Page:EB1911 - Volume 17.djvu/210

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.

ministry fell. In 1842 appeared his Lays of Ancient Rome, and in the next year he collected and published his Essays. He returned to office in 1846, in Lord John Russell's administration, as paymaster-general. His duties were very light, and the contact with official life and the obligations of parliamentary attendance were even of benefit to him while he was engaged upon his History. In the sessions of 1846–1847 he spoke only five times, and at the general election of July 1847 he lost his seat for Edinburgh. The balance of Macaulay's faculties had now passed to the side of literature. At an earlier date he had relished crowds and the excitement of ever new faces; as years went forward, and absorption in the work of composition took off the edge of his spirits, he recoiled from publicity. He began to regard the prospect of business as worry, and had no longer the nerve to brace himself to the social efforts required of one who represents a large constituency.

Macaulay retired into private life, not only without regret, but with a sense of relief. He gradually withdrew from general society, feeling the bore of big dinners and country-house visits, but he still enjoyed close and constant intercourse with a circle of the most eminent men that London then contained. At that time social breakfasts were in vogue. Macaulay himself preferred this to any other form of entertainment. Of these brilliant reunions nothing has been preserved beyond the names of the men who formed them—Rogers, Hallam, Sydney Smith, Lord Carlisle, Lord Stanhope, Nassau Senior, Charles Greville, Milman, Panizzi, G. C. Lewis, Van de Weyer. His biographer thus describes Macaulay's appearance and bearing in conversation: “ Sitting bolt upright, his hands resting on the arms of his chair, or folded over the handle of his walking-stick, knitting his eyebrows if the subject was one which had to be thought out as he went along, or brightening from the forehead downwards when a burst of humour was coming, his massive features and honest glance suited well with the manly sagacious sentiments which he set forth in his sonorous voice and in his racy and intelligible language. To get at his meaning people had never the need to think twice, and they certainly had seldom the time.”

But, great as was his enjoyment of literary society and books, they only formed his recreation. In these years he was working with unflagging industry at the composition of his History. His composition was slow, his corrections both of matter and style endless; he spared no pains to ascertain the facts. He sacrificed to the prosecution of his task a political career, House of Commons fame, the allurements of society. The first two volumes of the History of England appeared in December 1848. The success was in every way complete beyond expectation. The sale of edition after edition, both in England and the United States, was enormous.

In 1852, when his party returned to office, he refused a seat in the cabinet, but he could not bring himself to decline the compliment of a voluntary amende which the city of Edinburgh paid him in returning him at the head of the poll at the general election in July of that year. He had hardly accepted the summons to return to parliamentary life before fatal weakness betrayed itself in deranged action of the heart; from this time forward till his death his strength continued steadily to sink. The process carried with it dejection of spirits as its inevitable attendant. The thought oppressed him that the great work to which he had devoted himself would remain a fragment. Once again, in June 1853, he spoke in parliament, and with effect, against the exclusion of the master of the rolls from the House of Commons, and at a later date in defence of competition for the Indian civil service. But he was aware that it was a grievous waste of his small stock of force, and that he made these efforts at the cost of more valuable work.

In November 1855 vols. iii. and iv. of the History appeared and obtained a vast circulation. Within a generation of its first appearance upwards of 140,000 copies of the History were printed and sold in the United Kingdom alone; and in the United States the sales were on a correspondingly large scale. The History was translated into German, Polish, Danish, Swedish, Hungarian, Russian, Bohemian, Italian, French, Dutch and Spanish. Flattering marks of respect were heaped upon the author by foreign academies. His pecuniary profits were (for that time) on a scale commensurate with the reputation of the book: the cheque he received for £20,000 has become a landmark in literary history.

In May 1856 he quitted the Albany, in which he had passed fifteen happy years, and went to live at Holly Lodge, Campden Hill, then, before it was enlarged, a tiny bachelor's dwelling, but with a lawn whose unbroken slope of verdure gave it the air of a considerable country house. In the following year (1857) he was raised to the peerage by the title of Baron Macaulay of Rothley. “ It was,” says Lady Trevelyan, “ one of the few things that everybody approved; he enjoyed it himself, as he did everything, simply and cordially.” It was a novelty in English life to see eminence which was neither that of territorial opulence nor of political or military services recognized and rewarded by elevation to the peerage.

But Macaulay's health, which had begun to give way in 1852, was every year visibly failing. In May 1858 he went to Cambridge for the purpose of being sworn in as high steward of the borough, to which office he had been elected on the death of Earl Fitzwilliam. When his health was given at a public breakfast in the town-hall he was obliged to excuse himself from speaking. In the upper house he never spoke. Absorbed in the prosecution of his historical work, he had grown indifferent to the party politics of his own day. Gradually he had to acquiesce in the conviction that, though his intellectual powers remained unimpaired, his physical energies would not carry him through the reign of Anne; and, though he brought down the narrative to the death of William III., the last half-volume wants the finish and completeness of the earlier portions. The winter of 1859 told on him, and he died on the 28th of December. On the 9th of January 1860 he was buried in Westminster Abbey, in Poets Corner, near the statue of Addison.

Lord Macaulay never married. A man of warm domestic affections, he found their satisfaction in the attachment and close sympathy of his sister Hannah, the wife of Sir Charles Trevelyan. Her children were to him as his own. Macaulay was a steadfast friend, and no act inconsistent with the strictest honour and integrity was ever imputed to him. When a poor man, and when salary was of consequence to him, he twice resigned office rather than make compliance's for which he would not have been severely blamed. In 1847, when his seat in parliament was at stake, he would not be persuaded to humour, to temporize, even to conciliate. He had a keen relish for the good things of life, and desired fortune as the means of obtaining them; but there was nothing mercenary or selfish in his nature. When he had raised himself to opulence, he gave away with an open hand, not seldom rashly. His very last act was to write a letter to a poor cuiate enclosing a cheque for £25. The purity of his morals was not associated with any tendency to cant.

The lives of men of letters are often records of sorrow or suffering. The life of Macaulay was eminently happy. Till the closing years (1857–1859), he enjoyed life with the full zest of healthy faculty, happy in social intercourse, happy in the solitude of his study, and equally divided between the two. For the last fifteen years of his life he lived for literature. His writings were remunerative to him far beyond the ordinary measure, yet he never wrote for money. He lived in his historical researches; his whole heart and interest were unreservedly given to the men and the times of whom he read and wrote. His command of literature was imperial. Beginning with a good classical foundation, he made himself familiar with the imaginative, and then with the historical, remains of Greece and Rome. He went on to add the literature of his own country, of France, of Italy, of Spain. He learnt Dutch enough for the purposes of his history. He read German, but for the literature of the northern nations he had no taste, and of the erudite labours of the Germans he had little knowledge and formed an inadequate estimate. The range of his survey of human things had other limitations more considerable still. All philosophical speculation was alien to his mind; nor did he seem aware of the degree in