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Title: William Hickling Prescott
Author: Peck, Harry Thurston, 1856-1914
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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New York


_All rights reserved_


Set up and electrotyped. Published May, 1905.

Norwood Press
J. S. Cushing & Co.--Berwick & Smith Co.
Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.



For the purely biographical portion of this book an especial
acknowledgment of obligation is due to the valuable collection of
Prescott's letters and memoranda made by his friend George Ticknor, and
published in 1864 as part of Ticknor's _Life of W. H. Prescott_. All
other available sources, however, have been explored, and are
specifically mentioned either in the text or in the footnotes.

H. T. P.

March 1, 1905.




THE NEW ENGLAND HISTORIANS                                             1


EARLY YEARS                                                           13


THE CHOICE OF A CAREER                                                39


SUCCESS                                                               54


IN MID CAREER                                                         72


THE LAST TEN YEARS                                                    99


"FERDINAND AND ISABELLA"--PRESCOTT'S STYLE                           121


HISTORY                                                              133


"THE CONQUEST OF PERU"--"PHILIP II."                                 160


PRESCOTT'S RANK AS AN HISTORIAN                                      173

INDEX                                                                181





Throughout the first few decades of the nineteenth century, the United
States, though forming a political entity, were in everything but name
divided into three separate nations, each one of which was quite unlike
the other two. This difference sprang partly from the character of the
population in each, partly from divergent tendencies in American
colonial development, and partly from conditions which were the result
of both these causes. The culture-history, therefore, of each of the
three sections exhibits, naturally enough, a distinct and definite phase
of intellectual activity, which is reflected very clearly in the records
of American literature.

In the Southern States, just as in the Southern colonies out of which
they grew, the population was homogeneous and of English stock. Almost
the sole occupation of the people was agriculture, while the tone of
society was markedly aristocratic, as was to be expected from a
community dominated by great landowners who were also the masters of
many slaves. These landowners, living on their estates rather than in
towns and cities, caring nothing for commerce or for manufactures,
separated from one another by great distances, and cherishing the
intensely conservative traditions of that England which saw the last of
the reigning Stuarts, were inevitably destined to intellectual
stagnation. The management of their plantations, the pleasures of the
chase, and the exercise of a splendid though half-barbaric hospitality,
satisfied the ideals which they had inherited from their Tory ancestors.
Horses and hounds, a full-blooded conviviality, and the exercise of a
semi-feudal power, occupied their minds and sufficiently diverted them.
Such an atmosphere was distinctly unfavourable to the development of a
love of letters and of learning. The Southern gentleman regarded the
general diffusion of education as a menace to his class; while for
himself he thought it more or less unnecessary. He gained a practical
knowledge of affairs by virtue of his position. As for culture, he had
upon the shelves of his library, where also were displayed his weapons
and the trophies of the chase, a few hundred volumes of the standard
essayists, poets, and dramatists of a century before. If he seldom read
them and never added to them, they at least implied a recognition of
polite learning and such a degree of literary taste as befitted a
Virginian or Carolinian gentleman. But, practically, English literature
had for him come to an end with Addison and Steele and Pope and their
contemporaries. The South stood still in the domain of letters and
education. Not that there were lacking men who cherished the ambition to
make for themselves a name in literature. There were many such, among
whom Gayarré, Beverly, and Byrd deserve an honourable remembrance; but
their surroundings were unfavourable, and denied to them that
intelligent appreciation which inspires the man of letters to press on
to fresh achievement. An interesting example is found in the abortive
history of Virginia undertaken by Dr. William Stith, who was President
of William and Mary College, and who possessed not only scholarship but
the gift of literary expression. The work which he began, however, was
left unfinished, because of an utter lack of interest on the part of the
public for whom it had been undertaken. Dr. Stith's own quaint comment
throws a light upon contemporary conditions. He had laboured diligently
in collecting documents which represented original sources of
information; yet, when he came to publish the first and only volume of
his history, he omitted many of them, giving as his reason:--

     "I perceive, to my no small Surprise and Mortification, that some
     of my Countrymen (and those too, Persons of high Fortune and
     Distinction) seemed to be much alarmed, and to grudge, that a
     complete History of their own Country would run to more than one
     Volume, and cost them above half a Pistole. I was, therefore,
     obliged to restrain my Hand, ... for fear of enhancing the Price,
     to the immense Charge and irreparable Damage of such generous and
     publick-spirited Gentlemen."[1]

The Southern universities were meagrely attended; and though the sons of
wealthy planters might sometimes be sent to Oxford or, more usually, to
Princeton or to Yale, the discipline thus acquired made no general
impression upon the class to which they belonged. In fact, the
intellectual energy of the South found its only continuous and powerful
expression in the field of politics. To government and statesmanship
its leading minds gave much attention, for only thus could they retain
in national affairs the supremacy which they arrogated to themselves and
which was necessary to preserve their peculiar institution. Hence, there
were to be found among the leaders of the Southern people a few
political philosophers like Jefferson, a larger number of political
casuists like Calhoun, and a swarm of political rhetoricians like
Patrick Henry, Hayne, Legaré, and Yancey. But beyond the limits of
political life the South was intellectually sterile. So narrowing and so
hostile to liberal culture were its social conditions that even to this
day it has not produced a single man of letters who can be truthfully
described as eminent, unless the name of Edgar Allan Poe be cited as an
exception whose very brilliance serves only to prove and emphasise the

In the Middle States, on the other hand, a very different condition of
things existed. Here the population was never homogeneous. The English
Royalists and the Dutch in New York, the English Quakers and the Germans
in Pennsylvania and the Swedes in Delaware, made inevitable, from the
very first, a cosmopolitanism that favoured variety of interests, with a
resulting breadth of view and liberality of thought. Manufactures
flourished and foreign commerce was extensively pursued, insuring
diversity of occupation. The two chief cities of the nation were here,
and not far distant from each other. Wealth was not unevenly
distributed, and though the patroon system had created in New York a
landed gentry, this class was small, and its influence was only one of
many. Comfort was general, religious freedom was unchallenged,
education was widely and generally diffused. The large urban population
created an atmosphere of urbanity. Even in colonial times, New York and
Philadelphia were the least provincial of American towns. They attracted
to themselves, not only the most interesting people from the other
sections, but also many a European wanderer, who found there most of the
essential graces of life, with little or none of that combined austerity
and rawness which elsewhere either disgusted or amused him. We need not
wonder, then, if it was in the Middle States that American literature
really found its birth, or if the forms which it there assumed were
those which are touched by wit and grace and imagination. Franklin,
frozen and repelled by what he thought the bigotry of Boston, sought
very early in his life the more congenial atmosphere of Philadelphia,
where he found a public for his copious writings, which, if not
precisely literature, were, at any rate, examples of strong, idiomatic
English, conveying the shrewd philosophy of an original mind. Charles
Brockden Brown first blazed the way in American fiction with six novels,
amid whose turgid sentences and strange imaginings one may here and
there detect a touch of genuine power and a striving after form.
Washington Irving, with his genial humour and well-bred ease, was the
very embodiment of the spirit of New York. Even Professor Barrett
Wendell, whose critical bias is wholly in favour of New England,
declares that Irving was the first of American men of letters, as he was
certainly the first American writer to win a hearing outside of his own
country. And to these we may add still others,--Freneau, from whom both
Scott and Campbell borrowed; Cooper, with his stirring sea-tales and
stories of Indian adventure; and Bryant, whose early verses were thought
to be too good to have been written by an American. And there were also
Drake and Halleck and Woodworth and Paine, some of whose poetry still
continues to be read and quoted. The mention of them serves as a
reminder that American literature in the nineteenth century, like
English literature in the fourteenth, found its origin where wealth,
prosperity, and a degree of social elegance made possible an
appreciation of belles-lettres.

Far different was it in New England. There, as in the South, the
population was homogeneous and English. But it was a Puritan population,
of which the environment and the conditions of its life retarded, and at
the same time deeply influenced, the evolution of its literature. One
perceives a striking parallel between the early history of the people of
New England and that of the people of ancient Rome. Each was forced to
wrest a living from a rugged soil. Each dwelt in constant danger from
formidable enemies. The Roman was ready at every moment to draw his
sword for battle with Faliscans, Samnites, or Etruscans. The New
Englander carried his musket with him even to the house of prayer,
fearing the attack of Pequots or Narragansetts. The exploits of such
half-mythical Roman heroes as Camillus and Cincinnatus find their
analogue in the achievements credited to Miles Standish and the doughty
Captain Church. Early Rome knew little of the older and more polished
civilisation of Greece. New England was separated by vast distances from
the richer life of Europe. In Rome, as in New England, religion was
linked closely with all the forms of government; and it was a religion
which appealed more strongly to men's sense of duty and to their fears,
than to their softer feelings. The Roman gods needed as much
propitiation as did the God of Jonathan Edwards. When a great calamity
befell the Roman people, they saw in it the wrath of their divinities
precisely as the true New Englander was taught to view it as a
"providence." In both commonwealths, education of an elementary sort was
deemed essential; but it was long before it reached the level of

Like influences yield like results. The Roman character, as moulded in
the Republic's early years, was one of sternness and efficiency. It
lacked gayety, warmth, and flexibility. And the New England character
resembled it in all of these respects. The historic worthies of Old Rome
would have been very much at ease in early Massachusetts. Cato the
Censor could have hobnobbed with old Josiah Quincy, for they were
temperamentally as like as two peas. It is only the Romans of the Empire
who would have felt out of place in a New England environment. Horace
might conceivably have found a smiling _angulus terrarum_ somewhere on
the lower Hudson, but he would have pined away beside the Nashua; while
to Ovid, Beacon Street would have seemed as ghastly as the frozen slopes
of Tomi. And when we compare the native period of Roman literature with
the early years of New England's literary history, the parallel becomes
more striking still. In New England, as in Rome, beneath all the forms
of a self-governing and republican State, there existed a genuine
aristocracy whose prestige was based on public service of some sort;
and in New England, as in Rome, public service had in it a theocratic
element. In civil life, the most honourable occupation for a free
citizen was to share in this public service. Hence, the disciplines
which had a direct relation to government were the only civic
disciplines to be held in high consideration. Such an attitude
profoundly affected the earliest attempts at literature. The two
literary or semi-literary pursuits which have a close relation to
statesmanship are oratory and history--oratory, which is the statesman's
instrument, and history, which is in part the record of his
achievements. Therefore, at Rome, a line of native orators arose before
a native poet won a hearing, and therefore, too, the annalists and
chroniclers precede the dramatists.

In New England it was much the same. Almost from the founding of the
Massachusetts Bay Colony, there were men among the colonists who wrote
down with diffusive dulness the records of whatever they had seen and
suffered. Governor William Bradford composed a history of New England;
and Thomas Prince, minister of the Old South Church, compiled another
work of like title, described by its author as told "in the Form of
Annals." Hutchinson prepared a history of Massachusetts Bay; and many
others had collected local traditions, which seemed to them of great
moment, and had preserved them in books, or else in manuscripts which
were long afterwards to be published by zealous antiquarians. Cotton
Mather's curious _Magnalia_, printed in 1700, was intended by its author
to be history, though strictly speaking it is theological and is clogged
with inappropriate learning,--Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. The parallel
between early Rome and early Massachusetts breaks down, however, when we
consider the natural temperament of the two peoples as distinct from
that which external circumstances cultivated in them. Underneath the
sternness and severity which were the fruits of Puritanism, there
existed in the New England character a touch of spirituality, of
idealism, and of imagination such as were always foreign to the Romans.
Under the repression of a grim theocracy, New England idealism still
found its necessary outlet in more than one strange form. We can trace
it in the hot religious eloquence of Edwards even better than in the
imitative poetry of Mrs. Bradstreet. It is to be found even in such
strange panics as that which shrieked for the slaying of the Salem
"witches." Time alone was needed to bring tolerance and intellectual
freedom, and with them a freer choice of literary themes and moods. The
New England temper remained, and still remains, a serious one; yet
ultimately it was to find expression in forms no longer harsh and rigid,
but modelled upon the finer lines of truth and beauty.

The development was a gradual one. The New England spirit still exacted
sober subjects of its writers. And so the first evolution of New England
literature took place along the path of historical composition. The
subjects were still local or, at the most, national; but there was a
steady drift away from the annalistic method to one which partook of
conscious art. In the writings of Jared Sparks there is seen imperfectly
the scientific spirit, entirely self-developed and self-trained. His
laborious collections of historical material, and his dry but accurate
biographies, mark a distinct advance beyond his predecessors. Here, at
least, are historical scholarship and, in the main, a conscientious
scrupulosity in documentation. It is true that Sparks was charged, and
not quite unjustly, with garbling some of the material which he
preserved; yet, on the whole, one sees in him the founder of a school of
American historians. What he wrote was history, if it was not
literature. George Bancroft, his contemporary, wrote history, and was
believed for a time to have written it in literary form. To-day his six
huge volumes, which occupied him fifty years in writing, and which bring
the reader only to the inauguration of Washington, make but slight
appeal to a cultivated taste. The work is at once too ponderous and too
rhetorical. Still, in its way, it marks another step.

Up to this time, however, American historians were writing only for a
restricted public. They had not won a hearing beyond the country whose
early history they told. Their themes possessed as yet no interest for
foreign nations, where the feeble American Republic was little known and
little noticed. The republican experiment was still a doubtful one, and
there was nothing in the somewhat paltry incidents of its early years to
rivet the attention of the other hemisphere. "America" was a convenient
term to denote an indefinite expanse of territory somewhere beyond seas.
A London bishop could write to a clergyman in New York and ask him for
details about the work of a missionary in Newfoundland without
suspecting the request to be absurd. The British War Office could
believe the river Bronx a mighty stream, the crossing of which was full
of strategic possibilities. As for the American people, they interested
Europe about as much as did the Boers in the days of the early treks.
Even so acute an observer as Talleyrand, after visiting the United
States, carried away with him only a general impression of rusticity and
bad manners. When Napoleon asked him what he thought of the Americans,
he summed up his opinion with a shrug: _Sire, ce sont des fiers cochons
et des cochons fiers_. Tocqueville alone seems to have viewed the
nascent nation with the eye of prescience. For the rest, petty
skirmishes with Indians, a few farmers defending a rustic bridge, and a
somewhat discordant gathering of planters, country lawyers, and
drab-clad tradesmen held few suggestions of the picturesque and, to most
minds, little that was significant to the student of politics and
institutional history.

There were, however, other themes, American in a larger sense, which
contained within themselves all the elements of the romantic, while they
closely linked the ambitions of old Europe with the fortunes and the
future of the New World. The narration of these might well appeal to
that interest which the more sober annals of England in America wholly
failed to rouse. There was the story of New France, which had for its
background a setting of savage nature, while in the foreground was
fought out the struggle between Englishmen and Frenchmen, at grips in a
feud perpetuated through the centuries. There was the story of Spanish
conquest in the south,--a true romance of chivalry, which had not yet
been told in all its richness of detail. To choose a subject of this
sort, and to develop it in a fitting way, was to write at once for the
Old World and the New. The task demanded scholarship, and presented
formidable difficulties. The chief sources of information were to be
found in foreign lands. To secure them needed wealth. To compare and
analyse and sift them demanded critical judgment of a high order. And
something more was needed,--a capacity for artistic presentation. When
both these gifts were found united in a single mind, historical writing
in New England had passed beyond the confines of its early crudeness and
had reached the stage where it claimed rank as lasting literature.
Rightly viewed, the name of William Hickling Prescott is something more
than a mere landmark in the field of historical composition. It
signalises the beginning of a richer growth in New England letters,--the
coming of a time when the barriers of a Puritan scholasticism were
broken down. Prescott is not merely the continuator of Sparks. He is the
precursor of Hawthorne and Parkman and Lowell. He takes high rank among
American historians; but he is enrolled as well in a still more
illustrious group by virtue of his literary fame.



