Macaulay’s grasp of fact never weakens, his love of manly courage never relaxes, his joy in bygone time never fails, his zeal for the free institutions of England never falters, and his style is never dull.
General Characteristics.—The chief quality of Macaulay’s style is its clearness. Contemporaries said that the printers’ readers never had to read his sentences a second time to understand them. This clearness is attained, first, by the structure of his sentences. He avoids entangling clauses, obscure references in his pronouns, and long sentences whenever they are in danger of becoming involved and causing the reader to lose his way. In the second place, if the idea is a difficult one or not likely to be apprehended at its full worth, Macaulay repeats his meaning from a different point of view and throws additional light on the subject by varied illustrations.
In the third place, his works abound in concrete ideas, which are more readily grasped than abstract ones. He is not content to write: “The smallest actual good is better than the most magnificent promise of impossibilities:” but he gives the concrete equivalent: “An acre in Middlesex is worth a principality in Utopia.”
It is possible for style to be both clear and lifeless, but his style is as energetic as it is clear. In narration he takes high rank. His erudition, displayed in the vast stores of fact that his memory retained for effective service in every direction, is worthy of special mention.
While his excellences may serve as a model, he has faults that admirers would do well to avoid. His fondness for contrast often leads him to make one picture too bright and the other too dark. His love of antithesis has the merit of arousing attention in his readers and of crystallizing some thoughts into enduring epigrammatic form; but he is often led to sacrifice exact truth in order to obtain fine contrasts, as in the following:—
“The Puritan hated bear-baiting,
not because it gave pain to the
bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.”
Macaulay is more the apostle of the material than of the spiritual. He lacked sympathy with theories and aspirations that could not accomplish immediate practical results. While his vigorous, easily-read pages exert a healthy fascination, they are not illumined with the spiritual glow that sheds luster on the pages of the great Victorian moral teachers, like Carlyle and Ruskin. He has, however, had more influence on the prose style of the last half of the nineteenth century than any other writer. Many continue to find in him their most effective teacher of a clear, energetic form of expression.
[Illustration: JOHN HENRY, CARDINAL NEWMAN. From the painting by Emmeline Deane.]
Life.—Newman, who was born in London the year after Macaulay, represents a different aspect of English thought. Macaulay was thrilled in contemplating the great material growth and energy of the nation. Newman’s interest was centered in the development of the spiritual life.