Macaulay, a famous British historian, studied law at Trinity College of Cambridge University from 1818 to 1822.

the history of England written by British historian Macaulay in the 19th century is one of the most brilliant works in the vast number of western historical works. The British history described in the book began in the period of James II, which happens to inherit the famous historical works of David Hume; In terms of style, Macaulay also inherited the historical tradition of Hume and gibbon, and together with Thomas Carlyle, made the British historiography in the 19th century reach a peak. Following the translation and publication of Hume’s six volumes of British history, the domestic publishing community plans to publish Macaulay’s masterpiece, which is a major event of common concern in the academic and publishing circles.

Thomas Babington Macaulay was born in Leicestershire, England on October 25, 1800. At the age of 18, he entered Trinity College of Cambridge University and was elected as the director of the college in October 1824. His first article on Milton was published in the Edinburgh review in August 1825. Since then, he has been a regular writer of the Edinburgh review for several years, which has also established his gorgeous, pompous and glorious style of writing. His series of articles attracted the attention of Lord lindhurst, a Tory and Lord Chancellor of the house of Lords; Despite their different political views, lindhurst appointed Macaulay as Commissioner of the bankruptcy Committee in 1828. In 1829, Lord Langston elected him to parliament even without requiring any conditions for election. On August 5, 1830, Macaulay delivered his first speech in parliament; In 1832, he served as Minister of the management committee in charge of the affairs of the East India Company. In 1833, in order to amend the articles of association, he and the chairman of the Committee actively ran in the house of Commons. He soon became a senior official of the Supreme Council of India. According to the newly revised bill, he could enjoy an annual salary of up to 10000 pounds. In 1834, he went to India. So at the age of 34, he had both fame and wealth.

after serving on the Indian Supreme Council for five years, Macaulay returned to Britain in 1838 and began to write the history of England in March 1839. When he was a senior official of the Supreme Council of India, he wrote a lot. In the article, he believes that India’s education system should serve the UK rather than focus on spreading oriental culture. Compared with his view in the history of England, this view undoubtedly had a greater impact on the fate of Britain and Asia – but what really made him famous was his great book the history of England.

in September 1839, Lord Melbourne presided over government affairs. As a supporter of Melbourne, Macaulay entered Parliament again and joined the cabinet as secretary of the army. When the government collapsed in 1841, he worked actively for the government in vain, so he began to write the history of England again. When Lord John Russell was in power in 1846, he returned to public office, but lost the Edinburgh general election in 1847. In 1852, Macaulay entered Parliament for the third time, then rejected the invitation of the cabinet and delivered a farewell speech in the house of Commons. From 1847 to his death in 1859, his main energy was devoted to the writing of English history. The first two volumes of this book were published in 1849, and three or four volumes were also published in 1855; In 1861, after his death, his sister Mrs. Qu Weilian (also known as the famous historian and the mother of Qu Weilian, the author of the history of the American Revolution) contacted the publishing house to publish the manuscript of the fifth volume.

understanding Macaulay’s life is helpful for us to understand his thought and method of writing this book. Macaulay was born in an emerging middle-class family. His family mainly engaged in trade and banking. Throughout the 18th century, their wealth and influence increased day by day; With the introduction of the reform act of 1832, they became the owners of political power again. The fate of this family mainly depends on the commercial development of Britain. As long as the grant of concessions is relatively limited, the large-scale expansion of trade and manufacturing will ensure their vested interests.

in the view of British aristocrats, the reform act of 1832 meant the complete end of their monopoly of power; For the squires, the repeal of the grain law showed that they would fall into the abyss of poverty. As for the priests of the Anglican Church, in their eyes, the challenges from materialism, non believers, the Catholic revival movement and nationalism mean large-scale panic and the decline of their cultural influence. In fact, the nobles and squires still had enough influence in politics to ensure the rotation of the Tories and Whigs; But the social atmosphere and psychological atmosphere of this country tend to the Whig party. It is generally believed that only further abolishing the privileges of monarchs and nobles can bring the gospel of progress to the whole society.

