Kenneth Macaulay - Author of the History of St Kilda

Personal data
Name
Kenneth Macaulay
Born 1723
Died 1779
Biography

Church of Scotland minister. Son of Aulay Macaulay (1663-1758) and Margaret Morrison. Married (1758) to Penelope Macleod, with whom he at least one child, Niel, who became a missionary minister at the island of Harris in the Outer Hebrides.

Kenneth Macaulay was educated at King's College, Aberdeen, where he graduated M.A. on April 1, 1742. On November 15, 1749, he was appointed missionary to Lochaber, but declined it, and on November 20, 1751, he was ordained as assistant and successor to his father, a minister of Harris, whom he succeeded as sole pastor in 1750. In 1761 he was presented by Archibald, Duke of Argyll, to the parish of Ardnamurchan, Argyllshire, and was admitted there on July 15. On October 10, 1772, he was translated to the Parish of Calder between Nairn and Inverness.

In 1759, Macaulay was sent on a special mission to St. Kilda, based on which, in 1764, he published his History of St. Kilda. The book later became the source of some controversy, as Dr Johnson and others disputed his authorship of the volume. 

Life with Boswell

Boswell and Johnson visited Kenneth Macaulay at his home in Cawdor on Friday, August 27, 1773, while on their tour of Scotland. The conversation naturally turned to Macaulay's History of St Kilda, of which Johnson said that it was "a very pretty piece of topography." According to Boswell, in his Tour of the Hebrides, "from his conversation Mr Johnson was persuaded that [Macaulay] had not written the book which goes under his name. I myself always suspected so. Mr Johnson said there was a combination in it of which Macaulay was not capable, and he said to me privately, “Crassus homo est.”" 

Even so, Macaulay gave them a "good hospitable dinner", and in the afternoon they went to the nearby Old Castle of Cawdor. In the evening, at the Manse, they were joined by Mr Grant, minister at Daviot and Dunlichity, and Mr White, a Welshman who had been factor on the estate of Cawdor. Macaulay also advised Boswell as to their travelling route further through the Highlands and the Hebrides, and Boswell later recounted their visit and conversations with Macaulay in some detail in his Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides.

Boswell's comments on Macaulay in Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, or rather, his recounting of Johnson's opinion of him, were to have lasting consequences, as, almost 50 years after its publication, in 1831, they probably influenced Macaulay's grand nephew, Thomas Babington Macaulay's review of the, then, new edition of The Life of Johnson edited by John Wilson Croker. Lord Macaulay wrote in his review that "[o]f the talents which ordinarily raise men to eminence as writers, Boswell had absolutely none""Many of the greatest men that ever lived have written biography. Boswell was one of the smallest men that ever lived, and he has beaten them all. He was, if we are to give any credit to his own account or to the united testimony of all who knew him, a man of the meanest and feeblest intellect." and "impertinent, shallow and pedantic, a bigot and a sot, bloated with family pride, and eternally blustering about the dignity of a born gentleman." These remarks by T. B. Macaulay are generally considered to be greatly responsible for Boswell's poor reputation for the ensuing century, until the discovery of his personal papers in the 1920s.

 

Literature

First editions and later reprints of Macaulay's History of St Kilda are usually available via the AbeBooks used books search engine.