Thomas Babington Macaulay

British historian and politician (1800–1859)

Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1st Baron Macaulay (25 October 180028 December 1859) was a nineteenth century British poet, historian and Whig politician.

The highest proof of virtue is to possess boundless power without abusing it.


Men are never so likely to settle a question rightly as when they discuss it freely.


  • It is surely delightful, Sir, to look forward to that period when a series of liberal and prudent measures shall have delivered islands, so highly favoured by the bounty of Providence, from the curse inflicted on them by the frantic rapacity of man. Then the peasant of the Antilles will no longer crawl in listless and trembling dejection round a plantation from whose fruits he must derive no advantage, and a hut whose door yields him no protection; but, when his cheerful and voluntary labour is performed, he will return with the firm step and erect brow of a British citizen from the field which is his freehold to the cottage which is his castle.
    • Speech to a meeting of the Anti-Slavery Society held in Freemasons' Tavern (25 June 1824), quoted in Report of the Committee of the Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery Throughout the British Dominions, Volume I (1824), p. 77
  • Press where ye see my white plume shine, amidst the ranks of war,
    And be your oriflamme today the helmet of Navarre.
  • Oh! wherefore come ye forth in triumph from the north,
    With your hands and your feet and your raiment all red?
    And wherefore doth your rout send forth a joyous shout?
    And whence be the grapes of the wine-press which ye tread?
  • Our academical Pharisees.
    • On Milton (1825)
  • Soon fades the spell, soon comes the night;
    Say will it not be then the same,
    Whether we played the black or white,
    Whether we lost or won the game?
    • Sermon in a Churchyard, st. 8 (1825)
  • Out of his surname they have coined an epithet for a knave, and out of his Christian name a synonym for the Devil.
  • Nothing is so useless as a general maxim.
    • On Machiavelli (1827)
  • The gallery in which the reporters sit has become a fourth estate of the realm.
    • On Hallam's Constitutional History (1828)
  • Intoxicated with animosity.
    • On Hallam's Constitutional History
  • We have classical associations and great names of our own which we can confidently oppose to the most splendid of ancient times. Senate has not to our ears a sound so venerable as Parliament. We respect the Great Charter more than the laws of Solon. The Capitol and the Forum impress us with less awe than our own Westminster Hall and Westminster Abbey...The list of warriors and statesmen by whom our constitution was founded or preserved, from De Montfort down to Fox, may well stand a comparison with the Fasti of Rome. The dying thanksgiving of Sydney is as noble as the libation which Thrasea poured to Liberating Jove: and we think with far less pleasure of Cato tearing out his entrails than of Russell saying, as he turned away from his wife, that the bitterness of death was past.
    • 'History', Edinburgh Review (May 1828)
  • Our liberty is neither Greek nor Roman; but essentially English. It has a character of its own,—a character which has taken a tinge from the sentiments of the chivalrous ages, and which accords with the peculiarities of our manners and of our insular situation. It has a language, too, of its own, and a language singularly idiomatic, full of meaning to ourselves, scarcely intelligible to strangers.
    • 'History', Edinburgh Review (May 1828)


