Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1st Baron Macaulay, PC (25 October 1800 – 28 December 1859) was a nineteenth-century British poet, historian and Whig politician and one of the two Members of Parliament for Edinburgh. He wrote extensively as an essayist and reviewer, and on British history.
The son and eldest child of Zachary Macaulay
, a Scottish Highlander
who became a colonial governor
, Thomas was born in Leicestershire
and educated at Trinity College, Cambridge
. Macaulay was noted as a child prodigy. As a toddler, gazing out the window from his cot at the chimneys of a local factory, he is reputed to have put the question to his mother: "Does the smoke from those chimneys come from the fires of hell?" 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
. In 1826 he was called to the bar but showed more interest in a political than a legal career. He never married and had no children.
Macaulay as a politician
In 1830 he became a Member of Parliament
for the pocket borough
. He made his name with a series of speeches in favour of parliamentary reform, attacking such inequalities as the exclusion of Jews.
After the Great Reform Act
was passed, he became MP for Leeds
Macaulay was Secretary to the Board of Control
from 1832 until 1833. After the passing of the Government of India Act 1833, he was appointed as the first Law Member of the Governor-General's Council
. He went to India in 1834. Serving on the Supreme Council of India between 1834 and 1838 he was instrumental in creating the foundations of bilingual colonial India
, by convincing the Governor-General to adopt English
as the medium of instruction in higher education, from the sixth year of schooling onwards, rather than Sanskrit
then used in the institutions supported by the East India Company
In the aftermath of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, Macaulay's criminal law system was enacted. It included the three major codes - The Indian Penal Code, 1860, the Criminal Procedure Code, 1872 and the Civil Procedure Code, 1909. The Indian Penal Code was later reproduced in most other British colonies – and to date many of these laws are still in effect in places as far apart as Singapore, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.
The term Macaulay's Children is used to refer to people born of Indian ancestry who adopt Western culture as a lifestyle, or display attitudes influenced by colonisers. The term is usually used in a derogatory fashion, and the connotation is one of disloyalty to one's country and one's heritage. This frame of mind or attitude is also referred to as Macaulayism
The passage to which the term refers is from his Minute on Indian Education, delivered in 1835. It reads,
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 taste, 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.
Returning to Britain in 1838, he became MP for Edinburgh
. He was made Secretary at War
in 1839. After the fall of Lord Melbourne
's government Macaulay devoted more time to literary work, but returned to office as Paymaster General
in Lord John Russell
In 1841 Macaulay addressed the issue of copyright law. Macaulay's position, slightly modified, became the basis of copyright law in the English-speaking world for many decades. Macaulay argued that copyright is a monopoly and as such has generally negative effects on society.
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 grant to Maynooth College in Ireland, which trained young men for the Catholic priesthood; some observers also attributed his loss to his neglect of local issues. In 1849 he was elected Rector of the University of Glasgow, a position with no administrative duties, often awarded by the students to men of political or literary fame; he also received the freedom of the city. 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. However, he seldom attended the House, due to ill health; indeed 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.
Macaulay sat on the committee to decide on subjects from British history to be painted in the new Palace of Westminster. The need to collect reliable portraits of noted figures in British history for this project led to the foundation of the National Portrait Gallery, which was formally established on 2 December 1856. Macaulay was amongst its founder trustees and is honoured as one of only three busts above the main entrance.
He was raised to the Peerage in 1857 as Baron Macaulay, of Rothley in the County of Leicester but seldom attended the House of Lords. His health made work increasingly difficult for him. He died in 1859, leaving his major work, The History of England from the Accession of James the Second incomplete. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Macaulay's political writings are famous for their brilliant ringing prose and for its 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. But it is also reflected in the History; the most stirring passages in the work are those that describe the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688. Macaulay's approach has been criticised by later historians for its one-sidedness and its complacency. His tendency to see history as a drama led him to treat figures whose views he opposed as if they were villains, while characters he approved of were presented as heroes. Macaulay goes to considerable length, for example, to absolve his main hero William III of any responsibility for the Glencoe massacre.
Macaulay's nephew, Sir George Otto Trevelyan, 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.
During his first period out of office he composed Lays of Ancient Rome, a series of very popular ballads about heroic episodes in Roman history. The most famous of them, Horatius, concerns the heroism of Horatius Cocles. It contains the oft-quoted lines:
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
During the 1840s he began work on his most famous work, "The History of England from the Accession of James the Second", publishing the first two volumes in 1848, the next two volumes appearing in 1855. At first, he had planned to bring his history down to the reign of George III. After publication of his first two volumes, his hope was to complete his work with the death of Queen Anne in 1714. However, at his death in 1859, he had finished only one further volume. A sixth, bringing the History down to the death of William III, was completed by his sister, Lady Trevelyan, after his death.
- "We are free, we are civilised, to little purpose, if we grudge to any portion of the human race an equal measure of freedom and civilisation."
- "His imagination resembled the wings of an ostrich. It enabled him to run, though not to soar." On John Dryden. 1828.
- "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."
- "Thus then stands the case: it is good that authors should be remunerated and the least exceptionable way of remunerating them is by a monopoly, yet monopoly is an evil for the sake of the good. We must submit to the evil, but the evil ought not to last a day longer than is necessary for the purpose of securing the good."
- "Nine-tenths the calamities of the human race are due to the union of high intelligence with low desires." "Lord Bacon," (1837) in Essays 2:183.
