellent

" Ecco il fonte del riso, ed ecco il no
Che mortali perigli in se contiene :
Hor qui tener a fren nostro a desio,
Ed esser cauti molto a noi conviene."*

Those who roused the people to resistance
— who directed their measures through along
series of eventful years — who formed, out
of the most unpromising materials, the finest
army that Europe had ever seen — who tram-
pled down king, church, and aristocracy —
who, in theshortintervalsof domestic sedition
and rebellion, made the name of England ter-
rible to every nation on the face of the earth,
were no vulgar fanatics. Most of their ab-
surdities were mere external badges, like the
signs of freemasonry or the dresses of friars.
We regret that these badges were not more
attractive. We regret that a body, to whose
courage and talents mankind has owed incsti*

* Gerusalemme Liberata, xv. 57.

The Puritans

mable obligations, had not the lofty elegance
which distinguished some of the adherents
of Charles I., or the easy good breeding for
which the court of Charles II. was celebrated.
But, if we must make our choice, we shall,
like Bassanio in the play, turn from the spe-
cious caskets, which contain only the death's
head and the fool's head, and fix our choice
on the plain leaden chest which conceals the

The Puritans were men whose minds had
derived a peculiar character from the daily
contemplation of superior beings and external
interests. Not content with acknowledging,
in general terms, an overruling Providence,
they habitually ascribed every event to the
will of the Great Being, for whose power noth-
ing was too vast, for whose inspection noth-
ing was too minute. To know him, to serve
him, to enjoy him, was with them the great
end of existence. They rejected with con-
tempt the ceremonious homage which other
sects substituted for the pure worship of the
soul. Instead ofcatching occasional glimpses
of the Deity through an obscuring veil, they
aspired to gaze full on the intolerable bright-
ness, and to commune with him face to face.
Hence originated their contempt for terres-
trial distinctions. The difference between


The Puritans

the greatest and meanest of mankind seemed
to vanish, when compared with the boundless
interval which separated the whole race from
him on whom their own eyes were constantly
fixed. They recognized no title to superiority
but his favor ; and, confident of that favor,
they despised all the accomplishments and
all the dignities of the world. If they were
unacquainted with the works of philosophers
and poets, they were deeply read in the oracles
of God. It their names were not found in the
registers of heralds, they felt assured that
they were recorded in the Book of Life. If
their steps were not accompanied by a splen-
did train of menials, legions of ministering
angels had charge over them. Their palaces
were houses not made with hands : their
diadems, crowns of glory which should never
fade away ! On the rich and the eloquent, on
nobles and priests, they looked down with
contempt : for they esteemed themselves rich
in a more precious treasure, and eloquent in
a more sublime language — nobles by the right
of an earlier creation, and priests by the im-
position of a mightier hand. The very mean-
est of them was a being to whose fate a
mysterious and terrible importance belonged
— on whose slightest actions the spirits of
light and darkness looked with anxious interest


The Puritans

^who had been destined, before heaven and
earth were created, to enjoy a felicity which
should continue when heaven and earth should
have passed away. Events which short-
sighted politicians ascribed to earthly causes
had been ordained on his account. For his
sake empires had risen, and flourished, and
decayed. For his sake the Almighty had
proclaimed his will by the pen of the evan-
gelist, and the harp of the prophet. He had
been rescued by no common deliverer from
the grasp of no common foe. He had been
ransomed by the sweat of no vulgar agony,
by the blood of no earthly sacrifice. It was
for him that the sun had been darkened, that
the rocks had been rent, that the dead had
arisen, that all nature had shuddered at the
sufferings of her expiring God !