  • I have not the Chancellor’s encyclopedic mind. He is indeed a kind of semi-Solomon. He half knows everything, from the cedar to the hyssop.
    • Letter to Macvey Napier (17 December 1830)
  • Turn where we may,—within,—around,—the voice of great events is proclaiming to us, Reform, that you may preserve. Now, therefore, while every thing at home and abroad forebodes ruin to those who persist in a hopeless struggle against the spirit of the age,—now, while the crash of the proudest throne of the continent is still resounding in our ears,—now, while the roof of a British palace affords an ignominious shelter to the exiled heir of forty kings,—now, while we see on every side ancient institutions subverted, and great societies dissolved,—now, while the heart of England is still sound,—now, while the old feelings and the old associations retain a power and a charm which may too soon pass away,—now, in this your accepted time,—now in this your day of salvation,—take counsel, not of prejudice,—not of party spirit,—not of the ignominious pride of a fatal consistency,—but of history,—of reason,—of the ages which are past,—of the signs of this most portentous time. Pronounce in a manner worthy of the expectation with which this great Debate has been anticipated, and of the long remembrance which it will leave behind. Renew the youth of the State. Save property divided against itself. Save the multitude, endangered by their own ungovernable passions. Save the aristocracy, endangered by its own unpopular power. Save the greatest, and fairest, and most highly civilized community that ever existed, from calamities which may in a few days sweep away all the rich heritage of many ages of wisdom and glory. The danger is terrible. The time is short. If this Bill should be rejected, I pray to God that none of those who concur in rejecting it may ever remember their votes with unavailing regret, amidst the wreck of laws, the confusion of ranks, the spoliation of property, and the dissolution of social order.
  • Such a scene as the division of last Tuesday I never saw, and never expect to see again. ... It was like seeing Caesar stabbed in the Senate House, or seeing Oliver taking the mace from the table; a sight to be seen only once, and never to be forgotten. ... [Y]ou might have heard a pin drop as Duncannon read the numbers. Then again the shouts broke out, and many of us shed tears. I could scarcely refrain. And the jaw of Peel fell; and the face of Twiss was as the face of a damned soul; and Herries looked like Judas taking his necktie off for the last operation. We shook hands, and clapped each other on the back, and went out laughing, crying, and huzzaing into the lobby. ... I called a cabriolet, and the first thing the driver asked was, “Is the Bill carried?” “Yes, by one.” “Thank God for it, Sir.” And away I rode to Gray's Inn,—and so ended a scene which will probably never be equalled till the reformed Parliament wants reforming; and that I hope will not be till the days of our grandchildren, till that truly orthodox and apostolical person Dr. Francis Ellis is an archbishop of eighty.
    • On the passage of the Great Reform Act; letter to Ellis (30 March 1831), quoted in George Otto Trevelyan, The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, Volume I (Longmans, 1876), pp. 201–204
  • That wonderful book, while it obtains admiration from the most fastidious critics, is loved by those who are too simple to admire it.
    • On Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (1831)
  • What a singular destiny has been that of this remarkable man!—To be regarded in his own age as a classic, and in ours as a companion! To receive from his contemporaries that full homage which men of genius have in general received only from posterity; to be more intimately known to posterity than other men are known to their contemporaries!
    • On Boswell’s Life of Johnson (1831)
  • Ye diners-out from whom we guard our spoons.
    • Political Georgics (June 29, 1831)
  • Other countries have obtained deliverances equally signal and complete, but in no country has that deliverance been obtained with such perfect peace; so entirely within the bounds of the Constitution; with all the forms of law observed; the government of the country proceeding in its regular course; every man going forth unto his labour until the evening. France boasts of her three days of July, when her people rose, when barricades fenced the streets, and the entire population of the capital in arms successfully vindicated their liberties. They boast, and justly, of those three days of July; but I will boast of our ten days of May. We, too, fought a battle, but it was with moral arms. We, too, placed an impassable barrier between ourselves and military tyranny; but we fenced ourselves only with moral barricades. Not one crime committed, not one acre confiscated, not one life lost, not one instance of outrage or attack on the authorities or the laws. Our victory has not left a single family in mourning. Not a tear, not a drop of blood, has sullied the pacific and blameless triumph of a great people.
    • Speech to his committee at Leeds after the Reform Bill had received the Royal assent (1832), quoted in George Otto Trevelyan, The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, Volume I (1876), pp. 283–284
  • The conformation of his mind was such that whatever was little seemed to him great, and whatever was great seemed to him little.
    • On Horace Walpole (1833)
  • Such night in England ne'er had been, nor ne'er again shall be.
    • The Armada, l. 34 (1833)
  • 'It is scarcely possible to calculate the benefits which we might derive from the diffusion of European civilisation among the vast population of the East. It would be, on the most selfish view of the case, far better for us that the people of India were well governed and independent of us, than ill governed and subject to us; that they were ruled by their own kings, but wearing our broadcloth, and working with our cutlery, than that they were performing their salams to English collectors and English magistrates, but were too ignorant to value, or too poor to buy, English manufactures. To trade with civilised men is infinitely more profitable than to govern savages. That would, indeed, be a doting wisdom, which, in order that India might remain a dependency, would make it an useless and costly dependency, which would keep a hundred millions of men from being our customers in order that they might continue to be our slaves.'"
    • "From his Speech in Parliament on the Government of India Bill, 10 July 1833. Quoted from Koenraad Elst, The Argumentative Hindu (2012) Chapter 3
  • It may be that the public mind of India may expand under our system till it has outgrown that system; that by good government we may educate our subjects into a capacity for better government, that, having become instructed in European knowledge, they may, in some future age, demand European institutions. Whether such a day will ever come I know not. But never will I attempt to avert or to retard it. Whenever it comes, it will be the proudest day in English history.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (10 July 1833)
  • No Hindoo, who has received an English education, ever remains sincerely attached to his religion. Some continue to profess it as matter of policy; but many profess themselves pure Deists, and some embrace Christianity. It is my firm belief that, if our plans of education are followed up, there will not be a single idolator among the respectable classes in Bengal thirty years hence. And this will be effected without any efforts to proselytise; without the smallest interference with religious liberty; merely by the natural operation of knowledge and reflection. I heartily rejoice in the prospect.'"
    • Letter written to his father in 1836. Quoted in Indian Church History Review, December 1973, p. 187. Partially quoted in Goel, S. R. (2016). History of Hindu-Christian encounters, AD 304 to 1996. Chapter 13. ISBN 9788185990354 . Quoted from Koenraad Elst, The Argumentative Hindu (2012) Chapter 3
  • To sum up the whole, we should say that the aim of the Platonic philosophy was to exalt man into a god.
    • On Lord Bacon (1837)
  • An acre in Middlesex is better than a principality in Utopia.
    • On Lord Bacon
  • Temple was a man of the world amongst men of letters, a man of letters amongst men of the world.
    • On Sir William Temple (1838)
  • We know that India cannot have a free Government. But she may have the next best thing,—a firm and impartial despotism.
    • Minute (c. 1838), quoted in George Otto Trevelyan, The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, Volume I (1876), p. 396
  • I conceive that the Act is good in itself. ... The strongest reason...for passing it is the nature of the opposition which it has experienced. The organs of that opposition repeated every day that the English were the conquerors, and the lords of the country, the dominant race. ... The firmness with which the Government withstood the idle outcry of two or three hundred people...was designated as insolent defiance of public opinion. We were enemies of freedom, because we would not suffer a small white aristocracy to domineer over millions. How utterly at variance these principles are with reason, with justice, with the honour of the British Government, and with the dearest interests of the Indian people, it is unnecessary for me to point out. For myself, I can only say that, if the Government is to be conducted on such principles, I am utterly disqualified, by all my feelings and opinions, from bearing any part in it, and cannot too soon resign my place to some person better fitted to hold it.
    • Minute on the "Black Act" of 1836, which put Europeans under jurisdiction of the Sadr Diwani Adalat (c. 1838), quoted in George Otto Trevelyan, The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, Volume I (1876), pp. 399–400
  • To the Whigs of the seventeenth century we owe it that we have a House of Commons. To the Whigs of the nineteenth century we owe it that the House of Commons has been purified. The abolition of the slave-trade, the abolition of colonial slavery, the extension of popular education, the mitigation of the rigour of the penal code, all, all were effected by that party; and of that party, I repeat, I am a member. I look with pride on all that the Whigs have done for the cause of human freedom and of human happiness. I see them now hard pressed, struggling with difficulties, but still fighting the good fight. At their head I see men who have inherited the spirit and the virtues, as well as the blood, of old champions and martyrs of freedom...While one shred of the old banner is flying, by that banner will I at least be found.
    • Speech to the electors at Edinburgh (May 1839)


