Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay
by George Otto Trevelyan
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I have read Pindar,—with less pleasure than I feel in reading the great Attic poets, but still with admiration. An idea occurred to me which may very likely have been noticed by a hundred people before. I was always puzzled to understand the reason for the extremely abrupt transitions in those Odes of Horace which are meant to be particularly fine. The "justum et tenacem" is an instance. All at once you find yourself in heaven, Heaven knows how. What the firmness of just men in times of tyranny, or of tumult, has to do with Juno's oration about Troy it is hardly possible to conceive. Then, again, how strangely the fight between the Gods and the Giants is tacked on to the fine hymn to the Muses in that noble ode, "Descende coelo et die age tibia"! This always struck me as a great fault, and an inexplicable one; for it is peculiarly alien from the calm good sense, and good taste, which distinguish Horace.

My explanation of it is this. The Odes of Pindar were the acknowledged models of lyric poetry. Lyric poets imitated his manner as closely as they could; and nothing was more remarkable in his compositions than the extreme violence and abruptness of the transitions. This in Pindar was quite natural and defensible. He had to write an immense number of poems on subjects extremely barren, and extremely monotonous. There could be little difference between one boxing-match and another. Accordingly, he made all possible haste to escape from the immediate subject, and to bring in, by hook or by crook, some local description; some old legend; something or other, in short, which might be more susceptible of poetical embellishment, and less utterly threadbare, than the circumstances of a race or a wrestling-match. This was not the practice of Pindar alone. There is an old story which proves that Simonides did the same, and that sometimes the hero of the day was nettled at finding how little was said about him in the Ode for which he was to pay. This abruptness of transition was, therefore, in the Greek lyric poets, a fault rendered inevitable by the peculiarly barren and uniform nature of the subjects which they had to treat. But, like many other faults of great masters, it appeared to their imitators a beauty; and a beauty almost essential to the grander Ode. Horace was perfectly at liberty to choose his own subjects, and to treat them after his own fashion. But he confounded what was merely accidental in Pindar's manner with what was essential; and because Pindar, when he had to celebrate a foolish lad from Aegina who had tripped up another's heels at the Isthmus, made all possible haste to get away from so paltry a topic to the ancient heroes of the race of Aeacus, Horace took it into his head that he ought always to begin as far from the subject as possible, and then arrive at it by some strange and sudden bound. This is my solution. At least I can find no better. The most obscure passage,—at least the strangest passage,—in all Horace may be explained by supposing that he was misled by Pindar's example: I mean that odd parenthesis in the "Qualem Ministrum:"

quibus Mos unde deductus per omne—.

This passage, taken by itself, always struck me as the harshest, queerest, and most preposterous digression in the world. But there are several things in Pindar very like it. [Orelli makes an observation, much to the same effect, in his note on this passage in his edition of 1850.]

You must excuse all this, for I labour at present under a suppression of Greek, and am likely to do so for at least three years to come. Malkin may be some relief; but I am quite unable to guess whether he means to come to Calcutta. I am in excellent bodily health, and I am recovering my mental health; but I have been sorely tried. Money matters look well. My new brother-in-law and I are brothers in more than law. I am more comfortable than I expected to be in this country; and, as to the climate, I think it, beyond all comparison, better than that of the House of Commons.

Yours affectionately


Writing three days after the date of the foregoing letter, Macaulay says to his old friend Mr. Sharp: "You see that my mind is not in great danger of rusting. The danger is that I may become a mere pedant. I feel a habit of quotation growing on me; but I resist that devil, for such it is, and it flees from me. It is all that I can do to keep Greek and Latin out of all my letters. Wise sayings of Euripides are even now at my fingers' ends. If I did not maintain a constant struggle against this propensity, my correspondence would resemble the notes to the 'Pursuits of Literature.' It is a dangerous thing for a man with a very strong memory to read very much. I could give you three or four quotations this moment in support of that proposition; but I will bring the vicious propensity under subjection, if I can." [Many years later Macaulay wrote to my mother: "Dr. — came, and I found him a very clever man; a little of a coxcomb, but, I dare say, not the worse physician for that. He must have quoted Horace and Virgil six times at least a propos of his medical inquiries. Horace says, in a poem in which he jeers the Stoics, that even a wise man is out of sort when 'pituita molesta est;' which is, being interpreted, 'when, his phlegm is troublesome.' The Doctor thought it necessary to quote this passage in order to prove that phlegm is troublesome;—a proposition, of the truth of which, I will venture to say, no man on earth is better convinced than myself."]

Calcutta, May 29, 1835.

Dear Ellis,—I am in great want of news. We know that the Tories dissolved at the end of December, and we also know that they were beaten towards the end of February. [In November 1834 the King called Sir Robert Peel to power; after having of his own accord dismissed the Whig Ministry. Parliament was dissolved, but the Tories did not succeed in obtaining a majority. After three months of constant and angry fighting, Peel was driven from office in April 1835.] As to what passed in the interval, we are quite in the dark. I will not plague you with comments on events which will have been driven out of your mind by other events before this reaches you, or with prophecies which may be falsified before you receive them. About the final issue I am certain. The language of the first great reformer is that which I should use in reply to the exultation of our Tories here, if there were any of them who could understand it

sebou, proseukhou thopte ton kratount aei emoi d'elasson Zeuos e meden melei. drato krateito tonde ton brakhun khronon opes thelei daron gar ouk arksei theois

["Worship thou, adore, and flatter the monarch of the hour. To me Jove is of less account than nothing. Let him have his will, and his sceptre, for this brief season; for he will not long be the ruler of the Gods." It is needless to say that poor William the Fourth was the Jove of the Whig Prometheus.]

As for myself, I rejoice that I am out of the present storm. "Suave mari magno;" or, as your new Premier, if he be still Premier, construes. "It is a source of melancholy satisfaction." I may, indeed, feel the effects of the changes here, but more on public than private grounds. A Tory Governor-General is not very likely to agree with me about the very important law reforms which I am about to bring before the Council. But he is not likely to treat me ill personally; or, if he does,

all ou ti khairon, en tod orthothe Belos,

["It shall be to his cost, so long as this bow carries true."]

as Philoctetes says. In a few months I shall have enough to enable me to live, after my very moderate fashion, in perfect independence at home; and whatever debts any Governor-General may choose to lay on me at Calcutta shall be paid off, he may rely on it, with compound interest, at Westminster.

