THE LIFE OF LORD MACAULAY.*
(fillOOND NOTICE.] THE most striking feature in Lord Macaulay's style, both as essayist and as letter-writer, is a certain uniformity of intellectual form and pressure which, while it secures a high standard of both sense and brilliance, is hardly consistent with that play and variety which one expects from the happier kind of letters. His letters are exceed- ingly good letters of their sort, but they are the letters of a
modern essayist, though they have none of the formality and elabor- ateness of the essayist of the antique schooL His manner is always easy and unconventional, but though easy and unconven- tional, it is exhaustive, discursive, keeps up an equal pressure at all points, and has none of the alternate negligence and in- tensity of the style of men who shine not less or even more in correspondence than they do in exposition. Lord Palmerston's best despatches were familiar letters. Macaulay's best letters, though some of them contained excellent nonsense, and all of them traces of quick and vivid perception, had somehow the air, not indeed of despatches, but at least of epistles, in which the explanatory element predominates over the conversational. And yet Macaulay was certainly not wanting in that lively appreciation of what is immediately before the attention, which is the chief element in social intercourse. He felt keenly occasional slights and occasional courtesies. At college, according to Mr.
Trevelyan, his characteristics were supposed to be "gener- osity and vindictiveness." Of the former quality there is evi- dence enough throughout his life, while of the latter we see little trace, except in relation to two men, Brougham and Croker, for whom he had some reason to feel a well-grounded animosity.
But it was Macaulay's peculiarity that while he was keenly alive, as Lord Lytton would have said, to "the Occasional," he gave the sort of expression to these feelings of his which would have been more suitable to "the Permanent." For the signs of personal self- seeking, vanity, and caprice Macaulay had a very sharp perception. But he expressed his feelings when the occasion was trivial, just
as he did when the occasion was historic. Lord Brougham wag his favourite aversion, and as we have said, not without good personal reasons, but he was quite as keen in his prognostic of Lord Brougham's failure from this cause, when the sin in ques- tion was tyranny over Edinburgh Reviewers, as he was in his prognostic of Lord Ellenborough's failure, when the occasion was a great political blunder on the largest scale. It was really the
qualities in which the two men agreed,—the overbearing private arrogance and vanity, the indifference to the public interests as compared with the private interests involved in the issues on which they showed themselves most deeply interested,—which excited Macaulay's wrath in both instances ; but he was not careful to reserve the historic style for the historic occasion. He was a good hater, but like a good Whig, what he hated most were the sort of faults which made a man prefer his private in- terests to the interests of the public, whether they were or were not the sort of faults which brought him into collision with him- self. What can be better in its way, but what could be less conversational, and more on the high level of great historical judgments, than this diagnosis of Lord Brougham, which Mar- garet Macaulay put down in her journal as early as November, 1831 ?—
" November 27.—I am just returned from a long walk, during which the conversation turned entirely on one subject. After a little previous talk about a certain great personage, I asked Tom when the present coolness between them began. He said : Nothing could exceed my respect and admiration for him in early days. I saw at that time private letters in which be spoke highly of my articles, and of me as the most rising man of the time. After a while, however, I began to remark that he became extremely cold to me, hardly ever spoke to me on circuit, and treated me with marked slight. If I were talking to a • The Life sad Letters of Lord Macaulay. B7 his Nephew, George Otto Trevelyan, 1LP. 2 vb. London: Lonpnaus I man, if he wished to speak to him on politics or anything else that was, ' not in any sense a private matter, he always drew him away from me,. instead of addressing us both. When my article on Hallam came out,. he complained to Jeffrey that I took up too much of the Review ; and when my first article on Mill appeared, he foamed with rage, and was very angry with Jeffrey for having printed it.'