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difference that enabled the Empire to persist and then to dissolve, doing
so in ways that inexorably shaped metropolitan life.
Henri Lefebvre has helpfully theorised the difference between the sub-
jective and objective aspects of space. Subjectively social space is the
environment of the group and of the individual within the group. It
appears as ‚Ęthe horizon at the centre of which they place themselves and in
which they live. Objectively . . . social space is made up of a relatively dense
fabric of networks and channels. This fabric is an integral part of the
everyday.‪96 As Doreen Massey has argued, notions of a geographical place
‚Ęcalled home‚Ä™ often were popularly associated with a sense of belonging that
depended on notions ‚Ęof recourse to a past, of a seamless coherence of
character, of an apparently comforting bounded enclosure‚Ä™.97 Such views,
she suggests, occur especially with nationalism, and, we would argue, are
central to an imperial nationalism that must maintain an imaginary
impervious boundary that distinguishes and distances metropole from
colony; home from empire. ‚ĘSuch understandings of the identity of places‚Ä™,
Massey writes, ‚Ęrequire them to be enclosures, to have boundaries and ‚Ä“
therefore or most importantly ‚Ä“ to establish their identity through negative
counterposition with the Other beyond the boundaries.‪98 Along with
Massey we are arguing that what distinguishes Britain as a place, as a ‚Ęhome
place‚Ä™, ‚Ędoes not derive from some internalised history. It derives, in large
part, precisely from the speciÔ¬Ācity of its interaction with the ‚Ę‚Ęoutside‚Ä™‚Ä™ . . .
[I]n part it is the presence of the outside within which helps to construct
the speciÔ¬Ācity of the local place.‚Ä™99
At the same time as Great Britain has been imagined to be a geo-
graphically bounded home comprised of a homogeneous people, the
Empire was frequently and quite insistently understood to be ‚Ęa family
affair‚Ä™.100 The metaphor of the imperial family was a useful one in a
number of different ways. It could be used to suggest, as in the frequently
deployed term ‚Ękith and kin‚Ä™, that the settler colonies, the Dominions,



96
Henri Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, 2 vols. (London, 1991‚Ä“2002), vol. II: Foundations for a
Sociology of the Everyday, trans. John Moore (2002), 231.
97
Doreen Massey, Space, Place and Gender (Cambridge, 1994), 168. 98 Ibid., 169.
99
Ibid., 169‚Ä“70. 100 See, for example, Percy Hurd, The Empire: A Family Affair (London, 1924).
Introduction: being at home with the Empire 27
were naturally related to one another and to the ‚Ęmother country‚Ä™. In his
book published in 1924, Percy Hurd, a former Tory MP wrote:
Great Britain is the Family Hearth, the Homeland. Close round it stand the
Dominions, the Five Free Nations of the Empire ‚Ä“ Canada, Australia, New
Zealand, South Africa, Newfoundland . . . the Five . . . owe allegiance to the
same Sovereign; have common traditions with the people of Great Britain, a
common Citizenship and common interests. All rests upon free consent and
good will.101
So for these areas of the Empire, the family metaphor hinted at ‚Ęblood
ties‚Ä™ and an allegiance based upon ‚Ęfree consent and good will‚Ä™. Hurd went
on to say, ‚ĘA Dominion is a daughter in her mother‚Ä™s house and mistress
in her own.‚Ä™ However, ‚ĘCrown Colonies are still under parental care.‚Ä™102
And as benevolent parents, it was Great Britain‪s responsibility to train the
people of these colonies ‚Ęto become self-dependent ‚Ę‚Ęwhen the time was
right‚Ä™‚Ä™ ‚Ä™. As Elizabeth Buettner has put it, ‚Ę[l]ove, trust, worship, reverence,
gratitude: all were recurring terms for depicting coloniser/colonised inter-
actions as at once harmonious and hierarchical‚Ä™.103 Thus familial language
marked ‚Ęboth kinship and a gap between individuals and groups with vastly
unequal access to power‚Ä™.104 The trope of the family naturalises social
hierarchies and helped to foster the domestication of Britain‪s imperial
relations on the home front. In other words, the homely terms of family
helped to make empire ordinary and a part of everyday life.
Gender difference was complexly involved in the construction of the
familial trope of empire. Great Britain was portrayed as the ‚Ęmother
country‚Ä™, and yet, as an imperial nation raising up its offspring to some
future independence, the family metaphor speaks of a patriarchal
paternalism. Symbolically, empire building and maintenance was a
masculine task whereas the home-place was feminised. British women‪s
roles in the colonies were envisioned as making new homes away from
home. The ‚Ęmother country‚Ä™ was ‚Ęhome‚Ä™ to her children who would be
educated and helped towards self-dependence ‚Ęwhen the time was right‚Ä™
by imperial men in the colonies. Such metaphors used in various
metropolitan discursive arenas also helped to naturalise and to make
ordinary Britain‪s imperial relations.
Gender was relevant in other ways to making metropolitans at home
with their empire. The chapters by Philippa Levine and Jane Rendall are

101
Ibid., 3. 102 Ibid., 5.
103
Elizabeth Buettner, Empire Families: Britons and Late Imperial India (Oxford, 2004), 262.
104
Hall, Civilising Subjects, 19.
C AT H E R I N E H A L L A N D S O N YA R O S E
28
concerned with women and sexuality. Philippa Levine examines how and
why empire was a crucial source of anxiety about and a site for the con-
struction of female sexuality. Jane Rendall explores the place of empire in
women‪s writings and how perceptions of gender relations in the Empire
served as a ‚Ęrule of difference‚Ä™ distinguishing metropole from colony.105
There were numerous other avenues through which empire became
commonplace. As we have already suggested, John MacKenzie and his
colleagues have demonstrated the infusion of matters imperial into the
cultural life of the metropole. Other scholars have stressed the role of
schooling, especially in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Importantly, from the 1880s as Stephen Heathorn has shown recently,
young children Ô¬Ārst learned to read in primary school classrooms from
readers featuring stories of imperial adventure, ‚Ęracial others‚Ä™ and images
of their national home.106 He argues that these texts were ‚Ęused to pro-
mote literacy among children still in the early stages of their formal
schooling‚Ä™.107 Heathorn proposes that the ‚Ęboundaries of student sub-
jectivity were circumscribed by the vocabulary and syntax of identity
presented to them in the process of becoming reading literate . . .
Learning to read the alphabet and learning to read the nation, therefore,
went hand-in-glove.‪108 Importantly, he maintains that imperialist ideas
were ‚Ęan integral part of an evolving hegemonic nationalist ideology that
105
The issue of masculinity is a theme in the chapter, below, by Keith McClelland and Sonya Rose,
and in James Epstein‚Ä™s discussion, below, of the signiÔ¬Ācance of imperialism to upper-class life. As
there is a rich literature that explores how imperialism shaped masculinity at home and
conceptions of masculine ‚Ęothers‚Ä™ in the colonies we do not include a chapter speciÔ¬Ācally on men
and masculinity. Because of space we can cite only a small portion of this literature, see, e.g.
Sinha, Colonial Masculinity; John Tosh, A Man‪s Place: Masculinity and the Middle-Class Home in
Victorian England (New Haven, 1999), esp. ch. 8; Graham Dawson, Soldier Heroes: British
Adventure, Empire and the Imagining of Masculinities (London, 1994); Hall, Civilising Subjects; A.
James Hammerton, ‚ĘGender and Migration‚Ä™, in Philippa Levine (ed.), Gender and Empire
(Oxford, 2004), 156‚Ä“80; Richards (ed.), Imperialism and Juvenile Literature, esp. chapters by
Richards and John Springhall; Robert H. MacDonald, ‚ĘReproducing the Middle-Class Boy:
From Purity to Patriotism in the Boys‚Ä™ Magazines, 1892‚Ä“1914‚Ä™, Journal of Contemporary History, 24
(1989), 519‚Ä“39; Kelly Boyd, Manliness and the Boys‚Ä™ Story Paper in Britain: A Cultural History, 1855‚Ä“
1940 (Basingstoke, 2003), esp. 123‚Ä“52; John Springhall, Youth, Empire and Society, 1883‚Ä“1940
(London, 1977); J. A. Mangan (ed.), ‚ĘBeneÔ¬Āts Bestowed‚Ä™? Education and British Imperialism
(Manchester, 1988) and Making Imperial Mentalities: Socialisation and British Imperialism
(Manchester, 1990); Joseph Bristow, Empire Boys: Adventures in a Man‪s World (London, 1991);
John M. MacKenzie (ed.), Popular Imperialism and the Military (Manchester, 1992).
106
Stephen Heathorn, For Home, Country, and Race: Constructing Gender, Class, and Englishness in the
Elementary School, 1880‚Ä“1914 (Toronto, 2000). On schooling see also, Valerie E. Chancellor, History
for their Masters: Opinion in the English History Textbook, 1900‚Ä“1914 (Bath, 1970); J. A. Mangan,
Athleticism in the Victorian and Edwardian Public School (Cambridge, 1981); J. A. Mangan, The
Games Ethic and Imperialism: Aspects of the Diffusion of an Ideal (Harmondsworth, 1986); Alan Penn,
Targeting Schools: Drill, Militarism and Imperialism (London, 1999).
107
Heathorn, Home, Country, and Race, 19. 108 Ibid., 20.
Introduction: being at home with the Empire 29
was . . . a fundamental feature of the curriculum. Imperial-nationalism was
a major constituent, in other words, of the parameters of the contemporary
cultural hegemony.‪109 Along with Heathorn we argue that the culture of
everyday life was infused with imperial nationalism structured around
logics of difference that operated in ‚Ęboth a conscious and unconscious
manner‚Ä™.110 As Bob Crampsey reÔ¬‚ected on books, Ô¬Ālms and texts to which
he was exposed in his years growing up in Glasgow in the 1930s, ‚Ę(t)he
Asian seamen we met on the Glasgow streets, shufÔ¬‚ing through the winter
weather in freezing, bewildered, miserable groups, were simply ‚Ę‚Ęthe cool-
ies‪‪. There was nothing whatever consciously demeaning or pejorative in
our use of this word for them, we just knew no other.‪111
Religion, consumption and literature were other routes through which
empire became commonplace. Given the signiÔ¬Ācance of religion to
Victorian society, as Susan Thorne discusses in her essay in this volume,
missionary activity brought the Empire home so that parishioners, even
those who were not devout evangelicals, might become a part of the
missionary endeavour through their routine religious lives. As Thorne
puts it, ‚Ęthe foreign missionary movement constituted an institutional
channel through which representations of colonised people and some-
times colonised people themselves were displayed to British audiences on
a scale unrivalled by any other source emanating from the colonies‚Ä™.
Furthermore, people consumed the products of empire as well as the
advertisements that portrayed the spaces and places over which the British
Ô¬‚ag was Ô¬‚own. As they shared in the fruits of empire, the exotic was
domesticated and made ordinary as Joanna de Groot suggests in her
essay. Imaginative literature, as Cora Kaplan argues, provided a space in
which wishes relating to empire and its discontents could be expressed as
heightened and highly condensed stories and Ô¬Āgures, soldering together
disparate elements in the national imaginary. Readers absorbed and
identiÔ¬Āed with the charged poetics of empire so that the social fantasies
embedded in Ô¬Āction and poetry became woven into their own sub-
jectivities and so into their everyday lives.
Thus far we have highlighted the ‚Ęordinariness‚Ä™ of empire ‚Ä“ how the
imperial nation became lived and part of what was simply ‚Ętaken-
for-granted‪ at home in Great Britain. Antoinette Burton‪s essay in this
volume, in contrast, shows how and in what sense empire was anything
but background or ordinary. Instead, she focuses on nineteenth-century

