Reference > Cambridge History > The Victorian Age, Part Two > Historians, Biographers and Political Orators > Lays of Ancient Rome
  Macaulay Essays  


The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

II. Historians, Biographers and Political Orators.

§ 6. Lays of Ancient Rome.

In 1841, the whig ministry fell, and the opportunity of the History seemed to have once more arrived; but he turned aside, for the moment, to compose his Lays of Ancient Rome (1842). 15  The volume evinced his approval of Niebuhr’s celebrated theory as to the chief source of the history of regal Rome; yet, notwithstanding the applause obtained for it by its martial impetus and swing, the artificiality inseparable from such tours de force is beyond disguise. It will probably long be loved by the young, and by all for whom graphic force and an easy command of ballad metres constitute poetry. In more experienced readers, it fails, as Mignet observes, to produce the illusion of reality. Macaulay’s essays were not republished till 1845. The collection then approved by him contained all his contributions to periodical literature which he decided to preserve in this form, but not all that are of interest from a literary or biographical point of view; and to the essays contained in it has to be added the notable series of articles contributed by him to The Encyclopaedia Britannica (on Atterbury, Bunyan, Goldsmith, Johnson and the younger Pitt). His speeches (published, in self-defence, as corrected by himself, in 1854) are touched upon below; the code of Indian criminal procedure, the completion of which was chiefly his work (1837), falls outside our range.   12

Note 15. It was published in The Edinburgh Review for May, 1828, as a notice of Henry Neele’s The Romance of History: England, and reprinted in vol. 1 of his Miscellaneous Writings, posthumously published in 1860. This essay asserts that “in an ideal history of England Henry VIII could be painted with the skill of a Tacitus”; and “the skirmishes of the Civil War would be told, as Thucydides could have told them, with perspicuous conciseness.” [ back ]

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