Monday, September 25, 2006

The insult in history

"The multitude was unable to conceive that a man who, even when sober, was more furious and boastful than others when they were drunk, and who seemed utterly incapable of disguising any emotion, or keeping any secret, could really be a coldhearted, farsighted, scheming sycophant. Yet such a man was Talbot." -- Macaulay, on Richard Talbot, Earl of Tyrconnel. I don't think historians get to write sentences like that any more.

I've just passed another chunk of Macaulay's comments on the Irish in general, and the level of blithe racism is stunning. A man of his time, yadda yadda, but still -- his remarks on the moral evil engendered by eating potatoes must have been particularly welcome at the end of the 1840s.

[A History of England, by Thomas Babington Macaulay, London, 1849 to 1861. Only three-and-a-half volumes to go! I shall press on. I had forgotten the pleasure of reading small, old-fashioned hardbacks on public transport. All your fellow passengers assume it's a Bible. The sympathetic ones conclude you are at your devotions, the unsympathetic fear you might try to convert them -- and either way, you suddenly have personal space.]

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