1834 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir James Mackintosh

Thomas Babington Macaulay, in "Mackintosh's History of the Revolution in England"1834; Moulton, Library of Literary Criticism (1901-05) 5:179.



Whatever was valuable in the compositions of Sir James Mackintosh, was the ripe fruit of study and meditation. It was the same with his conversation. In his most familiar talk there was no wildness, no inconsistency, no amusing nonsense, no exaggeration for the sake of momentary effect. His mind was a vast magazine, admirably arranged; everything was there, and everything was in its place. His judgments on men, on sects, on books, had been often and carefully tested and weighed, and had then been committed, each to its proper receptacle, in the most capacious and accurately constructed memory that any human being ever possessed. It would have been strange indeed, if you had asked for anything that was not to be found in that immense storehouse. The article which you required was not only there. It was ready. It was in its own proper compartment. In a moment it was brought down, unpacked, and displayed. If those who enjoyed the privilege — for privilege indeed it was — of listening to Sir James Mackintosh, had been disposed to find some fault in his conversation, they might perhaps have observed that he yielded too little to the impulse of the moment. He seemed to be recollecting, not creating. He never appeared to catch a sudden glimpse of a subject in a new light. You never saw his opinions in the making, — still rude, still inconsistent, and requiring to be fashioned by thought and discussion. They came forth, like the pillars of that temple in which no sound of axes or hammers was heard, finished, rounded, and exactly suited to their places.