—' But,' said I,' the Mills are friends of his, and he naturally did not like them to be attacked? —‘ On the contrary,' said Tom, he had attacked them fiercely himself: but he thought I had made a hit, and was angry accordingly. When a friend of mine defended my articles to him, he said : "I know nothing- of the articles. I have not read Macaulay's articles." What can be imagined more absurd than his keeping up an angry correspondence with Jeffrey about articles he has never read ? Well, the next thing was that Jeffrey, who was about to give up the editorship, asked me if I would take it. I said that I would gladly do so, if they would remove the head-quarters of the Review to London. Jeffrey wrote to him about it. Be disapproved of it so strongly that the plan was given up. The truth was that he felt that his power over the Review diminished as mine increased, and he saw that he would have very little indeed if I were editor. I then came into Parliament. I do not complain that he should have preferred Denzaan's claims to mine and that he should have blamed Lord Lansdowne for not considering him. I went to take' my seat. As I turned from the table at which I had been taking the oaths, he stood as near to me as you do now, and he cut me dead. We never spoke in the House, excepting once, that I can remember, when a few words passed between us in the lobby. I have sat close to him when many men of whom I knew nothing have introduced them- selves to me to shake hands, and congratulate me after making a speech, and he has never said a single word. I know that it is jealousy, because I am not the first man whom he has used in this way. During the debate on the Catholic claims be was so enraged because Lord Plunket had made a very splendid display, and because the Catholics, had chosen Sir Francis Burdett instead of him to bring the Bill for- ward, that he threw every difficulty in its way. Sir Francis once said to him : "Really, Mr. —, you are so jealous that it is impossible to act with you." I never will serve in an Administration of which he- ir' the head. On that I have most firmly made up my mind. I do not- believe that it is in his nature to be a month in office without caballing against his colleagues. He is, next to the King, the most popular man, in England. There is no other man whose entrance into any town in the kingdom would be so certain to be with huzzaing and taking-off a horses. At the same time he is in a very ticklish situation, for he has- no real friends. Jeffrey, Sydney Smith, Mackintosh, all speak of him as I now speak to you. I was talking to Sydney Smith of him the other day, and said that, great as I felt his faults to be, I must allow him a real desire to raise the lower orders, and do good by education,. and those methods upon which his heart has been always set. Sydney- would not allow this, or any other, merit. Now if those who are called" his friends feel towards him, as they all do, angry and sore at his over- bearing, arrogant, and neglectful conduct, when those reactions in public- feeling, which must come, arrive, he will have nothing to return upon, ne place of refuge, no baud of such tried friends as Fox and Canning had to, support him. You will see that ho will soon place himself in a false position. before the public. His popularity will go down, and he will find himself alone. Mr. Pitt, it is true, did not study to strengthen himself by friend- ships ; but this was not from jealousy. I do not love the man, but I believe he was quite superior te that. It was from a solitary pride he had. I heard at Holland House the other day that Sir Philip Francis said that,. though he hated Pitt, he must confess there was something fine in seeing how he maintained his poet by himself. The lion walks alone,' he said. "The jackals herd together."" Some of the other graphic touches which show Macaulay's feeling- for Brougham, such as that in his description of William W.'s coronation, when he says, "The Chancellor looked like Mephis- topheles behind Margaret in the church," or another passage, in which he describes his "demoniacal" persecution cif Mr. Napier (the editor of the Edinburgh Review) for not in every respect doing his will, might be the result of a purely personal animosity; but read the whole life, and it is perfectly clear that this was not so at all, that his personal "vindictiveness towards Brougham," if so it can be called, though it was undoubtedly first called forth,. and was given its keen edge, by personal slights, was shaped by Macaulay's fierce Whig hatred of the qualities most dangerous to . public interests, and took precisely the form which his historical judgment on similar failings take in his essays and his histories- What he wrote HO said of Lord Ellenborough, though not so keen, in its personality, was precisely of the same kind as what he wrote and said of Lord Brougham. He separated himself from his party in 1843 on the question of voting thanks to Lord Ellenborough. 88 Viceroy of India ; he declared his belief that both the Court of Directors and her Majesty's Ministers were secretly in a panic, looking forward to Lord Ellenborough's next freak ; he entreated, the Court of Directors to recall Lord Ellenborough, and within a year they actually recalled him. It is quite obvious that his aversion for Lord Ellenborough, founded on no private quarrels- such as those which sharpened his aversion for Lord Brougham, was due to just the same causes,—the strong repulsion which penetrated his whole character for all the characteristics which. tend to make men sacrifice public interests for private ends.
