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INTRODUCTION

I. AN INTRODUCTION TO MACAULAY

(1800-1859)

BEFORE Thomas Babington Macaulay was big enough to hold a large volume he used to lie on the rug by the open fire, with his book on the floor and a piece of bread and butter in his hand. Apparently the three-year-old boy was as fond of reading as of eating, and even at this time he showed that he was no mere bookworm by sharing with the maid what he had learned from “a volume as big as himself.”

He never tired of telling the stories that he read, and as he easily remembered the words of the book he rapidly acquired a somewhat astonishing vocabulary for a boy of his years. One afternoon when the little fellow, then aged four, was visiting, a servant spilled some hot coffee on his legs. The hostess, who was very sympathetic, soon afterward asked how he was feeling. He looked up in her face and replied, “ Thank you, madam, the agony is abated.” It was at this same period of his infancy that he had a little plot of ground of his own, marked out by a row of oyster shells, which a maid one day threw away as rubbish. “He went straight to the drawing-room,

, where his mother was entertaining some visitors, walked into the circle, and said, very solemnly, ‘Cursed be Sally; for it is written, Cursed is he that removeth his neighbor's landmark.'”1

As these incidents indicate, the youngster was precocious. When he was seven, his mother writes, he wrote a compendium 1 Trevelyan, Life and Letters, I, 41.

of universal history, and “really contrived to give a tolerably connected view of the leading events from the Creation to the present time, filling about a quire of paper.” Yet, fond as he was of reading, he was “as playful as a kitten.” Although he made wonderful progress in all branches of his education, he had to be driven to school. Again and again his entreaty to be allowed to stay at home met his mother's “No, Tom, if it rains cats and dogs, you shall go.” The boy thought he was too busy with his literary activities to waste time in school; but the father and mother looked upon his productions merely as schoolboy amusements. He was to be treated like other boys, and no suspicion was to come to him, if they could help it, that he was superior to other children.

The wise parents had set themselves no easy task in their determination pay little attention to the unusual gifts of this lad. One afternoon, when a child, he went with his father to make a social call, and found on the table the Lay of the Last Minstrel, which he had never before seen. While the others talked he quietly read, and on reaching home recited as many stanzas as his mother had the patience or the strength to hear. Clearly a boy who had read incessantly from the time he was three years old, who committed to memory as rapidly as most boys read, and who was eager to declaim poetry by the hour, or to tell interminable stories of his own, would attract somebody's attention. Fortunately for all concerned the lady who was particularly interested in him, and who had him at her house for weeks at a time, Mrs. Hannah More, encouraged without spoiling him, and rewarded him by buying books to increase his library. When he was six or eight years old, she gave him a small sum with which to lay

a corner-stone” for his library, and a year or two afterward she wrote that he was entitled to another book : you to a little good prose? Johnson's · Hebrides,' or Walton's • Lives, unless you would like a neat edition of Cowper's

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