To the native-born New Englander the name of Prescott has, for more than
a century, possessed associations that give to it the stamp of genuine
distinction. Those who have borne it have belonged of right to the true
patriciate of their Commonwealth. The Prescotts were from the first a
fighting race, and their men were also men of mind; and, according to
the times in which they lived, they displayed one or the other
characteristic in a very marked degree. The pioneer among them on
American soil was John Prescott, a burly Puritan soldier who had fought
under Cromwell, and who loved danger for its own sake. He came from
Lancashire to Massachusetts about twenty years after the landing of the
_Mayflower_, and at once pushed off into the unbroken wilderness to mark
out a large plantation for himself in what is now the town of Lancaster.
A half-verified tradition describes him as having brought with him a
coat of mail and a steel helmet, glittering in which he often terrified
marauding Indians who ventured near his lands. His son and grandson and
his three great-grandsons all served as officers in the military forces
of Massachusetts; and among the last was Colonel William Prescott, who
commanded the American troops at Bunker Hill. Later, he served under the
eye of Washington, who personally commended him after the battle of
Long Island; and he took part in the defeat of Burgoyne at Saratoga--a
success which brought the arms of France to the support of the American

In times of peace as well, the Prescotts were men of light and leading.
Their names are found upon the rolls of the Massachusetts General Court,
of the Governor's Council in colonial days, of the Continental Congress,
and of the State judiciary. One of them, Oliver Prescott, a brother of
the Revolutionary warrior, who had been bred as a physician, made some
elaborate researches on the subject of that curious drug, ergot, and
embodied his results in a paper of such value as to attract the notice
of the profession in Europe. It was translated into French and German,
and was included in the _Dictionnaire des Sciences Médicales_--an
unusual compliment for an American of those days to receive. Most
eminent of all the Prescotts in civil life, however, before the
historian won his fame, was William Prescott,--the family names were
continually repeated,--whose career was remarkable for its distinction,
and whose character is significant because of its influence upon his
illustrious son. William Prescott was born in 1762, and, after a most
careful training, entered Harvard, from which he was graduated in 1783.
Admitted to the bar, he won high rank in his profession, twice receiving
and twice declining an appointment to the Supreme Court of the State.
His widely recognised ability brought him wealth, so that he lived in
liberal fashion, in a home whose generous appointments and cultivated
ease created an atmosphere that was rare indeed in those early days,
when narrow means and a crude provincialism combined to make New
England life unlovely. Prescott was not only an able lawyer, the worthy
compeer of Dexter, Otis, and Webster--he was a scholar by instinct,
widely read, thoughtful, and liberal-minded in the best sense of the
word. His intellectual conflicts with such professional antagonists as
have just been named gave him mental flexibility and a delightful
sanity; and though in temperament he was naturally of a serious turn, he
had both pungency and humour at his command. No more ideal father could
be imagined for a brilliant son; for he was affectionate, generous, and
sympathetic, with a knowledge of the world, and a happy absence of
Puritan austerity. He had, moreover, the very great good fortune to love
and marry a woman dowered with every quality that can fill a house with
sunshine. This was Catherine Hickling, the daughter of a prosperous
Boston merchant, afterward American consul in the Azores. As a girl, and
indeed all through her long and happy life, she was the very spirit of
healthful, normal womanhood,--full of an irrepressible and infectious
gayety, a miracle of buoyant life, charming in manner, unselfish,
helpful, and showing in her every act and thought the promptings of a
beautiful and spotless soul.

It was of this admirably mated pair that William Hickling Prescott,
their second son, was born, at Salem, on the 4th of May, 1796. The elder
Prescott had not yet acquired the ample fortune which he afterward
possessed; yet even then his home was that of a man of easy
circumstances,--one of those big, comfortable, New England houses,
picturesquely situated amid historic surroundings.[2] Here young
Prescott spent the first twelve years of his life under his mother's
affectionate care, and here began his education, first at a sort of dame
school, kept by a kindly maiden lady, Miss Mehitable Higginson, and
then, from about the age of seven, under the more formal instruction of
an excellent teacher, Mr. Jacob Newman Knapp, quaintly known as "Master
Knapp." It was here that he began to reveal certain definite and very
significant traits of character. The record of them is interesting, for
it shows that, but for the accident which subsequently altered the whole
tenor of his life, he might have grown up into a far from admirable man,
even had he escaped moral shipwreck. Many of his natural traits, indeed,
were of the kind that need restraint to make them safe to their
possessor, and in these early years restraint was largely lacking in the
life of the young Prescott, who, it may frankly be admitted, was badly
spoiled. His father, preoccupied in his legal duties, left him in great
part to his mother's care, and his mother, who adored him for his
cleverness and good looks, could not bear to check him in the smallest
of his caprices. He was, indeed, peculiarly her own, since from her he
had inherited so much. By virtue of his natural gifts, he was, no doubt,
a most attractive boy. Handsome, like his father, he had his mother's
vivacity and high spirits almost in excess. Quick of mind, imaginative,
full of eager curiosity, and with a tenacious memory, it is no wonder
that her pride in him was great, and that her mothering heart went out
to him in unconscious recognition of a kindred temperament. But his
school companions, and even his elders, often found these ebullient
spirits of his by no means so delightful. The easy-going indulgence
which he met at home, and very likely also the recognised position of
his father in that small community, combined to make young Prescott
wilful and self-confident and something of an _enfant terrible_. He was
allowed to say precisely what he thought, and he did invariably say it
on all occasions and to persons of every age. In fact, he acquired a
somewhat unenviable reputation for rudeness, while his high spirits
prompted him to contrive all sorts of practical jokes--a form of humour
which seldom tends to make one popular. Moreover, though well-grown for
his age, he had a distaste for physical exertion, and took little or no
part in active outdoor games. Naturally, therefore, he was not
particularly liked by his school companions, while, on the other hand,
he attained no special rank in the schoolroom. Although he was quick at
learning, he contented himself with satisfying the minimum of what was
required--a trait that remained very characteristic of him for a long
time. Of course, there is no particular significance in the general
statement that a boy of twelve was rude, mischievous, physically
indolent, and averse to study. Yet in Prescott's case these qualities
were somewhat later developed at a critical period of his life, and
might have spoiled a naturally fine character had they not been
ultimately checked and controlled by the memorable accident which befell
him a few years afterward.

In 1803, the elder Prescott suffered from a hemorrhage from the lungs
which compelled him for a time to give up many of his professional
activities. Five years after this he removed his home to Boston, where
the practice of his profession would be less burdensome, and where, as
it turned out, his income was very largely increased. The change was
fortunate both for him and for his son; since, in a larger community,
the boy came to be less impressed with his own importance, and also fell
under an influence far more stimulating than could ever have been
exerted by a village schoolmaster. The rector of Trinity Church in
Boston, the Rev. Dr. John S. Gardiner, was a gentleman of exceptional
cultivation. As a young man he had been well trained in England under
the learned Dr. Samuel Parr, a Latinist of the Ciceronian school. He
was, besides, a man possessing many genial and very human qualities, so
that all who knew him felt his personal fascination to a rare degree. He
had at one time been the master of a classical school in Boston and had
met with much success; but his clerical duties had obliged him to give
up this occupation. Thereafter, he taught only a small number of boys,
the sons of intimate friends in whom he took a special and personal
interest. His methods with them were not at all those of a typical
schoolmaster. He received his little classes in the library of his home,
and taught them, in a most informal fashion, English, Greek, and Latin.
He resembled, indeed, one of those ripe scholars of the Renaissance who
taught for the pure love of imparting knowledge. Much of his instruction
was conveyed orally rather than through the medium of text-books; and
his easy talk, flowing from a full mind, gave interest and richness to
his favourite subjects. Such teaching as this is always rare, and it was
peculiarly so in that age of formalism. To the privilege of Dr.
Gardiner's instruction, young Prescott was admitted, and from it he
derived not only a correct feeling for English style, but a genuine
love of classical study, which remained with him throughout his life. It
may be said here that he never at any time felt an interest in
mathematics or the natural sciences. His cast of mind was naturally
humanistic; and now, through the influence of an accomplished teacher,
he came to know the meaning and the beauty of the classical tradition.

Under Gardiner, Prescott's indifference to study disappeared, and he
applied himself so well that he was rapidly advanced from elementary
reading to the study of authors so difficult as Æschylus. His
biographer, Mr. Ticknor, who was his fellow-pupil at this time, has left
us some interesting notes upon the subject of Prescott's literary
preferences. It appears that he enjoyed Sophocles, while Horace
"interested and excited him beyond his years." The pessimism of Juvenal
he disliked, and the crabbed verse of Persius he utterly refused to
read. Under private teachers he studied French, Italian, and Spanish,--a
rather unusual thing for boys at that time,--and he reluctantly acquired
what he regarded as the irreducible minimum of mathematics. It was
decided that he should be fitted to enter the Sophomore Class in
Harvard, and to this end he devoted his mental energies. Like most boys,
he worked hardest upon those studies which related to his college
examination, viewing others as more or less superfluous. He did,
however, a good deal of miscellaneous reading, opportunities for which
he found in the Boston Athenæum. This institution had been opened but a
short time before, and its own collection of books, which to-day numbers
more than two hundred thousand, was rather meagre; but in it had been
deposited some ten thousand volumes, constituting the private library
of John Quincy Adams, who was then holding the post of American Minister
to Russia. At a time when book-shops were few, and when books were
imported from England with much difficulty and expense, these ten
thousand volumes seemed an enormous treasure-house of good reading.
Prescott browsed through the books after the fashion of a clever boy,
picking out what took his fancy and neglecting everything that seemed at
all uninteresting. Yet this omnivorous reading stimulated his love of
letters and gave to him a larger range of vision than at that time he
could probably have acquired in any other way. It is interesting to note
the fact that his preference was for old romances--the more extravagant
the better--and for tales of wild and lawless adventure. An especial
favourite with him was the romance of _Amadis de Gaule_, which he found
in Southey's somewhat pedestrian translation, and which appealed
intensely to Prescott's imagination and his love of the fantastic.

His other occupations were decidedly significant. His most intimate
friend at this time was William Gardiner, his preceptor's son; and the
two boys were absolutely at one in their tastes and amusements. Both of
them were full of mischief, and both were irrepressibly boisterous,
playing all sorts of tricks at evening in the streets, firing off
pistols, and in general causing a good deal of annoyance to the sober
citizens of Boston. In this they were like any other healthy boys,--full
of animal spirits and looking for "fun" without any especial sense of
responsibility. Something else, however, is recorded of them which seems
to have a real importance, as revealing in Prescott, at least, some of
those mental characteristics which in his after life were to find
expression in his serious work.

The period was one when the thoughts of all men were turned to the
Napoleonic wars. The French and English were at grips in Spain for the
possession of the Peninsula. Wellington had landed in Portugal and,
marching into Spain, had flung down the gage of battle, which was taken
up by Soult, Masséna, and Victor, in the absence of their mighty chief.
The American newspapers were filled with long, though belated, accounts
of the brilliant fighting at Ciudad Rodrigo, Almeida, and Badajoz; and
these narratives fired the imagination of Prescott, whose eagerness his
companion found infectious, so that the two began to play at battles;
not after the usual fashion of boys, but in a manner recalling the
_Kriegspiel_ of the military schools of modern Germany. Pieces of paper
were carefully cut into shapes which would serve to designate the
difference between cavalry, infantry, and artillery; and with these bits
of paper the disposition and manoeuvring of armies were indicated, so
as to make clear, in a rough way, the tactics of the opposing
commanders. Not alone were the Napoleonic battles thus depicted, but
also the great contests of which the boys had read or heard at
school,--Thermopylæ, Marathon, Leuctra, Cannæ, and Pharsalus. Some
pieces of old armour, unearthed among the rubbish of the Athenæum,
enabled the boys to mimic in their play the combats of Amadis and the
knights with whom he fought.

Side by side with these amusements there was another which curiously
supplemented it. As Prescott and his friend went through the streets on
their way to school, they made a practice of inventing impromptu
stories, which they told each other in alternation. If the story was
unfinished when they arrived at school, it would be resumed on their way
home and continued until it reached its end. It was here that Prescott's
miscellaneous reading stood him in good stead. His mind was full of the
romances and histories that he had read; and his quick invention and
lively imagination enabled him to piece together the romantic bits which
he remembered, and to give them some sort of consistency and form.
Ticknor attaches little importance either to Prescott's interest in the
details of warfare or to this fondness of his for improvised narration.
Yet it is difficult not to see in both of them a definite bias; and we
may fairly hold that the boy's taste for battles, coupled with his love
of picturesque description, foreshadowed, even in these early years, the
qualities which were to bring him lasting fame.

All these boyish amusements, however, came to an end when, in August,
1811, Prescott presented himself as a candidate for admission to
Harvard. Harvard was then under the presidency of the Rev. Dr. John
Thornton Kirkland, who had been installed in office the year before
Prescott entered college. President Kirkland was the first of Harvard's
really eminent presidents.[3] Under his rule there definitely began that
slow but steady evolution, which was, in the end, to transform the small
provincial college into a great and splendid university. Kirkland was an
earlier Eliot, and some of his views seemed as radical to his
colleagues as did those of Eliot in 1869. Lowell has said of him,
somewhat unjustly: "He was a man of genius, but of genius that evaded
utilisation." It is fairer to suppose that, if he did not accomplish all
that he desired and attempted, this was because the time was not yet
ripe for radical innovations. He did secure large benefactions to the
University, the creation of new professorships on endowed foundations,
and the establishment of three professional schools. President Kirkland,
in reality, stood between the old order and the new, with his face set
toward the future, but retaining still some of the best traditions of
the small college of the past. It is told of him that he knew every
student by name, and took a very genuine interest in all of them,
helping them in many quiet, tactful ways, so that more than one
distinguished man in later life declared that, but for the thoughtful
and unsolicited kindness of Dr. Kirkland, he would have been forced to
abandon his college life in debt and in despair. Kirkland was a man of
striking personal presence, and could assume a bearing of such
impressive dignity as to verge on the majestic, as when he officially
received Lafayette in front of University Hall and presented the
assembled students to the nation's guest. The faculty over which he
presided contained at that time no teacher of enduring reputation,[4] so
that whatever personal influence was exerted upon Prescott by his
instructors must have come chiefly from such intercourse as he had with
Dr. Kirkland.

