THOMAS BABINGTON MACAULAY, 1ST BARON MACAULAY, FRS
In his view, Macaulay divided the world into civilised nations and
barbarism, with Britain representing the high point of civilisation.
In his Minute on Indian Education of February 1835, he asserted, "It
is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that all the historical
information which has been collected from all the books written in the
* 1 Early life
* 2 Political career
* 3 Literary works * 4 Historian * 5 Political writing * 6 Legacy as a historian * 7 Works * 8 Arms * 9 See also * 10 Notes * 11 References and bibliography * 12 External links
Macaulay was born at
Rothley Temple in
He was educated at a private school in Hertfordshire and at Trinity College, Cambridge . Whilst at Cambridge he wrote much poetry and won several prizes, including the Chancellor\'s Gold Medal in June 1821. In 1825 he published a prominent essay on Milton in the Edinburgh Review . He studied law and in 1826 he was called to the bar but showed more interest in a political than a legal career.
Macaulay, who never married and had no children, was once rumoured to have fallen in love with Maria Kinnaird , the wealthy ward of "Conversation" Sharp (who was a hat-maker, banker, merchant, poet, critic and British politician ). But in fact, Macaulay's strongest emotional ties were to his youngest sisters, Margaret who died while he was in India, and Hannah. As Hannah grew older, he formed the same close attachment to Hannah's daughter Margaret, whom he called "Baba".
Macaulay retained a passionate interest in classical literature
throughout his life, and prided himself on his knowledge of Ancient
Greek literature . He likely had an eidetic memory . While in India,
he read every ancient Greek and Roman work that was available to him.
In his letters, he describes reading the
In 1830 the Marquess of Lansdowne invited Macaulay to become Member of Parliament for the pocket borough of Calne . His maiden speech was in favour of abolishing the civil disabilities of the Jews in the UK .
Macaulay made his name with a series of speeches in favour of parliamentary reform. After the Great Reform Act of 1832 was passed, he became MP for Leeds . In the Reform, Calne's representation was reduced from two to one; Leeds had never been represented before, but now had two members. Though proud to have helped pass the Reform Bill, Macaulay never ceased to be grateful to his former patron, Lansdowne, who remained a great friend and political ally.
Macaulay by John Partridge.
Secretary to the Board of Control under Lord Grey from
1832 until 1833. The financial embarrassment of his father meant that
Macaulay became the sole means of support for his family and needed a
more remunerative post than he could hold as an MP. After the passing
Government of India Act 1833
In his well-known Minute on Indian Education of February 1835,
Lord William Bentinck
I have no knowledge of either Sanscrit or Arabic. But I have done what I could to form a correct estimate of their value. I have read translations of the most celebrated Arabic and Sanscrit works. I have conversed both here and at home with men distinguished by their proficiency in the Eastern tongues. I am quite ready to take the Oriental learning at the valuation of the Orientalists themselves. I have never found one among them who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia.
It will hardly be disputed, I suppose, that the department of literature in which the Eastern writers stand highest is poetry. And I certainly never met with any orientalist who ventured to maintain that the Arabic and Sanscrit poetry could be compared to that of the great European nations. But when we pass from works of imagination to works in which facts are recorded and general principles investigated, the superiority of the Europeans becomes absolutely immeasurable. It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanscrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgments used at preparatory schools in England. In every branch of physical or moral philosophy, the relative position of the two nations is nearly the same.
Hence, from the sixth year of schooling onwards, instruction should be in European learning, with English as the medium of instruction. This would create a class of anglicised Indians who would serve as cultural intermediaries between the British and the Indians; the creation of such a class was necessary before any reform of vernacular education:
I feel... that it is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, – a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.
Macaulay's minute largely coincided with Bentinck's views and Bentinck's English Education Act 1835 closely matched Macaulay's recommendations (in 1836, a school named La Martinière , founded by Major General Claude Martin, had one of its houses named after him), but subsequent Governors-General took a more conciliatory approach to existing Indian education.
His final years in
In Indian culture, the term "Macaulay's Children" is sometimes used to refer to people born of Indian ancestry who adopt Western culture as a lifestyle, or display attitudes influenced by colonisers (" Macaulayism ") – expressions used disparagingly, and with the implication of disloyalty to one's country and one's heritage. In independent India, Macaulay's idea of the civilising mission has been used by Dalitists, in particular by neoliberalist Chandra Bhan Prasad , as a "creative appropriation for self-empowerment", based on the view that Dalit folk are empowered by Macaulay's deprecation of Hindu civilisation and an English education.
