Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

skeletons; and others, though less austere in their tastes, prefer to wield the wand of inspiration for themselves. · But whether we personally affect the studio or the dissecting-room, to disparage either seems petty. We might all take a metaphorical lesson from the magnificent canvas on which one of the first among artists has immortalized "The Anatomy Lesson"; and Macaulay, the least barren of historians, could devote an appreciative essay to the apotheosis of Hallam.

But waiving these general considerations, let us start from the admitted premise, that Lord Macaulay, at all events, aimed at no abstract, that is to say, no merely partial representation of his period. In his great historical fragment he professes to give the most complete and most dramatic rendering possible of a supreme historical episode. He aimed, in fact, to some extent, at a new historical departure. His work, so he determined, should combine that minute elaboration of vivid detail which we find in the best memoirs, with the unity of treatment and effect which belongs to an Attic masterpiece. Based upon the perhaps somewhat exaggerated conception of a secular duel, in which two great political parties should be the protagonists, it was to unite a certain epic splendor with the documentary precision which modern criticism requires. His magic crystal should revive for us not merely the men or the manners, the events or the controversies of the past, but men and manners, events and controversies, as a simple, yet manifold, dramatic whole; with the unity, the glow, the vigor, the movement of life still fresh upon them. Anything, therefore, which at all detracts from the completeness of the picture, detracts in so far from the truth, and therefore from the success, of this magnificent effort.

We thus pass at once to the vexed

question of Macaulay's political bias; and here it is, as appears to us, that Mr. Paul loses his footing. With his initial assertion we are indeed at one; the mere fact that Macaulay was in public life definitely and even passionately committed to the interests of a political cause, though in some respects, of course, detrimental to the interests of historic truth, was in others as advantageous to the general fidelity of his representation. The enthusiast, at least, escapes the moral arrogance of the political pedant, and it is only the political partisan who can fully appreciate the compelling force of political passion. No historian who had not shared the hopes and fears of a party could have painted for us, as Macaulay has painted, the alternations of suspense and exultation which marked the trial of the Seven Bishops or the debates of the Convention: and there is a sustained ardor in his long-drawn historical narrative which it had certainly lacked if Macaulay had not written with his heart as well as his head.

But, apart from this parenthetical consideration, we must (as Mr. Paul so aptly reminds us) never allow ourselves to forget that in Macaulay the stream of political prejudice was diverted by a variety of powerful motives. His strong instinctive love of justice, and his hatred of persecution, assisted the healthy common-sense of an active man of affairs; while the pure impartial curiosity of the historic intellect, no less than the lawyer's characteristic liking for "the best evidence," still further tended to repress in him the excesses of party zeal. Counsel for the Whig defence, secured by the honorable retainers of sympathy and conviction, he was emphatically an honest advocate. Sheer, and occasionally almost brutal force, rather than the tricks of the fencing school, was his intellectual equipment; there was no venom in his logical weapons;

and the stiletto he abhorred. The assertion that Macaulay never admits the Whigs to be in the wrong does, as Mr. Paul so justly observes, in itself involve an admission of ignorance; and whenever some knotty question of evidence has roused all the lawyer in Macaulay, he throws himself into the discussion with the penetrating acumen of an examining judge. His partiality is not deliberate, but instinctive; not the partiality which distorts evidence, but the partiality which, when in doubt, gives its own side the benefit. Upon the excesses of the Whig connection he is properly severe. Wharton, the most consistent Whig partisan of his era, plays in the pages of Macaulay no reputable part. Sunderland closed his serpentine career in the odor of Whig sanctity; but for him Macaulay has no reserves of mercy. Marlborough became the rallying point of the Whigs under Queen Anne; but, as regards Marlborough, Mr. Paul has only to clear Maculay from the charge of excessive severity. The portrait of Burnet, usually regarded as the distinctively Whig historian, if a little superficial, and in one respect mistaken, is at least conspicuously fair; and Mr. Paul has an apt allusion to the warm appreciation which Macaulay invariably bestowed upon the saintly nonjuror Ken. The "Trimmer" whom Macaulay glorifies was neither Whig nor partisan; and even William III. comes under the same negative definition. In fact, Macaulay respected honesty of purpose wherever he met it, and had a corresponding contempt for a hypocrite, whatever his colors; nor, till naturalistic science has taught us to regard moral abortion with the respectful sympathy now reserved for physical deformity, is it easy to condemn so generous a partiality. That Macaulay now and then impairs the real balance of an estimate by that touch of rhetorical emphasis which speaks the prac

tised debater, is certainly true; nor are we concerned to deny that his virtuous indignation flows rather more readily when the culprit is a Tory. The stern extorted severity which he metes to the Massacre of Glencoe, may be compared with the more picturesque and voluble indignation reserved for the Bloody Assize. The Rye House conspiracy evokes a reluctant blame less animated than the reprobation which denounces the Fenwick murder plot. The agonies of recalcitrant Covenanters excite a more exuberant sympathy than the torture of Neville Paine; and the journalistic atrocities of the Whigs are less severely censured than the scurrilities of the Jacobite gutterPress. But in these incidental results of political prepossession, we can easily "allow for the political equation"; since few of us can entirely subordinate our natural sense of proportion to the estimate of another mind.

