Catharine Macaulay, born Catharine Sawbridge: social, political and economic radical, educationalist and republican historian,
in a portrait by Robert Edge Pine, oil on canvas, circa 1775 © National Portrait Gallery, London.
Macaulay (2 April 1731 – 22 June 1791) argued that if distribution of wealth is not evenly balanced, society will break apart, and anarchy followed by tyranny will ensue.
“every citizen who possesses ever so small a share of property, is equally as tenacious of it as the most opulent member of society; and this leads him to respect and to support all the laws by which property is protected.”
“….it is only the democratical system, rightly balanced, which can secure the virtue, liberty and happiness of society”.
She was a democratic republican who supported the American and French Revolutions.
She saw that power given to a privileges few corrupts them, and that they too readily lose accountability. The people, if their trust has been betrayed, have reasonable grounds to oppose autocratic government:
“the people may possibly object, that in delivering themselves passively over to the unrestrained rule of others ….they deliver themselves over to men, who, as men, and partaking of the same nature as themselves, are as liable to be governed by the same principles and errors; and to men who, by the great superiority of their station, having no common interest with themselves which might lead them to preserve a salutary check over their vices, must be inclined to abuse in the grossest manner their trust.”
She called for better education for women, like her younger contemporary Mary Wollstonecraft, so their sex could at last take their place in society as equal citizens to men.
She was a member of the Bluestockings circle of leading women intellectuals and artists; she was a correspondent, and inspiration, of the American political writer Mercy Otis Warren, who praised her “Commanding Genius and Brilliance of thought”. Together they shared ideas for improving society and denounced the tyranny of the British government as the violent behaviour of an “unnatural parent”.
Portraits in the Characters of the Muses in the Temple of Apollo by Richard Samuel, oil on canvas, exhibited 1779. © National Portrait Gallery, London.
Another 18th century Leibovitz-style celebrity group portrait of nine extraordinary women, linked by their intellectual and artistic interests to form the Bluestockings.
They are still familiar names today for their achievements, including the novelist Charlotte Lennox, the painter Angelica Kauffmann and the anti-slavery campaigner Hannah More. Macaulay is seated on the plinth, holding her historian’s scroll.
Their self-conscious poses are a lot less awkward than the ones in last year’s M&S iffy ‘Leading Ladies’ advertizing campaign, and Marks might get some inspiration for womenswear from the neoclassical look.
National Portrait Gallery ‘Brilliant Women’(2008 exhibition)
a stimulating introduction to the Bluestockings