Life.—A prominent figure in the social and political life of England during the first part of the century was Thomas Babington Macaulay, a man of brilliant intellectual powers, strict integrity of character, and enormous capacity for work. He loved England and gloried in her liberties and her commercial prosperity. He served her for many years in the House of Commons, and he bent his whole energy and splendid forensic talent in favor of the Reform Bill of 1832, which secured greater political liberty for England.
He was not a theorizer, but a practical man of affairs. Notwithstanding the fact that his political opinions were ready made for him by the Whig party, his career in the House was never “inconsistent with rectitude of intention and independence of spirit.” He voted conscientiously for measures, although he personally sacrificed hundreds of pounds by so doing.
He was a remarkable talker. A single speech of his has been known to change an entire vote in Parliament. Unlike Coleridge, he did not indulge in monologue, but showed to finest advantage in debate. His power of memory was wonderful. He often startled an opponent by quoting from a given chapter and page of a book. He repeated long passages from Paradise Lost; and it is said he could have restored it complete, had it all been lost.
His disposition was sweet and his life altogether fortunate. His biographer says of him: “Descended from Scotch Presbyterians —ministers many of them—on his father’s side, and from a Quaker family on his mother’s, he probably united as many guaranties of ‘good birth,’ in the moral sense of the word, as could be found in these islands at the beginning of the century.”
He was born at Rothley Temple, Leicestershire, in 1800. He was prepared for college at good private schools, and sent to Cambridge when he was eighteen. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1825; but, in the following year, he determined to adopt literature as a profession, owing to the welcome given to his Essay on Milton. As he had written epics, histories, and metrical romances prior to the age of ten, his choice of a profession was neither hasty nor unexpected.
He continued from this time to write for the Edinburgh Review, but literature was not the only field of his activity. He had a seat in Parliament, and he held several positions under the Government. He was never unemployed. Many of his Essays were written before breakfast; while the other members of the household were asleep.
He was a voracious reader. If he walked in the country or in London, he always carried a book to read. He spent some years in the government’s service in India. On the long voyage over, he read incessantly, and on the return trip he studied the German language.
He was beyond the age of forty when he found the leisure to begin his History of England. He worked uninterruptedly, but broke down early, dying at the age of fifty-nine.