Thus the Puritan was made up of two dif-
ferent men, the one all self-abasement, peni-
tence, gratitude, passion ; the other proud,
calm, inflexible, sagacious. He prostrated
himself in the dust before his Maker; but he
set his foot on the neck of his king. In his
devotional retirement, he prayed with convul-
sions, and groans, and tears. He was half
maddened by glorious or terrible illusions.
He heard the lyres of angels, or the tempting
whispers of fiends. He caught a gleam of


The Puritans

the Beatific Vision, or woke screaming from
the dreams of everlasting fire. Like \'ane,
he thought himselt intrusted with the scepter
ot the millennial year. Like Fleetwood, hf!
cried in the bitterness ot his soul that God
had hid his face from him. But when he
took his seat in the council or girt on his
sword for war, these tempestuous workings
of the soul had left no perceptible trace be-
hind them. People, who saw nothing of the
godly but their uncouth visages, and heard
nothing from them but their groans and their
whining hymns, might laugh at them. But
those had little reason to laugh who encoun-
tered them in the hall of debate, or in the
field of battle. These fanatics brought to
civil and military affairs a coolness of judg-
ment and an immutability of purpose which
some writers have thought inconsistent with
their religious zeal, but which were in fact
the necessary effects of it. The intensity of
their feelings on one subject made them tran-
quil on every other. One overpowering senti-
ment had subjected to itself pity and hatred,
ambition and fear. Death had lost its terrors
and pleasure its charms. They had their
smiles and their tears, their raptures and
their sorrows, but not for the things of this
world. Enthusiasm had made them Stoics,


The. Puritans

had cleared their minds from every vulgar
passion and prejudice, and raised them above
the influence of danger and of corruption. It
sometimes might lead them to pursue un-
wise ends, but never to choose u.iwise means.
They went through the world like Sir Arte-
gale's iron man Talus with his flail, crushing
and trampling down oppressors, mingling
with human beings, but having neither part
nor lot in human infirmities ; insensible to
fatigue, to pleasure, and to pain, not to be
pierced by any weapon, not to be withstood
by any barrier,

Such we believe to have been the character
ot the Puritans. We perceive the absurdity
of their manners. We dislike the sullen
gloom of their domestic habits. We acknowl-
edge that the tone of their minds was often
injured by straining al\er things too high for
mortal reach. And we know that, in spite
of their hatred ol Popery, they too often fell
into the worst vices of that bad system, in-
tolerance and extravagant austerity — that
they had their anchorites and their crusades,
their Dunstans and their Do Montforts, their
Dominies and their Escobars, Yet when all
circumstances are taken into consideration,
we do not hesitate to pronounce them a brave,
a wise, an honest, and a useful body.


The Trial of Warren Hastings

From the essay on Warren Hastings, Edinburgh
RevieWy October, 1841,

In the mean time, the preparations for the
trial had proceeded rapidly ; and on the 13th
of February, 1788, the sittings of the Court
commenced. There have been spectacles
more dazzling to the eye, more gorgeous with
jewelry and cloth of gold, more attractive to
grown-up children, than that which was then
exhibited at Westminster ; but, perhaps, there
never was a spectacle so well calculated to
strike a highly cultivated, a reflecting, an im-
aginative mind. All the various kinds of in-
terest which belong to the near and to the
distant, to the present and lo the past, were
collected on one spot and in one hour. All
the talents and all the accomplishments which
are developed by liberty and civilization were
now displayed, with every advantage that
could be derived both from co-operation and
from contrast. Every step in the proceedings
carried the mind either backward, through
many troubled centuries, to the days when th«


The Trial of Warren Hastings

foundations of the constitution were laid ; or
far away, over boundless seas and deserts, to
dusky nations living under strange stars, wor-
shipping strange gods, and writing strange
characters from right to left. The High Court
of Parliament was to sit, according to forms
llanded down from the days of the Plantage-
nets, on an Englishman accused ot exercising
tyranny over the lord ot the holy city of Ben-
ares, and the ladies of the princely house of

The place was worthy of such a trial. It
was the great hall of William Rufus ; the hall
which had resounded with acclamations at the
inauguration of thirty kings ; the hall which
had witnessed the just sentence of Bacon and
me just absolution of Somers ; the hall where
the eloquence ot Strafford had for a moment
iiwed and melted a victorious party inflamed
with just resentment ; the hall where Charles
had confronted the High Court of Justice with
the placid courage which has half redeemed his
fame. Neither military nor civil pomp was
wanting. The avenues were lined with grena-
diers. The streets were kept clear by cavalry.
The peers, robed in gold and ermine, were mar-
shalled by the heralds under Garter-King-at-
Arms. The judges, in their vestments ol
state, attended to give advice on points of lav^.


