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Reading Greek like a man of the world: Macaulay and the classical languages.

In his journal for December 31st, 1851, Thomas Babington Macaulay recorded an encounter with Thomas Love Peacock: ~I met Peacock; a clever fellow and a good scholar. I am glad to have an opportunity of being better acquainted with him. We had out Aristophanes, Aeschylus, Sophocles and several other old fellows, and tried each other's quality pretty well. We are both strong enough in these matters for gentlemen. But he is editing the Supplices: Aeschylus is not to be edited by a man whose Greek is only a secondary pursuit' (Life II, 556).(1) This encounter is an illustration of the fact that in nineteenth-century Britain the close study of the Greek and Latin languages was far from being the exclusive preserve of professional scholars and teachers of the classics.(2) Macaulay once wrote that he read Greek ~like a man of the world' (Letters III, 111), that is, as someone actively involved in public life, not cloistered in a university or a school. This applied to Peacock as much as it did to Macaulay. By 1851 Peacock had already published six of the seven novels for which he is best known today, but he had also spent about thirty years in the service of the East India Company, during which he had risen to the rank of Examiner: he was in effect a very senior civil servant. His formal schooling had ended when he was twelve, so that he was largely self-taught as a classicist.(3) It was perhaps characteristic of such an autodidact that ~he delighted to ask an Oxford first-class man who Nonnus was, and to find he could get no information',(4) and that he should pepper his novels with recondite classical quotations.(5) As for Macaulay, he had by 1851 published the Lays of Ancient Rome, his collected Essays from the Edinburgh Review, and the first two volumes of the History of England from the Accession of James II; he had also been an M.P. at intervals between 1830 and 1847, and was to return to the Commons in 1852 and to be elevated to the peerage in 1856. As Legal Member of the Supreme Council for India (1834-8) he had drafted a new Penal Code for British India, and he had served in a Whig Cabinet as Secretary at War in 1839-41.(6) The evidence of his letters, journals, and marginalia shows that his reading of Greek and Latin was both intensive and wide-ranging. For example, in a letter written to his friend T. F. Ellis from Calcutta in December 1835 he wrote: ~during the last thirteen months then, 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, a good deal of his Organon, besides dipping elsewhere, 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' (Letters III, 159-60). His nephew and biographer, G. O. Trevelyan, claimed that ~the rumour that he read Photius for pleasure was current in the Athenaeum, and was never mentioned without awe' (Life II, 619, n. 1).(7)

Macaulay's tastes and his judgements on what he read are far more likely to have been shared by other Victorian ~men of the world' who were also amateurs of the classics than those of Peacock. Whereas Peacock called Nonnus' Dionysiaca ~the finest poem in the world after the Iliad',(8) Macaulay referred to ~Nonnus' trash, which tired me to death' (Letters III, 237). His status as ~representative man' of his age is attested by the sometimes supercilious judgements of eminent contemporaries, a number of which were delivered in reviews of Trevelyan's biography when it first appeared in 1876. It was John Morley who made the point most clearly and fully: ~A recent traveller in Australia informs us that the three books which he found on every squatter's shelf, and which at last he knew before he crossed the threshold that he should be sure to find, were Shakespeare, the Bible, and Macaulay's Essays. We may safely say that no man obtains and keeps for a great many years such a position as this, unless he is possessed of some very extraordinary qualities, or else of common qualities in a very uncommon and extraordinary degree.' Morley was sure that Macaulay fell into the second category: ~We may be sure that no author could have achieved Macaulay's boundless popularity among his contemporaries, unless his work abounded in what is substantially Commonplace'; ~he was in exact accord with the common average sentiment of his day on every subject on which he spoke.'(9) In another review Leslie Stephen described him as ~the prince of Philistines', echoing Matthew Arnold, who had called him ~the great apostle of the Philistines'.(10)

What probably strikes a modern reader as most strange about the encounter between Macaulay and Peacock is the intellectual jousting between the two: ~we ... tried each other's quality pretty well.' The stress on their status as gentlemen also strikes an unfamiliar note. Much literature of the period is concerned with how those who counted as gentlemen could be distinguished from those who did not,(11) and in this passage from the journal a knowledge of the classics is treated as being a qualification for admission to the ranks of ~gentlemen'. This may have applied in particular to those who, like Macaulay and Peacock, had not been born into the landed gentry. Macaulay's writings and his parliamentary oratory had gained him admission to the ruling elite, but his behaviour sometimes disconcerted the Whig aristocrats among whom he moved, when, for example, he recited from memory at the Cabinet table a popular ballad he had heard being sung in the streets; the Duke of Wellington is alleged to have said that Lord Melbourne ~would rather sit in a room with a chime of bells, twelve parrakeets and one Lady Westmoreland than sit in Cabinet with Mr. Macaulay'.(12) In the letter in which Macaulay called himself a ~man of the world' he described the method of reading which enabled him to get through all the authors he listed in December 1835: ~I read however, not as I read at College, but like a man of the world. If I do not know a word, I pass it by, unless it be important to the sense. If I find, as I have of late often found, a passage which refuses to give up its meaning at the second reading, I let it alone' (Letters III, 111). A gentleman, or man of the world, need not therefore be as thorough a reader as a professional scholar or teacher, but nor should he aspire to edit Aeschylus.