RETURN TO BRITISH PUBLIC LIFE (1838–1857)
Macaulay by Sir Francis Grant.
Returning to Britain in 1838, he became MP for Edinburgh . He was
Secretary at War
In the election of 1847 he lost his seat in Edinburgh. He attributed
the loss to the anger of religious zealots over his speech in favour
of expanding the annual government grant to
In 1852, the voters of Edinburgh offered to re-elect him to
Parliament. He accepted on the express condition that he need not
campaign and would not pledge himself to a position on any political
issue. Remarkably, he was elected on those terms. He seldom attended
the House due to ill health. His weakness after suffering a heart
attack caused him to postpone for several months making his speech of
thanks to the Edinburgh voters. He resigned his seat in January 1856.
In 1857 he was raised to the peerage as BARON MACAULAY, of
LATER LIFE (1857–1859)
The Funeral of Thomas Babington Macaulay, by Sir George Scharf.
Macaulay sat on the committee to decide on the historical subjects to
be painted in the new
Palace of Westminster
During his later years his health made work increasingly difficult
for him. He died of a heart attack on 28 December 1859, aged 59,
leaving his major work, The History of England from the Accession of
James the Second incomplete. On 9 January 1860 he was buried in
Macaulay's nephew, Sir George Trevelyan, Bt , wrote a best-selling "Life and Letters" of his famous uncle, which is still the best complete life of Macaulay. His great-nephew was the Cambridge historian G. M. Trevelyan .
As a young man he composed the ballads Ivry and The Armada, which he
later included as part of
Lays of Ancient Rome
Then out spake brave Horatius, The Captain of the Gate: "To every man upon this earth Death cometh soon or late. And how can man die better Than facing fearful odds, For the ashes of his fathers, And the temples of his gods?"
His essays, originally published in the Edinburgh Review , were collected as Critical and Historical Essays in 1843.
During the 1840s, Macaulay undertook his most famous work, The
History of England from the Accession of James the Second , publishing
the first two volumes in 1848. At first, he had planned to bring his
history down to the reign of
The third and fourth volumes, bringing the history to the Peace of Ryswick , were published in 1855. At his death in 1859 he was working on the fifth volume. This, bringing the History down to the death of William III , was prepared for publication by his sister, Lady Trevelyan, after his death.
Macaulay's political writings are famous for their ringing prose and
for their confident, sometimes dogmatic, emphasis on a progressive
model of British history, according to which the country threw off
superstition, autocracy and confusion to create a balanced
constitution and a forward-looking culture combined with freedom of
belief and expression. This model of human progress has been called
the Whig interpretation of history . This philosophy appears most
clearly in the essays Macaulay wrote for the
Edinburgh Review and
other publications, which were collected in book form and a steady
best-seller throughout the 19th century. But it is also reflected in
History; the most stirring passages in the work are those that
describe the "
Macaulay's approach has been criticised by later historians for its
one-sidedness and its complacency.
LEGACY AS A HISTORIAN
The Liberal historian Lord Acton read Macaulay's History of England four times and later described himself as "a raw English schoolboy, primed to the brim with Whig politics" but "not Whiggism only, but Macaulay in particular that I was so full of." However, after coming under German influence Acton would later find fault in Macaulay. In 1880 Acton classed Macaulay (with Burke and Gladstone ) as one "of the three greatest Liberals". In 1883 he advised Mary Gladstone :
he Essays are really flashy and superficial. He was not above par in literary criticism; his Indian articles will not hold water; and his two most famous reviews, on Bacon and Ranke , show his incompetence. The essays are only pleasant reading, and a key to half the prejudices of our age. It is the History (with one or two speeches) that is wonderful. He knew nothing respectably before the seventeenth century, he knew nothing of foreign history, of religion, philosophy, science, or art. His account of debates has been thrown into the shade by Ranke, his account of diplomatic affairs, by Klopp . He is, I am persuaded, grossly, basely unfair. Read him therefore to find out how it comes that the most unsympathetic of critics can think him very nearly the greatest of English writers…
In 1885 Acton asserted that: "We must never judge the quality of a teaching by the quality of the Teacher, or allow the spots to shut out the sun. It would be unjust, and it would deprive us of nearly all that is great and good in this world. Let me remind you of Macaulay. He remains to me one of the greatest of all writers and masters, although I think him utterly base, contemptible and odious for certain reasons which you know." In 1888 he wrote that Macaulay "had done more than any writer in the literature of the world for the propagation of the Liberal faith, and he was not only the greatest, but the most representative, Englishman then living".
