Thomas Babington Macaulay

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine 208 (February 1860) 182-84.

Dec. 28. At Kensington, Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay.

The deceased was born on the 25th of October, 1800, at Rothley Temple, Leicestershire, and was the son of Zachary Macaulay, well known for his exertions, in company with Clarkson and Wilberforce, for the abolition of the slave trade. After graduating with high honour at Trinity College, Cambridge, he was elected to the Craven Scholarship in 1821, and became a Fellow in the succeeding year. In 1826 he was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn. As early as 1824 he had given evidence of his literary talent by some poems contributed to various magazines; and in 1826 his essay on Milton appeared in the "Edinburgh Review," which gave promise of his future eminence. He espoused the Whig side in politics, was an able defender of their views, and though but young, and little of a lawyer, he was appointed a Commissioner of Bankruptcy; and in 1830, that he might give them parliamentary support, the Marquis Lansdowne caused him to be returned as member for Calne. He afterwards became Secretary to the Board of Control, and in the discussions on the Reform Bill, defended the policy of the Grey ministry against all opponents. In 1832 Mr. Macaulay was returned with Mr. John Marshall as member for the newly enfranchised borough of Leeds. Two years after, to the disappointment of his constituents, he accepted an appointment in India. His position there was most important, but he failed to give satisfaction to the European population. He was not simply a member of the Supreme Council, but its legal adviser, and the special object of his mission was to prepare anew Indian code of law. He was therefore exempted from all share in the administration of affairs; he had four assistants to help him in his labours, and the penal code which was produced under his superintendence is mainly to be attributed to him. Containing some twenty-six chapters divided into nearly five hundred clauses, this code was published after Mr. Macaulay's return to this country in 1838, and its great ability acknowledged; but unfortunately, it was rather admired than obeyed; it would not work. The variety of races and customs to which it was applied has prevented even the attempt to put it in practice. One of its enactments, indeed, was so odious to the English inhabitants, that they gave it the appellation of the "Black Act." It abolished the right of appealing from the Local Courts to the Supreme Court at the Presidency. This right had hitherto been exclusively enjoyed by Europeans, and now it was proposed to put them on the same footing with natives, giving to both a certain right of appeal, but appeal only to the highest Provincial Courts.

Mr. Macaulay held his post for three years, and on his return to England produced those well-known sketches of Lord Clive and Warren Hastings, due, no doubt, to the acquaintance with Indian affairs he had acquired in Calcutta. In 1839 he accepted the office of Secretary at War, and in 1840 was returned to Parliament for the city of Edinburgh. At an earlier period of his life Mr. Macaulay had produced several spirit-stirring ballads, as "The Spanish Armada," "The Battle of the League," and "Ivry;" but now he tried his powers on a larger scale, and in 1842 gave to the world his "Lays of Ancient Rome." His essays, which had been previously published in America, were in the following year collected into three volumes. It is believed that his latest contribution to the "Edinburgh" was the second part of his "Essay on Lord Chatham," which appeared in the autumn of 1844. At the restoration of the Whig party to power in 1846, Mr. Macaulay was appointed Paymaster of the Forces, with a seat in the Cabinet. In consequence, however, of a serious disagreement between him and his constituents, with regard to the Maynooth grant, the citizens of Edinburgh rejected him at the election of 1847 in favour of Mr. Cowan. In 1852 he and his Edinburgh friends were reconciled; they elected him free of expense, and he continued their member until he was raised to the peerage in 1857. His attention to parliamentary duties was, however, interfered with by attacks of heart complaint, which warned him to avoid the excitement of public speaking, and his efforts were mainly directed to the production of a History of England, which he hoped to bring down to recent, times, but which, after at least ten years' labour, remains a mere fragment. The first two volumes were published in 1849, two more in 1855, and two more have been for some time understood to be on the eve of completion. Of the graces of style and charm of narrative of this remarkable work there cannot be two opinions, but it is equally certain that it is prejudiced and inaccurate, that it apportions praise and blame only with a view to the laudation of the men of the Revolution, and that its author has been correctly described as an "apologist for all Whigs and all Whig measures." The book has, however, taken its stand as a classic, although, like the often blamed but still popular History of David Hume, in point of authority it falls as far below many well-known works which treat of the same period, as it rises above them in fascination.