The Trial of Warren Hastings

Near a hundred and seventy Lords, three*
fourths of the Upper House, as the Upper
House then was, walked in solemn order from
their usual place of assembling to the tribu-
nal. The junior baron present led the way —
Lord Heathfield, recently ennobled for his
memorable defence of Gibraltar against the
fleets and armies of France and Spain. The
long procession was closed by the Duke of Nor-
folk, Earl Marshal ot the realm, by the great
dignitaries, and by the brothers and sons ot
the king. Last of all came the Prince of Wales,
conspicuous by his fine person and noble
bearing. The gray old walls were hung with
scarlet. The long galleries were crowded by
such an audience as had rarely excited the fears
or the emulation of an orator. There were
gathered together, from all parts of a great,
free, enlightened and prosperous realm, grace
and female loveliness, wit and learning, the rep-
resentatives of every science and of every art.
There were seated around the queen the fair-
haired young daughters of the house ot Bruns-
wick. There the ambassadors of great kings
and commonwealths gazed with admiration
on a spectacle which no other country in the
world could present. There Siddons, in the
prime of her majestic beauty, looked with
emotion on a scene surpassing all the imi*


The Trial of Warren Hastings

tations of the stage. There the historian of
the Roman Empire thought of the days when
Cicero pleaded the cause of Sicily against
Verres ; and when, before a senate which had
still some show of freedom, Tacitus thundered
against the oppressor of Africa. There were
seen, side by side, the greatest painter and
the greatest scholar of the age. . The spectacle
had allured Reynolds from that easel which
has preserved to us the thoughtful foreheads
of so many writers and statesmen, and the
sweet smiles of so many noble matrons. It
had induced Parr to suspend his labors in
that dark and profound mine from which he
had extracted a vast treasure of erudition
— a treasure too often buried in the earth,
too often paraded with injudicious and in ele-
gant ostentation ; but still precious, massive,
and splendid. There appeared the voluptu-
ous charms of her to whom the heir of
the throne had in secret plighted his faith.
There, too, was she, the beautiful mother of a
beautiful race, the Saint Cecilia, whose deli-
cate features, lighted up by love and music,
art has rescued from the common decay.
There were the members of that brilliant
society which quoted, criticised, and ex-
changed repartees, under the rich peacock
hangings of Mrs. Montague. And here the

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The Trial of Warren Hastings

ladies, whose lips, more persuasive than those
of Fox himself, had carried the Westminster
election against palace and treasury, shone
round Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire.

The Sergeants made proclamation. Hast-
ings advanced to the bar and bent his knee.
The culprit was indeed not unworthy of that
great presence. He had ruled an extensive
and populous country, had made laws and
treaties, had sent forth armies, had set up and
pulled down princes. And in his high place
he had so borne himself, that all had feared
him, that most had loved him, and that hatred
itself could deny him no title to glory, except
virtue. He looked like a great man and not
like a bad man. A person small and ema-
ciated, yet deriving dignity from a carriage
which, while it indicated deference to the
court, indicated also habitual self-possession
and self-respect ; a high and intellectual fore-
head ; a brow pensive, but not gloomy ; a
mouth of inflexible decision ; a face pale and
worn, but serene, on which was written, as legi-
bly as under the great picture in the Council-
chamber at Calcutta, Mens (^qua in arduis ; —
such was the aspect with which the great
proconsul presented himself to his judges.

