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the magnanimity to tolerate such language, we rejoice to be able
ART. IV. MR. MACAULAY.
The History of England, from the Accession of James the Second. By Thomas Babington Macaulay. Longman.
THIS is a marvellous book. Every body has read it, and every one has read it with pleasure. It has little advantage of subject. When the volumes came out, an honest man said, "I suppose something happened between the years 1689 and 1697; but what happened I do not know." Every one knows now. No period with so little obvious interest will henceforth be so familiarly known. Only a most felicitous and rather curious genius could shed such a light on such an age. If in the following pages we seem to cavil and find fault, let it be remembered, that the business of a critic is criticism; that it is not his business to be thankful; that he must attempt an estimate rather than a eulogy.
Mr. Macaulay seems to have in a high degree the temperament most likely to be that of a historian. This may be summarily defined as the temperament which inclines men to take an interest in actions as contrasted with objects, and in past actions in preference to present actions. We should expand our meaning. Some people are unfortunately born scientific. This means that they take an interest in the objects of nature. They feel a curiosity about shells, snails, horses, butterflies. They are delighted at an ichthyosaurus, and excited at a polyp; they are learned in minerals, vegetables, animals; they have skill in fishes, and attain renown in pebbles: in the highest cases they know the great causes of grand phenomena, can indicate the courses of the stars or the current of the waves; but in every case it remains their characteristic, that their minds are directed not to the actions of man, but to the scenery amidst which he lives; not to the inhabitants of this world, but to the world itself; not to what most resembles themselves, but to that which is most unlike themselves. What causes men to take an interest in that in which they do take an interest is commonly a difficult question-for the most part, indeed, it is an insoluble one; but in this case it would seem to have a negative cause- -to result from the absence of an intense and vivid nature. The inclination of mind which abstracts the attention from that in which it can feel sympathy to that in which it cannot, seems to arise from a want of sympathy. A tendency to devote the mind to trees and stones as much as, or in preference to, men and women, seems
to imply that the intellectual qualities, the abstract reason, and the inductive scrutiny which can be applied equally to trees and to men, to stones and to women, predominate over the more special qualities solely applicable to our own race, -the keen love, the eager admiration, the lasting hatred, the lust of rule which fasten men's interests on people and to people. It is a confirmation of this, that, even in the greatest cases, scientific men have been calm men. Their actions are unexceptionable; scarcely a spot stains their excellence; if a doubt is to be thrown on their moral character, it would be rather that they were insensible to the temptations than that they were involved in the offences of ordinary men. A certain aloofness and abstractedness cleave to their greatness. There is a coldness in their fame. We think of Euclid as of fine ice; we admire Newton as we admire the peak of Teneriffe. Even in the grandest cases, the intensest labours, the most remote triumphs of the abstract intellect, seem to carry us into a region different from our own— to be in a terra incognita of pure reasoning, to cast a chill on human glory.
It is certain that the taste of most persons is quite opposite. The tendency of man is to take an interest in man, and almost in man only. The world has a vested interest in itself. Analyse the minds of a crowd of men, and what will you find? Something of the outer earth, no doubt,-odd geography, odd astronomy, doubts whether Scutari is in the Crimea, investigations whether the moon is less or greater than Jupiter; some idea of herbs, more of horses; ideas too more or less vague of the remote and supernatural,-notions which the tongue cannot speak, which it would seem the world would hardly bear if thoroughly spoken. Yet, setting aside these which fill the remote corners of the lesser outworks of the brain, the whole stress and vigour of the ordinary faculties is expended in their possessor and his associates, on the man and on his fellows. In almost all men, indeed, this is not simply an intellectual contemplation; they not only look on, but act. The impulse to busy themselves with the affairs of men goes further than the simple attempt to know and comprehend them: it warms them with a further life; it incites them to stir and influence those affairs; its animated energy will not rest till it has hurried them into toil and conflict. At this stage it is that the mind of the historian, as we abstractedly conceive it, naturally breaks off: it has more interest in human affairs than the naturalist; it instinctively selects the actions of man for occupation and scrutiny, in preference to the habits of fishes or the structure of stones; but it has not so much vivid interest in them as the warm and acting man. It is sufficient to it to know; it can bear not to take a part. A certain want of impulse seems
born with the disposition. To be constantly occupied about the actions of others; to have constantly presented to your contemplation and attention events and occurrences memorable only as evincing certain qualities of mind and will, which very qualities in a measure you feel within yourself, and yet without any impulse to exhibit them in the real world of action "which is the world of all of us;" to contemplate, yet never act; 66 to have the House before you," and yet to be content with the reporters' gallery,-shows a chill impassiveness of temperament, a certain sluggish insensibility to ardent impulse, a heavy immobility under ordinary emotion. The image of the stout Gibbon placidly contemplating the animated conflicts, the stirring pleadings of Fox and Burke, watching a revolution and heavily taking no part in it, gives an idea of the historian as he is likely to be. Why, it is often asked, "is history dull? It is a narrative of life, and life is of all things the most interesting." The answer is, that it is written by men too dull to take the common interest in life, in whom languor predominates over zeal, and sluggishness over passion.
