Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1st Baron Macaulay
Overview
 
Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1st Baron Macaulay PC (25 October 1800 – 28 December 1859) was a British poet, historian and Whig politician. He wrote extensively as an essayist and reviewer, and on British history
History of the United Kingdom
The history of the United Kingdom as a unified sovereign state began with the political union of the kingdoms of England, which included Wales, and Scotland on 1 May 1707 in accordance with the Treaty of Union, as ratified by the Acts of Union 1707...

. He also held political office as Secretary at War
Secretary at War
The Secretary at War was a political position in the English and later British government, with some responsibility over the administration and organization of the Army, but not over military policy. The Secretary at War ran the War Office. It was occasionally a cabinet level position, although...

 between 1839 and 1841 and Paymaster-General
Paymaster-General
HM Paymaster General is a ministerial position in the United Kingdom. The Paymaster General is in charge of the Office of HM Paymaster General , which held accounts at the Bank of England on behalf of Government departments and selected other public bodies...

 between 1846 and 1848.
The son and eldest child of Zachary Macaulay
Zachary Macaulay
Zachary Macaulay was a slavery abolitionist and campaigner.-Early life:Macaulay was born in Inveraray, Scotland, the son of the Rev. John Macaulay Zachary Macaulay (2 May 1768 – 13 May 1838) was a slavery abolitionist and campaigner.-Early life:Macaulay was born in Inveraray, Scotland, the son of...

, a Scottish
Scottish people
The Scottish people , or Scots, are a nation and ethnic group native to Scotland. Historically they emerged from an amalgamation of the Picts and Gaels, incorporating neighbouring Britons to the south as well as invading Germanic peoples such as the Anglo-Saxons and the Norse.In modern use,...

 Highlander
Scottish Highlands
The Highlands is an historic region of Scotland. The area is sometimes referred to as the "Scottish Highlands". It was culturally distinguishable from the Lowlands from the later Middle Ages into the modern period, when Lowland Scots replaced Scottish Gaelic throughout most of the Lowlands...

 who became a colonial governor and abolitionist, Thomas Macaulay was born in Leicestershire
Leicestershire
Leicestershire is a landlocked county in the English Midlands. It takes its name from the heavily populated City of Leicester, traditionally its administrative centre, although the City of Leicester unitary authority is today administered separately from the rest of Leicestershire...

, England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

.
Quotations

Soon fades the spell, soon comes the night;Say will it not be then the same,Whether we played the black or white,Whether we lost or won the game?

Sermon in a Churchyard, st. 8 (1825)

Nothing is so useless as a general maxim.

On Machiavelli (1827)

The gallery in which the reporters sit has become a fourth estate of the realm.

On Hallam's Constitutional History (1828)

Intoxicated with animosity.

On Hallam's Constitutional History

I have not the Chancellor’s encyclopedic mind. He is indeed a kind of semi-Solomon. He half knows everything, from the cedar to the hyssop.

Letter to Macvey Napier (December 17, 1830)

That wonderful book, while it obtains admiration from the most fastidious critics, is loved by those who are too simple to admire it.

On Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (1831)

Encyclopedia
Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1st Baron Macaulay PC (25 October 1800 – 28 December 1859) was a British poet, historian and Whig politician. He wrote extensively as an essayist and reviewer, and on British history
History of the United Kingdom
The history of the United Kingdom as a unified sovereign state began with the political union of the kingdoms of England, which included Wales, and Scotland on 1 May 1707 in accordance with the Treaty of Union, as ratified by the Acts of Union 1707...

. He also held political office as Secretary at War
Secretary at War
The Secretary at War was a political position in the English and later British government, with some responsibility over the administration and organization of the Army, but not over military policy. The Secretary at War ran the War Office. It was occasionally a cabinet level position, although...

 between 1839 and 1841 and Paymaster-General
Paymaster-General
HM Paymaster General is a ministerial position in the United Kingdom. The Paymaster General is in charge of the Office of HM Paymaster General , which held accounts at the Bank of England on behalf of Government departments and selected other public bodies...

 between 1846 and 1848.

Early life

The son and eldest child of Zachary Macaulay
Zachary Macaulay
Zachary Macaulay was a slavery abolitionist and campaigner.-Early life:Macaulay was born in Inveraray, Scotland, the son of the Rev. John Macaulay Zachary Macaulay (2 May 1768 – 13 May 1838) was a slavery abolitionist and campaigner.-Early life:Macaulay was born in Inveraray, Scotland, the son of...

