According to John Clive, the author of a major biography of Macaulay, the great historian "did not possess the all-embracing sympathy, the capacity for Einfuhlung, that would have enabled him to treat all personages, parties, and ideas in history with equal respect and understanding. . . . he was undeniably a person of strong prejudices and, on occasion, of unfair bias. . . One does not go to Macaulay for an impartial view of English history."

As one reads the historian's letters and journals one is struck again and again by his express intention to make his historical writing lively, amusing and dramatic. Steeped from childhood in the English novel — to the point where he and his sisters would discuss household affairs and family gossip in the language of Austen's Mr. Woodhouse and Mrs. Elton — an avid admirer of Scott's fictional historical reconstructions, Macaulay set himself the task of making his own History as vivid and as entertaining as the latest work of fiction. In this he succeeded. Yet the very harping on the necessity for making history lively, the self-conscious sense of literary artifice, and of what he himself called the need for purple patches, these traits — admirable as they are — may also have acted as impediments to the genuine historical imagination which is more concerned with the unvarnished truth than with enlivening it. [72-73]

References

Clive, John. Not By Fact Alone: Essays on the Writing and Reading of History. Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1989.


Victorian Web Overview T. B. Macaulay

Last modified 2000