MACAULAY, Thomas Babington (1800-1859), of 8 South Square, Gray’s Inn, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



15 Feb. 1830 - 1832
1832 - 4 Feb. 1834
4 June 1839 - 1847
1852 - Jan. 1856

Family and Education

b. 25 Oct. 1800, 1st s. of Zachary Macaulay (d. 1838), merchant and philanthropist, of 26 Birchin Lane, London and Selina, da. of Thomas Mills, bookseller and stationer, of Bristol, Glos. educ. William Greaves’s sch. Clapham, Surr. ?1806; Rev. Matthew Morris Preston’s sch. Little Shelford, Cambs. 1813 and Aspenden Hall, Herts. 1814; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1818, fellow 1824-52; L. Inn 1822, called 1826. unm. cr. Bar. Macaulay 10 Sept. 1857. d. 28 Dec. 1859.

Offices Held

Commr. of bankrupts 1828-32; commr. bd. of control June-Dec. 1832, sec. Dec. 1832-Dec. 1833; member, supreme council of India 1833-38; PC 30 Sept. 1839; sec. at war Sept. 1839-Sept. 1841; paymaster-gen. July 1846-Apr. 1848.

Rect. Glasgow Univ. 1848-50; bencher, L. Inn 1849; high steward, Camb. Univ. 1857-d.


Macaulay’s family was Scottish in origin, his father Zachary being the next younger brother of Colin Campbell Macaulay, who, late in life, became Member for Saltash in the 1826 Parliament.1 Zachary, who was born in 1768, spent his early years as a plantation manager in Jamaica and returned to England with a hatred of colonial slavery. Under the influence of Thomas Babington, Member for Leicester, 1800-18, who had married his sister Jean, he became a convinced acolyte of the Evangelicals, and it was under their auspices that he served from 1793 to 1799 as governor of Sierra Leone, an experimental colony for emancipated slaves. He married, 26 Aug. 1799, Selina Mills, the daughter of a Bristol Quaker, who lived as a companion of the More sisters, the eldest of whom, Hannah, was the noted Evangelical blue-stocking. Thereafter he acted as secretary of the Sierra Leone Company and, with his nephew Thomas Gisborne Babington, he founded a London firm of African merchants at 26 Birchin Lane, which moved to 16 George Street, Mansion House, in about 1820. Yet he bent most of his considerable energies to the anti-slavery cause, and assisted in numerous other religious and charitable activities. A self-taught man of iron will, who displayed a formidable intelligence and an unrelenting capacity for business, he was recognized as one of the leading members of the Clapham Sect.2

It was in Clapham, to which the family moved in 1802 or 1803, that Tom Macaulay soon began to display signs of his alarmingly prodigious abilities. Not only did he read widely from an early age, but he could recall much of it almost verbatim, added to which his acknowledged habit of indulging in daydreams and fantasies endowed him with a highly developed creative faculty. Educated locally and then at the school of an Evangelical minister, he excelled in his private studies and inevitably grew up something of a man apart.3 This was despite the best efforts of his parents, who sought to prevent him from becoming conscious of his rare abilities; and so it was with delight that Hannah More recorded in 1815 that

his fine promise of mind expands more and more and, what is extraordinary, he has as much accuracy in his expression as spirit and vivacity in his imagination. I like, too, that he takes a lively interest in all passing events and that the child is still preserved ... Several men of sense and learning have been struck with the union of gaiety and rationality in his conversation.4

With these talents he proved a great success at Cambridge, where he was known as ‘Beast’ Macaulay to distinguish him from his cousin, John Heyrick ‘Bear’ Macaulay. He revelled in the intellectual and social climate, won several prizes and scholarships, dominated the Union in 1822 and 1823, and gained a fellowship at Trinity College.5

Macaulay was unlucky in his relations with his father, who, imbued with the rigidities of his Evangelical principles, set impossibly high standards even for so gifted a man as his son. Slovenliness and laziness, even novel reading, were regarded as faults, and criticized as such, because they indicated a lack of self-discipline and awareness of a higher purpose.6 Zachary was thus deeply disappointed when Macaulay took only an ordinary degree, having failed to apply himself sufficiently to the mathematical part of the tripos.7 He had also set his heart on his son making a splendid career in the church, and was grieved that he displayed no signs of Evangelical fervour.8 There was never a breach between them, but Macaulay, who, after university, lived at 50 Great Ormond Street, with the rest of the family (who had moved there in 1823 after five years in Cadogan Place), was always under a constraint in his father’s presence. It was with his affectionate mother, and especially when at ease in the company of his doting and beloved sisters Hannah and Margaret, upon whom he was emotionally dependent, that he could be unselfconsciously happy.9 As Zachary himself once remarked, ‘I am glad to see Tom retain all his exquisite relish for the domestic circle. He seems to seek no other pleasures as a relaxation from graver pursuits than are to be found there’.10

Brought up in an atmosphere dominated by public affairs, Macaulay soon immersed himself in politics.11 At Cambridge he had witnessed the borough election in 1820, when he received a dead cat in his face having ventured out into a mêlée, and had taken a lively interest in the university by-election in 1822.12 It was also there that his political views began to be transformed from a passive acceptance of the prevailing Tory outlook of the Evangelicals to approval of an increasingly reformist Whiggism.13 His father was concerned that he was too ready to condemn the events at Peterloo in 1819, and to express a measure of sympathy for Queen Caroline the following year, though at the time of the disturbances after her funeral in late 1821, his son wrote that ‘the conduct of the rabble, of the jury, and of Sheriff [Robert] Waithman*, sometimes turns me for a few hours into a Tory. I now and then fear I shall be a perfect jure-divino if these things go on’.14 While this hardly amounted to a radical interlude, he was certainly influenced by the lawyer Charles Austin, one of his brilliant Cambridge friends, into a brief flirtation with Utilitarianism.15 He declared at that time that ‘I have been a Tory; I am a Radical; but I will never be a Whig’.16 Yet, he was already beginning to move towards an avowedly Whig position, as can be seen in his 1822 prize essay on William III, which revealed the first intimations of his famous history of William’s reign and his admiration for the triumph of progress.17 But the decisive factor in his change of mind was the gradual realization, in line with that experienced by the Evangelicals generally, that the best hope of abolishing slavery lay with the Whig opposition. In the same way, he came to believe that they offered the best chance of preserving the peace and stability of existing society from the dangers posed by Tory or radical extremes.18

It was through his writings that Macaulay confirmed his Whig credentials and first achieved celebrity. He had written a good deal of juvenile prose and verse, and in 1816 he outwitted his father by inducing him to print an anonymous letter in defence of novel reading in his Christian Observer. This was one of his earliest publications, and it was followed by a variety of other miscellaneous writings.19 In 1823 and 1824 he was (as ‘Tristram Merton’), with his Cambridge friend and rival Winthrop Mackworth Praed*, among others, one of the main contributors to Knight’s Quarterly Magazine. Although these were largely incidental pieces, in the first issue (June 1823) an essay appeared ‘On West Indian Slavery’, probably in order to please his father, who nevertheless expressed considerable disquiet at the nature of the journal.20 He was a member of the committee of the Anti-Slavery Society, which Zachary had helped to found with Thomas Fowell Buxton* in 1823, and at its first anniversary meeting, 25 June 1824, his speech was given an ecstatic ovation by the distinguished audience, and his generally unbending father was left hardly able to bear his feelings of paternal pride.21 Although the exact details of the transaction are unclear, it was almost certainly the leading Whig lawyer Henry Brougham*, an anti-slavery colleague of Zachary’s, who in early 1823 had written to advise him on his son’s education, who now urged Francis Jeffrey*, editor of the Edinburgh Review, to commission an article from Macaulay. His essay on ‘The West Indies’, closely modelled on the Knight’s article, duly appeared in January 1825.22 In August that year there appeared the essay which brought him almost instant fame. As Sir James Mackintosh* commented to Lady Holland, 8 Oct. 1825, Macaulay ‘has written a most splendid panegyric on the genius, writing and politics of Milton’. Not only was it an outstanding critical study, but, by identifying with the poet against Charles I, he had placed himself firmly in the Whig tradition. Jeffrey, who thought Macaulay ‘more nearly a universal genius than any man of our time’, told him that ‘the more I think the less I can conceive where you picked up that style’.23 In 1826 the writer Henry Crabb Robinson described Macaulay as

one of the most promising of the rising generation I have seen for a long time ... He has a good face - not the delicate features of a man of genius and sensibility, but the strong lines and well knit limbs of a man in sturdy body and mind. Very eloquent and cheerful. Overflowing with words and not poor in thought. Liberal in opinion, but no radical. He seems a correct as well as a full man. He showed a minute knowledge of subjects not introduced by himself.24