His counsel accompanied him, men all of
whom were afterwards raised by their talents


The Trial of Warren Hastings

and learning to the highest posts in their pro-
fession — the bold and strong-minded Law,
afterwards Chief Justice of the King's Bench ;
the more humane and eloquent Dallas, after-
wards Chief Justice of the Common Pleas ; and
Plomer, who, nearly twenty years later, suc-
cessfully conducted in the same high court the
defence of Lord Melville, and subsequently
became Vice-Chancellor and Master of the

But neither the culprit nor his advocates at-
tracted so much notice as the accusers. In
the midst of the blaze of red drapery, a space
had been fitted up with green benches and
tables for the Commons. The managers,
with Burke at their head, appeared in full
dress. The collectors of gossip did not fail to
remark that even Fox, generally so regardless
of his appearance, had paid to the illustrious
tribunal the compliment ot wearing a bag and
sword. Pitt had refused to be one of the con-
ductors of the impeachment ; and his com-
manding, copious, and sonorous eloquence
was wanting to that great muster of various
talents. Age and blindness had unfitted
Lord North for the duties of a public prose-
cutor and his friends were left without the
help of his excellent sense, his tact, and his
urbanity. But, in spite of the absence ot these


The Trial of Warren Hastings

two distinguished members of tlie Lower
House, the box in which the managers stood
contained an array of speakers such as perhaps
had not appeared together since the great age
of Athenian eloquence. There stood Fox and
Sheridan, the English Demosthenes and the
English Hyperides. There was Burke, igno-
rant, indeed, or negligent of the art of adapt-
ing his reasonings and his style to the capacity
and taste of his hearers ; but in amplitude of
comprehension and richness of imagination
superior to every orator, ancient or modern.
There, with eyes reverentially fixed on Burke,
appeared the finest gentleman of the age — his
form developed by every manly exercise — his
face beaming with intelligence and spirit —
the ingenious, the chivalrous, the high-souled
Windham. Nor, though surrounded by such
men, did the youngest manager pass un-
noticed. At an age when most ot those who dis-
tinguish themselves in life are still contending
for prizes and fellowships at college, he had
won for himself a conspicuous place in parlia-
ment. No advantage of fortune or connection
was wanting that could set off to the height
his splendid talents and his unblemished honor.
At twenty-three he had been thought worthy
to be ranked with the veteran statesmen who
appeared as the delegates of the British Com-"


The Trial of Warren Hastings

mons, at the bar of the British nobihty. All
who stood at that bar save him alone, are gone
— culprit, advocates, accusers. To the gen-
eration which is now in the vigor of life, he is
the sole representative of a great age which
has passed away. But those who, within the
last ten years, have listened with delight, till
the morning sun shone on the tapestries of the
House of Lords, to the lofty and animated
eloquence of Charles Earl Grey, are able to
form some estimate of the powers of a race of
men among whom he was not the foremost.

The charges and the answers of Hastings
were first read. This ceremony occupied two
whole days, and was rendered less tedious
than it would otherwise have been, by the
silver voice and just emphasis of Cowper, the
clerk of the court, a near relation of the
amiable poet. On the third day Burke rose.
Four sittings of the court were occupied by
his opening speech, which was intended to be
a general introduction to all the charges.
With an exuberance of thought and a splen-
dor of diction which more than satisfied the
highly-raised expectation of the audience, he
described the character and institutions of the
natives of India ; recounted the circumstances
in which the Asiatic empire of Britain had
originated ; and set forth the constitution of


The Trial of Warren Hastings

the Company and of the EngHsh Presidencies.
Having thus attempted to communicate to
his hearers an idea of Eastern society, as vivid
as that which existed in his own mind, he
proceeded to arraign the administration of
Hastings, as systematically conducted in de-
fiance of morality and public law. The energy
and pathos of the great orator extorted ex-
pressions of unwonted admiration even from
the stern and hostile Chancellor ; and for a
moment, seemed to pierce even the resolute
heart of the defendant. The ladies in the
galleries, unaccustomed to such displays of elo-
quence, excited by the solemnity of the occa-
sion, and perhaps not unwilling to display their
taste and sensibility, were in a state of uncon-
trollable emotion. Handkerchiefs were pulled
out ; smelling bottles were handed round ;
hysterical sobs and screams were heard ; and
Mrs. Sheridan was carried out in a fit. At
length the orator concluded. Raising his
voice till the old arches of Irish oak resounded
— " Therefore," said he, " hath it with all con-
fidence been ordered by the Commons of
Great Britain, that I impeach Warren Hast-

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