Thomas Babington Macaulay

Associated Locations:

  • Leicestershire, England

Associated Dates:

  • October 25, 1800 – Born

Thomas Babington Macaulay is one of the eminent spirits who appeared to President Wilford Woodruff in the St. George Temple on August 21, 1877. This interesting story is detailed in the Eminent Spirits Appear to Wilford Woodruff wiki.

“Thomas Macaulay was known in his century for his literary works, his character and principles, and his quick grasp of public questions. While in India he supported freedom of the press and established the legal equality of Europeans and natives; he also instigated a system of national education. He helped millions of Indians who had suffered for generation under the corrupt policies of the East Indies Company and tried to undo much of the wrongs perpetrated upon India.”1

“Our civil and religious liberties have been bought with a fearful price.”

– Thomas Babington Macaulay

Life Sketch from The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff

Copyright © Taken from the book: The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Special thanks to Vicki Jo Anderson. Please do not copy.

English Historian, Essayist, Politician 1800-1859

Macaulay’s first public speech was against the slave trade. He worked for the Reform Bill, which gave better representation in the Parliament for all the people. He became Secretary of War and later paymaster-general. Once he lost an election because he supported a grant for a Catholic school in Ireland. He helped to abolish an obsolete commission on which he sat and for which he was paid. When it came time to vote on the slave trade bill he resigned from his party in order to vote is conscious.

Notwithstanding Macaulay’s great work in the advancement of good government, his first and final love and devotion was to literature. His most compelling work in his History of England. Though this history had been surpassed by later works (mostly because Macaulay allowed his partisan view to color his history) his work achieved the distinction of making history as attractive as fiction, for he wrote about people. William Makepeace Thackeray said that “[Macaulay] reads twenty books to write one sentence; he travels one hundred miles to make a line of description.”

Early Life

Zachary Macaulay

Thomas Babington Macaulay was born 25 October 1800 his grandparents had been Scottish ministers, and his grandfather had hosted Samuel Johnson on his trip to Scotland. His father, Zachary Macaulay, was a quiet man of very political convictions. On a brief trip to Jamaica in his youth, Zachary had become acquainted with the cruelties of the slave-trade, and so he spent his life in the work of an abolitionist. As a young man he became the governor of Sierra Leone, and with the help of a number of Christians he established the capital as a free city for those natives in the neighboring states. He endured much hardship, especially when a French garrison attacked the city. As in the nature of revolutions, all that was sacred and of use was destroyed. A revolutionist announced to Zachary that “the National Convention have decreed that there is no Sunday, and that the Bible is all a lie.” These stories and others were often repeated to young Macaulay and greatly influenced his later beliefs and actions.

Macaulay’s mother was Selina Mills, a former pupil of the great English moralist, Hannah More. Macaulay claimed that he inherited his jovial nature from his mother. The early education of the future statesman and historian was personally superintended by his mother. He first demonstrated his vivacious character and vitality for life in his affections for her. Mrs. Macaulay told friends that his sensibilities and affections were developed at a young age and she detected that he was no ordinary baby. He was always moved with tenderness towards his mother. He cried for joy at her return after having been gone but a short while. Like Johnson’s mother, Macaulay’s mother taught her son to read by the time he was three, and from then on he read incessantly. His favorite reading place was on the rug in front of the fireplace with his book on the ground and a piece of bread-and-butter in his hand. He did not particularly care for toys, but loved taking his daily walk.

Hannah More

Hannah More was fond of relating that one day she knocked at the door and little Macaulay answered. He told her that his parents were out but that he could bring her a glass of old spirits. This comment greatly startled the good lady, so she questioned the little child as to what he knew about old spirits. The little boy merely shrugged his shoulders and said that Robinson Crusoe often drank some.

