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"I am, my dear Lord, with true veneration and regard, your Lordship's most faithful servant, and affectionate brother in Christ, 666 'H. EXETER.'"
-Vol. iii., pp. 295-297.
We now close these volumes, not without the feeling that we have done very scanty justice to the immense mass of interesting matter that they contain. Our omissions will be the more easily pardoned, if we shall have attracted any of our readers to peruse them for themselves. As a work of biography, we do not think that they will ensure any lasting reputation for their author, from the want of historic justice which they constantly display; but as a repository of curious information, illustrative of the public history of the times, they will form a permanent and important addition to the political literature of our day.
The true utility of handing down to posterity the memory of celebrated men, is, that after times may profit or take warning by their example. Of Lord Eldon it might be truly said, as Lord Bacon said of Henry VII., that if he did not undertake the greatest things, quicquid suscepit perfecit. We may gather from his life how, in the face of all apparent disadvantages, honest perseverance and determined industry may, in this free country, command success and honours. But it teaches us also how totally distinct may be the power to accomplish, from the mind to conceive; and how vain to ensure the respect or gratitude of posterity, talents, rank, and splendour become, if not joined with that true expansive nobility of soul, that has its only fruition and accomplishment, not in the trappings of place or power, but in the elevation and improvement of mankind.
ART. X.-The History of England from the Accession of James the Second. By THOMAS BABINGTON MACAULAY. Vols. I. and II. Fourth Edition. London: 1849.
WE pay Mr. Macaulay no compliment, but only record his
good fortune, when we say, that these two volumes are the most popular historical work that ever issued from the English press. Within six months this book has run through five editions-involving an issue of above 18,000 copies; and, on the other side the Atlantic, our enterprising and economical brothers of America have, we hear, re-produced it, in forms which appear infinite in number, and infinitesimal in price. For the best rewards of authorship he, therefore, has not been doomed, like many illustrious predecessors, to await the slow verdict of his own, or the tardy justice of a succeeding generation. Fame has absolutely trodden on his heels. As widely as our language has travelled-super et Garamantas et Indos' -- these volumes have already spread the reputation and opinions of their author.
We feel undisguised pride in Mr. Macaulay's unquestionable and unalloyed success. His great reputation and position in politics, eloquence, and literature, his unflinching steadiness as a statesman, and his noble and ardent maintenance of those free principles of which this journal has been so long the advocate, while they led us to look forward with anxiety to his promised contribution to our national history, lead us now to rejoice unaffectedly at its brilliant reception. He has had a heartyindeed a triumphant-welcome from all sorts and classes of his countrymen. Men of all shades of political opinion have honoured him and themselves by the expression of their admiration. There never, we believe, was a work, replete, as this is, with politics, which met with more generous and creditable treatment from political antagonists- never a work, abounding
so much with topics of controversy, more fairly and candidly criticised. If there are exceptions to this remark,—and, as far as we know, they are few and insignificant, they supply, probably, the only test of merit which was wanting-and add the note of disappointed jealousy, to the general chorus of approbation.
The public, in the most cosmopolitan sense of that term, having thus so unequivocally anticipated any decision of ours, it would be superfluous and impertinent in us to pretend now to tell our readers what they may expect to find in volumes with which they are already familiar. Coming, as we do, in the rear of the critical squadron, we may be allowed to suppose that part of our duty forestalled. Neither can we be expected to dissect these two volumes with a restless, microscopic eye, and to point out a wrong date on this page, or a misspelt name on that, in the case of a book which has already taken its place, without waiting for any sanction of ours, among the classics of our language. For the present we shall discharge our consciences, as critics, by adopting a course more agreeable, we believe, to our readers, and in all respects more appropriate. We mean to try, on a somewhat comprehensive scale, to estimate and ascertain the real value of those great general principles which it is our author's great object to illustrate; and which, with so graceful and masterly a hand, he has now disseminated over the world. For, after all, it depends on the intrinsic character of the work, whether its remarkable success is to be regarded as a triumph or a misfortune. Mr. Macaulay has some qualities which might render sophistry too popular, and error too attractive. He has a singular felicity of style; and, as he moves along his path of narrative, spreads a halo around him, which beguiles the distance and dazzles his companions. It is a style, undoubtedly, which might often provoke criticism, as far as artistic rules are concerned; sometimes elaborated to excess, sometimes too familiar; with sentences too curiously balanced, and unnecessary antitheses to express very simple propositions. But with all this, and much more of the same kind that might be said, the fascination remains. The tale, as we proceed, flows on faster and faster. Page after page vanishes under the entranced eye of the reader; and, whether we will or no, we are forced to follow as he leads-so light, and gay, and agreeable does the pathway appear. Even on the most beaten ground, his power of picturesque description brings out lights and shadows, views alike of distances and of roadside flowers, never seen, or remarked, or recollected before.