- (From Edinburgh Review, 1830) "If any person had told the Parliament which met in terror and perplexity after the crash of 1720 that in 1830 the wealth of England would surpass all their wildest dreams, that the annual revenue would equal the principal of that debt which they considered an intolerable burden, that for one man of £10,000 then living there would be five men of £50,000, that London would be twice as large and twice as populous, and that nevertheless the rate of mortality would have diminished to one half of what it then was, that the post-office would bring more into the exchequer than the excise and customs had brought in together under Charles II, that stage coaches would run from London to York in 24 hours, that men would be in the habit of sailing without wind, and would be beginning to ride without horses, our ancestors would have given as much credit to the prediction as they gave to Gulliver's Travels."
- "It would be, on the most selfish view of the case, far better for us that the people of India were well governed and independent of us, than ill governed and subject to us; that they were ruled by their own kings, but wearing our broadcloth, and working with our cutlery, than that they were performing their salams to English collectors and English magistrates, but were too ignorant to value, or too poor to buy, English manufactures. To trade with civilised men is infinitely more profitable than to govern savages."
- "Copyright is monopoly, and produces all the effects which the general voice of mankind attributes to monopoly. [...] Monopoly is an evil. For the sake of the good we must submit to the evil; but the evil ought not to last a day longer than is necessary for the purpose of securing the good."
- (Review of a life of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley by Edward Nares, Edinburgh Review, 1832) "The work of Dr. Nares has filled us with astonishment similar to that which Captain Lemuel Gulliver felt when first he landed in Brobdingnag, and saw corn as high as the oaks in the New Forest, thimbles as large as buckets, and wrens of the bulk of turkeys. The whole book, and every component part of it, is on a gigantic scale. The title is as long as an ordinary preface: the prefatory matter would furnish out an ordinary book; and the book contains as much reading as an ordinary library. We cannot sum up the merits of the stupendous mass of paper which lies before us better than by saying that it consists of about two thousand closely printed quarto pages, that it occupies fifteen hundred inches cubic measure, and that it weighs sixty pounds avoirdupois. Such a book might, before the deluge, have been considered as light reading by Hilpa and Shallum. But unhappily the life of man is now three-score years and ten; and we cannot but think it somewhat unfair in Dr. Nares to demand from us so large a portion of so short an existence. Compared with the labour of reading through these volumes, all other labour, the labour of thieves on the treadmill, of children in factories, of negroes in sugar plantations, is an agreeable recreation."
- "To punish public outrages on morals and religion is unquestionably within the competence of rulers. But when a government, not content with requiring decency, requires sanctity, it oversteps the bounds which mark its proper functions. And it may be laid down as a universal rule that a government which attempts more than it ought will perform less." "Leigh Hunt" (1841), in Critical...Essays 2:509.
- "The measure of a man's character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out."
- "There is not, and there never was on this earth, a work of human policy so well deserving of examination as the Roman Catholic Church. The history of that Church joins together the two great ages of human civilisation. No other institution is left standing which carries the mind back to the times when the smoke of sacrifice rose from the Pantheon, and when camelopards and tigers bounded in the Flavian amphitheatre. The proudest royal houses are but of yesterday, when compared with the line of the Supreme Pontiffs. That line we trace back in an unbroken series, from the Pope who crowned Napoleon in the nineteenth century to the Pope who crowned Pepin in the eighth; and far beyond the time of Pepin the august dynasty extends, till it is lost in the twilight of fable. The republic of Venice came next in antiquity. But the republic of Venice was modern when compared with the Papacy; and the republic of Venice is gone, and the Papacy remains. The Papacy remains, not in decay, not a mere antique, but full of life and youthful vigour. The Catholic Church is still sending forth to the farthest ends of the world missionaries as zealous as those who landed in Kent with Augustin, and still confronting hostile kings with the same spirit with which she confronted Attila. The number of her children is greater than in any former age. Her acquisitions in the New World have more than compensated for what she has lost in the Old. Her spiritual ascendency extends over the vast countries which lie between the plains of the Missouri and Cape Horn, countries which a century hence, may not improbably contain a population as large as that which now inhabits Europe. The members of her communion are certainly not fewer than a hundred and fifty millions; and it will be difficult to show that all other Christian sects united amount to a hundred and twenty millions. Nor do we see any sign which indicates that the term of her long dominion is approaching. She saw the commencement of all the governments and of all the ecclesiastical establishments that now exist in the world; and we feel no assurance that she is not destined to see the end of them all. She was great and respected before the Saxon had set foot on Britain, before the Frank had passed the Rhine, when Grecian eloquence still flourished at Antioch, when idols were still worshipped in the temple of Mecca. And she may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul's."
- Whig history Further explains the Whig interpretation of history that Macaulay espoused.
- Works by Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1st Baron Macaulay at Project Gutenberg
- style="font-style : italic;">[[Lays of Ancient Rome]]
- The History of England from the Accession of James II, 5 vols. (1848) , , , ,
- Critical and Historical Essays, 2 vols., edited by Alexander James Grieve. ,
- The Miscellaneous Writings and Speeches of Lord Macaulay, 4 vols. , , ,
- style="font-style : italic;">[[Niccolo Machiavelli|Machiavelli]]
- The Letters of Thomas Babington Macaulay, 6 vols., edited by Thomas Pinney.