109 110
Ibid., 211. Ibid., 212. Emphasis in original.
Bob Crampsey, The Empire Exhibition of 1938: The Last Durbar (Edinburgh, 1988), 18, 20.
111
C AT H E R I N E H A L L A N D S O N YA R O S E
30
imperial politics where empire was visibly in the foreground. Her essay
highlights the yet untold or little examined political events and processes
that a new focus on how empire affected metropolitan life reveals. Among
other issues she takes note of the imperviousness of histories of left-liberal
politics to matters imperial, and discusses the beneÔ¬Āts of extending what
has become a transnational study of social reform and welfare state
development to include the colonies. Empire was not ordinary either to
women who participated in both pro-imperialist and anti-imperialist
movements, and through their activities brought imperial matters into
the heart of the metropole as Clare Midgley discusses in her essay.
Midgley suggests how an examination of women‪s imperial activism adds
signiÔ¬Ācant insight into the ways that gender shaped ideologies of class,
and argues that many upper- and middle-class women were fully aware of
how the domestic and imperial were intertwined. James Epstein‪s essay
takes a less often travelled historical route to explore how empire
unevenly inÔ¬‚ected British class relations, meanings and identities. As
other historians have suggested, imperial inÔ¬‚uence was arguably most
visible and signiÔ¬Ācant in fashioning elite power, but Epstein also reviews
the complex ways that the anti-slavery movement affected class politics.
He also suggests that perceptions of empire and class identities were
mutually constitutive, although not in uniform ways, for working-class
soldiers who served in the imperial army. Finally he explores how atti-
tudes towards the poor were shaped by imperial concerns and suggests the
possibility that the racial language of ‚ĘAnglo-Saxonism‚Ä™ may have pene-
trated metropolitan thinking in ways that cut across the class divide.
Importantly, we argue, the ‚Ętaken-for-grantedness‚Ä™ of empire enables the
mobilisation of imperial concerns in metropolitan debates about such
‚Ędomestic‚Ä™ issues as women‚Ä™s suffrage, as Keith McClelland and Sonya
Rose explore in their essay.

conclusion
The chapters in this book, then, explore the different ways that Britain‪s
status as an imperial power became a part of the lived lives of Britons.
And they trace some of the contributions of that imperial hegemony to
signiÔ¬Ācant historical processes. The importance of the Empire for the
British ‚Ęat home‚Ä™ did not depend on whether or not Britons were con-
sciously ‚Ęimperialist‚Ä™ or if they applauded or denounced imperialism.
Empire mattered to British metropolitan life and history in both very
ordinary and supremely signiÔ¬Ācant ways: it was simply part of life. This
Introduction: being at home with the Empire 31
was always recognised, as we argue in this volume, and contemporary
critics of empire, while frequently making powerful critiques of the
operation of imperial power, rarely challenged empire itself. In returning
to the question of the place of empire in the nineteenth and twentieth
centuries, in this period after the end of the British Empire but when neo-
colonialism and new forms of imperial power are all too evident in the
world, we hope to direct attention to the damaging effects and the
treacherous silences that follow from being ‚Ęat home‚Ä™ with empire.
chap ter t wo

At home with history: Macaulay and
the History of England
Catherine Hall


How has the relation between nation and empire been imagined by British
historians? What part has history played in the construction of a binary
divide between ‚Ęhere‚Ä™ and ‚Ęthere‚Ä™, ‚Ęhome‚Ä™ and ‚Ęaway‚Ä™? In what ways has the
discipline of history constituted metropole and colony as intimately linked,
or distinct and unconnected? These are the questions raised in this chapter,
which takes Thomas Babington Macaulay‪s History of England as an
exemplary case study to explore the split that was created between domestic
history (which became deÔ¬Āned as national history) and the history of
empire. Macaulay, I suggest, wrote a history of the nation (England) that
banished the Empire to the margins. Yet empire was critical to Macaulay‪s
own life experience and its presence essential to his narrative of the English
as an imperial race. For how could a race be imperial without an empire?
History was immensely popular in the mid-nineteenth century, a time of
self-conscious nation formation and of nationalist enthusiasm, and histor-
ians played a vital part in deÔ¬Āning this nation. Macaulay‚Ä™s narrative
of England was designed to give his readers a conÔ¬Ādence in themselves
and their future, for he told ‚Ęhow our country . . . rose . . . from a state of
ignominious vassalage . . . to the place of umpire among European powers‚Ä™.1
His ‚Ęisland story‚Ä™ profoundly inÔ¬‚uenced English common sense and his-
toriography. It was paradigmatic in sharply distinguishing between the
nation ‚Ä“ a place that could be at home with its history, and the Empire ‚Ä“ a
place for the peoples without history. One site for the construction of a ‚Ęwe‚Ä™
and a ‚Ęthem‚Ä™, those who were included in the modern world and those who
were consigned to the ‚Ęwaiting room of history‚Ä™, was history itself.2
The Ô¬Ārst two volumes of Macaulay‚Ä™s History of England were published
at the end of 1848, in the immediate aftermath of the sequence of

T. B. Macaulay, The History of England from the Accession of James 11 (1848‚Ä“61) (London, 1906), 3
1

vols., I, 9. All subsequent references are to this edition.
2
Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference
(Princeton, 2000), 8.

32
At home with history: Macaulay and the History of England 33
European revolutions, and the fears generated by the mobilisation of
Chartists in Britain. They were an immediate and spectacular success:
3,000 copies were sold in the Ô¬Ārst ten days, the next 3,000 almost
immediately, 13,000 copies in less than four months. There had been
nothing like it since the publication of Scott‪s Waverley. Macaulay was
more than delighted. ‚ĘI have aimed high‚Ä™, he wrote in his Journal on 4
December, ‚ĘI have tried to do something that may be remembered; I have
had the year 2000, and even the year 3000, often in my mind; I have
sacriÔ¬Āced nothing to temporary fashions of thought and style.‚Ä™3 This was a
triumph indeed and it conÔ¬Ārmed Macaulay‚Ä™s view of the inÔ¬‚uence he
could have as a historian. ‚ĘNapoleon‚Ä™, he had told his father Zachary
Macaulay many years before, had done no more than ‚Ęforce the often
reluctant service of a few thousand hands for ten or twelve years‚Ä™. Yet
Homer had ‚Ęthrough six and twenty centuries . . . inÔ¬‚uenced the feelings,
interested the sympathies, governed and Ô¬Āxed the standard of taste of vast
and enlightened empires‚Ä™.4 The chances of immortality were much
greater as a literary man than as a politician. Macaulay aimed high ‚Ä“ and
had reached the stars, an extraordinary feat for a historian.
So what story did Macaulay tell in his History? It was the story of the
creation of a great nation and an imperial race. And it was a story of
progress that enabled his readers to feel ‚Ęat home‚Ä™ with their society, for
dangers had been kept at bay and their place secured in the world. It was a
story full of drama and excitement, and it told of threats contained and
improvements effected, celebrating the present through an evocation of
the past. For Macaulay, the contemplation of the past was interesting and
delightful ‚Ęnot because it furnished a contrast to the present, but because
it had led to the present‚Ä™.5 He himself was at the heart of his narrative:
‚ĘI purpose to write the history of England‚Ä™ he opened in epic fashion. He
would recount the errors of the Stuarts, trace the causes of the revolution,
relate the new settlement of 1688 with its ‚Ęauspicious union of order and
freedom‚Ä™. He would tell how ‚Ęour country‚Ä™ emerged from ‚Ęignominious
vassalage‚Ä™ to become the greatest maritime, commercial and imperial
power ever to be seen. He would tell of national crimes and disasters, yet,
he maintained, ‚Ęthe general effect of this chequered narrative will be to
excite thankfulness in all religious minds, and hope in the breasts of all

3
G. O. Trevelyan, The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay (London, 1881), 517.
4
The Letters of Thomas Babington Macaulay, ed. Thomas Pinney, 6 vols. (Cambridge, 1974‚Ä“81), I
(1807‚Ä“18), 163.
5
Macaulay, ‚ĘHistory‚Ä™, in The Collected Works of Lord Macaulay, ed. Lady Trevelyan, 8 vols. (London,
1866), VI, 141. The point was made in relation to Livy.
C AT H E R I N E H A L L
34
patriots . . . the history of our country is eminently the history of phy-
sical, of moral, and of intellectual improvement‚Ä™.6
His History was really a history of Britain, since Scotland and Ireland were
included. Wales got little more than a brief mention. It was the history of
the Ô¬Ārst fully modern nation, the one that others would follow. England
was a providentially favoured country, by circumstances, by the spirit of its
peoples and institutions, and by its history. Drawing on a tradition of
eighteenth-century writing, Macaulay assumed that England in its con-
stitutional essentials ‚Ęwas qualiÔ¬Āed to be the tutor of a more distracted
world‚Ä™.7 At the heart of the narrative was the revolution of 1688 ‚Ä“ a revo-
lution which was essential in order to afÔ¬Ārm and secure already existing
liberties. England had become a nation in the thirteenth century and its
monarchy emerged as the best of the continental European monarchies. By
the seventeenth century, however, its constitution needed conÔ¬Ārmation
and preservative innovation. 1688 was a liberating moment ‚Ä“ James II was a
tyrant and was dethroned because of a growing spirit of liberty, indepen-
dence and conÔ¬Ādence. ‚ĘThe people‚Ä™ ‚Ä“ meaning the elite ‚Ä“ effected this.
And 1688 marked the way forward to the future ‚Ä“ with its limited mon-
archy, established rights of property and permanent army and navy. William
of Orange brought a new stability to England, despite his engagement with
continental wars. His reign brought with it a new order and balance, marked
by the harmony between crown and parliament, the development of parties
and ministerial government, new ways of organising government Ô¬Ānance
through the creation of the Bank of England, and an energetic free press.
At the same time the History told the story of an imperial race. In the
thirteenth century the old enmities of race were completely effaced.
Hostile elements melted down into ‚Ęone homogeneous mass‚Ä™ and an
‚Ęamalgamation‚Ä™ of races took place.8 The distinctions between Saxon,
Norman and aboriginal Briton disappeared and the great English people
was formed. National character emerged, the peculiarities of the English ‚Ä“
they were islanders with a free constitution, of English stock with English
feelings, English institutions, stout English hearts. They valued the com-
mon law, limitations on absolutism, the freedom of the press, the freedom
of speech, the making of an English Protestant empire. The conquest
of Ireland and the union with Scotland ‚Ä“ all of this was the history of
England. The great antagonists at the centre of the story were James II and