My time is divided between public business and books. I mix with society as little as I can. My spirits have not yet recovered,—I sometimes think that they will never wholly recover,—the shock which they received five months ago. I find that nothing soothes them so much as the contemplation of those miracles of art which Athens has bequeathed to us. I am really becoming, I hope not a pedant, but certainly an enthusiast about classical literature. I have just finished a second reading of Sophocles. I am now deep in Plato, and intend to go right through all his works. His genius is above praise. Even where he is most absurd,—as, for example, in the Cratylus,—he shows an acuteness, and an expanse of intellect, which is quite a phenomenon by itself. The character of Socrates does not rise upon me. The more I read about him, the less I wonder that they poisoned him. If he had treated me as he is said to have treated Protagoras, Hippias, and Gorgias, I could never have forgiven him.

Nothing has struck me so much in Plato's dialogues as the raillery. At college, somehow or other, I did not understand or appreciate it. I cannot describe to you the way in which it now tickles me. I often sink forward on my huge old Marsilius Ficinus in a fit of laughter. I should say that there never was a vein of ridicule so rich, at the same time so delicate. It is superior to Voltaire's; nay, to Pascal's. Perhaps there are one or two passages in Cervantes, and one or two in Fielding, that might give a modern reader a notion of it.

I have very nearly finished Livy. I never read him through before. I admire him greatly, and would give a quarter's salary to recover the lost Decades. While I was reading the earlier books I went again through Niebuhr. And I am sorry to say that, having always been a little sceptical about his merits, I am now a confirmed unbeliever. I do not of course mean that he has no merit. He was a man of immense learning, and of great ingenuity. But his mind was utterly wanting in the faculty by which a demonstrated truth is distinguished from a plausible supposition. He is not content with suggesting that an event may have happened. He is certain that it happened, and calls on the reader to be certain too, (though not a trace of it exists in any record whatever,) because it would solve the phenomena so neatly. Just read over again, if you have forgotten it, the conjectural restoration of the Inscription in page 126 of the second volume; and then, on your honour as a scholar and a man of sense, tell me whether in Bentley's edition of Milton there is anything which approaches to the audacity of that emendation. Niebuhr requires you to believe that some of the greatest men in Rome were burned alive in the Circus; that this event was commemorated by an inscription on a monument, one half of which is sill in existence; but that no Roman historian knew anything about it; and that all tradition of the event was lost, though the memory of anterior events much less important has reached our time. When you ask for a reason, he tells you plainly that such a thing cannot be established by reason; that he is sure of it; and that you must take his word. This sort of intellectual despotism always moves me to mutiny, and generates a disposition to pull down the reputation of the dogmatist. Niebuhr's learning was immeasurably superior to mine; but I think myself quite as good a judge of evidence as he was. I might easily believe him if he told me that there were proofs which I had never seen; but, when he produces all his proofs, I conceive that I am perfectly competent to pronounce on their value.

As I turned over his leaves just now, I lighted on another instance of what I cannot but call ridiculous presumption. He says that Martial committed a blunder in making the penultimate of Porsena short. Strange that so great a scholar should not know that Horace had done so too!

Minacis aut Etrusca Porsenae manus.

There is something extremely nauseous to me in a German Professor telling the world, on his own authority, and without giving the smallest reason, that two of the best Latin poets were ignorant of the quantity of a word which they must have used in their exercises at school a hundred times.

As to the general capacity of Niebuhr for political speculations, let him be judged by the Preface to the Second Volume. He there says, referring to the French Revolution of July 1830, that "unless God send us some miraculous help, we have to look forward to a period of destruction similar to that which the Roman world experienced about the middle of the third century." Now, when I see a man scribble such abject nonsense about events which are passing under our eyes, what confidence can I put in his judgment as to the connection of causes and effects in times very imperfectly known to us.

But I must bring my letter, or review, to a close. Remember me most kindly to your wife. Tell Frank that I mean to be a better scholar than he when I come back, and that he must work hard if he means to overtake me.

Ever, dear Ellis,

Your affectionate friend


Calcutta: August 25, 1835.

Dear Ellis,—Cameron arrived here about a fortnight ago, and we are most actively engaged in preparing a complete Criminal Code for India. He and I agree excellently. Ryan, the most liberal of Judges, lends us his best assistance. I heartily hope, and fully believe, that we shall put the whole Penal law, and the whole law of Criminal Procedure, into a moderately sized volume. I begin to take a very warm interest in this work. It is, indeed, one of the finest employments of the intellect that it is easy to conceive. I ought, however, to tell you that, the more progress I make as a legislator, the more intense my contempt for the mere technical study of law becomes.

I am deep in the examination of the political theories of the old philosophers. I have read Plato's Republic, and his laws; and I am now reading Aristotle's Politics; after which I shall go through Plato's two treatises again. I every now and then read one of Plutarch's Lives on an idle afternoon; and in this way I have got through a dozen of them. I like him prodigiously. He is inaccurate, to be sure, and a romancer; but he tells a story delightfully, and his illustrations and sketches of character are as good as anything in ancient eloquence. I have never, till now, rated him fairly.

As to Latin, I am just finishing Lucan, who remains pretty much where he was in my opinion; and I am busily engaged with Cicero, whose character, moral and intellectual, interests me prodigiously. I think that I see the whole man through and through. But this is too vast a subject for a letter. I have gone through all Ovid's poems. I admire him; but I was tired to death before I got to the end. I amused myself one evening with turning over the Metamorphoses, to see if I could find any passage of ten lines which could, by possibility, have been written by Virgil. Whether I was in ill luck or no I cannot tell; but I hunted for half an hour without the smallest success. At last I chanced to light on a little passage more Virgilian, to my thinking, than Virgil himself. Tell me what you say to my criticism. It is part of Apollo's speech to the laurel

Semper habebunt Te coma, te citharae, te nostrae, laure, pharetrae Tu ducibus Latiis aderis, cum laeta triumphum Vox canet, et longas visent Capitolia pompas. Portibus Augustis cadem fidissima custos Ante fores stabis, mediamque tuebere quercum.

