1846 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Babington Macaulay

John Dix, in "Glimpses from the Gallery" Pen and Ink Sketches of Poets, Preachers, and Politicians (1846) 261-63.



But there is yet another celebrated literary member who must not be passed by. It is THOMAS BABINGTON MACAULAY. That is him who has just risen. He is of about the middle height, his head is rather of the "rotund" formation, and one would not think, on looking at the forehead, which is low, that behind its barrier of bone was so busy a brain. His eyes are small, quick, and vivacious, and a faint smile plays about the corners of the mouth. Altogether, it might be called a good humoured, rather than an intellectual looking countenance. Macaulay's figure is a trifle awkward, and his action by no means graceful — but just watch him as he proceeds with his speech, and you will soon lose all perception of the man. Your closest attention will be demanded to, and rivetted by his matter.

Some member of the House — one of the illustrious obscures — has been theorizing away for the last half hour, and now Macaulay is about to demolish his Aladdin's palace-like structure, with a few balls from his practical battery. See — he catches the Speaker's eye, and listen, as he commences his address in a low tone of voice — pausing between each sentence, as if to reconsider what he had said, or well weigh what he is about to advance. Slowly he goes on at first, like a practised swimmer, who wades carefully over unseen rocks, and looking somewhat awkward as he picks his way; but he is soon in deep water, and away he dashes, fearlessly flinging around him the glittering spray, and rejoicing in his strength. Macaulay is now fairly released from the shallowness of introductory matter, and away he goes, far and fast. As he proceeds, his voice increases in volume and force — his right arm is in incessant motion — his eye kindles, and from his eloquent lips, brilliant ideas chase each other in rapid succession, until the House is wrapt in the closest attention. But Macaulay's speeches consist not of ideas only — he grapples with no shadows. Truth is his weapon, honesty is his armour, and facts are the weapons with which he fights. Woe be unto the unlucky wight, who, for the sake of display, has gone forth to the wordy combat, clad in the gew-gaw panoply of sophism. For him, and for such as he, Macaulay has no mercy. He proceeds to the attack on such an adversary, smiling in undissembled scorn, as he raises the point of his glittering lance; and almost ere we can sufficiently admire the temper and polish of the weapon, his victim is unhorsed, a "spectacle to gods and men." Champion after champion he disposes of in a like manner; and when the lists are cleared, and not another foe presents himself, he stands alone in his glory — a sturdy and victorious champion of the truth. When Macaulay resumes his seat, a dead silence for a few minutes ensues, and then a burst of applause, such as only sterling eloquence can command, is heard; before it ceases, some nobody chirps out "Mr. Speaker," and in a twinkling the benches are half cleared — the library is filled with loungers — the lobbies are crowded, and sleepy country members repair to the side galleries, there to finish their slumbers, and indulge in dreams of places and pensions.