It is of interest to note just how much of an ordeal an entrance
examination at Harvard was at the time when Prescott came up as a
candidate for admission. The subjects were very few in number, and would
appear far from formidable to a modern Freshman. Dalzel's _Collectanea
Groea Minora_, the Greek Testament, Vergil, Sallust, and several
selected orations of Cicero represented, with the Greek and Latin
grammars, the classical requirements which constituted, indeed, almost
the entire test, since the only other subjects were arithmetic, "so for
as the rule of three," and a general knowledge of geography. The
curriculum of the College, while Prescott was a member of it, was meagre
enough when compared with what is offered at the present time. The
classical languages occupied most of the students' attention. Sallust,
Livy, Horace, and one of Cicero's rhetorical treatises made up the
principal work in Latin. Xenophon's _Anabasis_, Homer, and some
desultory selections from other authors were supposed to give a
sufficient knowledge of Greek literature. The Freshmen completed the
study of arithmetic, and the Sophomores did something in algebra and
geometry. Other subjects of study were rhetoric, declamation, a modicum
of history, and also logic, metaphysics, and ethics. The ecclesiastical
hold upon the College was seen in the inclusion of a lecture course on
"some topic of positive or controversial divinity," in an examination on
Doddridge's Lectures, in the reading of the Greek Testament, and in a
two years' course in Hebrew for Sophomores and Freshmen. Indeed, Hebrew
was regarded as so important that a "Hebrew part" was included in every
commencement programme until 1817--three years after Prescott's
graduation. In place of this language, however, while Prescott was in
college, students might substitute a course in French given by a tutor;
for as yet no regular chair of modern languages had been founded in the
University. The natural sciences received practically no attention,
although, in 1805, a chair of natural history had been endowed by
subscription. An old graduate of Harvard has recorded the fact that
chemistry in those days was regarded very much as we now look upon
alchemy; and that, on its practical side, it was held to be simply an
adjunct to the apothecary's profession. A few years later, and the
Harvard faculty contained such eminent men as Josiah Quincy, Judge
Joseph Story, Benjamin Peirce, the mathematician, George Ticknor, and
Edward Everett, and the opportunities for serious study were broadened
out immensely. But while Prescott was an undergraduate, the curriculum
had less variety and range than that of any well-equipped high school of
the present day.

A letter written by Prescott on August 23d, the day after he had passed
through the ordeal of examination, is particularly interesting. It
gives, in the first place, a notion of the quaint simplicity which then
characterised the academic procedure of the oldest of American
universities; and it also brings us into rather intimate touch with
Prescott himself as a youth of fifteen. At that time a great deal of the
eighteenth-century formality survived in the intercourse between fathers
and their sons; and especially in the letters which passed between them
was there usually to be found a degree of stiffness and restraint both
in feeling and expression. Yet this letter of Prescott's might have
been written yesterday by an American youth of the present time, so easy
and assured is it, and indeed, for the most part, so mature. It might
have been written also to one of his own age, and there is something
deliciously naïve in its revelation of Prescott's approbativeness. The
boy evidently thought very well of himself, and was not at all averse to
fishing for a casual compliment from others. The letter is given in full
by Ticknor, but what is here quoted contains all that is important:--

      "BOSTON, August 23rd.

     "DEAR FATHER:--I now write you a few lines to inform you of my
     fate. Yesterday at eight o'clock I was ordered to the President's
     and there, together with a Carolinian, Middleton, was examined for
     Sophomore. When we were first ushered into their presence, they
     looked like so many judges of the Inquisition. We were ordered down
     into the parlour, almost frightened out of our wits, to be examined
     by each separately; but we soon found them quite a pleasant sort of
     chaps. The President sent us down a good dish of pears, and treated
     us very much like gentlemen. It was not ended in the morning; but
     we returned in the afternoon when Professor Ware [the Hollis
     Professor of Divinity] examined us in Grotius' _De Veritate_. We
     found him very good-natured; for I happened to ask him a question
     in theology, which made him laugh so that he was obliged to cover
     his face with his hand. At half past three our fate was decided and
     we were declared 'Sophomores of Harvard University.'

     "As you would like to know how I appeared, I will give you the
     conversation _verbatim_ with Mr. Frisbie when I went to see him
     after the examination. I asked him,'Did I appear well in my
     examination?' Answer. 'Yes.' Question. 'Did I appear _very_ well,
     sir?' Answer. 'Why are you so particular, young man? Yes, you did
     yourself a great deal of credit.' I feel today twenty pounds
     lighter than I did yesterday.... Love to mother, whose affectionate
     son I remain,


Prescott entered upon his college life in the autumn of this same year
(1811). We find that many of those traits which he had exhibited in his
early school days were now accentuated rather sharply. He was fond of
such studies as appealed to his instinctive tastes. English literature
and the literatures of Greece and Rome he studied willingly because he
liked them and not because he was ambitious to gain high rank in the
University. To this he was more or less indifferent, and, therefore,
gave as little attention as possible to such subjects as mathematics,
logic, the natural sciences, philosophy, and metaphysics, without which,
of course, he could not hope to win university honours. Nevertheless, he
disliked to be rated below the average of his companions, and,
therefore, he was careful not to fall beneath a certain rather moderate
standard of excellence. He seems, indeed, to have adopted the Horatian
_aurea mediocritas_ as his motto; and the easy-going, self-indulgent
philosophy of Horace he made for the time his own. In fact, the ideal
which he set before himself was the life of a gentleman in the
traditional English meaning of that word; and it was a gentleman's
education and nothing more which he desired to attain. To be socially
agreeable, courteous, and imbued with a liberal culture, seemed to him a
sufficient end for his ambition. His father was wealthy and generous. He
was himself extremely fond of the good things of life. He made friends
readily, and had a very large share of personal attractiveness. Under
the circumstances, it is not to be wondered at if his college life was
marked by a pleasant, well-bred hedonism rather than by the austerity of
the true New England temperament. The Prescotts as a family had some
time before slipped away from the clutch of Puritanism and had accepted
the mild and elastic creed of Channing, which, in its tolerant view of
life, had more than a passing likeness to Episcopalianism. Prescott was
still running over with youthful spirits, his position was an assured
one, his means were ample, and his love of pleasure very much in
evidence. We cannot wonder, then, if we find that in the early part of
his university career he slipped into a sort of life which was probably
less commendable than his cautious biographers are willing to admit. Mr.
Ticknor's very guarded intimations seem to imply in Prescott a
considerable laxity of conduct; and it is not unfair to read between the
lines of what he has written and there find unwilling but undeniable
testimony. Thus Ticknor remarks that Prescott "was always able to stop
short of what he deemed flagrant excesses and to keep within the limits,
though rather loose ones, which he had prescribed to himself. His
standard for the character of a gentleman varied, no doubt, at this
period, and sometimes was not so high on the score of morals as it
should have been." Prescott is also described as never having passed the
world's line of honour, but as having been willing to run exceedingly
close to it. "He pardoned himself too easily for his manifold neglect
and breaches of the compacts he had made with his conscience; but there
was repentance at the bottom of all." It is rather grudgingly admitted
also that "the early part of his college career, when for the first time
he left the too gentle restraints of his father's house, ... was the
most dangerous period of his life. Upon portions of it he afterwards
looked back with regret." There is a good deal of significance,
moreover, in some sentences which Prescott himself wrote, long
afterwards, of the temptations which assail a youth during those years
when he has attained to the independence of a man but while he is still
swayed by the irresponsibility of a boy. There seems to be in these
sentences a touch of personal reminiscence and regret:--

     "The University, that little world of itself ... bounding the
     visible horizon of the student like the walls of a monastery, still
     leaves within him scope enough for all the sympathies and the
     passions of manhood.... He meets with the same obstacles to success
     as in the world, the same temptations to idleness, the same gilded
     seductions, but without the same power of resistance. For in this
     morning of life his passions are strongest; his animal nature is
     more sensible to enjoyment; his reasoning faculties less vigorous
     and mature. Happy the youth who in this stage of his existence is
     so strong in his principles that he can pass through the ordeal
     without faltering or failing, on whom the contact of bad
     companionship has left no stain for future tears to wash away."

Just how much is meant by this reluctant testimony can only be
conjectured. It is not unfair, however, to assume that, for a time,
Prescott's diversions were such as even a lenient moralist would think
it necessary to condemn. The fondness for wine, which remained with him
throughout his life, makes it likely that convival excess was one of his
undergraduate follies; while the flutter of a petticoat may at times
have stirred his senses. No doubt many a young man in his college days
has plunged far deeper into dissipation than ever Prescott did and has
emerged unscathed to lead a useful life. Yet in Prescott's case there
existed a peculiar danger. His future did not call upon him to face the
stern realities of a life of toil. He was assured of a fortune ample for
his needs, and therefore his easy-going, pleasure-loving disposition,
his boundless popularity, his handsome face, his exuberant spirits, and
his very moderate ambition might easily have combined to lead him down
the primrose path where intellect is enervated and moral fibre
irremediably sapped.

One dwells upon this period of indolence and folly the more willingly,
because, after all, it reveals to us in Prescott those pardonable human
failings which only serve to make his character more comprehensible.
Prescott's eulogists have so studiously ignored his weaknesses as to
leave us with no clear-cut impression of the actual man. They have
unwisely smoothed away so much and have extenuated so much in their
halting and ambiguous phrases, as to create a picture of which the
outlines are far too faint. Apparently, they wish to draw the likeness
of a perfect being, and to that extent they have made the subject of
their encomiums appear unreal. One cannot understand how truly lovable
the actual Prescott was, without reconstructing him in such a way as to
let his faults appear beside his virtues. Moreover, an understanding of
the perils which at first beset him is needed in order to make clear the
profound importance of an incident which sharply called a halt to his
excesses and, by curbing his wilful nature, set his finer qualities in
the ascendant. It is only by remembering how far he might have fallen,
that we can view as a blessing in disguise the blow which Fate was soon
to deal him.

In the second (Junior) year of his college life, he was dining one day
with the other undergraduates in the Commons Hall. During these meals,
so long as any college officers were present, decorum usually reigned;
but when the dons had left the room, the students frequently wound up by
what, in modern student phrase, would be described as "rough-house."
There were singing and shouting and frequently some boisterous
scuffling, such as is natural among a lot of healthy young barbarians.
On this particular occasion, as Prescott was leaving the hall, he heard
a sudden outbreak and looked around to learn its cause. Missiles were
flying about; and, just as he turned his head, a large hard crust of
bread struck him squarely in the open eye. The shock was great,
resembling a concussion of the brain, and Prescott fell unconscious. He
was taken to his father's house, where, on recovering consciousness, he
evinced extreme prostration, with nausea, a fluttering pulse, and all
the evidences of physical collapse. So weak was he that he could not
even sit upright in his bed. For several weeks unbroken rest was
ordered, so that nature, aided by a vigorous constitution, might repair
the injury which his system had sustained. When he returned to
Cambridge, the sight of the injured eye (the left one) was gone forever.
Oddly enough, in view of the severity of the blow, the organ was not
disfigured, and only through powerful lenses could even the slightest
difference be detected between it and the unhurt eye. Dr. James Jackson,
who attended Prescott at this time, described the case as one of
paralysis of the retina, for which no remedy was possible. This
accident, with the consequences which it entailed, was to have a
profound effect not only upon the whole of Prescott's subsequent
career, but upon his character as well. His affliction, indeed, is
inseparably associated with his work, and it must again and again be
referred to, both because it was continually in his thoughts and because
it makes the record of his literary achievement the more remarkable.
Incidentally, it afforded a revelation of one of Prescott's noblest
traits,--his magnanimity. He was well aware of the identity of the
person to whom he owed this physical calamity. Yet, knowing as he did
that the whole thing was in reality an accident, he let it be supposed
that he had no knowledge of the person and that the mishap had come
about in such a way that the responsibility for it could not be fixed.
As a matter of fact, the thing had been done unintentionally; yet this
cannot excuse its perpetrator for never expressing to Prescott his
regret and sympathy. Years afterwards, Prescott spoke of this man to
Ticknor in the kindest and most friendly fashion, and once he was able
to confer on him a signal favour, which he did most readily and with
sincere cordiality.

Prescott returned to the University in a mood of seriousness, which
showed forth the qualities inherited from his father. Hitherto he had
been essentially his mother's son, with all her gayety and mirthfulness
and joy of life. Henceforth he was to exhibit more and more the strength
of will and power of application which had made his father so honoured
and so influential. Not that he let his grave misfortune cloud his
spirits. He had still the use of his uninjured eye, and he had recovered
from his temporary physical prostration; but he now went about his work
in a different spirit, and was resolved to win at least an honourable
rank for scholarship. In the classics and in English he studied hard,
and he overcame to some extent his aversion to philosophy and logic.
Mathematics, however, still remained the bane of his academic existence.
For a time he used to memorise word for word all the mathematical
demonstrations as he found them in the text-books, without the slightest
comprehension of what they meant; and his remarkable memory enabled him
to reproduce them in the class room, so that the professor of
mathematics imagined him to be a promising disciple. This fact does not
greatly redound to the acumen of the professor nor to the credit of his
class-room methods, and what followed gives a curious notion of the
easy-going system which then prevailed. Prescott found the continual
exertion of his memory a good deal of a bore. To his candid nature it
also savoured of deception. He, therefore, very frankly explained to the
professor the secret of his mathematical facility. He said that, if
required, he would continue to memorise the work, but that he knew it to
be for him nothing but a waste of time, and he asked, with much
_naïveté_, that he might be allowed to use his leisure to better
advantage. This most ingenuous request must have amused the gentleman of
whom it was made; but it proved to be effectual. Prescott was required
to attend all the mathematical exercises conscientiously, but from that
day he was never called upon to recite. For the rest, his diligence in
those studies which he really liked won him the respect of the faculty
at large. At graduation he received as a commencement honour the
assignment of a Latin poem, which he duly declaimed to a crowded
audience in the old "meeting-house" at Cambridge, in August, 1814. This
poem was in Latin elegiacs, and was an apostrophe to Hope (_Ad Spem_),
of which, unfortunately, no copy has been preserved. At the same time,
Prescott was admitted to membership in the Phi Beta Kappa, from which a
single blackball was sufficient to exclude a candidate. His father
celebrated these double honours by giving an elaborate dinner, in a
pavilion, to more than five hundred of the family's acquaintances.

Prescott had now to make his choice of a profession; for to a New
Englander of those days every man, however wealthy, was expected to have
a definite occupation. Very naturally he decided upon the law, and began
the study of it in his father's office, though it was evident enough
from the first that to his taste the tomes of Blackstone made no very
strong appeal. He loved rather to go back to his classical reading and
to enlarge his knowledge of modern literature. Indeed, his legal studies
were treated rather cavalierly, and it is certain that had he ever been
admitted to the bar, he would have found no pleasure in the routine of a
lawyer's practice. Fate once more intervened, though, as before, in an
unpleasant guise. In January, 1815, a painful inflammation appeared in
his right eye--the one that had not been injured. This inflammation
increased so rapidly as to leave Prescott for the time completely blind.
Nor was the disorder merely local. A fever set in with a high pulse and
a general disturbance of the system. Prescott's suffering was intense
for several days; and at the end of a week, when the local inflammation
had passed away, the retina of the right eye was found to be so
seriously affected as to threaten a permanent loss of sight. At the
same time, symptoms of acute rheumatism appeared in the knee-joints and
in the neck. For several months the patient's condition was pitiable.
Again and again there was a recurrence of the inflammation in the eye,
alternating with the rheumatic symptoms, so that for sixteen weeks
Prescott was unable to leave his room, which had to be darkened almost
into blackness. Medical skill availed very little, and no doubt the
copious blood-letting which was demanded by the practice of that time
served only to deplete the patient's strength. Through all these weary
months, however, Prescott bore his sufferings with indomitable courage,
and to those friends of his who groped their way through the darkness to
his bedside he was always cheerful, animated, and even gay, talking very
little of his personal affliction and showing a hearty interest in the
concerns of others. When autumn came it was decided that he should take
a sea voyage, partly to invigorate his constitution and partly to enable
him to consult the most eminent specialists of France and England. First
of all, however, he planned to visit his grandfather, Mr. Thomas
Hickling, who, as has been already mentioned, was American consul at the
island of St. Michael's in the Azores, where it was thought the mildness
of the climate might prove beneficial.