Early that year he was called to the bar and, although he never had a practice to speak of, he joined the northern circuit, on which he met Thomas Flower Ellis, his only close male friend.25 He was praised for his activity as counsel to William Evans* during the Leicester contest at the general election of 1826, which involved him in legal argument and writing handbills.26 He also used his anti-slavery influence against the Irish secretary, Henry Goulburn*, at the Cambridge University election that year.27 He was present for the university by-election in 1827, when he had some verses printed in The Times (as he did on two other occasions), and voted for Sir Nicholas Conyngham Tindal*.28 He was instrumental in having a university anti-Catholic petition defeated by bringing some London lawyers up to oppose it, 11 Feb. 1829, and later that year he voted for William Cavendish* to replace Tindal in another by-election.29

Apart from electoral affairs, he busied himself with attending the Commons, speaking at debating societies and other literary activities.30 He wrote regularly for the Edinburgh, to which he contributed essays on critical and historical subjects until 1845. In the June 1827 issue, in a rare piece of party polemic, he defended the ‘Present Administration’, and stressed the importance of holding a middle path:

We are convinced that the cause of the present ministers is the cause of liberty, the cause of toleration, the cause of political science, the cause of the people, who are entitled to expect from their wisdom and liberality many judicious reforms, the cause of the aristocracy, who, unless those reforms be adopted, must inevitably be the victims of a violent and desolating revolution.

He wrote to his father that he was ‘extremely shocked’ by the death of George Canning, the prime minister, later that year, but that he believed the government would continue, if anything strengthened by it.31 Although this prediction proved to be false, he benefited from the influence of Brougham, who persuaded Lord Lyndhurst, the lord chancellor, to appoint him a commissioner of bankrupts. The position was financially important to Macaulay because his father’s fortunes had been in decline for some time and his partnership was finally dissolved in December 1828. Macaulay now had to support himself and to assist his family, which he managed to do with the income from his fellowship, place and articles.32 He would have accepted the editorship of the Edinburgh on Jeffrey’s resignation in late 1829, if its offices had been moved to London, but he did not in any case relish working under Brougham’s tutelage.33 He gained a reputation for being a dangerous man to cross with his savage reviews of Mill’s ‘Essay on Government’ (March, June and October 1829),34 and similarly aggressive attacks on Robert Southey*, the poet laureate (January 1830), and Michael Thomas Sadler* (July 1830 and January 1831).

Lord Lansdowne, who had served as home secretary in Canning’s government and had praised Macaulay’s article in support of it (among others), was particularly impressed by his arguments against the Utilitarians. As a result, in early 1830 he offered to bring him in for Calne, his pocket borough, where there was a vacancy which his eldest son, Lord Kerry†, was as yet too young to fill. Macaulay accepted, having warned Lansdowne, who had a high opinion of his moral character, that he wished to vote as he himself determined, and in particular that he would follow his father’s line in any division on slavery.35 He visited the town for the first time, and was elected unopposed, after making a speech, in which he

denominated Dr. Southey, Mr. Sadler and Mr. [William] Cobbett† three quacks, and observed that it must be by a continuance of peace, by great economy in our ministers and by industry and frugality on the part of the people, that the country would be enabled to surmount its present difficulties.36

Zachary, thanking Lansdowne by letter that month, wrote of his son that the

sphere of usefulness thus opened to him I trust he will labour so to occupy as to justify your lordship’s choice, and I am ready to believe that it is not merely the blind partiality of parental affection but my intimate acquaintance with his mind and habits which persuades me that he will at least leave no means unattempted to prove himself not undeserving of it.37

According to his sister Selina, Macaulay, who had recently taken lodgings in Gray’s Inn, returned to London on 17 Feb., but having neglected some necessary forms, he was unable to take his seat that day, as intended. He therefore took the oaths the following day, at the same time as Brougham, newly elected for Knaresborough, who immediately turned his back on him and cut him dead. This behaviour was attributed to his jealousy of Macaulay’s successes in the Edinburgh. He was also angry that he had not been consulted by Lansdowne, and that the more deserving and senior Whig lawyer Thomas Denman* had been overlooked.38 Macaulay voted for reducing the grant for the army, 19, 22 Feb., and the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. 1830.

As early as 1824 Hannah More had wished that Macaulay ‘was rich enough to be in Parliament; he would eclipse them all’; and Lord Dudley, the former foreign secretary, who thought him ‘a very clever, very educated and very disagreeable man’, reckoned that he would ‘cut some considerable figure’ there.39 Benjamin Disraeli† wrote in The Young Duke (book v, chapter 6), which was published the following year:

I hear that Mr. Babington Macaulay is to be returned. If he speaks half so well as he writes, the House will be set in fashion again. I fear that he is one of those who, like the individual whom he has most studied [Edmund Burke†], will ‘give up to party what was meant for mankind’.40 At any rate, he must get rid of his rabidity. He writes now on all subjects, as if he certainly intended to be a renegade and was determined to make the contrast complete.

Macaulay was therefore a man of whom great things were expected and, although he had been advised to speak as soon as possible, in order to gain the indulgence of the House, he did not do so.41 He told his father that he would wait to see how his political career progressed before deciding about his future at the bar, but in fact he never practised again after going on the northern circuit that year, for which he took one month’s leave, 10 Mar. 1830.42 He made what George Agar Ellis* described as ‘an ingenious maiden speech’, 5 Apr., arguing that, on moral and pragmatic grounds, Jews ought to be admitted to the same rights as had recently been granted to Catholics.43 Mackintosh, who had given way to him at the start of his speech, praised his performance, as did Sugden, the solicitor-general. Its main fault was the speed of the delivery, and Hannah commented that the report in The Times, ‘though a good abstract, gives no idea ... of its spirit and power’. Macaulay himself, who when asked by his family how he had felt on making his first intervention, had replied ‘oh, desperate, you know! quite desperate’, informed a friend, probably the former Member Richard Sharp*, that ‘as far as I can learn, the impression that I made was far more favourable than I at all anticipated, as I carefully abstained from everything like display. Your advice has been of great use to me’.44 The Commons clerk John Rickman informed Southey, who found Macaulay ‘in league with the sinners by principle ... and with the saints by blood’, that he ‘threw off with a good specimen speech, rather too epigrammatic I thought for good taste, but showing ability and dexterity of thought’.45 Macaulay voted for Jewish emancipation that day, and again, 17 May, and, urged on by the Jewish lobby, he prepared an article in its favour for the Edinburgh, which appeared in January 1831.46 He voted with the Irish Catholic leader Daniel O’Connell for alteration of the laws relating to select vestries in Ireland, 27 Apr., for the production of papers on the affair at Terceira, 28 Apr. 1830, and several times that session in favour of further economies and reductions in taxation. He spoke against slavery at a meeting of the Anti-Slavery Society, 15 May.47 He voted in favour of parliamentary reform, 28 May, and revision of the divorce laws, 3 June. He divided for abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 24 May, 7 June, when he argued that the severity of the law reduced its effectiveness. A few days later Selina recorded (perhaps in reference to 5 Apr.) that the

speech was extremely admired as to matter, but all who heard it agree in saying that he speaks far too rapidly, and thus weakens very much the effect of what he says. Mr. O’Connell said to him it was the best speech he had heard since he had been in Parliament, but said he, ‘Your delivery is not suited to the House’, and a host of other persons have given the same opinion. Lord Nugent* said to him that it was impossible for the reporters to follow him, and that consequently the speech was given extremely ill. He also said Tom’s style of speaking was one which particularly required time to be given to weigh the arguments, and that by the present manner the effect of these was in a great measure lost. Tom seems determined to speak more slowly, but he says he shall find it exceedingly difficult to do so when he is animated in debate.48

On 6 July, answering Sugden, he gave his ‘most earnest and hearty support’ to, and promised to vote for, an address to the new king to recommend regency proposals. He voted for Brougham’s motion against colonial slavery, 13 July. He was elected to the Athenaeum, 12 June 1830.49 His uncle, Colin, who commented that ‘Tom attracts notice in Parliament, as was to be looked for if ever he got in there’, left the House at the dissolution that summer, but Macaulay was returned for Calne, despite a contest and a petition.50 In early September he began a visit to Paris, to collect materials for a history of the recent revolution there, but he had to cut short his stay because of the death of his sister Jean, 22 Sept. Brougham, who had already irritated Macaulay by asking him to ‘puff’ his latest speech against slavery, insisted that Macvey Napier, the new editor of the Edinburgh, replace Macaulay’s intended article with his own account. Macaulay had already prepared some of the text and, although he hoped to have it published elsewhere, it was not printed during his lifetime.51

