Macaulay, Thomas Babington, First Baron

Macaulay, Thomas Babington, First Baron
   An English historian, political commentator, cabinet minister, and imperial administrator, Thomas Babington Macaulay was raised by evangelical Christians, but became a secular Whig, although, as a man of his time, he was never a democrat. A brilliant speaker, writer, and controversialist, he made his reputation early writing on literature - his primary interest - and politics for the leading Whig intellectual journal, the Edinburgh Review. Macaulay first entered Parliament in 1830, and established himself as a powerful speaker on the side of reform.
   In 1834, Macaulay went to India as a senior legal official. While there, Macaulay wrote his famous Minute on Indian Education, which proclaimed with the selfconfidence of the age that half a shelf of European learning was worth more than all the fabled wisdom of the East and argued that Indian students should be trained in English rather than Arabic or Sanskrit. Although it had little immediate effect on Indian life, the creation of an Anglophone intelligentsia in India eventually had momentous consequences.
   Returning to England in 1839, Macaulay served briefly as secretary of war in the last years of Melbourne’s government and began work on his famous History of England. The first two volumes were published in 1848 and were widely understood -Macaulay made the case elsewhere in so many words - to argue that the Whig revolution of 1688 and reform bill of 1832 had enabled England to avoid the revolutions that swept Europe in 1848. Further volumes of his history came out in the 1850s, commanding record-breaking royalties; but his health failed, and he died in 1859, still a relatively young man, having brought his story no further than the death of William III. Macaulay’s works have been criticized on many grounds, but they remain vivid reading even today. From an imperial point of view, Macaulay expressed the confidence of a nation at the height of its power and convinced of the unique value of its heritage.
    Clive, John. Macaulay: The Shaping of the Historian. New York: Knopf, 1973;
    Lord Macaulay. The Works of Lord Macaulay: Complete. Edited by Lady H. Trevelyan. London: Longmans, Green, 1875;
    Trevelyan, G. O. The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay. London: Longmans, Green, 1876.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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