in this regard, Macaulay, like most people of his time and class, believes that the final victory over Catholicism and absolutism through the glorious revolution has opened the prelude to a new era. With the abolition of the reform act and the grain act, the progress in the political field has reached its peak, The progress made in the material field was shown at the exposition in 1851. This is an era of rapid progress: for Macaulay, it is clear that the Whig Party complied with God’s will and brought unprecedented progress and achievements to Britain. Proving this view, especially the unique greatness of Britain in his time, is the most clear purpose of his famous history of England. He has extraordinary ambition and tries his best to beautify and safeguard a political party, a creed and an era. In this era in which he lives, he has achieved remarkable success in the eyes of himself and the middle class of his contemporaries. He hoped that readers would enjoy the book rather than receive some guidance; Let’s take a look at an article published by a critic at that time, which fully shows the pleasure brought to readers by the history of England:

“Macaulay’s style is ingenious and unique. In his works, there is always a halo around him, which dazzles the distant viewer and the people around himThe were amazed. Undoubtedly, this style often leads to criticism: in order to prove a simple proposition, he often harshly demands the harmony of sentences and pursues unnecessary duality; From the perspective of artistic principles, sometimes the style of writing is too complex, and sometimes the sentences are too similar. Nevertheless, despite the harsh criticism of many people on similar issues, the charm of the book remains. This book makes us love it more and more; In reading, the eyes of readers will gradually show ecstasy. Whether we like it or not, we are following his footsteps. His style of writing is light and agile, meeting the needs of readers. Even if it is an ordinary topic, his description can make it shine; His views are like flowers near or far away, which you have never noticed before Detect or recall their existence…

“This is what we think is a unique achievement. How can those who have read the first two volumes forget the content? How can they forget the important and exciting scenes? There is no doubt that if the book has made a deep impression on the reader’s mind, it is the supreme victory of narrative style. These scenes are vividly displayed in front of us, not only left In the text. We don’t have to remember these scenes by remembering the page numbers of this or that historical record in the book, as we remember our life in school. Through Mr. Macaulay’s description of characters, time and behavior, we draw a real and vivid picture for ourselves; When we closed our books, a magnificent scene flashed in front of us one by one. ”

this is indeed what Macaulay wants to do most. Seven years before the first edition of his work, he mentioned the historical period he was involved in in a letter to a friend in 1841; At that time, his conception of English history tended to choose the historical period from 1688 to the end of George III’s rule: “there are many materials that can be used to describe vividly. I want to write a work that can replace the recent popular novels in the mouth of young ladies in just a few days. If I can’t do this, I won’t be satisfied!” Macaulay did it. As the most influential historical masterpiece, his history of England has originality not only in narrative style, but also in ideological structure. With its dramatic writing technique and wanton eloquence, it forged a revolutionary leap in the history of historical records, which was beyond the reach of later writers and historians.

classic of time history. Macaulay’s history of England Thomas Macaulay, translated by Zhou Xu and Liu Xueqian, Beijing Times Chinese publishing house, December 2013 edition 68.00


it is true that Macaulay’s history of England is not impeccable, or even problematic, in terms of the standards generally accepted by historical critics or the responsibilities attributed to historians. For example, his description of the war scene is not true and comprehensive. His works cannot be compared with the great French historians of his time. He ignores some basic historical facts and does not specify the situation of both sides involved in the war. There are also more severe criticisms. As for the victory of Louis XIV, which was achieved by the union of European countries, he believes that he unilaterally promoted the role of Britain and seriously underestimated the contribution of the European continent to this victory.

if we look at Macaulay’s British history from this perspective, we can list some deficiencies or defects without effort. First of all, Macaulay’s vision is far from that of a competent history professor. Britain’s rise and fall are closely related to the sea, but Macaulay was unfair in accusing William Paine, Graham of lafferhouse and Lord Torrington. It seems that there are some inexplicable omissions in the history of England: there is no mention of the trade between America and the colonies, nor of the navigation act. From the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 to the end of that century, the rapid growth of overseas trade is not involved. In addition, measures to protect agriculture were ignored, and the important settlement act of 1662 did not mention it. Accordingly, some commentators believe that Macaulay lacks some objective historical consciousness and does not show the objective original appearance of English history in the period he intended to describe.

in fact, in Macaulay’s time, there was no professional history. Boya historians have no obligation other than to satisfy their own and public curiosity. He should have the ability to master the panoramic trend simulation and sound common sense. In other aspects, he only needs the observation of amateurs. Technological historiography, like all norms of modern scholarship, was invented by the Germans in the late 19th century, something that Lanke had never had before. Liberal historiography and high-quality historical novels, such as some chapters of war and peace, have much in common, but have little in common with the so-called professional historiography. Of course, the current professional historiography has no readers and does not expect any readers except the authors and readers of its peers. They are more and more inclined to keep up with a small range of historical data and avoid making any general explanation. Therefore, the public’s view of history mainly depends on newspapers, films, television and inferior historical novels, which is backward compared with the golden age of the 19th century.