Macaulay, who in August thought that the duke of Wellington and his ‘ministers are clearly in a scrape’ and that they could not possibly stand until Christmas, was listed by them among their ‘foes’, and duly voted against them on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. On 23 Nov. he acknowledged that some praise was due to Wellington, who made way for Lord Grey, especially on Catholic emancipation, ‘which I believe saved the country from civil war’. That day he came to the defence of Brougham, who, despite promises that he would not join the coalition ministry, had just left the Commons to become lord chancellor, against John Wilson Croker, for whom he had already formed a mutual dislike. Although he ‘speaks like a gentleman’, as John James Hope Vere* put it, he was called to order for saying of Croker, that he ‘would have sooner burned his tongue last week, than have made the attack which he has done this day’.52 He advocated the abolition of slavery accompanied by the payment of compensation to planters, 13 Dec., and the next day Thomas Gladstone*, wrote to his father John Gladstone*, a West India merchant, that he wished ‘all the emancipators were as moderate’.53 He presented and endorsed over 200 anti-slavery petitions, 15 Dec., when, in the absence of Fowell Buxton, he also moved for information on the subject. He was elected to Brooks’s, 18 Dec. 1830, sponsored by Lansdowne and Lord King. Zachary reported to Brougham, 24 Feb. 1831, that Robert Gordon*, another bankruptcy commissioner

appears to have spared anyone the pains of drubbing him. Tom I believe would have been quite ready to do his best to make him regret any attack he might have made on you. He has been sadly baffled by circumstances in his purposes of speaking, though he has been on the watch for fair opportunities.54

Macaulay, who in February 1831 briefly contemplated writing an article on parliamentary reform, made an early intervention on the ministry’s reform proposals, 2 Mar.55 He called it ‘a great, noble and comprehensive measure, a medicine most skilfully prepared for removing a dangerous distemper, a plan excellently contrived for uniting and knitting together all orders in the state’. He pledged his support for it, ‘not merely as a measure of reform, but as a measure of conservation’, which, by enfranchising the middle classes, though stopping well short of a universal franchise, would prevent revolution. He added that ‘we must not adhere to what our ancestors did, but must do what, under similar circumstances, it is probable they would have done’. His speech, which, like most of those on reform he revised for publication,56 caused a sensation, not least because of the passion that he lent to his historical examples and the sense of urgency that he injected into the proceedings. As he said in his peroration (which was apparently modelled on the conclusion of Brougham’s speech in defence of Queen Caroline, 4 Oct. 1820):

Let me then implore you to take counsel, not from prejudice or party, but from the history of past events, the knowledge of what is passing around you. It is yet time to save the country from risk, to save the multitude from its own ungovernable power and passion, to save it from that danger to which even a few days may expose it.

He was answered by his friend and fellow historian Lord Mahon, who, as others were often to do, pointed out that, despite Macaulay’s arguments to the contrary, he had provided eloquent testimony in favour of the retention of rotten boroughs as seats for talented young men. Later that day Denman, now attorney-general, said that it was ‘a speech which is yet tingling in our ears, and which will dwell in our memories as long as memory lasts’. Margaret, who noted that Mackintosh relieved her poorly brother with oranges during the speech, recorded that ‘his voice from cold and overexcitement got quite into a scream towards the last part, and some of his opponents were inclined to titter at his having got into [Charles Williams] "Wynn’s* scream", which was drowned in applause’. Indeed, except for the fact that he again spoke too fast, most observers were united in their praise, and the Speaker summoned him to compliment him on his success.57 However, Sir Henry Bunbury* felt that although the ‘matter and language’ were ‘very fine’, his delivery was bad, ‘his manner vulgar, and there was a sort of Methodistical rant which marred the effect’. This opinion was echoed by Maria Edgeworth, who decided that his speech

reads better than it was spoken. Quite marred in the delivery and he does not look the orator well, a mean whitey looking man, of the Babbage sort but more forward-vivacity of air and yellow hair all any-how except the right way, not with the inspiration-electrico look of [Thomas] Spring Rice*. But no matter for all this, in spite of his outside, his inside will get him on.58

Years later Macaulay described that day as an epoch in his life, and it certainly made him a political and literary lion in London, for instance at Holland House, to which he was soon invited.59 His letters, particularly the informal ones to his sisters, contain some fascinating anecdotes and many brilliant vignettes of his contemporaries. Perhaps the most famous is his description of the second reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar., which was written to Ellis, 30 Mar. 1831. He first confided that ‘till we had a majority, I was half inclined to tremble at the storm which we had raised. At present I think that we are absolutely certain of victory, and of victory without commotion’. He continued:

Such a scene as the division of last Tuesday I never saw, and never expect to see again. If I should live 50 years the impression of it will be as fresh and sharp in my mind as if it had just taken place. It was like seeing Caesar stabbed in the Senate House, or seeing Oliver take the mace from the table, a sight to be seen only once and never to be forgotten.

He vividly depicted the telling of the 302 votes in favour of the bill, of which he was of course one, and dwelt on the speculation on the size of the opposition:

We were all breathless with anxiety, when Charles Wood who stood near the door jumped on a bench and cried out, ‘They are only 301’. We set up a shout that you might have heard to Charing Cross, waving our hats, stamping against the floor and clapping our hands. The tellers scarcely got through the crowd: for the House was thronged up to the table, and all the floor was fluctuating with heads like the pit of a theatre. But you might have heard a pin drop as Duncannon read the numbers. Then again the shouts broke out, and many of us shed tears; I could scarcely refrain. And the jaw of Peel fell, and the face of Twiss was as the face of a damned soul, and Herries looked like Judas taking his neck-cloth off for the last operation.60

Macaulay was vexed by Buxton’s notice for an anti-slavery motion, and even offered Lansdowne to resign his seat, as he expected, for his father’s sake, to have to act against ministers on it. Lansdowne left him free to decide his own course of action and, in the end, no division occurred on the question, 15 Apr.61 He voted against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment to the reform bill, 19 Apr. 1831, which brought about the dissolution.

Macaulay again faced the threat of an opposition at Calne at the general election of 1831 and in order, as he wished, to keep up Lansdowne’s interest for Kerry, he was forced to engage in extensive canvassing and to defend the rights of the corporators on the hustings, 2 May, when he was again re-elected.62 He returned to London the following day to discover, from a newspaper, that his mother had died.63 Although he remarked that ‘the fury of the minority surpasses all description’, he believed that ‘our blood is up and we know our strength’. He thought it ‘foolish to throw away my fire’ on the address, but obeyed the summons from Lord Althorp, the chancellor, to attend, 24 June, when he went with the procession to St. James’s Palace, and thereafter he was ‘at the House every evening’.64 He made another successful reform speech on the second reading of the reintroduced bill, 5 July, when he denied either that disfranchisement was an invasion of property rights, or that it would lead to moves for further changes, still less to revolution. He argued that

the whole of history shows that all great revolutions have been produced by a disproportion between society and its institutions; for while society has grown, its institutions have not kept pace and accommodated themselves to its improvements ... The very reason that the people of England are great and happy is that their history is the history of reform.

He differed with Lord Porchester, Mahon’s colleague at Wootton Bassett, by saying that it was not reforms as such which had led to revolution in France, but reforms offered too late to satisfy the raised expectations of the people. Amid shouts of disapprobation, he insisted that ‘we are now all reformers’, and that the bill had ‘passed its crisis ... this second Bill of Rights, the great charter of the liberties of the people of England; the country, our children, will hereafter call it so’. Althorp, who twice told him privately that it was the best speech he had ever heard, said in the chamber that he had ‘electrified the House with his eloquence’. According to John Cam Hobhouse*, he ‘made a most effective oration, and was applauded to the skies, particularly towards the end of his speech, when he said that if this bill was defeated, Peel would bring in a reform bill of his own’. Some aspersive comments were made by opposition speakers, but it was largely left to Peel, the former home secretary, who ‘winced a good deal’ at this last point, to answer him. As before, Macaulay received an enormous number of compliments on his triumph, as well as an invitation to dine with Grey.65 He claimed to have delivered his speech more slowly than usual, but others thought differently. They also believed that the reports misrepresented it, a view with which he agreed (though he declined to correct it for publication).66

With this speech Macaulay’s reputation reached new heights. Jeffrey, now lord advocate, wrote that he had

surpassed his former appearance in closeness, fire and vigour, and very much improved the effect of it by a more steady and graceful delivery. It was prodigiously cheered, as it deserved, and I think puts him clearly at the head of the great speakers, if not the debaters, of the House.