, a Scottish
Scottish people
The Scottish people , or Scots, are a nation and ethnic group native to Scotland. Historically they emerged from an amalgamation of the Picts and Gaels, incorporating neighbouring Britons to the south as well as invading Germanic peoples such as the Anglo-Saxons and the Norse.In modern use,...

 Highlander
Scottish Highlands
The Highlands is an historic region of Scotland. The area is sometimes referred to as the "Scottish Highlands". It was culturally distinguishable from the Lowlands from the later Middle Ages into the modern period, when Lowland Scots replaced Scottish Gaelic throughout most of the Lowlands...

 who became a colonial governor and abolitionist, Thomas Macaulay was born in Leicestershire
Leicestershire
Leicestershire is a landlocked county in the English Midlands. It takes its name from the heavily populated City of Leicester, traditionally its administrative centre, although the City of Leicester unitary authority is today administered separately from the rest of Leicestershire...

, England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

. He was noted as a child prodigy. As a toddler, gazing out the window from his cot at the chimneys of a local factory, he is reputed to have put the question to his mother: "Does the smoke from those chimneys come from the fires of hell?" He was educated at a private school in Hertfordshire and at Trinity College, Cambridge
Trinity College, Cambridge
Trinity College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge. Trinity has more members than any other college in Cambridge or Oxford, with around 700 undergraduates, 430 graduates, and over 170 Fellows...

. Whilst at Cambridge he wrote much poetry and won several prizes, including the Chancellor's Gold Medal
Chancellor's Gold Medal
The Chancellor's Gold Medal is a prestigious annual award at Cambridge University for poetry, paralleling Oxford University's Newdigate prize. It was first presented by Prince William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh during his time as Chancellor of the University of Cambridge...

 in June 1821. In 1825 he published a prominent essay on Milton in the Edinburgh Review
Edinburgh Review
The Edinburgh Review, founded in 1802, was one of the most influential British magazines of the 19th century. It ceased publication in 1929. The magazine took its Latin motto judex damnatur ubi nocens absolvitur from Publilius Syrus.In 1984, the Scottish cultural magazine New Edinburgh Review,...

. In 1826 he was called to the bar
Call to the bar
The Call to the Bar is a legal term of art in most common law jurisdictions where persons must be qualified to be allowed to argue in court on behalf of another party, and are then said to have been "called to the bar" or to have received a "call to the bar"...

 but showed more interest in a political than a legal career. It was once rumoured that Macaulay had fallen for Maria Kinnaird
Maria Kinnaird
Maria Kinnaird was born on St. Vincent, but was orphaned by a volcanic eruption and she was adopted by the politician, Conversation Sharp. She was the heiress of her adopted father and she has been described as a accomplished, attractive, and intelligent woman...

, the wealthy ward of "Conversation" Sharp
Richard Sharp (politician)
Richard Sharp, FRS, FSA , also known as "Conversation" Sharp, was a hat-maker, banker, merchant, poet, critic, British politician, but above all - doyen of the conversationalists.-Family background:...

, but in fact he never married and had no children.

Political career

In 1830 the Marquess of Lansdowne
Henry Petty-FitzMaurice, 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne
Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne KG, PC, FRS , known as Lord Henry Petty from 1784 to 1809 and then as The Earl of Kerry to 1818, was a British statesman...

 invited Macaulay to become Member of Parliament
Member of Parliament
A Member of Parliament is a representative of the voters to a :parliament. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, the term applies specifically to members of the lower house, as upper houses often have a different title, such as senate, and thus also have different titles for its members,...

 for the pocket borough of Calne
Calne (UK Parliament constituency)
Calne was a parliamentary borough in Wiltshire, which elected two Members of Parliament to the House of Commons from 1295 until 1832, and then one member from 1832 until 1885, when the borough was abolished.-History:...

. His maiden speech was in favor of abolishing the civil disabilities
Disabilities (Jewish)
Disabilities were legal restrictions and limitations placed on Jews in the Middle Ages. They included provisions requiring Jews to wear specific and identifying clothing such as the Jewish hat and the yellow badge, restricting Jews to certain cities and towns or in certain parts of towns , and...

 of the Jews. However, Macaulay made his name with a series of speeches in favour of parliamentary reform.
After the Great Reform Act
Reform Act 1832
The Representation of the People Act 1832 was an Act of Parliament that introduced wide-ranging changes to the electoral system of England and Wales...

 of 1832 was passed, he became MP for Leeds
Leeds (UK Parliament constituency)
Leeds was a parliamentary borough covering the town of Leeds, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, England. It was represented in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom from 1832 to 1885....

