Macaulay, Thomas Babington, 1st Baron Macaulay (1800-59), British historian, essayist, and statesman, best remembered for his five-volume History of England.
Macaulay was born on October 25, 1800, at Rothley Temple, Leicestershire, and educated at the University of Cambridge. His father was the philanthropist Zachary Macaulay, noted for his opposition to the slave trade. A precocious child and literary prodigy, he began to write poetry and a world history before he was ten years of age. In college he became known as a debater, a conversationalist, and a classical scholar. His essay on the English poet John Milton was published (1825) in the Edinburgh Review, one of the most notable literary magazines of the period, and Macaulay was thereafter one of the best-known and most popular contributors to that publication. Called to the bar in 1826, he practiced little, preferring to follow literary pursuits and politics.
In 1830 Macaulay entered the House of Commons, where he became a leading figure, noted especially for his oratory, in the Whig party, later the Liberal party. Following the passage of the Reform Bill of 1832 and a Whig victory, he was appointed a commissioner of the Board of Control of Indian Affairs. Two years later he became a member of the Supreme Council of India, created by the India Act of 1834; he spent four years in India, devoting his time chiefly to reforming the criminal code of the colony and to instituting an educational system based on that of Great Britain. In 1839, a year after his return to England, Macaulay resumed his political career and was again elected to Parliament; he also served as secretary of war from 1839 to 1841. Macaulay wrote continually during his period of political service. In 1842 he completed Lays of Ancient Rome, a collection of poems in ballad form, retelling legends of the beginning of the Roman Republic; he subsequently published Essays (1843), in three volumes. For the next three years he worked on a comprehensive history of England from the accession of King James II. Macaulay devoted much of his time, as a member of Parliament, to aiding the Liberal party, which was then in the minority.
With the return to power of the Liberals in 1846, Macaulay was appointed paymaster general for the armed forces. A year later he lost his seat in Parliament and afterward concentrated on writing. The first two volumes of the History of England from the Accession of James the Second were finished in 1848 and at once achieved a huge success. In 1852 Macaulay was again voted into Parliament, but because of a weak heart he took little part in political activity and continued to spend most of his time writing. The third and fourth volumes of his history were published in 1855, with an even greater success than the first two. The writer was created Baron Macaulay of Rothley in 1857. He died on December 28, 1859, in London and was buried in Westminster Abbey. The last completed volume of his history, relating events until 1702, was published posthumously in 1861.
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