Mackintosh called Macaulay ‘the orator of his time’, and Lord Holland, the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, opined that he and Edward Smith Stanley, the Irish secretary, would soon learn the art of keeping Peel in order, now that Brougham had been removed.67 However, Wilson’s appraisal, which appeared in Blackwood’s Magazine, used a tactic which was soon picked up by the Tories, of applauding Macaulay’s performances, while denying that there was any substance to them. Macaulay, he wrote,

is an ugly, cross-made, splay-footed, shapeless little dumpling of a fellow, with a featureless face too, except indeed a good expansive forehead, sleek puritanical sandy hair, large glimmering eyes and a mouth from ear to ear. He has a lisp and a burr, moreover, and speaks thickly and huskily for several minutes before he gets into the swing of his discourse: but after that nothing can be more dazzling than his whole execution. What he says, is substantially of course, mere stuff and nonsense; but it is so well worded, and so volubly and forcible delivered - there is such an endless stream of epigram and antithesis, such a flashing of epithets, such an accumulation of images - and the voice is so trumpet-like and the action so grotesquely emphatic that you might hear a pin drop in the House. Manners Sutton himself listens. It is obvious that he has got the main parts at least by heart, but for this I give him the more praise and glory. Altogether, the impression on my mind was very much beyond what I had been prepared for, so much so that I can honestly and sincerely say I felt for his situation most deeply, when Peel was skinning him alive the next evening, and the sweat of agony kept pouring down his well bronzed cheeks under the merciless affliction.68

Later in July Hobhouse recorded that

Brougham was anxious that the attorney-general should be put forward ... It seems he depreciates Macaulay and always extols the attorney as having made the best speech on the bill. Sydney Smith says it is because Macaulay is not content with being a moon, but ‘wants to do a little bit in the solar line’.69

Yet at some point the two seem to have buried their differences. As Sir George Philips*, a friend, put it:

When Macaulay first obtained a seat in Parliament, Brougham went about telling people that he had quite failed, and that there was no chance of his ever distinguishing himself as a speaker in the House of Commons. His jealousy was so extreme that he ceased for a long time speaking to him, or even recognizing him in the streets. All at once he altered his conduct, laid hold of him by the arm, called him Tom and enquired affectionately after his health. He talked to some of Macaulay’s friends, who asked him what Tom he meant. He said there was only one Tom, and that was Tom Macaulay.70

Macaulay, who voted for the second reading of the bill, 6 July, divided at least twice against adjourning the proceedings on it, 12 July, but he ‘left the House at about three, in consequence of some expressions of Lord Althorp’s which indicated that the ministry was inclined to yield’, and he afterwards ‘much regretted’ that he had gone away.71 He voted steadily in favour of the bill’s details, and kept up a regular attendance, except when illness or fatigue induced by long debates (he likened the crowd and heat in the chamber to the compression in a slave ship) forced him to pair, as he did on at least one occasion both with Mahon and Samuel Smith, Member for Wendover.72 He made an impromptu speech on the enfranchisement of Greenwich, 3 Aug., when he advocated extending the representation of the metropolis in order to provide an outlet for the influential and wealthy classes to vent their grievances. Croker taunted him by saying that now that ‘the question of Calne is set at rest [controversially, it was to retain its two seats], I hope we shall see [him] more frequently among us’. Macaulay himself informed Hannah that his few words

were not ill received. I feel that much practice will be necessary to make me a good debater on points of detail. But my friends tell me that I have raised my reputation by showing that I was quite equal to the work of extemporaneous reply. My manner, they say, is cold and wants ease. I feel this myself. Nothing but strong excitement and a great occasion overcomes a certain reserve and mauvaise honte which I have in public speaking; not a mauvaise honte which in the least confuses me or makes me hesitate for a word, but a mauvaise honte which keeps me from putting any fervour into my tone or my action. This is perhaps in some respects an advantage. For when I do warm, I am the most vehement speaker in the House, and nothing strikes an audience so much as the animation of an orator who is generally cold.73

He voted in the minorities on the issuing of writs for Dublin, 8 Aug., and Liverpool, 5 Sept. 1831.

Looking forward to visiting his relatives, he wrote to Hannah, 12 Aug. 1831, that

I shall not be sorry to be out of the way of the miserable proceedings in the House of Commons. One is ashamed to support such a government and, in my situation, I cannot attack it. The weakness, dullness, cowardice and tergiversation of the ministers, those I mean who sit in the House of Commons, have begun to disgust their most devoted friends. I will tell you instances of their fatuity and infirmity of purpose ... which are absolutely astounding ... But nothing can save them from ruin if they do not speedily alter their course ... it is no business of mine whether they stand or fall. There is not one of them in the House of Commons except Lord Althorp who is not either useless or worse than useless, and I do not see that it would be either for my interest or my honour to thrust myself between them and the public contempt.

At the end of that month he reiterated that ‘my opinion of Lord Althorp is extremely high. In fact his character is the only stay of the ministry’.74 In mid-September Lansdowne, the lord president, told a genuinely alarmed Macaulay that the bill would probably be lost in the Lords and that ministers would then resign. He insisted to his patron, who demurred, that enough peers must be created to carry the bill, and that ‘if nobody else will move an address to the crown against a Tory ministry, I will’. In a letter to Lady Holland of about this date, he explained that

the question is this: if the reform bill is lost, ought the ministers to resign? I have conversed on this subject with people of different ranks and of different shades of opinion; and I have heard only one answer. The unanimous sentiment is this: that if the ministers resign they will prove themselves to be men unfit for their station, small men unhappily called to power at a great crisis, that they will act unfairly towards the king, and towards the people who have supported them. A very distinguished Member of the House of Commons, a county Member, the heir to a peerage, said to me a few days ago, ‘You know my personal attachment to the ministers. You know my public conduct. I have stood by them for 20 years. If they resign in consequence of the decision of the Lords, I have done with them. My confidence in them is at an end for ever’. This is but a single instance. I have heard expressions as strong from at least 20 Members for populous places. In fact it is difficult to convince the ministerial Members of the House of Commons that the ministers can possibly think of resigning at such a crisis as this.

He added that government ‘might, by a very moderate exercise of the undoubted prerogative of the crown, secure a majority in the Lords’.75

His reservations about ministers probably heightened the passion he brought to his speech in favour of the passage of the bill, 20 Sept. 1831, when he spoke of the benefits that would accrue to national prosperity, denied that there was any public reaction against it, rebutted the argument that it would destroy the privileges of peers and urged Members to place themselves at the head of the people and ensure its success. Denman noted that he was ‘divine’, though ‘perhaps a little too severe in his censure of the ex-ministers’, while William Henry Fremantle* considered him the only reformer worth listening to.76 He was answered by Croker, who, hinting that he would soon obtain office, insultingly referred to him as a mere ‘practising barrister’; it was this occasion that provoked the long-running quarrel between them in Parliament and the press.77 Also intent on attacking him were Wetherell, the former attorney-general, who, like Croker, argued that it was concessions, not resistance, by the nobility that had caused the French Revolution; and Peel, who according to Greville, ‘cut Macaulay to ribbands ... Macaulay is very brilliant, but his speeches are harangues and never replies’.78 He, of course, voted for the passage of the bill, 21 Sept., and for the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and the following day he spoke at a dinner in honour of Althorp and Lord John Russell in the City.79 Having stated his opposition to excessive expenditure and taxation, monopolies, slavery and interference in the affairs of foreign states, and his grudging approval of the ballot, he received a requisition to stand for Leeds at the first opportunity, and accepted it, 5 Oct.80 He was appointed to the select committee on the West Indies, 6 Oct. Despite his stated reluctance to get involved, he had in fact been active in defence of the bill behind the scenes. On 15 Sept. he wrote to Hannah that

I have been very busy since I wrote last [13 Sept.], moving heaven and earth to render it certain that, if our ministers are so foolish as to resign in the event of a defeat in the Lords, the Commons may be firm and united: and I think that I have arranged a plan that will secure a bold and instant declaration on our part, if necessary. Lord Ebrington* is the man whom I have in my eye as our leader. I have had much conversation with him and with several of our leading county Members. They are all staunch: and I will answer for this, that if the ministers should betray us, we will be ready to defend ourselves.81

His former colleague at Calne, Sir James Macdonald, now Member for Hampshire, contemplating a reinforced ministry, confirmed that Macaulay was ‘bold and ambitious and quite ready to take his line. The Leeds overture has roused him’.82 Two days after the Lords threw out the bill, Ebrington moved his confidence motion, 10 Oct. 1831, and Macaulay, though expected to wait until he could answer Peel, spoke quite early, to try to bring the debate to a conclusion. He made a strong plea for immediate action over the bill, given that the legislature would be powerless to enforce the laws of the country if it lost the support of the people, and that it must bend to the popular will: ‘I know only two ways in which societies can permanently be governed: by public opinion, and by the sword’. He emphasized that

the circumstances admit of no delay. Is there one among us who is not looking with breathless anxiety for the next tidings which may arrive from the remote parts of the kingdom? Even while I speak the moments are passing away, the irrevocable moments, pregnant with the destiny of a great people. The country is in danger; it may be saved; we can save it. This is the way, this is the time. In our hands are the issues of great good and great evil, the issues of life and death of the state.