W. S. Gilbert
Herbert Butterfield 's The Whig Interpretation of History (1931)
attacked Whig history. The Dutch historian
On 7 February 1954 Lord Moran , doctor to the Prime Minister, Sir
George Richard Potter, Professor and Head of the Department of
History at the
University of Sheffield
Furthermore, Piers Brendon writes that Macaulay is "the only British rival to Gibbon."
In 1972, J. R. Western wrote that: "Despite its age and blemishes, Macaulay's History of England has still to be superseded by a full-scale modern history of the period." In 1974 J. P. Kenyon stated that: "As is often the case, Macaulay had it exactly right."
W. A. Speck wrote in 1980 that a reason Macaulay's History of England
"still commands respect is that it was based upon a prodigious amount
of research". Speck claims that "Macaulay's reputation as an
historian has never fully recovered from the condemnation it
implicitly received in Herbert Butterfield's devastating attack on The
Whig Interpretation of History. Though he was never cited by name,
there can be no doubt that Macaulay answers to the charges brought
against Whig historians, particularly that they study the past with
reference to the present, class people in the past as those who
furthered progress and those who hindered it, and judge them
accordingly". Speck also said that Macaulay too often "denies the
past has its own validity, treating it as being merely a prelude to
his own age. This is especially noticeable in the third chapter of his
History of England, when again and again he contrasts the backwardness
of 1685 with the advances achieved by 1848. Not only does this misuse
the past, it also leads him to exaggerate the differences". On the
other hand, Speck also wrote that Macaulay "took pains to present the
virtues even of a rogue, and he painted the virtuous warts and all",
and that "he was never guilty of suppressing or distorting evidence to
make it support a proposition which he knew to be untrue". Speck
concluded: "What is in fact striking is the extent to which his
History of England at least has survived subsequent research. Although
it is often dismissed as inaccurate, it is hard to pinpoint a passage
where he is categorically in error ... his account of events has stood
up remarkably well ... His interpretation of the Glorious Revolution
also remains the essential starting point for any discussion of that
episode ... What has not survived, or has become subdued, is
Macaulay's confident belief in progress. It was a dominant creed in
the era of the
Great Exhibition . But
In 1981 J. W. Burrow argued that Macaulay's History of England:
... is not simply partisan; a judgement, like that of Firth, that Macaulay was always the Whig politician could hardly be more inapposite. Of course Macaulay thought that the Whigs of the seventeenth century were correct in their fundamental ideas, but the hero of the History was William, who, as Macaulay says, was certainly no Whig ... If this was Whiggism it was so only, by the mid-nineteenth century, in the most extended and inclusive sense, requiring only an acceptance of parliamentary government and a sense of gravity of precedent. Butterfield says, rightly, that in the nineteenth century the Whig view of history became the English view. The chief agent of that transformation was surely Macaulay, aided, of course, by the receding relevance of seventeenth-century conflicts to contemporary politics, as the power of the crown waned further, and the civil disabilities of Catholics and Dissenters were removed by legislation. The History is much more than the vindication of a party; it is an attempt to insinuate a view of politics, pragmatic, reverent, essentially Burkean , informed by a high, even tumid sense of the worth of public life, yet fully conscious of its interrelations with the wider progress of society; it embodies what Hallam had merely asserted, a sense of the privileged possession by Englishmen of their history, as well as of the epic dignity of government by discussion. If this was sectarian it was hardly, in any useful contemporary sense, polemically Whig; it is more like the sectarianism of English respectability.
In 1982 Gertrude Himmelfarb wrote that "most professional historians have long since given up reading Macaulay, as they have given up writing the kind of history he wrote and thinking about history as he did. Yet there was a time when anyone with any pretension to cultivation read Macaulay." Himmelfarb also laments that "the history of the History is a sad testimonial to the cultural regression of our times".
