"Disease Of Admiration"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Macaulay was well prepared to review an 1827 History of the Right Honorable William Pitt, Earl of Chatham by the Reverend Francis Thackeray (1793–1842). Macaulay had long been interested in Parliamentary history and was sympathetic to the spirit of the eighteenth century dominated by Pitt (1708–1778). Like others, he believed Pitt's famous first administration the most glorious in Parliament's history. And so his essay on the Earl of Chatham is one of his best. He drew little upon the two volumes he was supposed to be reviewing. Even in his time, this biography was considered pompous and prolix. Much of his material came from Horace Walpole's Letters and his Memoirs of the Reign of King George the Second. As a critic, Macaulay speaks, in the very beginning of his essay, of Francis Thackeray's dullness in contrast to his talented nephew, William M. Thackeray (1811–1863), author of Vanity Fair. James Boswell (1740–1795) was the admiring biographer of Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709–1784). Macaulay's essay begins:

Almost every mechanical employment, it is said, has a tendency to injure some one or other of the bodily organs of the artisan. Grinders of cuttlery die of consumption; weavers are stunted in their growth; smiths become blear-eyed. In the same manner almost every intellectual employment has a tendency to produce some intellectual malady. Biographers, translators, editors, all, in short, who employ themselves in illustrating the lives or the writings of others, are peculiarly exposed to the Lues Boswelliana, or disease of admiration. But we scarcely remember ever to have seen a patient so far gone in this distemper as Mr. Thackeray. He is not satisfied with forcing us to confess that Pitt was a great orator, a vigorous minister, an honorable and high-spirited gentleman. He will have it that all virtues and all accomplishments met in his hero. . . .