His speech was much attacked as an incitement to violence, and Hobhouse thought ‘he went somewhat near the wind on the intimidation side; and I told him so, and I saw he was not pleased’. Peel criticized him, but Edward John Littleton* observed that ‘an allusion of Macaulay’s to his having bowed his head into the dust, when he recanted his error on the Catholic question, seemed to combler him with suffering ... His speech was one of almost unconditional surrender’.83 Croker also attacked him, largely because of Macaulay’s devastating review of his edition of Boswell’s Life of Johnson, which had just appeared in the Edinburgh. Macaulay, who was motivated more by critical opinion than by a desire for retribution for former attacks on him, nevertheless commented that Croker ‘looks across the House of Commons at me with a leer of hatred which I repay with a gracious smile of pity’.84 He voted in the majority in favour of ministers, and boasted to Ellis (in an otherwise uncorroborated statement) that

entre nous they would have made a poor hand of it without me. Our meeting at Willis’s rooms and Lord Ebrington’s motion were wholly brought about by me. I really believe that, but for the stir which I made among our county Members, the ministers would have resigned. This is all in the strictest confidence.85

Macaulay approved of, and by his own account voted for (on 28 Sept. and/or 13 Oct. 1831), Brougham’s bankruptcy court bill, by which his commissionership was to be abolished.86 He privately expressed great anger against Brougham for seeming to go back on his promise, which was eventually kept in December, to place his father on the commission of public charities.87 He himself had ambitions for high office, and was widely expected to receive something, so he was not surprised to be summoned by Grey on 13 Nov. According to Margaret ‘his scale’ was this:

He will refuse a lordship of the treasury, a lordship of the admiralty, and the mastership of the ordnance. He will accept the secretaryship of the board of control, but will not thank them for it; and would not accept that, but that he thinks it would be a place of importance during the approaching discussions on the East India monopoly. Anything above that he would be glad to have.

He was disappointed, therefore, merely to be asked to prepare a cabinet paper, which was probably on Wellington’s complaint about the arming of the Birmingham Political Union, a subject that was considered by the cabinet the following day.88 Macdonald offered to resign from the board of control to make room for Macaulay, and although Brougham thought that Mackintosh was more deserving of promotion, ministers were anxious to bring him in, as Grey’s eldest son, Lord Howick*, explained to him at the end of December. The real obstacle, however, was Lansdowne’s refusal to risk the necessary election at Calne, where, the borough now being scheduled to lose one seat in the revised bill, his interest was being challenged by the corporation.89

On the second reading of the revised reform bill, 16 Dec. 1831, Macaulay made another great speech, even though, prompted by Mahon’s references to Leeds and the ballot, ‘it was spoken a day sooner than was intended and the last touches were not put to it’. He reiterated his opinions on the unjustifiable anomaly of rotten boroughs, the history of gradual and concessionary reforms, the role of the middle classes and his animosity to levelling doctrines. As was his habit, he castigated the conduct of the former ministers: ‘I allow that there is danger in legislating in times of excitement; but reformers are compelled to reform at last, because bigots would not reform at first’. In particular, he was even more than usually vitriolic in his attack on Peel, condemning him for changing his principles and stealing the reformers’ thunder on emancipation. Littleton left this description of his ‘brilliant’ speech

which carried the House away in the same furious whirlwind of mixed passions which seemed to seize himself. Never was a more extraordinary compound of deep philosophy, exalted sentiments and party bitterness, enunciated with a warmth, a vigour and rapidity inconceivable. The public can collect but little of it from the papers. It is like the course of a meteor, never to be forgotten by those who have the fortune to see it, but seen but by a few, and to be known to others only by description. A paragraph of his speech, which he concluded by a denunciation of the late administration as ‘one that would be known to posterity only for its recantations’, was followed by a crash of cheers, which pained me, from my respect for the motive which induced Peel to accomplish the passing of the Catholic bill.

Rice called this personal attack ‘a caustic as severe as [the convicted empiric John] St. John Long’s. Enough indeed to blister a rhinoceros’; and Hobhouse noted that Peel ‘looked as if sweating blood. I never saw him so scalded, not even in the days of Brougham’. Croker rose immediately in his defence, but made so many factual errors that Macaulay drew up a list of them, which Smith Stanley used to demolish him the following day. On 17 Dec. 1831 Peel was still ‘so nettled by Macaulay’s sarcasms’, that he ‘for three-quarters of an hour made a very lame and laboured defence of himself’.90 Macaulay, who voted for the second reading that day, observed that ‘we had a glorious majority, and as great a superiority, I think, in the debate as in the division’.91 Richard Lalor Sheil*, who considered him ‘the most extraordinary person in either House except one, to whom he is not sufficiently like to be compared - I mean the chancellor’, reckoned that he had ‘the power of coming forward on great occasions with a speech that commands the House and ... I hope to see him soon in office’.92 Holland, echoing this sentiment, opined that ‘he is clearly of the young ones the most remarkable and most rising man’.93

Macaulay ceased to fulfil his time-consuming duties on the bankruptcy commission on its abolition, 11 Jan. 1832.94 He was still in hopes of office, and especially that the proposed ‘creation of new peers will leave a government borough open’, but he was again disappointed. Littleton recorded, 2 Feb., that Macaulay, who was perhaps also dispirited by a bout of illness

said he would not speak in the House [on relations with Belgium and Holland]. ‘He had his doubts about our foreign policy’. In short I found he was sulky and thought himself slighted, on account of Hobhouse’s being made secretary at war. He did not say this; but I am sure it is so, and accordingly gave the government the hint.95

On 12 Feb. Macaulay met Lansdowne, who explained about Calne, but asked him whether he would accept office, if one were available. He replied that

he was a poor man, but he had as much as he wanted and, as far as he was personally concerned, had no desire for office. At the same time, he thought that after the reform bill had passed it would be absolutely necessary that the government should be strengthened, that he thought he could do it good service, that he approved of its general principles and should not be unwilling to join it. Lord Lansdowne said that, indeed, they all, and particularly mentioned Lord Grey, felt of what importance to them his help was.

At that time ministers were trying to find another position for Robert Grant* in order to make a vacancy for Macaulay at the board of control.96 He voted for going into committee on the reform bill, 20 Jan. 1832, and again divided steadily in favour of its details. He voted against the production of information on Portugal, 9 Feb., and spoke for the anatomy bill, 27 Feb. He again defended the increased representation of the capital, 28 Feb., when he also presented, but dissented from, a petition from the inhabitants of Calne to be allowed to retain two Members. He spoke in favour of the third reading of the bill, 19 Mar., when, arguing that its purpose was to retain the part of the constitution which had made the country happy and prosperous, and to amend the part which had contributed to the current distress and discontent, he declared that

we are legislating not for a republic, but for the England of the present day. I do not support this bill because I think democratical institutions are calculated for all ages and all countries, but because I think that a more democratical system of representation than now exists would, in this country and in this age, produce a good government.

He pointed out the inconsistency of Tories who argued against any reform as a breach of the prescriptive constitution but tacitly accepted the need for moderate alterations, and also had an exhortation for ministers, of whom he said that ‘in their situation they see and feel, that to abandon their country would be to abandon themselves’. Peel again had to justify his conduct and made clear that he would never take responsibility for bringing in a reform bill, and Littleton thought that ‘it was amusing to observe the extreme deference with which he treated Macaulay; paid him compliments with evidently great pain [and] showed him much very distant civility’.97 According to his sister, Macaulay had intended to speak a day later, but

hearing that Miss ... was to be in the House today, he did not wish, after the reports that have even reached the newspapers about her engagement to him, to countenance them by speaking when she was known to be there. He says, ‘the House is thoroughly tired of the interminable bill’. The report he hears from Mr. [John] Fazakerley* is, that the young men say, ‘Macaulay was not so effective tonight’, but that ministers were highly pleased, and say he helped them very much.98

He divided with ministers on the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832.