In the novel Marathon Man and its film adaptation, the protagonist was named 'Thomas Babington' after Macaulay.
In 2008, Walter Olson argued for the pre-eminence of Macaulay as a British classical liberal .
* 5 vols (1848): Vol 1, Vol 2, Vol 3, Vol 4, Vol 5 at Internet
* 5 vols (1848): Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3, Vol. 4, Vol. 5 at Project
* volumes 1–3 at
* Critical and Historical Essays, 2 vols, edited by Alexander James
Grieve . Vol. 1, Vol. 2
* William Pitt, Earl of Chatham: Second Essay (Maynard, Merrill,
Thomas Babington Macaulay was not related to this clan at all.
He was, instead, descended from the unrelated Macaulays of Lewis .
Such adoptions were not uncommon at the time according to the Scottish
* Biography portal * Poetry portal * United Kingdom portal
* ^ A B C John MacKenzie, "A family empire," BBC History Magazine
* ^ BIOGRAPHICAL INDEX OF FORMER FELLOWS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY OF
EDINBURGH 1783 – 2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July
2006. ISBN 0 902 198 84 X .
* ^ "Thomas Babbington Macaulay". Josephsmithacademy. Retrieved 10
* ^ Symonds, P. A. "BABINGTON, Thomas (1758–1837), of Rothley
Temple, nr. Leicester". History of Parliament on-line. Institute of
Historical Research. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
* ^ Incest and Influence by Adam Kuper (Harvard University Press,
* ^ entry for 'Macaulay, Rt Hon Thomas Babington' Knight, Charles,
ed. (1867). The English Cyclopaedia : Biography; Volume IV. London:
Bradbury Evans & Co. p. 8. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
* ^ Sullivan, Robert E, Macaulay: The Tragedy of Power, Harvard
University Press, 2010, p. 21.
* ^ "Macaulay,
Thomas Babington (FML817TB)". A Cambridge Alumni
Database. University of Cambridge.
* ^ A B C D E William Thomas, "Macaulay, Thomas Babington, Baron
Macaulay (1800–1859), historian, essayist, and poet", in Oxford
Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, September
2004; online edn, January 2008, accessed 31 March 2012.
* ^ "
Thomas Babington Macaulay". Encyclopædia Britannica.
Retrieved 10 October 2013.
* ^ Macaulay, Margaret: Recollections (see entry for 22 November
* ^ Robert E. Sullivan (2009). Macaulay: The Tragedy of Power.
Harvard University Press. p. 466. ISBN 978-0-674-03624-6 .
* ^ "He was able to recall many pages of hundreds of volumes by
various authors, which he had acquired by simply reading them over."
(Sir Francis Galton, Hereditary Genius, 1869)
* ^ Robert E. Sullivan (2009). Macaulay: The Tragedy of Power.
Harvard University Press. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-674-03624-6 .
* ^ A B Evans, Stephen (2002). "Macaulay's minute revisited:
Colonial language policy in nineteenth-century India". Journal of
Multilingual and Multicultural Development. 23 (4): 260–81. doi
* ^ A B C D For full text of Macaulay's minute see "Minute by the
Hon\'ble T. B. Macaulay, dated the 2nd February 1835"
* ^ Spear, Percival (1938). "Bentinck and Education". Cambridge
Historical Journal. 6 (1): 78–101.
REFERENCES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY
* Bryant, Arthur (1932). Macaulay (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson,
1979). ISBN 0-297-77550-2 , old, popular biography.
* Clive, John Leonard (1973).
Thomas Babington Macaulay: The Shaping
of the Historian London: Secker and Warburg. ISBN 0-436-10220-X .
* Cruikshank, Margaret (1978).
Thomas Babington Macaulay. Boston:
Twayne. ISBN 0-8057-6686-3 .
* Edwards, Owen Dudley (1988). Macaulay. London: Weidenfeld and
* Gonçalves, Sérgio Campos (2010). "
Thomas Babington Macaulay", in
Jurandir Malerba (ed.), Lições de História: o caminho da ciência
no longo século XIX (Rio de Janeiro: Editora FGV), pp. 211–48. ISBN
* Hall, Catherine (2009). "Macaulay's Nation". Victorian Studies. 51
(3). doi :10.1353/vic.0.0237 .
* Harrington, Jack (2010). Sir John Malcolm and the Creation of
British India, Ch. 6. New York:
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