Macaulay’s Classical Reading

This is the title of an essay that first appeared in the December 1915 issue of The Classical Journal under the name of William Chislett, Jr., a professor at the institution commonly known as Stanford University.  Of his subject he writes:

In the matter of keeping up his classics after college he resembled FitzGerald. But FitzGerald dreamed over books. Macaulay dreamed over them, too, but oftener he battled with them. He penciled his reaction over all the margins. Trevelyan says that to separate the commentary from the text in these cases is to be unjust to Macaulay’s reputation. […] In his Essays Macaulay shows himself interested in, and often severely critical of, the classical scholarship of great statesmen and writers. He declares that more of Petrarch’s Latin works “would have placed him on a level with Vida or Buchanan.” As modern Latin poets he places Milton and Buchanan on a par, but he admits that in his prose Milton uses words “that would have made Quintilian stare and gasp.” He attacks Sir William Temple for presuming to write his Essay on Ancient and Modern Learning when he knew no Greek. He criticizes Addison for confining his attention almost entirely to Latin poetry to the neglect of Latin prose and Greek. He declares that Dr. Johnson’s Latin writings are tainted by his wide knowledge of mediaeval writers. “That Augustan delicacy of taste which is the boast of the great public schools of England, Johnson never possessed,” says he. He praises Pitt for his classical scholarship; adding, “He was not satisfied until he had mastered Lycophron’s Cassandra, the most obscure work in the whole range of ancient literature.”

The full essay, only nine pages long and well worth reading, is here.

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