. In the Reform, Calne's representation was reduced from two to one; Leeds had never been represented before, but now had two members. Though proud to have helped pass the Reform Bill, Macaulay never ceased to be grateful to his former patron, Lansdowne, who remained a great friend and political ally.

India

Macaulay was Secretary to the Board of Control
Secretary to the Board of Control
The Secretary to the Board of Control was a British government office in the late 18th and early 19th century, supporting the President of the Board of Control, who was responsible for overseeing the British East India Company and generally serving as the chief official in London responsible for...

 under Lord Grey
Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey
Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, KG, PC , known as Viscount Howick between 1806 and 1807, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 22 November 1830 to 16 July 1834. A member of the Whig Party, he backed significant reform of the British government and was among the...

 from 1832 until 1833. After the passing of the Government of India Act 1833, he was appointed as the first Law Member of the Governor-General's Council
Council of India
The Council of India was the name given at different times to two separate bodies associated with British rule in India.The original Council of India was established by the Regulating Act of 1773 as a council of four formal advisors to the Governor-General at Fort William...

. He went to India in 1834. Serving on the Supreme Council of India between 1834 and 1838 he was instrumental in creating the foundations of bilingual colonial India
Colonial India
Colonial India refers to areas of the Indian Subcontinent under the control of European colonial powers, through trade and conquest. The first European power to arrive in India was the army of Alexander the Great in 327–326 BC. The satraps he established in the north west of the subcontinent...

, by convincing the Governor-General
Governor-General of India
The Governor-General of India was the head of the British administration in India, and later, after Indian independence, the representative of the monarch and de facto head of state. The office was created in 1773, with the title of Governor-General of the Presidency of Fort William...

 to adopt English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 as the medium of instruction in higher education, from the sixth year of schooling onwards, rather than Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 or Persian
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

 then used in the institutions supported by the East India Company. By doing so, Macaulay wanted to "educate a people who cannot at present be educated by means of their mother tongue" and thus, by incorporating English
English Education Act 1835
The '“English Education Act"' was a legislative Act of the Council of India in 1835 giving effect to a decision in 1835 by William Bentinck, the then Governor-General of British India to reallocate funds the East India Company was required by the British Parliament to spend on education and...

, he sought to enrich the Indian languages so "that they could become vehicles for European scientific, historical, and literary expression". His final years in India were devoted to the creation of a Penal Code, as the leading member of the Law Commission.

In the aftermath of the Indian Mutiny of 1857
Indian Rebellion of 1857
The Indian Rebellion of 1857 began as a mutiny of sepoys of the British East India Company's army on 10 May 1857, in the town of Meerut, and soon escalated into other mutinies and civilian rebellions largely in the upper Gangetic plain and central India, with the major hostilities confined to...

, Macaulay's criminal law
Criminal law
Criminal law, is the body of law that relates to crime. It might be defined as the body of rules that defines conduct that is not allowed because it is held to threaten, harm or endanger the safety and welfare of people, and that sets out the punishment to be imposed on people who do not obey...

 proposal was enacted. The Indian Penal Code
Indian Penal Code
Indian Penal Code is the main criminal code of India. It is a comprehensive code, intended to cover all substantive aspects of criminal law. It was drafted in 1860 and came into force in colonial India during the British Raj in 1862...

 (1860) was followed by the Criminal Procedure Code, 1872 and the Civil Procedure Code, 1909. The Indian Penal Code
Indian Penal Code
Indian Penal Code is the main criminal code of India. It is a comprehensive code, intended to cover all substantive aspects of criminal law. It was drafted in 1860 and came into force in colonial India during the British Raj in 1862...

 was later reproduced in most other British colonies – and to date many of these laws are still in effect in places as far apart as Pakistan
Pakistan
Pakistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a sovereign state in South Asia. It has a coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by Afghanistan and Iran in the west, India in the east and China in the far northeast. In the north, Tajikistan...

, Singapore
Singapore
Singapore , officially the Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia's Riau Islands by the...

, Bangladesh
Bangladesh
Bangladesh , officially the People's Republic of Bangladesh is a sovereign state located in South Asia. It is bordered by India on all sides except for a small border with Burma to the far southeast and by the Bay of Bengal to the south...

, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

, Nigeria
Nigeria
Nigeria , officially the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is a federal constitutional republic comprising 36 states and its Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The country is located in West Africa and shares land borders with the Republic of Benin in the west, Chad and Cameroon in the east, and Niger in...

 and Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe is a landlocked country located in the southern part of the African continent, between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers. It is bordered by South Africa to the south, Botswana to the southwest, Zambia and a tip of Namibia to the northwest and Mozambique to the east. Zimbabwe has three...

 as well as in India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

.

