Catharine Macaulay Criticism - Essay

Lucy Martin Donnelly (essay date 1949)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “The Celebrated Mrs. Macaulay,” in The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, Vol. 6, No. 2, April 1949, pp. 173-207.

[In the following essay, one of the earliest critical commentaries on Macaulay's life and work, Donnelly argues that despite the many flaws in the historian's writings, Macaulay should be remembered as one of the great proponents of political liberty.]

Years ago in London the director of a book shop in high repute urged upon me the importance of Catharine Macaulay. I drew back in surprise. Her works have long been reduced to dusty out of the way shelves and in “the historian in petticoats” personally I felt little or no interest. Like...

(The entire section is 13697 words.)

Daisy L. Hobman (essay date 1952)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “Mrs. Macaulay,” in The Fortnightly, No. 1022, February 1952, pp. 116-21.

[In the following essay, Hobman argues that Macaulay was one of the most celebrated and influential women of the eighteenth century, as evidenced by the impression she left on men like Washington, Boswell, and Disraeli.]

Boswell, in his recently published London Journal, relates the story of Mrs. Macaulay and Dr. Johnson which is also told in the Life. He quotes the doctor as saying: “Sir, there is one Mrs. Macaulay in this town, a great republican. I came to her one day and said I was quite a convert to her republican system, and thought mankind all upon a footing;...

(The entire section is 2956 words.)

Mildred C. Beckwith (essay date 1958)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “Catharine Macaulay: Eighteenth-Century Rebel,” in The South Carolina Historical Association, 1958, pp. 12-29.

[In the following essay, Beckwith discusses Macaulay's fame as England's first female historian and her radical defense of the American and French revolutions combined with an unwavering criticism of the British monarchy.]

The most widely known woman in England in the second half of the eighteenth century, save the Queen, was Catharine Sawbridge Macaulay. Her name was on tip-of-tongue among the literati of two continents. Americans eagerly embraced her political concepts, while the French liberals roundly applauded her demand for equal liberties; a...

(The entire section is 6949 words.)

Bridget Hill and Christopher Hill (essay date 1967)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “Catherine Macaulay and the Seventeenth Century,” in The Welsh History Review, Vol. 3, No. 4, December, 1967, pp. 381-402.

[In the following essay, Bridget and Chrisopher Hill discuss Macaulay's History of England, which they praise for its detailed and perceptive interpretation of seventeenth-century English politics.]

‘One hand a roll of ancient records grac'd,
The other arm sweet Liberty embrac'd;
And on her bosom Alfred hung—the Great,
Who plung'd Corruption headlong from her seat’.

Anon., Six Odes Presented to that justly-celebrated Historian Mrs. Catherine Macaulay on her Birthday (n.d., 1777?), pp. 42-43.


(The entire section is 9311 words.)

Lynne E. Withey (essay date 1976)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “Catharine Macaulay and the Uses of History: Ancient Rights, Perfectionism, and Propaganda,” in The Journal of British Studies, Vol. 16, No. 1, Fall, 1976, pp. 59-83.

[In the following essay, Withey argues that Macaulay's History of England can be best understood by considering the author's social, political, and religious idealism, and notes that Macaulay considered historical analysis to be the best means for conveying the possibility of human political, moral, and institutional perfection.]

Late eighteenth-century London was a center of political debate, expressed variously in countless pamphlets, in coffee house discussions, and in...

(The entire section is 10469 words.)

Florence Boos and William Boos (essay date 1980)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “Catharine Macaulay: Historian and Political Reformer,” in International Journal of Women's Studies, Vol. 3, No. 1, January/February, 1980, pp. 49-65.

[In the following essay, Florence and William Boos discuss Macaulay's History of England, which they call the first and most important Enlightenment history written by a woman, and her Letters on Education, which they regard as one of the earliest feminist attacks on gender inequality, slavery, and the education of England's children and poor.]


Catharine Macaulay was a prominent eighteenth-century British defender of Enlightened republican views, the...