This vehemence of personal feeling is, of course, quite incon- sistent with the frigidity of temperament which is usually ascribed to men who are rather incarnate principles than human beings. And as Mr. Trevelyan shows, in. private and domestic relations, Macaulay, so far from being an incarnation of general principles,
was one of the tenderest and most passionately attached of men. Still, it is true of him, and in some sense, his chief- peculiarity, that deep as were his individual Affections, his intellect worked -chiefly, if not exclusively, not on those points where the indi- vidual affections are concentrated, not on religious faith or moral problems or the interior of personal life, but on the characteristic features and principles of public life and social progress, on those pictorial aspects of men and of affairs which are of the most importance in bringing before the mind the march of -public events,—and that even in his poetry while he is pic- turesque and eloquent, he never really touches the centre of personal feelings. His mind had, in some sense, too much -generalising impulse and grasp for that individuality which is of the very essence of the highest poetry. Take the lines written after his rejection at Edinburgh in 1847. Mr. Trevelyan speaks of them With admiration. But to us they have the fault of all Macaulay's poetry, that they are far too abstract, —pictorial without being life-like,—and that instead of touching the centre of the indi- tidual situation, they would apply equally well to almost any man's public failure, and indeed to a great many men's much better than -to his own. There is, in his poetry, a breadth and washiness of -colour which is admirable for the purposes of pictorial generalisa- tion, but Which fails in touching the real centre of any deep feeling. And in fact, Macaulay would not have been what he was, a per- fect well-spring of information and instruction and illustration on the significance of political history, if he had not had an intellect which turned itself almost spontaneously away from what was -strictly individual, and towards the more general lessons of public life. His nature indeed was much more than intellectual, but, so far as it was intellectual, it was a sort of sieve in which to sift out the pictures and the lessons best adapted for public use, while the remnant which had no such public significance was put almost or quite unconsciously aside. In writing of Sir Samuel Homily's life, he says, "A fine fellow, but too stoical for my taste. I love a little of the Epicurean element in virtue." The truth is, Ito had just enough of it to adapt himself to his age. He was by MO means an Epicurean. But had he been wholly without the Epi- curean in him, he would not have been the Whig philosopher he was.
Considering that Lord Macaulay's imagination was so striking a part of all that was greatest in him, it would seem curious to many people that he should have felt keenly his want of -critical capacity to enter into the individual merits of great Works of imagination ; but if our account of him be correct, this is exactly what we *might expect. In declining to review Sir Walter Scott for the Edinburgh, he puts his refusal pre- -cisely on this ground. Such a review ought, he says, to be a -criticism on Scott's great works of imagination, and for such a -task he has no power. "I have never written a page of criticism -on poetry or the fine arts which I would not burn, if I had the power. Hazlitt used to say of himself, am nothing, if not -critical.' The case with me is directly the reverse. I have a strong and acute enjoyment of works of the imagination, but I have --never habituated myself to dissect them. Perhaps I enjoy them the more keenly for that very reason. Such books as Lessing's Laocoon, such passages as the criticism on Hamlet in Wilhelm Meister, fill me with wonder and despair." That was a perfectly intelligible avowal of Lord Macaulay's. His genius, though imaginative in its kind, was not imaginative in the sense of entering deeply into the life of any individual crea- tion, but was of the type which rejects what is strictly individual, -for what has a public lesson and a political drift. We have seen a reproach brought against Mr. Trevelyan that he has not allowed his uncle's private belief in relation to religion and other such matters on which he never wrote and hardly ever conversed, to -come out more clearly. It is quite possible that Mr. Trevelyan had not the means of telling the secret. It is quite possible, too, that if he had the means, his account of Lord Macaulay's private thoughts on subjects to which his intellect was not directed with Any vigour or certainty, would not have added to the value of the book. A more perfect picture of the great Whig essayist 'could hardly have been produced than the picture which Mr. Trevelyan has painted with so reticent a good taste, and yet with -Ito much delicacy of perception. To have filled-in the pages in that life which are so characteristically left blank, might have -spoiled the portrait, and could hardly have improved it.