But beneath the charge of political prejudice there lurks, as it were concealed, a yet deeper issue. On page 298 of Mr. Paul's little volume, we detect a modest admission, casually and even parenthetically introduced, which apears to involve much more than Mr. Paul would willingly concede. "Imagination," allows Mr. Paul (and the italics are our own), "was not Macaulay's strong point."

Alike to Macaulay's admirers and to the detractors whom, despite Mr. Paul. we still believe him to possess, this axiom will appear paradoxical. “Macaulay unimaginative" (his critics might exclaim); "Macaulay, to whom we owe the finest extant specimen of the Historical Romance!" No less prompt would be the retort of his disciples. "Macaulay unimaginative! Macaulay, who has evoked for us, with a vividness which Scott never surpassed, the pageantries of old-the great dramatic crises of history-the customs of the past-the lineaments, the very gar

[blocks in formation]

Charles II. and the flight of the second James-the execution of Monmouth, and the proclamation of William and Mary-the siege of Derry, and the last fight of Dundee!" But the context interprets Mr. Paul; and the whole tenor of Macaulay's history lends a sweeping and almost crushing significance to the charge so lightly made. For Macaulay was in fact essentially unimaginative, in the most penetrating sense of the word. With the sensuous pictorial imagination which evokes color and form, sound and movement from the recesses of our slumbering fancy, he was indeed triumphantly endowed; but of the delicate intellectual tact-the sympathetic power of emotional or intellectual response which enables a man to discern, and so to interpret the sources of character and action, he had not a trace. In an historian of Macaulay's pretensions is not the defect somewhat serious?

For what does the charge involve? It involves the assertion that in one qualification, and that among the most essential of qualifications for his own avowed purpose, Macaulay is conspicuously wanting. He aimed at the highest possible ideal of complete historical representation; that is, at the most complete, and therefore most perfect, embodiment of historical truth. It was a magnificent ambition; but an ambition that required for its fulfilment the combined powers of a Thucydides, a Boswell and a Browning-or even a Shakespeare. It needed an intellect in which an Attic sense of form should be superadded to the dramatic sympathy which gave us Pym, and Strafford and Lady Carlisle, Cleon and Caliban, the monks of the Spanish convent and the Jews of the Roman Sermon; it needed at the very least an intellect such as this to paint for us that witches' cauldron of bigotry and greed,

piety and passion, treachery and selfdevotion, patriotism, petty fear and iron determination, which we call "The English Revolution." And to the man who planned the stupendous project, the supreme indispensable gift of imaginative insight was emphatically denied. The transcendent abilities with which he was endowed; his vast erudition; his untiring industry; the easy flow of that vivid and incisive style

which possesses, to a greater extent than that of any other English writer, the attribute of a supreme vitality; his extraordinary power of verbal description, his genius for narrative and the masterly ease with which he manipulates the smallest as well as the largest items of available knowledge into the smooth and polished magnificence of a mosaic whole-these all give a specious air of organic coherence to his versions of character and motive, which deceives the unwary. But these versions are all essentially vitiated by an absence of the power which comprehends. For Macaulay's nature, like other men's, had its limitations; and he had nothing which enabled him to transcend them, even in thought.

It

is hardly an exaggeration to say that no man ever lived who combined wider interests, and a more vivid and intense intellectual curiosity, with intellectual sympathies equally restricted; nor one who united so great a power of dramatic representation, with so total a lack of that dramatic insight which lifts melodrama into tragedy, and raises the merely accurate and effective to the level of the essentially true. His characters act, talk, gesticulate; they do everything but live. In the puppet show he displays for us every part is so fully represented, every scene is so duly played, that it is long ere we grasp the startling truth that the actors are but literary marionettes. But when, as occasionally happens, we are compelled to study for ourselves

some epoch, some character which has employed his vigorous pen, his personages (seen anew in the broken, shifting lights of actual contemporary evidence) gradually assume in our minds an aspect strangely altered; they become less theatrical and less commonplacemore complex, and therefore more human. Slowly we begin to suspect that the persona of his grandiose drama are but broad conventional renderings of historical prototypes. The coloring is always brilliant, the likeness is in general superficially correct, and the career and surroundings are invariably sketched with astonishing fidelity; but of the men and their motives we have received but an imperfect or distorted impression.

If we ask in what direction this defect most prominently appears, the answer is simple enough. Of all the more delicate and recondite phases of human thought and human emotion, Macaulay seems to have been himself devoid; and he failed to recognize their existence elsewhere. His own mind was super-eminently healthy; he could not even guess at the workings of a mind abnormal or overstrained. His own judgment was clear, sane and practical; he could not apprehend the peculiar difficulties of intellects more logical or more subtle. His religious views, so far as he ever expressed them, were simple, and mainly ethical in their bearing; he had a lofty impartial contempt for metaphysics and mystics, and was intellectually incapable of appreciating the enthusiasm of a Quaker, or the scruples of the Anglican non-juror.

