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There have been other men of our own generation, though very few, who if they have not equaled have approached Macaulay in power of memory, and who have certainly exceeded him in the unfailing accuracy of their recollections; and yet not in accuracy as to dates or names or quotations, or other matters of hard fact, when the question was one simply between ay and
In these he may have been without a rival. In a list of kings, or popes, or senior wranglers, or prime ministers, or battles, or palaces, or as to the houses in Pall Mall or about Leicester Square, he might be followed with implicit confidence. But a large and important class of human recollections are not of this order: recollections for example of characters, of feelings, of opinions; of the intrinsic nature, details, and bearings of occurrences. And here it was that Macaulay's wealth “was unto him an occasion of falling.” And that in two ways. First, the possessor of such a vehicle as his memory could not but have something of an overweening confidence in what it told him; and quite apart from any tendency to be vain or overbearing, he could hardly enjoy the benefits of that caution which arises from self-interest, and the sad experience of frequent falls. But what is more, the possessor of so powerful a fancy could not but illuminate with the colors it supplied, the matters which he gathered into his great magazine, wherever the definiteness of their outline was not so rigid as to defy or disarm the action of the intruding and falsifying faculty. Imagination could not alter the date of the battle of Marathon, of the Council of Nice, or the crowning of Pepin ; but it might seriously or even fundamentally disturb the balance of light and dark in his account of the opinions of Milton or of Laud, or his estimate of the effects of the Protectorate or the Restoration, or of the character and even the adulteries of William III. He could detect justly this want of dry light in others; he probably suspected it in himself; but it was hardly possible for him to be enough upon his guard against the distracting action of a faculty at once so vigorous, so crafty, and so pleasurable in its intense activity.
Hence arose, it seems reasonable to believe, that charge of partisanship against Macaulay as a historian, on which much has been and probably much more will be said. He may not have possessed that scrupulously tender sense of obligation, that nice tact of exact justice, which is among the very rarest as well as the most precious of human virtues. But there never was a writer less capable of intentional unfairness. This during his life-time was the belief of his friends, but was hardly admitted by opponents. His biographer has really lifted the question out of the range of controversy. He wrote for truth, but of course for truth such as he saw it; and his sight was colored from within. This color, once attached, was what in manufacture is called a mordant; it was a fast color: he could not distinguish between what his mind had received and what his mind had imparted. Hence, when he was wrong, he could not see that he was wrong; and of those calamities which are due to the intellect only, and not to the heart, there can hardly be a greater.
However true it may be that Macaulay was a far more consummate workman in the manner than in the matter of his works, we do not doubt that the works contain, in multitudes, passages of high emotion and ennobling sentiment, just awards of praise and blame, and solid expositions of principle, social, moral, and constitutional. They are pervaded by a generous love of liberty; and their atmosphere is pure and bracing, their general aim and basis morally sound. Of the qualifications of this eulogy we have spoken, and have yet to speak. But we can speak of the style of the works with little qualification. We do not indeed venture to assert that his style ought to be imitated. Yet this is not because it was vicious, but because it was individual and incommunicable. It was one of those gifts of which, when it had been conferred, Nature broke the mold. That it is the head of all literary styles we do not allege; but it is different from them all and perhaps more different from them all than they are usually different from one another. We speak only of natural styles, of styles where the manner waits upon the matter, and not where an artificial structure has been reared either to hide or to make
povo erty of substance.
It is paramount in the union of ease in movement with perspicuity of matter, of both with real splendor, and of all with immense rapidity and striking force. From any other pen, such masses of ornament would be tawdry ; with him they are only rich. As a model of art concealing art, the finest cabinet pictures of Holland are almost his only rivals. Like Pascal, he makes the heaviest subject light; like Burke, he embellishes the barrenest. When he walks over arid plains, the springs of milk and honey, as in a march of Bacchus, seem to rise beneath his tread. The repast he serves is always sumptuous,
but it seems to create an appetite proportioned to its abundance; for who has ever heard of the reader that was cloyed with Macaulay ? In none, perhaps, of our prose writers are lessons such as he gives of truth and beauty, of virtue and of freedom, so vividly associated with delight. Could some magician but do for the career of life what he has done for the arm-chair and the study, what a change would pass on the face (at least) of the world we live in, what an accession of recruits would there be to the professing followers of virtue! ...
