Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Scholar Among Rakes

R.J. Stove reflects upon the genius of the historian Thomas Macaulay. To quote:
No historian has aroused a greater range of emotions, from deep love to wild hate....

No other writer in the English pantheon has surpassed Macaulay for sheer learning. Milton alone came close. Macaulay knew firsthand all the surviving productions of the leading Greek and Roman authors and felt bound to study them in the original languages. He also knew every major French author, contemporary or ancient. Later, he acquired enough German to read Goethe and Schiller. On the Elizabethans and their Italian contemporaries, he had wider expertise still....

The miracle is not that Macaulay made mistakes, or that he glorified King William III with a zest incredible to us today who know more about William’s political corruption and erotic perversions than Macaulay ever knew or we ever wanted to know. Rather, it is that despite his weaknesses, Macaulay remains compulsively readable and at times profound.

1 comment:

Gareth Russell said...

I do enjoy Macauley's readability. However, although I'm no fan of William III, I would have to say that I'm unaware of any erotic perversions on the Orange prince's part. It seems to me that the best evidence points to a bizarrely frigid character, curiously devoid of any form of sexual or carnal warmth to wife, mistress or favourite. Political corruption and self-righteous deception aplenty, however. If it were not for the matrimonial misadventures of Henry VIII, I think we would have to search long and hard for an episode in English royal history more unpleasant than the calumnies against Maria of Modena and the "warming pan baby" scandal.