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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay (1800–1859)

The Ponderous Work of Dr. Nares

From “Burleigh and his Times”

THE WORK of Dr. Nares has filled us with astonishment similar to that which Captain Lemuel Gulliver felt when he first landed in Brobdingnag, and saw corn as high as the oaks in the New Forest, thimbles as large as buckets, and wrens of the bulk of turkeys. The whole book, and every component part of it, is on a gigantic scale. The title is as long as an ordinary preface, the prefatory matter would furnish out an ordinary book, and the book contains as much reading as an ordinary library. We cannot sum up the merits of the stupendous mass of paper which lies before us better than by saying that it consists of about two thousand closely printed quarto pages, that it occupies fifteen hundred inches cubic measure, and that it weighs sixty pounds avoirdupois. Such a book might before the deluge have been considered as light reading by Hilpa and Shatum. But unhappily the life of man is now threescore years and ten, and we cannot but think it somewhat unfair in Dr. Nares to demand from us so large a portion of so short an existence.

Compared with the labour of reading through these volumes, all other labour—the labour of thieves on the treadmill, of children in factories, of negroes in sugar plantations—is an agreeable recreation. There was, it is said, a criminal in Italy, who was suffered to make his choice between Guicciardini and the galleys. He chose the history. But the war of Pisa was too much for him. He changed his mind and went to the oar. Guicciardini, though certainly not the most amusing of writers, is a Herodotus or a Froissart when compared with Dr. Nares.

It is not only in bulk, but in specific gravity also, that these memoirs exceed all other human compositions. On every subject which the professor discusses, he produces three times as many pages as another man; and one of his pages is as tedious as another man’s three. His book is swelled to its vast dimensions by endless repetitions, by episodes which have nothing to do with the main action, by quotations from books which are in every circulating library, and by reflections which, when they happen to be just, are so obvious that they must necessarily occur to the mind of every reader. He employs more words in expounding and defending a truism than any other writer would employ in supporting a paradox. Of the rules of historical perspective he has not the faintest notion. There is neither foreground nor background in his delineation. Though a man of great industry and research, he is so utterly incompetent to arrange the materials which he has collected, that he might as well have left them in their original repositories.