But the important question undoubtedly is, whither is our guide leading us? what is the end and object of this pleasant journey? We shall try to answer this question immediately.
But we must begin by noticing one cardinal merit-almost an original one-of Mr. Macaulay's book, which meets us on the very threshold. He is the first we think who has succeeded in giving to the realities of history (which is generally supposed to demand and require a certain grave austerity of style,) the lightness, variety, and attraction of a work designed only to amuse. All historians we have ever read—not excepting Gibbon and Hume, and including all others in our language-are open to this remark. To read them is a study, an effort of the intellect,well repaid indeed by the result, but still necessarily intent and laborious. Mr. Macaulay has, with an instinctive sense, both of truth and of the power to realise it, perceived that a true story may be, and should be, as agreeably told as a fictitious one; that the incidents of real life, whether political or domestic, admit of being so arranged as, without detriment to accuracy, to command all the interest of an artificial series of facts; that the chain of circumstances which constitutes history may be as finely and gracefully woven as in any tale of fancy, and be as much more interesting as the human countenance, with all its glowing reality of life, and structure, and breathing beauty, excels the most enchanting portrait that ever passed from the pencil of Kneller or of Lawrence.
This we consider a very signal achievement. If not an invention, it is at least a novel combination almost deserving of the name. It is by far the most successful illustration we have ever seen of Cicero's remark, of History being 'opus oratorium 'maximè. Perhaps there may be, especially as the narrative warms, a little more of the orator mingling with the historian, than what is called the dignity of History, in her Court dress, would permit. But who that has read these two volumes will ever forget them, or the eventful and stirring scenes they record? And this result on the mind of the reader, it is undoubtedly the highest triumph of descriptive or narrative writing to produce. The scene is actually before us. It does not exist in mere words. We do not recollect it as we used to do Cæsar at school,-by the place of the page where this or that fact was recorded. We have pictured to ourselves the living and actual reality of the men, and the times, and the actions he describes, and close the volume as if a vast and glowing pageant had just passed before our eyes. And are they not all visibly present? The turbid, haughty, unimpressible, and vindictive monarch, the very tread of his imperious step, and the sound of his impatient voice,-have become familiar to us long before we read the story to an end. His rejection of Monmouth's prayers for life; his stern and stolid harshness to the Bishops; his disquietude on their ominous acquittal; and his perturbation
and bewilderment at the final catastrophe: how he fled from London; how he returned; and how he fled again,—are all imprinted on the fancy as if they had formed part of a dramatic spectacle. Then how lifelike is the sketch of that pale face, with its eagle eye, hawk-like nose, and dejected but firm mouth! trained from infancy to repress, under its cold lineaments, the fires burning strongly within; wandering in deep, unspoken, but weighty meditation through his ancestral halls at the Hague. The ferocious glare in Jeffries' eye; the restless versatility of Halifax; the worn, thin, handsome, and resolute features of Danby; the brilliant, daring, and unprincipled Churchill,—are each so distinctively described, that their very countenances seem familiar; and we begin to think we should recognise the men as we would old acquaintances. As the story goes on, the reader becomes more and more absorbed in its details. The trial of the Bishops is told with all the author's well-known brilliancy; and the mustering in Holland, the delay, the sailing, the adverse storm, the successful landing, the indecisive progress, and the ultimate consummation, carry us on with an intensity of interest quite equal to the real magnitude of the occurrences, and the strange, agitating, and eventful stake which was suspended on the issue.
Surely the historian who possesses a power like this, if he does not sacrifice truth to effect, wields a spell over his readers most conducive to the best purposes of history. For history, to be rightly written or usefully read, should not be the old almanack to which it has been compared, or any thing like it. It should, as far as possible, be a living picture of the times; and reflect not isolated facts, but the general manners, habits, principles, as well as actions of the men that lived and flourished in them. The historian should aim, not at chronicling a mere catalogue of events, but at delineating the causes from which they sprang, the social or political, or moral condition which led to them, and their effect and influence on the present and future fortunes of the people among whom they took place. And we may remark that in all history, more especially in such a one as the present, it may occasionally happen that some one circumstance is taken out of what might seem its proper place, and allowed more than its just proportions; and this to a narrow or captious mind may appear to convict the author of inaccuracy or exaggeration, while in reality he has merely chosen rather to paint than to describe; and has selected some incident, not perhaps in itself of very great significancy, to convey his impression of a great class of facts to his reader, with more truth and force than any more general description could effect. The exaggeration is simply of that sort with which every painter is familiar-the use of a brighter light or a deeper shadow than nature, in details, in