Quotations by Macaulay, Thomas Babington


Anarchy is the sure consequence of tyranny.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
“A Conversation Between Mr. Abraham Cowley and Mr. John Milton,” Knight’s Quarterly Journal (Aug 1824)
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To punish a man because he has committed a crime, or because he is believed, though unjustly, to have committed a crime, is not persecution. To punish a man, because we infer from the nature of some doctrine which he holds, or from the conduct of other persons who hold the same doctrines with him, that he will commit a crime, is persecution, and is, in every case, foolish and wicked.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
“Hallam’s Constitutional History,” Edinburgh Review (Sep 1828)
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Review of Henry Hallam, The Constitutional History of England, from the Accession of Henry VII to George II (1827).
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Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
“To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods?

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
“Horatius,” st. 27, Lays of Ancient Rome (1842)
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The English Bible, a book which, if everything else in our language should perish, would alone suffice to show the whole extent of its beauty and power.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
“John Dryden,” Edinburgh Review (Jan 1828)
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Review of John Dryden, The Political Works of John Dryden (1826)
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His imagination resembled the wings of an ostrich. It enabled him to run, though not to soar. When he attempted the highest flights, he became ridiculous; but, while he remained in a lower region, he outstripped all competitors.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
“John Dryden,” Edinburgh Review (Jan 1828)
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Review of John Dryden, The Political Works of John Dryden (1826)
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Hampden, on the other hand, was for vigorous and decisive measures. When he drew the sword, as Clarendon has well aid, he threw away the scabbard. He had shown that he knew better than any public man of his time how to value and how to practice moderation. He knew that the essence of war is violence, and that moderation in war is imbecility.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
“John Hampden,” Essays Contributed to the Edinburgh Review, Vol. 1 (1843)
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Review of Lord Nugent, Some Memorials of John Hampden, His Party, and His Times (1831).
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Many politicians are in the habit of laying down as self-evident the proposition that no people ought to be free till they are fit to use their freedom. This maxim is worthy of the fool in the old story who resolved not to go into the water till he had learned to swim! If men are to wait for liberty till they become wise and good in slavery, they may indeed wait forever.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
“John Milton,” Edinburgh Review (Aug 1825)
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There is only one cure for the evils which newly acquired freedom produces — and that cure is freedom!

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
“John Milton,” Edinburgh Review (Aug 1825)
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Review of John Milton, A Treatise on Christian Doctrine.
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Every man who has seen the world knows that nothing is so useless as a general maxim. If it be very moral and very true, it may serve for copy to a charity-boy. If, like those of Rochefoucauld, it be sparkling and whimsical, it may make an excellent motto for an essay. Few, indeed, of the many wise apophthegms which have been uttered from the time of the Seven Sages of Greece to that of Poor Richard, have prevented a single foolish action.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
“Machiavelli,” Edinburgh Review (Mar 1827)
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Review of Œvres complètes de Machiavel, J. V. Perier ed. (1825)
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We give the highest and the most peculiar praise to the precepts of Machiavelli, when we say that they may frequently be of real use in regulating conduct — not so much because they are more just, or more profound, than those which might be culled from other authors as because they can be more readily applied to the problems of real life.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
“Machiavelli,” Edinburgh Review (Mar 1827)
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Review of Œvres complètes de Machiavel, J. V. Perier ed. (1825). Quotations of Machiavelli can be found here.
Added on 23-Jan-20 | Last updated 23-Jan-20
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The judgments which Johnson passed on books were, in his own time, regarded with superstitious veneration, and, in our time, are generally treated with indiscriminate contempt. They are the judgments of a strong but enslaved understanding. The mind of the critic was hedged round by an uninterrupted fence of prejudices and superstitions. Within his narrow limits, he displayed a vigour and an activity which ought to have enabled him to clear the barrier that confined him. How it chanced that a man who reasoned on his premises so ably, should assume his premises so foolishly, is one of the great mysteries of human nature.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
“Samuel Johnson,” The Edinburgh Review (Sep 1831)
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Review of John Croker's 1831 edition of James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson.
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The doctrine which, from the very first origin of religious dissensions, has been held by bigots of all sects, when condensed into a few words and stripped of rhetorical disguise, is simply this: — I am in the right, and you are in the wrong. When you are the stronger, you ought to tolerate me, for it is your duty to tolerate truth; but when I am the stronger, I shall persecute you, for it is my duty to persecute error.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
“Sir James Mackintosh’s History of the Revolution,” Edinburgh Review (Jul 1835)
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Review of James Mackintosh, History of the Revolution in England, in 1638 (1834).
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The highest proof of virtue is to possess boundless power without abusing it.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
“The Life and Writings of Addison,” Edinburg Review (1843)
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Review of Lucy Aikin, The Life of Joseph Addison (1843).
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The reluctant obedience of distant provinces generally costs more than it is worth.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
“The War of Succession in Spain,” Essays Contributed to the Edinburgh Review, Vol. 2 (1843)
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Review of Lord Mahon, History of the War of the Succession in Spain (1832).
Added on 30-Jan-20 | Last updated 30-Jan-20
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The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
(Attributed)
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The Puritan hated bear-baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
History of England, vol. 1, ch. 3 (1849)
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Those who compare the age in which their lot has fallen with a golden age which exists only in imagination, may talk of degeneracy and decay; but no man who is correctly informed as to the past, will be disposed to take a morose or desponding view of the present.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
History of England, Vol. I, ch. 1 (1849-1861)
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Nothing is so galling to a people, not broken in from the birth, as a paternal or, in other words, a meddling government, a government which tells them what to read and say and eat and drink and wear.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
Southey’s Colloquies on Society (1830)
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There is surely no contradiction in saying that a certain section of the community may be quite competent to protect the persons and property of the rest, yet quite unfit to direct our opinions, or to superintend our private habits.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
Southey’s Colloquies on Society (1830)
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I would rather be a poor man in a garret with plenty of books than a king who did not love reading.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
Letter to his Niece (15 Sep 1842)
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Yes, Gentlemen; if I am asked why we are free with servitude all around us, why our Habeas Corpus Act has not been suspended, why our press is still subject to no censor, why we still have the liberty of association, why our representative institutions still abide in all their strength, I answer, It is because in the year of revolutions we stood firmly by our government in its peril; and, if I am asked why we stood by our government in its peril, when men all around us were engaged in pulling governments down, I answer, It was because we knew that though our government was not a perfect government, it was a good government, that its faults admitted of peaceable and legal remedies, that it had never inflexibly opposed just demands, that we had obtained concessions of inestimable value, not by beating the drum, not by ringing the tocsin, not by tearing up the pavement, not by running to the gunsmiths’ shops to search for arms, but by the mere force of reason and public opinion.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
Speech on re-election to Parliament, Edinburgh (2 Nov 1852)
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On the various revolutions and counter-revolutions in Europe in 1848.
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Let us shun extremes, not only because each extreme is in itself a positive evil, but also because each extreme necessarily engenders its opposite. If we love civil and religious freedom, let us in the day of danger uphold law and order. If we are zealous for law and order, let us prize, as the best safeguard of law and order, civil and religious freedom.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
Speech on re-election to Parliament, Edinburgh (2 Nov 1852)
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Thus, then, stands the case. It is good, that authors should be remunerated; and the least exceptionable way of remunerating them is by a monopoly. Yet monopoly is an evil. For the sake of the good we must submit to the evil; but the evil ought not to last a day longer than is necessary for the purpose of securing the good.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
Speech on the Copyright Bill (5 Feb 1841)
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Added on 15-Apr-08 | Last updated 16-Jan-20
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