Front Page Titles (by Subject) LORD MACAULAY. ( From The Economist, 31 st December, 1859.) - The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 9 (Essays from the Economist, the Saturday Review)
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LORD MACAULAY. ( From “ The Economist, ” 31 st December, 1859.) - Walter Bagehot, The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 9 (Essays from the Economist, the Saturday Review) 
The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, ed. Mrs. Russell Barrington. The Works in Nine Volumes. The Life in One Volume. (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1915). Vol. 9.
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We little thought when two years ago we congratulated the country on the elevation of our greatest historian to the peerage, that we should have to record and lament his death before his voice had once, as far as we know, been heard in the House of Lords. Lord Macaulay died on Wednesday evening at eight o’clock, at his residence at Kensington, of a disease of the heart, from which he suffered long and severely in 1852. Taken ill a fortnight ago, it was hoped that he was recovering, when a relapse suddenly carried him off at the age of fifty-nine.
There are few living men who are likely to contribute so much to the enduring portion of English literature as the historian whom we have lost. Conspicuous as were his political claims to a peerage,—claims by no means founded on any purely literary services,—it is chiefly as an historian and an essayist that he will be remembered amongst us. As a politician, no doubt he exercised now and then a very remarkable influence. Some of his speeches in the House of Commons are said to have changed the fate of a measure, by entirely changing the result of a division. And we can well imagine that this was so. Lucid exposition was his forte. If a practical principle had to be so explained that it should be convincing to all who grasped it, and so stated that no intellect, however passive, could avoid being penetrated by its logic, and delighted with the various illustrations of its applicability, Lord Macaulay could always have succeeded better than any other living man in so explaining it. He somewhere finds fault with Mr. Hallam for indicating, rather than telling facts by allusion. It is the worst of habits for a popular speaker, and one into which Lord Macaulay was in no danger of falling. He delighted in exhaustive exposition of every kind, whether in narrating or discussing,—and this it was which, while it eminently fitted him to carry the House of Commons on all occasions when that method was applicable, rather unfitted him for wielding the ordinary powers of a statesman. There are not many occasions in political life when full-length portraiture, either of principles or facts, is wanted, or is likely to be successful. Lord Macaulay’s successes are all of this class. He was a politician for great occasions,—when the magnifying character both of his intellect and his imagination could be brought into play with effect,—when he might safely be permitted to draw the attention of his hearers to a first principle, bid it expand before their eyes in every direction, and fill all their minds with homely and vivid illustrations of its worth. This kind of power is sometimes very useful, especially when a simple political principle which has grown tiresome and commonplace is to be defended. There are scarcely any of Lord Macaulay’s most splendid and effective speeches which do not owe their effective character to some form of this power. When religious Toleration had become so hackneyed a word that it rather annoyed men of liberal minds even to be obliged to defend it, Lord Macaulay delighted in expounding its merits and recalling its full meaning till it had as new and curious an interest to the minds of his readers or his audience, as the commonest texture acquires when you see it beneath the glass of a microscope. He could write in favour of the civil privileges of the Jews with power and force when to every other mind the question was worked utterly dry. His speech on the Dissenters’ Chapels Bill was one of the most effective of his orations. In short, his greatest triumphs were gained by bringing to bear on hackneyed, though only half-known, principles of popular right, the influence of his vivid and powerful imagination.
But the very qualities which made Lord Macaulay a great orator for great occasions, and a great painter of great events, unfitted him for the quick play of ordinary life. His mind was comprehensive enough, but just because it was exhaustive, it was also necessarily slow. It dilated every point upon which it dwelt, brought it into connection with innumerable other points, and hence was not fitted for rapid movement over an extended line of argument or a wide field of survey. He dealt most successfully with cases where he could choose his own point of view and elaborate it,—not where he was forced to change with the rapidly changing scene. Had he been able, for instance, to speak on the recent alteration in the Government of India, we may be sure that his argument would have been as striking and instructive as it was when that alteration was last considered and deferred. But he was not the man to have dealt successfully as a politician with the rapidly changing aspects of foreign politics during the last two years. He was admirable in his treatment of a well-understood crisis, involving old, clear, and well-discussed principles, on which conflict ran high. But he had not that quick and ready appreciation of transient symptoms,—that half-instinctive, half-empirical tact, which is needed in the constitution of a party leader or a great statesman. A sound judgment on a case where the data are clear, is a needful but very insufficient requisite for a great politician. He must have ready feeling, quick apprehension, fine political sympathies, warning instincts, courageous instincts in the very moment of action,—and here Lord Macaulay was probably deficient.
Probably also, like others of the great Whig statesmen of his generation, he may have been deficient in appreciation of the finer moral shades of political sentiment. As a professed adherent of Expediency in its widest sense, he could scarcely be otherwise. And the admiration for compromise which pervades all his writings,—and something like a want of interest in lofty motives and unbending principles,—point to the same deficiency, and indicate the one element which renders his brilliant estimates of men of action often unsatisfactory and untrue. But this is not the time to dwell on the alloys which were mingled with the great qualities which we have lost. As a practical politician he proved to be proud and courageous when his convictions were unpopular. If he estimated prudence and a genius for compromise highly in others, it was not because he had much of it in himself. But even if the limitations to his marvellous power are well defined,—if his skill does not reach to the delineation of the deeper parts of character,—England can scarcely hope for another historian who can paint pictures so true and expressive of her greatest men and greatest scenes. What he has said of Burke is eminently true of himself. “Others have, perhaps, been equally industrious, and have collected an equal mass of materials. But the manner in which he brought his higher powers of intellect to work on statements of facts and on tables of figures was peculiar to himself. In every part of these huge bales of information which repelled almost all other readers, his mind found something to instruct or delight. His reason analysed and digested those vast and shapeless masses; his imagination connected and coloured them. Out of darkness and dullness and confusion he formed a multitude of ingenious and vivid pictures. He had in the highest degree that noble faculty whereby man is enabled to live in the past and in the future, in the distant and the unreal.”