English Literature Of The 19th Century:
Thomas Babington Macaulay
Scientific Literature Of The Early Victorian Period
Charles Robert Darwin
Thomas Henry Huxley
Periodical Literature And Criticism
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Thomas Babington Macaulay
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
In popular esteem the foremost historian of the century is still the brilliant partisan Macaulay. He gives to events of the past, not too remote for general interest, a perennial freshness. He tells an entertaining or thrilling story in full detail, without delivering a philosophical lecture. His style is pointed, vigorous, and full of allusions, which add to its weight.
Thomas Babington Macaulay was born at Rothley, in Leicestershire, in 1800. He was the son of a Liver-pool merchant and remarkably precocious. Sent to Trinity College, Cambridge, he distinguished himself as a debater and won prizes for poems. He had just been called to the bar in 1825 when his well-known radical article on Milton appeared in the "Edinburgh Review." This opened his literary career, and he soon obtained political rewards for his services to the Whig cause. When elected to Parliament in 183o, his first speech on Reform established his fame as an orator. In 1834 he was sent to India as a member of the Supreme Council, and prepared a code of laws for that country, which, however, was not adopted. He was returned to Parliament in 1839 as a member for Edinburgh, but in 1847 he was defeated, his support of a grant to Maynooth College having shocked the Protestantism of his constituents. During these years he had steadily contributed to the Review brilliant essays on historical, critical and miscellaneous subjects. He had also published his spirited "Lays of Ancient Rome" (1842). He had long cherished the intention of writing the history of England from the accession of James II. To this work his time was now devoted, and in 1848 two volumes were issued. They won instant popularity and increased his fame. The electors of Edinburgh, in 1852, returned him again to Parliament without exertion on his part. In 1857 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Macaulay of Rothley. He died of heart disease in December, 1857. His personal reputation was much enhanced by the excellent biography published by his nephew, Sir George Trevelyan, which revealed his admirable private character.
Macaulay had a brilliant classical prose style which won the admiration and even the envy of his contemporaries for its effectiveness. His "Essays," dealing chiefly with the great men of English history and literature, yet including Frederick the Great and Machiavelli, have become familiar to all readers. The particular book which furnished the subject of discussion was usually briefly dismissed, while the essayist gave his own views at length. These views were stated in the most positive terms, so that his heroes became angels, and his villains almost devils who should be driven from the world. In his "History" his wide range of reading and firm grasp of results were yet more remarkably displayed. His view of the state of England at the death of Charles II is a marvelous compilation from a thousand sources, yet presenting a consistent, perfectly intelligible picture. Macaulay has been accused of suppressing or distorting the evidence in regard to some characters, but it has hardly been proved, except in the case of William Penn. In general, he took the utmost pains to be accurate, not only reading all the records of important events, but visiting the actual places. The example thus set has been followed by later historians to the great gain of truth.