The term "Macaulay's Children" is used to refer to people born of Indian ancestry who adopt Western culture
Western culture
Western culture, sometimes equated with Western civilization or European civilization, refers to cultures of European origin and is used very broadly to refer to a heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, religious beliefs, political systems, and specific artifacts and...

 as a lifestyle, or display attitudes influenced by colonisers. It is used as a pejorative term, and the connotation is one of disloyalty to one's country and one's heritage. This frame of mind or attitude is also referred to as Macaulayism
Macaulayism
Macaulayism is the conscious policy of liquidating indigenous culture through the planned substitution of the alien culture of a colonizing power via the education system...

.

The passage to which the term refers is from his Minute on Indian Education, delivered in 1835. It reads,
Macaulay's Minute formed the basis for the reforms introduced in the English Education Act of 1835
English Education Act 1835
The '“English Education Act"' was a legislative Act of the Council of India in 1835 giving effect to a decision in 1835 by William Bentinck, the then Governor-General of British India to reallocate funds the East India Company was required by the British Parliament to spend on education and...

. In 1836, a school named La Martiniere which was founded by Major General Claude Martin had one of its houses named after him.

In independent India, Macaulay's idea of the civilizing mission
Civilizing mission
is a rationale for intervention or colonisation, proposing to contribute to the spread of civilization, mostly amounting to the Westernization of indigenous peoples....

 has been used by Dalitists, in particular by neoliberalist Chandra Bhan Prasad, as a "creative appropriation for self-empowerment", based on the weltanschauung that Dalit folk are "empowered" by an English education as opposed to that in languages used traditionally (Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 and Persian
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

).

Government minister

Returning to Britain in 1838, he became MP for Edinburgh
Edinburgh (UK Parliament constituency)
Edinburgh was a burgh constituency of the House of Commons of the Parliament of Great Britain from 1708 to 1801 and of the Parliament of the United Kingdom from 1801 until 1885. Originally a single member constituency, representation was increased to two members in 1832...

. He was made Secretary at War
Secretary at War
The Secretary at War was a political position in the English and later British government, with some responsibility over the administration and organization of the Army, but not over military policy. The Secretary at War ran the War Office. It was occasionally a cabinet level position, although...

 in 1839 by Lord Melbourne
William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne
William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, PC, FRS was a British Whig statesman who served as Home Secretary and Prime Minister . He is best known for his intense and successful mentoring of Queen Victoria, at ages 18-21, in the ways of politics...

 and was sworn of the Privy Council the same year. In 1841 Macaulay addressed the issue of copyright
Copyright
Copyright is a legal concept, enacted by most governments, giving the creator of an original work exclusive rights to it, usually for a limited time...

 law. Macaulay's position, slightly modified, became the basis of copyright law in the English-speaking world for many decades. Macaulay argued that copyright is a monopoly
Monopoly
A monopoly exists when a specific person or enterprise is the only supplier of a particular commodity...

 and as such has generally negative effects on society. After the fall of Melbourne's government in 1841 Macaulay devoted more time to literary work, but returned to office as Paymaster-General
Paymaster-General
HM Paymaster General is a ministerial position in the United Kingdom. The Paymaster General is in charge of the Office of HM Paymaster General , which held accounts at the Bank of England on behalf of Government departments and selected other public bodies...

 in 1846 in Lord John Russell
John Russell, 1st Earl Russell
John Russell, 1st Earl Russell, KG, GCMG, PC , known as Lord John Russell before 1861, was an English Whig and Liberal politician who served twice as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in the mid-19th century....

's administration.

In the election of 1847 he lost his seat in Edinburgh. He attributed the loss to the anger of religious zealots over his speech in favour of expanding the annual grant to Maynooth College in Ireland, which trained young men for the Catholic priesthood; some observers also attributed his loss to his neglect of local issues. In 1849 he was elected Rector of the University of Glasgow, a position with no administrative duties, often awarded by the students to men of political or literary fame; he also received the freedom of the city. In 1852, the voters of Edinburgh offered to re-elect him to Parliament. He accepted on the express condition that he need not campaign and would not pledge himself to a position on any political issue. Remarkably, he was elected on those terms. However, he seldom attended the House, due to ill health; indeed his weakness after suffering a heart attack caused him to postpone for several months making his speech of thanks to the Edinburgh voters. He resigned his seat in January, 1856. In 1857 he was raised to the peerage
Peerage
The Peerage is a legal system of largely hereditary titles in the United Kingdom, which constitute the ranks of British nobility and is part of the British honours system...

 as Baron Macaulay, of Rothley in the County of Leicester
Leicestershire
Leicestershire is a landlocked county in the English Midlands. It takes its name from the heavily populated City of Leicester, traditionally its administrative centre, although the City of Leicester unitary authority is today administered separately from the rest of Leicestershire...