  • Every schoolboy knows who imprisoned Montezuma, and who strangled Atahualpa.
    • On Lord Clive (1840)
  • She [the Roman Catholic Church] may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul’s.
    • On Ranke's History of the Popes (1840)
  • She [the Catholic Church] thoroughly understands what no other Church has ever understood, how to deal with enthusiasts.
    • On Ranke's History of the Popes (1840)
  • It was natural that they should look with confidence on the victorious flag which was hoisted over them, which reminded them that they belonged to a country unaccustomed to defeat, to submission, or to shame—it reminded them that they belonged to a country which had made the farthest ends of the earth ring with the fame of her exploits in redressing the wrongs of her children; that made the Dey of Algiers humble himself to her insulted consul; that revenged the horrors of the black hole on the fields of Plessey; that had not degenerated since her great Protector vowed that he would make the name of Englishman as respected as ever had been the name of Roman citizen. They felt that although far from their native country, and then in danger in a part of the world remote from that to which they must look for protection, yet that they belonged to a state which would not suffer a hair of one of its members to be harmed with impunity.
  • The Chief Justice was rich, quiet, and infamous.
    • On Warren Hastings (1841)
  • In that temple of silence and reconciliation where the enmities of twenty generations lie buried, in the great Abbey which has during many ages afforded a quiet resting-place to those whose minds and bodies have been shattered by the contentions of the Great Hall.
    • On Warren Hastings (1841)
  • Thus, then, stands the case. It is good, that authors should be remunerated; and the least exceptionable way of remunerating them is by a monopoly. Yet monopoly is an evil. For the sake of the good we must submit to the evil; but the evil ought not to last a day longer than is necessary for the purpose of securing the good.
    • Speech on the Copyright Bill (5 February 1841)
  • I shall not be satisfied unless I produce something which shall for a few days supersede the last fashionable novel on the tables of young ladies.
    • Letter to Macvey Napier (5 November 1841)
  • In order that he might rob a neighbour whom he had promised to defend, black men fought on the coast of Coromandel and red men scalped each other by the great lakes of North America.
    • On Fredrick the Great (1842)
  • We hardly know an instance of the strength and weakness of human nature so striking and so grotesque as the character of this haughty, vigilant, resolute, sagacious blue-stocking, half Mithridates and half Trissotin, bearing up against a world in arms, with an ounce of poison in one pocket and a quire of bad verses in the other.
    • On Fredrick the Great (1842)
  • I would rather be a poor man in a garret with plenty of books than a king who did not love reading.
    • Letter to his Niece (15 September 1842)
  • The highest proof of virtue is to possess boundless power without abusing it.
    • Review of Aiken’s Life of Addison (1843)
  • I would not give up the keys to the granary, because I know that, by doing so, I should turn scarcity into a famine.
    • Sullivan, p. 266 (1843)
  • He [Richard Steele] was a rake among scholars, and a scholar among rakes.
    • Review of Aiken’s Life of Addison
  • A man who has never looked on Niagra has but a faint idea of a cataract; and he who has not read Barère's Memoirs may be said not to know what it is to lie.
    • On Mémoires de Bertrand Barère (1844)
  • There you [Sir Robert Peel] sit, doing penance for the disingenuousness of years.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (14 April 1845)
  • Forget all feuds, and shed one English tear
    O'er English dust. A broken heart lies here.
    • Epitaph on a Jacobite (1845)
  • The sweeter sound of woman’s praise.
    • Lines written in August, 1847
  • Then the Quakers, five in number. Never was there such a rout. They had absolutely nothing to say. Every charge against Penn came out as clear as any case at the Old Bailey. They had nothing to urge but what was true enough, that he looked worse in my History than he would have looked on a general survey of his whole life. But that is not my fault. I wrote the History of four years during which he was exposed to great temptations; during which he was the favourite of a bad king, and an active solicitor in a most corrupt court. His character was injured by his associations. Ten years before, or ten years later, he would have made a much better figure. But was I to begin my book ten years earlier or ten years later for William Penn's sake? The Quakers were extremely civil. So was I. They complimented me on my courtesy and candour.
    • Journal entry (5 February 1849), quoted in George Otto Trevelyan, The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, Volume II (1876), pp. 251–252
  • At last I have attained true glory. As I walked through Fleet Street the day before yesterday, I saw a copy of Hume at a bookseller's window with the following label: “Only 2l. 2s. Hume's History of England in eight volumes, highly valuable as an introduction to Macaulay.” I laughed so convulsively that the other people who were staring at the books took me for a poor demented gentleman. Alas for poor David!
    • Journal entry (8 March 1849), quoted in George Otto Trevelyan, The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, Volume II (1876), p. 253


  • It is odd that the last twenty-five years which have witnessed the greatest progress ever made in physical science—the greatest victories ever achieved by mind over matter—should have produced hardly a volume that will be remembered in 1900.
    • Diary entry (9 March 1850), quoted in Thomas Maculay, The Letters of Thomas Babington Macaulay: Volume 5, January 1849–December 1855, ed. Thomas Pinney (1981), p. 99
  • Joe Hume talked to me very earnestly about the necessity of an union of Liberals. He said much about Ballot and the Franchise. I told him that I could easily come to some compromise with him and his friends on these matters, but that there were other questions about which I feared that there was an irreconcileable difference, particularly the vital question of national defence. He seemed quite confounded, and had absolutely nothing to say. I am fully determined to make them eat their words on that point, or to have no political connection with them.
    • Journal entry (November 1852), quoted in George Otto Trevelyan, The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, Volume II (1876), p. 368
  • That noble Lord is of opinion, not only that we ought to exclude Natives from office, but that even by encouraging them to study the arts and learning of Europe, we are preparing the way for the utter destruction of our power in India. I must leave it to the noble Lord to explain what seems to me a rather singular inconsistency in his opinion. I am at a loss to understand how, while utterly contemning education when it is given to Europeans, he should regard it with dread when it is given to Natives. This training, we are told, when given to a European, makes him a bookworm, a twaddler, a man unfit for the active duties of life; but give the same education to the Hindoo, and it arms him with such an accession of intellectual power, that an established government, with an army of 250,000 men, backed by the whole army and navy of England, are to go down inevitably before its irresistible power.
  • Your Constitution is all sail and no anchor.
    • Letter to H.S. Randall, author of a Life of Thomas Jefferson (23 May 1857)
  • Motley called. I like him much. We agree wonderfully well about slavery, and it is not often that I meet any person with whom I agree on that subject. For I hate slavery from the bottom of my soul; and yet I am made sick by the cant and the silly mock reasons of the Abolitionists. The nigger driver and the negrophile are two odious things to me. I must make Lady Macbeth's reservation: “Had he not resembled—”.
    • Journal entry (8 July 1858), quoted in George Otto Trevelyan, The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, Volume I (1876), p. 23, n. 1
  • The only revolutions wh[ich] have turned out well have been defensive revolutions – ours of 1688 – the French of 1830 – the American was, to a great extent, of the same kind.
    • Journal entry (29 December [1858]), quoted in Joseph Hamburger, 'Introduction', to Thomas Babington Macaulay, Napoleon and the Restoration of the Bourbons: The Completed Portion of Macaulay's Projected "History of France from the Restoration of the Bourbons to the Accession of Louis Philippe", ed. Joseph Hamburger (1977), p. 22
  • These be the great Twin Brethren
    To whom the Dorians pray.
    • The Battle of Lake Regillus; reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919)

Essay on Mitford's History of Greece (1824)

  • That is the best government which desires to make the people happy, and knows how to make them happy.
  • Free trade, one of the greatest blessings which a government can confer on a people, is in almost every country unpopular.
  • Wherever literature consoles sorrow or assuages pain; wherever it brings gladness to eyes which fail with wakefulness and tears, and ache for the dark house and the long sleep,—there is exhibited in its noblest form the immortal influence of Athens.

