Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Catharine Macaulay, "The Celebrated Mrs. Macaulay"

Catharine Sawbridge Macaulay (born 2 April 1731)

Catharine Macaulay, 1775
When she published the first volume of her monumental History of England from the Accession of James I to the Revolution in 1763, Catherine Macaulay was virtually unknown.

By the time she published the eighth and final volume, in 1783, she had become "the celebrated Mrs. Macaulay," "the famous Mrs. Macaulay." Her portrait was said to be "on every print-seller's counter." She was judged by one of her admirers as a "very prodigy," while another wrote that she wrote "for the purpose of inculcating on the people of Britain the love of liberty and their country."

But in 1778, she had remarried (her first husband, a doctor named George Macaulay, died in 1766). And this second marriage--of a woman, forty-seven, to a man, aged twenty-one--would eventually cause a scandal. Although she continued writing, the "celebrated Mrs. Macaulay" was no longer the toast of London circles--she was, however, welcomed to Mount Vernon by George Washington during a visit to America in 1784-5. 

In addition to history, Macaulay wrote on a number of philosophical topics (on political theory and "the immutability of moral truth," for example), politics, and education.

Macaulay's Letters on Education with Observations on Religions and Metaphysical Subjects was published in 1790 and reviewed by Mary Wollstonecraft. In that work on education, arguing for an egalitarian education and asserting that both sexes share the capacity for reason, Macaulay writes, “my pride and my prejudices lead me to regard my sex in a higher light than as the mere objects of sense.”

For an introduction to Macaulay's work, Karen Green's article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is available here. Bridget Hill's 1992 The Republican Virago: The Life and Times of Catharine Macaulay, Historian is out of print, but you can buy used copies. 

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