Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Macaulay, Catharine

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MACAULAY, Mrs. CATHARINE, after her second marriage known as Catharine Macaulay Graham (1731–1791), historian and controversialist, was second daughter of John Sawbridge of Olantigh, Wye, Kent, who died in April 1762, by his wife, Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of George Wanley, banker in London, who died in 1732–3. She was born on 2 April, and baptised at Wye on 18 April 1731. By her father's wish she was privately educated, and read much Roman history, imbibing an intense enthusiasm for ‘liberty.’ In June 1760 she married George Macaulay, M.D., a physician from Scotland, who had graduated at Padua in 1739, and settled in London in 1752. He was physician and treasurer to the Brownlow Street Lying-in Hospital, and died on 16 Sept. 1766, aged 50, leaving one daughter. The first volume of Mrs. Macaulay's ‘History of England,’ from the accession of the Stuarts, appeared in 1763, and after her husband's death she laboured at its composition with great energy. Its publication exposed her to bitter attacks from critics who did not shrink from depreciating her personal appearance, though she was tall in stature, with a good figure. She was fond of gaiety, and in 1774 took a house for herself in St. James's Parade, Bath, where she made the acquaintance of Dr. Thomas Wilson, the non-resident rector of St. Stephen's, Walbrook, London, and was asked by him to dwell at his residence, Alfred House, No. 2 Alfred Street, Bath, which with his library and furniture he placed at her full disposal. Here she attracted many admirers, among the public proofs of whose adulation were ‘six odes,’ presented to her on her birthday, 2 April 1777, and published in the same year. She is said to have visited Paris in 1775, and to have been received with great honour. On her visit to that city in 1777 she met Franklin, Turgot, Marmontel, and Madame Dubocage, and her works inspired Madame Roland with the ambition of being ‘la Macaulay de son pays.’ Dr. Johnson quizzed her, and the incident at the dinner-table, when he pretended to have been converted to her principles and requested that the footman might sit down and dine with them, is well known. About 1775 she became very fond of dress, when Johnson said it was better that she should ‘redden her own cheeks’ than ‘blacken other people's characters.’ Wilkes, who was no less furious in his hate, described her on her second return from Paris as ‘painted up to the eyes’ and looking ‘as rotten as an old Catharine pear.’ To the amazement of her friends she married, it is said at Leicester, on 17 Dec. 1778, William Graham, a younger brother of James Graham [q. v.] the quack doctor. Her second husband's age was only twenty-one, and he is described as being a that time a ‘surgeon's mate,’ but on his second marriage (17 May 1797) he had risen to be the Rev. William Graham, M.A., of Misterton in Leicestershire. This second marriage of Mrs. Macaulay exposed her to much abuse, and caused her the loss of many friends. Dr. Wilson acknowledged that Alfred House was hers, but threatened to hold it against her. He had placed on 8 Sept. 1777 within the altar-rails of St. Stephen's, Walbrook, a white marble statue of her by J. F. Moore, in which she was represented in the character of history, with a pen in her right hand, and with her left arm leaning on some volumes of her ‘History;’ and had built a vault for her remains to rest in, but the statue was now taken down and the vault was sold. Among the satires published against her were ‘The Female Patriot, an Epistle from C—t—e M—c—y to the Rev. Dr. W—l—n on her late marriage,’ 1779, and ‘A remarkable moving Letter [anon.],’ 1779, which was suggested by an extraordinary epistle sent by her on her second marriage to her clerical admirer. On her union with Graham she quitted Bath, and went first to Leicestershire and then to Binfield in Berkshire. In the spring of 1784 she embarked for North America, and in June 1785 she stopped with Washington at Mount Vernon for ten days. Three letters subsequently written to her by him are in Washington's ‘Writings’ (ed. Sparks), vols. ix. and x., and two more, which are deposited in the Leicester Museum, are printed in ‘Notes and Queries,’ 1878, 5th ser. ix. 421–2. After her return to England she lived at Binfield, and died there on 22 June 1791, when a monument to her memory, with her portrait on a medallion, and with the figure of an owl as the bird of wisdom, was placed in the church by her second husband. Her statue by Bacon, a fine work, came to the Right Hon. J. Wilson Patten, afterwards lord Winmarleigh. A portrait of her as a Roman matron, by Katharine Read, was engraved by Williams. A second portrait, by the same artist, was engraved by Jonathan Spilsbury in September 1764; a third, by Cipriani, was engraved by Basire in 1767; while a fourth, by Gainsborough, the property of E. P. Roberts, was on view at the winter exhibition of the Grosvenor Gallery, 1884–5 (Catalogue, pp. 93–5). Wright of Derby painted in 1776 a portrait of Dr. Wilson and his adopted daughter, Miss Macaulay (Bemrose, Wright of Derby, p. 45).