There is an ambivalence about Macaulay's attitude to professional scholarship. On the one hand, as the criticism of Peacock's intention of editing the Supplices implies, he felt a genuine respect for the achievements of classical scholars. This respect comes out most clearly in his treatment of Richard Bentley as a kind of culture-hero. When Lord Lansdowne offered to pay for a third statue to be placed alongside those of Bacon and of Newton in the ante-chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge, Macaulay argued that it should be a statue of Bentley, rather than of Dryden, because Bentley was supreme in the field of classical scholarship (~the greatest man in his class'), just as Newton was supreme in his own, admittedly more important, field.(13) He also related in two separate essays, and with great relish, the story of Bentley's triumph over the amateur scholars and ~wits' of Christ Church, Oxford, in the controversy over the authenticity of ~The Letters of Phalaris' (Works IX, 99-107; X, 388-94).(14) On the other hand, the unguarded remark in the journal, ~we are both strong enough in these matters for gentlemen', may imply that excessive pedantry is demeaning for those who aspire to be gentlemen, and that gentlemen can extract what is really valuable in classical literature without engaging in the banausic labours of the pedant. As an angry adolescent he had certainly voiced such opinions in a letter written to his father just before his seventeenth birthday: ~there seems to me to be the same difference between one of the accurate Cantabrigian Scholars who compares readings and collates Editions ... and an elegant scholar who tastes the beauties of the classics without condescending to such minutiae, which there is between a mixer of colours and an amateur in painting.... The business of the one is to facilitate the enjoyment of the other. But to make that the end which ought only to be the means, and to consider the man who can give the best conjecture as to a corrupt passage ... as a better scholar than him who can enjoy the beauties of the classics without digging into the rubbish which sometimes obscures and buries their meaning, is a truly deplorable perversion of judgement' (Letters I, 87). His father must have objected to this, for in his next letter Macaulay offered an apology: ~I must be indulged in the privilege of exhaling upon paper a little of the spleen which I feel when my head aches over an unintelligible, defective, and mutilated chorus of Eschylus ...' (id., 88). All the same, when he came back to classical literature in his thirties, he displayed indifference to the results of the labours of textual scholars except when they were embodied in masterpieces of controversial literature, such as Bentley's Dissertations on Phalaris or Porson's Letters to Archdeacon Travis (Life II, 547-8). He read Plato in a 1602 edition of Marsilio Ficino's late fifteenth-century text (Letters III, 142). This is how Trevelyan described his uncle's method of reading Greek and Latin texts: ~his books contained nothing except the text; for, on whatever language he was engaged, he had a profound aversion to explanatory notes' (Life II, 714, n. 1).

G. M. Young reported that ~Macaulay was much incensed to find that a young peer of intellectual tastes had never read Don Sebastian: he put it down to Puseyism, whereas, really, it was a case of spring-cleaning'.(15) Macaulay's view was that there was a canon of great works of literature which any educated gentleman could be expected to have read, Young's that this canon needed regular revision to make room for new masterpieces (given the shortness of any individual life). Other nineteenth-century writers shared Macaulay's view. Henry Hallam said that ~Montaigne is the first classical writer in the French language, the first whom a gentleman is ashamed not to have read'.(16) It is significant that, when Sir James Fitzjames Stephen quoted Hallam's words, the word ~gentleman' was replaced by the phrase ~an educated man': since this was presumably an inadvertent misquotation, it shows that for Stephen the two were synonyms.(17) Hallam and Macaulay were among the most widely read men of their time, in the main modern European languages as well as in the classical ones, so that their opinions of what should be included in the canon were at least founded on extensive sampling. Hallam wrote an extraordinarily comprehensive survey of the literature of Europe from 1400 to 1700. As for Macaulay, during his voyage to India he read, in the original, ~Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, Tasso, Don Quixote ... all the seventy volumes of Voltaire'; on his voyage home he proposed to learn German and to dispatch ~all Goethe's works, all Schiller's works ... some of Tieck, some of Lessing and some other works of lesser fame' (Letters III, 62, 236). Where works written in Latin were concerned, there was a striking difference of opinion between the two men, one which is probably the result of a major change in literary taste, and hence in the canon, between two generations (Hallam was born in 1777, Macaulay in 1801). In his Literature of Europe Hallam included works written in the revived classical Latin of the Renaissance (what is nowadays referred to as Neo-Latin, to distinguish it from medieval Latin) alongside ones written in English, German, and the Romance languages; and these were not only works of classical scholarship, theology, philosophy, and science, but also of history, poetry, and prose fiction.(18) However, there is little sign in Macaulay's letters and journals of his having read any Neo-Latin literature for pleasure; this is in contrast to frequent references to his enjoyment of works written at the same period in the vernacular languages.

