Quotations From Macaulay

Today’s quotations come, via the brainyquote site, from Thomas B. Macaulay, British historian, poet, and man-about-nation.  He was born in 1800 and died in the annus mirabilis of 1859; one of the best courses in graduate school I took was based on that year, so we read A Tale of Two Cities, the Origin of Species, and Adam Bede, among other things.  On microfilm, I read many issues of the London Times for that year and reported my findings. We may have observed a moment of silence for TBM, but I can’t recall. Macaulay was very much in favor of reforming England’s voting and parliamentary systems.

Some words from him, then:

A good constitution is infinitely better than the best despot.


As civilization advances, poetry almost necessarily declines.

[Fascinating claim, but impossible to prove?]


He was a rake among scholars, and a scholar among rakes.

[I think I’ve met a fellow or two like this.]

Many politicians are in the habit of laying it down as a self-evident proposition that no people ought to be free till they are fit to use their freedom. The maxim is worthy of the fool in the old story who resolved not to go into the water till he had learned to swim.

[Well, if the old fool meant that he was resolved not to go into the water alone until he’d learned to swim, then his position improves.]

People crushed by law have no hopes but from power. If laws are their enemies, they will be enemies to laws.

[A good one for the upcoming May 1, which will feature demonstrations in these parts.]

Perhaps no person can be a poet, or even enjoy poetry, without a certain unsoundness of mind.

[This one hit a little too close to home (and poem).]

The knowledge of the theory of logic has no tendency whatever to make men good reasoners.

Turn where we may, within, around, the voice of great events is proclaiming to us, Reform, that you may preserve!

[That’s some nice rhetoric right there.]

We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality.

[Applies to the U.S. well, no?]


Your Constitution is all sail and no anchor.

[The British version of all hat and no cattle.]

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