1833 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Babington Macaulay

Allan Cunningham, in "Biographical and Critical History of the Literature of the last Fifty Years" The Athenaeum (28 December 1833) 892.



THOMAS BABINGTON MACAULAY has fine qualities, and perhaps is the only one of all the club of nothern critics, who unites high imagination with deep sagacity — a feeling of the tender and the touching, with a love of the sharp and the satiric. He is sometimes more dazzling than accurate; and may be accused of overlooking beauties, and occasionally of discovering them where they can scarcely be said to exist. He has aided in giving a tone of kindliness to the Edinburgh Review, which was greatly wanted: we have no longer any of those biting and insulting papers, in which true genius was trampled in the mire, and some ass who brayed on the Whig side of the common, exalted as a deity. The Review itself has ceased to be a Fee-fa-fum to young authors: the public has seen the folly of following in the train of judges who condemned the good and exalted the indifferent. The bright have risen into eminence in spite of their censure; and the dull have descended to oblivion in spite of their praise. Booksellers no longer take their opinion from criticism, and a writer suffers no material injury from its attacks. When Pope satirized Ralph, the latter found that the trade had lost all confidence in his capacity; when Jeffrey attacked Lamb and Montgomery, they rose into reputation notwithstanding. In truth, the impatience of the public will not permit them to wait till the quarterly quota of criticism is issued: before the book is well dried, it is opened up in a thousand hands; and when Macaulay's splendid disquisition makes its appearance, he finds the work is either high in favour, and requires no aid, or is already dead, and beyond the reach of censure.