secondly, Macaulay’s temperament and preferences reflected in the history of England also undermine his narrative of history. The main purpose of the history of England is to describe the British spirit of that era, but it is quite strange that Macaulay is not interested in or familiar with philosophy and political thought, let alone theology. Although he devoted a lot of energy to understanding the problems faced by Roman Catholics in Britain in the 17th century, he never tried to understand the inner thoughts of Catholics. Perhaps John Locke is the greatest political philosopher in the Whig party. The era selected by Macaulay is the most critical period of Locke’s career; But even so, Macaulay made no mention of Locke’s political thought and theory. As for the evolution history of Whigs and Tories, especially the deep connotation of their political and ideological struggle, Macaulay did not pay special attention. Macaulay is a storyteller, this ability is almost lost to today’s professional historians. He has a very perceptual understanding of the ideas in the trenches on the front line of the power struggle. In other words, he doesn’t believe that these people will act for metaphysical reasons. He believes that these people, like professional diplomats, chess players or spies, are obsessed with the success or failure of the game itself and means, and rarely respect their theoretical clients, let alone the social attributes or ideological factions imagined by some later scholars. Thinkers have no place in his stories, and some commentators believe that this is precisely because he knows too much about the thoughts of these thinkers.

in terms of the richness of his thoughts, Macaulay’s vision may be quite narrow. For example, William III is his hero because he supports the Whig cause in Britain. But in fact, William came to England because only by doing so could he reverse the unfavorable situation against Louis XIV on the European continent. Macaulay has always underestimated the role played by continental allies in defeating Louis XIV; Some critics say: “in order to highlight a great man (William III), the rest of Europe must become dwarfs.” Of course, Macaulay may not really discriminate against Europeans, and it is not fair to say that he is narrow. After all, the British only began to really understand Europeans after the end of World War I; Macaulay’s stuff is essentially telling stories to imperial readers, and Europeans are not his intended audience.

also, as a poet, although Macaulay’s magnificent literary talent makes the history of England shine, the exaggerated and carved parallelism, the careless contrast and the endless eloquence also weaken the credibility of the work. No wonder some people criticize that his language style is not suitable for historical research. In order to attract readers and make his works fascinating, he usually expands the situation and complicates the contradictions. The task of historians is not to create problems, but to explain and deal with them, which requires careful judgment. However, it can be seen that “Mr. Macaulay’s judgment of the situation is very accurate, but his personal judgment is not urgent.” Although Macaulay’s judgment also has strong aspects, it belongs to the type of Roman practical politicians, not to the type of French political commentators or German metaphysicians. Like Tacitus, he did not separate official duties from works. His knowledge of people and things is different from abstract analysis.

as mentioned above, although Macaulay’s history of England has various defects in narrative method and tendency, it is undeniable that this work is still a great historical work with narrative style. Macaulay combined history and literature, integrated narration and depiction, and described a picture of the British Society of his time, describing the checks and balances of various political forces, the social and economic conditions of various classes in society, and the conflicts between various characters. His success is so brilliant that anyone who wants to study this history can’t help reading his history of England and has been influenced by Macaulay. Whether Macaulay’s historical picture is right or wrong, it has left an indelible mark on the hearts of the public. It can be said that the most lasting value of Macaulay’s history of England is that it clearly expounds the history it describes, so that readers can have a glimpse of the psychology, temperament and conduct of Britain in the middle of the 19th century.

in view of this, the famous historian Lord Acton did not hesitate to describe Macaulay as “the greatest historian from ancient times to the present”; In a letter to Mary Gladstone, he said: “Remember, these essays are actually flashy superficial theories… He knows nothing about history before the 17th century, he knows nothing about diplomatic history, religion, philosophy, art and Science… I believe he is a very unfair person. Therefore, reading his works is to explore why the most inhumane historical critics think he is British One of the greatest writers. ” Why? I think the great German historian Frank has a famous comment that deserves attention. He pointed out the role of Macaulay’s history of England in shaping Britain’s view of history. He believes that this book determines the final victory of the Whig Party’s view and permanently changes the subsequent political process of Britain.