(The entire section is 7042 words.)

Barbara Brandon Schnorrenberg (essay date 1990)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “An Opportunity Missed: Catherine Macaulay on the Revolution of 1688,” in Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, Vol. 20, 1990, pp. 231-40.

[In the following essay, Schnorrenberg details how Macaulay's History of England and political pamphlets were conscious corrections to the historical writings of David Hume and Edmund Burke and why, in particular, Macaulay believed that the Glorious Revolution of 1688 had proved insufficient in producing real liberty in England.]

Those of us who learned our history first in the Whig tradition were taught early that the Glorious Revolution of 1688-89 was a good thing. It freed England, Scotland, Wales, and even an...

(The entire section is 4126 words.)

Donald T. Siebert (essay date 1992)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “Catherine Macaulay's History of England: Antidote to Hume's History?,” in Transactions of the Eighth International Congress on the Enlightenment, edited by H. T. Mason, The Voltaire Foundation, 1992, pp. 393-96.

[In the following essay, Siebert analyzes the differences between Macaulay's and David Hume's historical accounts of the execution of Charles I, and argues that each retelling shows how these writers used history as a tool to advance their own political convictions.]

Without question Catherine Macaulay's History of England was intended partly as an Old Whig, republican answer to David Hume's version of seventeenth-century...

(The entire section is 1517 words.)

Bridget Hill and Christopher Hill (essay date 1993)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “Catharine Macaulay's History and her Catalogue of Tracts,” in The Seventeenth Century, Vol. 8, No. 2, Autumn, 1993, pp. 269-85.

[In the following essay, Bridget and Christopher Hill contest the charge leveled by critics like Lucy Matin Donnelly that Macaulay's historical work lacked scholastic rigor, pointing to the little-known Catalogue of Tracts that Macaulay assembled shortly before her death and which demonstrates her broad range of interests and unusually detailed scholarship.]

In the eighteenth century Catharine Macaulay was far from alone as a historian of the seventeenth century, but what made her unique was that she was a woman and...

(The entire section is 7524 words.)

Cecile Mazzucco-Than (essay date 1995)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “‘As Easy as a Chimney Pot to Blacken’: Catharine Macaulay ‘the Celebrated Female Historian,’” in Prose Studies, Vol. 18, No. 3, December, 1995, pp. 78-104.

[In the following essay, Mazzucco-Than argues that the principal fame Macaulay's History of England garnered in the eighteenth century as well as its subsequent neglect during the past two centuries is due to a single cause—-a continuing emphasis on the gender of the historian herself.]

There is nothing so bad for the face as Party-Zeal … I would therefore advise all my Female Readers, as they value their Complexions, to let alone all Disputes of this Nature;...

(The entire section is 13130 words.)

Catherine Gardner (essay date 1998)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “Catharine Macaulay's Letters on Education: Odd but Equal,” in Hypatia, Vol. 13, No. 1, Winter, 1998, pp. 118-37.

[In the following essay, Gardener argues that Macaulay's Letters on Education should not be dismissed as a loose collection of the author's views on a wide range of subjects, but instead should be seen as a single, sustained argument for the perfection of society through, among other things, the equal education of women, an idea which greatly influenced the British feminist Mary Wollstonecraft.]

Catharine Macaulay's work Letters on Education published just five years before A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, is an...

(The entire section is 8935 words.)

F. G. A. Pocock (essay date 1998)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “Catharine Macaulay: Patriot Historian,” in Women Writers and the Early Modern British Political Tradition, edited by Hilda L. Smith, Cambridge University Press, 1998, pp. 243-58.

[In the following essay, Pocock analyzes Macaulay's History of England in the context of the age in which she lived, concluding that the greatness of her work was unfortunately overshadowed by the work of David Hume and Mary Wollstonecraft.]

Let us begin by recalling the best-known facts about Catharine Macaulay.1 She wrote a number of works, of which by far the most prominent is a History of England from the Accession of James I to that of the Brunswick...

(The entire section is 6999 words.)