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TABLE OF CONTENTS
CRITICISMS OF THE PRINCIPAL ITALIAN WRITERS
MACAULAY's literary career began in 1823, when Mr. Charles Knight published the Quarterly Magazine. To the first number Macaulay contributed both prose and verse. Praed and some other Cambridge men also wrote for it. The Magazine lasted for a year or two, and during that time Macaulay contributed regularly. Certain of his articles, among them the "Fragments of a Roman Tale," "Criticisms on the Principal Italian Writers," and "A Conversation between Mr. Abraham Cowley and Mr. John Milton touching the great Civil War," have been put among his collected Essays. Two years afterwards his article on Milton appeared in the Edinburgh Review, and from that time on for twenty years he contributed to that magazine. Until 1829 Lord Jeffrey was editor, when he was succeeded by Mr. Macvey Napier. Both were good friends to Macaulay, and well they might be, from selfish motives if from no other, for no other magazine in the world can boast of so many famous essays from one contributor.
Towards the close of his life Macaulay contributed several articles on Bunyan, Goldsmith, Dr. Johnson, William Pitt, and others -to the Encyclopædia Britannica, and took some of his precious time from his History for that purpose.
Most of the Essays are on English subjects, but not all. There are Machiavelli, Barère, Frederic the Great, Mirabeau. Those upon Englishmen are the best. Macaulay admired England with a most patriotic fervor.
The most notable characteristic of the Essays is the information crammed into them. The reader confronts Macaulay's marvellous memory on every page. The information is not that possessed by a scholar who has followed one subject, as a horse with blinkers keeps the road, but that of a man of the world who happens to write on Addison, Clive, or Chatham
but his pen, had you jogged his elbow, would have run off on St. Paul, Turenne, or Abou ben Adhem with equal facility. Information is not everything; but of all varieties of riches it has the primacy. The man, like Macaulay, who scatters his wealth before us with all the charm of wit and literary art, the most delightful of prodigals.
Information is one thing, knowledge another, and wisdom yet a third. Whether Macaulay had knowledge or wisdom or not the world disagrees, but nobody can deny the abundance of his information. Wisdom is a gift to the beloved of the gods; a long life ripening with years is the only tree of knowledge; and sometimes these great riches bring the smaller possession of information into disrepute, yet we have but to read one or two essays by some other man to enable us to appreciate Lord Macaulay justly.
The next characteristic of the Essays is the literary art Macaulay is the orator of essayists — with which he drives the reader to adopt his opinions. In the first place, apparently all that is to be said on the subject lies before us; then facts, anecdotes, shrewd generalizations, clarifying common sense, are marshalled against us, rank upon rank. There is no faltering there. "Truth with us" is inscribed on every page. If sometimes we are disposed to be querulous about the positiveness of Macaulay's statements, we must remember that only the dilettanti are willing to say to their adversaries, "You may be right, or we; odds are even." Macaulay was no dilettante. He was a man of strong convictions and affections, and he was perfectly sure that he was in the right.
The third exceptional quality in these Essays is the union of ornamented prose and perspicuous meaning. Every paragraph, every sentence, conveys its meaning as simple and plain as is possible, yet the style is adorned, colored, and enriched, as if Macaulay, suspicious of the reader, hurled every sentence like an embroidered and unerring lasso at his attention.
The Essay on Milton opened the doors of London society to Macaulay; and every succeeding essay, with hardly an exception, added to his reputation. In 1843 he published the collection because, as he says, some American publishers were publishing them, and the choice lay between an edition pre
pared by Messrs. Carey and Hart of Philadelphia, and one prepared by him. The book has had a splendid popular success, hundreds of thousands of copies have been sold, and the demand still grows. The cause of this popularity, no doubt, is due in part to a certain mental laziness in the public concerning matters of literature. Each essay is a short book, which can be read in an hour or two; it requires no intellectual effort from the reader, rather it forestalls any such. Each is a masterpiece of rhetoric, each decides everything. The reader is not left tediously to work out his own conclusions. Nevertheless popularity is not of necessity discreditable. By two generations of people, in spite of remonstrances from the critics, the Essays have been pronounced good. They have interested men of widely different beliefs, habits of thought, and customs of life. They have endured that test with preeminent success. But time is the court oí last resort in these matters, and as to their future no man can surely speak.
In some respects Macaulay's Essays are his chief contribution to English literature, for others have written famous histories, and Macaulay's History does not stand conspicuous as the principal history of England; but there is nothing at home. or abroad which can match in their way the essays on Chatham, Clive, and Warren Hastings. The reader may run over in his mind the famous essayists of English literature, Bacon, Addison, Emerson, Matthew Arnold, or others according to his turn of mind, and he will see that they are all famous for thought or wit; but he will search in vain anywhere for a man who can rival Macaulay in his field, that of the brilliant union of infor mation and common sense.