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also none more difficult. Not that there is any difficulty at all in what is technically called purging the roll: in supplying any number of names which are to sink (if they have not yet sunk) like lead in the mighty waters, or which, by a slower descent, perhaps like the zigzag from an Alpine summit, are to find their way into the repose of an undisturbed oblivion. Sad as it may seem, the heroes of the pen are in the main but as “fools,” lighted by the passing day on the road to dusty death. But it is when the list has been reduced, say to a hundredth part of the writers, and to a tenth of the few prominent and well-known writers of the day, that the pinch, so to call it, of the task begins. We now stumble onwards with undefined and partial aids. Bulk will surely kill its thousands; that which stood the ancient warrior in such good stead will be fatal to many a modern author, who, but for it, might have lived. And money will as surely have killed its tens of thousands beforehand by touching them as with palsy. It was one of the glories of Macaulay that he never wrote for money; it was the chief calamity of a yet greater, and much greater, man, to wit, of Scott, that iron necessities in later life, happily not until his place had long been secure, set that yoke upon his lofty crest. And few are they who, either in trade or letters, take it for their aim to supply the market, not with the worst they can sell, but with the best they can produce. In the train of this desire, or need, for money, comes haste with its long train of evils, summed up in the general scamping of work; crude conception, slipshod execution, the mean stint of labor, suppression of the inconvenient, blazoning of the insignificant, neglect of causes, loss of proportion in the presentation of results. We write of the moment; may it not be of the age.
Survival, we venture to suggest, will probably depend not so much on a single quality, as upon a general or composite result.
The chance of it will vary directly as quality, and inversely as quantity. Some ores yield too low a percentage of metal to be worth the smelting, whereas had the mass been purer, it had been extracted and preserved. Posterity will have to smelt largely the product of the mines of modern literature; and will too often find reward in less than due proportion to the task. So much for quantity. But quality itself is not homogeneous; it is made up of positives and negatives. Merits and demerits are subtly and variously combined; and it is hard to say what will be the effect in
certain cases of the absence of faults as compared with the presence of excellences, towards averting or commuting that sentence of capital punishment which, estimate as we may the humanity of the time, must and will be carried into wholesale execution. Again, men look for different classes. We do not hold an “Æneid” or a Paradise Lost” bound to the veracity of an annalist. We do not look to Burke or Sheridan for an accurate and balanced representation of the acts of Warren Hastings. The subtle gifts of rhetoric, the magic work of poetry, are loved for their own sake; and they are not severely cross-examined upon the possession of historic attributes to which they do not pretend.
But rhetoric is not confined to speeches, nor poetry to metre. It can hardly be denied, either by eulogist or detractor, by friend or foe, that both these elements are found in the prose of Macaulay; and if they are most attractive, they are also perilous allies in the business of the historian and the critic.
In truth, if we mistake not, the poetical element in his mind and temperament was peculiar, but was strong and pervading. Those who may incline to doubt our opinion that he was a poet as well as a rhetorician would do well to consult the admirable criticism of Professor Wilson on his «Lays.” (“ Life,” Vol. II., P. 121.) We will not dwell upon the fact (such we take it to be) that his works in verse possess the chief merits of his other works, and are free from their faults. But his whole method of touch and handling are poetical. It is, indeed, infinitely remote from the reflective and introspective character, which has taken possession of contemporary poetry among our writers in such a degree, as not only to make its interpretation a work of serious labor, but also to impair its objective force. Macaulay was, perhaps, not strong in his reflective faculties; certainly he gave them little chance of development by exercise. He was eminently objective, eminently realistic; resembling in this the father of all poets, whom none of his children have surpassed, and who never converts into an object of conscious contemplation the noble powers which he keeps in such versatile and vigorous use.
In Macaulay all history is scenic; and philosophy he scarcely seems to touch, except on the outer side, where it opens into action. Not only does he habitually present facts in forms of beauty, but the fashioning of the form predominates over, and is injurious to, the absolute and balanced presentation of the subject. Macaulay was a master in execution, rather than in what painting or music terms expression. He did not fetch from the depths, nor soar to the heights; but his power upon the surface was rare and marvelous, and it is upon the surface that an ordinary life is passed, and that its imagery is found. He mingled, then, like Homer, the functions of the poet and the chronicler: but what Homer did was due to his time; what Macaulay did, to his temperament. We have not attempted to ascertain his place among historians. That is an office which probably none but a historian can perform. It is more easy to discover for him contrasts than resemblances. Commonly sound in his classical appreciations, he was an enthusiastic admirer of Thucydides; but there can hardly be a sharper contrast than between the “History” of Thucydides, and the History of Macaulay. Ease, brilliancy, pellucid clearness, commanding fascination, the effective marshaling of all facts belonging to the external world as if on parade; all these gifts Macaulay has, and Thucydides has not. But weight, breadth, proportion, deep discernment, habitual contemplation of the springs of character and conduct, and the power to hold the scales of human action with firm and even hand, — these must be sought in Thucydides, and are rarely observable in Macaulay.
But how few are the writers whom it would be anything less than ridiculous to place in comparison with Thucydides! The “History” of Macaulay, whatever else it may be, is the work not of a journeyman, but of a great artist, and a great artist who lavishly bestowed upon it all his powers. Such a work, once committed to the press, can hardly die. It is not because it has been translated into a crowd of languages, nor because it has been sold in hundreds of thousands, that we believe it will live, but because, however open it may be to criticism, it has in it the character of a true and very high work of art.
We are led, then, to the conclusion, or the conjecture, that, however the body of our writers may be reduced in a near future by many and many a decimation, Macaulay will, and must, survive. Personal existence is beset with dangers in infancy, and again in age. But authorship, if it survive the first, has little to fear from the after peril. If it subsist for a few generations (and generations are for books what years are for their writers), it is not likely to sink in many. For works of the mind really great there is no old age, no decrepitude. It is inconceivable that a time should come when Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, shall