Mrs. Macaulay possessed great talents combined with irrepressible vigour. Mary Wollstonecraft, in her ‘Vindication of the Rights of Women’ (pp. 235–6), speaks of her as ‘the woman of the greatest abilities that this country has ever produced,’ endowed with a sound judgment, and writing ‘with sober energy and argumentative closeness,’ and comments on her death ‘without sufficient respect being paid to her memory.’ Lecky distinguishes her as ‘the ablest writer of the new radical school’ (Hist. of England, iii. 206). Josiah Quincy, jun., an acute traveller from America, called on her at Bath in 1774, and, after an interview of an hour and a half, ‘was much pleased with her good sense and liberal turn of mind’ (Memoir, p. 243). Her most famous production was the ‘History of England from the Accession of James I to that of the Brunswick line,’ i. 1763, ii. 1766, iii. 1767, iv. 1768, v. 1771, vi. 1781, vii. 1781, viii. 1783, which attracted great attention at the time, and brought her a considerable income, but has now dropped into oblivion. A letter from David Hume on the first volume of her ‘History’ is printed in the ‘European Magazine,’ November 1783, pp. 331–2. Horace Walpole confessed that the author was prejudiced, but claimed that she ‘exerted manly strength with the gravity of a philosopher,’ and spoke of Gray's opinion as corroborating his own, that it was ‘the most sensible, unaffected, and best history of England that we have had yet.’ From a letter written by Gray in 1766 it would appear that Pitt ‘made a panegyric of her “History” in the House of Commons’ (Works, ed. Gosse, iii. 238). Capel Lofft [q. v.] issued in 1778 a printed letter of laudatory ‘Observations on Mrs. Macaulay's “History,”’ and John Salt of Amwell wrote some eulogistic stanzas on it (Chalmers, Poets, xvii. 497). A letter from Mirabeau suggesting that this work should be translated into French is in his ‘Letters from England’ (ed. 1832, ii. 230–40), and a translation into five volumes, purporting to be by Mirabeau, though it was the work of P. T. Guiraudet, appeared at Paris in 1791–2. De Quincey quotes an instance, not altogether conclusive, of her ignorance, and Isaac Disraeli printed a charge against her of having torn out four leaves of Harleian MS. 7379 on 12 Nov. 1764, with the result that she had been banished from the British Museum (Curiosities of Literature, ed. 1858, ii. 446). This accusation led to an animated correspondence in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ in 1794 and 1795 between Disraeli and her second husband, William Graham, when it was proved that no record existed of her having been forbidden to enter the museum, and that the damage to the manuscript could not be definitely attributed to her. The original manuscripts of her ‘History of England,’ 1628–60, with autograph notes and corrections, are now in Brit. Mus. Additional MSS. 28192–5.

Her other works were: 1. ‘Loose Remarks on certain Positions to be found in Mr. Hobbes's “Philosophical Rudiments of Government and Society”’ [anon.] 1767; 2nd edit. with name on title-page, 1769. 2. ‘Reply to Burke's pamphlet entitled “Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents”’ [anon.], 1770. 3. ‘A Modest Plea for the Property of Copyright,’ 1774, which produced ‘Modest Exceptions from the Court of Parnassus to Mrs. Macaulay's Modest Plea,’ 1774. Horace Walpole stigmatised this pamphlet of Mrs. Macaulay as ‘very bad, marking dejection and sickness.’ 4. ‘Address to the People of England, Scotland, and Ireland on the present important Crisis of Affairs,’ Bath, 1775; 2nd edit. 1775. It vehemently opposed the Quebec Act and the taxation of America. 5. ‘History of England from the Revolution to the Present Time, in a Series of Letters to a Friend’ [the Rev. Dr. Wilson], vol. i. Bath, 1778. It was not successful, and no more was published. 6. ‘Treatise on the Immutability of Moral Truth,’ 1783. Samuel Badcock [q. v.] praised this treatise very highly, saying Mrs. Macaulay ‘is not only a bold and fervid writer, but a shrewd and acute reasoner’ (Gent. Mag. 1789, ii. p. 777). The greater part of it was embodied in a larger volume called 7. ‘Letters on Education, with Observations on Religious and Metaphysical Subjects.’ 8. ‘Observations on the Reflections of the Right Hon. Edmund Burke on the Revolution in France, in a Letter to the Earl of Stanhope’ [anon.], 1790.

‘A Catalogue of Tracts,’ 1790, is marked in the copy at the British Museum as describing her collection of historical tracts, and several letters from the Rev. A. M. Toplady [q. v.] to her are contained in his ‘Works,’ vi. 190–266.

[Boswell, ed. Hill, i. 447–8, iii. 46; Nichols's Illustrations of Lit. vi. 152, 157–8; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. iii. 636; Wilkes's Letters, 1804, ii. 55–184; Walpole's George III. iii. 176–9; Walpole's Letters, iv. 157, vi. 68. vii. 42; Gent. Mag. 1760 p. 297, 1766 p. 439, 1777 p. 458, 1778 p. 606, 1784 pt. i. p. 378, 1791 pt. i. p. 618, 1794 pt. ii. pp. 685, 817, 996, 1795 pt. i. pp. 6, 106, and 1835 pt. i. p. 11; Westminster Mag. 1778, pp. 59, 681–2; Belsham's T. Lindsey, pp. 508–9; Nichols's Leicestershire, vol. iv. pt. i. p. 312; Baker's Northamptonshire, i. 162; Polwhele's Traditions, i. 43–123; Polwhele's Reminiscences, i. 23–4, ii. 45; Monkland's Bath, pp. 31–3, and Suppl. pp. 84–5; Peach's Bath Houses, 1st ser. pp. 86–117; Morris's Wye, p. 46; J. T. Smith's Nollekens, ii. 204; J. C. Smith's Portraits, iii. 1332; Notes and Queries, 5th ser. vi. 545–6; Biog. Univ. vol. xxvi.; European Mag. November 1783, pp. 330–4.]

W. P. C.