, but seldom attended the House of Lords
House of Lords
The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster....

.

Literary works

As a young man he composed the ballads Ivry and The Armada, which he later included as part of Lays of Ancient Rome
Lays of Ancient Rome
The Lays of Ancient Rome is a once-famous collection of four lays by Thomas Babington Macaulay describing semi-mythical heroic episodes in Roman history with strong dramatic and tragic themes...

, a series of very popular ballads about heroic episodes in Roman history which he composed in India and published in 1842. The most famous of them, Horatius, concerns the heroism of Horatius Cocles
Horatius Cocles
Publius Horatius Cocles was an officer in the army of the ancient Roman Republic who famously defended the Pons Sublicius from the invading army of Lars Porsena, king of Clusium in the late 6th century BC, during the war between Rome and Clusium.-Background:...

. It contains the oft-quoted lines:

Then out spake brave Horatius,

The Captain of the Gate:

"To every man upon this earth

Death cometh soon or late.

And how can man die better

Than facing fearful odds,

For the ashes of his fathers,

And the temples of his gods?"

During the 1840s he began work on his most famous work, The History of England from the Accession of James the Second
The History of England from the Accession of James the Second
The History of England from the Accession of James the Second is the full title of the multi-volume work by Lord Macaulay more generally known as The History of England...

, publishing the first two volumes in 1848. At first, he had planned to bring his history down to the reign of George III. After publication of his first two volumes, his hope was to complete his work with the death of Queen Anne in 1714. The third and fourth volumes, bringing the history to the Peace of Ryswick, were published in 1855. However, at his death in 1859, he was working on the fifth volume. This, bringing the History down to the death of William III
William III of England
William III & II was a sovereign Prince of Orange of the House of Orange-Nassau by birth. From 1672 he governed as Stadtholder William III of Orange over Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Guelders, and Overijssel of the Dutch Republic. From 1689 he reigned as William III over England and Ireland...

, was prepared for publication by his sister, Lady Trevelyan, after his death.

Macaulay's political writings are famous for their ringing prose and for its confident, sometimes dogmatic, emphasis on a progressive model of British history, according to which the country threw off superstition, autocracy and confusion to create a balanced constitution and a forward-looking culture combined with freedom of belief and expression. This model of human progress has been called the Whig interpretation of history
Whig history
Whig history is the approach to historiography which presents the past as an inevitable progression towards ever greater liberty and enlightenment, culminating in modern forms of liberal democracy and constitutional monarchy. In general, Whig historians stress the rise of constitutional government,...

. This philosophy appears most clearly in the essays Macaulay wrote for the Edinburgh Review
Edinburgh Review
The Edinburgh Review, founded in 1802, was one of the most influential British magazines of the 19th century. It ceased publication in 1929. The magazine took its Latin motto judex damnatur ubi nocens absolvitur from Publilius Syrus.In 1984, the Scottish cultural magazine New Edinburgh Review,...

. But it is also reflected in the History; the most stirring passages in the work are those that describe the "Glorious Revolution
Glorious Revolution
The Glorious Revolution, also called the Revolution of 1688, is the overthrow of King James II of England by a union of English Parliamentarians with the Dutch stadtholder William III of Orange-Nassau...

" of 1688. Macaulay's approach has been criticised by later historians for its one-sidedness and its complacency. Karl Marx
Karl Marx
Karl Heinrich Marx was a German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist, and revolutionary socialist. His ideas played a significant role in the development of social science and the socialist political movement...

 referred to him as a 'systematic falsifier of history'. His tendency to see history as a drama led him to treat figures whose views he opposed as if they were villains, while characters he approved of were presented as heroes. Macaulay goes to considerable length, for example, to absolve his main hero William III of any responsibility for the Glencoe massacre. Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

 devoted a four volume biography
Marlborough: His Life and Times
Marlborough: His Life and Times was a panegyric biography written by Winston Churchill about John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. Churchill was a descendant of the duke....

 of the Duke of Marlborough
Duke of Marlborough
Duke of Marlborough , is a hereditary title in the Peerage of England. The first holder of the title was John Churchill , the noted English general, and indeed an unqualified reference to the Duke of Marlborough in a historical text will almost certainly refer to him.-History:The dukedom was...

 to rebutting Macaulay's slights of his ancestor, expressing hope 'to fasten the label "Liar" to his genteel coat-tails.'
On the other hand, this outlook, together with his obvious love of his subject matter and of English civilization, helps to place the reader within the age being described in a personal way that no cold neutrality could, and Macaulay's History is generally recognized as one of the masterpieces of historical writing and a magisterial literary triumph only comparable as such to Gibbon
Edward Gibbon
Edward Gibbon was an English historian and Member of Parliament...

 and Michelet
Jules Michelet
Jules Michelet was a French historian. He was born in Paris to a family with Huguenot traditions.-Early life:His father was a master printer, not very prosperous, and Jules assisted him in the actual work of the press...

