Whenever any tolerable book of the same description makes its appearance, the circulating libraries are mobbed; the book societies are in commotion; the new novel lies uncut; the magazines and newspapers fill their columns with extracts. In the mean time, histories of great empires, written by men of eminent ability, lie unread on the shelves of ostentatious libraries. The writers of history seem to entertain an aristocratical contempt for the writers of memoirs.
Whenever any tolerable book of the same description makes its appearance, the circulating libraries are mobbed; the book societies are in commotion; the new novel lies uncut; the magazines and newspapers fill their columns with extracts.
In the mean time, histories of great empires, written by men of eminent ability, lie unread on the shelves of ostentatious libraries. Macaulay essays history writers of history seem to entertain an aristocratical contempt for the writers of memoirs.
They think it beneath the dignity of men who describe the revolutions of nations to dwell on the details which constitute the charm of biography.
They have imposed on themselves a code of conventional decencies as absurd as that which has been the bane of the French drama. The most characteristic and interesting circumstances are omitted or softened down, because, as we are told, they are too trivial for the majesty of history.
The majesty of history seems to resemble the majesty of the poor King of Spain, who died a martyr to ceremony, because the proper dignitaries were not at hand to render him assistance.
That history would be more amusing if this etiquette were relaxed, will, we suppose, be acknowledged.
But would it be less dignified or useful? What do we mean, when we say that one past event is important, and another insignificant? No past event has any intrinsic importance. The knowledge of it is valuable only as it leads us to form just calculations with respect to the future.
A history which does not serve this purpose, though it may be filled with battles, treaties, and commotions, is as useless as the series of turnpike-tickets collected by Sir Mathew Mite.
Let us suppose that Lord Claredon, instead of filling hundreds of folio pages with copies of state-papers, in which the same assertions and contradictions are repeated, till the reader is overpowered with weariness, had condescended to be the Boswell of the Long Parliament. Let us suppose that he had exhibited to us the wise and lofty self-government of Hampden, leading while he seemed to follow, and propounding unanswerable arguments in the strongest forms, with the modest air of an inquirer anxious for information; the delusions which misled the noble spirit of Vane; the coarse fanaticism which concealed the yet loftier genius of Cromwell, destined to control a mutinous army and a factious people, to abase the flag of Holland, to arrest the victorious arms of Sweden, and to hold the balance firm between the rival monarchies of France and Spain.
Let us suppose that he had made his Cavaliers and Roundheads talk in their own style; that he had reported some of the ribaldry of Rupert's pages, and some of the cant of Harrison and Fleetwood.
Would not his work, in that case, have been more interesting? Would it not have been more accurate? A history in which every particular incident may be true, may on the whole be false. The circumstances which have most influence on the happiness of mankind, the changes of manners and morals, the transition of communities from poverty to wealth, from knowledge to ignorance, from ferocity to humanity - these are, for the most part, noiseless revolutions.
Their progress is rarely indicated by what historians are pleased to call important events. They are not achieved by armies, or enacted by senates.
They are sanctioned by no treaties, and recorded in no archives. They are carried on in every school, in every church, behind ten thousand counters, at ten thousand firesides.
The upper current of society presents no certain criterion by which we can judge of the direction in which the under current flows. We read of defeats and victories. But we know that nations may be miserable amidst victories, and prosperous amidst defeats. We read of the fall of wise ministers, and of the rise of profligate favorites.
But we must remember how small a proportion the good or evil affected by a single statesman can bear to the good or evil of a great social system. Bishop Watson compares a geologist to a gnat mounted on an elephant, and laying down theories as to the whole internal structure of the vast animal, from the phenomena of the hide.
The comparison is unjust to the geologists; but it is very applicable to those historians who write as if the body politic were homogeneous, who look only on the surface of affairs, and never think of the mighty and various organization which lies deep below.
In the works of such writers as these, England, at the close of the Seven Years' War, is in the highest state of prosperity.
At the close of the American War, she is in a miserable and degraded condition; as if the people were not on the whole as rich, as well governed, and as well educated at the latter period as at the former.
We have read books called Histories of England, under the reign of George the Second in which the rise of Methodism is not even mentioned. A hundred years hence, this breed of authors will, we hope, be extinct.
If it should still exist, the late ministerial interregnum will be described in terms which will seem to imply that all government was at an end; that the social contract was annulled, and that the hand of every man was against his neighbor, until the wisdom and virtue of the new cabinet educed order out of the chaos of anarchy.
We are quite certain that misconceptions as gross prevail at this moment, respecting many important parts of our annals. The effect of historical reading is analogous, in many respects, to that produced by foreign travel.
The student, like the tourist, is transported into a new state of society. He sees new fashions. He hears new modes of expression. His mind is enlarged by contemplating the wide diversities of laws, of morals, and of manners. In the same manner, men may know the dates of many battles, and the genealogies of many royal houses, and yet be no wiser.
Most people look at past times as princes look at foreign countries. More than one illustrious stranger has landed on our island amidst the shouts of a mob, has dined with the king, has hunted with the master of the stag-hounds, has seen the guards reviewed, and a knight of the garter installed; has cantered along Regent street; has visited St.Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1st Baron Macaulay, FRS FRSE PC (25 October – 28 December ) was a British historian and Whig politician.
He wrote extensively as an essayist, on contemporary and historical sociopolitical subjects, and as a ashio-midori.comed by: Viscount Howick. The history of Greece is, in this, as in many other respects, the best commentary on the history of Italy.
Five hundred years before the Christian era, the citizens of the republics round the Ægean Sea, formed perhaps the finest militia that ever existed.
As wealth and refinement advanced, the system underwent a gradual alteration. THOMAS BABBINGTON MACAULAY. CRITICAL AND HISTORICAL ESSAYS VOLUME II. Non comercial use permited. CRITICAL AND HISTORICAL ESSAYS, VOLUME II.
BY THOMAS BABINGTON MACAULAY. CONTENTS OF VOLUME II. FOREIGN HISTORY. MACHIAVELLI. RANKE'S HISTORY OF THE POPES. WAR OF THE SPANISH SUCCESSION. acquainted with the history . 1 From Macaulay's essay "On History," as first published in the Edinburgh Review, May, 2 This would be William Mitford ().
Mitford wrote the 5 volume, "pugnacious anti-democratic" History of Greece. Critical and Historical Essays: Contributed to the Edinburgh Review () is a collection of articles by Thomas Babington Macaulay, later Lord ashio-midori.com have been acclaimed for their readability, but criticized for their inflexible attachment to the attitudes of the Whig school of history.
Students applying for admissions to Macaulay are required to complete two essays as part of the online application. Please read the .