"An Acre Of Middlesex Is Better Than A Principality In Utopia"

Context: The essays of Lord Macaulay, based on wide reading and a memory that seemed never to forget a fact, made him a welcome magazine contributor. His reviews of biographical volumes usually turned out to be more biographies than reviews. He could provide interesting parallels and illustrations. The fact that his knowledge did not extend to art or science and was superficial was not important to his readers. Like them, he judged everything from the viewpoint of a liberal Whig. When asked to review Basil Montagu's sixteen-volume The Works of Francis Bacon, Lord Chancellor of England (London: 1825–34), Macaulay substituted for an opinion of the merits of this lengthy work, an essay on Lord Bacon, that was published in the Edinburgh Review, in July, 1837, declaring that while the aim of the philosophy of Plato was to exalt man into a god, something noble, Bacon's philosophic aim was the more obtainable one of supplying man's vulgar (i.e., ordinary) wants. Tennyson was to write in Locksley Hall (1842): "Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay" (that is, a long while in China). Macaulay localizes the idea to England. Utopia refers to an imaginary and idealistic island described by Sir Thomas More (1478–1535) in a Latin romance of the same name, written in 1516.

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An acre of Middlesex is better than a principality in Utopia. The smallest actual good is better than the most magnificent promises of impossibilities. The wise man of the Stoics would, no doubt, be a grander object than a steam-engine. But there are steam-engines. And the wise man of the Stoics is yet to be born. A philosophy which should enable a man to feel perfectly happy while in agonies of pain, may be better than a philosophy which assuages pain. But we know that there are remedies which will assuage pain; and we know that the ancient sages liked the tooth-ache just as little as their neighbors.
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