There is one especially significant gap in Macaulay's recorded reading, in view of his own aspirations to write a narrative history which should come to rank as a classic. Probably the most admired narrative history written in Neo-Latin is never mentioned by Macaulay, despite the fact that it was highly regarded by both writers and politicians in eighteenth-century Britain. The Historiae sui temporis of Thuanus (J. A. de Thou) was an annalistic history of Europe and the Mediterranean world from 1546 to 1607, with a special concentration on the author's native France. The fullest and most reliable edition of the Latin text was published in London in 1733.(19) The younger Pitt thought it appropriate to quote from Thuanus, without identifying him by name, when speaking to the House of Commons about the execution of Louis XVI.(20) Both Dr. Johnson and his friend William Windham (Pitt's Secretary for War) contemplated producing English translations of Thuanus.(21) And, in one draft of Gibbon's account of his own life, he defended himself against the charge of indulging his vanity: ~the authority of my masters, of the grave Thuanus, and the philosophic Hume might be sufficient to justify my design.'(22) Macaulay's silence is particularly significant because he was especially interested in the period of the French Wars of Religion, for which Thuanus was a first-hand source. He composed two poems, Moncontour and Ivry, supposedly sung by the Huguenots after a defeat and a victory during those wars (Works XII, 448-52). He read and re-read two histories of the period written early in the seventeenth century, Enrico Davila's on the French Civil Wars and Fra Paolo Sarpi's on the Council of Trent (Letters III, 181; V, 123-4; Life II, 544). Now Ranke was to show that Davila had used Thuanus as his source of information,(23) while Sarpi has been likened by Lord Dacre to a member of a ~disciplined seminar of research students', presided over by Thuanus.(24) For Macaulay the important difference between Thuanus and the other two historians was probably that they were acknowledged masters of prose style in their native Italian, whereas he was a Frenchman who had chosen to write in a dead language.

It is in his comments on Neo-Latin verse that his opinion on this question of language is made explicit. In Britain down to the end of the eighteenth century the work of Neo-Latin (or ~modern Latin') poets, from Petrarch in the fourteenth century down to Sarbievius, the ~Polish Horace' (Casimir Sarbiewski), and Audoenus, the ~Welsh Martial' (John Owen), in the seventeenth, had still counted as part of the canon of great European literature. On this claim one can invoke the authority of three English poets who were also the leading critics of their respective generations. In 1740 Pope published an enlarged and re-edited anthology of Neo-Latin verse written by Italians. One of Dr. Johnson's earliest literary projects (one never realized) was an annotated edition of the Latin poems of Politian, as well as a history of Latin verse from Petrarch to Politian.(25) Another early plan which was never carried out, the first of many, was for a volume of 'Imitations from the Modern Latin Poets', advertised by Coleridge as an undergraduate; during his short time as a trooper he was translating Casimir (i.e. Sarbievius).(26) By the time Hallam, who was only five years Coleridge's junior, came to publish the Literature of Europe he was aware that readers of a younger generation might disapprove of the space he had devoted to Neo-Latin verse. In his table of contents there appears a subheading, ~Latin verse not to be disdained', and in the main text at that point Hallam wrote: ~in the present age it is easy to anticipate the supercilious disdain of those who believe it ridiculous to write Latin poetry at all because it cannot, as they imagine, be written well. I must be content to answer that those who do not know when such poetry is good, should be as slow to contradict those who do, as the ignorant in music to set themselves against competent judges.(27) Macaulay's position was not as extreme as the one attacked by Hallam, but he was firmly on the opposite side to him. In his essay on Addison of 1843 he rejected Johnson's condemnation of the French critic Boileau: ~nor was Boileau's contempt of modern Latin either injudicious or peevish. He thought, indeed, that no poem of the first order would ever be written in a dead language. And did he think amiss? Has not the experience of centuries confirmed his opinion? Boileau also thought it probable, that, in the best modern Latin, a writer of the Augustan age would have detected ludicrous improprieties. And who can think otherwise? ... Do we believe that Erasmus and Fracastorius wrote Latin as well as Dr. Robertson and Sir Walter Scott wrote English? And are there not in the Dissertation on India, the last of Dr. Robertson's works, in Waverley, in Marmion, Scotticisms at which a London apprentice would laugh?' (Works X, 90-1).