The truth is that Macaulay was not only accustomed, like many more of us, to go out hobby-riding, but from the portentous vigor of the animal he mounted was liable more than most of us to be run away with. His merit is that he could keep his seat in the wildest steeple-chase; but as the object in view is arbitrarily chosen, so it is reached by cutting up the fields, spoiling the crops, and spoiling or breaking down the fences needful to secure for labor its profit, and to man at large the full enjoyment of the fruits of the earth. Such is the overpowering glow of color, such the fascination of the grouping in the first sketches which he draws, that when he has grown hot upon his work he seems to lose all sense of the restraints of fact and the laws of moderation; he vents the strangest paradoxes, sets up the most violent caricatures, and handles the false weight and measure as effectively as if he did it knowingly. A man so able and so upright is never indeed wholly wrong. He never for a moment consciously pursues anything but truth. But truth depends, above all, on proportion and relation. The preterhuman vividness with which Macaulay sees his object, absolutely casts a shadow upon what lies around; he loses his perspective; and imagination, impelled headlong by the strong consciousness of honesty in purpose, achieves the work of fraud. All things for him stand in violent contrast to one another. For the shadows, the gradations, the middle and transition touches, which make up the bulk of human life, character, and action, he has neither eye nor taste. They are not taken account of in his practice, and they at length die away from the ranges of his vision. .
In Macaulay all history is scenic; and philosophy he scarcely seems to touch, except on the outer side, where it opens into action. Not only does he habitually present facts in forms of beauty, but the fashioning of the form predominates over, and is injurious to, the absolute and balanced presentation of the
subject. Macaulay was a master in execution, rather than in what painting or music terms expression. He did not fetch from the depths, nor soar to the heights; but his power upon the surface was rare and marvelous, and it is upon the surface that an ordinary life is passed and that its imagery is found. He mingled, then, like Homer, the functions of the poet and the chronicler: but what Homer did was due to his time; what Macaulay did, to his temperament. The
History” of Macaulay, whatever else it may be, is the work not of a journeyman but of a great artist, and a great artist who lavishly bestowed upon it all his powers. Such a work, once committed to the press, can hardly die. It is not because it has been translated into a crowd of languages, nor because it has been sold in hundreds of thousands, that we believe it will live; but because, however open it may be to criticism, it has in it the character of a true and very high work of art.
Whether he will subsist as a standard and supreme authority is another question. Wherever and whenever read, he will be read with fascination, with delight, with wonder. And with copious instruction too; but also with copious reserve, with questioning scrutiny, with liberty to reject and with much exercise of that liberty. The contemporary mind may in rare cases be taken by storm ; but posterity, never. The tribunal of the present is accessible to influence; that of the future is incorrupt. The coming generations will not give Macaulay up; but they will probably attach much less value than we have done to his ipse dixit. They will hardly accept from him his net solutions of literary, and still less of historic problems. Yet they will obtain, from his marked and telling points of view, great aid in solving them. We sometimes fancy that ere long there will be editions of his works in which his readers may be saved from pitfalls by brief, respectful, and judicious commentary; and that his great achievements may be at once commemorated and corrected by men of slower pace, of drier light, and of more tranquil, broad-set, and comprehensive judgment. For his works are in many respects among the prodigies of literature; in some, they have never been surpassed. As lights that have shone through the whole universe of letters, they have made their title to a place in the solid firmament of fame. But the tree is greater and better than its fruit; and greater and better yet than the works themselves are the lofty aims and conceptions, the large heart, the independent, manful mind, the pure and noble career, which in this Biography have disclosed to us the true figure of the man who wrote them.
THE BOOK ON STATE AND CAURCH.
(From "A Chapter of Autobiography.") THE book entitled “The State in its Relations to the Church," was printed during the autumn of 1838, while I was making a tour in the South of Europe, which the state of my eyesight had rendered it prudent to undertake. Three editions of it were published without textual change; and in the year 1841 a fourth, greatly enlarged, though in other respects little altered, issued from the press. All interest in it had, however, even at that time, long gone by, and it lived for nearly thirty years only in the vigorous and brilliant, though not, in my opinion,,entirely faithful picture, drawn by the accomplished hand of Lord Macaulay. During the present year, as I understand from good authority, it has again been in demand, and in my hearing it has received the emphatic suffrages of many, of whose approval I was never made aware during the earlier and less noisy stages of its existence.
The distinctive principle of the book was supposed to be that the State had a conscience. But the controversy really lies not in the existence of a conscience in the State, so much as in the extent of its range. Few would deny the obligation of the State to follow the moral law. Every treaty, for example, depends upon it. The true issue was this: Whether the State in its best condition has such a conscience as can take cognizance of religious truth and error; and in particular, whether the State of the United Kingdom, at a period somewhat exceeding thirty years ago, was or was not so far in that condition as to be under an obligation to give an active and an exclusive support to the established religion of the country. The work attempted to survey the actual state of the relations between the State and the Church ; to show from History the ground which had been defined for the National Church at the Reformation; and to inquire and determine whether the existing state of things was worth preserving and defending against encroachment from whatever quarter. This question is decided emphatically in the affirmative.