MACAULAY, THOMAS BABINGTON MACAU LAY, BARON (180o-1859), English historian, essayist and poli tician, was born at Rothley Temple, Leicestershire, on Oct. 25, 1800. His father Zachary Macaulay (1768-1838), had been gov ernor of Sierra Leone, and was in 180o secretary to the chartered company which had founded that colony; an ardent philanthro pist, he was one of the group who worked for the abolition of the slave trade, and he edited the abolitionist organ, the Christian Observer, for many years. Before Thomas was eight years of age he had written a Compendium of Universal History, and a romance in the style of Scott, in three cantos, called The Battle of Cheviot. A little later he composed a long poem on the history of Olaus Magnus, and a vast pile of blank verse entitled Fingal, a Poem in Twelve Books. Young Macaulay was sent to a private school, then, in October 1818, he went to Trinity college, Cam bridge, where he afterwards became a fellow. He gained in 1824 a college prize for an essay on the character of William III. He also won a prize for Latin declamation and a Craven scholar ship, and wrote the prize poems of 1819 and 1821.
In 1826 Macaulay was called to the bar and joined the northern circuit. But he spent many more hours under the gallery of the house of commons than in the court. His first public speech, made at an anti-slavery meeting in 1824, was described by the Edinburgh Review as "a display of eloquence of rare and matured excellence." In Aug. 1825 began Macaulay's connection with the Edinburgh Review, which was at this time an organ of the grow ing opinion which leant towards reform, and a literary tribunal from which there was no appeal. His essay on Milton (Aug. 1825), so crude that the author afterwards said that "it contained scarcely a paragraph such as his matured judgment approved," established at once his great literary reputation. The sudden blaze of popularity kindled by this single essay, is partly to be explained by the dearth of literary criticism in England at that epoch. For, though a higher note had already been sounded by Hazlitt and Coleridge, the public mind was still satisfied with the feeble appreciations of the Retrospective Review, or the dashing and damnatory improvisation of Wilson in Blackwood or Jeffrey in the Edinburgh. Still it seems surprising that a social success so signal should have been the consequence of a single article. The explanation is that the writer of the article on Milton was also a brilliant talker. At the university Macaulay had been
pre-eminent for inexhaustible talk and genial companionship among a circle of such brilliant young men as Charles Austin, Romilly, Praed and Villiers. He now displayed these gifts on a wider stage. He was courted and admired by the most distin guished personages of the day. He was admitted at Holland House, where Lady Holland listened to him with deference, and scolded him with a circumspection which was in itself a compliment. Sam uel Rogers spoke of him with friendliness and to him with affec tion.
Macaulay now began to aspire to a political career. But com mercial disaster fell on the house of Babington and Macaulay, and the son saw himself compelled to work for his livelihood. His Trinity fellowship of £300 a year expired in 1831; he could make at most £200 a year by writing; and a commissionership of bank ruptcy, which was given him by Lord Lyndhurst in 1828 was swept away in 1830. Macaulay was reduced to such straits that he had to sell his Cambridge gold medal. In Feb. 1830 he entered the House of Commons for the "pocket borough" of Calne, offered to him by Lord Lansdowne. The offer was accompanied by the express assurance that the patron had no wish to interfere with Macaulay's freedom of voting. Macaulay made his maiden speech on April 5, 1830, on the second reading of the bill for the Removal of Jewish Disabilities. In June the king died and parliament was dissolved ; the revolution took place in Paris. Macaulay, who was again returned for Calne, visited Paris, eagerly enjoying a first taste of foreign travel. On March 1, 1831 the Reform Bill was introduced, and on the second night of the debate Macaulay made the first of his reform speeches, of which Sir Robert Peel said that "portions were as beautiful as anything I have ever heard or read." On the triumph of Earl Grey's cabinet, and the passing of the Reform Act in June 1832, Macaulay, whose eloquence had sig nalized every stage of the conflict, became one of the commis sioners of the board of control, and applied himself to the study of Indian affairs. Giving his days to India and his nights to the House of Commons, he could only devote a few hours to literary composition by rising at five in the morning. Between Sept. 1831 and Dec. 1833 he furnished the Edinburgh Review with eight im portant articles, besides writing his ballad on the Armada.