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to be known that Mr. Mill had the generosity, not only to forgive, but to forget the unbecoming acrimony with which he had been assailed, and was, when his valuable life closed, on terms of cordial friendship with his assailant.
No attempt has been made to remodel any of the pieces which are contained in this volume. Even the criticism on Milton, which was written when the author was fresh from college, and which contains scarcely a paragraph such as his matured judgment approves, still remains overloaded with gaudy and ungraceful ornament. The blemishes which have been removed were, for the most part, blemishes caused by unavoidable haste. The author has sometimes, like other contributors to periodical works, been under the necessity of writing at a distance from all books and from all advisers; of trusting to his memory for facts, dates, and quotations; and of sending manuscripts to the post without reading them over. What he has composed thus rapidly has often been as rapidly printed. His object has been that every Essay should now appear as it probably would have appeared when it was first published, if he had then been allowed an additional day or two to revise the proof-sheets, with the assistance of a good library.
Twould not be easy to edit Macaulay's Essays to the
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 admiration 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.