« AnteriorContinuar »
ear and voice to the others. Lord Carlisle's Journal has preserved a few shadowy records of these delightful meetings, but, whatever else the Club may have retained, the spirit of Boswell has ceased to haunt it. Mr. Trevelyan speaks of • The Club? in the past tense, as if he supposed that after the dissolution of so brilliant a company, nothing survived. We beg to assure him that he is mistaken. • Esto perpetua' is the motto of the Club, and we hope that the time will never arrive when English gentlemen are wanting to support its literary and social traditions.
"Whatever fault might be found with Macaulay's gestures as an orator, his appearance and bearing in conversation were singularly effective. Sitting bolt upright, his hands resting on the arms of his chair or folded over the handle of his walking-stick ;-knitting his great eyebrows if the subject was one which had to be thought out as he went along, or brightening from the forehead downwards when a burst of humour was coming ;-his massive features and honest glance suited well with the manly sagacious sentiments which he set forth in his pleasant sonorous voice, and in his racy and admirably intelligible language. To get at his meaning people had never the need to think twice, and they certainly had seldom the time. And with all his ardour, and with all his strength and energy of conviction, he was so truly considerate towards others, so delicately courteous with the courtesy which is of the essence and not only in the manner! However eager had been the debate, and however prolonged the sitting, no one in the company ever had personal reasons for wishing a word of his unsaid, or look or a tone recalled. His good things were never long in the making. During the Caffre war, at a time when we getting rather the worst of it, he opened the street door for a walk down Westbourne Terrace. “ The blacks are flying,” said his companion. “I wish they were in South Africa,” was the instant reply. His quotations were always ready, and never off the mark. He was always willing to accept a friendly challenge to a feat of memory. One day, in the Board-room of the British Museum, Sir David Dundas saw him hand to Lord Aberdeen a sheet of foolscap covered with writing arranged in three parallel columns down each of the four pages. This document, of which the ink was still wet, proved to be a full list of the Senior Wranglers at Cambridge with their dates and colleges, for the hundred years during which the names of Senior Wranglers had been recorded in the University Calendar. On another occasion Sir David asked: “ Macaulay, do you know your Popes ?” was the answer; “I always get wrong among the Innocents.” can you say your Archbishops of Canterbury ?” “Any fool," said Macaulay, “could say his Archbishops of Canterbury backwards : " and he went off at score, drawing breath only once in order to remark on the oddity of there having
been an Archbishop Sancroft and an Archbishop Bancroft, until Sir David stopped him at Cranmer.
• Macaulay was proud of his good memory, and had little sympathy
“ No," " But with people who affected to have a bad one. In a note on the margin of one of his books he reflects upon this not uncommon form of selfdepreciation: “ They appear to reason thus : The more memory, the less invention."
Yet he had himself remarked on another occasion that it was dangerous for a man of strong memory to read too much, because in acquiring an amazing command over the thoughts of others, he might dilute the power of original thought in himself. That was undoubtedly to some extent the case with Macaulay. Every incident he heard of, every page he read, assumed in his mind a concrete, objective, spectral form. He saw them before him : but his genius was less conversant with abstract truths or their relations. These qualities made his writings and conversation eminently graphic, clear, and attractive, rather than profound studies of human nature or of the causes of events. To this distinction between the most brilliant modern writer of history and the great models of antiquity, especially Thucydides and Tacitus, Macaulay was by no means insensible: it originates in a different order of mind and in far other powers of original thought. The historian of antiquity to whom his writings bear the nearest resemblance is Livy.
Macaulay never worked at anything so hard as he laboured at his History. His method of composition was slow and toilsome; his care and corrections, both as to matter and style, endless. His researches to ascertain facts, even of trifling importance, were extraordinary. Yet the bulk of the materials he used were derived from printed sources-memoirs, pamphlets, sermons, ballads, broadsheets, parliamentary journals, and the statute book. He seldom attempted to dive into that ocean of manuscript records, which threatens to bury the sources of history under strata of rubbish ; but he made considerable use of the Dutch and Spanish despatches, and of Narcissus Luttrell's Diary, then unpublished. He was also aided by the previous researches of Mackintosh. The work of preparing the materials of history, and that of writing actual history, must be performed by two distinct classes of men. All experience shows how impossible it is to attain to complete and indisputable accuracy even in the narrative of an ordinary contemporary event. With every fresh witness, with every fresh piece of evidence, the difficulty increases. We speak with confidence of the history of the ancients, because the witnesses are few in number: but the more we know, the more we doubt. Macaulay laboured with an honest and intense desire to be truthful and just, though he wrote under the influence of strong predilections; and his slips of memory are exceedingly rare. One of these is curious. We had occasion in reviewing the first volumes of his History to point out that he was mistaken in conferring on Schomberg, who was killed at the battle of the Boyne, a grave in Westminster Abbey. It now turns out from a journal of a tour in Ireland, made for the express purpose of visiting the scenes memorable in the history of those times, that Macaulay actually saw the tomb of Schomberg in St. Patrick's, Dublin, and noted Swift's savage inscription on it. This must have escaped his recollection.