Prescott set out, on September 26th of the same year (1815), in one of
the small sailing vessels which plied between Boston and the West
African islands. The voyage occupied twenty-two days, during which time
Prescott had a recurrence both of his rheumatic pains and of the
inflammatory condition of his eye. His discomfort was enhanced by the
wretchedness of his accommodations--a gloomy little cabin into which
water continually trickled from the deck, and in which the somewhat
fastidious youth was forced to live upon nauseous messes of rye pudding
sprinkled with coarse salt. Cockroaches and other vermin swarmed about
him; and it must have been with keen pleasure that he exchanged this
floating prison for the charming villa in the Azores, where his
grandfather had made his home in the midst of groves and gardens,
blooming with a semi-tropical vegetation. Mr. Hickling, during his long
residence at St. Michael's, had married a Portuguese lady for his second
wife, and his family received Prescott with unstinted cordiality. The
change from the bleak shores of New England to the laurels and myrtles
and roses of the Azores delighted Prescott, and so appealed to his sense
of beauty that he wrote home long and enthusiastic letters. But his
unstinted enjoyment of this Hesperian paradise lasted for little more
than two short weeks. He had landed on the 18th of October, and by
November 1st he had gone back to his old imprisonment in darkness,
living on a meagre diet and smarting under the blisters which were used
as a counter-irritant to the rheumatic inflammation. As usual, however,
his cheerfulness was unabated. He passed his time in singing, in
chatting with his friends, and in walking hundreds of miles around his
darkened room. He remained in this seclusion from November to February,
when his health once more improved; and two months later, on the 8th of
April, 1816, he took passage from St. Michael's for London. The sea
voyage and its attendant discomforts had their usual effect, and during
twenty-two out of the twenty-four days, to which his weary journey was
prolonged, he was confined to his cabin.

On reaching London his case was very carefully diagnosed by three of the
most eminent English specialists, Dr. Farre, Sir William Adams, and Mr.
(afterward Sir) Astley Cooper. Their verdict was not encouraging, for
they decided that no local treatment of his eyes could be of any
particular advantage, and that the condition of the right eye would
always depend very largely upon the general condition of his system.
They prescribed for him, however, and he followed out their regimen with
conscientious scrupulosity. After a three months' stay in London, he
crossed the Channel and took up his abode in Paris. In England, owing to
his affliction, he had been able to do and see but little, because he
was forbidden to leave his room after nightfall, and of course he could
not visit the theatre or meet the many interesting persons to whom Mr.
John Quincy Adams, then American Minister to England, offered to present
him. Something he saw of the art collections of London, and he was
especially impressed by the Elgin Marbles and Raphael's cartoons. There
was a touch of pathos in the wistful way in which he paused in the
booksellers' shops and longingly turned over rare editions of the
classics which it was forbidden him to read. "When I look into a Greek
or Latin book," he wrote to his father, "I experience much the same
sensation as does one who looks on the face of a dead friend, and the
tears not infrequently steal into my eyes." In Paris he remained two
months, and passed the following winter in Italy, making a somewhat
extended tour, and visiting the most famous of the Italian cities in
company with an old schoolmate. Thence he returned to Paris, where once
more he had a grievous attack of his malady; and at last, in May of
1817, he again reached London, embarking not long after for the United
States. Before leaving England on this second visit, he had explored
Oxford and Cambridge, which interested him extremely, but which he was
glad to leave in order to be once more at home.



Prescott's return to his home brought him face to face with the
perplexing question of his future. During his two years of absence this
question must often have been forced upon his mind, especially during
those weary weeks when the darkness of his sick-room and the lack of any
mental diversion threw him in upon himself and left him often with his
own thoughts for company. Even to his optimistic temperament the future
may well have seemed a gloomy one. Half-blind and always dreading the
return of a painful malady, what was it possible for him to do in the
world whose stir and movement and boundless opportunity had so much
attracted him? Must he spend his years as a recluse, shut out from any
real share in the active duties of life? Little as he was wont to dwell
upon his own anxieties, he could not remain wholly silent concerning a
subject so vital to his happiness. In a letter to his father, written
from St. Michael's not long before he set out for London, he broached
very briefly a subject that must have been very often in his thoughts.

     "The most unpleasant of my reflections suggested by this late
     inflammation are those arising from the probable necessity of
     abandoning a profession congenial with my taste and recommended by
     such favourable opportunities, and adopting one for which I am ill
     qualified and have but little inclination. It is some consolation
     that this latter alternative, should my eyes permit, will afford me
     more leisure for the pursuit of my favourite studies. But on this
     subject I shall consult my physician and will write you his

Apparently at this time he still cherished the hope of entering upon
some sort of a professional career, even though the practice of the law
were closed to him. But after the discouraging verdict of the London
specialists had been made known, he took a more despondent view. He

     "As to the future, it is too evident I shall never be able to
     pursue a profession. God knows how poorly I am qualified and how
     little inclined to be a merchant. Indeed, I am sadly puzzled to
     think how I shall succeed even in this without eyes."

It was in this uncertain state of mind that he returned home in the late
summer of 1817. The warmth of the welcome which he received renewed his
buoyant spirits, even though he soon found himself again prostrated by a
recurrence of his now familiar trouble. His father had leased a
delightful house in the country for his occupancy; but the shade-trees
that surrounded it created a dampness which was unfavourable to a
rheumatic subject, and so Prescott soon returned to Boston. Here he
spent the winter in retirement, yet not in idleness. His love of books
and of good literature became the more intense in proportion as physical
activity was impossible; and he managed to get through a good many
books, thanks to the kindness of his sister and of his former school
companion, William Gardiner, both of whom devoted a part of each day to
reading aloud to Prescott,--Gardiner the classics, and Miss Prescott
the standard English authors in history, poetry, and belles-lettres in
general. These readings often occupied many consecutive hours, extending
at times far into the night; and they relieved Prescott's seclusion of
much of its irksomeness, while they stored his mind with interesting
topics of thought. It was, in reality, the continuation of a system of
vicarious reading which he had begun two years before in St. Michael's,
where he had managed, by the aid of another's eyes, to enjoy the
romances of Scott, which were then beginning to appear, and to renew his
acquaintance with Shakespeare, Homer, and the Greek and Roman

From reading literature, it was a short step to attempting its
production. Pledging his sister to secrecy, Prescott composed and
dictated to her an essay which was sent anonymously to the _North
American Review_, then a literary fledgling of two years, but already
making its way to a position of authority. This little _ballon d'essai_
met the fate of many such, for the manuscript was returned within a
fortnight. Prescott's only comment was, "There! I was a fool to send
it!" Yet the instinct to write was strong within him, and before very
long was again to urge him with compelling force to test his gift. But
meanwhile, finding that his life of quiet and seclusion did very little
for his eyes, he made up his mind that he might just as well go out into
the world more freely and mingle with the friends whose society he
missed so much. After a little cautious experimenting, which apparently
did no harm, he resumed the old life from which, for three years, he had
been self-banished. The effect upon him mentally was admirable, and he
was now safe from any possible danger of becoming morbidly
introspective from the narrowness of his environment. He went about
freely all through the year 1818, indulging in social pleasures with the
keenest zest. His bent for literature, however, asserted itself in the
foundation of a little society or club, whose members gathered
informally, from time to time, for the reading of papers and for genial
yet frank criticism of one another's productions. This club never
numbered more than twenty-four persons, but they were all cultivated
men, appreciative and yet discriminating, and the list of them contains
some names, such as those of Franklin Dexter, Theophilus Parsons, John
Ware, and Jared Sparks, which, like Prescott's own, belong to the record
of American letters. For their own amusement, they subsequently brought
out a little periodical called _The Club-Room_, of which four numbers in
all were published,[5] and to which Prescott, who acted as its editor,
made three contributions, one of them a sort of humorous editorial
article, very local in its interest, another a sentimental tale called
"The Vale of Allerid," and the third a ghost story called "Calais." They
were like thousands of such trifles which are written every year by
amateurs, and they exhibit no literary qualities which raise them above
the level of the commonplace. The sole importance of _The Club-Room's_
brief existence lies in the fact that it possibly did something to lure
Prescott along the path that led to serious literary productiveness.

One very important result of his return to social life was found in his
marriage, in 1820, to Miss Susan Amory, the daughter of Mr. Thomas C.
Amory, a leading merchant of Boston.[6] The bride was a very charming
girl, to whom her young husband was passionately devoted, and who filled
his life with a radiant happiness which delighted all who knew and loved
him. His naturally buoyant spirits rose to exuberance after his
engagement. He forgot his affliction. He let his reading go by the
board. He was, in fact, too happy for anything but happiness, and this
delight even inspired him to make a pun that is worth recording.
Prescott was an inveterate punster, and his puns were almost invariably
bad; but when his bachelor friends reproached him for his desertion of
them, he laughed and answered them with the Vergilian line,--

    "_Omnia vincit amor et nos cedamus Amori_"--

a play upon words which Thackeray independently chanced upon many years
later in writing _Pendennis_, and _à propos_ of a very different Miss
Amory. It is of interest to recall the description given by Mr. Ticknor
of Prescott as he appeared at the time of his marriage (May 4, 1820)
and, indeed, very much as he remained down to the hour of his death.

     "My friend was one of the finest looking men I have ever seen; or,
     if this should be deemed in some respects a strong expression, I
     shall be fully justified ... in saying that he was one of the most
     attractive. He was tall, well formed, manly in his bearing but
     gentle, with light brown hair that was hardly changed or
     diminished by years, with a clear complexion and a ruddy flash on
     his cheek that kept for him to the last an appearance of
     comparative youth, but above all with a smile that was the most
     absolutely contagious I ever looked on.... Even in the last months
     of his life when he was in some other respects not a little
     changed, he appeared at least ten years younger than he really was.
     And as for the gracious sunny smile that seemed to grow sweeter as
     he grew older, it was not entirely obliterated even by the touch of

After Prescott had been married for about a year, the old question of a
life pursuit recurred and was considered by him seriously. Without any
very definite aim, yet with a half-unconscious intuition, he resolved to
store his mind with abundant reading, so that he might, at least in some
way, be fitted for the career of a man of letters. Hitherto, in the
desultory fashion of his boyhood, he had dipped into many authors, yet
he really knew nothing thoroughly and well. In the classics he was
perhaps best equipped; but of English literature his knowledge was
superficial because he had read only here and there, and rather for the
pleasure of the moment than for intellectual discipline. He had a slight
smattering of French, sufficient for the purposes of a traveller, but
nothing more. Of Italian, Spanish, and German he was wholly ignorant,
and with the literatures of these three languages he had never made even
the slightest acquaintance. Conning over in a reflective mood the sum
total of his acquisitions and defects, he came to the conclusion that he
would undertake what he called in a memorandum "a course of studies,"
including "the principles of grammar and correct writing" and the
history of the North American Continent. He also resolved to devote one
hour a day to the Latin classics. Some six months after this, his
purpose had expanded, and he made a second resolution, which he recorded
in the following words:--

     "I am now twenty-six years of age, nearly. By the time I am thirty,
     God willing, I propose with what stock I have already on hand to be
     a very well read English scholar; to be acquainted with the
     classical and useful authors, prose and poetry, in Latin, French,
     and Italian, and especially in history--I do not mean a critical or
     profound acquaintance. The two following years I may hope to learn
     German, and to have read the classical German writers; and the
     translations, if my eye continues weak, of the Greek."

To this memorandum he adds the comment that such a course of study would
be sufficient "for general discipline"--a remark which proves that he
had not as yet any definite plan in undertaking his self-ordered task.
For several years he devoted himself with great industry to the course
which he had marked out. He went back to the pages of Blair's Rhetoric
and to Lindley Murray's Grammar, and he read consecutively, making notes
as he read, the older masters of English prose style from Roger Ascham,
Sidney, Bacon, and Raleigh down to the authors of the eighteenth
century, and even later. In Latin he reviewed Tacitus, Livy, and Cicero.
His reading seems to have been directed less to the subject-matter than
to the understanding and appreciation of style as a revelation of the
writer's essential characteristics. It was, in fact, a study of
psychology quite as much as a study of literature. Passing on to French,
he found the literature of that language comparatively unsympathetic,
and he contrasted it unfavourably with the English. He derived some
pleasure from the prose of Montaigne and Bossuet, and from Corneille and
Molière; but, on the whole, French poetry always seemed to him too rigid
in its formal classicism to be enjoyable. Side by side with his French
reading, he made the acquaintance of the early English ballad-poetry and
the old romances, and, in 1823, he took up Italian, which appealed to
him intensely, so that he read an extraordinary amount and made the most
voluminous notes upon every author that interested him, besides writing
long criticisms and argumentative letters to his friend Ticknor, full of
praises of Petrarch and Dante, and defending warmly the real existence
of Laura and the genuineness of Dante's passion for Beatrice. For Dante,
indeed, Prescott conceived a most enthusiastic admiration, which found
expression in many a letter to his friend.

The immediate result of his Italian studies was the preparation of some
articles which were published in the _North American Review_--the first
on Italian narrative poetry (October, 1824). This was the beginning of a
series; since, nearly every year thereafter, some paper from his pen
appeared in that publication. One article on Italian poetry and romance
was originally offered to the English _Quarterly Review_ through Jared
Sparks, and was accepted by the editor; but Prescott, growing impatient
over the delay in its appearance, recalled the manuscript and gave it to
the _North American_. These essays of Prescott were not rated very
highly by their author, and we can accept his own estimate as, on the
whole, a just one. They are written in an urbane and agreeable manner,
but are wholly lacking in originality, insight, and vigour; while their
bits of learning strike the more modern reader as old fashioned, even if
not pedantic. This literary work, however, slight as may be its
intrinsic merit, was at least an apprenticeship in letters, and gave to
Prescott a useful training in the technique of composition.

In 1824, something of great moment happened in the course of Prescott's
search for a life career. He had, in accordance with the resolution
already mentioned, taken up the study of German; but he found it not
only difficult but, to him, uninteresting. After several months he
became discouraged; and though he read on, he did so, as he himself has
recorded, with no method and with very little diligence or spirit. Just
at this time Mr. George Ticknor, who had been delivering a course of
lectures in Harvard on the subject of Spanish literature, read over some
of these lectures to Prescott, merely to amuse him and to divert his
mind. The immediate result was that Prescott resolved to give up his
German studies and to substitute a course in Spanish. On the first day
of December, 1824, he employed a teacher of that language, and commenced
a course of study which was to prove wonderfully fruitful, and which
ended only with his life. He seems to have begun the reading of Spanish
from the very moment that he took up the study of its grammar, and there
is an odd significance in a remark which he wrote down only a few days
after: "I snatch a fraction of the morning from the interesting treatise
of M. Jossé on the Spanish language and from the _Conquista de Mexico_,
which, notwithstanding the time I have been upon it, I am far from
having conquered." The deadening effects of German upon his mind seem
to have endured for a while, since at Christmas time he was still
pursuing his studies with a certain listlessness; and he wrote to
Bancroft, the historian, a letter which contained one remark that is
very curious when we read it in the light of his subsequent career:--

     "I am battling with the Spaniards this winter, but I have not the
     heart for it as I had for the Italians. _I doubt whether there are
     many valuable things that the key of knowledge will unlock in that

Another month, however, found him filled with the joy of one who has at
last laid his hand upon that for which he has long been groping. He
expressed this feeling very vividly in a letter quoted by Mr. Ticknor:--

     "Did you never, in learning a language, after groping about in the
     dark for a long while, suddenly seem to turn an angle where the
     light breaks upon you all at once? The knack seems to have come to
     me within the last fortnight in the same manner as the art of
     swimming comes to those who have been splashing about for months in
     the water in vain."

