The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

II. Historians, Biographers and Political Orators

§ 4. Sir James Mackintosh

At one time, it might have seemed as if, in the charmed circle of the whigs, one of its most honoured members, who, early in his career (1791), had, not without credit, crossed swords with Burke, were, after he had entered into the second and less eccentric phase of his political opinions, destined to take a leading place among English historians. But Sir James Mackintosh, who, like Macaulay, was tempted from home by public employment in India, was without the intellectual energy of his junior, and less indifferent than he to the attractions of clubs and society. Moreover, like many lesser men, he could never quite settle down to one particular line of study and production, and the claim of philosophy seemed, on the whole, the strongest upon his mind. On his homeward voyage from Bombay, in 1811–12, he had begun an introduction to a history of England from the revolution of 1688 to that of 1789; but he speedily entered parliament, and, for some time, held a professorship of law and general politics at Haileybury. Towards the end of his life (1830), he published a much-read Dissertation on the Progress of Ethical Philosophy, chiefly during the 17th and 18th Centuries. Thus, little leisure was left, or sought, for the History of England expected from Mackintosh’s pen; and, besides a volume bearing that title, contributed by him to Lardner’s Cabinet Cyclopaedia, he produced only an unfinished History of the Revolution in England in 1688, which was unsatisfactorily edited by William Wallace, with a continuation, to say the least, ill-suited to either the book or its subject. This performance is chiefly known by Macaulay’s essay upon it—not itself one of his choicest efforts—and by the scandal which ensued. Mackintosh, notwithstanding the honour and glory which he enjoyed among a large circle of his contemporaries, can, as a historian, hardly be regarded as more than a precursor of Macaulay, to whom we accordingly turn.