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  • Online publication date: December 2014

2 - Catharine Macaulay's Vindication of Radicalism and the Republican Tradition


Unlike Hume, whose fame lasted throughout his life and up to the present, Catharine Macaulay had, as Bridget Hill observed, just fifteen years of positive public notice, followed by years of contentiousness as she entered directly and vigorously into the political debates of the age. She was celebrated as ‘Dame Thucydides’ and painted and sculpted as Clio and other classical figures upon the publication of the first five volumes of her eight-volume History of England from the Accession of James I to that of the Brunswick Line (1763–71). But a ten-year hiatus before the final three volumes of her history appeared between 1781 and 1783 was disastrous to both her personal and literary reputation. A series of unconventional actions and involvements, including taking as her second husband a man twenty-six years her junior, exacted a heavy toll on her public standing. In the salacious and scandal-obsessed atmosphere of the period, this led inevitably to mockery from Grub Street hacks and society wits alike. Her republican views and pro-American stance as the American Revolution unfolded also brought about widespread criticism, save by a relatively small number of radical supporters in Britain, though she continued to enjoy the support of many leading Americans. Major British Whigs, who had found in the pages of her early volumes a ringing justification of their policies and programmes, turned against her.