As to other Latin writers, Sallust has gone sadly down in my opinion. Caesar has risen wonderfully. I think him fully entitled to Cicero's praise. [In the dialogue "De Claris Oratoribus" Cicero makes Atticus say that 'A consummate judge of style (who is evidently intended for Cicero himself,) pronounces Caesar's Latin to be the most elegant, with one implied exception, that had ever been heard in the Senate or the Forum'. Atticus then goes on to detail at full length a compliment which Caesar had paid to Cicero's powers of expression; and Brutus declares with enthusiasm that such praise, coming from such a quarter, is worth more than a Triumph, as Triumphs were then given; and inferior in value only to the honours which were voted to the statesman who had baffled Catiline. The whole passage is a model of self-glorification, exquisite in skill and finish.] He has won the honour of an excellent historian while attempting merely to give hints for history. But what are they all to the great Athenian? I do assure you that there is no prose composition in the world, not even the De Corona, which I place so high as the seventh book of Thucydides. It is the ne plus ultra of human art. I was delighted to find in Gray's letters the other day this query to Wharton: "The retreat from Syracuse—Is it or is it not the finest thing you ever read in your life?"

Did you ever read Athenaeus through? I never did; but I am meditating an attack on him. The multitude of quotations looks very tempting; and I never open him for a minute without being paid for my trouble.

Yours very affectionately


Calcutta: December 30, 1835,

Dear Ellis,—What the end of the Municipal Reform Bill is to be I cannot conjecture. Our latest English intelligence is of the 15th of August. The Lords were then busy in rendering the only great service that I expect them ever to render to the nation; that is to say, in hastening the day of reckoning. [In the middle of August the Irish Tithe Bill went up to the House of Lords, where it was destined to undergo a mutilation which was fatal to its existence.] But I will not fill my paper with English politics.

I am in excellent health. So are my sister and brother-in-law, and their little girl, whom I am always nursing; and of whom I am becoming fonder than a wise man, with half my experience, would choose to be of anything except himself. I have but very lately begun to recover my spirits. The tremendous blow which fell on me at the beginning of this year has left marks behind it which I shall carry to my grave. Literature has saved my life and my reason. Even now, I dare not, in the intervals of business, remain alone for a minute without a book in my hand. What my course of life will be, when I return to England, is very doubtful. But I am more than half determined to abandon politics, and to give myself wholly to letters; to undertake some great historical work, which may be at once the business and the amusement of my life; and to leave the pleasures of pestiferous rooms, sleepless nights, aching heads, and diseased stomachs to Roebuck and to Praed.

In England I might probably be of a very different opinion. But, in the quiet of my own little grass-plot,—when the moon, at its rising, finds me with the Philoctetes or the De Finibus in my hand,—I often wonder what strange infatuation leads men who can do something better to squander their intellect, their health, their energy, on such subjects as those which most statesmen are engaged in pursuing. I comprehend perfectly how a man who can debate, but who would make a very indifferent figure as a contributor to an annual or a magazine,—such a man as Stanley, for example,—should take the only line by which he can attain distinction. But that a man before whom the two paths of literature and politics lie open, and who might hope for eminence in either, should choose politics, and quit literature, seems to me madness. On the one side is health, leisure, peace of mind, the search after truth, and all the enjoyments of friendship and conversation. On the other side is almost certain ruin to the constitution, constant labour, constant anxiety. Every friendship which a man may have, becomes precarious as soon as he engages in politics. As to abuse, men soon become callous to it, but the discipline which makes them callous is very severe. And for what is it that a man who might, if he chose, rise and lie down at his own hour, engage in any study, enjoy any amusement, and visit any place, consents to make himself as much a prisoner as if he were within the rules of the Fleet; to be tethered during eleven months of the year within the circle of half a mile round Charing Cross; to sit, or stand, night after night for ten or twelve hours, inhaling a noisome atmosphere, and listening to harangues of which nine-tenths are far below the level of a leading article in a newspaper? For what is it that he submits, day after day, to see the morning break over the Thames, and then totters home, with bursting temples, to his bed? Is it for fame? Who would compare the fame of Charles Townshend to that of Hume, that of Lord North to that of Gibbon, that of Lord Chatham to that of Johnson? Who can look back on the life of Burke and not regret that the years which he passed in ruining his health and temper by political exertions were not passed in the composition of some great and durable work? Who can read the letters to Atticus, and not feel that Cicero would have been an infinitely happier and better man, and a not less celebrated man, if he had left us fewer speeches, and more Academic Questions and Tusculan Disputations; if he had passed the time which he spent in brawling with Vatinius and Clodius in producing a history of Rome superior even to that of Livy? But these, as I said, are meditations in a quiet garden, situated far beyond the contagious influence of English action. What I might feel if I again saw Downing Street and Palace Yard is another question. I tell you sincerely my present feelings.

I have cast up my reading account, and brought it to the end of the year 1835. It includes December 1834; for I came into my house and unpacked my books at the end of November 1834. During the last thirteen months I have read Aeschylus twice; Sophocles twice; Euripides once; Pindar twice; Callimachus; Apollonius Rhodius; Quintus Calaber; Theocritus twice; Herodotus; Thucydides; almost all Xenophon's works; almost all Plato; Aristotle's Politics, and a good deal of his Organon, besides dipping elsewhere in him; the whole of Plutarch's Lives; about half of Lucian; two or three books of Athenaeus; Plautus twice; Terence twice; Lucretius twice; Catullus; Tibullus; Propertius; Lucan; Statius; Silius Italicus; Livy; Velleius Paterculus; Sallust; Caesar; and, lastly, Cicero. I have, indeed, still a little of Cicero left; but I shall finish him in a few days. I am now deep in Aristophanes and Lucian. Of Aristophanes I think as I always thought; but Lucian has agreeably surprised me. At school I read some of his Dialogues of the Dead when I was thirteen; and, to my shame, I never, to the best of my belief, read a line of him since. I am charmed with him. His style seems to me to be superior to that of any extant writer who lived later than the age of Demosthenes and Theophrastus. He has a most peculiar and delicious vein of humour. It is not the humour of Aristophanes; it is not that of Plato; and yet it is akin to both; not quite equal, I admit, to either, but still exceedingly charming. I hardly know where to find an instance of a writer, in the decline of a literature, who has shown an invention so rich, and a taste so pure. But, if I get on these matters, I shall fill sheet after sheet. They must wait till we take another long walk, or another tavern dinner, together; that is, till the summer of 1838.

