Page images

this and that fact in history, he was judging their information by his own vast intellectual stores.

At the age of twelve, Macaulay was sent to a private school in the neighborhood of Cambridge. There he laid the foundation of his future scholarship, and though fully occupied with his school work-chiefly Latin, Greek, and mathematics—he found time to gratify his insatiable thirst for general literature. He read at random and without restraint, but with an apparent partiality for the lighter and more attractive books. Poetry and prose fiction remained throughout his life his favorite reading. On subjects of this nature he displayed a most unerring memory, as well as the capacity for taking in at a glance the contents of a printed page. Whatever caught his fancy be remembered, as well as though he had consciously got it by heart. He once said, that if all the copies of Paradise Lost and the Pilgrim's Progress were to be destroyed, he would from memory alone undertake to reproduce both.

In 1818 Macaulay went from school to the university—to Trinity College, Cambridge. But here the studies were not to his mind. He had no liking for mathematics, and was nowhere as a mathematical student. His inclination was wholly for literature, and he gained various high distinctions in that department. It was unfortunate for him that he had no severe discipline in scientific method ; to his disproportionate partiality for the lighter sides of literature must be attributed his want of philosophic grasp, his dislike to arduous speculations, and his want of courage in facing intellectual problems.

The private life of Cambridge had a much greater influence on him than the recognized studies of the place. He made many friends. His social qualities and his conversational powers were widely exercised and largely developed. He became, too, a brilliant member of the Union Debating Society, and here politics claimed his attention. Altogether he gave himself more to the enjoyment of all that was stirring around him than to the taking of university honors. In 1824, however, he was elected a Fellow, and began to take pupils. Further, he sought a wider field for his literary labors, and contributed papers to some of the maga

zines-mostly to Knight's Quarterly Magazine. Chief among these contributions are “Ivry,” and “ Naseby” in spirited verse, and the conversation between Cowley and Milton, in as splendid prose.

When Macaulay went to Cambridge, his father seemed in affluent circumstances, but the slave-trade agitation engrossed his time and his energy, and by and by there came on the family commer. cial ruin. This was a blow to the eldest son, but he bore up bravely, brought sunshine and happiness into the depressed household, and proceeded to retrieve their position with stern fortitude. He ultimately paid off his father's debts.

Though called to the bar in 1826, he did not take kindly to the law, and soon renounced it for an employment more congenialliterature. Already in 1824 he had been invited to write for the Edinburgh Review, and in August, 1825, appeared in that magazine his article on Milton, which created a sensation, and made the critics aware of the advent of a new literary power. This first success he followed up rapidly, and besides giving new life to the periodical, he soon gained for himself a name of note. In 1828 he was made a Commissioner of Bankruptcy, and in 1830 was elected M.P. for Calne. In the Reformed Parliament he sat for Leeds.

He entered Parliament at an opportune period, and was in the thick of the great Reform conflict. His speeches on the Reform Bill raised him to the first rank as an orator, and gained for him official posts. It was while burdened with these severe public labors that he wrote thirteen (from Montgomery to Pitt) of the Edinburgh Review Essays. Thus he went on for four years, but the narrow circumstances of his family induced him to accept the lucrative post of legal adviser to the Supreme Council of India. This necessitated his going to India, which was clearly adverse to his prospects at home; yet the certainty of returning with £20,000 saved from his large salary was sufficient inducement to make the sacrifice, and he sailed February 15, 1834.

In India he maintained his reputation as a hard worker. Besides his official duties as a Member of Council, he undertook the additional burden of acting as chairman in two important com. mittees, and it is in connection with one of these-the committee appointed to draw up the new codes

that he has his chief title to fame as an Indian statesmen. The New Penal Code was in great part his work, and proves his wide acquaintance with English Criminal Law. He also took great part in the work of the Committee of Public Instruction, and was chiefly instrumental in introducing English studies among the native population. But he was not popular in Calcutta. Certain changes he helped to introduce roused the feeling of the English residents against him, and he was attacked in the most scurrilous way.

In 1838 he was back in England. Meanwhile he had written two more essays for the Edinburgh, one on Mackintosh and one on Bacon, and he was hardly home when there appeared another, that on Sir W. Temple. After spending the winter in Italy, he reviewed in 1839 Mr. Gladstone's book on Church and State, and might have settled down to purely literary life, but once more he was drawn into politics. Elected as Member for Edinburgh, he was soon admitted into the Cabinet as Secretary-at-War to the Whig Ministry of Lord Melbourne. The position, however, was no gain to Macaulay. He purposed to write “ A History of England, from the accession of King James II., down to a time which is within the memory of men still living,” and his official duties forced him to lay this project aside for the present.