Early in 1849, in the midst of events which convulsed Europe with new revolutions, this great history of an old and triumphant revolution was given to the world. It is needless to say how it was received the sale of edition after edition was rapid and enormous. It was read with enthusiasm by all classes; for if it contained some of the noblest passages of historical composition to instruct the statesman and delight the scholar, it was amusing enough to divert the frivolous, and clear enough to give pleasure and knowledge to the uneducated. Whatever Macaulay's hopes of success or consciousness of desert may have been, the results exceeded all expectation. In one instance alone was a serious attempt made to depreciate the merit and detract from the influence of the greatest historical work of our time. A contemporary reviewer, writing with the deliberation and judgment required on such an occasion, declared that
Mr. Macaulay was a grand proficient in the picturesque, but a very poor professor of the historic. These volumes have been, and the future volumes as they may appear will be, devoured with the same eagerness that “Oliver Twist,” or “ Vanity Fair” excite, with the same quality of zest, though perhaps with a higher degree of it: but his pages will seldom, we think, receive a second perusal; and the work, we apprehend, will hardly find a permanent place on the historical shelf, nor ever, assuredly, be quoted as authority on any question or point of the History of England.'*
Such criticism could do Macaulay no harm, and as was said at the time, the writer of the article in attempting murder had committed suicide. But in his private journal, the historian made the following remark.
· April 13.—To the British Museum. I looked over the Travels of the Duke of Tuscany, and found the passage the existence of which Croker denies. His blunders are really incredible. The article has been received with general contempt. Really Croker has done me a great service. I apprehended a strong reaction, the natural effect of such a success; and, if hatred had left him free to use his very slender
Quarterly Review, March, 1849.
faculties to the best advantage, he might have injured me much. He should have been large in acknowledgment; should have taken a mild and expostulatory tone; and should have looked out for real blemishes, which, as I too well know, he might easily have found. Instead of that, he has written with such rancour as to make everybody sick. I could almost pity him. But he is a bad, a very bad, man: a scandal to politics and to letters.'
From that day to this, the same Journal has never lost an opportunity of launching shafts against the literary reputation of Lord Macaulay. Mr. Croker is dead, but the race of Crokers is not extinct, nor is it likely to expire as long as the principal organ of the Tory party sedulously keeps it alive.
It is certainly not a matter of regret that Macaulay was relieved for some years from the fatigue of Parliament. In 1852, when the Whigs returned to office, he refused a seat in the Cabinet; but when it was proposed in June of the same year to put him in nomination for Edinburgh, the compliment of a voluntary amende paid by so great a constituency was not unwelcome to him. His own bearing was high and rigid. He had made no advance and no concession. But Edinburgh, to her honour, was glad to take him back on his own terms. Unhappily the time was already past for Macaulay to render to his constituents or his country any important political services. Within two days of the election and before he could go down to Scotland, on July 15, 1852, he felt suddenly oppressed with an exceeding weakness and languor. Dr. Bright was called in and pronounced that he was suffering from seriously deranged action of the heart. From that moment the exertions of public life became extremely painful and onerous to him, and at times he was scarcely able to writeas he himself expressed it, he had aged twenty years in a single week. The case was a singular one: a man of fifty-two, scarcely past the prime of life, of temperate habits, given to daily exercise and regular hours, who had never been ill, suddenly found his powers of life impaired, and felt that, although he might linger for some years, the strict arrest of the fell 'serjeant, death ’ was on him.
““ December 31, 1853.—Another day of work and solitude. I enjoy this invalid life extremely. In spite of my gradually sinking health, this has been a happy year. My strength is failing. My life will not, I think, be long. But I have clear faculties, warm affections, abundant sources of pleasure."
At very distant intervals, he gives expression, in two or three pathetic sentences, to the dejection which is the inevitable attendant upon the most depressing of all ailments. “I am not what I was, and every month my heart tells it me more and more clearly. I am a little low; not from apprehension ; for I look forward to the inevitable close with perfect serenity : but from regret for what I love. I sometimes hardly command my tears when I think how soon I must leave them. I feel that the fund of life is nearly spent.",
His temper was unruffled by the thought that the great work he had commenced, and which he once hoped to bring down ‘to a period of living memory,' must remain incomplete. Nothing but expressions of gratitude ever passed his lips, for the happiness of the life he had enjoyed. Enough for him to work on whilst it was yet day; and to persevere with unbroken industry, good humour, and benevolence to the end. Once he spoke in Parliament in favour of retaining the Master of the Rolls in the House of Commons, and again in defence of the competitive system of appointments to India ; but he felt all the time that it was grievous waste of strength, with the reign of Anne still unwritten, for him to consume his scanty stock of vigour in the tedious and exhausting effort of political debate.
The desire of literary fame was certainly one of Macaulay's strongest passions. To be ranked with those great writers who had shed a glory and a joy over his own existence—to be read by future ages and distant countries—to be incorporated
"With that dear language which I spake like thee,'— were results intensely gratifying to his imagination. He lived to enjoy these as fully as a man can enjoy, or taste, the pleasures of posthumous fame, by anticipated distinction. Yet he was not prone to exaggerate his own importance, and he looked at it, willingly enough, from the comical side. Thus he writes in March 1850:
· At last I have attained true glory. As I walked through Fleet Street the day before yesterday, I saw a copy of Hume at a bookseller's window with the following label: “Only 21. 2s. Hume's History of “ England in eight volumes, highly valuable as an introduction to "Macaulay." I laughed so convulsively that the other people who were staring at the books took me for a poor demented gentleman. Alas for poor David! As for me, only one height of renown yet remains to be attained. I am not yet in Madame Tussaud's waxwork.'
' I have seen the hippopotamus, both asleep and awake; and I can assure you that, awake or asleep, he is the ugliest of the works of God. But you must hear of my triumphs. Thackeray swears that he was eye-witness and ear-witness of the proudest event of my life. Two damsels were just about to pass that doorway which we, on Monday, in vain attempted to enter, when I was pointed out to them. “Mr. Macaulay !” cried the lovely pair. “Is that Mr. Macaulay ? Never