I had a long story to tell you about a classical examination here; but I have not time. I can only say that some of the competitors tried to read the Greek with the papers upside down; and that the great man of the examination, the Thirlwall of Calcutta, a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, translated the words of Theophrastus, osas leitourgias leleitroupgeke "how many times he has performed divine service." ["How many public services he had discharged at his own expense." Macaulay used to say that a lady who dips into Mr. Grote's history, and learns that Alcibiades won the heart of his fellow-citizens by the novelty of his theories and the splendour of his liturgies, may get a very false notion of that statesman's relations with the Athenian public.]

Ever yours affectionately


That the enormous list of classical works recorded in the foregoing letter was not only read through, but read with care, is proved by the pencil marks, single, double, and treble, which meander down the margin of such passages as excited the admiration of the student; and by the remarks, literary, historical, and grammatical, with which the critic has interspersed every volume, and sometimes every page. In the case of a favourite writer, Macaulay frequently corrects the errors of the press, and even the punctuation, as minutely as if he were preparing the book for another edition. He read Plautus, Terence, and Aristophanes four times through at Calcutta; and Euripides thrice. [See the Appendix at the end.] In his copy of Quintus Calaber, (a versifier who is less unknown by the title of Quintus Smyrnaeus,) appear the entries,

"September 22, 1833." "Turned over, July 13, 1837."

It may be doubted whether the Pandects would have attained the celebrity which they enjoy, if, in the course of the three years during which Justinian's Law Commission was at work, the president Tribonian had read Quintus Smyrnaeus twice.

Calcutta; May 30, 1836.

Dear Ellis,—I have just received your letter dated December, 28; How time flies! Another hot season has almost passed away, and we are daily expecting the beginning of the rains. Cold season, hot season, and rainy season are all much the same to me. I shall have been two years on Indian ground in less than a fortnight, and I have not taken ten grains of solid, or a pint of liquid, medicine during the whole of that time. If I judged only from my own sensations, I should say that this climate is absurdly maligned; but the yellow, spectral, figures which surround me serve to correct the conclusions which I should be inclined to draw from the state of my own health.

One execrable effect the climate produces. It destroys all the works of man with scarcely one exception. Steel rusts; razors lose their edge; thread decays; clothes fall to pieces; books moulder away, and drop out of their bindings; plaster cracks; timber rots; matting is in shreds. The sun, the steam of this vast alluvial tract, and the infinite armies of white ants, make such havoc with buildings that a house requires a complete repair every three years. Ours was in this situation about three months ago; and, if we had determined to brave the rains without any precautions, we should, in all probability, have had the roof down on our heads. Accordingly we were forced to migrate for six weeks from our stately apartments and our flower-beds, to a dungeon where we were stifled with the stench of native cookery, and deafened by the noise of native music. At last we have returned to our house. We found it all snow-white and pea-green; and we rejoice to think that we shall not again be under the necessity of quitting it, till we quit it for a ship bound on a voyage to London.

We have been for some months in the middle of what the people here think a political storm. To a person accustomed to the hurricanes of English faction this sort of tempest in a horsepond is merely ridiculous. We have put the English settlers up the country under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Company's Courts in civil actions in which they are concerned with natives. The English settlers are perfectly contented; but the lawyers of the Supreme Court have set up a yelp which they think terrible, and which has infinitely diverted me. They have selected me as the object of their invectives, and I am generally the theme of five or six columns of prose and verse daily. I have not patience to read a tenth part of what they put forth. The last ode in my praise which I perused began,

"Soon we hope they will recall ye, Tom Macaulay, Tom Macaulay."

The last prose which I read was a parallel between me and Lord Strafford.

My mornings, from five to nine, are quite my own. I still give them to ancient literature. I have read Aristophanes twice through since Christmas; and have also read Herodotus, and Thucydides again. I got into a way last year of reading a Greek play every Sunday. I began on Sunday the 18th of October with the Prometheus, and next Sunday I shall finish with the Cyclops of Euripides. Euripides has made a complete conquest of me. It has been unfortunate for him that we have so many of his pieces. It has, on the other hand, I suspect, been fortunate for Sophocles that so few of his have come down to us. Almost every play of Sophocles, which is now extant, was one of his masterpieces. There is hardly one of them which is not mentioned with high praise by some ancient writer. Yet one of them, the Trachiniae, is, to my thinking, very poor and insipid. Now, if we had nineteen plays of Sophocles, of which twelve or thirteen should be no better than the Trachiniae,—and if, on the other hand, only seven pieces of Euripides had come down to us, and if those seven had been the Medea, the Bacchae, the Iphigenia in Aulis, the Orestes, the Phoenissae, the Hippolytus, and the Alcestis, I am not sure that the relative position which the two poets now hold in our estimation would not be greatly altered.

I have not done much in Latin. I have been employed in turning over several third-rate and fourth-rate writers. After finishing Cicero, I read through the works of both the Senecas, father and son. There is a great deal in the Controversiae both of curious information, and of judicious criticism. As to the son, I cannot bear him. His style affects me in something the same way with that of Gibbon. But Lucius Seneca's affectation is even more rank than Gibbon's. His works are made up of mottoes. There is hardly a sentence which might not be quoted; but to read him straightforward is like dining on nothing but anchovy sauce. I have read, as one does read such stuff, Valerius Maximus, Annaeus Florus, Lucius Ampelius, and Aurelius Victor. I have also gone through Phaedrus. I am now better employed. I am deep in the Annals of Tacitus, and I am at the same time reading Suetonius.

You are so rich in domestic comforts that I am inclined to envy you. I am not, however, without my share. I am as fond of my little niece as her father. I pass an hour or more every day in nursing her, and teaching her to talk. She has got as far as Ba, Pa, and Ma; which, as she is not eight months old, we consider as proofs of a genius little inferior to that of Shakespeare or Sir Isaac Newton.

The municipal elections have put me in good spirits as to English politics. I was rather inclined to despondency.

Ever yours affectionately


Calcutta: July 25, 1836.

