1898 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir James Mackintosh

Rowland E. Prothero, in Byron, Letters and Journals, ed. Rowland E. Prothero (1898-1901) 2:236-37n.



Sir James Mackintosh (1765-1832), after studying medicine, was called to the English Bar in 1795. Originally a supporter of the French Revolution, he answered Burke's Reflections with his Vindiciae Gallicae (1791). He is "Mr. Macfungus" in the Anti-Jacobin's account of the "Meeting of the Friends of Freedom." But his revolutionary sympathies rapidly cooled, and he publicly disavowed them in his Introductory Discourse on the Study of the Law of Nature and Nations (1799). He remained, however, throughout his life, a Whig. His lectures on "The Law of Nature and Nations," delivered at Lincoln's Inn, in 1799, brought him into prominence, both at the Bar and in society. In 1803 he was knighted on accepting the Recordership of Bombay. He returned to England in 1812, entered Parliament as member for Nairn, advocated some useful measures, became a Privy Councillor in 1828, and held office in the Whig Ministry of 1830 as Commissioner of the Board of Control. In politics, as well as in literature, he disappointed expectation. His principal works, besides those mentioned above, were his Dissertation on the Progress of Ethical Philosophy (1830), and his History of the Revolution in England in 1688 (1834).

His great intellectual powers were shown to most advantage in society. Rogers (Table-Talk, pp. 197, 198) thought him one of the three acutest men he had ever known. "He had a prodigious memory, and could repeat by heart more of Cicero than you could easily believe.... I never met a man with a fuller mind than Mackintosh, — such readiness on all subjects, such a talker." "Till subdued by age and illness," wrote Sydney Smith (Life of Mackintosh, vol. ii. p. 500), "his conversation was more brilliant and instructive than that of any human being I ever had the good fortune to be acquainted with." As in political life, so in society, he was too much of the lecturer. Ticknor (Life, vol. i. p. 265) thought him "a little too precise, a little too much made up in his manners and conversation." But on all sides there is evidence to confirm the testimony of Rogers (Table-Talk, p. 207) that he was a man "who had not a particle of envy or jealousy in his nature."