Spanish literature exercised upon his mind a peculiar charm, and he
boldly dashed into the writing of Spanish even from the first. Ticknor's
well-stored library supplied him with an abundance of books, and his own
comments upon the Castilian authors in whom he revelled were now written
not in English but in Spanish--naturally the Spanish of a beginner, yet
with a feeling for idiom which greatly surprised Ticknor. Even in after
years, Prescott never acquired a faultless Spanish diction; but he wrote
with clearness and fluency, so that his Spanish was very individual,
and, in this respect, not unlike the Latin of Politian or of Milton.

Up to this time Prescott had been cultivating his mind and storing it
with knowledge without having formed any clear conception of what he was
to do with his intellectual accumulations. At first, when he formed a
plan of systematic study, his object had been only the modest one of
"general discipline," as he expressed it. As he went on, however, he
seems to have had an instinctive feeling that even without intention he
was moving toward a definite goal. Just what this was he did not know,
but none the less he was not without faith that it would ultimately be
revealed to him. Looking back over all the memoranda that he has left
behind, it is easy now to see that his drift had always been toward
historical investigation. His boyish tastes, already described, declared
his interest in the lives of men of action. His maturer preferences
pointed in the same direction. It has heretofore been noted that, in
1821, when he marked out for himself his first formal plan of study, he
included "the compendious history of North America" as one of the
subjects. While reading French he had dwelt especially upon the
chroniclers and historians from Froissart down. In Spanish he had been
greatly attracted by Mariana's _Historia de España_, which is still one
of the Castilian classics; and this work had led him to the perusal of
Mably's acute and philosophical _Étude de l'Histoire_. He himself long
afterward explained that still earlier than this he had been strongly
attracted to historical writing, especially after reading Gibbon's
_Autobiography_, which he came upon in 1820. Even then, he tells us, he
had proposed to himself to become an historian "in the best sense of the
term." About 1822 he jotted down the following in his private notes:--

     "History has always been a favourite study with me and I have long
     looked forward to it as a subject on which I was one day to
     exercise my pen. It is not rash, in the dearth of well-written
     American history, to entertain the hope of throwing light upon this
     matter. This is my hope."

Nevertheless, although his bent was so evidently for historical
composition, he had as yet received no impulse toward any especial
department of that field. In October, 1825, we find him making this
confession of his perplexity: "I have been so hesitating and reflecting
upon what I shall do, that I have in fact done nothing." And five days
later, he set down the following: "I have passed the last fortnight in
examination of a suitable subject for historical composition." In his
case there was no need for haste. He realised that historical research
demands maturity of mind. "I think," he said, "thirty-five years of age
full soon enough to put pen to paper." And again: "I care not how long a
time I take for it, provided I am diligent in all that time."

It is clear from one of the passages just quoted, that his first thought
was to choose a distinctively American theme. This, however, he put
aside without any very serious consideration, although he had looked
into the material at hand and had commented upon its richness. His love
of Italian literature and of Italy drew him strongly to an Italian
theme, and for a while he thought of preparing a careful study of that
great movement which transformed the republic of ancient Rome into an
empire. Again, still with Italy in mind, he debated with himself the
preparation of a work on Italian literature,--a work (to use his own
words) "which, without giving a chronological and minute analysis of
authors, should exhibit in masses the most important periods,
revolutions, and characters in the history of Italian letters." Further
reflection, however, led him to reject this, partly because it would
involve so extensive and critical a knowledge of all periods of Italian
literature, and also because the subject was not new, having in a way
been lately treated by Sismondi. Prescott makes another and very
characteristic remark, which shows him to have been then as always the
man of letters as well as the historian, with a keen eye to what is
interesting. "Literary history," he says, "is not so amusing as civil."

The choice of a Spanish subject had occurred to him in a casual way soon
after he had taken up the study of the Spanish language. In a letter
already quoted as having been written in December of 1825, he balances
such a theme with his project for a Roman one:--

     "I have been hesitating between two topics for historical
     investigation--Spanish history from the invasion of the Arabs to
     the consolidation of the monarchy under Charles V., or a history of
     the revolution of ancient Rome which converted the republic into an
     empire.... I shall probably select the first as less difficult of
     execution than the second."

He also planned a collection of biographical sketches and criticisms,
but presently rejected that, as he did, a year later, the Roman subject;
and after having done so, the mists began to clear away and a great
purpose to take shape before his mental vision. On January 8, 1826, he
wrote a long memorandum which represents the focussing of his hitherto
vague mental strivings.

     "Cannot I contrive to embrace the _gist_ of the Spanish subject
     without involving myself in the unwieldy barbarous records of a
     thousand years? What new and interesting topic may be admitted--not
     forced--into the reigns of Ferdinand and Isabella? Can I not
     indulge in a retrospective picture of the constitutions of Castile
     and Aragon--of the Moorish dynasties and the causes of their decay
     and dissolution? Then I have the Inquisition with its bloody
     persecutions; the conquest of Granada, a brilliant passage; the
     exploits of the Great Captain in Italy; ... the discovery of a new
     world, my own country.... A biography will make me responsible for
     a limited space only; will require much less reading; will offer
     the deeper interest which always attaches to minute developments of
     character, and the continuous, closely connected narratives. The
     subject brings me to a point whence [modern] English history has
     started, is untried ground, and in my opinion a rich one. The age
     of Ferdinand is most important.... It is in every respect an
     interesting and momentous period of history; the materials
     authentic, ample. I will chew upon this matter and decide this

Long afterward (in 1847) Prescott pencilled upon this memorandum the
words: "This was the first germ of my conception of _Ferdinand and
Isabella_." On January 19th, after some further wavering, he wrote down
definitely: "I subscribe to the _History of the Reign of Ferdinand and
Isabella_." Opposite this note he made, in 1847, the brief but emphatic
comment,--"A fortunate choice."

From this decision he never retreated, though at times he debated with
himself the wisdom of his choice. His apparent vacillation was due to a
return of the inflammation in his eye. For a little while this caused
him to shrink back from the difficulties of his Spanish subject,
involving as it did an immense amount of reading; and there came into
his head the project of writing an historical survey of English
literature. But on the whole he held fast to his original resolution,
and soon entered upon that elaborate preparation which was to give to
American literature a masterpiece. In his final selection of a theme we
can, indeed, discern the blending of several currents of reflection and
the combination of several of his earlier purposes. Though his book was
to treat of two Spanish sovereigns, it nevertheless related to a reign
whose greatest lustre was conferred upon it by an Italian and by the
discovery of the Western World. Thus Prescott's early predilection for
American history his love for Italy, and his new-born interest in Spain
were all united to stimulate him in the task upon which he had now
definitely entered.



Dr. Johnson, in his rather unsympathetic life of Milton, declares that
it is impossible for a blind man to write history. Already, before
Prescott began historical composition, this dictum had been refuted by
the brilliant French historian, Augustin Thierry, whose scholarly study
of the Merovingian period was composed after he had wholly lost his
sight.[7] Moreover, Prescott was not wholly blind, for at times he could
make a cautious use of the right eye. Nevertheless, the task to which he
had set himself was sufficiently formidable to deter a less persistent
spirit. In the first place, all the original sources of information were
on the other side of the Atlantic. Nowhere in the United States was
there a public library such as even some of our smaller cities now
possess. Prescott himself, moreover, had at this time done comparatively
little special reading in the subject of which he proposed to write; and
the skilled assistance which he might easily have secured in Europe was
not to be had in the United States. Finally, though he was not blind in
the ordinary sense, he could not risk a total loss of sight by putting
upon his remaining eye the strain of continuous and fatiguing use.

In spite of all these obstacles and discouragements, however, he began
his undertaking with a touch of that stoicism which, as Thomas Hughes
has somewhere said, makes the Anglo-Saxon find his keenest pleasure in
enduring and overcoming. Prescott had planned to devote a year to
preliminary studies before putting pen to paper. The work which he then
had in mind was intended by him to be largely one of compilation from
the works of foreign writers, to be of moderate size, with few
pretensions to originality, and to claim attention chiefly because the
subject was still a new one to English readers. He felt that he would be
accomplishing a great deal if he should read and thoroughly digest the
principal French, Spanish, and Italian historians--Mariana, Llorente,
Varillas, Fléchier, and Sismondi--and give a well-balanced account of
Ferdinand and Isabella's reign based upon what these and a few other
scholarly authorities had written. But the zeal of the investigator soon
had him in its grip. Scarcely had the packages of books which he had
ordered from Madrid begun to reach his library than his project
broadened out immensely into a work of true creative scholarship. His
year of reading now appeared to him absurdly insufficient. It had,
indeed, already been badly broken into by one of his inflammatory
attacks; and his progress was hampered by the inadequate assistance
which he received. A reader, employed by him to read aloud the Spanish
books, performed the duty valiantly but without understanding a single
word of Spanish, very much as Milton's daughters read Greek and Hebrew
to their father. Thinking of his new and more ambitious conception of
his purpose and of the hindrances which beset him, Prescott wrote:
"Travelling at this lame gait, I may yet hope in five or six years to
reach the goal." As a matter of fact, it was three years and a half
before he wrote the opening sentence of his book. It was ten years
before he finished the last foot-note of the final chapter. It was
nearly twelve years before the book was given to the public.

Some account of his manner of working may be of interest, and it is
convenient to describe it here once for all. In the second year, after
he had begun his preliminary studies, he secured the services of a Mr.
James English, a young Harvard graduate, who had some knowledge of the
modern languages. This gentleman devoted himself to Prescott's
interests, and henceforth a definite routine of study and composition
was established and was continued with other secretaries throughout
Prescott's life. Mr. English has left some interesting notes of his
experiences, which admit us to the library of the large house on Bedford
Street, where the two men worked so diligently together. It was a
spacious room in the back of the house, lined on two sides with books
which reached the ceiling. Against a third side was a large green
screen, toward which Prescott faced while seated at his table; while
behind him was an ample window, over which a series of pale blue muslin
shades could be drawn, thus regulating the illumination of the room
according to the state of Prescott's eye and the conditions of the
weather. At a second window sat Mr. English, ready to act either as
reader or as amanuensis when required.

Allusion has been made from time to time to Prescott's written memoranda
and to his letters, which, indeed, were often very long and very
frequent. It must not be thought that in writing these he had to make
any use of his imperfect sight. The need of this had been obviated by an
invention which he had first heard of in London during his visit there
in 1816. It was a contrivance called "the noctograph," meant for the use
of the blind. A frame like that of a slate was crossed by sixteen
parallel wires fastened into the sides and holding down a sheet of
blackened paper like the carbon paper now used in typewriters and
copying-machines. Under this blackened paper was placed a sheet of plain
white note-paper. A person using the noctograph wrote with a sort of
stylus of ivory, agate, or some other hard substance upon the blackened
paper, which conveyed the impression to the white paper underneath. Of
course, the brass wires guided the writer's hand and kept the point of
the stylus somewhere near the line.[8]

Of his noctograph Prescott made constant use. For composition he
employed it almost altogether, seldom or never dictating to a scribe.
Obviously, however, the instrument allowed no erasures or corrections to
be made, and the writer must go straight forward with his task; since to
go back and try to alter what had been once set down would make the
whole illegible. Hence arose the necessity of what Irving once described
as "pre-thinking,"--the determination not only of the content but of the
actual form of the sentence before it should be written down. In this
pre-thinking Prescott showed a power of memory and of visualisation
that was really wonderful. To carry in his mind the whole of what had
been read over to him in a session of several hours,--names, dates,
facts, authorities,--and then to shape his narrative, sentence by
sentence, before setting down a word, and, finally, to bear in mind the
whole structure of each succeeding paragraph and the form in which they
had been carefully built up--this was, indeed, an intellectual and
literary achievement of an unusual character. Of course, such a power as
this did not come of itself, but was slowly gained by persistent
practice and unwearied effort. His personal memoranda show this: "Think
closely," he writes, "gradually concentrating the circle of thought."
And again: "Think continuously and closely before taking up my pen. Make
corrections chiefly in my own mind." And still again: "Never take up my
pen until I have travelled over the subject so often that I can write
almost from memory."

But in 1827, the time had not yet come for composition. He was hearing
books read to him and was taking copious notes. How copious these were,
his different secretaries have told; and besides, great masses of them
have been preserved as testimony to the minute and patient labour of the
man who made and used them. As his reader went on, Prescott would say,
"Mark that!" whenever anything seemed to him especially significant.
These marked passages were later copied out in a large clear hand for
future reference. When the time came, they would be read, studied,
compared, verified, and digested. Sometimes he spent as much as five
days in thus mastering the notes collected for a single chapter. Then at
least another day would be given to reflection and (probably) to
composition, while from five to nine days more might go to the actual
writing out of the text. This power of Prescott's increased with
constant exercise. Later, he was able to carry in his head the whole of
the first and second chapters of his _Conquest of Peru_ (nearly sixty
pages) before committing them to paper, and in preparing his last work,
_Philip II._, he composed and memorised the whole fifth, sixth, and
seventh chapters of Book II., amounting to seventy-two printed pages.

Prescott had elaborated a system of his own for the regulation of his
daily life while he was working. This system was based upon the closest
observation, extending over years, of the physical effect upon him of
everything he did. The result was a regimen which represented his
customary mode of living. Rising early in the morning, he took outdoor
exercise, except during storms of exceptional severity. He rode well and
loved a spirited horse, though sometimes he got a fall from letting his
attention stray to his studies instead of keeping it on the temper of
his animal. But, in the coldest weather, on foot or in the saddle, he
covered several miles before breakfast, to which he always came back in
high spirits, having, as he expressed it, "wound himself up for the
day." After a very simple breakfast, he went at once to his library,
where, for an hour or so, he chatted with Mrs. Prescott or had her read
to him the newspapers or some popular book of the day. By ten o'clock,
serious work began with the arrival of his secretary, with whom he
worked diligently until one o'clock, for he seldom sat at his desk for
more than three consecutive hours. A brisk walk of a mile or two gave
him an appetite for dinner, which was served at three o'clock, an hour
which, in the year 1827, was not regarded as remarkable, at least in
Massachusetts. This was a time of relaxation, of chat and gossip and
family fun; and it was then that Prescott treated himself to the amount
of wine which he had decided to allow himself. His fondness for wine has
been already casually mentioned. To him the question of its use was so
important, that once, for two years and nine months, he recorded every
day the exact amount that he had drunk and the effect which it had had
upon his eye and upon his general health. A further indulgence which
followed after dinner was the smoking of a mild cigar while his wife
read or talked to him. Then, another walk or drive, a cup of tea at
five, and finally, two or more industrious hours with his secretary,
after which he came down to the library and enjoyed the society of his
family or of friends who happened in.