Even the best of the Neo-Latin poets, therefore, as well as such prose authors as Erasmus, were excluded from ~the first order', the heart of the canon, because they were writing in a dead language and their Latin would inevitably have appeared unidiomatic to a native speaker in Augustan Rome. Macaulay's objection is entirely based on ~impurity' of language, and he does not invoke any more metaphysical considerations, such as Herder's doctrine that each natural language embodied the profoundest experiences of the nation which spoke it.(28) Macaulay was prepared, indeed, to grant neo-Latin verse its own merits, outside ~the first order': ~does it follow, because we think thus, that we can find nothing to admire in the noble alcaics of Gray, or in the playful elegies of Vincent Bourne? Surely not' (Works X, 91). One could distinguish between good and inferior Neo-Latin verse: in an early essay on Petrarch he said of that poet's Latin verse that ~none of these works would have placed him on a level with Vida or Buchanan' (Works XI, 293). Yet only a year later he was suggesting that Milton ~was perhaps the only great poet of later times who has been distinguished by the excellence of his Latin verse' (Works VII, 10). Macaulay had presumably at least sampled the Latin works of the authors he named, especially since he says in the same passage that Petrarch's poems ~in the ancient language' are ~much admired by those who have never read them'. However, these names hardly appear at all in his letters, and neither Vida nor Buchanan, nor even Erasmus, accompanied him to India, unlike Ariosto and Tasso, Calderon and Camoes, Goethe and Schiller. This shift in taste which had occurred between the generation of Coleridge and Hallam and that of Macaulay has proved to be a lasting change, as far as the general reader is concerned (despite the recent revival of academic interest in Neo-Latin literature).(29) No Neo-Latin classic in translation appeared in Everyman's Library except More's Utopia, and only Utopia and Erasmus' In Praise of Folly in the Penguin Classics. The successor to Hallam in the mid-twentieth century, J. M. Cohen, author of a History of Western Literature in the Pelican series, refers to Erasmus only as a biblical scholar and to Vida because ~he ... evolved a theory of epic to which later poets (in the vernacular languages) tried to conform'.(30) C. S. Lewis summed up what was the conventional wisdom of the time: ~it would be hard to think of any single text in humanists' Latin, except the Utopia, which are used as their authors meant them to be used. Petrarch's Latin poetry, Politian, Buchanan, even sweet Sannazarus himself, are hardly ever opened except for an historical purpose'.(31)

It was only with ancient Latin and Greek literature, therefore, that a gentleman need concern himself by the mid-nineteenth century. But different parts of this corpus itself were regarded as being of different degrees of importance or of value. Macaulay's own range of reading within the corpus was, as we have seen, a very wide one, but it led him to make two very broad, very sweeping assertions: that Greek literature in general was superior to Latin literature, and that Greek literature written before around 320 B.C. was greatly superior to any Greek literature written after that date. To take the superiority of Greek to Latin first, in an article on the foundation of University College London of 1826, he made the bold claim that ~the Latin language is principally valuable as an introduction to the Greek'.(32) His opinion was confirmed by what he read in India. On his outward voyage he read the Iliad, the Odyssey, and The Aeneid, and compared the third unfavourably with the second: ~was ever any thing duller and poorer than the third Book? Compare it with the speciosa miracula of the Odyssey. Can any thing be so bad as the living bush which bleeds and talks, or the Harpies who befoul Aeneas' dinner? It is as extravagant as Ariosto and as dull as Wilkie's Epigoniad' (Letters III, 62). That was written on July 1st, 1834, and by the end of 1837, after his intensive programme of reading, he had reached a general conclusion: ~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' (Letters III, 237).

This refers, of course, only to post-classical Greek literature, and it is the tone of Macaulay's comments on Greek literature written before 320 B.C. which is most revealing. The Latin authors of the century from Cicero to Livy do not inspire him with the same rapture as his rediscovery of classical Greek: ~I have gone back to Greek literature with a passion quite astonishing to myself. I have never felt anything like it. I was enraptured with Italian during the six months which I gave up to it. I was little less pleased with Spanish. But, when I went back to the Greek, I felt as if I had never known before what intellectual enjoyment was. Oh that wonderful people!' (Letters III, 129: Latin is not even mentioned alongside Italian and Spanish). He draws an explicit contrast between the Roman historians and Thucydides: ~but what are they all to the great Athenian? I do assure you that there is no prose composition in the world ... which I place so high as the 7th book of Thucydides. It is the ne plus ultra of human art' (Letters III, 15 3-4). By 1837 he had concluded that Cicero, Livy, and Tacitus were ~the three great names in the literature of Rome'; ~I put them all decidedly above any of the Latin poets' (Letters III, 237). Yet, when he had been reading the Annals at the same time as Thucydides, ~what made the Annals appear cold and poor to me was the intense interest which Thucydides inspired' (Letters III, 180). He also regarded Demosthenes as a finer orator than Cicero (Letters I, 91; Life II, 713).

Macaulay thought that Greek literature had greatly declined in quality after the death of Demosthenes. In his day New Comedy was known mainly ~by Latin translations of extraordinary merit'; from these it was evident that, in comparison with Old Comedy, the creative power was gone: ~Julius Caesar called Terence a half Menander -- a sure proof that Menander was not a quarter Aristophanes' (Works VII, 132).(33) Of the Alexandrian versifiers, ~Theocritus alone has left compositions which deserve to be read' (ibid.). These confident assertions were made in 1828, in the essay on Dryden, before the return to Greek in India, but the comments included in his letters from India mostly confirm that earlier judgment. On the Alexandrian versifiers he wrote: ~I have read Callimachus. He would have sunk in my opinion, but that I always rated him as low as possible. I have read Apollonius Rhodius through for the first time.... His only merit lies in the pathetic ...' (Letters III, 152-3). His opinion of a later epic poet, Nonnus, has already been quoted. The later historians fared no better: ~I have finished Diodorus Siculus ... he is a stupid, credulous, prosing old ass' (Letters III, 200); ~I have finished that insufferable writer Dionysius of Halicarnassus ... Dionysius is a vile historian -- a somewhat better critic' (Letters III, 211). Even Polybius gets only partial approval, as a purveyor of information: ~I detest his style. Yet dearly as I love Livy, I would give the 3rd and 4th Decades of Livy for Polybius' lost books' (ibid.). Only Plutarch, and, especially, Lucian, earned heartfelt praise (Letters III, 153, 160).