With the bill in the Upper House, Macaulay feared that they ‘evidently shrank from taking the only means [the creation of peers] by which they could make sure of a majority’ there. He was in despair at the prospect of the disastrous consequences of the ministry’s fall, and stated that he would resign his seat if that happened, ‘for I never will consent to follow their lead more’. He had heard of one possibility, however:

Lord ... has lately been keeping very quiet; apparently he is ill. If the bill is lost he may come forward at the head of the sturdy reformers, who would carry the bill at all risks, say that he disapproved of the conduct of his colleagues, has had nothing to do with it, and put himself at the head of a new ministry of strong Whigs and carry the bill.99

As in late 1831, he may have been involved in attempts to strengthen the nerve of the government from the inside. In the House, 9 May 1832, after Grey had resigned, he denied that Members who ‘speak with approbation of the conduct of ministers, or who say that they regret the advice given by the ministers was not adopted and acted upon’, were casting a slur on the king. The following day, Ebrington moved for an address, written by Macaulay, calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the bill unimpaired.100 Macaulay, speaking unusually late in the debate, laid great weight on the necessity of the Commons asserting its just authority in favour of ministers, and of the king’s right to create peers to carry the bill (especially as over the previous 30 years a Tory majority had gradually been built up in the Lords). He doubted that there could be any future for an anti-reform Tory ministry, which would have a ‘constant struggle against the mind and will of a whole people’, or for one pledged to introduce a moderate measure of reform: ‘the discussion is too recent, the lapse of time too short, the inconsistency would be too glaring, the motive too obvious’. He was answered by Wetherell, and by Henry Hunt, who, not for the first time, complained that Macaulay was not a sufficiently radical reformer. His speech was again acclaimed as ‘magnificent’, though Sir Francis Burdett* thought it ‘too like Coachmakers’ Hall’, and William Ord* found it ‘a little overdone at the end’.101 According to Margaret, Macaulay, who voted in the majority in favour of Ebrington’s motion that day, was

in extremely good spirits and thinks the Whigs will be firmer to their places than ever before the week is out. I should like a month of opposition for him very much. It would be a stirring time for him. He describes the excitement and indignation felt on his side of the House to be immense. Mr. [Henry] Gally Knight* said to him, ‘I would drink hot blood’.102

On 14 May Macaulay rounded on Wellington for inconsistency in countenancing a measure of reform after having opposed disfranchisement in the Lords. According to Denis Le Marchant†, he

expressed himself with his usual energy and the House went with him in every word, one part especially where he said, ‘I am willing to let others have infamy and place, only leave us honour and the bill’. The effect was electrical. Poor Hardinge’s face seemed swollen with rage. He jumped up as if to enter into some personal conflict, and vehemently complained of such language. His complaints were coldly received and Macaulay’s explanation was if possible worse than his charge.103

Another exchange between the two occurred the following day.

Macaulay spoke and voted in the minority for Buxton’s motion for a select committee on colonial slavery, 24 May 1832. This was a decision taken against the reinstated ministers, but it did not harm his relations with them, probably because, as Althorp explained to him a few days later, the depth of support for an inquiry had persuaded them of its inevitability.104 He voted for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, and against increasing the county representation of Scotland, 1 June. A few days after the death of Mackintosh, 30 May, he succeeded him as a commissioner of the board of control, with a salary of £1,200. Although Althorp suggested that he might take advantage of a possible vacancy at Chipping Wycombe, he was returned unopposed for Calne, 13 June, when he spoke in favour of reform, and two days later he was well received at a reform dinner in Leeds.105 He took a deep interest in Indian affairs and, having taken his seat (probably on 19 June), he was added to the select committee on the East India Company, 22 June, and attended many of its sittings on political matters.106 He justified the continued payment of the Russian-Dutch loan, 12 July, and of course sided with ministers on this, 12, 16, 20 July. He voted in the majority for inquiry into the Inns of Court, 17 July, when the House was found to be inquorate. Now one of the government’s payroll vote, he was obliged to give much of his time to the chamber, as he complained to his sisters, 26 July:

The House is still sitting, and sitting 12 hours out of the 24. I am forced to be there almost without intermission: for so few Members are left that we are in constant danger of being counted out. There is a snug party of 40 of us who lay on taxes and pass laws in the quietest manner in the world.107

He defended Brougham against a charge of nepotism brought by Sugden, 27 July. Citing the situation in Leeds, he denied the suggestion in a petition from Manchester that the Reform Act would enfranchise an insufficient number of inhabitants, 15 Aug. 1832, and that day he voted with government, in 17 divisions, in favour of the bill prohibiting processions of Orangemen.108 Having left the remaining seat at Calne to Kerry at the general election in December 1832, Macaulay, who that month succeeded Thomas Hyde Villiers* as secretary to the board of control, was elected with the industrialist John Marshall* for Leeds, defeating the Conservative Sadler after an intense contest.109

Macaulay dressed carelessly, and, being short with a tendency to fatness, was generally remarked for his ugliness, except when the strongly marked features of his face accentuated the overwhelming flow of his speech.110 The Times once referred to him as ‘Mr. Babbletongue Macaulay’, and he was notorious for what Sydney Smith, who thought him ‘a book in breeches’, termed his ‘waterspouts of talk’. Smith later joked that ‘there are flashes of silence in his conversation which are very agreeable’, but insisted to Maria Edgeworth that ‘Macaulay bursts like a beer barrel and it all comes over you, but he can’t help it. He really has no wish to show off’.111 Greville, who met Macaulay at Holland House without being introduced to him, ‘settled that he was some obscure man of letters or of medicine, perhaps a cholera doctor’. Disabused of this misapprehension, he was astounded at the

vulgarity and ungainliness of his appearance; not a ray of intellect beams from his countenance; a lump of more ordinary clay never enclosed a powerful mind and lively imagination. He had a cold and a sore throat, the latter of which occasioned a constant contraction of the muscles of the thorax, making him appear as in momentary danger of a fit. His manner struck me as not pleasing, but it was not assuming, unembarrassed, yet not easy, unpolished, yet not coarse; there was no kind of usurpation of the conversation, no tenacity as to opinion or facts, no assumption of superiority, but the variety and extent of his information were soon apparent, for whatever subject was touched upon he evinced the utmost familiarity with it; quotation, illustration, anecdote, seemed ready in his hands for every topic.112

Apart from his extraordinary memory and depth of knowledge, he was also notable for other legacies of his Clapham upbringing, such as his burning desire to expose falsehood and proclaim truth, his amazing confidence in the making of moral judgements and his strong sense of his own importance in the progress of mankind.113

These factors help to account for the sensational effect of his speeches. His sister Margaret recalled, 10 Oct. 1831, that

we talked of eloquence, which he has often compared to fresco painting, the result of long study and deep meditation, but at the moment of execution thrown off with the greatest rapidity; what has apparently been the work of a few hours to last for ages. Today, he said that in really eloquent displays there must be plan and order, the right thing said in the right place, but it must be done with apparent carelessness and unconsciousness: ‘a mighty maze, but not without a plan’.114

It was not so much that he learned his speeches by rote, but that he worked them up by long hours of preparation, contemplation and rehearsal. That he achieved something like the effect he sought is shown by Rice’s comment, 16 Dec. 1831, that ‘Caravaggio never painted more broadly and more powerfully. It was like the Gamblers at the Sciarra’.115 Macaulay, who acknowledged what a difficult place the Commons was to succeed in as a speaker, once told Edward Lytton Bulwer*, ‘the great secret of speaking: you must never bore for a moment’; and no doubt his rapidity assisted him in this respect.116 He was always more impressive when giving a set speech than a reply, and was never reckoned to be a debater as such, but although he was at a disadvantage in appearance and delivery, he usually electrified the House and left its Members mesmerized.117 As James Grant put it:

He was an excellent speaker withal; not forcible or vehement, carrying you away, as it were, by force; but seducing you, taking you a willing captive, if I may so speak, by his dulcet tones and engaging manner, wherever he chose to go. Time after time has the House listened to him as if entranced.118

Macaulay, who is credited with introducing the words ‘constituency’ and ‘fourth estate’ into contemporary usage, played a highly significant part in the passage of the Reform Act.119 For a while during the reform debates he was one of the leading speakers on the government side, and ‘pitted’ against Tories like Mackworth Praed and Croker, he was of invaluable assistance to ministers.120 His interpretation of history, of the nature of progress and the importance of warding off revolution, together with his emphasis on the need to enfranchise the middle class and to integrate it into governing society, added a terrifying sense of urgency and immediacy, as well as of historical legitimacy, to the arguments in favour of reform, which must have influenced many Members.121 If his letters are to be believed, he was crucial to the behind-the-scenes agitation that led to Ebrington’s confidence motion on 10 Oct. 1831, which shored up support for ministers, at a time of intense pressure, and he may have been similarly active in May 1832. Finally, insofar as his stinging attacks contributed to Peel’s declaration that he would never assist in the passage of a reform bill, and given that it was for this reason that Peel refused to serve in, and thereby aborted, the putative Wellington ministry, he ensured that the bill would pass in the form that the Whigs desired.122