My dear Ellis,—I have heard from you again, and glad I always am to hear from you. There are few things to which I look forward with more pleasure than to our meeting. It is really worth while to go into banishment for a few years for the pleasure of going home again. Yet that home will in some things be a different home—oh how different a home!—from that to which I expected to return. But I will not stir up the bitterness of sorrow which has at last subsided.

You take interest, I see, in my Greek and Latin studies. I continue to pursue them steadily and actively. I am now reading Demosthenes with interest and admiration indescribable. I am slowly, at odd minutes, getting through the stupid trash of Diodorus. I have read through Seneca, and an affected empty scribbler he is. I have read Tacitus again, and, by the bye, I will tell you a curious circumstance relating to that matter. In my younger days I always thought the Annals a prodigiously superior work to the History. I was surprised to find that the Annals seemed cold and poor to me on the last reading. I began to think that I had overrated Tacitus. But, when I began the History, I was enchanted, and thought more highly of him than ever. I went back to the Annals, and liked them even better than the History. All at once the explanation of this occurred to me. While I was reading the Annals I was reading Thucydides. When I began the History, I began the Hellenics. What made the Annals appear cold and poor to me was the intense interest which Thucydides inspired. Indeed, what colouring is there which would not look tame when placed side by side with the magnificent light, and the terrible shade, of Thucydides? Tacitus was a great man, but he was not up to the Sicilian expedition. When I finished Thucydides, and took up Xenophon, the case was reversed. Tacitus had been a foil to Thucydides. Xenophon was a foil to Tacitus.

I have read Pliny the Younger. Some of the Epistles are interesting. Nothing more stupid than the Panegyric was ever preached in the University church. I am reading the Augustan History, and Aulus Gellius. Aulus is a favourite of mine. I think him one of the best writers of his class.

I read in the evenings a great deal of English, French, and Italian; and a little Spanish. I have picked up Portuguese enough to read Camoens with care; and I want no more. I have adopted an opinion about the Italian historians quite different from that which I formerly held, and which, I believe, is generally considered as orthodox. I place Fra Paolo decidedly at the head of them, and next to him Davila, whom I take to be the best modern military historian except Colonel Napier. Davila's battle of Ivry is worthy of Thucydides himself. Next to Davila I put Guicciardini, and last of all Machiavelli. But I do not think that you ever read much Italian.

The English poetry of the day has very few attractions for me. Van Artevelde is far the best specimen that I have lately seen. I do not much like Talfourd's Ion; but I mean to read it again. It contains pretty lines; but, to my thinking, it is neither fish nor flesh. There is too much, and too little, of the antique about it. Nothing but the most strictly classical costume can reconcile me to a mythological plot; and Ion is a modern philanthropist, whose politics and morals have been learned from the publications of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge.

I do not know whether the noise which the lawyers of the Supreme Court have been raising against our legislative authority has reached, or will reach, England. They held a public meeting, which ended,—or rather began, continued, and ended,—in a riot; and ever since then the leading agitators have been challenging each other, refusing each other's challenges, libelling each other, swearing the peace against each other, and blackballing each other. Mr. Longueville Clarke, who aspires to be the O'Connell of Calcutta, called another lawyer a liar. The last-mentioned lawyer challenged Mr. Longueville Clarke. Mr. Longueville Clarke refused to fight, on the ground that his opponent had been guilty of hugging attorneys. The Bengal Club accordingly blackballed Longueville. This, and some other similar occurrences, have made the opposition here thoroughly ridiculous and contemptible. They will probably send a petition home; but, unless the House of Commons has undergone a great change since 1833, they have no chance there.

I have almost brought my letter to a close without mentioning the most important matter about which I had to write. I dare say you have heard that my uncle General Macaulay, who died last February, has left me L10,000 This legacy, together with what I shall have saved by the end of 1837, will make me quite a rich man; richer than I even wish to be as a single man; and every day renders it more unlikely that I should marry.

We have had a very unhealthy season; but sickness has not come near our house. My sister, my brother-in-law, and their little child, are as well as possible. As to me, I think that, as Buonaparte said of himself after the Russian campaign, J'ai le diable au corps.

Ever yours affectionately


To Macvey Napier, Esq.

Calcutta: November 26, 1836.

Dear Napier,—At last I send you an article of interminable length about Lord Bacon. I hardly know whether it is not too long for an article in a Review; but the subject is of such vast extent that I could easily have made the paper twice as long as it is.

About the historical and political part there is no great probability that we shall differ in opinion; but what I have said about Bacon's philosophy is widely at variance with what Dugald Stuart, and Mackintosh, have said on the same subject. I have not your essay; nor have I read it since I read it at Cambridge, with very great pleasure, but without any knowledge of the subject. I have at present only a very faint and general recollection of its contents, and have in vain tried to procure a copy of it here. I fear, however, that, differing widely as I do from Stewart and Mackintosh, I shall hardly agree with you. My opinion is formed, not at second hand, like those of nine-tenths of the people who talk about Bacon; but after several very attentive perusals of his greatest works, and after a good deal of thought. If I am in the wrong, my errors may set the minds of others at work, and may be the means of bringing both them, and me, to a knowledge of the truth. I never bestowed so much care on anything that I have written. There is not a sentence in the latter half of the article which has not been repeatedly recast. I have no expectation that the popularity of the article will bear any proportion to the trouble which I have expended on it. But the trouble has been so great a pleasure to me that I have already been greatly overpaid. Pray look carefully to the printing.

In little more than a year I shall be embarking for England, and I have determined to employ the four months of my voyage in mastering the German language. I should be much obliged to you to send me out, as early as you can, so that they may be certain to arrive in time, the best grammar, and the best dictionary, that can be procured; a German Bible; Schiller's works; Goethe's works; and Niebuhr's History, both in the original, and in the translation. My way of learning a language is always to begin with the Bible, which I can read without a dictionary. After a few days passed in this way, I am master of all the common particles, the common rules of syntax, and a pretty large vocabulary. Then I fall on some good classical work. It was in this way that I learned both Spanish and Portuguese, and I shall try the same course with German.

I have little or nothing to tell you about myself. My life has flowed away here with strange rapidity. It seems but yesterday that I left my country; and I am writing to beg you to hasten preparations for my return. I continue to enjoy perfect health, and the little political squalls which I have had to weather here are mere capfuls of wind to a man who has gone through the great hurricanes of English faction.

