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THOMAS BABINGTON MACAULAY was one of those authors whose fame came early and easily, and whose influence and reputation persist with almost undiminished vigor. He wrote not for any literary class or in any transient literary fashion, but made his appeal largely to the common sense of common people. He sought not only to instruct but also to delight. He brought to his work a marvellously stored memory, a vivid imagination, a lively sense of that plain justice of which plain men approve, a discriminating sense of what is of general interest, and an extraordinary power of saying his thought in such a way that it could not be misunderstood. As a result of these qualities, his writings have continued to rank in popularity with those of the most successful novelists, and to find many readers who will read little else that is serious and made into the form of books.
Macaulay was born October 25, 1800, at Rothley Temple, Leicestershire, and died December 28, 1859. His father, Zachary Macaulay, a Scotch Calvinist, devoted many arduous years to the cause of antislavery, and was, next to Wilberforce, the greatest of the men in that movement. His mother, an English Quaker, had singular gentleness and force of character and the wisdom to protect the child from the flattery his precocity might have brought upon him.
For precocious the young Macaulay certainly was. From the age of three he "read incessantly." He liked books better than toys, and was fond of explaining what he read. He would spin interminable stories out of his head while out walking with his nurse. He constantly associated his everyday experiences with the things he read in books. In 1808 his mother wrote: “My dear Tom continues to show marks of uncommon genius. He gets on wonderfully in all branches of his education, and the extent of his reading and of the knowledge he has derived from it are truly astonishing in a boy not yet eight years old. He is at the same time as playful as a kitten." And his mother's testimony is more temperate in tone than that of others. He began to write in both prose and verse before he was eight. Indeed, there is little in the life of the infant Macaulay to console the fond parents of dull children.
His preparation for the university was conducted in a private school near Cambridge, and at the age of eighteen he entered Trinity College, Cambridge. Here he was the centre of a brilliant group of young men who were interested not only in their university studies, but in the literature, politics, and social theories of the day. Macaulay's interests, like his reading, were wide, and
included almost all subjects, except mathematics and philosophy, and he was even then known as an exceptionally brilliant talker and debater. He took his full share of university honors, and in 1824 was appointed to a fellowship.
Soon after this he began to read law and was admitted to the bar in 1826. “But until he read law later, with the definite purpose of applying its principles to legislation for India, he never put his whole heart into the study. It was during these years of reading law that he began his literary career. After a brief connection with Knight's Quarterly Magazine, he began to write for the Edinburgh Review, whose editor was the famous scholar, critic, and lawyer, Jeffrey. His first contribution was the essay on Milton. It attracted immediate and wide attention by its brilliancy and force. This was only the beginning of a long series of important historical and critical essays, most of which were written in the brief intervals he found from the pressure of the duties of public life.
His first entry into Parliament was in 1830. His maiden speech was in favor of the removal of the political disabilities of the Jews. His first great speech was made in 1831, in favor of the Reform Bill. It aroused an excited admiration, such as set all who heard it to comparing Macaulay with the greatest orators within their memories. From this time to the end of his career in Parliament the cry that “Macaulay was up” was suf