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Macaulay is Called to the Bar.—Does not Make it a Serious Profession.— Speech before the Antislavery Society.—Knight's Quarterly Magazine.— The Edinburgh Review and the “Essay on Milton.”—Macaulay's Personal Appearance and Mode of Existence.—His Defects and Virtues, Likings and Antipathies.—Croker.—Sadler.—Zachary Macaulay's Circumstances. —Description of the Family Habits of Life in Great Ormond Street.— Macaulay's Sisters.-Lady Trevelyan,—“The Judicious Poet.”—Macaulay’s Humor in Conversation.—His Articles in the Review.—His Attacks on the Utilitarians and on Southey.—Blackwood's Magazine.—Macaulay is made Commissioner of Bankruptcy.—Enters Parliament.—Letters from Circuit and Edinburgh.
MACAULAY was called to the bar in 1826, and joined the Northern Circuit at Leeds. On the evening that he first appeared at mess, when the company were retiring for the night, he was observed to be carefully picking out the longest candle. An old king's counsel, who noticed that he had a volume under his arm, remonstrated with him on the danger of reading in bed, upon which he rejoined with immense rapidity of utterance: “I always read in bed at home; and if I am not afraid of committing parricide and matricide and fratricide, I can hardly be expected to pay any special regard to the lives of the bagmen of Leeds.” And, so saying, he left his hearers staring at one another, and marched off to his room, little knowing that before many years were out he would have occasion to speak much more respectfully of the Leeds bagmen.
Under its social aspect, Macaulay heartily enjoyed his legal career. He made an admirable literary use of the Saturnalia which the Northern Circuit calls by the name of “Grand Night,” when personalities of the most pronounced description are welcomed by all except the object of them, and forgiven even by him. His hand may be recognized in a macaronic poem, written in Greek and English, describing the feast at which Alexander murdered Clitus. The death of the victim is treated with an exuberance of fantastic drollery; and a song, put into the mouth of Nearchus, the admiral of the Macedonian fleet, and beginning with the lines,
When as first I did come back from plowing the salt water,
is highly Aristophanic in every sense of the word. He did not seriously look to the bar as a profession. No persuasion would induce him to return to his chambers in the evening, according to the practice then in vogue. After the first year or two of the period during which he called himself a barrister he gave up even the pretense of reading law, and spent many more hours under the gallery of the House of Commons than in all the courts together. The person who knew him best said of him: “Throughout life he never really applied himself to any pursuit that was against the grain.” Nothing is more characteristic of the man than the contrast between his unconquerable aversion to the science of jurisprudence at the time when he was ostensibly preparing himself to be an advocate, and the zest with which, on his voyage to India, he mastered that science, in principle and detail, as soon as his imagination was fired by the prospect of the responsibilities of a lawgiver. He got no business worth mention, either in London or on circuit. Zachary Macaulay, who was not a man of the world, did what he could to make interest with the attorneys, and, as a last resource, proposed to his son to take a brief in a suit which he himself had instituted against the journal that had so grossly libeled him. “I am rather glad,” writes Macaulay from York in March, 1827, “that I was not in London, if your advisers thought it right that I should have appeared as your counsel. Whether it be contrary to professional etiquette I do not know; but I am sure that it would be shocking to public feeling, and particularly imprudent against adversaries whose main strength lies in detecting and exposing indecorum or eccentricity. It would have been difficult to avoid a quarrel with Sugden, with Wetherell, and with old Lord Eldon him. self. Then the John Bull would have been upon us with every advantage. The personal part of the consideration it would have been my duty, and my pleasure and pride also, to overlook, but your interests must have suffered.” Meanwhile he was busy enough in fields better adapted than the law to his talents and his temperament. Hr-took a part in the meeting of the Antislavery Society held at Freemasons' Tavern, on the 25th of June, 1824, with the Duke of Gloucester in the chair. The Edinburgh Review described his speech as “a display of eloquence so signal for rare and matured excellence, that the most practiced orator may well admire how it should have come from one who then for the first time addressed a public assembly.” Those who know what the annual meeting of a well-organized and disciplined association is may imagine the whirlwind of cheers which greeted the declaration that the hour was at hand when “the peasant of the Antilles will no longer crawl in listless and trembling dejection round a plantation from whose fruits he must derive no advantage, and a hut whose door yields him no protection; but, when his cheerful and voluntary labor is performed, he will return with the firm step and erect brow of a British