His mother told how Thomas, when he was eight years old, took it into his head to write a compendium of universal history … and he really contrived to give a tolerably connected view of the leading events from the creation at the present time, filling about a quire of paper…. He told me one day that he had been writing a paper … to persuade the people of Travancore to embrace the Christian religion. On reading it, I found it to contain a very clear idea of the leading facts and doctrines of that religion, with some strong arguments for its adoption. He was so fired with reading Scott’s “Lay” and “Marmion,” the former of which he got entirely by heart, and the latter almost entirely, by heart … he determined on writing himself a poem in six cantos which he called “The Battle of Cheviot”. …I make no doubt he would have finished his design, but as he was proceeding with it the thought struck him of writing an heroic poem to be called “Olaus the Great” … after the manner of Virgil…. He has composed I know not how many hymns.

Hannah More often took the boy to her home, where she shared many educational ideas with him. He basked in the conversation of the adult ladies of the house, who were some of the grandest ladies in all the land. Each day Hannah would end the discussion with a lesson from the Bible.

Macaulay’s First Works

Such a beginning in letter could not help but flourish in his adult life. Macaulay’s first work of note was an essay on the works of Milton published in the ‘’Edinburgh Review’’. He was instantly famous. This sudden fame seems to have two causes. First, there had been no new contributors to the ‘’Review’’ for several decades and they were in great need of new talent. Second, this particular essay filled a great vacuum in the area of literary criticism. Other essays soon followed. He wrote a critique on Croker’s review of Boswell’s ‘’Life of Johnson’’, as well as essays on Warren Hastings and Frederick the Great. In addition to literary criticism he also wrote poetry and historical and biographical essays. He wrote sometimes two articles a month.

Thomas Babington Macaulay

Of Macaulay, Elizabeth Barret Browning wrote to a friend, “You are very right in admiring Macaulay; he has a noble, clear metallic note in his soul, and makes us ready by it for battle. I very much admire Mr. Macaulay, and could scarcely read his ballads and keep lying down. They seemed to draw me up to my feet as the mesmeric powers are said to do.” His writings were full of life, brimming with description and beautiful reflections. However, he could introduce a point so sharply and suddenly that the reader sometimes felt a debate was to take place. Lord Melbourne was quoted as saying, “I wish I were as cocksure of any one thing as Macaulay is of everything.”

In spite of these literary excesses, Macaulay was always found on the side of justice and fairness for the underling and for the oppressed. In his private life Macaulay was beyond reproach. A fellow writer, Sydney Smith, characterized Macaulay by saying:

There are no limits to his knowledge, on small subjects as well as great; he is like a book in breeches…. But what is far better and more important than all this is, that I believe Macaulay to be incorruptible.

You might lay ribbons, stars, garters, wealth, title, before him in vain. He has an honest, genuine love of his country; and the world could not bribe him to neglect her interests.

The genuineness of Macaulay’s character is evidenced by the love and care he gave his family. When he first entered Parliament, the business House of Babington and Macaulay, which his father owned failed. Macaulay’s father was unable to pay the debt so his son Thomas took over and became the soul support of his family eventually paying off all his father’s debt.

His interaction with his family went beyond merely supporting them. He was a great friends and playmate, and all his brothers and sisters deeply loved him. The instant his father left the house, wild pandemonium began. Macaulay would play he was tiger, hiding growling in such a terrible manner his siblings screamed with mocked fright. Another popular activity was to play fire. They piled all the furniture in the middle of the room, heaping books, the clothing, with rugs on top. Then Macaulay would rescue his mother, if she appeared, carrying her to safety. Their play was always followed by a pillow fight.

Because he never married, he lived a great part of his life in his sister Hannah’s home. He was so loved by her children that she complained that he sometimes got in the way of her discipline.

Macaulay’s Death

Burial place in Westminster Abbey

When he died he was found by his sister and nephew sitting with his head bent forward on his chest. A magazine lay open on his lap. He was buried in Westminster Abbey along with the other great literary giants. It could be said of Macaulay that “where much is given much is expected.” He fulfilled that expectation.

Copyright © Taken from the book: The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Special thanks to Vicki Jo Anderson. Please do not copy.2

  1. Anderson, Vicki Jo. (1994). The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Cottonwood, AZ: Zichron Historical Research Institute.
  2. Ibid.
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