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A Study of Lord Macaulay's English

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 February 2021

Henry E. Shepherd*
College of Charleston, Charleston, S. C.


Nearly thirty years have elapsed since the death of Lord Macaulay (December, 1859), a period sufficient to have witnessed the rise, the decline, and the decay of many reputations less brilliant than his own. (The year 1859 was fruitful in the death of eminent men of letters : Hallam, DeQuincey, Irving, Prescott, Macaulay.) It is the fate even of the finest genius to incur detraction, and in our era, Macaulay has been the special victim of critics. He has provoked the polished cynicism of Mr. Matthew Arnold, the cautious censure of Bishop Stubbs, and received only the qualified approbation of one of his most discriminating biographers, the late Rector of Lincoln College. Save his nephew, Mr. Trevelyan, and Mr. Edward A. Freeman, few writers of our time are just in their appreciation of his genius, or in their estimate of his impress upon the character of our language. Yet his influence upon the fortunes of English speech was never more potent than at present, and may be discovered by the critical student in many phases of our literature where its agency was not suspected.—Let us endeavor to trace in detail some of the sources of Lord Macaulay's diction, some of the secret springs that impelled into activity the most perspicuous and fascinating prose style which has appeared in modern English literature.

Research Article
Copyright © Modern Language Association of America, 1888

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1 See ‘Methods of Historical Study,’ pages 105-6.