citizen from the field which is his freehold to the cottage which is his castle.” Surer promise of aptitude for political debate was afforded by the skill with which the young speaker turned to account the recent trial for sedition, and death in prison, of Smith, the Demerara missionary: an event which was fatal to slavery in the West Indies in the same degree as the execution of John Brown was its death-blow in the United States. “When this country has been endangered, either by arbitrary power or popular delusion, truth has still possessed one irresistible organ, and justice one inviolable tribunal. That organ has been an English press, and that tribunal an English jury. But in those wretched islands we see a press more hostile to truth than any censor, and juries more insensible to justice than any Star Chamber. In those islands alone is exemplified the full meaning of the most tremendous of the curses denounced against the apostate Hebrews, ‘I will curse your blessings.” We can prove this assertion out of the mouth of our adversaries. We remember, and God Almighty forbid that we ever should forget, how, at the trial of Mr. Smith, hatred regulated every proceeding, was substituted for every law, and allowed its victim no sanctuary in the house of mourning, no refuge in the very grave. Against the members of that court-martial the country has pronounced its verdict. But what is the line of defense taken by its advocates? It has been solemnly and repeatedly declared in the House of Commons that a jury composed of planters would have acted with far more injustice than did this court: this court, which has never found a single lawyer to stake his professional character on the legality of its proceedings. The argument is this. Things have doubtless been done which should not have been done. The court-martial sat without a jurisdiction; it convicted without evidence; it condemned to a punishment not warranted by law. But we must make allowances. We must judge by comparison. “Mr. Smith ought to have been very thankful that it was no worse. Only think what would have been his fate if he had been tried by a jury of planters!' Sir, I have always lived under the protection of the British laws, and therefore I am unable to imagine what could be worse: but, though I have small knowledge, I have a large faith: I by no means presume to set any limits to the possible injustice of a West Indian judicature. And since the colonists maintain that a jury composed of their own body not only possibly might, but necessarily must, have acted with more iniquity than this court-martial, I certainly shall not dispute the assertion, though I am utterly unable to conceive the mode.” That was probably the happiest half-hour of Zachary Macaulay's life. “My friend,” said Wilberforce, when his turn came to speak, “would doubtless willingly bear with all the base falsehoods, all the vile calumnies, all the detestable artifices which have been aimed against him, to render him the martyr and victim of our cause, for the gratification he has this day enjoyed in hearing one so dear to him plead such a cause in such a manner.” Keen as his pleasure was, he took it in his own sad way. From the first moment to the last, he never moved a muscle of his countenance, but sat with his eyes fixed on a piece of paper, on which he seemed to be writing with a pencil. While talking with his son that evening, he referred to what had passed only to remark that it was ungraceful in so young a man to speak with folded arms in the presence of royalty. In 1823 the leading members of the cleverest set of boys who ever were together at a public school found themselves collected once more at Cambridge. Of the former staff of the Ełonian, Praed, Moultrie, Derwent Coleridge, and, among others, Mr. Edmond Beales, so well known to our generation as an ardent politician, were now in residence at King's or Trinity. Mr. Charles Knight, too enterprising a publisher to let such a quantity of youthful talent run to waste, started a periodical, which was largely supported by under-graduates and bachelors of arts, among whom the veterans of the Eton press formed a brilliant, and, as he vainly hoped, a reliable nucleus of contributors. Knight's Quarterly Magazine is full of Macaulay, and of Macaulay in the attractive shape which a great author wears while he is still writing to please no one but himself. He unfortunately did not at all please his father. In the first number, besides a great deal of his that is still worth reading, there were printed, under his adopted signature of Tristram Merton, two little poems, the nature of which may be guessed from Praed's editorial comments. “Tristram Merton, I have a strong curiosity to know who Rosamond is. But you will not tell me; and, after all, as far as your verses are concerned, the surname is nowise germane to the matter. As poor Sheridan said, it is too formal to be registered in love's calendar.” And again: “Tristram, I hope Rosamond and your Fair Girl of France will not pull caps; but I can not forbear the temptation of introducing your Roxana and Statira to an admiring public.” The verses were such as any man would willingly look back to having written at two-and-twenty; but their appearance occasioned real misery to Zachary Macaulay, who inVol. I.-8