.

Macaulay sat on the committee to decide on subjects from British history to be painted in the new Palace of Westminster
Palace of Westminster
The Palace of Westminster, also known as the Houses of Parliament or Westminster Palace, is the meeting place of the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom—the House of Lords and the House of Commons...

. The need to collect reliable portraits of noted figures in British history for this project led to the foundation of the National Portrait Gallery, which was formally established on 2 December 1856. Macaulay was amongst its founder trustees and is honoured with one of only three busts above the main entrance.

During later years his health made work increasingly difficult for him. He died in December 1859, aged 59, leaving his major work, The History of England from the Accession of James the Second incomplete. He was buried in Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey
The Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster, popularly known as Westminster Abbey, is a large, mainly Gothic church, in the City of Westminster, London, United Kingdom, located just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English,...

. As he had no children, his peerage became extinct on his death.

Macaulay's nephew, Sir George Trevelyan, Bt
Sir George Trevelyan, 2nd Baronet
Sir George Otto Trevelyan, 2nd Baronet OM, PC was a British statesman and author. In a ministerial career stretching almost 30 years, he was most notably twice Secretary of State for Scotland under William Ewart Gladstone and the Earl of Rosebery...

, wrote a best-selling "Life and Letters" of his famous uncle, which is still the best complete life of Macaulay. His great-nephew was the Cambridge
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

 historian G. M. Trevelyan
G. M. Trevelyan
George Macaulay Trevelyan, OM, CBE, FRS, FBA , was a British historian. Trevelyan was the third son of Sir George Otto Trevelyan, 2nd Baronet, and great-nephew of Thomas Babington Macaulay, whose staunch liberal Whig principles he espoused in accessible works of literate narrative avoiding a...

.

Legacy as a historian

The Liberal historian Lord Acton
John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton
John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton, KCVO, DL , known as Sir John Dalberg-Acton, 8th Bt from 1837 to 1869 and usually referred to simply as Lord Acton, was an English Catholic historian, politician, and writer...

 read Macaulay's History of England four times and later described himself as "a raw English schoolboy, primed to the brim with Whig politics" but "not Whiggism
Whiggism
Whiggism, sometimes spelled Whigism, is a historical political philosophy that grew out of the Parliamentarian faction in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. The whigs' key policy positions were the supremacy of Parliament , toleration for Protestant dissenters, and opposition to a Catholic on the...

 only, but Macaulay in particular that I was so full of". However after coming under German influence Acton would later find fault in Macaulay. In 1880 Acton classed Macaulay (with Burke
Edmund Burke
Edmund Burke PC was an Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist and philosopher who, after moving to England, served for many years in the House of Commons of Great Britain as a member of the Whig party....

 and Gladstone
William Ewart Gladstone
William Ewart Gladstone FRS FSS was a British Liberal statesman. In a career lasting over sixty years, he served as Prime Minister four separate times , more than any other person. Gladstone was also Britain's oldest Prime Minister, 84 years old when he resigned for the last time...

) as one "of the three greatest Liberals". In 1883 he advised Mary Gladstone
Mary Gladstone
Mary Drew , was a political secretary, writer and hostess. She was the daughter of the British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, and achieved notability as his advisor, confidante and private secretary...

 "that the Essays are really flashy and superficial. He was not above par in literary criticism; his Indian articles will not hold water; and his two most famous reviews, on Bacon
Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Albans, KC was an English philosopher, statesman, scientist, lawyer, jurist, author and pioneer of the scientific method. He served both as Attorney General and Lord Chancellor of England...

 and Ranke
Leopold von Ranke
Leopold von Ranke was a German historian, considered one of the founders of modern source-based history. Ranke set the standards for much of later historical writing, introducing such ideas as reliance on primary sources , an emphasis on narrative history and especially international politics .-...