6
Macaulay, History, I, 9‚Ä“10.
7
J. W. Burrow, A Liberal Descent: Victorian Historians and the English Past (Cambridge, 1981), 35.
8
Macaulay, History, I, 20, 21.
At home with history: Macaulay and the History of England 35
Macaulay‪s hero, William of Orange. It was William who triumphed over
both France, with its absolutist king Louis XIV, and the insidious Spanish,
thus marking the borders between Protestant and Catholic nations. And
the Empire ‚Ä“ the savage Indians of the New World, the enslaved Africans
of the Caribbean, the fabled Moguls of India ‚Ä“ these peoples marked the
outer peripheries, the ghostly presences of the History, making possible the
delineation of the peculiarities of the English.
Macaulay‪s tale was lucid. His readers were encouraged to dispel doubt
and anxiety. There was no need to puzzle over unresolved mysteries or
dwell with complexities. Their historian could assure them that England
was simply the best place to be. If empire was a place experienced as
uncanny, as Ranajit Guha has argued, riven with uncertainty and difÔ¬Ā-
culty for the coloniser, the nation as Macaulay constructed it was a
homely place, a place where English people could belong.9 Macaulay
evoked a long-established linkage between home and nation. The double
meaning of domestic ‚Ä“ associated both with household and nation ‚Ä“ had
been in use since the sixteenth century. While his narrative had little to
say about homes in the sense of households, it relied on well-established
ideas of separate spheres, of the family as the bedrock of society, of men
engaged in war and politics and women bearing children and managing
homes. Such households provided the stable base that allowed nations to
be domestic, to be like home. England was all the more homely because
of the dangers expelled ‚Ä“ whether Irish ‚Ęhordes‚Ä™, Chartist ‚Ęmobs‚Ä™, con-
tinental Catholics, or colonised peoples. The homeliness was predicated
on the unhomely nature of the outside and the work of the History was to
keep those outsides at bay and secure the safety of the island home.
Macaulay‪s narrative offered a simple morality of good and evil, peace
of mind for the present and boundless hope for the future. His history
encouraged people to feel comfortable with their place in the world.
Readers could identify with the England that was pictured: an ordered
society with regulated forms of government, a settled population, culti-
vated Ô¬Āelds, towns, streets, churches, mills, schools and houses. While the
Empire expanded territorially and wars were fought in faraway South Asia
and New Zealand, while every other part of Europe had been the ‚Ętheatre
of bloody and devastating wars‚Ä™ and ‚Ęwhile revolutions have taken place
all around us‚Ä™, this nation had enjoyed peace and liberty.10 England was a

9
Ranajit Guha, ‚ĘNot at Home in Empire‚Ä™, Critical Inquiry, 23 (3) (1997), 482‚Ä“93.
10
Macaulay, History, I, 218. On the link between domesticity and imperial expansion see Amy
Kaplan, The Anarchy of Empire in the Making of U.S. Culture (Cambridge, MA, 2002).
C AT H E R I N E H A L L
36
place to want to be, unlike those places where savagery still potentially
ruled (the Empire) or which had not yet achieved equivalent stability and
prosperity (the Continent). Yet the safety was a fragile one, as the events
of 1848 made all too apparent, and the dangers that threatened could only
be kept at bay by constant vigilance. Macaulay‪s idealised picture of an
England that was coherent and safe depended on a series of exclusions,
excisions and silences. Macaulay‚Ä™s ‚Ęemplotment‚Ä™, to use Hayden White‚Ä™s
terminology, worked as much on the basis of what he left out as what he
put in.11
While many aspects of ‚Ęthe Empire at home‚Ä™ have been examined in
the past decade, as evidenced in this volume, so far little work has been
done to rethink the signiÔ¬Ācance of history writing in nineteenth- and
twentieth-century Britain from a postcolonial perspective.12 From the
establishment of history as an academic discipline in Britain it was
assumed that history was British domestic history. Imperial history
emerged as a sub-discipline in the late nineteenth century, understood as
separate from domestic history. The large body of work on British his-
toriography in both its amateur and its professional guises does little to
address this division or to explore the ways in which historians have
shaped ideas of the relation between nation and empire. A re-reading of
history might reveal some of the same patterns that the re-reading of the
literary or the visual canon has revealed. Are the canonic histories of
England ‚Ęraced‚Ä™, to use Toni Morrison‚Ä™s term?13 What part did history
writing play in the construction of British imperial identities? As Kathleen
Wilson has noted, ‚ĘBritons‚Ä™ own self-conceptualisation as ‚Ę‚Ęmodern‚Ä™‚Ä™
hinged on the emergent historical consciousness . . . that was produced
by contact and exchange with and narratives about a widening world and
Britain‪s place in it.‪14 History, in other words, as Nicholas Dirks has put
it, ‚Ęis itself a sign of the modern‚Ä™.15 Britons‚Ä™ special status in the world was
articulated in part through possession of their history, a narrative that
took them from the barbarism of their ancestors to the civilisation of the
present. The peoples without history had not yet achieved modernity.
Perhaps, therefore, it is time to address history writing and ask what kind
11
Hayden White, ‚ĘThe Historical Text as Literary Artifact‚Ä™, Clio, 3 (3) (1974), 277‚Ä“303.
12
Jane Rendall‚Ä™s work, including her essay in this volume, has demonstrated the signiÔ¬Ācance of
Scottish Enlightenment thinkers to the shaping of particular notions of ‚Ęcivilisation‚Ä™ for women
historians.
13
Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (London, 1993).
14
Kathleen Wilson, ‚ĘIntroduction: Histories, Empires, Modernities‚Ä™, in A New Imperial History:
Culture, Identity and Modernity in Britain and the Empire 1660‚Ä“1840 (Cambridge, 2004), 7.
15
Nicholas Dirks, ‚ĘHistory as a Sign of the Modern‚Ä™, Public Culture, 2 (1990), 25‚Ä“32.
At home with history: Macaulay and the History of England 37
of home was being imagined in histories of the nation and how those
outside national boundaries and those in the Empire were constructed?
Macaulay seems a good place to start since his History of England was
a resounding success from the moment of its publication. While scorned
by later generations of professional academics for being too popular and
literary, he has nevertheless featured continuously on university history
syllabuses and in the national imagination.16 The central concern of the
Whig historians, of whom Macaulay is seen as a prime example, was with
the constitution and its place at the centre of a progressive national
history.17 ‚ĘEmpire [was] not salient in Whig history.‚Ä™18 But new ways of
thinking about questions of race, nation and people may provide a lens
through which to read the ‚Ęisland story‚Ä™ with its constitutional spine and
story of progress rather differently. Once the ‚Ęunsettling of national
histories‪19 is a central way of organising historical work, the iconic texts
that have provided the bedrock of those national histories may begin to
look rather different.
Macaulay started work on his History in 1839 aged thirty-nine. He had
recently returned from three and a half years in India, as the very pow-
erful lay Member of the Governor-General‪s Council. He already had an
established literary and political reputation. The chapters that he had
been publishing since the mid-1820s in the Edinburgh Review had secured
a place for him as a successful writer. While in the House of Commons
between 1830 and 1832 he had established a position as a leading orator,
the most eloquent exponent of the Whig case for parliamentary reform.
As a reward for his parliamentary services he was made a Commissioner
of the Board of Control for India, and following his sterling work on
drafting and articulating the case for the new Charter Act for India in 1833
he received the appointment in India. India was banishment for him, a
place of exile from home and the England to which he was deeply
attached. It was a place of alarming racial difference and he refused to
engage with its culture. Furthermore, his time in India was shadowed by
16
A recent series of TV programmes on ‚ĘHistorical Genius‚Ä™ introduced by Simon Schama featured
three: Gibbon, Macaulay and Carlyle. Macaulay‪s History is still in print as a Penguin Classic.
17
There are debates as to what extent Macaulay was a Whig. See Joseph Hamburger, Macaulay and
the Whig Tradition (Chicago, 1976); William Thomas, The Quarrel of Macaulay and Croker:
Politics and History in the Age of Reform (Oxford, 2000).
18
Burrow, Liberal Descent, 233. However, it should be noted that there was a tradition of Whig
historiography about empire that included Coupland, Hancock and Mansergh. Wm. Roger Louis,
‚ĘIntroduction‚Ä™, in Robin W. Winks (ed.), The Oxford History of the British Empire, vol. V:
Historiography (Oxford, 1999), 7.
19
Durba Ghosh, ‚ĘDecoding the Nameless: Gender, Subjectivity and Historical Methodologies in
Reading the Archives of Colonial India‚Ä™, in Wilson (ed.), New Imperial History, 297‚Ä“316.
C AT H E R I N E H A L L
38
the traumatic emotional loss of his two beloved younger sisters, Margaret
and Hannah, who he had hoped would be his intimate companions for
life. Both chose to marry, a loss which was then compounded by the
untimely death of Margaret from scarlet fever. Experiencing a deep
loneliness and Ô¬Ānding that his chief consolation lay in books, he began to
think that a literary career would be more satisfying than a political one.
Having saved much of his substantial salary in Calcutta he was able on his
return to England in 1838 to live a life of independence: this facilitated his
decision to write the History.20
‚ĘI have at last begun my historical labours‚Ä™, he wrote to his friend
Napier, the editor of the Edinburgh Review, in 1841, ‚ĘEnglish history from
1688 to the French Revolution is even to educated people almost a terra
incognita. The materials for an amusing narrative are immense. I shall
not be satisÔ¬Āed unless I produce something which shall for a few days
supersede the last fashionable novel on the tables of young ladies.‪21
Initially his plan was to cover the period from 1688 to 1832: ‚Ębetween the
Revolution which brought the Crown into harmony with the Parliament,
and the Revolution which brought the Parliament into harmony with the
nation‚Ä™.22 Six volumes later (and the last was published posthumously in
1859) he had covered the period from 1685 to 1702. It soon became
apparent to him that he had embarked on a life‪s work and he hoped that
over twelve to Ô¬Āfteen years he might be able to ‚Ęproduce something which
I may not be afraid to exhibit side by side with the performances of the
old masters‚Ä™.23
Macaulay had been thinking about history writing since the 1820s. ‚ĘA
perfect historian‚Ä™, he wrote in 1828, ‚Ęmust possess an imagination sufÔ¬Ā-
ciently powerful to make his narrative affecting and picturesque‚Ä™ and
history should be ‚Ęa compound of poetry and philosophy‚Ä™. It had become
too anatomical and driven by theory rather than facts. There were ‚Ęgood
historical romances‚Ä™ and ‚Ęgood historical essays‚Ä™ but the two genres had
become separated. Historians should reconnect imagination and reason,
‚Ęmake the past present . . . bring the distant near‚Ä™. ‚ĘThese parts of the
duty which properly belong to the historian have been appropriated by
the historical novelist‚Ä™, he argued. Yet history was not Ô¬Āction, for the
historian aimed also to tell the truth, to make judgements, ‚Ęto trace the
connexions of causes and effects‚Ä™, and draw ‚Ęgeneral lessons of moral and
20
For biographical material on Macaulay see Trevelyan, Life and Letters; John Clive, Thomas
Babington Macaulay: The Shaping of the Historian (London, 1973).
21
Pinney (ed.), Letters, IV, 15. 22 Trevelyan, Life and Letters, 347.
23
Pinney (ed.), Letters, IV, 41.
At home with history: Macaulay and the History of England 39
political wisdom‚Ä™.24 Historians needed to learn from Scott and capture
once again the art of narration. But evidence must be sifted, generalising
done with care, theories always tested against facts rather than the other
way around. It was experience, not theory, that provided the key to
understanding the world. What could be seen, heard and felt, veriÔ¬Āed by
common sense. There was no mystery that could not be unravelled.
Historians needed to look beyond ‚Ęthe surface of affairs‚Ä™ and think of
what was going on underneath, the ‚Ęnoiseless revolutions‚Ä™ that trans-
formed a social world. ‚ĘThe perfect historian‚Ä™, he concluded,
is he in whose work the character and spirit of an age is exhibited in miniature.
He relates no fact, he attributes no expression to his character, which is not
authenticated by sufÔ¬Ācient testimony. But, by judicious selection, rejection and
arrangement, he gives to truth those attractions which have been usurped by
Ô¬Āction . . . He shows us the court, the camp, and the senate. But he shows us also
the nation.25
He was very critical of most contemporary historians and his chosen
points of reference were always the writers of Greece and Rome. By the
1840s his especial love was Thucydides, a master of the history of men,
of war and of politics.26 While the ‚Ęconjectural‚Ä™ and ‚Ęphilosophical‚Ä™
Enlightenment historians were concerned to deal with an ambitious set of
questions about the social, the economic, the political and the cultural,
Macaulay‪s scope was much narrower. Despite his stated commitment to
writing the history of the whole nation, his major focus was political ‚Ä“ a
repudiation, P. R. Ghosh argues, of the Enlightenment legacy in favour of
‚Ęa thoroughgoing Thucyididean classicism‚Ä™.27 In his essays written during
the 1830s and early 40s Macaulay tested out and developed many of his
ideas about the writing of history. Most of these essays were focused
around great men, either literary or historical, for the man, he believed,
could give access to an historical moment. From his childhood he had
been fascinated by Caesar, Napoleon, Wellington, ‚Ęthe rapacious Clive,
the imperious Hastings, the lavish Wellesley‚Ä™. ReÔ¬‚ections on the delights
of nature were not for him: ‚ĘMen and manners, the camp, the court, the