On Milton (1825)

  • We hold that the most wonderful and splendid proof of genius is a great poem produced in a civilized age.
  • Nobles by the right of an earlier creation, and priests by the imposition of a mightier hand.
  • The dust and silence of the upper shelf.
  • As civilization advances, poetry almost necessarily declines.
  • Perhaps no person can be a poet, or even enjoy poetry, without a certain unsoundness of mind.
  • There is only one cure for the evils which newly acquired freedom produces, and that cure is freedom.
  • Many politicians of our time are in the habit of laying it down as a self-evident proposition, that no people ought to be free till they are fit to use their freedom. The maxim is worthy of the fool in the old story, who resolved not to go into the water till he had learned to swim. If men are to wait for liberty till they become wise and good in slavery, they may indeed have to wait forever.
    • Critical and Historical Essays: Volume II (London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1907), p. 180

On John Dryden (1828)

  • The English Bible,—a book which if everything else in our language should perish, would alone suffice to show the whole extent of its beauty and power.
  • His imagination resembled the wings of an ostrich. It enabled him to run, though not to soar.
  • A man possessed of splendid talents, which he often abused, and of a sound judgment, the admonitions of which he often neglected; a man who succeeded only in an inferior department of his art, but who in that department succeeded pre-eminently.
  • It seems that the creative faculty and the critical faculty cannot exist together in their highest perfection.

Southey's Colloquies on Society (1830)

Full text online
  • Men are never so likely to settle a question rightly as when they discuss it freely.
  • A single breaker may recede; but the tide is evidently coming in.
  • Nothing is so galling to a people not broken in from the birth as a paternal, or, in other words, a meddling government, a government which tells them what to read, and say, and eat, and drink and wear.
  • There is surely no contradiction in saying that a certain section of the community may be quite competent to protect the persons and property of the rest, yet quite unfit to direct our opinions, or to superintend our private habits.

On Moore’s Life of Lord Byron (1830)

  • He had a head which statuaries loved to copy, and a foot the deformity of which the beggars in the streets mimicked.
  • We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality.
  • From the poetry of Lord Byron they drew a system of ethics compounded of misanthropy and voluptuousness,—a system in which the two great commandments were to hate your neighbour and to love your neighbour’s wife.

Minute on Indian Education (1835)

Minute on Education (1835)
Minute on Indian Education (2 February 1835) in the Great Indian Education debate, Lynn Zastoupil and Martin Moir, London: Curzon, 1999 p. 165
  • In one point I fully agree with the gentlemen to whose general views I am opposed. I feel with them, that it is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.
  • I have no knowledge of either Sanscrit or Arabic. But I have done what I could to form a correct estimate of their value. I have read translations of the most celebrated Arabic and Sanscrit works. I have conversed, both here and at home, with men distinguished by their proficiency in the Eastern tongues. I am quite ready to take the oriental learning at the valuation of the orientalists themselves. I have never found one among them who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. The intrinsic superiority of the Western literature is indeed fully admitted by those members of the committee who support the oriental plan of education.
  • It will hardly be disputed, I suppose, that the department of literature in which the Eastern writers stand highest is poetry. And I certainly never met with any orientalist who ventured to maintain that the Arabic and Sanscrit poetry could be compared to that of the great European nations. But when we pass from works of imagination to works in which facts are recorded and general principles investigated, the superiority of the Europeans becomes absolutely immeasurable. It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanscrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgments used at preparatory schools in England. In every branch of physical or moral philosophy, the relative position of the two nations is nearly the same.
  • All parties seem to be agreed on one point, that the dialects commonly spoken among the natives of this part of India contain neither literary nor scientific information, and are moreover so poor and rude that, until they are enriched from some other quarter, it will not be easy to translate any valuable work into them.

Lays of Ancient Rome (1842)

Full text online at Project Gutenberg
Lars Porsena of Closium
By the Nine Gods he swore
That the great house of Tarquin
Should suffer wrong no more.
To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods?
  • Lars Porsena of Closium
    By the Nine Gods he swore
    That the great house of Tarquin
    Should suffer wrong no more.
    By the Nine Gods he swore it,
    And named a trysting day,
    And bade his messengers ride forth,
    East and west and south and north,
    To summon his array.
    • Horatius, st. 1
  • Then out spake brave Horatius,
    The Captain of the Gate:
    "To every man upon this earth
    Death cometh soon or late.
    And how can man die better
    Than facing fearful odds,
    For the ashes of his fathers,
    And the temples of his gods

    And for the tender mother
    Who dandled him to rest,
    And for the wife who nurses
    His baby at her breast,
    And for the holy maidens
    Who feed the eternal flame,
    To save them from false Sextus
    That wrought the deed of shame?"

    • Horatius, st. 26 & 27; this quote is often truncated to read:
To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods?
  • Then none was for a party,
    Then all were for the state;
    Then the rich man helped the poor,
    And the poor man loved the great;
    Then lands were fairly portioned,
    Then spoils were fairly sold;
    The Romans were like brothers
    In the brave days of old

    Now Roman is to Roman
    More hateful than a foe;
    And the Tribunes beard the high
    and the fathers grind the low;
    As we wax hot in faction,
    In battle we wax cold;
    And men fight not as they fought
    In the brave days of old.

    • Horatius, st. 32 & 33
  • Was none who would be foremost
    To lead such dire attack;
    But those behind cried, "Forward!"
    And those before cried, "Back!"
    • Horatius, st. 50
  • "Oh, Tiber! Father Tiber!
    To whom the Romans pray,
    A Roman's life, a Roman's arms,
    Take thou in charge this day!"
    So he spake, and speaking sheathed
    The good sword by his side,
    And with his harness on his back,
    Plunged headlong in the tide.
    • Horatius, st. 59
  • No sound of joy or sorrow
    Was heard from either bank;
    But friends and foes in dumb surprise,
    With parted lips and straining eyes,
    Stood gazing where he sank;
    And when above the surges,
    They saw his crest appear,
    All Rome sent forth a rapturous cry,
    And even the ranks of Tuscany
    Could scarce forbear to cheer.
    • Horatius, st. 60
  • When the goodman mends his armor,
    And trims his helmet's plume;
    When the goodwife's shuttle merrily
    Goes flashing through the loom;
    With weeping and with laughter
    Still is the story told,
    How well Horatius kept the bridge
    In the brave days of old.
    • Horatius, st. 70

History of England (1849–1861)