, show his incompetence. The essays are only pleasant reading, and a key to half the prejudices of our age. It is the History (with one or two speeches) that is wonderful. He knew nothing respectably before the seventeenth century, he knew nothing of foreign history, of religion, philosophy, science, or art. His account of debates has been thrown into the shade by Ranke, his account of diplomatic affairs, by Klopp
Onno Klopp
Onno Klopp was a German historian, best known as the author of Der Fall des Hauses Stuart , the fullest existing account of the later Stuarts.-Biography:...

. He is, I am persuaded, grossly, basely unfair. Read him therefore to find out how it comes that the most unsympathetic of critics can think him very nearly the greatest of English writers". In 1885 Acton asserted that: "We must never judge the quality of a teaching by the quality of the Teacher, or allow the spots to shut out the sun. It would be unjust, and it would deprive us of nearly all that is great and good in this world. Let me remind you of Macaulay. He remains to me one of the greatest of all writers and masters, although I think him utterly base, contemptible and odious for certain reasons which you know". In 1888 he wrote that Macaulay "had done more than any writer in the literature of the world for the propagation of the Liberal faith, and he was not only the greatest, but the most representative, Englishman then [1856] living".

Herbert Butterfield
Herbert Butterfield
Sir Herbert Butterfield was a British historian and philosopher of history who is remembered chiefly for two books—a short volume early in his career entitled The Whig Interpretation of History and his Origins of Modern Science...

's The Whig Interpretation of History (1931) attacked Whig history. The Dutch historian Pieter Geyl
Pieter Geyl
Pieter Catharinus Arie Geyl was a Dutch historian, well-known for his studies in early modern Dutch history and in historiography.-Background:...

, writing in 1955, considered Macaulay's Essays as "exclusively and intolerantly English".

George Richard Potter, Professor and Head of the Department of History at the University of Sheffield
University of Sheffield
The University of Sheffield is a research university based in the city of Sheffield in South Yorkshire, England. It is one of the original 'red brick' universities and is a member of the Russell Group of leading research intensive universities...

 from 1931 to 1965, claimed "In an age of long letters...Macaulay's hold their own with the best". However Potter also claimed: "For all his linguistic abilities he seems never to have tried to enter into sympathetic mental contact with the classical world or with the Europe of his day. It was an insularity that was impregnable...If his outlook was insular, however, it was surely British rather than English". He said this about Macaulay's determination to inspect physically the places mentioned in his History: "Much of the success of the famous third chapter of the History which may be said to have introduced the study of social history, and even...local history, was due to the intense local knowledge acquired on the spot. As a result it is a superb, living picture of Great Britain in the latter half of the seventeenth century...No description of the relief of Londonderry in a major history of England existed before 1850; after his visit there and the narrative written round it no other account has been needed...Scotland came fully into its own and from then until now it has been a commonplace that English history is incomprehensible without Scotland". Potter noted that Macaulay has had many critics, some of whom put forward some salient points about the deficiency of Macaulay's History but added: "The severity and the minuteness of the criticism to which the History of England has been subjected is a measure of its permanent value. It is worth very ounce of powder and shot that is fired again it". Potter concluded that "in the long roll of English historical writing from Clarendon
Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon
Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon was an English historian and statesman, and grandfather of two English monarchs, Mary II and Queen Anne.-Early life:...

 to Trevelyan
G. M. Trevelyan
George Macaulay Trevelyan, OM, CBE, FRS, FBA , was a British historian. Trevelyan was the third son of Sir George Otto Trevelyan, 2nd Baronet, and great-nephew of Thomas Babington Macaulay, whose staunch liberal Whig principles he espoused in accessible works of literate narrative avoiding a...

 only Gibbon
Edward Gibbon
Edward Gibbon was an English historian and Member of Parliament...

 has surpassed him in security of reputation and certainty of immortality".

In 1972 J. R. Western wrote that: "Despite its age and blemishes, Macaulay's History of England has still to be superseded by a full-scale modern history of the period". In 1974 J. P. Kenyon stated that: "As is often the case, Macaulay had it exactly right".

W. A. Speck
W. A. Speck
William Arthur Speck is a British historian specialising in late 17th and 18th-century British and American history.He was educated at Bradford Grammar School and The Queen's College, Oxford, gaining a BA in 1960 and a D.Phil in 1966...

 wrote in 1980 that Macaulay's History of England "still commands respect is that it was based upon a prodigious amount of research". Speck claims that "Macaulay's reputation as an historian has never fully recovered from the condemnation it implicitly received in Herbert Butterfield's devastating attack on The Whig Interpretation of History. Though he was never cited by name, there can be no doubt that Macaulay answers to the charges brought against Whig historians, particularly that they study the past with reference to the present, class people in the past as those who furthered progress and those who hindered it, and judge them accordingly". Speck also said that Macaulay too often "denies the past has its own validity, treating it as being merely a prelude to his own age. This is especially noticeable in the third chapter of his History of England, when again and again he contrasts the backwardness of 1685 with the advances achieved by 1848. Not only does this misuse the past, it also leads him to exaggerate the differences". Although Speck also wrote that Macaulay "took pains to present the virtues even of a rogue, and he painted the virtuous warts and all", and that "he was never guilty of suppressing or distorting evidence to make it support a proposition which he knew to be untrue". Speck concluded: "What is in fact striking is the extent to which his History of England at least has survived subsequent research. Although it is often dismissed as inaccurate, it is hard to pinpoint a passage where he is categorically in error...his account of events has stood up remarkably well...His interpretation of the Glorious Revolution
Glorious Revolution
The Glorious Revolution, also called the Revolution of 1688, is the overthrow of King James II of England by a union of English Parliamentarians with the Dutch stadtholder William III of Orange-Nassau...

 also remains the essential starting point for any discussion of that episode...What has not survived, or has become subdued, is Macaulay's confident belief in progress. It was a dominant creed in the era of the Great Exhibition. But Auschwitz and Hiroshima
Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
During the final stages of World War II in 1945, the United States conducted two atomic bombings against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, the first on August 6, 1945, and the second on August 9, 1945. These two events are the only use of nuclear weapons in war to date.For six months...

 destroyed this century's claim to moral superiority over its predecessors, while the exhaustion of natural resources raises serious doubts about the continuation even of material progress into the next."

In 1981 J. W. Burrow
J. W. Burrow
John Wyon Burrow was an English historian. In 1954 he won a history scholarship at Christ's College, Cambridge...

 argued that Macaulay's History of England:

...is not simply partisan; a judgement, like that of Firth, that Macaulay was always the Whig politician could hardly be more inapposite. Of course Macaulay thought that the Whigs of the seventeenth century were correct in their fundamental ideas, but the hero of the History was William, who, as Macaulay says, was certainly no Whig...If this was Whiggism it was so only, by the mid-nineteenth century, in the most extended and inclusive sense, requiring only an acceptance of parliamentary government and a sense of gravity of precedent. Butterfield says, rightly, that in the nineteenth century the Whig view of history became the English view. The chief agent of that transformation was surely Macaulay, aided, of course, by the receding relevance of seventeenth-century conflicts to contemporary politics, as the power of the crown waned further, and the civil disabilities of Catholics and Dissenters were removed by legislation. The History is much more than the vindication of a party; it is an attempt to insinuate a view of politics, pragmatic, reverent, essentially Burkean
Edmund Burke
Edmund Burke PC was an Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist and philosopher who, after moving to England, served for many years in the House of Commons of Great Britain as a member of the Whig party....

, informed by a high, even tumid sense of the worth of public life, yet fully conscious of its interrelations with the wider progress of society; it embodies what Hallam had merely asserted, a sense of the privileged possession by Englishmen of their history, as well as of the epic dignity of government by discussion. If this was sectarian it was hardly, in any useful contemporary sense, polemically Whig; it is more like the sectarianism of English respectability.


In 1982 Gertrude Himmelfarb
Gertrude Himmelfarb
Gertrude Himmelfarb , also known as Bea Kristol, is an American historian. She has written extensively on intellectual history, with a focus on Britain and the Victorian era, as well as on contemporary society and culture....

 wrote that "most professional historians have long since given up reading Macaulay, as they have given up writing the kind of history he wrote and thinking about history as he did. Yet there was a time when anyone with any pretension to cultivation read Macaulay". Himmelfarb also laments that "the history of the History is a sad testimonial to the cultural regression of our times".

Works


See also

  • Whig history
    Whig history
    Whig history is the approach to historiography which presents the past as an inevitable progression towards ever greater liberty and enlightenment, culminating in modern forms of liberal democracy and constitutional monarchy. In general, Whig historians stress the rise of constitutional government,...

     further explains the Whig interpretation of history that Macaulay espoused.

External links

  • Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859), Fran Pritchett, Columbia University
    Columbia University
    Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

  • Lord Macaulay's Habit of Exaggeration, JamesBoswell.info
  • Macaulay's Minute revisited, Ramachandra Guha, The Hindu
    The Hindu
    The Hindu is an Indian English-language daily newspaper founded and continuously published in Chennai since 1878. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, it has a circulation of 1.46 million copies as of December 2009. The enterprise employed over 1,600 workers and gross income reached $40...

    , February 4, 2007 (memorial statue, antechapel, Trinity College, Cambridge, UK)
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