Saturday, February 02, 2013

Macaulay the Critic

Macaulay was a hypercritical person by temperament, a trait that combined with his talent for invective to be really useful in producing enemies, but it also carried many an argument for him. His chauvinistic attitudes were another obnoxious trait. He hated Versailles and considered it a vast waste of money. Italy didn't live up to his expectations, and the exteriors of its great cathedrals couldn't match Saint Paul's in London. When he got back to London he found the interior of Saint Paul's wanting by comparison with the Italians.

It's very easy to see why the man would be resented in India. His bad tempered rhetoric was often turned on its literature, social organization, music, the character of the Bengalis - though the architecture did make an impression. Of course he was even more critical of most of his fellow Britons abroad.

Even more obnoxious was the fact that he didn't bother to try to understand the literature and art that he dismissed so cavalierly. There are hints that he was aware of the imbalance. He allowed that Indian literature might be equal to the Greek, Latin, and English classics he loved "in poetry" but he couldn't abide its cosmology and what he considered its scientific deficiencies. He thought that the picture of the Earth as "floating in a sea of butter" was ridiculous.

Masani makes the case that the man was better than his rhetoric. He disliked women, except for his sisters and nieces, but fought for women's rights. He allowed that Indian judges might be more corrupt than English ones, but insisted that the rich and the English should be subjected to them just like the poor and Indians, the better to root out and expose that corruption. He disliked despotism, including the despotism of the institution he worked for, but saw his mission as preparing the Indians to outgrow that despotism while pointing out that waiting for despots to stop enjoying their role was a fools game.