Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury

The first of two articles by Joel Hurstfield on the famous Elizabethan chief Ministers to the Crown, William, Lord Burghley, and his son, Robert, Lord Salisbury.

The luckless Edward Nares, Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford and author of a three-volume life of William Cecil, had the misfortune to have his masterpiece reviewed by Macaulay. The shocked critic proceeded to weigh the massive volumes, whereupon he announced to his readers the horrifying discovery that they turned the scales at sixty pounds. “Compared with the labour of reading through these volumes,” he wrote, “all other labour, the labour of thieves on the treadmill, of children in factories, of negroes in sugar plantations, is an agreeable recreation. ... It is not merely in bulk, but in specific gravity also, that these memoirs exceed all human compositions.” A modern reviewer would be able to nominate at least one recent work to challenge these unique claims. But, in any case, Macaulay was being unduly severe. Nor did he recognize the insuperable difficulties which, from Burghley’s day until ours, have made shipwreck of the work of his biographers.

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