24
Macaulay, ‚ĘHistory‚Ä™, 122‚Ä“3; ‚ĘHallam‚Ä™s Constitutional History‚Ä™, in Literary and Historical Essays
Contributed to the Edinburgh Review (Oxford, 1913), 1.
25
Macaulay, ‚ĘHistory‚Ä™, 157.
26
On the differences between Herodotus and Thucydides see Ann Curthoys and John Docker,
Is History Fiction? (Sydney, 2005), chs. 1 and 2.
27
P. R. Ghosh, ‚ĘMacaulay and the Heritage of the Enlightenment‚Ä™, English Historical Review, 112
(446) (April 1997), 358‚Ä“95. Ghosh argues that the form of the History severely constrained
Macaulay.
C AT H E R I N E H A L L
40
city, and the senate,‚Ä™ he declared aged Ô¬Āfteen, ‚Ęare the subjects which
interest and enchant my vulgar taste.‪28 Issues of war and politics were the
things worth writing about ‚Ä“ and it was men who engaged in them. But
while the classical historical vision was that of a universal human nature,
Macaulay was emphatically an Englishman, writing a national history for
the English people.29 His father, who was descended from two genera-
tions of Presbyterian ministers, had left Scotland for Jamaica at sixteen
and after a stint in Sierra Leone had lived the rest of his life in England.30
Macaulay, born in Leicestershire on Saint Crispin‪s Day, was thoroughly
assimilated into English culture ‚Ä“ the very model he was to recommend
to others.
Macaulay‪s historical writing was richly imaginative and had many of the
qualities of Ô¬Āction, that most favoured genre for the Victorians.31 It took
character as central to meaning, it painted vivid scenes and told stories,
it moved from one plot to another, it told great set-piece dramas ‚Ä“ from
Monmouth‪s rebellion and the Bloody Assizes to the siege of Londonderry
and the massacre of Glencoe. It had strong elements of melodrama with a
constant play of good and evil and the promise that justice would triumph.
At the same time the detail piled upon detail, the careful description of
places and people, the use of footnotes to indicate sources all contributed to
the air of historical authenticity and veriÔ¬Āed the truth of the tales being
told. And history, after all, was ‚Ęstranger than Ô¬Āction‚Ä™.32 But history was also
intimately linked to politics and morality. It was history that demonstrated
the necessity of reform in time, that peculiarly English pattern that so
marked her difference from France. England‪s revolutions were calm and
managed interventions; France‪s bloody and violent. Macaulay would
guide his readers through the entangled thickets of his narrative ‚Ä“ pointing
the morals, distinguishing between responsible and irresponsible actions,
drawing lessons for the present.
Macaulay‪s imagined nation was homogeneous and the successful
growth of nationhood was associated with reconciliation and amalgama-
tion. As the nation grew, new groups were absorbed into it. This had a
political manifestation ‚Ä“ as with Magna Carta, 1688 and 1832, all moments
when the nation was strengthened by the inclusion of new constituencies,

28
Pinney (ed.), Letters, I, 71.
29
On the shift from universal to national histories see A. Dwight Culler, The Victorian Mirror of
History (New Haven, 1985), 1‚Ä“19.
30
Viscountess Knutsford, Life and Letters of Zachary Macaulay (London, 1900).
31
George Levine, The Boundaries of Fiction: Carlyle, Macaulay, Newman (Princeton, 1968), 6.
32
Macaulay History, I, 564.
At home with history: Macaulay and the History of England 41
whether the barons, the Ô¬Ānancial and commercial elite or middle-class
men. Then there was the Union with Scotland (Ireland was a more difÔ¬Ācult
story). Other sectors of the society could not hope for political citizenship ‚Ä“
women were excluded on account of their sex, ‚Ęthe mob‚Ä™ because they were
not ready to exercise political responsibility. Brought up in the Tory and
evangelical heartlands of Clapham, Macaulay shared a fear of revolution in
the French style, a fear conÔ¬Ārmed by the weight of Burke‚Ä™s inÔ¬‚uence upon
him and the tempestuous days of 1831/2 and 1848 when revolution seemed
a real possibility. Both in his account of the seventeenth century and in his
speeches on the Reform Act and on Chartism his fear of an undisciplined
working class, of highwaymen, marauders, prostitutes and criminals, was
tangible. These people were the enemy within, to be kept at bay.33 Uni-
versal male suffrage was not a feasible project for the present or the
immediate future.
It was men of property who constituted the rulers of the nation.
Threaded through the volumes of the History are portraits of different
kinds of men, their vices and virtues. His characterisations were vivid but
static. There was no sense of an identity that developed or shifted over
time. He greatly admired Addison‚Ä™s capacity to ‚Ęcall human beings into
existence and make them exhibit themselves‚Ä™ and he drew on the tradition
of English character writing, seeing men in their essentials.34 As Bagehot
remarked, no one described so well the spectacle of a character, but there
was ‚Ęno passionate self-questioning, no indomitable fears, no asking
perplexities‚Ä™.35 William represented the ideal of independent masculinity,
for an ordered public life rooted in the rational control of feelings (the
special province of men) was critical to Macaulay‪s values. By the time he
entered the narrative, a variety of characters had already crossed the stage:
Charles I, constantly violating royal authority, and with ‚Ęcriminal con-
tempt of public feeling‚Ä™; Strafford, who exercised ‚Ęmilitary despotism‚Ä™ in
Ireland; Cromwell, with his ruthless exercise of power, but whose iron
rule made Ireland prosperous and who made England great again, ‚Ęthe
most formidable power in the world‚Ä™.36 Then came the Restoration and
the reaction against the severity of the Puritans. Macaulay judged Charles
II harshly ‚Ä“ he was addicted to indulgence, lacking principles, frivolous
33
James Vernon, ‚ĘNarrating the Constitution: The Discourse of ‚Ęthe Real‚Ä™ and the Fantasies of
Nineteenth Century Constitutional History‚Ä™, in his Re-reading the Constitution: New Narratives in
the Political History of England‪s Long Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 1996).
34
Macaulay, Essays, 642‚Ä“3; Jane Millgate, Macaulay (London, 1973).
35
Walter Bagehot, ‚ĘMr Macaulay‚Ä™, in The Collected Works of Walter Bagehot, ed. Norman
St John-Stevas, 8 vols. (London, 1965), I, 411.
36
Macaulay, History, I, 79, 74, 112.
C AT H E R I N E H A L L
42
and shallow: ‚Ęhonour and shame were scarcely more to him than light and
darkness to the blind‚Ä™.37 He had no serious ambitions, hated business and
only wanted power in order to satisfy his material wants. His brother
James, on the other hand, was diligent, methodical, narrow, obstinate and
unforgiving: the opposite of his easy-going sibling, the stuff of whom
tyrants were made.
James was proud, small-minded and obstinate. Given authority over
Scotland James‚Ä™s administration was ‚Ęmarked by odious laws, by bar-
barous punishments, and by judgements to the iniquity of which even
that age furnished no parallel‚Ä™.38 Not only was he personally cruel, but he
enjoyed the pain of others under torture. Once king he permitted the
most tyrannical acts from his subordinates: most notably Judge Jeffreys
and Tyrconnel. His ‚Ęacts of Turkish tyranny‚Ä™ eventually convinced the
entire nation, in Macaulay‚Ä™s narrative, that ‚Ęthe estate of a Protestant
English freeholder under a Roman Catholic King must be as insecure as
that of a Greek under Moslem dominion‚Ä™.39 He took advice from Ô¬‚at-
terers and inferiors, his understanding was ‚Ędull and feeble‚Ä™, he could be
‚Ęthe Ô¬Āercest and most reckless of partisans‚Ä™, and possessed a ‚Ęsluggish and
ignoble nature‚Ä™.40 He had no capacity to learn from experience, wanted to
be feared and respected both at home and abroad, yet made himself a
slave of France. He had no skills of statesmanship and drove away even
his most ardent supporters by his actions. Faced with danger he was a
coward, sinking to the dismal level of throwing the Great Seal into the
Thames before escaping for France. His ‚Ęwomanish tremors and childish
fancies‚Ä™, his ‚Ępusillanimous anxiety about his personal safety‚Ä™ and his
abject superstitions prevented him from exercising even the limited
intelligence he had.41 He lacked the qualities of a manly Englishman: he
was enslaved by his dependence and effeminate in his actions.
William on the other hand, was ‚Ędestined . . . to save the United
Provinces from slavery, to curb the power of France, and to establish the
English constitution on a lasting foundation‚Ä™.42 Having lost both his
mother and his father he could not enjoy a childhood and was never
young, with a ‚Ępensive, severe and solemn aspect‚Ä™.43 Endowed ‚Ęby nature‚Ä™
with the qualities of a great ruler, he was always reserved and stoical in
public, seeming cold but with strong passions underneath. While a sta-
tesman Ô¬Ārst and foremost, he was capable of great courage in the face of
adversity in battle. His frail body was ruled with an iron will; he found

