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Hailed more as a literary masterpiece than an accurate account of historical facts, The History of England from the Accession of James the Second by Thomas Babington Macaulay is an admirable mix of fact and fiction. Modern day readers may find much that is offensive and insensitive in this five volume work which covers a particular period in the long and eventful history of Britain. However, it is certainly a book that leads the reader on to further research into the events and people mentioned. The book opens with an elaborate and detailed introduction which describes the writer's motives and reasons for embarking on this project. He goes on to trace the early civilizations that preceded the establishment of the British Monarchy. He credits the British people with resisting all foreign influences beginning with the Romans and going on to the French, Dutch and Germans who had an important role to play in the affairs of the country. The British character and traditions are lauded and commended above all others. This was something which was characteristic of the Victorian age in which Macaulay lived, when the British Empire was at the height of its powers. He was still working on the fifth volume and the reign of William III when he died at the relatively young age of 59. For Macaulay and his contemporaries, Britain at that time represented the zenith of civilization. Macaulay himself was assigned the task of introducing English in British colonies, especially in India. Some of his controversial ideas included dividing the world into “civilization and barbarism” and his contempt of indigenous cultures. His famously insular outlook which he himself took great pride in was something which permeated through all his writings. The History of England... was seen as an essentially Whig representation of events. It inspired a generation of British politicians and thinkers, the most notable among them being Winston Churchill. The philosophy and viewpoint it represents evokes a past era in which the politics of the world was completely different. Macaulay is also famous for having insisted on personally visiting many of the places he describes and thus introducing the concept of social history in addition to a mere political discourse. In spite of all the attacks it received both when it was first published and later, the book remains a highly readable account of the history of the tiny island nation which went on to become a superpower.
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