This, it will be seen, was not the life of a recluse or of a Casaubon,
though it was a life regulated by a wise discretion. To adjust himself
to its routine, Prescott had to overcome many of his natural tendencies.
In the first place, he was, as has been already noted, of a somewhat
indolent disposition; and a steady grind, day after day and week after
week, was something which he had never known in school or college. Even
now in his maturity, and with the spurring of a steady purpose to urge
him on, he often faltered. His memoranda show now and then a touch of
self-accusation or regret.

     "I have worked lazily enough, or rather have been too busy to work
     at all. Ended the old year very badly."

     "I find it as hard to get under way, as a crazy hulk that has been
     boarded up for repairs."

How thoroughly he conquered this repugnance to hard work is illustrated
by a pathetic incident which happened once when he was engaged upon a
bit of writing that interested him, but when he was prevented by
rheumatic pains from sitting upright. Prescott then placed his
noctograph upon the floor and lay down flat beside it, writing in this
attitude for many hours on nine consecutive days rather than give in.

He tried some curious devices to penalise himself for laziness. He used
to persuade his friends to make bets with him that he would not complete
certain portions of writing within a given time. This sort of thing was
a good deal of a make-believe, for Prescott cared nothing about money
and had plenty of it at his disposal; and when his friends lost, he
never permitted them to pay. He did a like thing on a larger scale and
in a somewhat different way by giving a bond to his secretary, Mr.
English, binding himself to pay a thousand dollars if within one year
from September, 1828, Prescott should not have written two hundred and
fifty pages of _Ferdinand and Isabella_. This number of pages was
specified, because Prescott dreaded his own instability of purpose, and
felt that if he should once get so far as two hundred and fifty pages,
he would be certain to go on and finish the entire history. Other wagers
or bonds with Mr. English were made by Prescott from time to time, all
with the purpose of counteracting his own disposition to _far niente_.

His settled mode of life also compelled him in some measure to give up
the delights of general social intercourse and the convivial pleasures
of which he was naturally fond. There were, indeed, times when he did
let his work go and enjoyed a return to a freer life, as when in the
country at Pepperell he romped and rollicked like a boy; or when in
Boston, he was present at some of the jolly little suppers given by his
friends and so much liked by him. But on the whole, neither his health
nor the arduous researches which he had undertaken allowed him often to
break the regularity of his way of living. Nothing, indeed, testifies
more strikingly to his naturally buoyant disposition than the fact that
years of unvarying routine were unable to make of Prescott a formalist
or to render him less charming as a social favourite. In his study he
was conspicuously the scholar, the investigator; elsewhere he was the
genial companion, full of fun and jest, telling stories and manifesting
that gift of personal attractiveness which compelled all within its
range to feel wholly and completely at their ease. No writer was ever
less given to literary posing. It is, indeed, an extraordinary fact that
although Prescott was occupied for ten whole years in preparing his
_Ferdinand and Isabella_, during all that time not more than three
persons outside of his own family knew that he was writing a book. His
friends supposed that his hours of seclusion were occupied in general
reading and study. Only when a formal announcement of the history was
made in the _North American Review_ in 1837, did even his familiar
associates begin to think of him as an author.

The death of Prescott's little daughter, Catherine, in February, 1829,
did much to drive him to hard work as a relief from sorrow. She was his
first-born child, and when she died, she was a few months over four
years of age,--a winsome little creature, upon whom her father had
lavished an unstinted affection. She alone had the privilege of
interrupting him during his hours of work. Often she used to climb up to
his study and put an end to the most profound researches, greatly, it is
recorded, to the delight of his secretary, who thus got a little moment
of relief from the deciphering of almost undecipherable scrawls. Her
death was sudden, and the shock of it was therefore all the greater.
Years afterward, Prescott, in writing to a friend who had suffered a
like bereavement, disclosed the depths of his own anguish: "I can never
suffer again as I then did. It was my first heavy sorrow, and I suppose
we cannot twice feel so bitterly." His labour now took on the character
of a solace, and perhaps it was at this time that he formed the opinion
which he set down long after: "I am convinced that intellectual
occupation--steady, regular, literary occupation--is the true vocation
for me, indispensable to my happiness."

And so his preparation for _Ferdinand and Isabella_ went on apace.
Prescott no longer thought it enough to master the historians who had
already written of this reign. He went back of them to the very
_Quellen_, having learned that the true historical investigator can
afford to slight no possible source of information,--that nothing, good,
bad, or indifferent, can safely be neglected. The packets which now
reached him from Spain and France grew bulkier and their contents more
diversified. Not merely modern tomes, not merely printed books were
there, but parchments in quaint and crabbed script, to be laboriously
deciphered by his secretary, with masses of black-letter and copies of
ancient archives, from which some precious fact or chance corroboration
might be drawn by inquisitive industry. The sifting out of all this
rubbish-heap went on with infinite patience, until at last his notes and
memoranda contained the substance of all that was essential.

Prescott had given a bond to Mr. English pledging himself to complete by
September, 1829, two hundred and fifty printed pages of the book. Yet it
was actually not until this month had ended that the first line was
written. On October 6, 1829, after three months devoted to reviewing his
notes for the opening chapter, he took his noctograph and scrawled the
initial sentence. A whole month was consumed in finishing the chapter,
and two months more in writing out the second and the third. From this
time a sense of elation filled him, now that all his patient labour was
taking concrete form, and there was no more question of putting his task
aside. His progress might be, as he called it, "tortoise-like," but he
had felt the joy of creation; and the work went on, always with a firmer
grasp, a surer sense of form, and the clearer light which comes to an
artist as his first vague impressions begin under his hand to take on
actuality. There were times when, from illness, he had almost to cease
from writing; there were other times when he turned aside from his
special studies to accomplish some casual piece of literary work. But
these interruptions, while they delayed the accomplishment of his
purpose, did not break the current of his interest.

The casual pieces of writing, to which allusion has just been made, were
oftenest contributions to the _North American Review_. One of them,
however, was somewhat more ambitious than a magazine article. It was a
life of Charles Brockden Brown, which Prescott undertook at the request
of Jared Sparks, who was editing a series of American biographies. This
was in 1834, and the book was written in two weeks at Nahant. It
certainly did nothing for Prescott's reputation. What is true of this is
true of everything that he wrote outside of his histories. In his
essays, and especially in his literary criticisms, he seemed devoid of
penetration and of a grasp upon the verities. His style, too, in all
such work was formal and inert. He often showed the extent of his
reading, but never an intimate feeling for character. He could not get
down to the very core of his subject and weigh and judge with the
freedom of an independent critic. His life of Brown will be found fully
to bear out this view. In it Prescott chooses to condone the worst of
Brown's defects, and he gives no intimation of the man's real power.
Prescott himself felt that he had been too eulogistic, whereas his
greatest fault was that the eulogy was misapplied. Sparks mildly
criticised the book for its excess of generalities and its lack of
concrete facts.

How thoroughly Prescott prepared himself for the writing of his book
reviews may be seen in the fact that, having been asked for a notice of
Condé's _History of the Arabs in Spain_, he spent from three to four
months in preliminary reading, and then occupied nearly three months
more in writing out the article. In this particular case, however, he
felt that the paper represented too much labour to be sent to the _North
American_, and therefore it was set aside and ultimately made into a
chapter of his _Ferdinand and Isabella_.

It was on the 25th of June, 1836, that his history was finished, and he
at once began to consider the question of its publication. Three years
before, he had had the text set up in type so far as it was then
completed; and as the work went on, this private printing continued
until, soon after he had reached the end, four copies of the book were
in his hands. These printed copies had been prepared for several
reasons. First of all, the sight of his labour thus taking concrete form
was a continual stimulus to him. He was still, so far as the public was
concerned, a young author, and he felt all of the young author's joy in
contemplating the printed pages of his first real book. In the second
place, he wished to make a number of final alterations and corrections;
and every writer of experience is aware that the last subtle touches can
be given to a book only when it is actually in type, for only then can
he see the workmanship as it really is, with its very soul exposed to
view, seen as the public will see it, divested of the partial nebulosity
which obscures the vision while it still remains in manuscript. Finally,
Prescott wished to have a printed copy for submission to the English
publishers. It was his earnest hope to have the book appear
simultaneously in England and America, since on the other side of the
Atlantic, rather than in the United States, were to be found the most
competent judges of its worth.

But the search for an English publisher was at first unsuccessful.
Murray rejected it without even looking at it. The Longmans had it
carefully examined, but decided against accepting it. Prescott was hurt
by this rejection, the more so as he thought (quite incorrectly, as he
afterward discovered) that it was Southey who had advised the Longmans
not to publish it. The fact was that both of the firms just mentioned
had refused it because their lists were then too full to justify them in
undertaking a three-volume history. Prescott, for a time, experienced
some hesitation in bringing it out at all. He had written on the day of
its completion: "I should feel not only no desire, but a reluctance to
publish, and should probably keep it by me for emendations and
additions, were it not for the belief that the ground would be more or
less occupied in the meantime by abler writers." The allusion here is to
a history of the Spanish Arabs announced by Southey. But what really
spurred Prescott on to give his book to the world was a quiet remark of
his father's, in which there was something of a challenge and a taunt.
"The man," said he, "who writes a book which he is afraid to publish is
a coward." "Coward" was a name which no true Prescott could endure; and
so, after some months of negotiation and reflection, an arrangement was
made to have the history appear with the imprint of a newly founded
publishing house, the American Stationers' Company of Boston, with which
Prescott signed a contract in April, 1837. By the terms of this contract
Prescott was to furnish the plates and also the engravings for the book,
of which the company was to print 1250 copies and to have five years in
which to sell them--surely a very modest bargain. But Prescott cared
little for financial profits, nor was he wholly sanguine of the book's
success. On the day after signing the contract, he wrote: "I must
confess I feel some disquietude at the prospect of coming in full bodily
presence before the public." And somewhat earlier he had written with a
curious though genuine humility:--

     "What do I expect from it, now it is done? And may it not be all in
     vain and labour lost, after all? My expectations are not such, if I
     know myself, as to expose me to any serious disappointment. I do
     not flatter myself with the idea that I have achieved anything very
     profound, or, on the other hand, that will be very popular. I know
     myself too well to suppose the former for a moment. I know the
     public too well, and the subject I have chosen, to expect the
     latter. But I have made a book illustrating an unexplored and
     important period, from authentic materials, obtained with much
     difficulty, and probably in the possession of no one library,
     public or private, in Europe. As a plain, veracious record of
     facts, the work, therefore, till some one else shall be found to
     make a better one, will fill up a gap in literature which, I should
     hope, would give it a permanent value,--a value founded on its
     utility, though bringing no great fame or gain to its author.

     "Come to the worst, and suppose the thing a dead failure, and the
     book born only to be damned. Still, it will not be all in vain,
     since it has encouraged me in forming systematic habits of
     intellectual occupation, and proved to me that my greatest
     happiness is to be the result of such. It is no little matter to be
     possessed of this conviction from experience."

But Prescott had received encouragement in his moods of doubt from Jared
Sparks, at that time one of the most scientific American students of
history. Sparks had read the book in one of the first printed copies,
and had written to Prescott, in February, 1837: "The book will be
successful--bought, read, and praised." And so finally, on Christmas Day
of 1837,--though dated 1838 upon the title-page,--the _History of the
Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella_ was first offered for sale. It was in
three volumes of about four hundred pages each, and was dedicated to his

Only five hundred copies of the book had been printed as a first
edition, and of these only a small number had been bound in readiness
for the day of publication. The demand for the book took both author and
publishers by surprise. This demand came, first of all, and naturally
enough, from Prescott's personal friends. One of these, a gentleman of
convivial habits, and by no means given to reading, rose early on
Christmas morning and waited outside of the bookshop in order to secure
the first copy sold. Literary Boston, which was also fashionable Boston,
adopted the book as its favourite New Year's present. The bookbinders
could not work fast enough to supply the demand, and in a few months the
whole of the 1250 copies, which it had been supposed would last for at
least five years, had been sold. Other parts of the country followed
Boston's lead. The book was praised by the newspapers and, after a
little interval, by the more serious reviews,--the _North American_, the
_Examiner_, and the _Democratic Review_, the last of which published an
elaborate appreciation by George Bancroft.

Meanwhile, Prescott had succeeded in finding a London publisher; for in
May, Mr. Richard Bentley accepted the book, and it soon after appeared
in England. To the English criticisms Prescott naturally looked forward
with interest and something like anxiety. American approval he might
well ascribe to national bias if not to personal friendship. Therefore,
the uniformly favourable reviews in his own country could not be
accepted by him as definitely fixing the value of what he had
accomplished. In a letter to Ticknor, after recounting his first
success, he said:--

     "'Poor fellow!'--I hear you exclaim by this time,--'his wits are
     actually turned by this flurry in his native village,--the Yankee
     Athens.' Not a whit, I assure you. Am I not writing to two dear
     friends, to whom I can talk as freely and foolishly as to one of my
     own household, and who, I am sure, will not misunderstand me? The
     effect of all this--which a boy at Dr. Gardiner's school, I
     remember, called _fungum popularitatem_--has been rather to depress
     me, and S---- was saying yesterday, that she had never known me so
     out of spirits as since the book has come out."

What he wanted most was to read a thoroughly impartial estimate written
by some foreign scholar of distinction. He had not long to wait. In the
_Athenoeum_ there soon appeared a very eulogistic notice, written by
Dr. Dunham, an industrious student of Spanish and Portuguese history.
Then followed an admirably critical paper in the _Edinburgh Review_ by
Don Pascual de Gayangos, a distinguished Spanish writer living in
England. Highly important among the English criticisms was that which
was published in the _Quarterly Review_ of June, 1839, from the pen of
Richard Ford, a very accurate and critical Spanish scholar. Mr. Ford
approached the book with something of the _morgue_ of a true British
pundit when dealing with the work of an unknown American;[9] but, none
the less, his criticism, in spite of his reluctance to praise, gave
Prescott genuine pleasure. Ford found fault with some of the details of
_Ferdinand and Isabella_, yet he was obliged to admit both the sound
scholarship and literary merit of the book. On the Continent appeared
the most elaborate review of all in a series of five articles written
for the _Bibliothèque Universelle de Genève_, by the Comte Adolphe de
Circourt. The Comte was a friend of Lamartine (who called him _la
mappemonde vivante des connaissances humaines_) and also of Tocqueville
and Cavour. Few of his contemporaries possessed so minute a knowledge of
the subject which Prescott treated, and of the original sources of
information; and the favourably philosophical tone of the whole review
was a great compliment to an author hitherto unknown in Europe. Still
later, sincere and almost unqualified praise was given by Guizot in
France, and by Lockhart, Southey, Hallam, and Milman, in England.
Indeed, as Mr. Ticknor says, although these personages had never before
heard of Prescott, their spirit was almost as kindly as if it had been
due to personal friendship. The long years of discouragement, of
endurance, and of patient, arduous toil had at last borne abundant
fruit; and from the time of the appearance of _Ferdinand and Isabella_,
Prescott won and held an international reputation, and tasted to the
full the sweets of a deserved success.



