S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
As for my part, I do not speak wholly for my own sake in this point; for palmistry and astrology will bring me in greater gains than these my papers; so that I am only in the condition of a lawyer who leaves the bar for chamber practice. However, I may be allowed to speak in the cause of learning itself, and lament that a liberal education is the only one which a polite nation makes unprofitable. All mechanical artisans are allowed to reap the fruit of their invention and ingenuity without invasion; but he that has separated himself from the rest of mankind, and studied the wonders of the creation, the government of his passions, and the revolutions of the world, and has an ambition to communicate the effect of half his life spent in such noble inquiries, has no property in what he is willing to produce, but is exposed to robbery and want, with this melancholy and just reflection, that he is the only man who is not protected by his country, at the same time that he best deserves it.
Without letters a man can never be qualified for any considerable post in the camp: for courage and corporal force, unless joined with conduct, the usual effects of contemplation, are no more fit to command than a tempest.
Literature has her quacks no less than medicine, and they are divided into two classes; those who have erudition without genius, and those who have volubility without depth: we shall get second-hand sense from the one, and original nonsense from the other.
Such a superiority do the pursuits of literature possess above every other occupation, that even he who attains but a mediocrity in them merits the pre-eminence above those that excel the most in the common and vulgar professions.
As it has been in science, so it has been in literature. Compare the literary acquirements of the great men of the thirteenth century with those which will be within the reach of many who will frequent our reading-room. As to Greek learning, the profound man of the thirteenth century was absolutely on a par with the superficial man of the nineteenth. In the modern languages there was not six hundred years ago a single volume which is now read. The library of our profound scholar must have consisted entirely of Latin books. We will suppose him to have had both a large and choice collection. We will allow him thirty, nay, forty, manuscripts, and among them a Virgil, a Terence, a Lucian, an Ovid, a Statius, a great deal of Livy, a great deal of Cicero. In allowing him all this we are dealing most liberally with him; for it is much more likely that his shelves were filled with treatises on school divinity and canon law, composed by writers whose names the world has very wisely forgotten. But even if we suppose him to have possessed all that is most valuable in the literature of Rome, I say with perfect confidence that, both in respect of intellectual improvement and in respect of intellectual pleasures, he was far less favourably situated than a man who now, knowing only the English language, has a bookcase filled with the best English works. Our great man of the middle ages could not form any conception of any tragedy approaching Macbeth or Lear, or of any comedy equal to Henry the Fourth or Twelfth Night. The best epic poem that he had read was far inferior to the Paradise Lost; and all the tomes of his philosophers were not worth a page of the Novum Organum.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: The Literature of Britain, Nov. 4, 1846.
The Novum Organum, it is true, persons who know only English must read in a translation: and this reminds me of one great advantage which such persons will derive from our Institution. They will, in our library, be able to form some acquaintance with the master-minds of remote ages and foreign countries. A large part of what is best worth knowing in ancient literature, and in the literature of France, Italy, Germany, and Spain, has been translated into our own tongue. It is scarcely possible that the translation of any book of the highest class can be equal to the original. But, though the finer touches may be lost in the copy, the great outlines will remain. An Englishman who never saw the frescoes in the Vatican may yet from engravings form some notion of the exquisite grace of Raphael and of the sublimity and energy of Michael Angelo. And so the genius of Homer is seen in the poorest version of the Iliad; the genius of Cervantes is seen in the poorest version of Don Quixote. Let it not be supposed that I wish to dissuade any person from studying either the ancient languages or the languages of modern Europe. Far from it. I prize most highly those keys of knowledge; and I think that no man who has leisure for study ought to be content until he possesses several of them. I always much admired a saying of the Emperor Charles the Fifth. When I learn a new language, he said, I feel as if I had got a new soul! But I would console those who have not time to make themselves linguists, by assuring them that by means of their own mother tongue they may obtain ready access to vast intellectual treasures, to treasures such as might have been envied by the greatest linguists of the age of Charles the Fifth, to treasures surpassing those which were possessed by Aldus, by Erasmus, and by Melancthon.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: The Literature of Great Britain, Nov. 4, 1846.
The progress of elegant literature and of the fine arts was proportioned to that of the public prosperity. Under the despotic successors of Augustus, all the fields of the intellect had been turned into arid wastes, still marked out by formal boundaries, still retaining the traces of old cultivation, but yielding neither flowers nor fruit. The deluge of barbarism came. It swept away all the landmarks. It obliterated all the signs of former tillage. But it fertilized while it devastated. When it receded, the wilderness was as the garden of God, rejoicing on every side, laughing, clapping its hands, pouring forth, in spontaneous abundance, everything brilliant, or fragrant, or nourishing. A new language, characterized by simple sweetness and simple energy, had attained perfection. No tongue ever furnished more gorgeous and vivid tints to poetry; nor was it long before a poet appeared, who knew how to employ them. Early in the fourteenth century came forth the Divine Comedy, beyond comparison the greatest work of imagination which had appeared since the poems of Homer. The following generation produced indeed no second Dante, but it was eminently distinguished by general intellectual activity. The study of the Latin writers had never been wholly neglected in Italy. But Petrarch introduced a more profound, liberal, and elegant scholarship, and communicated to his countrymen that enthusiasm for the literature, the history, and the antiquities of Rome, which divided his own heart with a frigid mistress and a more frigid Muse. Boccaccio turned their attention to the more sublime and graceful models of Greece.
