Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 34.djvu/420

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

during his residence in Calcutta. Macaulay had helped his father, and had saved an independence during his stay in India, which was increased by a legacy of 10,000l. from his uncle, General Macaulay. On reaching London in company with the Trevelyans, in June 1838, he found that his father had died in May. Upon his arrival, Macaulay was challenged by a Mr. Wallace, whose life of Mackintosh (prefixed to the posthumous history) he had condemned with his usual vigour in the ‘Edinburgh Review’ of July 1835, Macaulay was ready to fight, but his friends judiciously discovered terms of arrangement, which made pistols needless. In the autumn, Macaulay made a tour in Italy, much in the spirit of Addison, deeply interested in every illustration of history and literature, looking at scenery ‘in the intervals of reading’ and receiving impressions, afterwards turned to account in the ‘Lays of Ancient Rome.’

He was again in London in February 1839, living with the Trevelyans. For some years his life was distracted by the rival claims of literature and politics. He began his ‘History of England’ (ib. p. 387) in March 1839; intending to include the period from the revolution of 1688, to the death of George III. He contributed several articles to the ‘Edinburgh Review,’ including his attack upon Mr. Gladstone's theory of church and state in 1839; and his famous article upon Clive. Meanwhile he was elected for Edinburgh in 1839, with the support of the government, and professing emphatically his determination to stand by the whig banner ‘while one shred was flying.’ His first speech was in support of the ballot, to which he had pledged himself in Edinburgh, and which was left an open question by the government. In September he was made secretary at war, with a seat in the cabinet. In addressing his constituents upon his re-election, he dated his letter from Windsor Castle, where he was staying. The incident suggested an amount of ridicule, now rather difficult to understand, to which Thackeray refers in the ‘Roundabout Papers.’ At the end of the year, Trevelyan left the Indian service on his being appointed assistant secretary of the treasury, thus relieving Macaulay from the dread of a new separation. He spent the year of 1840 with the Trevelyans, in a house in Great George Street. At the end of the year they moved to Clapham, and he took chambers in the Albany. As secretary at war, Macaulay had to suspend his history to attend to estimates and official work, but he had little occasion of coming prominently forward. He had to defend the government upon a Chinese war, and on the Irish registration question in 1840; and in 1841 was chiefly occupied in defending Lord Cardigan. The government was obviously losing ground. After the dissolution of June-July 1841, Macaulay was returned for Edinburgh without opposition. On the meeting of the new parliament in August, Macaulay did not speak on the debate which led to the fall of the ministry and his own emancipation from office.

Macaulay used his leisure to write the article upon Warren Hastings, and returned to the composition of his ‘History.’ He began (ib. p. 419) to withdraw from the ‘Edinburgh’ as the demands of the ‘History’ became more pressing, though he wrote a few more articles. The Americans meanwhile had been doing him a service by reprinting his essays, and thus forcing him in spite of himself to publish a collective edition. He for a time refused to take a step which, as he held, would imply a claim to permanent interest and fitness to be judged by a high standard on behalf of writings only intended to be ephemeral. Such republication was then much less common than it has now become; but Macaulay's reluctance was clearly genuine, though it implies a curious miscalculation of his own merits. The essays, published in 1843, became popular at once, and the annual sale rose from an average of 1,230 between 1843 and 1853, to an average of six thousand after 1864. The ‘Lays of Ancient Rome’ had appeared in October 1842 with equal success. They were warmly welcomed by his old assailant, ‘Christopher North,’ in ‘Blackwood;’ 18,000 copies were sold in ten years, and over one hundred thousand copies by 1875.

During this period Macaulay's chief political appearance was upon a question in which his literary fame gave him unequalled authority in parliament. In 1841 Talfourd proposed to extend the length of copyright from twenty-eight years, reckoned from the date of publication, to sixty years from the death of the author. Macaulay secured the rejection of this bill by a majority of 45 to 38. In 1842 Lord Mahon proposed a copyright of twenty-five years from the death of the author. Macaulay in a vigorous speech, with even more than his usual wealth of appropriate instances, proposed a copyright of forty-two years from the date of publication. He brought the house round to his view, and the bill, remodelled so as to embody his proposal, became law. In the years of 1844 and 1845 he took an active part in the opposition to Peel, and, while defending the increased grant to Maynooth, bitterly condemned Peel's inconsistency upon the question. In 1845