37
Ibid., I, 135. 38 Ibid., I, 211. 39 Ibid., I, 722. 40 Ibid., II, 156; I, 611; II, 697.
41
Ibid., II, 156, 697. 42 Ibid., I, 171. 43 Ibid., I, 630.
At home with history: Macaulay and the History of England 43
‚Ęeven the most hardy Ô¬Āeld sports of England effeminate‚Ä™; his was a
strength of mind not body, his passions contained in the interests of his
aim: that ‚Ęthe great community of nations‚Ä™ should not be threatened with
subjugation by France.44 Hard working and single minded, he would
never ‚Ęreign in our hearts‚Ä™, but Macaulay hailed him as ‚Ęthe deliverer‚Ä™,
stressed his grief at his wife‚Ä™s death rather than dwelling on his inÔ¬Ādelities
and passed over such aberrations as the massacre of Glencoe with mild
criticism for his neglect of Scottish affairs.45 William had rescued England
from the tyranny of James and the danger of subjection to France: he had
secured English freedom. While never becoming an Englishman he had
made the new settlement of church, crown and parliament possible.
Macaulay had occasionally played with the idea that relations between
the sexes were historically signiÔ¬Ācant. In his 1838 essay on Sir William
Temple he defended the use of Dorothy Osborne‪s letters to Temple
during their seven-year courtship as an important source. To us, surely,
he wrote, ‚Ęit is as useful to know how the young ladies of England
employed themselves . . . how far their minds were cultivated‚Ä™, as it was
to know about continental war and peace. ‚ĘThe mutual relations of the
two sexes‚Ä™, he continued, ‚Ęseem to us to be at least as important as the
mutual relations of any two governments in the world‚Ä™. Love letters could
throw much light on the relations between the sexes while ‚Ęit is perfectly
possible, as all who have made any historical researches can attest, to read
bale after bale of despatches and protocols, without catching one glimpse
of light about the relations of governments‚Ä™.46 Unfortunately this insight
had little impact on the history he wrote. Despite protestations about the
signiÔ¬Ācance of social history, the vast majority of his writing was con-
cerned with the doings of public men. Challenged by a reader after the
publication of the History that ‚Ęas the father of a family‚Ä™ he was unhappy
about passages referring to immorality, Macaulay responded: ‚ĘI cannot
admit that a book like mine is to be regarded as written for female
boarding schools. I open a school for men: I teach the causes of national
prosperity and decay.‪47
But Macaulay‚Ä™s imagined readership was not only men ‚Ä“ indeed, he
regularly read draft chapters to his sister Hannah, who had provided an
audience for him since her adolescence. Women were part of the ima-
gined community of the reading nation, but as subjects not political
citizens. Their role was to succour and support men, run households, care

44
Ibid., I, 635, 649. 45 Ibid., III, 113, 74. 46
Macaulay, ‚ĘSir William Temple‚Ä™, in Essays, 427.
47
Pinney (ed.), Letters, V, 41‚Ä“2.
C AT H E R I N E H A L L
44
for children. Accustomed from his earliest years to a father who was
primarily preoccupied with the public world and a mother who loved
home, this was the pattern he assumed. He had little time for women
whom he saw as too strong-minded or for women intellectuals. He was
critical when women historians tried to write about a world they could
not properly know. It pained him, he told Napier on one occasion, to
criticise a female author: ‚Ęit goes much against my feelings to censure any
woman even with the greatest leniency‚Ä™.48 ‚ĘIn a country which boasts of
many female writers‚Ä™, however, ‚Ęinaccurate history‚Ä™ and ‚Ęunsound philo-
sophy‚Ä™ should not pass uncensored, though criticisms should be made
with extra courtesy. Not surprisingly in his view, a woman could not be
expected to grasp classical scholarship in the way that men could: they
were simply not trained for it.49 Macaulay had learned from his years on
the Edinburgh Review to demarcate the appropriate arenas for women‪s
writing. The Edinburgh Reviewers, as Judith Newton argues, claimed a
masculine authority based on new forms of knowledge and expertise. This
required the drawing of boundaries with both women and other kinds
of men.50 The notion of a ‚Ędispassionate and disembodied authority‚Ä™
meant that women could only have limited authority as interpreters of
history or social relations. Harriet Martineau or Mrs Marcet could be
praised by the Reviewers for preaching practical truths, but for Macaulay
the only women‪s writing that he really cared for was the novel, more
speciÔ¬Ācally the controlled worlds of Jane Austen and Maria Edgeworth.
In the six volumes of the History only a handful of women had cameo
roles. Most prominent was Mary, the daughter of James II and wife of
William of Orange. For Macaulay, she was the perfect wife, a young and
blooming queen with a very proper sense of her husband‪s position and
dignity. In the early days of their marriage, a union made for political
reasons, Mary had to put up with William‚Ä™s adultery. She ‚Ębore her
injuries with a meekness and a patience‚Ä™ which gradually ‚Ęobtained
William‪s esteem and gratitude‪. It was she who was the heir to the
English crown and she eventually realised that her husband could not
stomach being treated only as her consort. She reassured him as to her
subordination. While the laws of England might make her a Queen, the
laws of God ordered her to obey her husband. ‚ĘI now promise you‚Ä™,
Macaulay has her say, ‚Ęthat you shall always bear rule: and, in return, I ask

48
Ibid., IV, 128. 49 Macaulay, ‚ĘThe Life and Writings of Addison‚Ä™, in Essays, 601, 606.
50
Judith Newton, ‚ĘSex and Political Economy in the Edinburgh Review‚Ä™, in Starting Over: Feminism
and the Politics of Cultural Critique (Ann Arbor, 1994).
At home with history: Macaulay and the History of England 45
only this, that, as I shall enjoin the precept which enjoins wives to obey
their husbands, you will observe that which enjoins husbands to love their
wives.‪51 When in 1694 Mary learned that she had smallpox she heard of the
danger with ‚Ętrue greatness of soul‚Ä™ and sent away all those servants, even
the most menial, who had not had it. When told that she was dying she
‚Ęsubmitted herself to the will of God . . . with that gentle womanly courage
which so often puts our bravery to shame‚Ä™.52 In contrast, Madame de
Maintenon, the French and Catholic wife of Louis XIV, exerted only a bad
inÔ¬‚uence on her husband. A pious believer, she sympathised deeply with
the Stuart cause and was a friend to the displaced Queen. ‚ĘAn artful
woman‚Ä™, she encouraged Louis after the death of James II to recognise the
Pretender and thus ensure that war and conÔ¬‚ict would continue.53
Other women were given bit parts as martyrs to the Protestant cause.
Alice Lisle, for example, the widow of John who had sat in the Long
Parliament, described as highly esteemed even by Tories, and related to
respectable and noble families. It was widely known that she had wept at
the execution of Charles I and regretted the violent acts her husband had
been engaged in. When two rebels from the Monmouth rebellion sought
refuge in her house, ‚Ęthe same womanly kindness, which had led her to
befriend the Royalists in their time of trouble, would not suffer her to
refuse a meal to the wretched men who had intreated [sic] her to protect
them‚Ä™.54 The prisoners were taken and the terrible Judge Jeffreys demanded
her death by burning. A wise ruler, commented Macaulay, would have
dealt with this crime generously. There was a tradition in England and ‚Ęto
women especially has been granted, by a kind of tacit prescription, the right
of indulging, in the midst of havoc and vengeance, that compassion which
is the most endearing of all their charms‚Ä™.55
Macaulay‪s nation, in other words, was imagined as hierarchically con-
stituted ‚Ä“ with propertied men exercising responsible government while
women and the poor occupied their respective spheres. The ‚Ęordinary men‚Ä™
whom he had once argued should be part of a proper history had only
walk-on parts ‚Ä“ as soldiers, ploughmen or shepherds. The ‚Ęminers of
Northumbrian coalpits‚Ä™, or ‚Ęthe artisans toiling at the looms of Norwich
and the anvils of Birmingham‚Ä™ felt changes but did not understand them.56
Only their betters could interpret the world to them. But the growth and
expanding potential of Macaulay‪s nation was also associated with the
amalgamation of races and peoples ‚Ä“ the creation of a homogeneous

51
Macaulay, History, I, 644. 52 Ibid., III, 320, 321. 53
Ibid., III, 732‚Ä“3.
54 55 56
Ibid., I, 487. Ibid., I, 487‚Ä“8. Ibid., III, 528.
C AT H E R I N E H A L L
46
Englishness. This had begun in the thirteenth century but had taken a
major step forward with the successful assimilation of the Scots. The
accession of James I to the English throne brought Scotland into ‚Ęthe same
empire with England‚Ä™.57 The population of Scotland, apart from the Celtic
tribes in the Hebrides, Macaulay argued, was ‚Ęof the same blood with the
population of England‚Ä™. ‚ĘIn perseverance, in self-command, in forethought,
in all the virtues which conduce to success in life, the Scots have never been
surpassed.‪58 For a century Scotland was treated in many respects as a
subject province, and while the events of 1688 were interpreted as a pre-
serving and conserving revolution for England, it was more destructive in
the north, for the level of maladministration had been very high. After the
Restoration it had become clear that ‚Ęthere was only one way in which
Scotland could obtain a share of the commercial prosperity which England
at that time enjoyed. The Scotch must become one people with the
English.‚Ä™ The merchants were keen to enjoy the beneÔ¬Āts of larger con-
nections, particularly with the West India trade; the politicians wanted the
theatre of the court and Westminster, but the religious question was dif-
Ô¬Ācult. ‚ĘThe union accomplished in 1707‚Ä™, Macaulay argued, ‚Ęhas indeed
been a great blessing both to England and to Scotland‚Ä™, though ‚Ęin con-
stituting one state, it left two Churches‚Ä™. This he believed, however, had
made possible the amalgamation of the nation and the ‚Ęmarvellous
improvements‚Ä™ which had changed the face of Scotland. If the Anglican
Church had been imposed the story might have been the same as in
Ireland. ‚ĘPlains now rich with harvests would have remained barren moors.
Waterfalls which now turn the wheels of immense factories would have
resounded in a wilderness. New Lanark would still have been a sheepwalk
and Greenock a Ô¬Āshing hamlet.‚Ä™59
The disenchantment with the Stuarts in 1689 ensured the proclamation
of William and Mary. War, however, then broke out in the Highlands, a
region unknown in the South, for there was at that time no interest in
‚Ęthe Highland race‚Ä™. It took Sir Walter Scott to effect that. The English
in the seventeenth century, Macaulay instructed his readers, were
‚Ęabundantly inquisitive about the manners of rude nations separated from
our island by great continents and oceans‚Ä™. They were fascinated by ‚Ęthe
laws, the superstitions, the cabins, the repasts, the dresses, the marriages,
the funerals of Laplanders and Hottentots, Mohawks and Malays . . . the
usages of the black men of Africa and of the red men of America‚Ä™. ‚ĘThe