ranker’s theory is right. From the perspective of European and even world history, the Whig view of British Glorious Revolution was discussed before Macaulay, but it was Macaulay’s history of England that played a leading role. After Macaulay’s pornographic promotion, the Whig Party’s view of British history has become the orthodoxy of British historical narration, which has lasted for hundreds of years and has influenced the historical process of the whole world.


when it comes to Whig’s view of history, of course, it should be based on the glorious revolution of England in 1688. However, before that, it is necessary to talk about two historians before Macaulay: David Hume and Haran. As we all know, as a conservative historian, Hume’s basic position on the glorious revolution in his British history from Caesar’s invasion to the 1688 revolution is inclined to the Tories, or does not agree with the historical view of the Whigs. Although Hume claimed that he was only a historical philosopher and did not belong to any political faction, because of his obvious sympathy for King Charles I and Stratford and his abhorrent attitude towards revolutionary events and figures, later generations naturally regarded him as a Tory historian. Hume believed that freedom could not exist without authority; The purpose of government is not to provide freedom, but to provide justice; Resistance to the government in power is unforgivable. Therefore, Hume’s understanding of British history has little radicalism color shown by Whig’s view of history, but adheres to the golden mean, fully respects the historical achievements of the British royal family and nobility, and makes a pertinent evaluation of the historical origin of the glorious revolution. Therefore, Hume’s “history of England” has always been regarded as a historical work with Tori’s view of history. Until today, it still has a great influence and has been spread for a long time.

is different from HumeAfter the glorious revolution in Britain, based on the political position of the emerging bourgeoisie, there have long been historical works of the Whigs, the more prominent of which is the historian Harlan. Harlan was born in a big bourgeois family and belongs to the right wing of the Whig Party politically. In the three volume history of British constitutionalism, he proposed that Britain has an unwritten constitution since ancient times, which has always been the sovereignty of the people. He highly praised the glorious revolution in 1688 and praised the constitutional monarchy. This work has become a far-reaching modern British history and created a generation of Whig historiography. Unfortunately, Haran’s works stick to historical materials, pay too much attention to the theory of law and politics in historical tradition, and ignore the characterization of characters and the presentation of events, so they are more than heavy and lack of highlights.

Macaulay is quite different. It can be said that Macaulay, following Harlan, took a clear-cut stand to show the Whig people’s view of history and full of struggle. His history of England can be described as an ode to the glorious revolution of 1688 and its initiators. In his view, history is not a winding path leading to seclusion, not a sense of propriety, but the truth expressed in loud and powerful words. In his eyes, this truth is the historical victory of the Whigs and the fact that the British people opened up a new world by welcoming the glorious revolution of William III. This historical process is obviously brilliant and unparalleled. Therefore, Macaulay spared no effort to describe and render the historical events in the 17 years from the accession of James II in 1685 to the death of William III in 1702 (focusing on the social background of the glorious revolution in 1688 and the political results achieved by the revolution). As he said at the beginning of the first volume of British history:

“I intend to write a history of England, beginning with the accession of King James II and ending in the memory of ordinary people. In this history of England, I will explain the reasons that led those loyal secular gentlemen and religious figures to leave the Stuart royal family in just a few months; trace back to the period that ended the king’s long struggle with Parliament and the rights and rule of the people The rights and interests of the dynasty are closely combined with the revolutionary process. I will explore how the new political agreement (referring to the Glorious Revolution) successfully defeated the enemies at home and abroad after years of trouble; Through this agreement, legal authority, property security, freedom of speech and individual freedom of action are more compatible than ever before; How can our economy achieve unprecedented prosperity in human history through the smooth integration of order and freedom; How our country quickly jumped from a humiliating subordination to the dominant position of European powers; How can the country’s economic prosperity and military glory grow together; How did a seemingly incredible government credibility, which would almost surprise previous generations of politicians, be gradually established through wise and firm faith; How does a huge commercial empire promote a strong navy, which is dwarfed by the navies of any other ancient empire or modern country; How Scotland was finally reunited with England after several generations of confrontation, and this kind of reunification was not only through legal relations, but also by virtue of the indelible interest bond and attachment complex; In America, how could the British colonies be more powerful and prosperous than the colonies brought by Spanish colonists Cortes and Pizarro to Spanish King Carlos V; In Asia, how did the British explorers build an empire that was no less successful than great achievements, but more lasting and stable than it? ”