I shall send another copy of the article on Bacon by another ship.

Yours very truly


Calcutta: November 28, 1836.

Dear Napier,—There is an oversight in the article on Bacon which I shall be much obliged to you to correct. I have said that Bacon did not deal at all in idle rants "like those in which Cicero and Mr. Shandy sought consolation for the loss of Tullia and of Bobby." Nothing can, as a general remark, be more true, but it escaped my recollection that two or three of Mr. Shandy's consolatory sentences are quoted from Bacon's Essays. The illustration, therefore, is singularly unfortunate. Pray alter it thus; "in which Cicero vainly sought consolation for the loss of Tullia." To be sure, it is idle to correct such trifles at a distance of fifteen thousand miles.

Yours ever


From Lord Jeffrey to Macvey Napier, Esq.

May 2, 1837.

My dear N.,—What mortal could ever dream of cutting out the least particle of this precious work, to make it fit better into your Review? It would be worse than paring down the Pitt Diamond to fit the old setting of a Dowager's ring. Since Bacon himself, I do not know that there has been anything so fine. The first five or six pages are in a lower tone, but still magnificent, and not to be deprived of a word.

Still, I do not object to consider whether it might not be best to serve up the rich repast in two courses; and on the whole I incline to that partition. 120 pages might cloy even epicures, and would be sure to surfeit the vulgar; and the biography and philosophy are so entirely distinct, and of not very unequal length, that the division would not look like a fracture.


In the end, the article appeared entire; occupying 104 pages of the Review; and accompanied by an apology for its length in the shape of one of those editorial appeals to "the intelligent scholar," and "the best class of our readers," which never fail of success.

The letters addressed to Zachary Macaulay are half filled with anecdotes of the nursery; pretty enough, but such as only a grandfather could be expected to read. In other respects, the correspondence is chiefly remarkable for the affectionate ingenuity with which the son selects such topics as would interest the father.

Calcutta: October 12 1836.

My dear Father, We were extremely gratified by receiving, a few days ago, a letter from you which, on the whole, gave a good account of your health and spirits. The day after tomorrow is the first anniversary of your little grand-daughter's birthday. The occasion is to be celebrated with a sort of droll puppet-show, much in fashion among the natives; an exhibition much in the style of Punch in England, but more dramatic and more showy. All the little boys and girls from the houses of our friends are invited, and the party will, I have no doubt, be a great deal more amusing than the stupid dinners and routs with which the grown-up people here kill the time.

In a few months,—I hope, indeed, in a few weeks,—we shall send up the Penal Code to Government. We have got rid of the punishment of death, except in the case of aggravated treason and wilful murder. We shall also get rid indirectly of everything that can properly be called slavery in India. There will remain civil claims on particular people for particular services, which claims may be enforced by civil action; but no person will be entitled, on the plea of being the master of another, to do anything to that other which it would be an offence to do to a free-man.

Our English schools are flourishing wonderfully. We find it difficult,—indeed, in some places impossible,—to provide instruction for all who want it. At the single town of Hoogly fourteen hundred boys are learning English. The effect of this education on the Hindoos is prodigious. No Hindoo, who has received an English education, ever remains sincerely attached to his religion. Some continue to profess it as matter of policy; but many profess themselves pure Deists, and some embrace Christianity. It is my firm belief that, if our plans of education are followed up, there will not be a single idolater among the respectable classes in Bengal thirty years hence. And this will be effected without any efforts to proselytise; without the smallest interference with religious liberty; merely by the natural operation of knowledge and reflection. I heartily rejoice in the prospect.

I have been a sincere mourner for Mill. He and I were on the best terms, and his services at the India House were never so much needed as at this time. I had a most kind letter from him a few weeks before I heard of his death. He has a son just come out, to whom I have shown such little attentions as are in my power.

Within half a year after the time when you read this we shall be making arrangements for our return. The feelings with which I look forward to that return I cannot express. Perhaps I should be wise to continue here longer, in order to enjoy during a greater number of months the delusion,—for I know that it will prove a delusion,—of this delightful hope. I feel as if I never could be unhappy in my own country; as if to exist on English ground and among English people, seeing the old familiar sights and hearing the sound of my mother tongue, would be enough for me. This cannot be; yet some days of intense happiness I shall surely have; and one of those will be the day when I again see my dear father and sisters.

Ever yours most affectionately T. B. MACAULAY.

Calcutta: November 30, 1836.

Dear Ellis,—How the months run away! Here is another cold season; morning fogs, cloth coats, green peas, new potatoes, and all the accompaniments of a Bengal winter. As to my private life, it has glided on, since I wrote to you last, in the most peaceful monotony. If it were not for the books which I read, and for the bodily and mental growth of my dear little niece, I should have no mark to distinguish one part of the year from another. Greek and Latin, breakfast; business, an evening walk with a book, a drive after sunset, dinner, coffee, my bed,—there you have the history of a day. My classical studies go on vigorously. I have read Demosthenes twice,—I need not say with what delight and admiration. I am now deep in Isocrates and from him I shall pass to Lysias. I have finished Diodorus Siculus at last, after dawdling over him at odd times ever since last March. He is a stupid, credulous, prosing old ass; yet I heartily wish that we had a good deal more of him. I have read Arrian's expedition of Alexander, together with Quintus Curtius. I have at stray hours read Longus's Romance and Xenophon's Ephesiaca; and I mean to go through Heliodorus, and Achilles Tatius, in the same way. Longus is prodigiously absurd; but there is often an exquisite prettiness in the style. Xenophon's Novel is the basest thing to be found in Greek. [Xenophon the Ephesian lived in the third or fourth century of the Christian era. At the end of his work Macaulay has written: "A most stupid worthless performance, below the lowest trash of an English circulating library." Achilles Tatius he disposes of with the words "Detestable trash;" and the Aethiopics of Heliodorus, which he appears to have finished on Easter-day, 1837, he pronounces "The best of the Greek Romances, which is not saying much for it."] It was discovered at Florence, little more than a hundred years ago, by an English envoy. Nothing so detestable ever came from the Minerva Press. I have read Theocritus again, and like him better than ever.