  • Those who compare the age in which their lot has fallen with a golden age which exists only in imagination, may talk of degeneracy and decay; but no man who is correctly informed as to the past, will be disposed to take a morose or desponding view of the present.
    • Vol. I, ch. 1
  • I shall cheerfully bear the reproach of having descended below the dignity of history if I can succeed in placing before the English of the nineteenth century a true picture of the life of their ancestors.
    • Vol. I, ch. 1
  • There were gentlemen and there were seamen in the navy of Charles II. But the seamen were not gentlemen, and the gentlemen were not seamen.
    • Vol. I, ch. 2
  • The Puritan hated bear-baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.
    • Vol. I, ch. 3
  • The Chief Justice was all himself. His spirits rose higher and higher as the work went on. He laughed, shouted, joked, and swore in such a way that many thought him drunk from morning to night. But in him it was not easy to distinguish the madness produced by evil passions from the madness produced by brandy. A prisoner affirmed that the witnesses who appeared against him were not entitled to credit. One of them, he said, was a Papist, and another a prostitute. "Thou impudent rebel," exclaimed the Judge, "to reflect on the King's evidence! I see thee, villain, I see thee already with the halter round thy neck." Another produced testimony that he was a good Protestant. "Protestant!" said Jeffreys; "you mean Presbyterian. I'll hold you a wager of it. I can smell a Presbyterian forty miles." One wretched man moved the pity even of bitter Tories. "My Lord," they said, "this poor creature is on the parish." "Do not trouble yourselves," said the Judge, "I will ease the parish of the burden."
  • Now, if ever, we ought to be able to appreciate the whole importance of the stand which was made by our forefathers against the House of Stuart. All around us the world is convulsed by the agonies of great nations. Governments which lately seemed likely to stand during ages have been on a sudden shaken and overthrown. ... Meanwhile in our island the regular course of government has never been for a day interrupted. The few bad men who longed for license and plunder have not had the courage to confront for one moment the strength of a loyal nation, rallied in firm array round a parental throne. And, if it be asked what has made us to differ from others, the answer is that we never lost what others are wildly and blindly seeking to regain. It is because we had a preserving revolution in the seventeenth century that we have not had a destroying revolution in the nineteenth. It is because we had freedom in the midst of servitude that we have order in the midst of anarchy. For the authority of law, for the security of property, for the peace of our streets, for the happiness of our houses, our gratitude is due, under Him who raises and pulls down nations at his pleasure, to the Long Parliament, to the Convention, and to William of Orange.
    • Vol. II, ch. 10
  • The ambassador [of Russia] and the grandees who accompanied him were so gorgeous that all London crowded to stare at them, and so filthy that nobody dared to touch them. They came to the court balls dropping pearls and vermin.
    • Vol. V, ch. 23


  • People crushed by law have no hopes but from power. If laws are their enemies, they will be enemies to laws.
    • According to Kenneth Owen Morgan (The Illustrated History of Britain (1984) p. 421) this was said by Macaulay in 1832. If so, he was quoting a letter written by Edmund Burke in 1777.
  • The measure of a man's real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out.[citation needed]
    • The earliest quotations of this give it as anonymous or unknown author.[1] [2]
  • "We are free, we are civilised, to little purpose, if we grudge to any portion of the human race an equal measure of freedom and civilisation." [3]
  • "Nine-tenths the calamities of the human race are due to the union of high intelligence with low desires."
    • "Lord Bacon", (1837) in Essays 2:183
  • "If any person had told the Parliament which met in terror and perplexity after the crash of 1720 that in 1830 the wealth of England would surpass all their wildest dreams, that the annual revenue would equal the principal of that debt which they considered an intolerable burden, that for one man of £10,000 then living there would be five men of £50,000, that London would be twice as large and twice as populous, and that nevertheless the rate of mortality would have diminished to one half of what it then was, that the post-office would bring more into the exchequer than the excise and customs had brought in together under Charles II, that stage coaches would run from London to York in 24 hours, that men would be in the habit of sailing without wind, and would be beginning to ride without horses, our ancestors would have given as much credit to the prediction as they gave to Gulliver's Travels."
  • "Copyright is monopoly, and produces all the effects which the general voice of mankind attributes to monopoly. [...] Monopoly is an evil. For the sake of the good we must submit to the evil; but the evil ought not to last a day longer than is necessary for the purpose of securing the good." [4]
  • "The work of Dr. Nares has filled us with astonishment similar to that which Captain Lemuel Gulliver felt when first he landed in Brobdingnag, and saw corn as high as the oaks in the New Forest, thimbles as large as buckets, and wrens of the bulk of turkeys. The whole book, and every component part of it, is on a gigantic scale. The title is as long as an ordinary preface: the prefatory matter would furnish out an ordinary book; and the book contains as much reading as an ordinary library. We cannot sum up the merits of the stupendous mass of paper which lies before us better than by saying that it consists of about two thousand closely printed quarto pages, that it occupies fifteen hundred inches cubic measure, and that it weighs sixty pounds avoirdupois. Such a book might, before the deluge, have been considered as light reading by Hilpa and Shallum. But unhappily the life of man is now three-score years and ten; and we cannot but think it somewhat unfair in Dr. Nares to demand from us so large a portion of so short an existence. Compared with the labour of reading through these volumes, all other labour, the labour of thieves on the treadmill, of children in factories, of negroes in sugar plantations, is an agreeable recreation."
  • "To punish public outrages on morals and religion is unquestionably within the competence of rulers. But when a government, not content with requiring decency, requires sanctity, it oversteps the bounds which mark its proper functions. And it may be laid down as a universal rule that a government which attempts more than it ought will perform less."
    • "Leigh Hunt" (1841), in Critical...Essays 2:509
  • "There is not, and there never was on this earth, a work of human policy so well deserving of examination as the Roman Catholic Church. The history of that Church joins together the two great ages of human civilisation. No other institution is left standing which carries the mind back to the times when the smoke of sacrifice rose from the Pantheon, and when camelopards and tigers bounded in the Flavian amphitheatre. The proudest royal houses are but of yesterday, when compared with the line of the Supreme Pontiffs. That line we trace back in an unbroken series, from the Pope who crowned Napoleon in the nineteenth century to the Pope who crowned Pepin in the eighth; and far beyond the time of Pepin the august dynasty extends, till it is lost in the twilight of fable. The republic of Venice came next in antiquity. But the republic of Venice was modern when compared with the Papacy; and the republic of Venice is gone, and the Papacy remains. The Papacy remains, not in decay, not a mere antique, but full of life and youthful vigour. The Catholic Church is still sending forth to the farthest ends of the world missionaries as zealous as those who landed in Kent with Augustin, and still confronting hostile kings with the same spirit with which she confronted Attila. The number of her children is greater than in any former age. Her acquisitions in the New World have more than compensated for what she has lost in the Old. Her spiritual ascendency extends over the vast countries which lie between the plains of the Missouri and Cape Horn, countries which a century hence, may not improbably contain a population as large as that which now inhabits Europe. The members of her communion are certainly not fewer than a hundred and fifty millions; and it will be difficult to show that all other Christian sects united amount to a hundred and twenty millions. Nor do we see any sign which indicates that the term of her long dominion is approaching. She saw the commencement of all the governments and of all the ecclesiastical establishments that now exist in the world; and we feel no assurance that she is not destined to see the end of them all. She was great and respected before the Saxon had set foot on Britain, before the Frank had passed the Rhine, when Grecian eloquence still flourished at Antioch, when idols were still worshipped in the temple of Mecca. And she may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul's."
    • "Essay on Ludwig von Ranke's 'History of the Popes', in "Critical and Historical Essays", iii, (London; Longman, 7th Edn. 1952), 100-1.
  • “Enormous fortunes,” says Macaulay, “were rapidly accumulated at Calcutta, while thirty millions of human beings were reduced to the extremity of wretchedness. They had been accustomed to live under tyranny, but never under tyranny like this.”
    • in Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage : India and Her Neighbors. , quoting MACAULAY, T. B.: Critical and Historical Essays. Everyman Library. i.528


