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FROM "THE EDINBURGH REVIEW"
LAYS OF ANCIENT ROME
IN PROSE AND VERSE
WITH A BIOGRAPHICAL INTRODUCTION
WARD, LOCK, AND CO.
ESSAYIST, POLITICIAN, AND HISTORIAN.
An honourable ancestry, association with men and women of high character from earliest youth, and a liberal education, make a man fit to play a distinguished part in life, impose upon him a heavy responsibility, and give him every advantage in starting. When to these are added natural powers of a high order, memory combined with originality, a sense of the picturesqe associated with indefatigable industry, a tendency to noble action with resolution in carrying out plans, we have a man who only needs adequate opportunity to leave an imperishable record behind him. Such a man the world recognizes in Thomas Babington Macaulay.
Macaulay's grandfather and great grandfather were worthy Scotch ministers. The grandfather, the Rev. John Macaulay, of Inverary, is chiefly known by the rude remarks of Dr. Johnson to him during his tour in the Hebrides, and by a very low estimate which he gave of his abilities. But this was of a piece with Johnson's well-known prejudice against Scotchimen. Despite Dr. Johnson, John Macaulay had a good record as a fluent and acceptable preacher. He had thirteen children, whom he trained in simple habits of living and sound ways of thinking. One son, Aulay, became an English clergyman, and introduced his friend, Mr. Thomas Babington, of Rothley Temple, in Leicestershire (where Macaulay was born), to his father's family. Mr. Babington fell in love with Miss Jean Macaulay, whom he married in 1787; and afterwards presented his brother-in-law to the living of Rothley. Another son of John Macaulay, Colin, became a general in the Indian army.
But the most vigorous nature among the Scotch clergyman's sons was that of Zachary Macaulay, the father of Lord Macaulay. He was born in 1768; he went in 1784 to Jamaica, as bookkeeper to an estate, of which he ere long became manager. We must recollect that this was at a time when men of undoubted philanthropy saw no unchristian taint in negro slavery, and we must not be surprised at John Macaulay allowing his son to be connected with a slave-owning firm.
Experience was destined to bring enlightenment to the young bookkeeper. With a genuine love for humanity, and keen observation, he soon became dismayed at the results of a system which allowed human beings to remain in ignorance, not only of common knowledge, but of the Christian religion.
The cruelties practised on the slaves, the shameless immorality of which they were made the victims, gradually impressed themselves on his sensitive nature, and converted the shy boy into a brave opponent of evil. At last, at the age of four and twenty, he gave up his post and returned to England, against his father's wishes.
Such a man was a fit agent for the home emancipators-Granville Sharp, Wilberforce, and Thornton, then about to colonize Sierra Leone with freed slaves. By Thomas Babington's influence, Zachary Macaulay was, in 1793, appointed a member of the Sierra Leone Council, and soon after his arrival became Governor. We have not space to record the extreme difficulties which he successfully surmounted, the shameful destruction wrought upon the infant colony in 1794, the courageous efforts by which the distracted survivors were set on their feet once more. Finally, in 1785, Zachary returned to England invalided, was made acquainted with Hannah More, and introduced by her to Miss Selina Mills, to whom he was soon afterwards engaged. He returned to Sierra Leone in 1796, and held his appointment till 1799, when the settlement seemed on the high road to prosperity. Being made Secretary to the Sierra Leone Company in England, Zachary Macaulay married Miss Mills on August 26, 1799, and went to live in Lambeth.
Thomas Babington Macaulay was born at Rothley Temple, on October 25, 1800; but he was not destined to enjoy for long the delights of that country seat. His first two years were passed in Birchin Lane in the City; Drapers' Garden, behind Throgmorton Street, was his chief place of exercise, and long a favourite haunt of his. The next home of the Macaulays was a roomy house in the old High Street at Clapham.