In thus elevating Greek literature from Homer to Demosthenes over later Greek, as well as Latin, literature, Macaulay was only adhering to what was a widely-shared opinion among the admirers of classical antiquity in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The achievements of the Greeks of the fifth and fourth centuries B.C., in architecture and in sculpture as well as in literature and philosophy, had become the objects of idolatry.(34) Macaulay himself fitted his estimate of the value of the literature into a general theory about the relationship between the merits of poetry, in particular, and the historical circumstances in which it was produced. This theory was expounded in some of his earliest essays, written in the 1820s, and he did not return to it in print, perhaps conscious of its shortcomings.(35) It was touched on in his first published literary essay, that on Dante of 1824; ~a rude state of society is that in which great original works are most frequently produced ...'; ~thus the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Divine Comedy, appeared in dark and half barbarous times' (Works XI, 256). An explanation for this is offered in the essay which made him famous, that on Milton of 1825: ~the vocabulary of an enlightened society is philosophical, that of a half-civilised people poetical.... Generalisation is necessary to the advancement of knowledge, but particularity is indispensable to the creations of the imagination. In proportion as men know more and think more, they look less at individuals and more at classes. They therefore make better theories and worse poems' (Works VII, 6-7). In the essay on Dryden, of 1828, this simple picture of an inverse relationship between poetical achievement and intellectual development in any particular society is modified. It is true that it is at the most primitive stage in the history of a society that the powers of the imagination are at their highest, but at that stage the means of expression are not yet inadequately developed. Eventually there comes a stage at which the latter have been improved, while the former have not yet suffered too serious a decline: ~up to a certain period, the diminution of those poetical powers is far more than compensated by the improvement of all the appliances and means of which those powers stand in need. Then comes the short period of splendid and consummate excellence. And then, from causes against which it is vain to struggle, poetry begins to decline' (Works VII, 129). In the case of ancient Greece, this short period began with the Iliad and the Odyssey; the lost works of earlier ~bards' would have belonged to the earlier, ~primitive' stage.(36) Whether, in Macaulay's view, the ~short period' lasted down to the early fifth century is nowhere made clear. In the essay on Dryden, Pindar and Aeschylus appear as the poets from whose achievement there was a slow decline: ~in Greece we see the imaginative school of poetry gradually fading into the critical. Aeschylus and Pindar were succeeded by Sophocles, Sophocles by Euripides, Euripides by the Alexandrian versifiers' (Works VII, 132). The Roman poets were fitted into this pattern: ~the literature of the Romans was merely a continuation of the literature of the Greeks. The pupils started from the point at which their masters had, in the course of many generations, arrived. They thus almost wholly missed the period of original invention. The only Latin poets whose writings exhibit much vigour of imagination are Lucretius and Catullus' (Works VII, 133).

The repeated use of the word ~imagination' in these early essays is significant. It was for their aesthetic qualities, for splendour of language, for power of imagination, that Macaulay valued the Greek and Latin classics, and not for their intellectual content. This is especially clear in the case of writers of prose (with the exception of professed fiction), that is of the historians and the philosophers. Macaulay was an unabashed believer in the superior achievement of his own age in all fields of knowledge and of theory, especially in comparison with the ancient world: ~In taste and in imagination, in the graces of style, in the arts of persuasion, in the magnificence of public works, the ancients were at least our equals. They reasoned as justly as ourselves on subjects which required pure demonstration. But in the moral sciences they made scarcely any advance' (Works VII, 200). This passage comes from an essay on ~History'. in which he attempted to define ~a perfect historian': ~(he) must possess an imagination sufficiently powerful to make his narrative affecting and picturesque. Yet he must control it so absolutely as to content himself with the materials which he finds and to refrain from supplying deficiencies by additions of his own' (Works VII, 168). In Macaulay's opinion the best of the Greek and Roman historians possessed the first quality, but all failed on the second count: ~Whether the historians of the last two centuries tell more truth than those of antiquity may perhaps be doubted. But it is quite certain that they tell fewer falsehoods' (Works VII, 199). This last point is more fully explained in the essay on Machiavelli, in which the latter's History of Florence is described as belonging rather to ancient than to modern history: The classical histories may almost be called romances founded in fact. The relation is, no doubt, in all its principal points, strictly true. But the numerous little incidents which heighten the interest, the words, the gestures, the looks, are evidently furnished by the imagination of the author' (Works VII, 112). This is not so very far away from A.J. Woodman's analysis of the place of rhetorical inventio in classical historiography.(37) Macaulay would aspire to match the literary achievement of Thucydides or of Tacitus, but he would not expect to find in their works any guidance in the technical aspects of his craft.