  • I have travelled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in the country, such high moral values, people of such caliber, that I do not think we would conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.
    • This quotation is commonly said to have been spoken by Macaulay during a speech to the British Parliament in 1835. Since Macaulay was in India at the time, it is more likely to have come from his Minute on Indian Education. However, these words do not appear in that text. According to Koenraad Elst, these words were printed in The Awakening Ray, Vol. 4, No. 5, published by the Gnostic Center, preceded by: "His words were to the effect." Burjor Avari cites this misattribution as an example of "tampering with historical evidence" in India: The Ancient Past ISBN 9780415356169, pp. 19–20), writes: "No proof of this statement has been found in any of the volumes containing the writings and speeches of Macaulay. In a journal in which the extract appeared, the writer did not reproduce the exact wording of the Minutes, but merely paraphrased them, using the qualifying phrase: ‘His words were to the effect.:’ This is extremely mischievous, as numerous interpretations can be drawn from the Minutes." For a full discussion, see Koenraad Elst, The Argumentative Hindu (2012) Chapter 3

Quotes about Macaulay

  • When you sit down to Macaulay, remember that the Essays are really flashy and superficial. He was not above par in literary criticism; his Indian articles will not hold water; and his two most famous reviews, on Bacon and Ranke, show his incompetence. The essays are only pleasant reading, and a key to half the prejudices of our age. It is the History (with one or two speeches) that is wonderful. He knew nothing respectably before the seventeenth century, he knew nothing of foreign history, of religion, philosophy, science, or art. His account of debates has been thrown into the shade by Ranke, his account of diplomatic affairs, by Klopp. He is, I am persuaded, grossly, basely unfair. Read him therefore to find out how it comes that the most unsympathetic of critics can think him very nearly the greatest of English writers.
    • Lord Acton to Mary Gladstone (1 September 1883), quoted in Letters of Lord Acton to Mary Gladstone, ed. Herbert Paul (1904), p. 173
  • Macaulay, at least, was not an aristocrat. He had done more than any writer in the literature of the world for the propagation of the Liberal faith, and he was not only the greatest, but the most representative Englishman then [1856] living
    • Lord Acton, quoted in Historical Essays & Studies by John Emerich Dalberg-Acton, First Baron Acton, eds. John Neville Figgis and Reginald Vere Laurence (1907), p. 482
  • “Explain yourself,” said I; “why do you call Mr. Hepworth Dixon's style middle-class Macaulayese?” “I call it Macaulayese,” says the pedant, “because it has the same internal and external characteristics as Macaulay's style; the external characteristic being a hard metallic movement with nothing of the soft play of life, and the internal characteristic being a perpetual semblance of hitting the right nail on the head without the reality. And I call it middle-class Macaulayese, because it has these faults without the compensation of great studies and of conversance with great affairs, by which Macaulay partly redeemed them.”
  • The immense popularity of Macaulay is due to his being pre-eminently fitted to give pleasure to all who are beginning to feel enjoyment in the things of the mind.
    • Matthew Arnold, ‘A French Critic on Milton’, Mixed Essays: Irish Essays and Others (1883), p. 184
  • On several subjects I should venture to differ from Mr. Macaulay; but I cannot refrain from expressing my admiration of his unwearied diligence, of the consummate skill with which he has arranged his materials, and of the noble love of liberty which animates his entire work. These are qualities which will long survive the aspersions of his puny detractors,—men who, in point of knowledge and ability, are unworthy to loosen the shoe-latchet of him they foolishly attack.
  • But above all, he typified the two things that really make the Victorian Age itself; the cheapness and narrowness of its conscious formulae; the richness and humanity of its unconscious tradition.
  • What Macaulay did was to infuse the liberal creed with the spacious and sanguine spirit of humanism and history.
    • John Clive, Macaulay: The Shaping of the Historian (1973), p. 497
  • If, as criticism in the 1970s suggests, condescending treatments of Macaulay are no longer fashionable, he may be seen to rank among the greatest English prose writers, with Addison and Johnson, the subjects of two of his finest essays.
  • The intellectual expression of Macaulay's countenance was magnificent—never on a nobler forehead, piled up with sagacity & depth. He was a splendid orator; a writer of the first class, both in originality of treatment & power of expression; his learning was very extensive & very various. No man ever had a memory at the same time so prodigious, & so cultivated.
    • Benjamin Disraeli, quoted in Disraeli's Reminiscences, eds. Helen M. Swartz and Marvin Swartz (1975), p. 8
  • I know that to run down Lord Macaulay is the fashion of the day. I have heard some speak against him who have a right to speak; I have heard many more who have none. I at least feel that I have none; I do not see how any man can have the right who has not gone through the same work through which Macaulay went, or at least through some no less thorough work of a kindred sort. I can see Macaulay's great and obvious faults as well as any man; I know as well as any man the cautions with which his brilliant pictures must be studied; but I cannot feel that I have any right to speak lightly of one to whom I owe so much in the matter of actual knowledge, and to whom I owe more than to any man as the master of historical narrative. Read a page of Macaulay; scan well his minute accuracy in every name and phrase and title; contrast his English undefiled with the slipshod jargon which from our newspapers has run over into our books; dwell on the style which finds a fitting phrase in our own tongue to set forth every thought, the style which never uses a single word out of its true and honest meaning; turn the pages of the book in which no man ever read a sentence a second time because he failed to catch its meaning the first time, but in which all of us must have read many sentences a second or a twentieth time for the sheer pleasure of dwelling on the clearness, the combined fulness and terseness, on the just relation of every word to every other, on the happily chosen epithet, or the sharply pointed sarcasm .
    • Edward Augustus Freeman, Methods of Historical Study (1886), pp. 104-6, quoted in C. H. Firth, A Commentary on Macaulay's History of England, ed. Godfrey Davies [1938] (1964), p. 32
  • Macaulay once remarked that if the law of gravity were unfavorable to any substantial financial interest, there would soon be no lack of arguments against it.
  • However true it may be that Macaulay was a far more consummate workman in the manner than in the matter of his works, we do not doubt that the works contain, in multitudes, passages of high emotion and ennobling sentiment, just awards of praise and blame, and solid expositions of principle, social, moral, and constitutional. They are pervaded by a generous love of liberty; and their atmosphere is pure and bracing, their general aim and basis morally sound.
    • William Ewart Gladstone, ‘Macaulay’, The Quarterly Review (July 1876), quoted in W. E. Gladstone, Gleanings of Past Years, 1844–78. Vol. II: Personal and Literary (1879), p. 294
  • His style...was one of those gifts of which, when it had been conferred, Nature broke the mould... It is paramount in the union of ease in movement with perspicuity of matter, of both with real splendour, and of all with immense rapidity and striking force. From any other pen, such masses of ornament would be tawdry; with him they are only rich... In none, perhaps, of our prose writers are lessons such as he gives of truth and beauty, of virtue and of freedom, so vividly associated with delight.