57
Ibid., I, 57‚Ä“8. 58 He later associated the Celts with the Highlands. Ibid., III, 56‚Ä“7.
59
Ibid., II, 408‚Ä“10.
At home with history: Macaulay and the History of England 47
only barbarian about whom there was no wish to have any information
was the Highlander‚Ä™: yet these Highlanders had been as exotic as any
Hottentot.60 He utilised both the notion of societies progressing through
distinct stages and the idea that societies coexisting in time could
represent ‚Ęearlier‚Ä™ or ‚Ęlater‚Ä™ stages respectively to paint a picture of the
Highlanders as primitive people, living in archaic time, unwilling to
adapt to the modern.61 Since the Catholic Highlands supported the
Stuarts, war broke out. The clan system, in Macaulay‪s account, was
‚Ęwidely different from that which is established in peaceful and pros-
perous societies‚Ä™. Its acceptance of robbery, its dislike of steady industry,
its expectation that the weaker sex would do the heaviest manual labour,
all provided markers of its barbarian characteristics. Plundering the land
of others was more acceptable than farming and a mixture of Popery and
paganism served as religion. Furniture, food and clothing were primitive,
yet there was something ‚Ęin the character and manners of this rude people
which might well excite admiration and a good hope‚Ä™.62 They had
courage and an intense attachment to the patriarch and the tribe, heroic
notions of hospitality, patrician virtues and vices, the arts of rhetoric and
poetry. Their values were reminiscent of those heroic sixteenth-century
Englishmen, Raleigh and Drake. Lochiel, one of the clan leaders, was
painted as the Ulysses of the Highlands (a tribute indeed to link him to
the Greeks). He was a generous master, a trusty ally, a terrible enemy, a
great warrior and hunter. There was no reason to believe that the Celts
suffered from ‚Ęa natural inferiority‚Ä™. With efÔ¬Ācient policing, the Protes-
tant religion and the English language they could expect ‚Ęan immense
accession of strength‚Ä™.63 Yet the clans were doomed to defeat in 1689 for
they were beset with petty squabbles and could not form a nation. There
was no cooperation, only ‚Ęa congress of petty kings‚Ä™. Eventually the
English government learned that ‚Ęthe weapons by which the Celtic clans
could be most easily subdued were the pickaxe and the spade‚Ä™. ‚ĘThe
Anglosaxon [sic] and the Celt have been reconciled in Scotland,‚Ä™ enthused
Macaulay, and ‚Ęin Scotland all the great actions of both races are thrown
into a common stock, and are considered as making up the glory which
belongs to the whole country‚Ä™.64
But this was not the case in Ireland, reÔ¬‚ected Macaulay, writing at the
end of the 1840s, in the wake of the Famine. There ‚Ęthe feud remains
unhealed‚Ä™ and racial and religious divisions Ô¬‚ourished.65 This made the

60 61 62
Ibid., II, 444. Burrow, Liberal Descent, esp. 37. Macaulay, History, II, 445.
63 64 65
Ibid., II, 448‚Ä“9. Ibid., II, 483, 493. Ibid., II, 494.
C AT H E R I N E H A L L
48
task of the historian ‚Ępeculiarly difÔ¬Ācult and delicate‚Ä™.66 For Macaulay the
history of the two countries was ‚Ęa history dark with crime and sorrow,
yet full of interest and instruction‪.67 He applauded Cromwell‪s brutal
attempt to make Ireland English ‚Ä“ for this, he believed, was the only
possible resolution of ‚Ęthe Irish problem‚Ä™. If civilisation had taken root
then how different the history would have been. But Ireland was ‚Ęcursed
by the domination of race over race and of religion over religion‚Ä™. It
‚Ęremained indeed a member of the empire, but a withered and distorted
member, adding no strength to the body politic, and reproachfully
pointed at by all who feared or envied the greatness of England‚Ä™.68 In
the Ireland of the seventeenth century there were two populations ‚Ä“ the
English settlers, knowledgeable, energetic and persevering, and the
aboriginal peasantry, living in an almost savage state. ‚ĘThey never worked
till they felt the sting of hunger. They were content with accommodation
inferior to that which, in happier countries, was provided for domestic
cattle.‚Ä™ The Catholic was persecuted for being an Irishman: ‚Ęthe same
lines of demarcation which separated religions separated races, and he
was of the conquered, the subjugated, the degraded race‚Ä™.69 These two
populations were morally and politically sundered, living at widely dif-
ferent levels of civilisation. ‚ĘThere could not be equality between men
who lived in houses and men who lived in sties, between men who were
fed on bread, and men who were fed on potatoes.‚Ä™70 Freemen and ‚Ęthe
aboriginal Irish‚Ä™ were different branches of ‚Ęthe great human family‚Ä™.71
There was the dominion of wealth over poverty, knowledge over ignor-
ance, and civilisation over barbarism.
James II attempted to reverse this inequality and make the Catholics
dominant, with the aid of the tyrannical Tyrconnel. This mistake was
compounded by his use of Irish troops in England when he grasped the
danger to his crown. ‚ĘOf all foreigners‚Ä™, Macaulay claimed, as he depicted
the difference between the English and the Irish in racial terms,
they were the most hated and despised . . . they were our vanquished, enslaved
and despoiled enemies . . . The blood of the whole nation boiled at the
thought . . . To be conquered by Frenchmen or by Spaniards would have
seemed comparatively a tolerable fate . . . But to be subjugated by an inferior
caste was a degradation beyond all other degradation. The English felt as the
white inhabitants of Charleston and New Orleans would feel if those towns were
occupied by negro garrisons.72

66 67 68 69 70
Ibid., I, 604. Ibid., II, 312. Ibid., I, 10. Ibid., I, 605‚Ä“6. Ibid., I, 611.
71 72
Ibid., II, 33. Ibid., II, 34.
At home with history: Macaulay and the History of England 49
Having Ô¬‚ed from England, James, with his ally Louis, made Ireland the
centre of his struggle to survive. The end was predictable. Protestants of
Anglo-Saxon blood, English and Scots, united to defeat the Irish. In a
dramatic reconstruction of the siege of Londonderry, Macaulay depicted
‚Ęthe imperial race turned desperately to bay‚Ä™.73 Like Spartans the Pro-
testants of Ulster had developed peculiar qualities that might have
remained dormant in the mother country. They had kept in subjection ‚Ęa
numerous and hostile population‚Ä™ and had cultivated ‚Ęthe vices and vir-
tues of masters, as opposed to the vices and virtues of slaves‚Ä™. They had
‚Ęall of the noblest virtues of a sovereign caste‚Ä™, something of the tyrant as
well as the hero.74 The contest that ensued, the ‚Ęmost memorable siege in
British history‚Ä™, was ‚Ębetween nations‚Ä™ and it was inevitable that victory
would be ‚Ęwith the nation that though inferior in numbers was superior
in civilisation, in capacity for self-government, and in stubbornness of
resolution‚Ä™.75 Once completely defeated in the battles that followed, the
spirit of this ‚Ęunhappy nation‚Ä™ was cowed for generations. ‚ĘA rising of the
Irishry against the English was no more to be apprehended than a rising
of the women and children against the men.‚Ä™ Macaulay could only wish
that one day all those who inhabited the British isles would be ‚Ęindis-
solubly blended into one people‚Ä™.76 His narrative was structured through
the struggle to bring Scotland and Ireland safely into home ground. They
should be part of the same body politic and his desire for homogenisation
was powerful. While it was possible for the Scottish lowlands to be
successfully assimilated, with their ‚Ębarren moors‚Ä™ turned into ‚Ęrich plains‚Ä™
and waterfalls trained to turn the wheels of ‚Ęimmense factories‚Ä™, the
landscapes of the Highlands and of Ireland remained resolutely unho-
mely: gloomy, swampy, boggy and undomesticated ‚Ä“ places for rude and
barbaric Celts. Here the languages of race, of religion and of civilisation
were entangled, disrupting Macaulay‪s vision of one people on the
grounds of both cultural and racial difference.
Being at home in the nation was supposed to mean being one people,
naturally ordered by the hierarchies of gender and of property. If the
peripheries were so difÔ¬Ācult to deal with, what then of the Empire?
Despite Macaulay‪s own years in India and his father‪s lifelong pre-
occupation with matters imperial, the Empire was banished to the
margins of his volumes. This was a history of an imperial nation that
made England its centre and placed the colonies on the very outer limits,
his own experience of India as profoundly alienating ensuring the
73 74 75 76
Ibid., II, 338. Ibid., II, 361‚Ä“2. Ibid., II, 395. Ibid., II, 853‚Ä“6.
C AT H E R I N E H A L L
50
impossibility of imagining it as belonging with the white nation. Colonies
were there for metropolitan purposes: to make Englishmen rich. Despite
the development of the Royal Africa Company under Charles II and
James II, there was no discussion of the slave trade or plantation slavery,
the subjects that had occupied most of Zachary Macaulay‪s waking hours.
The Caribbean featured in one paragraph ‚Ä“ on the terrible earthquake in
Port Royal, Jamaica. ‚ĘThe fairest and wealthiest city which the English
had yet built in the New World, renowned for its quays, for its ware-
houses, and for its stately streets, which were said to rival Cheapside, was
turned into a mass of ruins,‚Ä™ wrote Macaulay. Here the focus was on the
city, built by Englishmen and brought into the domestic by comparison
with Cheapside. The markets where slaves were sold as commodities, the
wharves where the slavers docked, the Africans who peopled the island ‚Ä“
none of these were in his line of vision. It was the impact on home that
preoccupied him, the effect of the disaster on ‚Ęthe great mercantile houses
of London and Bristol‚Ä™.77
The East India Company Ô¬Āgured in the same way: its history relevant
to the growth and prosperity of the city and the nation. From its Ô¬Ārst
introduction into the narrative, India was signalled to the reader as the
land that was to be entirely subjected to the East India Company, which
would ‚Ęone day rule all India from the ocean to the everlasting snow‚Ä™.78
Englishmen at the time of Queen Elizabeth, however, when the Company
was Ô¬Ārst formed, had no thought of this future. They were enraptured by
the tales of this fabled land with its bazaars, its silks and precious stones,
its treasuries and palaces. There had been nothing to suggest that the great
Mogul emperors would collapse in the face of modern commercial and
mercantile power. Yet the Company laid the foundations for the sub-
sequent conquest (a story that Macaulay had already told in his celebrated
essays on Clive and Hastings).79 In the History his emphasis was on the
struggles in the metropole for control of the trade between powerful City
merchants. Empire was only signiÔ¬Ācant as it was enacted in London ‚Ä“ in
the over-mighty conduct of Sir Josiah Child, or the dreams of Montague,
when Chancellor of the Exchequer, that India House and the Bank of
England could together sustain the political mastery of the Whigs. While
the ploughmen and artisans of England were at least summoned up to
provide an occasional chorus, the ghostly presence of the natives of India