After the publication of _Ferdinand and Isabella_, its author rested on
his oars, treating himself to social relaxation and enjoying thoroughly
the praise which came to him from every quarter. Of course he had no
intention of remaining idle long, but a new subject did not at once
present itself so clearly to him as to make his choice of it inevitable.
For about eighteen months, therefore, he took his ease. His
correspondence, however, shows that he was always thinking of a second
venture in the field of historical composition. His old bent for
literary history led him to consider the writing of a life of Molière--a
book that should be agreeable and popular rather than profound. Yet
Spain still kept its hold on his imagination, and even before his
_Ferdinand and Isabella_ had won its sure success, he had written in a
letter to Ticknor the following paragraph:--

     "My heart is set on a Spanish subject, could I compass the
     materials: viz. the conquest of Mexico and the anterior
     civilisation of the Mexicans--a beautiful prose epic, for which
     rich virgin materials teem in Simancas and Madrid, and probably in
     Mexico. I would give a couple of thousand dollars that they lay in
     a certain attic in Bedford Street."

This purpose lingered in his mind all through his holidays, which were,
indeed, not wholly given up to idleness, for he listened to a good deal
of general reading at this time, most of it by no means of a superficial
character. Ever since his little daughter's death, Prescott had felt a
peculiar interest in the subject of the immortality of the soul, and had
read all of the most serious treatises to be found upon that subject. He
had also gone carefully through the Gospels, weighing them with all the
acumen which he had brought to bear upon his Castilian chronicles. This
investigation, which he had begun with reference to the single question
of immortality, broadened out into an examination of the whole
evidential basis of orthodox Christianity. In this study he was aided by
his father, who brought to it the keen, impartial judgment of an able
lawyer. Of the conclusions at which he ultimately arrived, he was not
wont to talk except on rare occasions, and his cast of mind was always
reverential. He did, however, reject the doctrines of his Puritan
ancestors. He held fast to the authenticity of the Gospels, but he found
in these no evidence to support the tenets of Calvinism.

Now, in his leisure time, he read over various works of a theological
character, and came to the general conclusion that "the study of
polemics or Biblical critics will tend neither to settle principles nor
clear up doubts, but rather to confuse the former and multiply the
latter." Prescott's whole religious creed was, in fact, summed up by
himself in these words: "To do well and act justly, to fear and to love
God, and to love our neighbour as ourselves--in these is the essence of
religion. For what we can believe, we are not responsible, supposing we
examine candidly and patiently. For what we do, we shall indeed be
accountable. The doctrines of the Saviour unfold the whole code of
morals by which our conduct should be regulated. Who, then, whatever
difficulties he may meet with in particular incidents and opinions
recorded in the Gospels, can hesitate to receive the great religious and
moral truths inculcated by the Saviour as the words of inspiration? I
cannot, certainly. On these, then, I will rest."

In April, 1838, Prescott took the first step toward beginning a study of
the Mexican conquest. He wrote to Madrid in order to discover what
materials were available for his proposed researches. At the same time
he began collecting such books relating to Mexico as could be obtained
in London. Securing personal letters to scholars and officials in Mexico
itself, he wrote to them to enlist their interest in his new
undertaking. By the end of the year it became evident that the wealth of
material bearing upon the Conquest was very great, and a knowledge of
this fact roused in Prescott all the enthusiasm of an historical
investigator who has scented a new and promising trail. Only one thing
now stood in the way. This was an intimation to the effect that
Washington Irving had already planned a similar piece of work. This bit
of news was imparted to Prescott by Mr. J. G. Cogswell, who was then in
charge of the Astor Library in New York, and who was an intimate friend
of both Prescott and Irving. Mr. Cogswell told Prescott that Irving was
intending to write a history of the conquest of Mexico, as a sort of
sequel, or rather pendant, to his life of Columbus. Of course, under the
circumstances, Prescott felt that, in courtesy to one who was then the
most distinguished American man of letters, he could not proceed with
his undertaking so long as Mr. Irving was in the field. He therefore
wrote a long letter to Irving, detailing what he had already done toward
acquiring material, and to say that Mr. Cogswell had intimated that
Irving was willing to relinquish the subject in his favour.

     "I have learned from Mr. Cogswell that you had originally proposed
     to treat the same subject, and that you requested him to say to me
     that you should relinquish it in my favour. I cannot sufficiently
     express to you my sense of your courtesy, which I can very well
     appreciate, as I know the mortification it would have caused me if,
     contrary to my expectations, I had found you on the ground.... I
     fear the public will not feel so much pleased as myself by this
     liberal conduct on your part, and I am not sure that I should have
     a right in their eyes to avail myself of it. But I trust you will
     think differently when I accept your proffered courtesy in the same
     cordial spirit in which it was given."

To this letter Irving made a long and courteous reply, not only assuring
Prescott that the subject would be willingly abandoned to him, but
offering to send him any books that might be useful and to render any
service in his power. The episode affords a beautiful instance of
literary and scholarly amenities. The sacrifice which Irving made in
giving up his theme was as fine as the manner of it was graceful.
Prescott never knew how much it meant to Irving, who had already not
only made some study of the subject, but had sketched out the
ground-plan of the first volume, and had been actually at work upon the
task of composition for a period of three months. But there was
something more in it than this. Writing to his nephew, Pierre Irving,
who was afterward his biographer, he disclosed his real feeling with
much frankness.

     "I doubt whether Mr. Prescott was aware of the extent of the
     sacrifice I made. This was a favourite subject which had delighted
     my imagination ever since I was a boy. I had brought home books
     from Spain to aid me in it, and looked upon it as the pendant to my
     Columbus. When I gave it up to him I, in a manner, gave him up my
     bread; for I depended upon the profits of it to recruit my waning
     finances. I had no other subject at hand to supply its place. I was
     dismounted from my _cheval de bataille_ and have never been
     completely mounted since. Had I accomplished that work my whole
     pecuniary situation would have been altered."[10]

There was no longer any obstacle in Prescott's way, and he set to work
with an interest which grew as the richness of the material revealed
itself. There came to him from Madrid, books, manuscripts, copies of
official documents, and all the _apparatus criticus_ which even the most
exacting scholar could require. The distinguished historian, Navarrete,
placed his entire collection of manuscripts relating to Mexico and Peru
at the disposal of his American _confrère_. The Spanish Academy let him
have copies of the collections made by Muñoz and by Vargas y Ponce--a
matter of some five thousand pages. Prescott's friend, Señor Calderon,
who at this time was Spanish Minister to Mexico, aided him in gathering
materials relating to the early Aztec civilisation. Don Pascual de
Gayangos, who had written the favourable notice in the _Edinburgh
Review_, delved among the documents in the British Museum on behalf of
Prescott, and caused copies to be made of whatever seemed to bear upon
the Mexican conquest. A year or two later, he even sent to Prescott the
whole of his own collection of manuscripts. In Spain very valuable
assistance was given by Mr. A. H. Everett, at that time American
Minister to the Spanish court, and by his first Secretary of Legation,
the South Carolinian who had taken his entrance examination to Harvard
in Prescott's company, and who throughout his college life had been a
close and valued friend. A special agent, Dr. Lembke,[11] was also
employed, and he gave a good part of his time to rummaging among the
archives and libraries. Prescott's authorship of _Ferdinand and
Isabella_, however, was the real touchstone which opened all doors to
him, and enlisted in his service enthusiastic purveyors of material in
every quarter. In Spain especially, the prestige of his name was very
great; and more than one traveller from Boston received distinguished
courtesies in that country as being the _conciudadano_ of the American
historian. Mr. Edward Everett Hale, whose acquaintance with Prescott was
very slight, relates an experience which is quite illustrative:--

     "I had gone there [to Madrid] to make some studies and collect some
     books for the history of the Pacific, which, with a prophetic
     instinct, I have always wanted to write. Different friends gave me
     letters of introduction, and among others the gentlemen of the
     Spanish Embassy here were very kind to me. They gave me four such
     letters, and when I was in Madrid and when I was in Seville it
     seemed as though every door flew open for me and every facility was
     offered me. It was not until I was at home again that I came to
     know the secret of these most diligent civilities. I still had one
     of my Embassy letters which I had never presented. I read it for
     the first time, to learn that I was the coadjutor and friend of the
     great historian Prescott through all his life, that I was his
     assistant through all his historical work, and, indeed, for these
     reasons, no American was more worthy of the consideration of the
     gentlemen in charge of the Spanish archives. It was certainly by no
     fault of mine that an exaggeration so stupendous had found its way
     to the Spanish Legation. Somebody had said, what was true, that
     Prescott was always good to me, and that our friendship began when
     he engaged me as his reader. And, what with translating this simple
     story, what with people's listening rather carelessly and
     remembering rather carelessly, by the time my letters were drafted
     I had become a sort of 'double' of Mr. Prescott himself. I hope
     that I shall never hear that I disgraced him."[12]

Actual work upon the _Conquest_ began early in 1839, though not at first
with a degree of progress which was satisfactory to the investigator. By
May, however, he had warmed to his work. He went back to his old
rigorous regime, giving up again all social pleasures outside of his own
house, and spending in his library at least five hours each day. His
period of rest had done him good, and his eyesight was now better than
at any time since it first became impaired. After three months of
preliminary reading he was able to sketch out the plan of the entire
work, and on October 14, 1839, he began the actual task of composition.
He found the introduction extremely difficult to write, for it dealt
with the pre-historic period of Mexico, obscured as it was by the mist
of myth and by the contradictory assertions of conflicting authorities.
"The whole of that part of the story," wrote Prescott, "is in twilight,
and I fear I shall at least make only moonshine of it. I must hope that
it will be good moonshine. It will go hard with me, however, but that I
can fish something new out of my ocean of manuscripts." He had hoped to
dispose of his introduction in a hundred pages, and to finish it in six
months at the most. It actually extended to two hundred and fifty pages,
and the writing of it took nearly eighteen months. One interruption
occurred which he had not anticipated. The success of _Ferdinand and
Isabella_ had tempted an unscrupulous publisher to undertake an
abridgment of that book. To protect his own interests Prescott decided
to make an abridgment of his own, and thus to forestall the pirate. This
work disheartened and depressed him, but he finished it with great
celerity, only to find that the rival abridgment had been given up. A
brief stay upon the sea-coast put him once more into working condition,
and from that time he went on steadily with the _Conquest_, which he
completed on August 2, 1843, not quite four years from the time when he
began the actual composition. His weariness was lightened by the
confidence which he felt in his own success. He knew that he had
produced a masterpiece.

Naturally, he now had no trouble in securing a publisher and in making
very advantageous terms for the production of the book. It was brought
out by the Harpers of New York, though, as before, Prescott himself
owned the plates. His contract allowed the Harpers to publish five
thousand copies for which they paid the author $7500, with the right of
publishing more copies if required within the period of one year and on
the same general terms. An English edition was simultaneously brought
out by Bentley in London, who purchased the foreign copyright for £650.
Three Spanish translations appeared soon after, one in Madrid in 1847
and two in Mexico in 1844. A French translation was published in Paris,
by Didot in 1846, and a German translation, in Leipzig, by Brockhaus in
1845. A French reprint in English appeared in Paris soon after Bentley
placed the London edition upon the market.

No historical work written by an American has ever been received with so
much enthusiasm alike in America and in Europe. Within a month, four
thousand copies were disposed of by the Harpers, and at the end of four
months the original edition of five thousand had been sold. The
reviewers were unanimous in its praise, and an avalanche of
congratulatory letters descended upon Prescott from admirers, known and
unknown, all over the civilised world. _Ferdinand and Isabella_ had
brought him reputation; the _Conquest of Mexico_ made him famous.
Honours came to him unsought. He was elected a member of the French
Institute[13] and of the Royal Society of Berlin. He had already
accepted membership in the Royal Spanish Academy of History at Madrid
and in the Royal Academy of Sciences in Naples. Harvard conferred upon
him the degree of Doctor of Laws. Perhaps nothing pleased him more,
however, than a personal letter from Humboldt, for whom Prescott had
long entertained a feeling of deep admiration. This eminent scholar, at
that time the President of the Royal Society of Berlin, in which body
Niebuhr, Von Raumer, and Ranke had been enrolled, wrote in French a
letter of which the following sentences form a part:--

     "My satisfaction has been very great in studying line by line your
     excellent work. One judges with severity, with perhaps a bias
     towards injustice, when he has had a vivid impression of the
     places, and when the study of ancient history with which I have
     been occupied from preference has been pursued on the very soil
     itself where a part of these great events took place. My severity,
     sir, has been disarmed by the reading of your _Conquest of Mexico_.
     You paint with success because you have _seen_ with the eyes of the
     spirit and of the inner sense. It is a pleasure to me, a citizen of
     Mexico, to have lived long enough to read you and to speak to you
     of my appreciation of the kind expressions with which you have done
     honour to my name.... Were I not wholly occupied with my _Cosmos_,
     which I have had the imprudence to print, I should have wished to
     translate your work into the language of my own country."

While gathering the materials for the _Conquest of Mexico_, Prescott had
felt his way toward still another subject which his Mexican researches
naturally suggested. This was the conquest of Peru. Much of his Mexican
reading had borne directly upon this other theme, so that the labour of
preparation was greatly lightened. Moreover, by this time, he had
acquired both an accurate knowledge of sources and also great facility
in composition. Hence the only serious work which was necessary for him
to undertake as a preliminary to composition was the study of Peruvian
antiquities. This occupied him eight months, and proved to be far more
troublesome to him and much less satisfactory than the like
investigation which he had made with reference to the Aztecs. However,
after the work had been commenced it proceeded rapidly,--so rapidly, in
fact, as to cause him a feeling of half-comical dismay. He began to
write on the 12th of August, 1844, and completed his task on November 7,
1846. During its progress he made a note that he had written two
chapters, amounting in all to fifty-one printed pages, in four days,
adding the comment, "I never did up so much yarn in the same time. At
this rate Peru will not hold out six months. Can I finish it in a year?
Alas for the reader!" No doubt he might have finished it in a year had
certain interruptions not occurred. The first of these was the death of
his father, which took place on December 8th, not long after he had
begun the book. His brother Edward had died shortly before, and this
double affliction affected very deeply so sensitive a nature as
Prescott's. To his father, indeed, he owed more than he could ever
express. The two had been true comrades, and had treated one another
with an affectionate familiarity which, between father and son, was as
rare in those days as it was beautiful. Judge Prescott's generosity had
made it possible for the younger man to break through all the barriers
of physical infirmity, and not only to win fame but also the happiness
which comes from a creative activity. They understood each other very
well, and in many points they were much alike both in their friendliness
and in their habits of reserve. One little circumstance illustrates this
likeness rather curiously. Fond as both of them were of their fellows,
and cordial as they both were to all their friends, each wished at times
to be alone, and these times were when they walked or rode. Therefore,
each morning when the two men mounted their horses or when they set out
for a walk, they always parted company when they reached the road, one
turning to the right and the other to the left by a tacit understanding,
and neither ever thought of accompanying the other. Sometimes a friend
not knowing of this trait would join one of them to share the ride or
walk. Whenever such a thing as this took place, that particular route
would be abandoned the next day and another and a lonelier one selected.

