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I. THOMAS BABINGTON MACAULAY.
THOMAS BABINGTON MACAULAY, the eldest child of Zachary and Selina Macaulay, was born at Rothley Temple, Leicestershire, October 25, 1800. His father, a stern, undemonstrative, but not harsh or unfeeling man, is famous for the active part he took in the emancipation of the West Indian slaves. Possessed of the highest principle, he yet lacked those tender graces which win the love and confidence of children ; and, as a consequence, the sentiment he evoked in his own household was one rather of respect than of personal affection. Mrs. Macaulay, on the other hand, though firm and judicious, was a tender mother. Without severity she was able to control her children. Tom, like schoolboys in general, did not want to go to school. He pleaded that it was raining. “No, Tom, if it rains cats and dogs you shall go,' said Mrs. Macaulay. Years after, writing from Cambridge in reference to the illness of his brother John, Macaulay said—I do not know whether illness to him is not rather a prerogative than an evil. I am sure that it is well worth while being sick to be nursed by a mother. There is nothing which I remember with such pleasure as the time when you nursed me at Aspenden. ... The sound of your voice, the touch of your hand, are present to me now, and will be, I trust in God, to my last hour.'
Tom (as he was always called) was rather a precocious boy. He began to write verses at a very early age. In conversation he always took a forward place, and was indeed a little too vehement and self-confident. He liked to use long words and grand phrases. His fondness for reading was excessive, while at games he was a very poor hand. He could not row, skate,
play cricket, or swim. His good-nature, however, won for him the regard of his schoolfellows, who, while they pitied his incapacity in the playground, could not but appreciate his superior knowledge. The habit of reading continued through life. Once, on a journey to Ireland, he found himself without a book of any sort, and concluded that the best thing to do was to repeat over to himself the whole of Paradise Lost,' which he knew by heart. During his long voyage to India many years after, he was scarcely ever without a book in his hand, except at meal times. His preference was for what is called light reading-novels and story-books. 'Don Quixote' was a particular favourite.
Macaulay's imagination was so vivid that, when he was reading any story of bygone times, he would conceive himself to be actually living among the persons and scenes described. Some of the clearest pictures of the past that have ever been written, are to be found in his ' History of England,' and many of his essays excel in picturesque description of a similar kind. The power he had of transplanting himself in thought to other places and other times is, doubtless, one secret of his art.
Macaulay's university life began in 1818 at Trinity College, Cambridge. Though, as we have seen, a great reader, he was not a very deep student. He preferred to pursue his own course rather than that laid down for him by his teachers. He did not like mathematics, which were the principal subject of study at Cambridge, and preferred to read and re-read the ancient Greek and Roman dramatists and poets. However, he won several honours, and in 1824 obtained a fellowship, which secured him an income of 700l. for seven years, and some other small emoluments.
Macaulay had a remarkable memory. He remembered the substance of everything he read—often, in poetry especially, the very words. He once said, and it was no doubt perfectly correct, that if all the copies of Paradise Lost' and 'The Pilgrim's Progress’ were destroyed, he could reproduce them both. When thirteen years of age, while waiting at a country inn for a post-chaise, he looked over some verses in a newspaper which lay on the table. Forty years afterwards, having never in the meantime given them a thought, he repeated them accurately.
After leaving college Macaulay studied law, and was called to the bar in 1826; but he made no mark as a barrister because his heart was not in the work. More to his taste was the arrangement he made two years earlier to contribute articles to the 'Edinburgh Review. His first article, printed in 1825, was on Milton. It attracted much attention, as also did the many contributions from his pen which followed in the same review. Eight years later, when the pressure of other duties had compelled him to almost entirely cease to write for it, the editor called upon him and assured him that his articles were the only things that kept the work up ; that of late the sale had much diminished, and that the general report from booksellers up and down the country was, that the sale was large or small according as there were, or were not, articles by him.
In 1828 Macaulay was appointed a Commissioner in Bankruptcy, and he held the office until it was abolished. In 1830 Lord Lyndhurst offered him a seat in Parliament for the borough of Calne, which he took, and quickly obtained a reputation as an accomplished orator. Those were the exciting times of the first Reform Bill, and Macaulay took an active part in securing that important measure of justice for the people. So great did his influence in the House of Commons become, and so great was his service to his party, that, in about two years after he entered Parliament, he was invited to join the Ministry as Secretary of the Board of Control. This was the beginning of his connection with Indian affairs, and his brilliant essays on 'Lord Clive' and 'Warren Hastings' show that he did not neglect his opportunities. The knowledge he acquired of India and Indian politics was immense, and enabled him to be of signal service to that country while he was connected with its administration.
At the first election after the Reform Bill became law, Macaulay successfully contested the newly made borough of Leeds. In 1834 he sailed for India as a member of the Supreme Council there. It fell to his lot to take a leading part in framing the Criminal Code, and the work which he accomplished is still the basis of Indian law.
Returning to London, Macaulay, before very long, found himself active in home politics. He became member of Parliament for Edinburgh, and held his seat until 1847, when he was defeated at the election of that year. He thereupon retired into private life, turned his attention again to literature, and set to work on his famous “ History of England.' In 1852 he was