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Social and other Successes. --- Nor were Macaulay's triumphs confined to literature; he had qualities which win success in very different fields. He was one of the most brilliant and entertaining talkers of his day; his nature was kindly and wholesome, and he did not find fault with his time, or predict disaster, but looked with confidence and enthusiasm on the political and social changes which were ushering in a new age. All this helped to make him popular. He liked the world, the world liked him; and full of youth, wit, and high spirits, he was entertained everywhere and was welcomed in the most distinguished society of London.
Macaulay was a statesman as well as an author. In 1830 he entered Parliament. He lacked the depth and sympathy which we find in the greatest orators, but he proved himself a fluent and effective speaker, and he commanded the attention and interest of the House. He was, of course, on the side of "progress," and one of his early speeches was in favor of the passage of the Reform Bill.
In 1833 Macaulay was elected a member of the Supreme Council of India, and in the following year he left England to enter upon his new and important duties. He read incessantly on the voyage, devouring books in “Greek, Latin, Spanish, Italian, French, and English.” After he arrived, he prepared a code of criminal laws for India, which showed his practical judgment and legal ability.
On his return to England in 1838, Macaulay again entered Parliament. He retired from public life in 1847, and gave his remaining years to literature. To the last, his life was happy and full of substantial honors. The popularity of his writings was enormous. In 1857 he was made a peer, under the title of Baron
Macaulay of Rothley. He died in 1859 and was buried in Westminster Abbey near Addison, the great master of popular prose whose work he took up and continued.
Character and Work. — The chief traits of Macaulay's character have already been suggested. He had great gifts and he put them to good use. He had an exceptional memory, unusual industry, and a natural power of expression, both in speaking and in writing, which he cultivated with the greatest care. But with all this Macaulay was not a profound thinker, nor a man of strikingly original mind. His abilities were far above those of the average man, but his view of life was very much the same. He is not with those prophets who see visions that others cannot see, and preach doctrines which others cannot understand. He was not ridiculed as Wordsworth was; he did not provoke anger and bewilderment, as Carlyle and Ruskin did in his own generation. On the contrary, he was happily in accord with his time. He thoroughly enjoyed the world and the
age in which he found himself; finding it full of substantial comforts and a sensible and rational progress. He was what commonplace people call "practical." To him, the substantial thing is better than the vision, or, to use his own words, an acre in Middlesex is better than a principality in Utopia.” Carlyle thought once, as he looked at Macaulay's sturdy, bluff features, with their traces of Scottish origin, “Well, any one can see that you are an honest, good sort of fellow, made out of oatmeal.”
Not only has such a disposition a better chance of happiness and worldly success than one more highly spiritual and ideal; it was the glorified commonplaceness of his character which helped to fit Macaulay for his work as a popularizer of history and literature. He
had so much in common with the average man that it was easy for the average man to understand him. We cannot wonder that, living as he did in an age of democracy and progress, Macaulay should have become the great popular educator of his time.
Lays of Ancient Rome. — While Macaulay is distinguished principally as an historian and an essayist, he is remembered also as a writer of verse. In the Battle of Ivry and in Lays of Ancient Rome we find Macaulay's characteristic vigor of movement, and a certain rhetorical swing and brilliancy which have made these poems the pride of the schoolboy from that day to this. They are not poetry of the highest order, but in the wide realm of English literature they have and hold their place.
Essayist and Historian. — Macaulay's essays, covering a wide range of subjects, brought history and literature to the people through the pages of the magazines. India came home to them in his Clive and Hastings; Italy in his Machiavelli; England in his Chatham; literature in his Milton and his Johnson. The comparative compactness with which these subjects were handled, the impetuous rush and eloquence of the style, their picturesqueness, richness, their sparkling antithesis, took the public by storm. And Macaulay has still another qualification as a missionary of learning: he was, in Lord Melbourne's neat phrase, “cock-sure of everything." Such confidence hardly indicates power of the finest order, but none the less it is often grateful to untrained minds, which qualification and reservation tend to confuse. As an English writer says, in an admirable bit of criticism on this point: “uninstructed readers like this assurance, as they like a physician who has no doubt upon their case.”
The great work of Macaulay's later years was his History of England from the Accession of James II. On this task he concentrated all the fullness of his powers, he brought to it a high standard of excellence, an infinite capacity for taking pains, a marvelous style, and the loving labor of a lifetime. More than a century before, Addison had declared that through The Spectator he would bring philosophy out of the closet, and make it dwell in clubs and coffee-houses. Macaulay, who is to be associated with Addison as accomplishing a similar work on a far larger scale, wrote before the publication of his History, “I shall not be satisfied unless I produce something which shall for a few days supersede the last fashionable novel on the tables of young ladies.” The immense sale of his book, absolutely unprecedented in a work of this character, is overwhelming testimony to Macaulay's position as a popularizer of knowledge. “Within a generation of its first appearance," writes his biographer, “upward of one hundred and forty thousand copies of the History will have been printed and sold in the United Kingdom alone,” while according to Everett no book ever had such a sale in the United States, “except the Bible and one or two school-books of universal use.”
We should be careful to estimate the importance of Macaulay's work at its full value; we should appreciate the soundness and manliness of his life and character; we should realize his peculiar significance at a time when literature was becoming more democratic. At the same time we should feel that, great as his gifts were, they were not of the highest order; excellent as his aims were, they were not the loftiest nor the most ideal.
Place the portraits of Macaulay and Carlyle side by side and study the faces of the two men. Macaulay, round-faced, unwrinkled, smooth-shaven, complacent, with a hint of shrewdness and humor, is the embodiment of a prosperous English gentleman and man of the world: Carlyle, with his tumble of iron-gray hair, his shaggy beard, his gaunt face, worn and lined with innumerable wrinkles, his deep-set wonderful eyes, is the inspired peasant, the man on whom sorrow and thought and loneliness have set their mark.
This outward difference between the two men is not accidental; it is but the outward expression of a deeper difference in life and in character. While Macaulay was in comfortable agreement with the material progress of his age, Carlyle stood apart from it, often fiercely attacking the very things that Macaulay admired. When Macaulay visited the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in 1851, in which were gathered the mechanical improvements of the new age, he felt as though he was entering St. Peter's. About the same time, Carlyle wrote that the boasted “New Era," was “by no means the land flowing with milk and honey we were led to expect.” Carlyle belonged to no party, no sect; he had the originality and loneliness of genius, and his voice of warning and denunciation stirred and startled the men of his generation, like the voice of some wild prophet from the desert. Carlyle did not prophesy smooth things, nor cry peace when there was no peace. He saw the dangers and miseries of his time rather than what is called its "progress.” He