It is in the case of ancient philosophy, and in particular of Plato's dialogues, that we find a remarkable combination of enthusiastic delight in the literary form with indifference to, or even contempt for, the philosophical content. It is not an excessive hyperbole to assert that Macaulay read Plato purely for fun. In India, when he was ~deep in Plato', he wrote: ~nothing has struck me so much in Plato's dialogues as the raillery. ... I cannot describe to you the way in which it now tickles me. I often sink down on my huge old Marsilius Ficinus in a fit of laughter' (Letters III, 141-2). Twenty years later he took Plato to Tunbridge Wells as his holiday reading and wrote in his journal: ~I read the Protagoras at dinner. The childish quibbling of Socrates provokes me. It is odd that such trumpery fallacies should have imposed on such powerful minds.... I am more and more convinced that the merit of Plato lies in his talent for narrative and description, in his rhetoric, in his humour, and in his exquisite Greek' (Life II, 602). What inspired his active hostility to Plato and the other ancient philosophers was their contempt for any intellectual effort directed to utilitarian ends, and this was given impassioned expression in the essay on Lord Bacon, published in 1837. In that essay Plato was chosen to represent the general attitude of ancient philosophy as a whole, and this was contrasted with Bacon's programme of experimental investigation for practical ends: ~We select Plato because we conceive that he did more towards giving to the minds of speculative men that bent which they retained till they received from Bacon a new impulse of diametrically opposite direction' (Works VIII, 602-3). There follows what is perhaps an unfair, but is certainly a very funny, survey of Plato's opinions of the intellectual pursuits which Bacon esteemed for their practical utility: ~Take Arithmetic for example. Plato, after speaking slightly of the convenience of being able to reckon and compute in the ordinary transactions of life, passes to what he considers as a far more important advantage. The study of the properties of numbers, he tells us, habituates the mind to the contemplation of pure truth, and raises us above the material universe.... On the greatest and most useful of all human inventions, the invention of alphabetical writing, Plato did not look with much complacency. He seems to have thought that the use of letters had operated on the human mind much as the use of the go-cart in learning to walk, or of corks in learning to swim, is said to operate on the human body.... To Plato the science of medicine appeared to be a very disputable advantage.... The exercise of the art of medicine ought, he said, to be tolerated, so far as that art may serve to cure the occasional distempers of men whose constitutions are good. As to those who have bad constitutions, let them die, and the sooner, the

better.... Plato, at the commencement of the Dialogue on Laws, lays it down as a fundamental principle that the end of legislation is to make men virtuous. It is unnecessary to point out the extravagant conclusions to which such a proposition leads.... To sum up the whole, we should say that the aim of the Platonic philosophy was to exalt man into a god. The aim of the Baconian philosophy was to provide man with what he requires while he continues to be man' (Works VIII, 603-13).

Not that Plato was the sole target in that essay. Virtually all ancient philosophers were condemned, not merely for indifference to any ideas of utility, and material progress, but for their active hostility towards anything that smacked of the ~banausic'. One exception to the general rule supplied Macaulay with the occasion for some bitter irony at Seneca's expense: 'Once indeed Posidonius ... so far forgot himself as to enumerate, among the humbler blessings which mankind owed to philosophy, the discovery of the principle of the arch, and the introduction of the use of metals. This eulogy was considered as an affront, and was taken up with proper spirit. Seneca vehemently disdains these insulting compliments.... "We shall next be told", exclaims Seneca, "that the first shoemaker was a philosopher". For our own part, if we are forced to make our choice between the first shoemaker, and the author of the three books On Anger, we pronounce for the shoemaker. It may be worse to be angry than to be wet. But shoes have kept millions from being wet; and we doubt whether Seneca ever kept any body from being angry' (Works VIII, 591-2). The essay on Bacon is so entertaining that it is hard to abstain from further quotation, yet it was the tone and the message of this essay which did more than anything else which Macaulay published to make men such as Matthew Arnold regard him as 'the apostle of the Philistines'.(38) However, in the essay, Macaulay does not so much appear to be acting as the mouthpiece for the self-confident practical' manufacturers and businessmen of Victorian Britain, as to be speaking as a dissident member of a classically educated ~clerisy' who sought to dislodge some deep-seated prejudices from the minds of the majority of the fellow-members of the clerisy. He is aware that he has the entire weight of the traditions of the educated classes against him, and he resembles those publicists who have in recent years argued that the British educational system imbues students with a good deal of disdain for ~practical' disciplines, such as engineering and management studies.

Macaulay also felt an emotional revulsion from what seemed to him to be the heartlessness of ancient philosophers, in particular of the Stoics, a revulsion which is not openly expressed in his published writings. After the death of a baby niece in India he wrote: ~the best thing I know about myself ... is that, while I am more stoical than most of my acquaintances where my interests are concerned, I am more sensitive than most of them where my affections are concerned' (Letters III, 219). This sensitivity extended to the affections of his friends. In 1850 his friend Hallam's son Henry died at the age of 26 (he was the younger brother of Arthur Hallam, whose early death two decades before had inspired Tennyson to write In Memoriam). We may conclude with another entry from Macaulay's journal, in which he recorded his reaction to the senior Hallam's loss: ~I am deeply concerned to hear that poor Harry Hallam is gone. Alas! alas! ... I could find it in my heart to cry. Poor Hallam! What will he do? He is more stoical than I am, to be sure. I walked reading Epictetus in the streets. Anointing for broken bones! Let him try how Hallam will be consoled by being told that the lives of children are [omicron][upsilon][kappa] [epsilon][phi] [eta][micro][iota][nu] (Life II, 546-7).