Macaulay, having sat for Leeds until early 1834, returned financially secure from a spell in office in India in time to administer the estate of his father, who died in 1838, leaving personalty of under £5,000.123 He subsequently represented Edinburgh as a Liberal and became a member of Russell’s first cabinet. He filled numerous academic, literary and honorary positions, but is known to posterity for his immensely popular History of England, which was published in five volumes between 1849 and 1861. As earlier in his career, his success was largely due to the fact that his enormous intellect was allied to great communicative abilities, though he was said to lack that emotional confidence which would have given him a sureness of touch with his fellow man and a greater insight into human character.124 In his youth, he was romantically linked with his cousin Mary Babington and Sharp’s ward Maria Kinnaird, but he never married. After the death of his sister Margaret in 1834, he lived mostly with his other favourite, Hannah, the wife of the Indian administrator Sir Charles Edward Trevelyan† of Wallington, Northumberland. Indeed, it was Hannah’s imminent departure for India to rejoin her husband that may have precipitated Macaulay’s final decline.125 He died in December 1859, when the peerage awarded to him two years earlier became extinct, leaving Hannah the bulk of his estate.126 Her only son George Otto Trevelyan (1838-1928), a Liberal Member and statesman, wrote an acclaimed life of Macaulay. His third son, George Macaulay Trevelyan (1876-1962), was another eminent historian.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


Based on G. O. Trevelyan, Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay (1876), which was republished, slightly enlarged, in 1908; The Letters of Thomas Babington Macaulay ed. T. Pinney (1974-81); and J. Clive, Thomas Babington Macaulay, The Shaping of the Historian (1973), the best modern biography.

