Historians Reconsidered Part III: Macauley

Michael Howard introduces the most popular historian in Victorian England.

On the last day of February 1856, the publishing firm of Longman’s was able to tell Thomas Macaulay that the last two volumes of his History of England had in the past ten weeks sold 26,500 copies. A week later Mr. Longman again called at the Albany with what Macaulay mildly termed “a very pleasant announcement”. His firm had so much money in hand that he begged Macaulay to accept an advance of £20,000. “What a sum to be gained”, wrote Macaulay in wondering thankfulness, “by one edition of a book!” So, for the times, it was; but twenty years later his sales were still expanding. The first two volumes which, between 1848 and 1857, had sold 30,478 copies, between 1866 and 1875 sold 52,392. On the continent Baron Tauchnitz sold ten thousand in Macaulay’s lifetime; and when in 1876 Sir George Trevelyan published his biography, the History had been already translated into German, Polish, Danish, Swedish, Italian, French, Dutch, Spanish, Hungarian, Russian and Bohemian. A Persian translator was hard at work. In America, Macaulay was told, the sale of his works was surpassed only by that of the Bible.

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