Macaulay is not dull, and it may seem hard to attempt to bring him within the scope of a theory which is so successful in explaining dullness. Yet, in a modified and peculiar form, we can perhaps find in his remarkable character unusually distinct traces of the insensibility which have been ascribed to the historian. The means are ample: Mr. Macaulay has not spent his life in a corner; if posterity should refuse-of course they will not refuse to read a line of his writings, they would yet be sought out by studious inquirers, as those of a man of high political position, great notoriety, and greater oratorical power. We are not therefore obliged, as in so many cases even among contemporaries, to search for the author's character in his books alone; we are able from other sources to find out his character, and then apply it to the explanation of the peculiarities of his works. Mr. Macaulay has exhibited many high attainments, many dazzling talents, much singular and well-trained power; but the quality which would most strike the observers of the interior man is what may be called his inexperiencing nature. Men of genius have in general been distinguished by their extreme susceptibility to external experience. Finer and softer than other men, every exertion of their will, every incident of their lives, influences them more deeply than it would others. Their essence is at the same time finer and more impressible; it receives a distincter mark, and receives it more easily than the souls of the herd. From his peculiar sensibility, the man of genius bears the stamp of life commonly more clearly than his fellows; even casual associations make a deep impression on him: examine his mind, and you may
discern his fortunes. Mr. Macaulay has nothing of this. You could not tell what he has been. His mind shows no trace of change. What he is, he was; and what he was, he is. He early attained a high development, but he has not increased it since; years have come, but they have whispered little; as was said of the second Pitt, "He never grew, he was cast." The volume of speeches" which he has published place the proof of this in every man's hand. His first speeches are as good as his last; his last scarcely richer than his first. He came into public life at an exciting season; he shared at the time in that excitement, and that excitement still seems to quiver in his mind. He delivered marvellous rhetorical exercises on the Reform Bill at the time; he speaks of it with marvellous rhetorical power even now. He is still the man of '32. From that era he looks on the past. He sees "Old Sarum" in the seventeenth century, and Gatton in the civil wars. You may fancy an undertone in his mind running somewhat thus: The Norman barons commenced the series of reforms which "we consummated;" Hampden was "preparing for the occasion in which I had a part;" William "for the debate in which I took occasion to observe." With a view to that era every thing begins; up to that moment every thing ascends. That was the "fifth act" of the human race; the remainder of history is only an afterpiece. All this was very natural at the moment; nothing could be more probable than that a young man of the greatest talents, entering at once into important life at a conspicuous opportunity, should exaggerate its importance; he would fancy it was the "crowning achievement," the greatest "in the tide of time." But what is remarkable is, that he should retain the idea now; that years have brought no influence, experience no change. The events of twenty years have been full of rich instruction on the events of twenty years ago; but they have not instructed him. His creed is a fixture. It is the same on his peculiar topic-on India. Before he went there he made a speech on the subject; Lord Canterbury, who must have heard a million speeches, said it was the best he had ever heard. It is difficult to fancy that so much vivid knowledge could be gained from books-from horrible Indian treatises; that such imaginative mastery should be possible without actual experience. Not forgetting, or excepting, the orations of Burke, it was perhaps as remarkable a speech as was ever made on India by an Englishman who had not been in India. Now he has been there he speaks no better-rather worse; he spoke excellently without experience, he speaks no better with it,-if any thing, it rather puts him out. His speech on the Indian charter a year or two ago was not finer than that on the charter of 1833. Before he went to India he recommended that writers should be examined