77
Ibid., III, 140. 78 Ibid., III, 17.
79
Unfortunately there is no space to discuss these essays in this chapter. This essay is part of a larger
work in progress.
At home with history: Macaulay and the History of England 51
was barely suggested: peopling the armies, building the palaces, tending the
silkworms and looms, bearing the children who would labour.
It was the disastrous attempt to colonise Darien that provided
Macaulay with an opportunity for a dramatic set piece, contrasting a
failed Scottish enterprise with the greater success of their more careful
neighbours. The story, he opined, was ‚Ęan exciting one‚Ä™ and had ‚Ęgen-
erally been told by writers whose judgements had been perverted by
strong national partiality‚Ä™.80 He, of course, was above this. The ingenious
speculator William Paterson, one of the brains behind the Bank of
England, disappointed by his lack of recognition in England (probably, as
Macaulay notes, in part because he was a Scot), returned to Scotland with
a scheme for a new colony. Paterson was joined by Fletcher of Saltoun, a
man whose ‚Ęheart was ulcerated by the poverty, the feebleness, the
political insigniÔ¬Ācance of Scotland‚Ä™ and enraged by ‚Ęthe indignities which
she had suffered at the hand of her powerful and opulent neighbour‚Ä™.
Together they proposed a glorious future for Scotland, as the new Tyre, or
Venice or Amsterdam. ‚ĘWas there any reason to believe that nature had
bestowed on the Phoenician, or the Venetian, or on the Hollander, a larger
measure of activity, of ingenuity, of forethought, of self command, than on
the citizen of Edinburgh or Glasgow?‚Ä™ they asked.81 The Scots had never
been surpassed in commercial life ‚Ä“ why should they not command an
empire? Paterson proposed to colonise Darien, on the isthmus between
North and South America. It would provide the key to a new trading
universe, the link between east and west of which Columbus had dreamed.
He had seen the place and it was a paradise. Scotland was seized as if by a
mania, Paterson became an idol, appearing in public looking ‚Ęlike Atlas
conscious that a world was on his shoulders‚Ä™.82 All rushed to subscribe to
the Company, formed in 1695 without thought for the Spanish (who had
already claimed territorial rights). ‚ĘThe Scotch are a people eminently
intelligent, wary, resolute and self possessed,‚Ä™ wrote Macaulay, but they are
also ‚Ępeculiarly liable to dangerous Ô¬Āts of passion and delusions of the
imagination‚Ä™. Indeed, ‚Ęthe whole kingdom had gone mad‚Ä™.83 The English,
anxious that their own trading companies might suffer, and that they might
be drawn into a war not of their own making, were deeply hostile to the
scheme. But this only increased the determination of the proud Scots.
A Ô¬Ārst Ô¬‚eet sailed in 1698, their stores full of periwigs, bales of Scottish
wool that could never be worn in the tropics, and hundreds of English-
language Bibles that neither the Spaniards nor the Indians would be able
80 81 82 83
Macaulay, History, III, 670. Ibid., III, 671. Ibid., III, 672. Ibid., III, 679.
C AT H E R I N E H A L L
52
to read. They anchored near Darien and took formal possession, naming
the area Caledonia and laying the foundations of New Edinburgh. They
attempted to negotiate with local potentates. Macaulay depicted the
‚Ęsavage rulers‚Ä™ as enacting a pastiche of the power struggles of continental
Europe: they were dressed, if at all, in strange combinations, they
squabbled like children over their relative treatment at the hands of the
Spanish, and played at being kings. ‚ĘOne mighty monarch‚Ä™, Macaulay
related, ‚Ęwore with pride a cap of white reeds, lined with red silk and
adorned with an ostrich feather.‚Ä™ He received the strangers hospitably, ‚Ęin
a palace built of canes and covered with palmetto royal, and regaled them
with calabashes of a sort of ale brewed from Indian corn and potatoes‚Ä™.84
But the colony was doomed. The Scots had to do for themselves ‚Ęwhat
English, French, Dutch, and Spanish colonists employed Negroes or
Indians to do for them‚Ä™.85 They toiled in the pestilential swamps and
mangroves, dying like Ô¬‚ies. Those who survived soon determined to
leave, and lost many more of their fellows to the sharks of the Atlantic.
Meanwhile a second Ô¬‚eet had embarked only to discover a wilderness ‚Ä“
the castle of New Edinburgh in ruins, the huts burned, the Amsterdam
that was to be overgrown with jungle. Many of the adventurers who had
left home with dreams of wealth, were glad to escape to Jamaica and hire
themselves out to the planters there, relieved to Ô¬Ānd a colony established
on a proper system of order. The Scottish effort to colonise outside of the
protection of her mighty neighbour was over. Scotland could not go it
alone. Her fate was tied to that of the real imperial race ‚Ä“ the English.
Macaulay, as Gladstone put it, ‚Ęestablished a monarchy over his read-
ers‚Ä™.86 He told them a story they were thrilled to hear ‚Ä“ of their romantic
and exciting past; of mistakes made, lessons learned and justice done;
of civilisation gradually dawning at home and savagery and barbarism
abounding abroad; of a prosperous present and future. At the centre of the
story was the imperial race, drawing into their web all those who were close
enough to adapt and become part of that future. The price was to become
fully English. This was a narrative with which his public could be com-
fortably at home. Oppression and exploitation had been banished, fault-
lines papered over, the nation made whole through its history.
84 85 86
Ibid., III, 687. Ibid., III, 690. Quoted in Joseph Hamburger, Macaulay, 163.
c h ap t e r t h r e e

A homogeneous society? Britain‪s internal
‚Ęothers‚Ä™, 1800‚Ä“present
Laura Tabili


Popular belief and oral tradition treat British cultural and racial diversity
as unprecedented and disturbing, blaming recent migrants for disrupting
a previously homogeneous, thus harmonious society. Yet the history of
prior migration from elsewhere in the British Empire and outside it
shows Britain was never a monolithic, closed society, detached from
global Ô¬‚ows of population or cultural inÔ¬‚uence. While other chapters
of this volume treat class, gender and other power relations, this essay
argues that British and European empire building, among other structural
shifts and historical contingencies, rendered different ‚Ęinternal others‚Ä™
visible and apparently problematical at various times over the past two
centuries.
Grandchild of migrants, common to my generation, I grew up hearing
their stories: a child orphaned in a war zone, a dispossessed farmer, a
draft-dodger, childbirth at sea, the random but systemic cruelties of a
strange land. Drawn to study British race and migration by its distorted
echoes of the familiar, I remain uneasy with scholarship that fails to
acknowledge the lives ‚Ęothering‚Ä™ obscures.
Successive waves of conquerors, invaders and migrants comprised the
British people, starting with the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Danes and
Normans.1 The subsequent millennium saw Ô¬‚ows of Flemish weavers and
Lombard bankers, religious refugees such as Huguenots in the seventeenth
century and European Jews in the nineteenth and twentieth, and many
others. Simultaneously, the British Isles sent forth millions who colonised
for Britain the Americas, the Antipodes, Africa and Asia. Scholars trace
the African and Asian presence to the earliest times, and people from the
Caribbean, Africa, the Indian Ocean region and elsewhere increasingly

1
Christopher Hill, ‚ĘThe Norman Yoke‚Ä™, in Puritanism and Revolution: Studies in Interpretation of the
English Revolution of the 17th Century (London, 1958), 50‚Ä“122; William Cunningham, Alien
Immigrants to England ((1897) London, 1969), 3. Notably, the latter was reprinted in the late 1960s,
amid alarm over postcolonial migration.

53
L A U R A TA B I L I
54
passed through or settled in Britain as it became the hub of a global
empire. Invoking, even celebrating this multicultural legacy to counter
xenophobia, scholars have yet fully to digest its implications for who the
British are.2 Despite constant migration throughout Britain‪s history,
particular groups have emerged as emotionally charged ‚Ęinternal others‚Ä™ in
the course of ongoing nation building and concomitant redeÔ¬Ānitions of
Britishness, processes inseparable in turn from the rhythms of colonialism
and empire building.
Diverse individuals and groups have been labelled ‚Ęoutsiders‚Ä™ in
modern Britain: in various historical contexts, Irish, Jewish, German,
colonised, Arab and other residents found themselves denied jobs,
housing and other social resources, attacked in the streets, and subject to
ofÔ¬Ācial surveillance and harassment. Isolating these events from their
global and imperial context, explanations for hostility to ‚Ęinternal others‚Ä™
include the assumption that excessive ‚Ęnumbers‚Ä™ induced conÔ¬‚ict; that
migrants‚Ä™ cultural practices antagonised locals; and that Britain harbours
‚Ętraditions of intolerance‚Ä™. These three interpretations work together to
inform an implied narrative in which migration of a signiÔ¬Ācant although
unspeciÔ¬Āed ‚Ęnumber‚Ä™ possessing perceptible ‚Ęcultural differences‚Ä™ have
triggered xenophobia or ‚Ęintolerance‚Ä™ ‚Ä“ the latter reÔ¬‚ected not only in
episodes of overt conÔ¬‚ict but latent in textual and other artefacts.
Questions emerge: how many were too many, and, more fundamentally,
too many of what?

defining internal others
British culture never was homogeneous, uncontested or innocent of power,
taking shape through English domination of Wales, Scotland and Ireland,
often violent processes scarcely distinguishable from overseas colonisa-
tion.3 Hardly consensual, British societies remain internally diverse,
crosscut by class, gender, region, religion, sexuality and other power
relations, whose relative weight has altered with historical change.4 Within
any supposedly homogeneous ‚Ęcommunity‚Ä™ or ‚Ęnation‚Ä™, individuals remain
2
This despite a proliÔ¬Āc literature on national identity, starting with Robert Colls and Philip Dodd
(eds.), Englishness: Politics and Culture, 1880‚Ä“1920 (London, 1986); Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the
Nation, 1707‚Ä“1837 (New Haven, 1992).
Robert Bartlett, The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change, 950‚Ä“1350
3

