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substance, but, in many cases, the very words. The
head. I could still repeat half of it, and that the best half.” One wonders when he found time to do his thinking.
Such an “infant phenomenon ” could easily have been spoiled. And it is to the wisdom and watchful care of his devoted mother that Macaulay grew up with a personal modesty as striking as his brilliancy. “ You will believe,” she writes, “that we never appear to regard anything he does as anything more than a school-boy's amusement.” And in a letter written him in his thirteenth year she says: “I know you write with great ease yourself, and would rather write ten poems than prune one. All your pieces are much mended after a little reflection; therefore, take your solitary walks and think over each separate thing.
Spare no time or trouble, and render each piece as perfect as you can, and then leave the event without one anxious thought.” It was to such wise direction that Macaulay owed his strict literary conscience, which made him in later years write and rewrite everything he intended to be of permanent value.
The first trial of Macaulay's life was at the age of twelve, when he was sent to an excellent small school near Cambridge. The poor boy suffered terribly from homesickness. His letters to his mother show this in the most pathetic way. One of them his biographer, Trevelyan, would not publish, because it was “too cruel.” In others he writes: “ The days are long, and I feel that I should be happy were it not that I want home. . . . Every night when I lie down I reflect that another day is cut off from the tiresome period of absence. Everything brings home to my recollection. ... Everything I read, or see, or hear brings it to my mind. You told me I should be happy when I once came here, but not an hour passes in which I do not shed tears at thinking of home. Every hope, however unlikely to be realized, affords me some small consolation.”
The school was an excellent one, and the master, Mr. Preston, a good scholar and a thorough instructor; but Macaulay had never cared to play with other boys, and the regular lessons and hours of study interfered
with the unbridled reading which was his delight. However, Mr. Preston allowed his charge free run of a large library. “He lends me any books for which I ask him,” the boy wrote his mother, “so that I am nearly as well off in this respect as at home; except for one thing which, though I believe it is useful, is not very pleasant. I can only ask for one book at a time, and cannot touch another till I have read it through.” He was certainly not restricted in his choice of books, for before he was fifteen he recommended his mother to read Boccaccio — at least in Dryden's metrical version. Every moment, outside of his allotted tasks, was devoted to history, prose fiction, and poetry; but he never appears to have been interested in any of the simple scientific questions or mathematical and mechanical problems which occupy the minds of so many bright boys.
In 1818 he went to Trinity College, Cambridge. The study then most esteemed in that university was mathematics; and for this Macaulay, after a transient fancy for its rudiments, entertained an intense dislike. His marvellous memory was of little service here, and he hated above all things prolonged and concentrated thought, especially on abstract subjects. “Oh, for words to express my abomination of that science!" he wrote his mother; “ if a name sacred to the useful and embellished arts may be applied to the perception
and the recollection of certain properties in numbers and figures! Oh, that I had to learn astrology, or demonology, or School Divinity! ... Discipline of the mind! Say rather starvation, confinement, torture, annihilation! But it must be. I feel myself becoming a personification of Algebra, a living trigonometrical canon, a walking table of logarithms. All my perceptions of elegance and beauty gone, or at least going. Farewell, then, Homer and Sophocles and Cicero; . . . my classics must be Woodhouse, and my amusements summing an infinite series. Farewell; and tell Selina and Jane to be thankful that it is not a necessary part of female education to get a headache daily without acquiring one practical truth or beautiful image in return. Again, and with affectionate love to my father, farewell wishes your most miserable and mathematical son."
It would have been well for Macaulay had he driven himself to a thorough study of the higher mathematics. This might have corrected his desultory habits of thought and his tendency to avoid deep questions, and have added to the admirable perspicuity of his style a precision and exactness which it often lacks. As it was, it interfered somewhat with his standing in the University, where at that time “a minimum of honors in mathematics was an indispensable condition for competing for the chancellor's medals - the
of classical proficiency before the institution of the classical tripos. Macaulay failed even to obtain the lowest place among the Junior Optimes, and was, what is called in University parlance 'gulphed.' But he won the prize for Latin declamation, he twice gained the chancellor's medals for English verse; and, by winning the Craven Scholarship, he sufficiently proved his classical attainments.” 1
In the social life of Cambridge he was very prominent, and became a great favorite. “So long as a door was open, or a light was burning in any of the courts, Macaulay was always in a mood for conversation or companionship.” He was one of the brightest talkers in the Union Debating Society, and as a result of the never ending discussions he changed the Tory politics in which he had been brought up for those of the Whig party. This was a great blow to his devoted parents and the wayward youth had to answer their charge of being a son of anarchy and confusion." Still, owing to his strong common sense, or perhaps to his disinclination to follow out an idea to its logical conclusion, he did not, though it was a time of intense political excitement, align himself with the Radicals; but “ took his sides with the old and practical Whigs, who were well on their guard against 'too much zeal,' but who saw their way to such re
1 J. Cotter Morison's Macaulay.