16 NOVEMBER 1907, Page 3



Tnrs interesting little volume contains a selection from the manuscript notes inscribed by Lord Macaulay—" in immense profusion," as his nephew tells us—on the margins of his books. Sir George Trevelyan, to whom we are indebted for the selection, adds a running commentary of his own, in which he provides such explanations as are necessary for the comprehension of the notes. Lovers of Macaulay will cer- tainly be disappointed if they hope to find here any unexpected revelations, any new and surprising lights on the great historian's mind. There is no intercourse more private than that between a man and his books ; one's midnight pencil-jottings on the margins of a favourite author are, in their very essence, confidential ; if one has secrets, one tells them then. But Macaulay had no secrets. His marginalia lack the pungent quality of Swift's,— where one catches a glimpse of the great splenetic Dean without, as it were, his wig and gown; nor .are they marked by the sudden careless genius which inspired some of the excited scribblings of Lamb. Macaulay wrote notes in his folio Plato in exactly the same spirit as that in which he wrote an article for the Edinburgh Review. "The Gorgias is certainly a very fine work. It is deformed by a prodigious quantity of sophistry. But the characters are so happily supported, the conversations so animated and natural, the close so eloquent, and the doctrines inculcated, though over- strained, are so lofty and pure, that it is impossible not to consider it as one of the greatest performances which have descended to us from that wonderful generation." The passage might have come straight from the rough draft of an unpublished essay ; and it is a fair specimen of the polish and elaboration of Macaulay's marginal style. His comments on the letters and speeches of Cicero, forming, as Site George Trevelyan says, "a continuous history of the great orator's career," are even more suggestive of the public Press, and they are perhaps the best things in the book. It is characteristic of Macaulay that he wrote most easily and forcibly when (whether in posse or in ewe) half the world was looking over his shoulder.

As a thinker Macaulay was neither original nor profound; but he possessed a compensating gift, —he had the power of expressing the most ordinary thoughts in the most striking ways. Platitudes are, after all, the current coin of artists, critics, and philosophers ; without them all commerce of the mind would come to a standstill ; and a great debt is owing to those who, like Macaulay, have the faculty of minting fresh and clean and shining platitudes in inexhaustible abundance. Macaulay brought to the making of a platitude more fire and zest than most writers can summon up for their subtlest and most surprising thoughts, with the result that there are few paradoxes so brilliant and pleasing as his commonplaces. Thus he was unrivalled in the art of exposing, completely and finally, an obvious piece of folly. "So the brilliant Sophia," wrote Miss Seward in one of her letters, " has commenced Babylonian !" " That is to say," Macaulay wrote in the margin, " she has taken a house in town." Nothing could be more simple or more crushing. Similarly, when Steevens, annotating a famous speech of Antony's in which he likens a cloud to a bear, a lion, and a mountain, observes that " perhaps Shakespeare received the thought from the second book of Holland's translation of Pliny's Natural History : 'In one place there appeareth the resemblance of a waine or a chariot ; in another of a bears,"' Macaulay's comment is perfect. " Solemn nonsense !" he wrote. "Had Shakespeare no eyes to see the sky with P " There is nothing more to be said. And Macaulay is no less admirable in his expressions of obvious praise. " Cornwall,"

* Marginal Notes by Lord Macaulay. Selected and Arranged by the Bt. Hon. Sir George Otto Trevelys,n, Bart. London: Longman and Co. [2s. net.] he wrote on the margin of _King Lear, "is, like Albany, slightly touched, but with wonderful skill. No poet ever made such strong likenesses with so few strokes." That is excellent; but unfortunately Macaulay was not always content with the sane and the true. He had a pro- pensity for the emphatic which hurried him too often into unjustifiable extremes. He was not satisfied with praising a thing ; he must declare it to be superior to every other thing in the world. Of the conversa- tion between Brutus and Cassius in the first act of Julius Caesar he exclaims : "These two or three pages are worth the whole French drama ten times over !" That is Macaulay's way of saying "Very good." When he writes at the conclu- sion of Lear's final apostrophe to his wicked daughters: " Where is there anything like this in the world ? " no one will be inclined to quarrel with him; but the real amount of meaning to be attached to his superlatives becomes obvious when we find him writing opposite Romeo's reception of the news of Juliet's death : "It moves me even more than Lear's agonies." If that was so, one would like to know what he thought of Othello, which, Sir George Trevelyan tells us, "Macaulay reckoned the best play extant in any language." But there are no notes upon Othelto. "It may well be," says Sir George, "that he had ceased reading it because he knew the whole of it by heart." No doubt Macaulay's memory was equal to that feat ; but may we not suppose that there was another reason for his silence? Even Macaulay, perhaps, had exhausted his vocabulary of admiration, and had simply nothing left to say.