Here a protest may be raised. We do not, men may indignantly exclaim, demand from an historian the morbid psychology of a modern "problem" novel. Nor can we expect him to emulate our agreeable American contemporary who can devote a volume to explaining "how a gentleman met a

lady on the cars and how nothing came of it." His business is with external facts, with broad practical issues; we do not ask from him the niceties of sentimental introspection.

I am not, of course, concerned to deny that the study of motive may become morbid. But after all, motive counts for something, even in the baldest annals; and Macaulay is anything but bald. An historian who emulates the minute prolixity of the novel, must accept its responsibilities; and no novel can be really great which is not, inter alia, great in its grasp of character. If the novelist portrays or creates, the historian must to some extent "restore"; there are gaps in historical evidence which must perforce be filled if the picture is to be in any way complete; and only imaginative insight can teach one the nature of the curve whereof he sees but a segment. The inability to perceive the real springs of character and motive, and their true correlation, is in fact the fatal flaw in Macaulay; it is with regard to the portraiture, whether of persons or parties, and not in the mere handling of incident, that his limitations really tell. Readers of Burnet's history must often have remarked a certain incoherence which mars its delineation of character. The features are striking; but they are grouped without method; and we gaze at them bewildered, with no central point of view. In the case of Macaulay, there is more coherence; but we feel, as it were, that the point of view is radically false. The perspective is clear, but incorrect; the lines do not really converge at the point which Macaulay indicates. For there is in Macaulay, as already hinted, an excessive love of simplification; he everywhere betrays passion for the obvious in motive; an inherent tendency to regard every character as a complex of ordinary energies mixed in various proportions.

It was, we think, Lord Melbourne who wished he was as cocksure of anything as Tom Macaulay was cocksure of everything; and most of us, as we struggle through the obscure mazes of this complicated world, must find ourselves occasionally wishing that the most elementary human transaction, the simplest human character, could have something of that fallacious lucidity which Macaulay communicates to the supreme problems of existence. But we are sometimes consoled for our bewilderment when a closer study reveals to us the essential discrepancies of statement over which Macaulay glides, by the simple rhetorical device of ignoring their existence. For Macaulay's characters are either incredibly simple or unconvincingly elaborate. There is about them an inevitably transpontine flavor; for, like the rest of us, where Macaulay does not understand he necessarily parodies; and we find in him, as in Dickens (though for Macaulay it was kept in check by a finer literary taste), that decided tendency towards the exaggeration of salient detail which results in caricature. And the process is assisted by the curious readiness with which Macaulay (so precise in his use of contemporary evidence where incident is concerned), could assimilate and reproduce in an historical portrait the picturesque mendacities of contemporary scandal.

Our contentions, we admit, may, be reasonably challenged if we do not descend to particulars. We have already touched on the strict, though not ignoble limitations, which confined his religious sympathies; his utter incapacity for entering into the mystic or metaphysical development of the religious instinct. But metaphysicians and mystics, to go no further in our. search, were politically influential dur

See in James Ferguson's "Ferguson, the Plotter," a curious instance of details which

ing the later seventeenth century; and Macaulay's complete want of intellectual sympathy with the cravings of these two classes must so far certainly affect the fidelity of his general representations. What light, let us ask, for instance, does Macaulay throw on William Penn, and the entire Quaker movement? The episode of the Maids of Taunton, of which so much has been made, is a mere case of disputed identity in which Macaulay happens to be wrong; and, though serious as regards the issues involved, it is in principle unimportant. But how little, after reading his history, do we grasp. the essential character of the Quaker politician! Courtier and "adventurer," mystic and radical reformer-a peaceful, spiritual Jacobin, and the father of a political State; a religious confessor, in whom religious enthusiasm was tempered by a shrewd leaven of worldly sagacity; a "bigot for toleration" who played into the hands of a militant Jesuitism-he seems to offer a splendid "subject" for historical portraiture; but in Macaulay's hands he becomes merely a mild moral monstrosity—a haphazard personal amalgam of irreconcilable qualities. How completely, too, Macaulay ignores the real genesis, the inherent fascinations of the purely spiritualistic reaction from which Quakerism sprung! How little he grasped the metaphysical insight which underlay the uncouth eccentricities and grotesque phraseology, the almost insane fanaticism of George Fox! How entirely he misapprehended the true drift, the true force, the true weakness of that anarchic mysticism which yet has never become antinomian-of that anti-formalistic enthusiasm which, more than any other fervor, became identified with external (though negative) symbols. Yet for Quakers, and Quakerism in the ab

Macaulay borrowed from a proclamation and in borrowing almost burlesqued.

« AnteriorContinuar »