The Early Days of a Better Nation

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

A gold ring and a lock of the hair of Mary

The other day in the local charity shop I came across two volumes of
Lord Macaulay's essays: Literary, and Historical. I bought them at once.
I already have a copy of the Historical essays and have read most of
them, but had long been looking out (idly) for the Literary. I well
remember the delight of discovering the Fontana paperback selection from
both, and I look forward to reading the lot.

Last year, I had the similarly happy experience of coming across the
Penguin condensed edition of Macaulay's History of England. I read it in
one weekend. There were times, I'm not ashamed to admit, when I turned
the page with bated breath. I sought and soon found the three-volume
edition, and read it over the summer. This is a book that gains little
from being cut, and loses a great deal, including (if I'm not mistaken) its stunning and abrupt last line.

Macaulay's essays and history were published in numerous cheap but
durable editions. They can be had in second-hand bookshops for a few
pounds, and in charity shops for pennies. A better bargain would be hard
to find. You may disagree with Macaulay's judgements. You may think his
Whig interpretation of history is out of date. Forget about all that.
Just read them.

Update: Patrick Neilsen Hayden has pointed out to me that Macaulay

is no longer confined to dead trees.

(For some reason the first of these links comes through garbled. It should be:


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