(1.) References to passages quoted from Macaulay's own words will be included in the main text, and the following abbreviations will be used: Works: The works of Lord Macaulay, (Albany Edition of 1898, as reissued in 12 vols. in Longman's Silver Library); Letters: The Letters of Thomas Babington Macaulay, Vols. I-VI, edited by Thomas Pinney (Cambridge, 1974-81); Life: The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, by his nephew Sir George Otto Trevelyan (enlarged and complete edition of 1908, as reissued in 2 vols. in Longman's Silver Library). Chap. 16 of the 1908 edition contains some of Macaulay's marginalia, previously published separately. The passages from Macaulay's hitherto unpublished journal are drawn from Trevelyan's Life, but the reader should be warned that ~it is wholly unreliable in its transcription of documents' (Owen Dudley Edwards, Macaulay [London, 1988], p. 173). (2.) ~In 1865 a major commentator on Homer as well as a major translator of the poet (1), the chief critic and historian of Greek literature (2), the most significant political historians of Greece (3), and the authors of the then most extensive commentaries on Greek philosophy (4) either were or recently had been members of the House of Commons or of the House of Lords' (Frank M. Turner, The Greek Heritage in Victorian Britain [New Haven and London, 1981], p. 5). Turner does not identif these persons at that point in his text. They were (1) Mr Gladstone and Lord Derby, both Prime Ministers, (2) Col. William Mure, M.P. 1846-55, (3) Connop Thirlwall, Bishop of St. David's 1840-74 and George Grote, M.P. 1832-1841, and (4) Grote and R. D. Hampden, Bishop of Hereford, 1848-68. (3.) J. B. Priestley, Thomas Love Peacock (London, 1966), pp. 5-6, 8-10; Howard Mills, Peacock, his Circle, and his Age (Cambridge, 1969), pp. 12-13; Marilyn Butler, Peacock Displayed (London, 1979), pp. 13, 19-21. (4.) This passage is quoted from biographical notes by Sir Henry Cole in M. Slater's notes to the World's Classics edition of Headlong Hall and Gryll Grange by Peacock (Oxford, 1987), p. 383. (5.) In his seventh and last novel, Gryll Grange, for example, the epigraphs to individual chapters are drawn from, among other authors, Alcaeus, Diphilus, Nonnus, Philetaerus, Anacreon, Palladas, and Alexis. (6.) For Macaulay's career see, in addition to Trevelyan's Life and Pinney's annotation to the Lette note 1), the masterly account of the years down to 1838 by John Clive, Macaulay: the Shaping of the Historian (London, 1973). For a short introduction see Edwards, cited in note 1. (7.) In December 1855 Macaulay informed Dean Milman, who had recommended the work to him, that he had finished Photius' Bibliotheca (Letters V, 405 n. 1; 484). (8.) Priestley, Peacock, p. 98. (9.) Critical Miscellanies, Vol. I (London, 1886), pp. 255, 267, 271. (10.) Stephen, Hours in a Library, Third Series (London, 1879), p. 296; Arnold, ~Joubert' (Essays in Criticism), ad fin. For a rejoinder to Arnold and Stephen, see Edwards, Macaulay, pp 55-8. (11.) The qualities of a gentleman were a recurrent theme in Anthony Trollope's novels: S. R. Letwin The Gentleman in Trollope (London, 1982). Trollope himself was very proud of having brushed up his Latin during a very busy life as civil servant and author: Autobiography (World's Classics edition), pp. 17, 92-3, 308-10. His airing of his classical knowledge once provoked a ferocious snub from Robe Browning: ~my dear Trollope, this display of classical lore really reminds one of Thackeray's schola who had earned fame and the promise of a bishopric by his masterly translation of Cornelius Nepos' (J. Pope-Hennessy, Anthony Trollope [London, 1971], p. 354). (12.) Clive, Macaulay, p. 498. (13.) D. A. Winstanley, Early Victorian Cambridge (Cambridge, 1940), pp. 436-9. Macaulay's letter to Whewell, then Master of Trinity, is republished in Letters VI, 67-9. The subject eventually chosen f the statue was Isaac Barrow. (14.) Trevelyan commented that ~Macaulay read Greek and Latin for their own sake and not in order to use them for purposes of literary copy', and that ~these twelve or fifteen paragraphs (on Bentley and the prefaces to the Lays of Ancient Rome are the sole visible fruit of the thousands of hours he spent over the classical writers during the last thirty years of his life' (Life II, 706). Trevelyan may be implying that using the classics for purposes of literary copy was below the dignity of a gentleman classicist. (15.) Daylight and Champaign (London, 1937), p. 143. As usual, Young provides no source for the anecdote. (16.) Introduction to the Literature of Europe in the 15th, 16th and 17th Centuries (Third ed., London. 1847), Vol. 2, p. 31. (17.) Horae Sabbaticae (London, 1892), Vol. 1, p. 124. (18.) In the chapters devoted to poetry, for example, there are separate sections on verse in Latin alongside those on the different vernacular languages: Part I, chap. 8, paras. 