Here Macaulay's tastes began to show themselves. From the age of three he read continually, often lying on a rug before the fire, with his book on the rug, and a piece of bread and butter in one hand. Again, he early learnt to invent stories of enormous length, or repeat what he had read in language strangely contrasting with his years. Hannah More describes him when four years old, as a fair, pretty, slight child, with abundance of light hair, who came to the front door to receive her, and told her that "his parents were out, but that if she would be good enough to come in he would bring her a glass of old spirits." A similar tinge of the ludicrous is met with in his reply to Lady Waldegrave at Strawberry Hill, when a servant had spilt some hot coffee over his legs, and she inquired how he was feeling: "Thank you, madam, the agony is abated." Still more amusing is his indignant denunciation of a servant who had thrown away some oyster shells which marked out a little piece of ground as his own. Before a number of drawingroom visitors, he marched in and declared: "Cursed be Sally; for it is written, Cursed is he that removeth his neighbour's landmark."
Little Tom Macaulay, having his own notions of spending his time profitably, went most unwillingly to a day-school kept by one Greaves at Clapham. At this time he was prolific in authorship, writing a compendium of Universal History at seven, as well as long poems and many hymns. And these were not only in thought beyond his years, but correctly spelt, in good grammar, and carefully punctuated, as all his after-work was.
It must not be imagined that the young prodigy was forced or stimulated by extravagant praise. In fact, he himself was never told or allowed to infer by his parents that he had talents beyond other children. Playfulness was
encouraged, and he is described as playful as a kitten. But every one was impressed by his wonderful command of language, and his extraordinary memory. Hannah More's influence was very stimulating to him, especially when he visited her at Barley Wood, especially when people were even got in from the fields to hear him preach sermons, stuck on a chair. Probably a little less of Hannah More's forcing process would have been no loss.
Meanwhile Zachary Macaulay, from being secretary of the Sierra Leone Company, became an African merchant, in partnership with a nephew, under the style of Macaulay and Babington. His family grew apace. Young Tom had three brothers and five sisters before he was thirteen. In the same year he wrote his well-known epitaph on Henry Martyn, the missionary.
In 1812 Macaulay was sent to a small private school at Shelford, near Cambridge, kept by the Rev. Mr. Preston, a strong Low Churchman, who was a good teacher, if severe in his Evangelicalism. Here he enjoyed his work, read omnivorously, wrote much, both poetry and prose, and gained greatly by his intercourse with a school friend, Henry Malden, afterwards professor of Greek at University College, London. The school was removed, in 1814, to Aspenden Hall, near Buntingford, in Hertfordshire. Here he remained till 1818, laying up large stores of learning, often imperceptibly, for Macaulay in youth had one of those memories which absorb anything which interests, without needing to make an effort.
In 1813, casually taking up a Cambridge newspaper, he read two poems, one the "Reflections of an Exile," the other a parody on a Welsh ballad. He read them through once, and repeated them after an interval of forty years, during which he had never once thought about them.
Another remarkable instance of his power of memory is the following: As a child, accompanying his father on a call, he picked up Scott's "Lay of the Last Minstrel," which was new to him. During the conversation, in which he sat quiet, he read it through, and in the evening he repeated to his mother the greater part of the poem.
Macaulay's memory, however, was special for what he had himself written. Long afterwards he told his friend, Lord Jeffrey, that he believed he could repeat all his own printed writings, and nearly everything he had written. In late life his capacity for remembering other people's writings became diminished: he had to use conscious effort to recollect them. But all through life "he read books more quickly than other people skimmed them, and skimmed them as fast as any one else could turn the leaves."
At home, during the vacations, Tom Macaulay was made an idol of by the younger members of his family. His sister, Lady Trevelyan, says, "To us he was an object of passionate love and devotion. To us he could do no wrong. His unruffled sweetness of temper, his unfailing flow of spirits, his amusing talk, all made his presence so delightful that his wishes and his tastes were our law. He hated strangers; and his notion of perfect happiness was to see us working round him while he read aloud a novel, and then to walk all together on the common, or, if it rained, to have a frightfully noisy game of hide-and-seek." Meanwhile his father was pursuing his indefatigable labours in securing the suppression of slavery and the slave trade; and to some extent he appeared to repress his son's exuberance. largely proceeded from his desire to check the growth of conceit, and other