As to Latin, I made a heroic attempt on Pliny's Natural History; but I stuck after getting through about a quarter of it. I have read Ammianus Marcellinus, the worst written book in ancient Latin. The style would disgrace a monk of the tenth century; but Marcellinus has many of the substantial qualities of a good historian. I have gone through the Augustan history, and much other trash relating to the lower empire; curious as illustrating the state of society, but utterly worthless as composition. I have read Statius again and thought him as bad as ever. I really found only two lines worthy of a great poet in all the Thebais. They are these. What do you think of my taste?

"Clamorem, bello qualis supremus apertis Urbibus, aut pelago jam descendente carina."

I am now busy with Quintilian and Lucan, both excellent writers. The dream of Pompey in the seventh book of the Pharsalia is a very noble piece of writing. I hardly know an instance in poetry of so great an effect produced by means so simple. There is something irresistibly pathetic in the lines

"Qualis erat populi facies, clamorque faventum Olim cum juvenis—"

and something unspeakably solemn in the sudden turn which follows

"Crastina dira quies—"

There are two passages in Lucan which surpass in eloquence anything that I know in the Latin language. One is the enumeration of Pompey's exploits

"Quod si tam sacro dignaris nomine saxum—"

The other is the character which Cato gives of Pompey,

"Civis obit, inquit—"

a pure gem of rhetoric, without one flaw, and, in my opinion, not very far from historical truth. When I consider that Lucan died at twenty-six, I cannot help ranking him among the most extraordinary men that ever lived.

[The following remarks occur at the end of Macaulay's copy of the Pharsalia

August 30, 1835.

"When Lucan's age is considered, it is impossible not to allow that the poem is a very extraordinary one; more extraordinary, perhaps, than if it had been of a higher kind; for it is more common for the imagination to be in full vigour at an early time of life than for a young man to obtain a complete mastery of political and philosophical rhetoric. I know no declamation in the world, not even Cicero's best, which equals some passages in the Pharsalia. As to what were meant for bold poetical flights,—the sea-fight at Marseilles, the Centurion who is covered with wounds, the snakes in the Libyan desert, it is all as detestable as Cibber's Birthday Odes. The furious partiality of Lucan takes away much of the pleasure which his talents would otherwise afford. A poet who is, as has often been said, less a poet than a historian, should to a certain degree conform to the laws of history. The manner in which he represents the two parties is not to be reconciled with the laws even of fiction. The senators are demigods; Pompey, a pure lover of his country; Cato, the abstract idea of virtue; while Caesar, the finest gentleman, the most humane conqueror, and the most popular politician that Rome ever produced, is a bloodthirsty ogre. If Lucan had lived, he would probably have improved greatly." "Again, December 9, 1836,"]

I am glad that you have so much business, and sorry that you have so little leisure. In a few years you will be a Baron of the Exchequer; and then we shall have ample time to talk over our favourite classics. Then I will show you a most superb emendation of Bentley's in Ampelius, and I will give you unanswerable reasons for pronouncing that Gibbon was mistaken in supposing that Quintus Curtius wrote under Gordian.

Remember me most kindly to Mrs. Ellis. I hope that I shall find Frank writing as good Alcaics as his father.

Ever yours affectionately


Calcutta: March 8, 1837.

Dear Ellis,—I am at present very much worked, and have been so for a long time past. Cameron, after being laid up for some months, sailed at Christmas for the Cape, where I hope his health will be repaired; for this country can very ill spare him. However, we have almost brought our great work to a conclusion. In about a month we shall lay before the Government a complete penal Code for a hundred millions of people, with a commentary explaining and defending the provisions of the text. Whether it is well, or ill, done heaven knows. I only know that it seems to me to be very ill done when I look at it by itself; and well done when I compare it with Livingstone's Code, with the French Code, or with the English statutes which have been passed for the purpose of consolidating and amending the Criminal Law. In health I am as well as ever I was in my life. Time glides fast. One day is so like another that, but for a habit which I acquired soon after I reached India of pencilling in my books the date of my reading them, I should have hardly any way of estimating the lapse of time. If I want to know when an event took place, I call to mind which of Calderon's plays, or of Plutarch's Lives, I was reading on that day. I turn to the book; find the date; and am generally astonished to see that, what seems removed from me by only two or three months, really happened nearly a year ago.

I intend to learn German on my voyage home, and I have indented largely, (to use our Indian official term), for the requisite books. People tell me that it is a hard language; but I cannot easily believe that there is a language which I cannot master in four months, by working ten hours a day. I promise myself very great delight and information from German literature; and, over and above, I feel a soft of presentiment, a kind of admonition of the Deity, which assures me that the final cause of my existence,—the end for which I was sent into this vale of tears,—was to make game of certain Germans. The first thing to be done in obedience to this heavenly call is to learn German; and then I may perhaps try, as Milton says,

"Frangere Saxonicas Britonum sub Marte phalanges."

Ever yours affectionately


The years which Macaulay spent in India formed a transition period between the time when he kept no journal at all, and the time when the daily portion of his journal was completed as regularly as the daily portion of his History. Between 1834 and 1838, he contented himself with jotting down any circumstance that struck his fancy in the book which he happened to have in hand. The records of his Calcutta life, written in half a dozen different languages, are scattered throughout the whole range of classical literature from Hesiod to Macrobius. At the end of the eighty-ninth Epistle of Seneca we read: "April 11, 1836. Hodie praemia distribui tois en to mouseio Sanskritiko neaniskois. [To-day I distributed the prizes to the students of the Sanscrit College."]

On the last page of the Birds of Aristophanes: "Jan. 16, 1836. Oi presbeis of papa ton Basileos ton Nepauliton eisegonto khthes es Kalkouttan." ["The ambassadors from the King of Nepaul entered Calcutta yesterday." It may be observed that Macaulay wrote Greek with or without accents, according to the humour, or hurry, of the moment.]

On the first page of Theocrats: "March 20, 1835. Lord W. Bentinck sailed this morning."

On the last page of the "De Amicitia:" "March 5, 1836. Yesterday Lord Auckland arrived at Government House, and was sworn in."