Macaulay’s 17 year history of England, which was written in 20 years with his whole body and mind, is a thick and incomparably long structure. It condenses the hub of Britain’s historical destiny for thousands of years. It is not only the collection of Britain’s traditional lifelines since the Norman landing, but also the beginning of the future imperial style, The glorious sun never sets, and the vision of the empire is developed and carried forward from here. In Macaulay’s view, all these secrets are contained in the 17 years of history and in the stormy waves of the glorious revolution that he will shine through the ages. Therefore, what his “history of England” shows is no longer the recording principle of secular history, but the historical shaping principle of this revolution, which uses the Chinese word “six classics note me”, rather than “I note the six classics”. This historical compilation method was called “Whig interpretation of history” by later historians, such as Butterfield. According to Butterfield, there have been two opposing political parties in British history: the Whig and the Tory. Whig party is the predecessor of the Liberal Party. It advocates constitutional monarchy instead of theocracy, supports parliament from the standpoint of bourgeoisie and new aristocracy, and opposes the king and Catholicism. Since the 19th century, some historians belonging to the Whig party have used history as a tool to demonstrate the political views of the Whig party from the interests of the Whig party. Macaulay’s history of England is undoubtedly one of the leaders. The book truly establishes the historical status of Whig’s view of history, which makes the narration of an important era in British history get rid of the domination of David Hume. We can see that from Haran in the early 19th century, through Macaulay’s rapid progress, to Qu Weilian in the 20th century, in terms of the main trend of the development and evolution of history, the Whig view of British history has indeed occupied the mainstream position.

Macaulay once wrote: “all Whig historians are eager to prove that the British government in the past was almost Republican; while all Tory historians have to prove that the British government in the past was almost autocratic.” His “history of England” is only to prove that the reason why Britain became the greatest country in the world lies in the glorious revolution in 1688. He said: “the highest praise that can be given to the 1688 revolution is that it is our last revolution.” Although the British revolution is extremely important, the interpretation of the revolution does not seem to be just one of Whig’s views on history. The theory of Locke, a great thinker, does not deny the value and significance of the revolution, but fully affirms the legitimacy and legitimacy of the revolution. As for later claimsThe French politician and historian of the constitutional monarchy, Gizo, also praised the 1688 revolution. He believed that the glorious revolution had achieved the purpose of the revolution without bloodshed and sacrifice, so it was much better than the revolution in 1640. In the preface specially written for the history of the British revolution in 1640 (with “why did the British revolution succeed?” (published in the form of a booklet), kizor compared the British revolution with the French Revolution and believed that the British revolution had made great achievements because the British revolution was carried out in the spirit of religion and had no separation from the past tradition. He pointed out that the British revolution emerged as a conservative force rather than a destructive force. After the glorious revolution in 1688, Britain under the constitutional monarchy “has become the most concerned thing of the government and public opinion for its internal affairs, the maintenance of peace, finance, colonialism, commerce, the development of parliamentary system and parliamentary struggle.” Then after George I and George II, the constitutional monarchy of Britain developed stably and for a long time.

it can be seen that the glorious revolution in Britain is a complex and conservative revolution, which is not caused by the Whigs alone, but the result of the cooperation between Whigs, Tories and even the British people. The famous descendant of William polo, the Conservative leader of England in 1688, can list here. In his works such as the biography of Marlborough and the history of the English nation, he praised the behavior of British nobles and squires who took refuge in William in 1688, and believed that “British nobles and state clergy have never experienced such a severe test and provided such excellent services to their country as in 1688.” From this point of view, Macaulay’s dichotomy between the Whig Party and the Tories is problematic. The relationship between the two parties is cut and disordered in any way, especially on the glorious revolution. However, Macaulay’s deliberate demonstration of Whig’s view of history has clear praise and criticism. His spring and autumn writing method is crooked, but it has achieved a new atmosphere. At this point, I suddenly sighed: isn’t the bustling debate between the old and new gongyangxue in modern Chinese ideological circles similar to the bipartisan narrative around the glorious revolution in British history?

the Italian historian Croce once pointed out that all history is contemporary history. Butterfield has a different tune and is criticized by “the Whig interpretation of history”? No? As for history and historical interpretation, it seems difficult to have a unified standard at all times, at home and abroad. However, in any case, Macaulay’s history of England, which is full of talents and wanton, has achieved a model chapter of “connecting the changes of ancient and modern times and becoming the words of a family”. In today’s fragmented world of Chinese historiography, it can be said that there is such a grand voice of foreign lands.