On August 22 1815, Thomas Babington Macaulay — the future historian, Whig politician and nemesis of Robert Southey — is about two months short of being fifteen as writes to Mr. Hudson, a gentleman in the Examiner’s Office of the East India House.
Aspenden Hall: August 22, 1815.
Dear Sir, –The Spectator observes, I believe in his first paper, that we can never read an author with much zest unless we are acquainted with his situation. I feel the same in my epistolary correspondence; and, supposing that in this respect we may be alike, I will just tell you my condition. Imagine a house in the middle of pretty large grounds, surrounded by palings. These I never pass. You may therefore suppose that I resemble the Hermit of Parnell.
“As yet by books and swains the world he knew,
Nor knew if books and swains report it true.”
If you substitute newspapers and visitors for books and swains, you may form an idea of what I know of the present state of things. Write to me as one who is ignorant of every event except political occurrences. These I learn regularly : but if Lord Byron were to publish melodies or romances, or Scott metrical tales without number, I should never see them, or perhaps hear of them, till Christmas. Retirement of this kind, though it precludes me from studying the works of the hour, is very favourable for the employment of “holding high converse with the mighty dead.”
I know not whether “peeping at the world through the loopholes of retreat” be the best way of forming us for engaging in its busy and active scenes. I am sure it is not a way to my taste. Poets may talk of the beauties of nature, the enjoyments of a country life, and rural innocence: but there is another kind of life which, though unsung by bards, is yet to me infinitely superior to the dull uniformity of country life. London is the place for me. Its smoky atmosphere, and its muddy river, charm me more than the pure air of Hertfordshire, and the crystal currents of the river Rib. Nothing is equal to the splendid varieties of London life, “the fine flow of London talk,” and the dazzling brilliancy of London spectacles. Such are my sentiments, and, if ever I publish poetry, it shall not be pastoral. Nature is the last goddess to whom my devoirs shall be paid.
Yours most faithfully,
THOMAS B. MACAULAY.