Fortunately Lord Melbourne's ministry did not last long ; it fell in 1841, and Macaulay was released from office. Still retaining his seat for Edinburgh, and speaking occasionally in the House he was free to follow his natural bent.

His leisure hours were given as usual to essay-work for the Edinburgh, and he wrote in succession Clive, Hastings, Frederick the Great, Addison, Chatham, etc. But in 1844 his connection with the Review came to an end, and he wrote no more for the Blue and Yellow, as it was called. In 1841 he had put forth a volume of poems—the Lays of Ancient Romenot without misgivings as to the result. But the fresh and vigorous language at once carried the volume into popularity, and it had an enormous sale.

On a change of government in 1846, Macaulay, at the request of Lord John Russell, again became a Cabinet Minister, this time

as Paymaster-General of the Army, and having to seek re-election from his constituents, went down to Scotland for the purpose. After a severe contest, and notwithstanding a growing unpopularity, he was successful. But at the general election of the fol. lowing year the forces in opposition to him redoubled their energy, and he was defeated.

This was the real end of his political life. Although pressed to contest other seats, he resolutely declined, and for the next few years worked doggedly' at his History. In 1848 appeared the first two volumes, which had an immense success, 13,000 copies being sold in less than four months. The same year he was elected Lord Rector of Glasgow University. By 1852 the people of Edinburgh had repented the rejection of their famous Member, and took steps to re-elect him free of expense; and so thoroughly was the scheme carried out that Macaulay, without having made a single speech, and without having visited the city, was returned triumphantly at the top of the poll. Through the length and breadth of the land the news was hailed with satisfaction, as an act of justice for an undeserved slight in the past. The result was very flattering to Macaulay, but he never really returned to political life as in his younger days. Moreover, forty years of incessant intellectual labors had begun to undermine his health, and he was now unequal to the fatigues that formerly were a pleasure to him. Accordingly in 1856, after having brought out the third and fourth volumes of his history, of which in a few months 25,000 copies were sold, he resigned his seat, and yielding too late obedience to all interested in his welfare, gave him. self up to the enjoyment of that ease which he had faithfully earned. Then in 1857 he was created a Peer-Baron Macaulay of Rothley, his birthplace. Still struggling on with his History in the intermissions of his malady, he died suddenly on December 28, 1859. He was only fifty-nine—the victim of an appetite for work, insatiable and unfortunately too long ungoverned,


NOTE.-As Macaulay takes a knowledge of Milton's life and times for granted in his essay, it is perhaps advisable to present to the pupil a brier but general survey of the history of the poet's time, especially in so far as the facts are referred to in the text. The narrative is an abstract of the lengthy Memoir of Milton prefixed by Professor Masson to his edition of Milton's Poems,

MILTON was born in 1608, in London. There he spent the first sixteen years of his life, the last sixteen of the reign of James I. In 1625, aged 17, and just after the accession of Charles I., he was admitted at Christ's College, Cambridge, where he studied for seven years, with industrious and persevering success.

On leaving the university, Milton went to reside in Bucking. hamshire, at a small village not far from Windsor, called Horton, where his father, a London scrivener, who had by this time retired from business, had taken a country house. The disturbed state of politics-King Charles having quarreled with three parliaments, and now resolving to govern by his own authority-led Milton to give up his original intention of entering the Church, and he resolved to devote himself thenceforward exclusively to study, speculation, and literature. Six years of this life he saw here, producing at intervals the five poems belonging to his first period- L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, Arcades, Comus, and Lycidas.

The quiet time at Horton brings him to his thirtieth year, and meanwhile Charles was busy with his new views on government. By the help of his chief advisers, Laud and Strafford, the King had inaugurated his Reign of Thorough, had repressed and persecuted Calvinistic theology, and all Puritan opinions, and had systematically promoted a high Prelacy and a ritualistic ceremonial of worship, which in the eyes of the Puritans brought the Church of England back into the shadow of the Church of Rome. The large mass of the population lay in a dumb agony of discontent,


« PreviousContinue »