1836 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir William Temple

Thomas Babington Macaulay, in Edinburgh Review (1836); Moulton, Library of Literary Criticism (1901-05) 2:458.



The style of his essays is, on the whole, excellent, — almost always pleasing, and now and then stately and splendid. The matter is generally of much less value.... He was no profound thinker. He was merely a man of lively parts and quick observation, — a man of the world amongst men of letters, — a man of letters amongst men of the world. Mere scholars were dazzled by the embassador and cabinet counsillor; mere politicians by the essayist and historian. But neither as a writer nor as a statesman can we allot to him any very high place. As a man, he seems to us to have been excessively selfish, but very sober, wary, and far-sighted in his selfishness; — to have known better than most people know what he really wanted in life; and to have pursued what he wanted with much more than ordinary steadiness and sagacity; — never suffering himself to be drawn aside either by bad or by good feelings. It was his constitution to dread failure more than he desired success, — to prefer security, comfort, repose, leisure, to the turmoil and anxiety which are inseparable from greatness; — and this natural languor of mind, when contrasted with the malignant energy of the keen and restless spirits among whom hi slot was cast, sometimes appears to resemble the moderation of virtue. But we must own, that he seems to us to sink into littleness and meanness when we compare him — we do not say with any high ideal standard of morality, — but with many of those frail men who, aiming at noble ends, but often drawn from the right path by strong passions and strong temptations, have left to posterity a doubtful and checkered fame.