  • 1. Mems. of Clan ‘Aulay’, 10-11; Trevelyan, i. 4-8; W. Anderson, Scottish Nation, iii. 718-19.
  • 2. Lady Knutsford, Life and Letters of Zachary Macaulay; C. Booth, Zachary Macaulay; Oxford DNB.
  • 3. Greville Mems. iii. 279; London Univ. Lib. Booth mss 797/1/5467; Add. 51655, Mackintosh to Lady Holland, 24 Jan. 1829; Trevelyan, i. 26-36, 38-39, 50-51; Clive, 17, 21-29.
  • 4. Knutsford, 278-80, 288; Letters of Hannah More ed. A. Roberts, 83-85.
  • 5. J.M.F. Wright, Alma Mater, ii. 218; Laws and Trans. of Union Soc. (1829), 20-27; Trevelyan, i. 72-92; Clive, 36-39.
  • 6. Trevelyan, i. 47-49, 65-67; Clive, 15, 23-35, 45-46, 50-54, 59-60, 248-51.
  • 7. Macaulay Letters, i. 169; Clive, 50-51.
  • 8. Macaulay Letters, i. 173; Clive, 30-32, 44-45.
  • 9. Trevelyan, i. 59-60, 127-36, 285-6; Clive, 34-35, 39-41, 246-8, 256-88. This was attested by some of Macaulay’s sisters: Selina in ‘Selina Macaulay’s Diary’, Bull. of New York Pub. Lib. lxvi (1962), 440; Frances in an ‘Unpublished Mem. of Lord Macaulay’, N and Q, ccxxiii (1978), 240-2; and Margaret in her important recollections, which are printed in Mems. of Clan ‘Aulay’, 183-264 [hereafter cited as Margaret Macaulay, Recollections].
  • 10. Knutsford, 366.
  • 11. Trevelyan, i. 43; Macaulay Letters, i. 21, 30, 85.
  • 12. Trevelyan, i. 72-73; Macaulay Letters, i. 181.
  • 13. Trevelyan, i. 76, 120; W. Thomas, Quarrel of Macaulay and Croker, 60-92.
  • 14. Macaulay Letters, i. 132-4, 148, 163-4.
  • 15. Clive, 61-65.
  • 16. Trevelyan (1908), 56.
  • 17. Times Lit. Supp. 1 May 1969.
  • 18. Clive, 41-44, 67, 125-6; Macaulay Letters, i. pp. xix-xx; J. Hamburger, Macaulay and Whig Tradition, p. x.
  • 19. For a full list of Macaulay’s published works, see Allibone’s Dict. of Eng. Literature (1870), ii. 1156-61; Macaulay Letters, i. 321-2; vi. 289-302. Several of his articles were revised by himself and published in his Essays, Critical and Misc. (1843); others, including many of his early pieces, were reprinted in Misc. Writings of Lord Macaulay ed. T.F. Ellis (1860).
  • 20. C. Knight, Passages of a Working Life, i. 298, 303, 307; Macaulay Letters, i. 187-8; Clive 54-59.
  • 21. CUL, Add. 7621/15, pp. 13-14; Report of Cttee. of Soc. for Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery (1824), 70-79; Trevelyan (1908), 721-2; Macaulay Letters, i. 202.
  • 22. Hants RO, Malmesbury mss 9M73/403, Brougham to Z. Macaulay, 20 Mar. 1823; Greville Mems. iii. 280; Macaulay Letters, i. 185-6, 203; Clive, 67-74, 92-95; J. Millgate, ‘Father and Son: Macaulay’s Edinburgh Debut’, Rev. Eng. Stud. xxi (1970), 159-67.
  • 23. Add. 51655; Trevelyan, i. 117-18; J. A. Greig, Jeffrey of the Edinburgh Review, 7-8; Clive, 74-92.
  • 24. Crabb Robinson Diary, ii. 41.
  • 25. Macaulay Letters, i. pp. xxii, 171-2.
  • 26. Ibid. i. 198, 211-12; vi. 301; The Times, 15 June 1826; R. Read, Modern Leicester, 244-6; Mems. of ‘Clan Aulay’, 71; ‘Selina Macaulay’s Diary’, 440-1.
  • 27. K. Bourne, Palmerston, 246.
  • 28. The Times, 17 Apr. 1827, 18 Mar., 14 May 1828; Camb. Univ. Pollbook (1827), 24.
  • 29. Trevelyan, i. 146; Camb. Univ. Pollbook (1829), 29.
  • 30. Macaulay Letters, i. 322-3; Clive, 96, 98-99.
  • 31. Macaulay Letters, i. 224, 226.
  • 32. Ibid. i. 230, 252-3; Trevelyan, i. 125-7, 138-9; Clive, 99-100.
  • 33. Trevelyan, i. 186; Macaulay Letters, i. 253-4.
  • 34. Clive, 126-33, 138-9.
  • 35. Lansdowne mss, Lansdowne to Rice, 26 Dec. [1828]; Add. 51690, to Lady Holland, 8 Feb. 1830; Macaulay Letters, i. 224, 263-5; Trevelyan, i. 139-40; ‘Unpublished Mem.’ 242; ‘Selina Macaulay’s Diary’, 441-2.
  • 36. Devizes Gazette, 18, 25 Feb. 1830.
  • 37. Lansdowne mss.
  • 38. ‘Selina Macaulay’s Diary’, 442-3; Broughton, Recollections, iv. 327; Creevey Pprs. ii. 208; Brougham, Life and Times, iii. 35; Trevelyan, i. 186-8; Knutsford, 450.
  • 39. Letters of Hannah More, 193; Ward, Letters to ‘Ivy’, 347.
  • 40. O. Goldsmith, Retaliation (1774).
  • 41. ‘Selina Macaulay’s Diary’, 442.
  • 42. Macaulay Letters, i. 265, 277.
  • 43. Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary.
  • 44. Macaulay Letters, i. 272; Margaret Macaulay, Recollections, 193; Trevelyan, i. 159-60.
  • 45. Life and Letters of John Rickman ed. O. Williams, 254.
  • 46. Macaulay Letters, i. 273, 311.
  • 47. Anti-Slavery Monthly Reporter, ii (1831), 242-6.
  • 48. ‘Selina Macaulay’s Diary’, 442.
  • 49. Macaulay Letters, i. 294-5.
  • 50. Ibid. i. 273, 276, 279, 312; Booth mss 797/5471; Devizes Gazette, 7 July, 5 Aug. 1830.
  • 51. Macaulay Letters, i. 281-2, 286, 287, 298-300, 307, 309-10, 323-4; T.B. Macaulay, Napoleon and Restoration of Bourbons ed. J. Hamburger (1977).
  • 52. Macaulay Letters, i. 286-7, 312-13; Trevelyan, i. 124, 170-1; Hopetoun mss 167, f. 195.
  • 53. St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 196.
  • 54. Brougham mss.
  • 55. Macaulay Letters, i. 319.
  • 56. Ibid. ii. 376; iv. 225.
  • 57. Ibid. ii. 5-7; vi. 275; Margaret Macaulay, Recollections, 204-5; ‘Selina Macaulay’s Diary’, 442; Add. 51655, Mackintosh to Lady Holland, 3 Mar.; The Times, 3 Mar. 1831; Broughton, iv. 89; Greville Mems. ii. 124; Howard Sisters, 191; Trevelyan, i. 172; Clive, 161-2.
  • 58. Bunbury Mem. 158-60; Edgeworth Letters, 488.
  • 59. Macaulay, Selected Writings ed. J. Clive and T. Pinney, 166; Macaulay Letters, ii. 11, 20; Trevelyan, i. 175-9; Clive, 206-18.
  • 60. Macaulay Letters, ii. 9-11.
  • 61. Ibid. ii. 22; Margaret Macaulay, Recollections, 209.
  • 62. Macaulay Letters, ii. 8-9, 12-13; Devizes Gazette, 28 Apr., 5 May 1831.
  • 63. Macaulay Letters, ii. 14.
  • 64. Ibid. ii. 45, 49, 51-53, 55, 59.
  • 65. Ibid. ii. 56, 62, 64; Le Marchant, Althorp, 327-8; Broughton, iv. 119; Three Diaries, 100; Greville Mems. ii. 159.
  • 66. Macaulay Letters, ii. 63, 69; Hatherton diary.
  • 67. Trevelyan, i. 192-3; PRO NI, Anglesey mss D619/27A/122; Add. 51655, Mackintosh to Lady Holland, 28 July 1831.
  • 68. Wilson’s Noctes Ambrosianae ed. R.S. Mackenzie, iv. 356.
  • 69. Broughton, iv. 124-5.
  • 70. Warws. RO MI 247, Philips’s Mems. i. 371-2.
  • 71. Macaulay Letters, ii. 70.
  • 72. Ibid. ii. 73, 75, 78, 80, 83, 86-87, 89.
  • 73. Ibid. ii. 83-84.
  • 74. Ibid. ii. 87-88, 90.
  • 75. Ibid. ii. 99-100; vi. 275-6.
  • 76. Ibid. ii. 105-6; Three Diaries, 130; Hatherton diary; Arnould, Denman, i. 350; Bucks. RO, Fremantle mss D/FR/139/20/32.
  • 77. Thomas, 8-12.
  • 78. Greville Mems. ii. 201, 203.
  • 79. Macaulay Letters, ii. 101.
  • 80. Ibid. ii. 92-94, 103-4; A. S. Turberville, ‘Leeds and Parl. Reform’, Pubs. Thoresby Soc. xli (1954), 40-43.
  • 81. Macaulay Letters, ii. 100-1.
  • 82. Add. 61937, f. 125.
  • 83. Cornw. RO, Hawkins mss 10/2172; Hants RO, Carnarvon mss 75M91/l12/14; Le Marchant, 356; Three Diaries, 150; Hatherton diary; Broughton, iv. 138-9; Greville Mems. ii. 207, 225; Howard Sisters, 215.
  • 84. Macaulay Letters, ii. 106; E. S. De Beer, ‘Macaulay and Croker’, Rev. of Eng. Stud. x (1959), 388-97.
  • 85. Macaulay Letters, ii. 101, 105-6.
  • 86. Trevelyan, i. 175.
  • 87. Ibid. ii. 101-2; Margaret Macaulay, Recollections, 219-20, 222-3.
  • 88. Margaret Macaulay, Recollections, 215-17; Clive, 200-1. The paper may have been ‘Lord Grey’s observations on the correspondence’, which is mentioned by Holland (Holland House Diaries, 74-78).
  • 89. Add. 51563, Brougham to Holland [bef. 27 Oct.]; Brougham mss, reply, 27 Oct.; Lansdowne mss, Grey to Lansdowne, 27 Dec.; Grey mss, reply, 28 Dec. 1831; Holland House Diaries, 97, 106; Baring Jnls. i. 92; Margaret Macaulay, Recollections, 225-6.
  • 90. Margaret Macaulay, Recollections, 225; Three Diaries, 169, 171-2; Le Marchant, 382; Hatherton diary; Broughton, iv. 155-7; Greville Mems. ii. 230-1; Add. 51569, Ord to Lady Holland [16 Dec.]; 51573, Rice to same [16 Dec. 1831]; William IV-Grey Corresp. ii. 39; Cockburn Letters, 365; Cockburn, Jeffrey, ii. 242; Trevelyan, i. 193.
  • 91. Macaulay Letters, ii. 109.
  • 92. Three Diaries, 169.
  • 93. Anglesey mss 27A/143.
  • 94. Macaulay Letters, i. 271-2.
  • 95. Ibid. ii. 113; Margaret Macaulay, Recollections, 227-9; Holland House Diaries, 120; Hatherton diary.
  • 96. Margaret Macaulay, Recollections, 231-2, 233-4.
  • 97. Ibid. 241; Hawkins mss 10/2190; Three Diaries, 213, 215; Hatherton diary.
  • 98. Margaret Macaulay, Recollections, 241.
  • 99. Ibid. 241-2, 244-5.
  • 100. Ibid. 264.
  • 101. Add. 51569, Ord to Lady Holland [10 May 1832]; Hatherton diary; Broughton, iv. 222; Le Marchant, 428.
  • 102. Margaret Macaulay, Recollections, 264.
  • 103. Broughton, iv. 225; Croker Pprs. ii. 165; Three Diaries, 255.
  • 104. Buxton Mems. 296.
  • 105. Macaulay Letters, ii. 122-3, 129-33; BL, Althorp mss, Althorp to Smith [?June]; Devizes Gazette, 7, 14 June 1832; Turberville, 54-57.
  • 106. Macaulay Letters, ii. 134; Clive, 219-21; PP (1831-2), xiv. 11.
  • 107. Macaulay Letters, ii. 153, 158, 160, 171-2.
  • 108. Ibid. ii. 173-4.
  • 109. Ibid. ii. 114-20, 162-7, 175-9, 186, 188-91, 193, 198-212; Turberville, 40-87; Leeds Mercury, 15 Dec. 1832.
  • 110. Margaret Macaulay, Recollections, 207-8; Lady Holland to Son, 108; Life of Wilberforce, v. 249-50; Clive, 238-40.
  • 111. H. Herd, March of Journalism, 196; Greville Mems. ii. 419; Smith Letters, ii. 763; Edgeworth Letters, 592, 600; Trevelyan, i. 120-5; Clive, 243-6.
  • 112. Greville Mems. ii. 247-9, 317; iii. 280-1, 480.
  • 113. Macaulay Letters, i. p. xvii; Clive, 30.
  • 114. Margaret Macaulay, Recollections, 215.
  • 115. Add. 51573.
  • 116. Macaulay Letters, i. 317-18; Corresp. of Abraham Hayward ed. H.E. Carlisle, ii. 63.
  • 117. Margaret Macaulay, Recollections, 237; G.H. Francis, Orators of the Age (1847), 78-100; Life of Campbell, i. 525; Baring Jnls. ii. 187; Three Diaries, 310, 346; Macaulay Letters, ii. 5; Trevelyan, ii. 139-41; Clive, 157-65.
  • 118. [J. Grant], Random Recollections of Commons (1837), 176-8.
  • 119. Macaulay Letters, ii. 13, 22; OED; Clive, 124-5.
  • 120. Macaulay Letters, i. 190, 317; Croker Pprs. ii. 46-49; Clive, 189-96.
  • 121. Clive, 103-5, 125-6, 133-8, 165-89; Hamburger, 4-13, 116-22, 144-58; D. Wahrman, Imagining the Middle Class, 306, 356-8; J. Cannon, Parl. Reform, 244.
  • 122. Clive, 197-200; N. Gash, Sir Robert Peel, 26.
  • 123. PROB 6/214.
  • 124. Corresp. of Abraham Hayward, ii. 62-63; J.H. Plumb, Making of an Historian, i. 258-61; Macaulay Letters, i. p. vii; Clive, 251-5.
  • 125. Trevelyan, ii. 269-80; Clive, 256-7.
  • 126. The Times, 31 Dec. 1859, 23 Jan. 1860; DNB; Oxford DNB.