From this time, the admiration of learning and genius became almost an idolatry among the people of Italy. Kings and republics, cardinals and doges, vied with each other in honouring and fluttering Petrarch. Embassies from rival states solicited the honour of his instructions. His coronation agitated the Court of Naples and the people of Rome as much as the most important political transactions could have done. To collect books and antiques, to found professorships, to patronize men of learning, became almost universal fashions among the great. The spirit of literary research allied itself to that of commercial enterprise. Every place to which the merchant princes of Florence extended their gigantic traffic, from the bazaars of the Tigris to the monasteries of the Clyde, was ransacked for medals and manuscripts. Architecture, painting, and sculpture were munificently encouraged. Indeed, it would be difficult to name an Italian of eminence, during the period of which we speak, who, whatever may have been his general character, did not at least affect a love of letters and of the arts.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Machiavelli, March, 1827.
Of the small pieces which were presented to chancellors and princes it would scarcely be fair to speak. The greatest advantage which the Fine Arts derive from the extension of knowledge is, that the patronage of individuals becomes unnecessary. Some writers still affect to regret the age of patronage. None but bad writers have reason to regret it. It is always an age of general ignorance. Where ten thousand readers are eager for the appearance of a book, a small contribution from each makes up a splendid remuneration for the author. Where literature is a luxury, confined to few, each of them must pay high. If the Empress Catherine, for example, wanted an epic poem, she must have wholly supported the poet;just as, in a remote country village, a man who wants a mutton-chop is sometimes forced to take the whole sheep;a thing which never happens where the demand is large. But men who pay largely for the gratification of their taste will expect to have it united with some gratification to their vanity. Flattery is carried to a shameless extent; and the habit of flattery almost inevitably introduces a false taste into composition. Its language is made up of hyperbolical commonplaces, offensive from their triteness, still more offensive from their extravagance. In no school is the trick of overstepping the modesty of nature so speedily acquired. The writer, accustomed to find exaggeration acceptable and necessary on one subject, uses it on all.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: John Dryden, Jan. 1828.
At that very time, while the fanatical Moslem were plundering the churches and palaces of Constantinople, breaking in pieces Grecian sculptures, and giving to the flames piles of Grecian eloquence, a few humble German artisans, who little knew that they were calling into existence a power far mightier than that of the victorious Sultan, were busied in culling and setting the first types. The University [of Glasgow] came into existence just in time to witness the disappearance of the last trace of the Roman empire, and to witness the publication of the earliest printed book.
At this conjuncturea conjuncture of unrivalled interest in the history of lettersa man never to be mentioned without reverence by every lover of letters held the highest place in Europe. Our just attachment to that Protestant faith to which our country owes so much must not prevent us from paying the tribute which on this occasion and this place justice and gratitude demand to the founder of the University of Glasgow, the greatest of the restorers of learning, Pope Nicholas the Fifth. He had sprung from the common people; but his abilities and his condition had early attracted the notice of the great. He had studied much and travelled far. He had visited Britain, which in wealth and refinement was to his native Tuscany what the back settlements of America now are to Britain. He had lived with the merchant princes of Florence, those men who first ennobled trade by making trade the ally of philosophy, of eloquence, and taste. It was he who, under the protection of the munificent and discerning Cosmo, arranged the first public library that modern Europe possessed. From privacy your founder rose to a throne; but on the throne he never forgot the studies which had been his delight in privacy. He was the centre of an illustrious group, composed partly of the last great scholars of Greece and partly of the first great scholars of Italy, Theodore Gaza and George of Trebizond, Bessarion and Filelfo, Marsilio and Poggio Bracciolini. By him was founded the Vatican Library, then and long after the most precious and the most extensive collection of books in the world. By him were carefully preserved the most valuable intellectual treasures which had been snatched from the wreck of the Byzantine empire. His agents were to be found everywhere, in the bazaars of the farthest East, in the monasteries of the farthest West, purchasing or copying worm-eaten parchments on which were traced words worthy of immortality. Under his patronage were prepared accurate Latin versions of many precious remains of Greek poets and philosophers. But no department of literature owes so much to him as history. By him were introduced to the knowledge of Western Europe two great and unrivalled models of historical composition, the work of Herodotus and the work of Thucydides. By him, too, our ancestors were first made acquainted with the graceful and lucid simplicity of Xenophon and with the manly good sense of Polybius.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Inaugural Speech at Glasgow College, March 21, 1849.