    • William Ewart Gladstone, ‘Macaulay’, The Quarterly Review (July 1876), quoted in W. E. Gladstone, Gleanings of Past Years, 1844–78. Vol. II: Personal and Literary (1879), pp. 294–295
  • I must embrace the opportunity of expressing, not what I felt, (for language could not express it,) but of making an attempt to convey to the House my sympathy with it in its admiration of the speech of my honourable and learned friend: a speech which, I will venture to assert, has never been exceeded within these walls for the development of statesmanlike policy and practical good sense. It exhibited all that is noble in oratory; all that is sublime, I had almost said, in poetry; all that is truly great, exalted, and virtuous in human nature. If the House at large felt a deep interest in this magnificent display, it may judge of what were my emotions when I perceived in the hands of my honourable friend the great principles which he expounded glowing with fresh colours, and arrayed in all the beauty of truth.
    • Charles Grant on Macaulay's speech on the India Bill delivered in the House of Commons on 10 July 1834, quoted in G. O. Trevelyan, The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, Volume I (1876), pp. 292–293
  • History, Macaulay believed, should serve politics by teaching politicians and citizens how to maintain a moderate, constitutional regime in which both liberty and order are preserved, each balanced against the other, and neither promoted to the neglect of the other. This meant that the political centre had to be protected by politicians who opposed extremist parties on both sides of the political spectrum, for at the extremes one found doctrinairism, zeal, and fanaticism on behalf of policies that would lead, in one direction, to anarchy, or, in the other, to despotism. The extremes could be diminished and the centre defended, Macauay held, by making adjustments in institutions in response to demands for change, and by making concessions to those who had grievances.
    • Joseph Hamburger, 'Introduction', to Thomas Babington Macaulay, Napoleon and the Restoration of the Bourbons: The Completed Portion of Macaulay's Projected "History of France from the Restoration of the Bourbons to the Accession of Louis Philippe", ed. Joseph Hamburger (1977), p. 9
  • Political history indeed has lost much of the power and fascination it had in the nineteenth century; and it is doubtful whether any historical work of our time has had a circulation or direct influence comparable with, say, Macaulay's History of England.
    • Friedrich Hayek, 'History and Politics', in F. A. Hayek (ed.), Capitalism and the Historians (1954), p. 7
  • It may be granted that Macaulay would have been a still greater historian than he is, if he had possessed more aptitude for speculative thought,—if his mind had been more philosophic; but the fact that he was not a philosopher is no reason for denying that he was, in his own way, a great historian.
    • Richard Claverhouse Jebb, Macaulay. A lecture delivered at Cambridge, on August 10, 1900, in connection with the summer meeting of university extension students (1900), p. 16
  • [I]t remains true that Macaulay gave a new life and meaning to the historical Essay. He made it a vehicle through which thousands of people, who would never have read history at all, have acquired in a pleasurable way some acquaintance with great characters and events. These essays are probably the best of their kind in Europe. And there can be no doubt that they will live. Only it is much to be desired that, when they are used for purposes of education, students should be warned against the errors which many of them contain. On a higher level than any but the very best of the Essays, stand those five biographies which Macaulay wrote for the ‘Encyclopaedia Britannica,’—those of Atterbury, Bunyan, Goldsmith, Johnson, and the younger Pitt. All these are mature and careful pieces of work, quieter and more restrained in style than the Essays, but hardly less attractive. They show Macaulay as a master of artistic condensation. Taking into account their merits both of matter and of form, we should be safe in affirming that, as a writer of short biographies, Macaulay has not been surpassed, if he has been equalled, by any English writer. The life of the younger Pitt, in particular, calls for unqualified admiration. It was written in the January of 1859, the year of his death; and he never wrote anything better. It is a sample of what he could have done in the History if he had reached that period, and it must enhance our regret that the History remained a fragment.
    • Richard Claverhouse Jebb, Macaulay. A lecture delivered at Cambridge, on August 10, 1900, in connection with the summer meeting of university extension students (1900), pp. 43–44
  • Matthew Arnold was unjust to Macaulay's style. Its external characteristic, he said, was “a hard metallic movement, with nothing of the soft play of life.” ... But there are other styles more especially adapted to the historical presentation of facts, and to the conduct of argument, not as among intimates, but in the forum. Such styles, as distinguished from the others, may be called objective; and in these we do not look for “the soft play of life.” Gibbon's is such a style; Macaulay's is another. It suited his subjects; it also suited his temperament, which, though imaginatively dreamy, was not reflective, and still less introspective. It is a style, of course, which has its limitations; but it has also its own sphere, its own virtues, its own beauty and grandeur; yes, and its own play of life too—but not that which Matthew Arnold calls a soft play of life.
    • Richard Claverhouse Jebb, Macaulay. A lecture delivered at Cambridge, on August 10, 1900, in connection with the summer meeting of university extension students (1900), pp. 53–54
  • In the evening I dined quietly at the Athenaeum with Herbert Spencer... We talked much about style in writing, he being strong about the uselessness of knowing the derivation of words, about the bad writing of Addison, about the especial atrocity of Macaulay, whose style “resembles low organisations, being a perpetual repetition of similar parts. There are savages,” &c.
    • William Edward Hartpole Lecky to his wife (21 September 1876), quoted in Elisabeth van Dedem Lecky, A Memoir of the Right Hon. William Edward Hartpole Lecky, M.P., O.M., LL.D., D.C.L., LITT. D., Member of the French Institute and of the British Academy (1909), p. 130
  • The man is a humbug—a vulgar, shallow, self-satisfied mind, absolutely inaccessible to the complexities and delicacies of the real world. He has the journalist's air of being a specialist in everything, of taking in all points of view and being always on the side of the angels: he merely annoys a reader who has the least experience of knowing things, of what knowing is like. There is not two pence worth of real thought or real nobility in him. But he isn't dull…
    • C. S. Lewis, in a diary entry regarding Macaulay (July 1924), published in Letters (1966), p. 97
