« AnteriorContinuar »
PREFACE OF THE AUTHOR . . . . . . .
Lord Nugent's MEMORIALS OP HAMPDBN .
IT would not be easy to edit Macaulay's Essays to the I general satisfaction. Such is Macaulay's range of allusion
that a full commentary would far outrun the length of the text. But nothing could be more unjust to the Essays than to bury them under a mass of dull explanation. They are works of literature rather than of science, and the pleasure of reading them should not be converted into a task. Few books have a public so wide, or differing so much in degrees of literary and historical knowledge. Information which a man engaged in active pursuits would accept from a commentator without offence, if without gratitude, may seem impertinent and ridiculous to a man who leads a life of study. The highest ambition of an editor should be to pass unnoticed. But an editor of these Essays gives too many openings for censure to be warranted in such an expectation.
What it seemed advisable to say about Macaulay's habits of thought and expression, and his place among historians and men of letters has been said once for all in the general Introduction. What the editor regards as the chief characteristics of each essay, its excellences and defects, have been suggested in the prefatory Note. Whilst endeavouring to give such corrections or explanations of particular statements as seemed unavoidable, the editor has refrained from rewriting the Essays under the pretext of commenting upon them. He has not thought it his duty to repeat incessantly that the modern conception of history differs in several respects from Macaulay's, that Macaulay was a staunch party man, or that Macaulay often used strong and emphatic language. It is a kind of bad manners to be for ever harping on the faults of a great writer, to be always interjecting that a luminous description is not precise in every detail, or that a
fine burst of rhetoric betrays excessive warmth of feeling. A commentator spends his time and pains but ill in lessening the Jadmiration felt for any work of real excellence, however real may also be its imperfections.
The editor has much pleasure in acknowledging a heavy debt of gratitude to that monumental work, the Dictionary of National Biography. He wishes also to return his best thanks to several friends who have helped him in tracing some of Macaulay's more recondite allusions, especially to his colleague Professor Ker, to Dr. Firth whose knowledge of English history and literature is only equalled by the generosity with which it is put at the disposal of others, and to Mr. Holden, the learned assistant librarian of All Souls College, Oxford. He has also to return thanks for assistance afforded in the columns of Notes and Queries. For all oversights and mistakes the editor is, it need scarcely be said, responsible.
F. C. MONTAGUE.
THOMAS BABINGTON MACAULAY was born on the
25th of October, 1800, at Rothley Temple, in Leicester
shire. His father, Zachary Macaulay, the son of a Scotch minister, had begun life as an overseer on a plantation in Jamaica, but learnt there so deep an abhorrence of slavery that he threw up his employment and became one of the most zealous apostles of emancipation. A puritan and eminent in the group of Low Churchmen sometimes styled, almost in ridicule, the Clapham sect, Zachary was not free from the narrowness which is too often found in high and earnest natures. Although an intelligent and cultivated man, he cared little for literature and less for society. If the taste for letters be hereditary, it came to Macaulay rather from his mother than from his father. Mrs. Macaulay was the daughter of a Quaker bookseller in Bristol named Mills. She had been a favourite pupil and always remained the friend of Hannah More. We are accustomed to regard that age as one of female ignorance, yet it may be doubted whether the proportion of really well-read women was so much smaller than now. Mrs. Macaulay at all events read a great deal, preferring a book that interested her to any company however distinguished or agreeable. Little Macaulay profited betimes by her example. “From the time that he was three years old he read incessantly, for the most part lying on the rug before the fire with his book on the ground and a piece of bread and butter in his hand.” For toys he cared little, and he seems hardly to have played with other children. But he liked walking with his mother or nurse while he repeated what he had been reading or told stories of his own invention. Then the creative impulse began to stir in his breast. When seven years old he bravely undertook to write an abridgment of universal history. “Marmion” and