Beneath an idyl of Moschus, of all places in the world, Macaulay notes the fact of Peel being First Lord of the Treasury; and he finds space, between two quotations in Athenaeus, to commemorate a Ministerial majority of 29 on the Second Reading of the Irish Church Bill.

A somewhat nearer approach to a formal diary may be found in his Catullus, which contains a catalogue of the English books that he read in the cold season of 1835-36; as for instance

Gibbon's Answer to Davis. November 6 and 7 Gibbon on Virgil's VI Aeneid November 7 Whately's Logic November 15 Thirlwall's Greece November 22 Edinburgh Review November 29

And all this was in addition to his Greek and Latin studies, to his official work, to the French that he read with his sister, and the unrecorded novels that he read to himself; which last would alone have afforded occupation for two ordinary men, unless this month of November was different from every other month of his existence since the day that he left Mr. Preston's schoolroom. There is something refreshing, amidst the long list of graver treatises, to light upon a periodical entry of "Pikwikina"; the immortal work of a Classic who has had more readers in a single year than Statius and Seneca in all their eighteen centuries together. Macaulay turned over with indifference, and something of distaste, the earlier chapters of that modern Odyssey. The first touch which came home to him was Jingle's "Handsome Englishman?" In that phrase he recognised a master; and, by the time that he landed in England, he knew his Pickwick almost as intimately as his Grandison.

Calcutta: June 15, 1837

Dear Napier,—Your letter about my review of Mackintosh miscarried, vexatiously enough. I should have been glad to know what was thought of my performance among friends and foes; for here we have no information on such subjects. The literary correspondents of the Calcutta newspapers seem to be penny-a-line risen, whose whole stock of literature comes from the conversations in the Green Room.

My long article on Bacon has, no doubt, been in your hands some time. I never, to the best of my recollection, proposed to review Hannah More's Life or Works. If I did, it must have been in jest. She was exactly the very last person in the world about whom I should choose to write a critique. She was a very kind friend to me from childhood. Her notice first called out my literary tastes. Her presents laid the foundation of my library. She was to me what Ninon was to Voltaire,—begging her pardon for comparing her to a bad woman, and yours for comparing myself to a great man. She really was a second mother to me. I have a real affection for her memory. I therefore could not possibly write about her unless I wrote in her praise; and all the praise which I could give to her writings, even after straining my conscience in her favour, would be far indeed from satisfying any of her admirers.

I will try my hand on Temple, and on Lord Clive. Shaftesbury I shall let alone. Indeed, his political life is so much connected with Temple's that, without endless repetition, it would be impossible for me to furnish a separate article on each. Temple's Life and Works, the part which he took in the controversy about the ancients and moderns; the Oxford confederacy against Bentley; and the memorable victory which Bentley obtained, will be good subjects. I am in training for this part of the subject, as I have twice read through the Phalaris controversy since I arrived in India.

I have been almost incessantly engaged in public business since I sent off the paper on Bacon; but I expect to have comparative leisure during the short remainder of my stay here. The Penal Code of India is finished, and is in the press. The illness of two of my colleagues threw the work almost entirely on me. It is done, however; and I am not likely to be called upon for vigorous exertion during the rest of my Indian career.

Yours ever


If you should have assigned Temple, or Clive, to anybody else, pray do not be uneasy on that account. The pleasure of writing pays itself.

Calcutta: December 18, 1837.

Dear Ellis,—My last letter was on a deeply melancholy subject, the death of our poor friend Malkin. I have felt very much for his widow. The intensity of her affliction, and the fortitude and good feeling which she showed as soon as the first agony was over, have interested me greatly in her. Six or seven of Malkin's most intimate friends here have joined with Ryan and me, in subscribing to put up a plain marble tablet in the cathedral, for which I have written an inscription. [This inscription appears in Lord Macaulay's Miscellaneous Works.]

My departure is now near at hand. This is the last letter which I shall write to you from India. Our passage is taken in the Lord Hungerford; the most celebrated of the huge floating hotels which run between London and Calcutta. She is more renowned for the comfort and luxury of her internal arrangements than for her speed. As we are to stop at the Cape for a short time, I hardly expect to be with you till the end of May, or the beginning of June. I intend to make myself a good German scholar by the time of my arrival in England. I have already, at leisure moments broken the ice. I have read about half of the New Testament in Luther's translation, and am now getting rapidly, for a beginner, through Schiller's History of the Thirty Years' War. My German library consists of all Goethe's works, all Schiller's works, Muller's History of Switzerland, some of Tieck, some of Lessing, and other works of less fame. I hope to despatch them all on my way home. I like Schiller's style exceedingly. His history contains a great deal of very just and deep thought, conveyed in language so popular and agreeable that dunces would think him superficial.

I lately took it into my head to obtain some knowledge of the Fathers, and I read therefore a good deal of Athanasius, which by no means raised him in my opinion. I procured the magnificent edition of Chrysostom, by Montfaucon, from a public library here, and turned over the eleven huge folios, reading wherever the subject was of peculiar interest. As to reading him through, the thing is impossible. These volumes contain matter at least equal to the whole extant literature of the best times of Greece, from Homer to Aristotle inclusive. There are certainly some very brilliant passages in his homilies. It seems curious that, though the Greek literature began to flourish so much earlier than the Latin, it continued to flourish so much later. Indeed, if you except the century which elapsed between Cicero's first public appearance and Livy's death, I am not sure that there was any time at which Greece had not writers equal or superior to their Roman contemporaries. I am sure that no Latin writer of the age of Lucian is to be named with Lucian; that no Latin writer of the age of Longinus is to be named with Longinus; that no Latin prose of the age of Chrysostom can be named with Chrysostom's compositions. I have read Augustin's Confessions. The book is not without interest; but he expresses himself in the style of a field-preacher.

Our Penal Code is to be published next week. It has cost me very intense labour; and, whatever its faults may be, it is certainly not a slovenly performance. Whether the work proves useful to India or not, it has been of great use, I feel and know, to my own mind.

[In October 1854, Macaulay writes to my mother: "I cannot but be pleased to find that, at last, the Code on which I bestowed the labour of two of the best years of my life has had justice done to it. Had this justice been done sixteen years ago, I should probably have given much more attention to legislation, and much less to literature than I have done. I do not know that I should have been either happier or more useful than I have been."]

Ever yours affectionately



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