FROM the time that he was three years old he read incessantly, for the most part lying on the rug before the fire, with his book on the ground, and a piece of bread and butter in his hand. A very clever woman who then lived in the house as a parlour-maid told how he used to sit in his nankeen frock, perched on the table by her as she was cleaning the plate, and expounding to her out of a volume as big as himself. He did not care for toys, but was very fond of taking his walk, when he would hold forth to his companion, whether nurse or mother, telling interminable stories out of his own head, or repeating what he had been reading in language far above his years. His memory retained without effort the phraseology of the book which he had been last engaged on, and he talked, as the maid said, `quite printed words', which produced an effect that appeared formal, and often, no doubt, exceedingly droll.
Mrs. Hannah More was fond of relating how she called at Mr. Macaulay's, and was met by a fair, pretty, slight child, with abundance of light hair, about four years of age, who came to the front door to receive her, and tell her that his parents were out, but that if she would be good enough to come in he would bring her a glass of old spirits: a proposition which greatly startled the good lady, who had never aspired beyond cowslip wine. When questioned as to what he knew about old spirits, he could only say that Robinson Crusoe often had some.
About this period his father took him on a visit to Lady Waldegrave at Strawberry Hill, and was much pleased to exhibit to his old friend the fair bright boy, dressed in a green coat with red collar and cuffs, a frill at the throat, and white trousers. After some time had been spent among the wonders of the Orford collection, of which he ever afterwards carried a catalogue in his head, a servant who was waiting upon the company in the great gallery spilt some hot coffee over his legs. The hostess was all kindness and compassion, and when, after a while, she asked how he was feeling, the little fellow looked up in her face and replied: "Thank you madam, the agony is abated"
— Trevelyan, Macaulay, i. 27-28.
As a child, during one of the numerous seasons when the social duties devolved upon Mr. Macaulay, he accompanied his father on an afternoon call, and found on a table the Lay of the Last Minstrel which he had never before met with. He kept himself quiet with his prize while the elders were talking, and on his return home sat down upon his mother's bed, and repeated to her as many cantos as she had the patience or the strength to listen to. At one period of his life he was known to say that, if by some miracle of vandalism all copies of Paradise Lost and the Pilgrim's Progress were destroyed off the face of the earth, he would undertake to reproduce them both from recollection whenever a revival of learning came. In 1813, while waiting in a Cambridge coffee-room for a postchaise which was to take him to school, he picked up a country newspaper containing two such specimens of provincial poetical talent as in those days might be read in the corner of any weekly journal. One piece was headed 'Reflections of an Exile', while the other was a trumpery parody on the Welsh ballad 'Ar hyd y nos', referring to some local anecdote of an ostler whose nose had been bitten off by a filly. He looked them once through, and never gave them a thought for forty years, at the end of which time he repeated them both without missing, or, as far as he knew, changing, a single word.
— Trevelyan, Macaulay, i. 51-52.
I have seen the hippopotamus, both asleep and awake; and I can assure you that, awake or asleep, he is the ugliest of the works of God. But you must hear of my triumphs. Thackeray swears that he was eye-witness and ear-witness of the proudest event of my life. Two damsels were just about to pass that doorway which we, on Monday, in vain attempted to enter, when I was pointed out to them.
"Mr. Macaulay" cried the lovely pair. "Is that Mr. Maucaulay? Never mind the hippopotamus"
And having paid a shilling to see Behemoth, they left him in the very moment at which he was about to display himself — but spare my modesty. I can wish for nothing more on earth, now that Madame Tussaud, in whose Pantheon I hoped once for a place, is dead.
— Trevelyan, Macaulay, ii. 254-255.
Macaulay was admirable with young people. Innumerable passages in his journals and correspondence prove how closely he watched them; how completely he understood them; and how, awake or asleep, they were for ever in his thoughts. On the fragment of a letter to Mr. Ellis there is mention of a dream he had about his younger niece,
'so vivid that I must tell it. She came to me with a penitential face, and told me that she had a great sin to confess; that Pepys's Diary was all a forgery, and that she had forged it. I was in the greatest dismay.
"What! I have been quoting in reviews, and in my History, a forgery of yours as a book of the highest authority. How shall I ever hold up my head again?"
I awoke with the fright, poor Alice's supplicating voice still in my ears.'
— Trevelyan, Macaulay, ii. 418