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"He Was A Rake Among Scholars And A Scholar Among Rakes"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Even while writing the History of England, which was to be his masterpiece, Lord Macaulay was always willing to take time out for essay reviews of new books for the Edinburgh Review. The Life of Joseph Addison in two volumes had just been published by Macaulay's own London firm, Longmans. Its author, Miss Lucy Aikin (1781–1864) had published three earlier historical studies. At the request of the publisher, Macaulay had looked over some of the proof of the Addison volume and had indicated to the elderly author about forty errors. Her bitter reception of his criticism provoked Macaulay, and his essay began with a rebuke for her many examples of carelessness. Of course, to discuss the life of Addison, Sir Richard Steele, who was his associate in the publication of the news sheets, The Tatler (1709) and The Spectator (1711) had to be mentioned. Unlike Addison, who had lived a life of sobriety, Steele left Oxford to join the army, where he earned a bad reputation for his life of excesses. The news sheets, containing something of interest for both men and women, included essays on customs, social notes, news from the war, and comments on life and philosophy. Macaulay says that one who, like Steele, crossed the barriers and could interpose Latin phrases from Horace into gossip from the Coffee Houses and from even lower circles of London society, was a logical writer for the three-times-a-week Tatler, since he combined the knowledge of a scholar with the experiences of a dissolute man. "Rake" is a shortened form of "rakehell," "one who explores evil." "Intelligence" means "news." Lord Macaulay commented about Sir Richard Steele thus:

. . . He was not ill qualified to conduct the work which he had planned. His public intelligence he drew from the best sources. He knew the town and had paid dear for his knowledge. He had read much more than the dissipated men of that time were in the habit of reading. He was a rake among scholars and a scholar among rakes. His style was easy and not incorrect; . . . His writings have been well compared to those light wines which, though deficient in body and flavor, are yet a pleasant small drink, if not kept too long or carried too far.