Εικόνες σελίδας
PDF
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση
[ocr errors]

any one can see that you are an honest, good sort of fellow, made out of oatmeal!'”

He was a great walker, and had the bad habit of reading as he walked. In his youth Sunday walking for walking's sake was never allowed by his father, and even going to a distant church was discouraged; but in later years Macaulay did not keep to this rigid rule. No man was ever fonder of children, though he had none of his own. He used to write dramas for his little nieces, and took part in the acting. One game was a great favorite, — building up a den with newspapers behind the sofa, and enacting robbers and tigers. Once he bought a sheet of paper for a guinea, and wrote on it a valentine to his niece Alice. “On receiving it,” he says in his diary, "she was in perfect raptures. When we were alone together, she said, 'I am going to be very serious.' Down she fell before me on her knees, and lifted up her hands: 'Dear uncle, do tell the truth to your little girl. Did you send the valentine?' I did not choose to tell a real lie to a child, even about such a trifle, and so I owned it.”

Macaulay was justly regarded by his few friends as “a lump of good-nature.” In London society he was a great lion, and a constant guest at a famous resort of men of wit of that day, — Holland House. He talked much and well. Many of his companions thought that he was too much inclined to absorb the conversation, and play the part of Sir Oracle. This led a witty fellow to say, "I wish I knew as much of any thing as Tom Macaulay does of every thing."

It is a safe maxim, that a man who knows every thing knows very little. Macaulay was an exception to this rule, but his limitations were far greater than those of most great men. He cared nothing for philosophy, or for the vast dream-world in which our little life is set. He who could make two blades of grass grow where one grew before” was to him a greater man than Plato or Kant. He had no sympathy with nature: he hated fools and knaves, and had only that small knowledge of human nature, which he who despises publicans and sinners must necessarily possess.

On one occasion, in Italy, Macaulay had bribed an Italian custom-house officer for three crowns not to search his baggage. The Italian then asked for a seat in Macaulay's carriage, and looked very dark and sullen on being refused.

“ Precious fellow !” says the historian, “ to think that a public functionary to whom a little silver is a bribe is fit company for an English gentleman!” In what different fashion would Socrates or Sterne have acted in this case! Pagan and Christian would both have acknowledged that the rich man who bribes the poor man is the guiltier of the two; and as for Sterne, in his humility he would soon lave worked himself up into offering the poor official the whole carriage. But Macaulay was a man of talents, not of genius.

The fame of Macaulay rests on his Essays, his Lays of Ancient Rome, and his History of England. His style is marked by great originality, and is clear, sonorous, incisive, brilliant, and pictorial. Still we see nothing in it like Gibbon’s irony, Pope's gem-like polish, or

that power of fitting the subtilest thought like the skin, which Sterne's prose possesses.

One rare quality, however, Macaulay possesses in a remarkable degree: he never allows himself for a moment to be careless, vulgar, or slipshod. Every person and every thing is called by the right name, and no other. And because he did all this, because he wrote such clear and well-chosen English that the printer's reader himself never had to read his sentences twice over, therefore men who can not write as he could talk glibly of his “mannerism,” and so forth. Everybody must have some manner. Macaulay had a good manner, and not a bad one, and therefore he is found fault with.

In all this Macaulay has left to every writer of English an example which every writer of English will do well to follow. The care which Macaulay took to write, before all things, good and clear English, may be followed by writers who make no attempt to imitate his style, and who may be led by nature to some quite different style of their own. Many styles which are quite unlike one another may all be equally good, but no style can be good which does not use pure and straightforward English. No style can be good where the reader has to read a sentence twice over to find out its meaning. In these ways the writings of Macaulay may be a direct model to writers and speakers whose natural taste, whose subject, or whose audience may lead them to a style quite unlike his. In every language, and in every kind of writing, purity of speech and clearness of expression must be the first virtues of all.

1. – TRAVELING IN THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY.

[The following selection is from the famous “third chapter" of Macaulay's History of England; in which he illustrates the principle, long before stated by him, that the historian should not confine his attention to the doings of kings and courts, but should set forth social conditions. The details have relation to England in the latter part of the seventeenth century.]

The chief cause which made the fusion 1 of the different elements of society so imperfect was the extreme difficulty which our ancestors found in passing from place to place. Of all inventions, the alphabet and the printing-press alone excepted, those inventions which abridge2 distance have done most for the civilization of our species. Every improvement of the means of locomotion 3 benefits mankind morally and intellectually as well as materially, and not only facilitates the interchange of the various productions of nature and art, but tends to remove national and provincial antipathies, and to bind together all the branches of the great human family. In the seventeenth century the inhabitants of London were, for almost every practical purpose, farther from Reading 5 than they now are from Edinburgh, and farther from Edinburgh than they now are from Vienna.

It was by the highways that both travelers and goods generally passed from place to place; and those highways appear to have been far worse than might have been expected from the degree of wealth and civilization which the nation had even then attained. On the best lines of communication, the ruts were deep, the descents precipitous, and the way often such as it was hardly possible to distinguish, in the dusk, from the uninclosed heath and fen which lay on both sides. Ralph Thoresby, the antiquary, was in danger of losing his way on the Great North road, between Barnby Moor and Tuxford, and actually lost his way between Doncaster and York. Pepys 2 and his wife, traveling in their own coach, lost their way between Newbury and Reading. In the course of the same tour they lost their way near Salisbury, and were in danger of having to pass the night on the plain.

1 fusion, mingling of class with class.

2 abridge. Give a synonym. 8 locomotion. See Glossary.

4 antipathies, prejudiced dislikes.

5 Reading. Locate this town.
6 highways. Give a synonynı.

It was only in fine weather that the whole breadth of the road was available for wheeled vehicles. Often the mud lay deep on the right and the left, and only a narrow track of firm ground rose above the quagmire. At such times obstructions and quarrels were frequent; and the path was sometimes blocked up during a long time by carriers, neither of whom would break the way.

It happened almost every day that coaches stuck fast, until a team of cattle could be procured from some neighboring farm to tug them out of the slough.

1 Ralph Thoresby, a yolumin- | 1703), secretary to the British ous English antiquarian writer of Admiralty during the reigns of the latter part of the seventeenth Charles II. and James II., is best and early part of the eighteenth cen- known from the very amusing tury.

Diary of his times which he left 2 Pepys, Samuel Pepys (1632- | behind him.

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »