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But his pecuniary embarrassments still pressed heavily upon him. In December, 1833, he accepted a position on the Supreme Council of India, which involved his absence from England for several years. He well knew that it was dangerous to his political career to exile himself at the present juncture, but the salary of nearly $50,000 a year could not be overlooked by a man in his position. His views are given in a letter to Lord Lansdowne :
“I feel that the sacrifice which I am about to make is great. But the motives which urge me to make it are quite irresistible. Every day that I live I become less and less desirous of great wealth. But every day makes me more sensible of the importance of a competence. Without a competence, it is not very easy for a public man to be honest : it is almost impossible for him to be thought so. I am so situated that I can subsist only in two ways: by being in office, and by my pen. Hitherto, literature has been merely my relaxation — the amusement of perhaps a month in the year. I have never considered it as the means of support. I have chosen my own topics, taken my own time, and dictated my own terms. The thought of becoming a bookseller's hack — of writing to relieve, not the fulness of the mind, but the emptiness of the pocket; of spurring a jaded fancy to reluctant exertion; of filling sheets with trash merely that sheets may be
filled; of bearing from publishers and editors what Dryden bore from Tonson, and what, to my own knowledge, Mackintosh bore from Lardner, is horrible to
Yet thus it must be, if I should quit office. Yet to hold office merely for the sake of emolument would be more horrible still. The situation in which I have been placed for some time back would have broken the spirit of many men. An opportunity has offered itself. It is in my power to make the last days of my father comfortable, to educate my brother, to provide for my sisters, to procure a competence for myself. I may hope, by the time I am thirty-nine or forty, to return to England with a fortune of thirty thousand pounds. To me that would be affluence. I never wished for more."
During his voyage to India, on which he was accompanied by his sister Hannah, he shut himself up from the rest of the passengers. Outside of his immediate family, though a general favorite and possessing many acquaintances, he formed no close connections. It is to be noted as a characteristic trait explaining many qualities of his writings that he never was in love. Books always were much more to him than men. He writes: “My power of finding amusement without companions was pretty well tried on my voyage. I read insatiably; the Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil, Horace, Cæsar's Commentaries, Bacon's De Augmentis, Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, Tasso, Don Quixote, Gibbon's Rome, Mill's India, all the seventy volumes of Voltaire, Sismondi's History of France, and the seven thick folios of the Biographia Britannica.” He had agreed to keep up his connection with the Edinburgh Review, stipulating, however, that his pay should be in books.
While in India he lived in a very modest style, and continued his enormous reading, though he accomplished an immense amount of other work. Besides his official duties as member of the Council, he gratuitously undertook the reorganization of the public instruction and the drawing up of a penal code. In both these tasks, he accomplished beneficial and lasting results. Mr. Justice Stephen says: “ The Indian Penal Code is to the English Criminal law what a manufactured article ready for use is to the materials out of which it is made. It is to the French Code Pénal, and I may add the North German Code of 1871, what a finished picture is to a sketch. ... Its practical success has been complete. The clearest proof of this is, that hardly any questions have arisen upon it which have had to be determined by the Courts, and that few and slight amendments have had to be made by the Legislature.” In this work, Macaulay's unshakable honesty brought down upon him the opposition of many influential Anglo-Indians, who had profited by the old unjust laws; and so bitter were the attacks that for some time he did not dare to let his sister see the morning papers. And yet, “he vigorously advocated and supported the freedom of the Press at the very moment when it was attacking him with the most rancorous invective."
In January, 1838, he set sail for England with the competence he had so much desired, to find that his father had died while he was on the ocean. His mother had passed away shortly after his great speeches in 1831.
Soon after his return, he made a tour in Italy, where he finished the Lays of Ancient Rome, which he had begun in India. These were published in 1842. Critics have denied them the merits of the highest poetry, either in thought or versification. But their unfading popularity with several generations of healthy and hearty schoolboys shows that Macaulay when he wrote of “brave Horatius, who kept the bridge so well," had something vital to say and said it in a vital manner. Trevelyan writes: "Eighteen thousand of the Lays of Ancient Rome were sold in ten years, forty thousand in twenty years, and by June, 1875, upwards of a hundred thousand copies had passed into the hands of readers.”
Macaulay on his return had intended to devote himself to literature, and to write his History of England, which he had planned to extend from the accession of James II. to the death of George IV. But the Whig ministry needed all the support they could get. He was returned to Parliament as member for Edinburgh in 1839, and soon after was made Secretary at War.
In 1841 the ministry went out of office, and though Macaulay retained his seat for Edinburgh, and attended the sittings of Parliament, he gave himself more and more to literature. In 1844, with The Earl of Chatham, he closed the great series of essays for the Edinburgh Review, in order to devote himself to the History, which he intended to make the chief work of his life. In 1847 he lost his seat in Parliament. His narrowminded Scotch constituents were unable to appreciate his lack of sectarianism shown by voting for the
Maynooth Grant” to support a Roman Catholic school in Ireland. Of this he wrote to his sister Hannah-now Lady Trevelyan: "I hope that you will not be much vexed, for I am not vexed, but as cheerful as ever I was in my life. I have been completely beaten. . . I will make no hasty resolutions; but everything seems to indicate that I ought to take this opportunity of retiring from public life.” After careful consideration, he refused election from another borough and bent all his energies to bringing out the first part of his History.
The first two volumes of Macaulay's History of England appeared in November, 1848, and had an immediate success unequalled by any serious work in the