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Miscellaneous Writings and Speeches — Volume 4   By: (1800-1859)

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Lord Macaulay's Speeches

By Thomas Babington Macaulay







It was most reluctantly that I determined to suspend, during the last autumn, a work which is the business and the pleasure of my life, in order to prepare these Speeches for publication; and it is most reluctantly that I now give them to the world. Even if I estimated their oratorical merit much more highly than I do, I should not willingly have revived, in the quiet times in which we are so happy as to live, the memory of those fierce contentions in which too many years of my public life were passed. Many expressions which, when society was convulsed by political dissensions, and when the foundations of government were shaking, were heard by an excited audience with sympathy and applause, may, now that the passions of all parties have subsided, be thought intemperate and acrimonious. It was especially painful to me to find myself under the necessity of recalling to my own recollection, and to the recollection of others, the keen encounters which took place between the late Sir Robert Peel and myself. Some parts of the conduct of that eminent man I must always think deserving of serious blame. But, on a calm review of his long and chequered public life, I acknowledge, with sincere pleasure, that his faults were much more than redeemed by great virtues, great sacrifices, and great services. My political hostility to him was never in the smallest degree tainted by personal ill will. After his fall from power a cordial reconciliation took place between us: I admired the wisdom, the moderation, the disinterested patriotism, which he invariably showed during the last and best years of his life; I lamented his untimely death, as both a private and a public calamity; and I earnestly wished that the sharp words which had sometimes been exchanged between us might be forgotten.

Unhappily an act, for which the law affords no redress, but which I have no hesitation in pronouncing to be a gross injury to me and a gross fraud on the public, has compelled me to do what I should never have done willingly. A bookseller, named Vizetelly, who seems to aspire to that sort of distinction which Curll enjoyed a hundred and twenty years ago, thought fit, without asking my consent, without even giving me any notice, to announce an edition of my Speeches, and was not ashamed to tell the world in his advertisement that he published them by special license. When the book appeared, I found that it contained fifty six speeches, said to have been delivered by me in the House of Commons. Of these speeches a few were reprinted from reports which I had corrected for the Mirror of Parliament or the Parliamentary Debates, and were therefore, with the exception of some errors of the pen and the press, correctly given. The rest bear scarcely the faintest resemblance to the speeches which I really made. The substance of what I said is perpetually misrepresented. The connection of the arguments is altogether lost. Extravagant blunders are put into my mouth in almost every page. An editor who was not grossly ignorant would have perceived that no person to whom the House of Commons would listen could possibly have been guilty of such blunders. An editor who had the smallest regard for truth, or for the fame of the person whose speeches he had undertaken to publish, would have had recourse to the various sources of information which were readily accessible, and, by collating them, would have produced a book which would at least have contained no absolute nonsense. But I have unfortunately had an editor whose only object was to make a few pounds, and who was willing to sacrifice to that object my reputation and his own... Continue reading book >>

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