30-4; Part II, chap. sect. 5; Part III, chap. 5, sect. 6; Part IV, chap. 5, sect. 4. (19.) Samuel R. Kinser, The Works of J.A. de Thou (The Hague, 1966). (20.) Pitt's Parliamentary Orations (Everyman's Library ed.), p. 2. Pitt refers to ~a treat historia of France', perhaps on the assumption that a considerable number of the Members would recognize the allusion. He was applying to the king's execution the lines of Statius (Silvae 5.2 88-90) which in Thuanus are applied to the Massacre of St Bartholomew's Day (Historiae Bk. 52, ch. 11). (21.) Boswell's Life of Johnson (Oxford Standard Authors ed.), p. 1387. (22.) The Autobiographies of Edward Gibbon, ed. J. Murray (London, 2nd ed. 1897 , Memoir B, 104 (p. 2 of Bonnard's edition; p. 39 of the Penguin edition). (23.) G. P. Gooch, History and Historians of the Nineteenth Century (London 2nd ed. 1952), p. 87. (24.) H. R. Trevor-Roper, Renaissance Essays (Fontana ed., 1986), p. 127. Thuanus asked permission to consult Sarpi's unpublished history of the Interdict, but this was denied by the Venetian Senate: G. and L. Cozzi (edd.), Paolo Sarpi Opere (Milan, 1970), p. 1177. (25.) Selecta poemata Italorum qui Latine scripserunt ... iterum in lucem data ... accurante A. Pope Boswell's Life of Johnson (ed. cit.), p. 65. (26.) Richard Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions (London, 1989), pp. 49, 57, 59. (27.) Literature of Europe I, pp. XXV and 431. Between 1815 and 1820 Landor published verse only in Latin, but ~after 1820 Landor submitted to pressure from his friends and publishers and abandoned any new major excursions in Latin': A. Kelly in J. W. Binns (ed.), The Latin Poetry of the English Poets (London, 1974), p. 153. (28.) I. Berlin, Vico and Herder (London, 1976), pp. 169, 180 et passim. (29.) See Binns (cited in n. 27). (30.) A History of Western Literature (Harmondsworth, 1956), pp. 110, 145-6. (31.) English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (Oxford, 1954), p. 20. (32.) Quoted from the Edinburgh Review by Richard Jenkyns, 7he Victorians and Ancient Greece (Oxford, 1980), p. 155; this article was never included in Macaulay's collected essays. (33.) This was probably not a conventional judgement. According to G. M. Young, in the ~good old times', the correct answer to the examination question, ~which of the lost authors of antiquity woul you most like to recover, and why?' was Menander: Today and Yesterday (London, 1948), p. 244. (34.) See, among many other works, Jenkyns, The Victorians and Ancient Greece, chap. 1; J. Buxton, The Grecian Taste (London, 1978); J. Mordaunt Crook, The Greek Revival (London. 1972); D. Irwin, English Neoclassical Art (London, 1966). (35.) As suggested by Kate Millgate, Macaulay (London, 1973), pp. 20-1. (36.) In 1820 Peacock had published an essay, ~The Four Ages of poetry, in which he maintained that in the history of every society poetry passed through four successive ages, of iron, gold, silver, a brass. ~The iron age of classical poetry may be called the bardic; the golden, the Homeric; the silver, the Virgilian; the brass, the Nonnic': Memoirs of Shelley and Other Essays, ed. Howard Mills (London, 1970), p. 124. Critical theories which regarded ~the arts as a by-product of a society in a particular phase of its culture' were characteristic of the early nineteenth century: see Butler (cited in n. 3), p. 276 and chap. 8 passim. (37.) With ~romances founded in fact' compare Woodman's concise account of his view in The Blackwell Dictionary of Historians (Oxford, 1988), p. 85: ~classical historiography in general was an elaborat medium which ... has rather more in common with today's historical novel than with modern works of specialist history.' (38.) Jenkyns (cited in n. 32), p. 282. Mr Gladstone, in his review of Trevelyan's Life, also expressed horror at Macaulay's dismissal of ancient philosophy: ~can it really be that, in this nineteenth century, the writer who, as Mr. Trevelyan truly says, teaches men by millions, has gravely, taught them that the study of the nature of good, of the end for which we live, of the discipline of pain, of the mastery to be gained over it by wisdom, of the character and limits of human knowedge, is a systematic misdirection of the mind, a course of effort doomed beforehand to eternal barrenness. A sowing of seed that is to produce only smut and stubble?' He had, however, a charitable explanation for Macaulay's extravagant vagaries: ~the truth is that Macaulay was not only accustomed, like many more of us. To go out hobby-riding, but, from the portentous vigour of the animal he mounted, was liable, more than most of us, to be run away with' (Gleanings of Past Years [London, 1879], Vol. II, pp. 309, 31).
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Title Annotation:Thomas Babington Macaulay
Author:Williams, Wynne
Publication:Greece & Rome
Article Type:Biography
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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