Thomas Humphry Ward, ed. The English Poets. 18801918. Vol. IV. The Nineteenth Century: Wordsworth to Rossetti
Critical Introduction by Thomas Humphry Ward
Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay (18001859)
[Thomas Babington Macaulay was born at Rothley Temple, Leicestershire, Oct. 25, 1800, and died at Holly Lodge, Campden Hill, Dec. 28, 1859. His Lays of Ancient Rome were published in 1843; other ballads and poems were written from time to time, his earliest published piece, an Epitaph on Henry Martyn, being dated 1812.]
YOU are very right in admiring Macaulay, wrote Miss Elizabeth Barrett to Mr. Horne in 1843; he has a noble, clear, metallic note in his soul, and makes us ready by it for battle. I very much admire Mr. Macaulay, and could scarcely read his ballads and keep lying down. They seemed to draw me up to my feet as the mesmeric powers are said to do.1 This testimony from so competent a judge as Mrs. Browning is all the more valuable because, great as is still the popularity of the Lays with the mass of those who read poetry, the higher critical authorities have pronounced against them, and are even teaching us to wonder whether they can be called poetry at all. They find in the Lays the same faults which mar the authors prosecommonplaceness of ideas, cheapness of sentiment and imagery, made to prevail by dint of the writers irresistible command of a new rhetorical force; in a word, eloquent Philistinism. Against this too exclusive judgment it is well to set Miss Barretts frank recognition of the power, the spirit, the vividness of historical imagination that informs all Macaulays writing. One of her epithets, which she uses honoris causâ, we may accept as fairly characterising the evil element in his mindthe epithet metallic. His ballads have the clear resonance of the trumpet: they have its hardness too.
The Lays are in everybodys hands: and they do not lend themselves easily to selection. We have preferred to print the less known Naseby, written in 1824; and the pathetic Epitaph on a Jacobitea work of the authors maturity.