(Princeton, 1993); Hugh Kearney, The British Isles: A History of Four Nations (Cambridge, 1989);
Michael Hechter, Internal Colonialism: The Celtic Fringe in British National Development, 1536‚Ä“1966
(Berkeley, 1975). Given space constraints, all citations remain suggestive rather than exhaustive.
4
Raphael Samuel, Theatres of Memory, vol. II: Island Stories: Unravelling Britain (London, 1998).
A homogeneous society? Britain‚Ä™s internal ‚Ęothers‚Ä™, 1800‚Ä“present 55
silenced and marginalised: indeed, such silencing proves integral to group
constitution.5 We cannot, therefore, assume all Britons uniformly per-
ceived overseas migrants as more ‚Ęother‚Ä™ or different from themselves
than many native Britons: J. B. Priestley recalled that in Edwardian
Bradford ‚Ęa Londoner was a stranger sight than a German‚Ä™.6 We actually
know little about migrants‚Ä™ reception unless their presence provoked
comment.
The term ‚Ęother‚Ä™ itself derives from anthropological and psychological
analysis Ô¬Ārst applied to gender and only later to colonial relations. This
should caution us that dehumanising ‚Ęotherness‚Ä™ remains relational rather
than essential, inhering in the eyes of the beholder rather than in the
‚Ęothered‚Ä™.7 We must enquire whose gaze or viewpoint has been represented
as authentically British or consensual, against whom various ‚Ęothers‚Ä™ have
been deÔ¬Āned. The dreary predictability of ‚Ęothering‚Ä™ representations,
of immorality and hygienic or genetic deÔ¬Āciency, reÔ¬‚ect more on power
relations within ‚Ęhost‚Ä™ societies than their purported objects, rendering
migrants‚Ä™ reception and experiences inseparable from class, gender, labour,
politics, property and empire building. This critique owes much to cultural
critics‚Ä™ challenges to the discreteness of ethnic and racial categories, and
their insistence that debates about British diversity and homogeneity
remain incomprehensible in isolation from economic, political and other
historical processes, including Britain‪s imperial history.8


¬ī
5
On silencing, see Cherre Moraga, ‚ĘFrom a Long Line of Vendidas: Chicanas and Feminism‚Ä™, in
Teresa de Lauretis (ed.), Feminist Studies/Critical Studies (Bloomington, 1986), 172‚Ä“90; Uma
Chakravarti, ‚ĘWhatever Happened to the Vedic Dasi? Orientalism, Nationalism, and a Script for
the Past‚Ä™, in Kumkum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid (eds.), Recasting Women: Essays in Indian Colonial
History (New Brunswick, NJ, 1990); Andrew Parker, Nancy Russo, Doris Sommer and Patricia
Yeager, ‚ĘIntroduction‚Ä™ to Nationalisms and Sexualities (New York, 1992); Slavenka Drakulic, The
Balkan Express: Fragments From the Other Side of War (New York, 1994); Yasmin Ali, ‚ĘMuslim
Women and the Politics of Ethnicity and Culture in Northern England‚Ä™, in Gita Sanghaza and
Nira Yuval-Davis (eds.), Refusing Holy Orders: Women and Fundamentalism in Britain (London,
1992), 107‚Ä“8.
6
Quote is from Panikos Panayi, The Enemy in Our Midst: Germans in Britain During the First World
War (New York, 1991), 20. See also Steve Rappaport on the medieval deÔ¬Ānition of ‚Ęalien‚Ä™, in Worlds
Within Worlds: Structures of Life in Sixteenth Century London (Cambridge, 1989).
7
Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex ((1952) New York, 1989). Beauvoir immediately acknowl-
edged, however, the Ô¬‚exibility of alterity in comprising Jews, ‚Ęnegroes‚Ä™, ‚Ęnatives‚Ä™ and the ‚Ęlower
class‪: xxiii; Edward Said, Orientalism (New York and London, 1978). Also see Ann Laura Stoler‪s
challenge to psychoanalytic interpretations of race in Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault‪s
History of Sexuality and the Colonial Order of Things (Durham, NC, 1995).
8
Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS), The Empire Strikes Back: Race and Racism in
70s Britain (London, 1982). For critiques of cultural absolutism, see Paul Gilroy, ‚ĘThere Ain‚Ä™t No
Black in the Union Jack‚Ä™: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation (Chicago, 1987); Michael Banton,
‚ĘThe Race Relations Problematic‚Ä™, British Journal of Sociology, 42 (1) (1991), 115.
L A U R A TA B I L I
56
the perils of narration

Despite more than a century of scholarship on overseas migration we
remain far from a complete picture. Scholars have yet substantially to
reconstruct where migrants came from, how many there were and where in
Britain they settled. We know much more about some groups, times and
localities than others, and more about notorious episodes of violence than
about community formation and internal dynamics, or even daily inter-
actions between migrants and natives. We have barely engaged why some
native Britons ‚Ä“ and which ones ‚Ä“ attacked such settlers as ‚Ęothers‚Ä™ at some
times and not others.9 Narratives emerging from this fragmentary evidence
must remain tentative, subject to revision upon further investigation.
Colour-blind source material has impeded researchers‚Ä™ efforts to
establish objectively the size and location of Britain‪s black or colonised
populations. Paradoxically, since racial categories remain fundamentally
Ô¬Āctive, efforts to quantify or otherwise render them objectively threaten to
restabilise the very constructs we repudiate. As the salience of ‚Ęrace‚Ä™ may
reside in the eye of the beholder, evidence about people of colour most
often appears only in the most ‚Ęrace‚Ä™-conscious sources. The documentary
record may thus remain frustratingly silent in the absence of conÔ¬‚ict,
skewing our view of past social relations and concealing those whose lives
we wish most to uncover. Like women, another group often hidden in
conventional historical records, just because people didn‚Ä™t ‚Ęsee‚Ä™ or recall
black Britons or overseas migrants does not mean they were not there.
Further, we must beware the comforting but damaging projection of
contemporary racial polarisation on to the past.
Modern narratives often begin with the African diaspora communities
of slaves and freed people in eighteenth-century London exposed by the
James Somerset affair, when a slave brought to Britain refused to return
to the Caribbean, threatening the slave system under-girding British
industrial and imperial expansion. Repeal of Napoleonic-era legislation
initiated a period of unrestricted migration in the 1820s, coinciding
with Britain‚Ä™s era of ‚Ęfree trade imperialism‚Ä™ but also with a ‚Ęliberal‚Ä™
migration regime across Europe between 1815 and 1880.10 Overseas
9
This assessment, offered in Colin Holmes, ‚ĘHistorians and Immigration‚Ä™, in Michael Drake (ed.),
Time, Family and Community: Perspectives on Family and Community in History (Oxford, 1994),
165‚Ä“80, holds today.
10
Aristide Zolberg, ‚ĘInternational Migration Policies in a Changing World System‚Ä™, in William H.
McNeill and Ruth S. Adams (eds.), Human Migration: Patterns and Policies (Bloomington, 1978),
251‚Ä“4; Andreas Fahrmeir, Foreigners and Law in Britain and German States 1789‚Ä“1870 (Oxford,
2000).
A homogeneous society? Britain‚Ä™s internal ‚Ęothers‚Ä™, 1800‚Ä“present 57
migrants rendered Britain increasingly diverse between 1841, when enu-
meration began, and 1891. As early as 1851 foreigners outnumbered Scots
and/or Welsh in Birmingham, Bristol and London.11 From 1820 onward
England and Wales lost more population through emigration than they
gained through immigration.12 These emigrants, presumably of English
and Welsh origin, were replaced by Irish, Scots, colonials and foreigners,
prompting the Daily Mail to lament in 1911 the ‚Ęscum of Europe‚Ä™
replacing the ‚Ęcream‚Ä™ of Britain ‚Ęskimmed off by emigration‚Ä™.13 Those
born outside England and Wales grew from 4.1% in 1851 to 4.6%,
nearly one in twenty, by 1861, and by 1871 over a million (1,020,101),
approximately 4.5% of the country‪s twenty-two million inhabitants,
over a Ô¬Āfth of them foreign or colonial born.14 Of these, 98,617 came
from Europe and a further 18,496 from America, with only a scat-
tering from Asia and Africa.15 Like other migrants they clustered in
burgeoning urban areas: by 1881 51% were found in London, and 39%
in forty-six ‚Ęgreat provincial towns‚Ä™.16 By 1911, of 36,070,492 persons
enumerated in England and Wales, those born in the colonies and
India totalled 161,502 and those in foreign countries, mostly northern
Europe, 373,516.17

how many were too many?
Historians long dismissed colonial subjects and foreigners as unimportant
due to their modest numbers, yet antagonism to the same people has been
attributed to intolerably large numbers. Aggregate census Ô¬Āgures, despite
their limitations, offer some objective basis for comparing the size of
migrant populations to their visibility as objects of hostile ‚Ęothering‚Ä™.
These Ô¬Āgures reveal only tenuous correlation between numbers and
conÔ¬‚ict (see Table 1).

11
Colin G. Pooley, ‚ĘThe Residential Segregation of Migrant Communities in Mid-Victorian
Liverpool‚Ä™, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 2nd ser., 2 (1977), 366.
12
Francesca Klug, ‚Ę ‚Ę‚ĘOh, To Be in England‚Ä™‚Ä™: The British Case Study‚Ä™, in Nira Yuval-Davis and
Floya Anthius (eds.), Woman-Nation-State (London, 1989), 34 fn.12
Quoted in David Feldman, Englishmen and Jews: Social Relations and Political Culture 1840‚Ä“1914
13

(New Haven, 1994), 361. 1911 Census Report: Administrative Areas 1913 1 (Cd.6258), xxi.
1931 Census General Report (London, 1950), Table LXX ‚ĘBirth-places of the Population
14

. . . 1851‚Ä“1931‚Ä™, 169; also see 1871 Census Report: Summary Tables, xxi.
1881 General Census Report, pp1883 (C. 3797) LXXX, 56.
15

1861 General Census Report pp1863 (3221) LIII, Pt.I, 39‚Ä“40; 1891 General Census Report pp1893‚Ä“4
16

(C. 7222) CVI, 65.
1931 Census General Report (London, 1950), Table LXX ‚ĘBirth-places of the Population
17

. . . 1851‚Ä“1931‚Ä™, 169.
L A U R A TA B I L I
58
Table 1. Birthplaces of the people of England and Wales 1841‚Ä“1931

Ireland Scotland Foreign Colonies Total

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