  • The discipline of history does not evolve through the abrupt and complete replacement of one type of history by another. Political history, with its emphasis on government and leadership, is alive and well today, and conversely, social history has appeared at various points in the past, most notably in the nineteenth century. In France from the 1820s on, historians inspired by the Revolution, like Adolphe Thiers and Jules Michelet, wrote histories in which groups like “the bourgeoisie” or “the people” were the main movers in an epic struggle against a selfish aristocracy, which led to the nation’s revolutionary birth in 1789. Leading English historians wrote “social history” long before the 1960s: Thomas Babington Macaulay’s 1848 History of England from the Accession of James the Second, a landmark chronicle of the nation’s progress through political emancipation, includes a section on England in 1685 that covers everything from social classes to coffeehouses, street lighting, and newspapers. Nearly a century later, in the midst of World War II, Macaulay’s great-nephew, the Cambridge historian George Macaulay Trevelyan, wrote a highly successful volume entitled English Social History. First published in 1942, Trevelyan’s book is a six-hundred-page account of social conditions in England from the Middle Ages to 1901, which like Macaulay’s covers a breadth of topics, from trade routes and population trends to marriage customs and diets. Leafing through Trevelyan you may come across stories of young girls in the age of Chaucer being beaten into accepting unattractive marriage partners, reports on upper-class drinking and smoking habits in the late seventeenth century, or a vividly imagined account of what life felt like (extremely damp, among other things) in a peasant home around 1750.
    The type of social history written by Macaulay and Trevelyan, which has equivalents in other national traditions, was clearly subordinate and accessory to political history. In Macaulay’s History of England the lengthy opening section on “the state of England in 1685” serves as a scenic backdrop to the significant action taking place center-stage, the political maneuverings of James II, William of Orange, and their associates. Trevelyan wrote his English Social History as a late-career outtake from his previous works of political history; it was intended to boost wartime morale in the country at large as a sort of Shakespearean paean to the land of thatched cottages and “stout yeomen.” The volume aptly illustrates Trevelyan’s much-quoted, controversial, and pithy description of social history as “the history of a people with the politics left out.” The older “customs and living conditions” tradition of social history epitomized by Trevelyan’s book is indeed notable for the assumption that “politics” is purposeful activity that happens only in the highest realm and is therefore absent from society at large. The poor and middling are presumed not to affect historical change; as a result, a book like English Social History reads like a series of picturesque descriptions rather than an argument or a story.
    • Sarah Maza, Thinking about History (2017), Chap. 1 : The History of Whom?
  • Randolph, who is writing a life of the late Lord Derby for Longman's, brought to luncheon a young man of that name. His talk interested the P[rime] M[inister] [Winston Churchill] ... Macaulay, Longman went on, was not read now; there was no demand for his books. The P.M. grunted that he was very sorry to hear this. Macaulay had been a great influence in his young days.
    • Lord Moran's diary (7 February 1954), quoted in Lord Moran, Winston Churchill: The Struggle for Survival, 1940–1965 (1966, 1968), pp. 553–554
  • He never wrote an obscure sentence in his life, and this may seem a small merit, until we remember of how few writers we could say the same.
    • John Morley, ‘Macaulay’, Critical Miscellanies, Vol. I (1908), p. 275
  • Macaulay's life as a writer and as a politician was consecrated to the service of freedom. His style is far from perfect. It has often a hard sound and a metallic look. To say with Matthew Arnold that it has the perpetual semblance of hitting the right nail on the head without the reality is in my judgment absurd. Macaulay habitually hit the right nail on the head, and he did not, as Mr. Arnold sometimes did, knock out two tacks in the process. But there is always the semblance as well as the reality, and it is the reality without the semblance which charms us in the greatest writers of all.
    • Herbert Paul, ‘Macaulay and His Critics’, Men and Letters (1901), p. 311
  • Portions of the speech were as beautiful as anything I have ever heard or read. It reminded one of the old times.
    • Robert Peel on Macaulay's first speech on the Reform Bill (2 March 1831), quoted in G. O. Trevelyan, The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, Volume I (1876), p. 175
  • [T]ake at hazard any three pages of the Essays or History; and, glimmering below the stream of the narrative, as it were, you, an average reader, see one, two, three, a half score of allusions to other historic facts, characters, literature, poetry, with which you are acquainted. Why is this epithet used? Whence is that simile drawn? How does he manage, in two or three words, to paint an individual, or to indicate a landscape? Your neighbour, who has his reading, and his little stock of literature stowed away in his mind, shall detect more points, allusions, happy touches, indicating not only the prodigious memory and vast learning of this master, but the wonderful industry, the honest, humble previous toil of this great scholar. He reads twenty books to write a sentence; he travels a hundred miles to make a line of description.
  • Macaulay's permanent reputation rests chiefly on his History of England in the reigns of James II and William III, the causes and the course of the English Revolution and the Revolution Settlement as worked out under William. Lord Acton once told me that he considered Macaulay, with all his faults, as the greatest historian.
    • G. M. Trevelyan, 'Greatness of Macaulay', The Times (28 December 1959), p. 7
  • Economic and social history are now so large a part of historical study and writing that it is difficult to remember how new a thing it was in 1848 for Macaulay to introduce social history woven in with the political narrative that could not really be understood without it. His famous Third Chapter on the State of England in 1685 has faults... Nevertheless the Third Chapter was a great new thing in English historiography... After the Third Chapter the narrative gets fairly into swing, and the wonderful story is told how James II in three years turned even Tories into rebels, and the series of events and chances which enabled the Revolution to take place without a civil war. I think this is the greatest piece of historical narrative in our literature.
    • G. M. Trevelyan, 'Greatness of Macaulay', The Times (28 December 1959), p. 7
  • His worst fault was imputing motives, which is always a dangerous game played in the dark. For instance, though he gives the facts of Churchill's part in the Revolution correctly he seems to blame him for turning against James, while everyone else is applauded for doing so. Macaulay was, I think, very much affected by Swift's Tory attacks on Marlborough. Indeed it is not true, as is often said, that he always think the Whigs right and the Tories wrong. He detested the Shaftesbury Whigs at the time of the Popish Plot and the adoption of Monmouth as candidate for the crown. He thinks the Tories were right about the Indemnity Bill of 1689, about the attainder of Fenwick and about making peace "without Spain" at the end of the Marlborough wars. He is perfectly fair to Tory leaders like Danby and Nottingham and gets his prejudice against Marlborough from Tory sources. The path Macaulay trod was no doubt narrow, but it was well in the middle. Although he was a Whig of the Nineteenth Century, for the period in the past about which he wrote he was not a Whig but a Williamite.
    • G. M. Trevelyan, 'Greatness of Macaulay', The Times (28 December 1959), p. 8
  • A new India was born in 1835. The very foundations of her ancient civilization began to rock and sway. Pillar after pillar in the edifice came crashing down.
    • G. D. Trevelyan (a biographer of Macaulay), [Macaulay's Minute on Indian Education was delivered in 1835]. Quoted from Koenraad Elst, The Argumentative Hindu (2012) Chapter 3
Wikipedia has an article about:
Wikisource has original works by or about: