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“I wish,” said Lord Melbourne once, “I was as cocksure of anything as Macaulay is of everything.” Certain it is that wonderful memory held at instant command the treasures of a vast and varied reading, and among Englishmen since the days of Johnson and Burke no man was so well equipped for conversation as Macaulay. And not for conversation only but for writing also, as his essays and history show. It has been the fashion among critics for the past quarter of a century to depreciate Macaulay, to ridicule his style and challenge his accuracy. Leslie Stephen smiles at his “ snip-snap style,” John Morley deplores its influence on modern writers, and Abraham Hayward made several successful burlesques of it. Macaulay himself in an entry in his diary says of his style: “I think my manner a very good manner, but it comes near to being a very bad
one, and those faults in me which are the most noticeable are those that are the most easily imitated.” So his historical accuracy has been questioned by many writers of ability and doubtless there are blots in his history. He was not just to William Penn and he too much magnified his hero, William of Orange, but after all his account of the Revolution of 1688, the causes leading thereto and the results therefrom will remain as the only true account of that eventful period in English history. And as for his style, it was his style and not that of any one else. The most successful imitators of it are Froude and McMaster, and they sometimes seem the true Amphytrions, because they come very near to having the same mental and literary equipment that Macaulay had. For the excellence of Macaulay's style lies not so much in the crisp sentences, in the striking antitheses and the extreme lucidity, as in the wonderful fulness of allusion and suggestion. It is not the form in which the thought is expressed, admirable as that is, that strikes us, but the matter therein contained. Thackeray, himself a master of style, expresses his opinion of it in the
Take at hazard any three pages of the essays or history, and, glimmering below the stream of the narrative, as it were, you, an average reader, see one, two, three, a half score of allusions to other historic facts, characters, literature, poetry, with which you are acquainted. Why is this epithet used ? Whence is that simile drawn 2 How does he manage, in two or three words, to paint an individual, or to indicate a landscape 2 Your neighbor, who has his reading, and his little stock of literature stowed away in his mind, shall detect more points, allusions, happy touches, indicating not only the prodigious memory and vast learning of this master, but the wonderful industry, the honest, humble previous toil of this great scholar. He reads twenty books to write a sentence; he travels a hundred miles to make a line of description.
Macaulay did not introduce a new kind of writing, but he greatly improved on his models. The essay-reviews of the Edinburgh and the Quarterly had been familiar to the English public for a quarter of a century. Jeffrey, Sidney Smith, Brougham, Sir Walter Scott, Lockhart, Hazlitt, Southey and Professor Wilson had already won great popular favor as critics and reviewers. But some of them had also earned a right to repose, or had gained other honors to which their writings had been stepping-stones. Jeffrey was longing to lay down the burden of the “Blue and Yellow,” and was looking about him for young blood with which to rejuvenate the growing decrepitude of the once all powerful Review. “Can you not,” he wrote to a friend in London, “find
me some bright young men who will become contributors to the Review " One such young man was found, and in August, 1825, there appeared the famous essay on Milton. The author had not quite attained his twenty-fifth year. One cannot read that essay now without some wonder that it should bring its author such instantaneous and wide renown, for in literary history there is nothing like it, except the publication of “Childe Harold.” But there were a number of conspiring causes—fortuitous almost—that helped Macaulay. His brilliant university career and his remarkable conversational powers contributed greatly to make him conspicuous in a society always hungering and thirsting for some new sensation. And so he became a lion in London drawing-rooms and his breakfast table was covered every morning with more invitations than he could accept. Needless to say the fortunes of the Review were rehabilitated and for twenty years thereafter its quarterly circulation was large or small as it contained or did not contain an article by Macaulay. His career is too familiar to be repeated here. The story of his success in parliament, of his brilliant oratory, of his work in India and of his history is more than a twice-told tale. Those
who desire to know it fully and wish to read a book as interesting as a novel should seek out Trevelyan's life of Macaulay. It is the third best biography in the language, being only surpassed by Boswell's Johnson and Lockhart's Scott. No one can read that life without feeling that, fortunate as it appeared to be, his success was won by high merit and by always being fully ready for every emergency, It was no mere luck, no happening of blind chance that brought him fortune and honor and fame. It was his steadfastness, his love of justice and truth and his ardor for the right as he perceived it. Doubtless his horizon was not equally wide in all directions. His mind had many limitations, and he necessarily fell into error, but there are few works of a similar character, controversial and critical, that contain less error than his. He is often an advocate, but his argument has amazing solidity and the witnesses he produces can rarely be impeached. He possessed in a high degree that talent which is essential to successful oratory, the talent of demonstration. For this reason he is a model for all forensic orators. But he is more than an advocate. He is an able and powerful judge. His judgments upon the men who have come before him for review, of