Lord Bacon "With The Dead There Is No Rivalry"

Thomas Babington Macaulay

"With The Dead There Is No Rivalry"

Context: Macaulay's essay on Bacon, the longest and most elaborate of his essays, is a two-part study, divided into a look at Bacon's personal and political life, and a criticism of him as a philosopher. In some respects, by not taking into consideration the circumstances of time, Macaulay has done an injustice to his subject. It was necessary, he thought, for one in government to comply and flatter. The essayist, however, does end with a recognizable character. It is in his discussion of Bacon's philosophy that Macaulay reveals the blind spots in his reading and thinking that are his greatest flaws, and have lessened his popularity in modern times. Ignoring previous and even contemporary philosophers, Macaulay presents Bacon as an unaccountable prodigy who opened up the way of truth to a public up to then interested only in theological disputes. Macaulay begins with a criticism of the leniency and tenderness with which Basil Montagu (1770–1851), author of the book under review, handles his subject. He gives examples of the way authors of the past have been kindly treated by later writers who learned from them. Since they no longer represent potential rivals, they can be studied without jealousy or resentment. Jacques Bossuet (1627–1704) a French prelate and orator, wrote a magnificent Discourse on Universal History (1681) of which an English translation appeared in 1821. Macaulay continues:

With the dead there is no rivalry. In the dead there is no change. Plato is never sullen. Cervantes is never petulant. Demosthenes never comes unseasonably. Dante never stays too long. No difference of political opinion can alienate Cicero. No heresy can excite the horror of Bossuet.