Mr. Macaulay

Wilfred Heeley

General Description

Date: 1856
Genre: Prose essay

Scholarly Commentary

Guest Editor: PC Fleming


In this essay, Wilfred Heeley reviews Thomas Macaulay’s A History of England, from the accession of James the Second , published a year earlier. Heeley begins by contrasting his own thoughts with those of other reviewers, who criticized Macaulay for factual mistakes: “those jealous critics who, pained by the reflection that the author knows infinitely more than they do, set about restoring their peace of mind by proving that, after all, he is not omniscient” (173). But Heeley’s essay, unlike most of the reviews in The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, is still a negative one. Rather than criticizing Macaulay’s factual inaccuracies, Heeley finds fault with his “rhetorical power, uncontrolled by reverence” (176). Macaulay, he argues, distorts the truth in order to balance his sentences with rhetorically pleasing antitheses, or misrepresents historical figures in favor of superlative statements like “the most accomplished man in Europe” (177). Heeley is particularly offended by Macaulay’s lack of sympathy with certain historical figures, and his harsh treatment of men like Pope and Marlborough.

In the course of this criticism, Heeley nicely summarizes one of the central tenets of the Morris Brotherhood’s theory of art, that it should be used for the “bettering of our moral nature” (176), not just the pleasing of the senses.

Heeley also reviewed, more favorably than he did Macaulay, James Anthony Froude’s History of England for the June issue of the Magazine.

Printing History

First printed in The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine , March, 1856.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: Heeley004.raw.xml