A further interruption came from the purchase of a house on Beacon
Street and the necessity of arranging to leave the old mansion on
Bedford Street. The new house was a fine one, overlooking the Mall and
the Common; and the new library, which was planned especially for
Prescott's needs, was much more commodious than the old one. But the
confusion and feeling of unsettlement attendant on the change distracted
Prescott more than it would have done a man less habituated to a
self-imposed routine. "A month of pandemonium," he wrote; "an
unfurnished house coming to order; a library without books; books
without time to open them." It took Prescott quite a while to resume his
methodical habits. His old-time indolence settled down upon him, and it
was some time before his literary momentum had been recovered. Moreover,
he presumed upon the fairly satisfactory condition of his eye and used
it to excess. The result was that his optic nerve was badly over-taxed,
"probably by manuscript digging," as he said. The strain was one from
which his eye never fully recovered; and from this time until the
completion of the _Peru_, he could use it in reading for only a few
minutes every day, sometimes perhaps for ten or fifteen, but never for
more than thirty. As this is the last time that we shall mention this
subject, it may be said that for all purposes of literary work Prescott
was soon afterward reduced to the position of one who was actually
blind. What had before been a merely stationary dimness of vision became
a slowly progressive decay of sight, or, to express it in medical
language, amblyopia had passed into amaurosis. He followed rigorously
his oculist's injunctions, but in the end he had to face the facts
unflinchingly; and a little later he recorded his determination to give
up all use of the eye for the future in his studies, and to be contented
with preserving it for the ordinary purposes of life. The necessity
disheartened him. "It takes the strength out of me," he said.
Nevertheless, neither this nor the fact that his general health was most
unsatisfactory, caused him to abandon work. He could not bring himself
to use what he called "the coward's word, 'impossible.'" And so, after a
little time, he went on as before, studying "by ear-work," and turning
off upon his noctograph from ten to fifteen pages every day. He
continued also his outdoor exercise, and, in fact, one of the
best-written chapters of the _Conquest of Peru_--the last one--was
composed while galloping through the woods at Pepperell. On November 7,
1846, the _Conquest of Peru_ was finished. Like the preceding history,
it was published by the Harper Brothers, who agreed to pay the author
one dollar per copy and to bring out a first edition of seventy-five
hundred copies. This, Mr. Ticknor says, was a more liberal arrangement
than had ever before been made with an historical writer in the United
States. The English copyright was purchased by Bentley for £800.

Prescott's main anxiety about the reception which would be given to the
_Conquest of Peru_ was based upon his doubts as to its literary style.
Neither of his other books had been written so rapidly, and he feared
that he might incur the charge of over-fluency or even slovenliness.
Yet, as a matter of fact, the chorus of praise which greeted the two
volumes was as loud and as spontaneous as it had been over his _Mexico_.
Prescott now stood so firmly on his feet as to look at much of this
praise in a somewhat humorous light. The approbation of the _Edinburgh
Review_ no longer seemed to him the _summa laus_, though he valued it
more highly than the praise given him by American periodicals, of which
he wrote very shrewdly:

     "I don't know how it is, but our critics, though not pedantic, have
     not the businesslike air, or the air of the man of the world, which
     gives manliness and significance to criticism. Their satire, when
     they attempt it--which cannot be often laid to their door--has
     neither the fine edge of the _Edinburgh_ nor the sledgehammer
     stroke of the _Quarterly_. They twaddle out their humour as if they
     were afraid of its biting too hard, or else they deliver axioms
     with a sort of smart, dapper conceit, like a little parson laying
     down the law to his little people.... In England there is a far
     greater number of men highly cultivated--whether in public life or
     men of leisure--whose intimacy with affairs and with society, as
     well as books, affords supplies of a high order for periodical

As for newspaper eulogies, he remarked: "I am certainly the cause of
some wit and much folly in others." His latest work, however, brought
him two new honours which he greatly prized,--an election to the Royal
English Society of Literature, and the other an invitation to membership
in the Royal Society of Antiquaries. The former honour he shared with
only one of his fellow-countrymen, Bancroft; the latter had heretofore
been given to no American.

Prescott now indulged himself with a long period of "literary loafing,"
as he described it, broken in upon only by the preparation of a short
memoir of John Pickering, the antiquarian and scholar, who had been one
of Prescott's most devoted friends. This memoir was undertaken at the
request of the Massachusetts Historical Society. It has no general
interest now, but is worthy of note as having been the only one of
Prescott's works which he dictated to an amanuensis. Prescott had an
aversion to writing in this way, although he had before him the example
of his blind contemporary, Thierry. Like Alphonse Daudet, he seems to
have felt that what is written by hand comes more directly from the
author's inner self, and that it represents most truly the tints and
half-tones of his personality. That this is only a fancy is seen clearly
enough from several striking instances which the history of literature
records. Scott dictated to Lockhart the whole of _The Bride of
Lammermoor_. Thackeray dictated a good part of _The Newcomes_ and all of
_Pendennis_, and even _Henry Esmond_, of which the artificial style
might well have made dictation difficult. Prescott, however, had his own
opinion on the subject, and, with the single exception which has just
been cited, he used his noctograph for composition down to the very end,
dictating only his correspondence to his secretary.

His days of "literary loafing" allowed him to enjoy the pleasures of
friendship which during his periods of work were necessarily, to some
extent, intermitted. No man ever had more cordially devoted friends than
Prescott. He knew every one who was worth knowing, and every one was
attracted by the spontaneous charm of his manner and his invincible
kindliness. Never was a man more free from petulance or peevishness,
though these defects at times might well have been excused in one whose
health was such as his. He presented the anomaly of a dyspeptic who was
still an optimist and always amiable. Mr. John Foster Kirk, who was one
of his secretaries, wrote of him:--

     "No annoyance, great or small, the most painful illness or the most
     intolerable bore, could disturb his equanimity, or render him in
     the least degree sullen, or fretful, or discourteous. He was always
     gay, good-humoured, and manly. He carried his kindness of
     disposition not only into his public, but into his private,
     writings. In the hundreds of letters, many of them of the most
     confidential character, treating freely of other authors and of a
     great variety of persons, which I wrote at his dictation, not a
     single unkind or harsh or sneering expression occurs. He was
     totally free from the jealousy and envy so common among authors,
     and was always eager in conversation, as in print, to point out the
     merits of the great contemporary historians whom many men in his
     position would have looked upon as rivals to be dreaded if not

Bancroft the historian has added his testimony to the greatness of
Prescott's personal charm.

     "His countenance had something that brought to mind the 'beautiful
     disdain' that hovers on that of the Apollo. But while he was
     high-spirited, he was tender and gentle and humane. His voice was
     like music and one could never hear enough of it. His cheerfulness
     reached and animated all about him. He could indulge in playfulness
     and could also speak earnestly and profoundly; but he knew not how
     to be ungracious or pedantic."

No wonder then that his friends were legion, comprising men and women of
the most different types. Dry and formal scholars such as Jared Sparks;
men of the world like Lord Carlisle; nice old ladies like Maria
Edgeworth and the octogenarian Miss Berry, Walpole's friend; women of
fashion like Lady Lyell, Lady Mary Labouchère, and the Duchess of
Sutherland; Spanish hidalgos like Calderon de la Barca; smooth
politicians like Caleb Cushing; and intense partisans like Charles
Sumner,--all agreed in their affectionate admiration for Prescott. His
friendship with Sumner was indeed quite notable, since no men could have
been more utterly unlike. Sumner was devoid of the slightest gleam of
humour, and his self-consciousness was extreme; yet Prescott sometimes
poked fun at him with impunity. Thus, writing to Sumner about his Phi
Beta Kappa oration (delivered in 1846), he said:--

     "Last year you condemned wars _in toto_, making no exception even
     for the wars of freedom. This year you condemn the _representation_
     of war, whether by the pencil or the pen. Marathon, Salamis, Bunker
     Hill, the retreat from Moscow, Waterloo, great and small, are _all_
     to be blotted from memory equally with my own wild skirmishes of
     barbarians and banditti. Lord deliver us! Where will you bring up?
     If the stories are not to be painted or written, such records of
     them as have been heedlessly made should by the same rule be
     destroyed. I laugh; but I fear you will make the judicious grieve.
     But fare thee well, dear Sumner. Whether thou deportest thyself
     _sana mente_ or _mente insana_, believe me always truly yours."

But Sumner's arrogance and egoism were always in abeyance where Prescott
was concerned, and even their lack of political sympathy never marred
the warmth of their intercourse. Prescott, in fact, cared very little
about contemporary politics. He had inherited from his fighting
ancestors a sturdy patriotism, but his loyalty was given to the whole
country and not to any faction or party. His cast of mind was
essentially conservative, and down to 1856 he would no doubt have called
himself an old-line Whig. He was always, however, averse to political
discussion which, indeed, led easily to personalities that were
offensive not only to Prescott's taste but to his amiable disposition.
His friend Parsons said of him: "He never sought or originated political
conversation, but he would not decline contributing his share to it; and
the contribution he made was always of good sense, of moderation, and of

Prescott's detachment with regard to politics was partly due, no doubt,
to the nature of the life he led, which kept him isolated from the
bustle of the world about him; yet it was probably due still more to a
lack of combativeness in his nature. Motley once said of him that he
lacked the capacity for _sæva indignatio_. This remark was called forth
by Prescott's tolerant view of Philip II. of Spain, who was in Motley's
eyes little better than a monster. One might fairly, however, give it a
wider application, and we must regard it as an undeniable defect in
Prescott that nothing external could strike fire from him. Thus, when
his intimate friend Sumner had been brutally assaulted in the Senate
chamber by the Southern bully, Brooks, Prescott wrote to him: "You have
escaped the crown of martyrdom by a narrow chance, and have got all the
honours, which are almost as dangerous to one's head as a gutta-percha
cane." There is a tameness about this sentence which one would scarcely
notice had Sumner merely received a black eye, but which offends one's
sense of fitness when we recall that Sumner had been beaten into
insensibility, and that he never fully recovered from the attack. Again,
when, in 1854, Boston was all ablaze over the capture of a fugitive
slave, when the city was filled with troops and muskets were levelled at
the populace, Prescott merely remarked to an English correspondent: "It
is a disagreeable business." To be sure, he also said, "It made my blood
boil," but the general tone of the letter shows that his blood must have
boiled at a very low temperature. Nevertheless, he seems to have been
somewhat stirred by the exciting struggle which took place over Kansas
between the Free-Soil forces and the partisans of slavery. Hence, in
1856, he cast his vote for Frémont, the first Republican candidate for
the Presidency. But, as a rule, the politics of the sixteenth century
were his most serious concern, and in the very year in which he voted
for Frémont, he wrote: "I belong to the sixteenth century and am quite
out of place when I sleep elsewhere." It was this feeling which led him
to decline a tempting invitation to write a history of the modern
conquest of Mexico by the American army under General Scott. The offer
came to him in 1847; and both the theme itself and the terms in which
the offer was made might well have attracted one whose face was set less
resolutely toward the historic past. His comment was characteristic. "I
had rather not meddle with heroes who have not been under ground two
centuries at least." It is interesting to note that the subject which
Prescott then rejected has never been adequately treated; and that the
brilliant exploits of Scott in Mexico still await a worthy chronicler.

It was natural that a writer so popular as Prescott should, in spite of
his methodical life, find his time encroached upon by those who wished
to meet him. He had an instinct for hospitality; and this made it the
more difficult for him to maintain that scholarly seclusion which had
been easy to him in the days of his comparative obscurity. His personal
friends were numerous, and there were many others who sought him out
because of his distinction. Many foreign visitors were entertained by
him, and these he received with genuine pleasure. Their number increased
as the years went by so that once in a single week he entertained, at
Pepperell, Señor Calderon, Stephens the Central American traveller, and
the British General Harlan from Afghanistan. Sir Charles Lyell, Lady
Lyell, Lord Carlisle, and Dickens were also visitors of his. It was as
the guest of Prescott that Thackeray ate his first dinner in
America.[14] Visitors of this sort, of course, he was very glad to see.
Not so much could be said of the strangers who forced themselves upon
him at Nahant, where swarms of summer idlers filled the hotels and
cottages, and with well-meaning but thoughtless interest sought out the
historian in the darkened parlour of his house. "I have lost a clear
month here by company," he wrote in 1840, "company which brings the
worst of all satieties; for the satiety from study brings the
consciousness of improvement. But this dissipation impairs health,
spirit, scholarship. Yet how can I escape it, tied like a bear to a
stake here?"

Prescott's favourite form of social intercourse was found in little
dinners shared with a few chosen friends. These affairs he called
"cronyings," and in them he took much delight, even though they often
tempted him to an over-indulgence in tobacco and sometimes in wine.[15]
One rule, however, he seldom broke, and that was his resolve never to
linger after ten o'clock at any function, however pleasant. An old
friend of his has left an account of one especially convivial occasion
to which Prescott had invited a number of his friends. The dinner was
given at a restaurant, and the guests were mostly young men and fond of
good living. The affair went off so well that, as the hour of ten
approached, no one thought of leaving. Prescott began to fidget in his
chair and even to drop a hint or two, which passed unnoticed, for the
reason that Prescott's ten o'clock rule was quite unknown to his jovial
guests. At last, to the surprise of every one, he rose and made a little
speech to the company, in which he said that he was sorry to leave them,
but that he must return home.

     "But," he added, "I am sure you will be very soon in no condition
     to miss me,--especially as I leave behind that excellent
     representative"--pointing to a basket of uncorked bottles which
     stood in a corner. "Then you know you are just as much at home in
     this house as I am. You can call for what you like. Don't be
     alarmed--I mean on _my_ account. I abandon to you, without reserve,
     all my best wines, my credit with the house, and my reputation to
     boot. Make free with them all, I beg of you--and if you don't go
     home till morning, I wish you a merry night of it."

It is to be hoped that Prescott was not quite accurately reported, and
that he did not speak that little sentence, "Don't be alarmed," which
may have been characteristic of a New Englander, but which certainly
would have induced a different sort of guests to leave the place at
once. If he did say it, however, it was somewhat in keeping with the
tactlessness which he occasionally showed. The habit of frank speech,
which had made him a nuisance as a boy, never quite left him, and he
frequently blurted out things which were of the sort that one would
rather leave unsaid. His wife would often nod and frown at him on these
occasions, and then he would always make the matter worse by asking her,
with the greatest innocence, what the matter was. Mr. Ogden records an
amusing instance of Prescott's _naïveté_ during his last visit to
England. Conversing about Americanisms with an English lady of rank, she
criticised the American use of the word "snarl" in the sense of
disorder. "Why, surely," cried Prescott, "you would say that your
ladyship's hair is in a snarl!" Which, unfortunately, it was--a fact
that by no means soothed the lady's temper at being told so. There was a
certain boyishness about Prescott, however, which usually enabled him to
carry these things off without offence, because they were obviously so
natural and so unpremeditated. His boyishness took other forms which
were more generally pleasing. One evidence of it was his fondness for
such games as blindman's buff and puss-in-the-corner, in which he used
to engage with all the zest of a child, even after he had passed his
fiftieth year, and in which the whole household took part, together with
any distinguished foreigners who might be present. Another youthful
trait was his readiness to burst into song on all occasions, even in the
midst of his work. In fact, just before beginning any animated bit of
descriptive writing he would rouse himself up by shouting out some
ballad that had caught his fancy; so that strangers visiting his house
would often be amused when, from the grave historian's study, there came
forth the sonorous musical appeal, "O give me but my Arab steed!"
Boyish, too, was his racy talk, full of colloquialisms and bits of
Yankee dialect, with which also his personal correspondence was
peppered. Even though his rather prim biographer, Ticknor, has gone over
Prescott's letters with a fine-tooth comb, there still remain enough of
these Doric gems to make us wish that all of them had been retained. It
is interesting to find the author of so many volumes of stately and
ornate narration letting himself go in private life, and dropping into
such easy phrases as "whopper-jawed," "cotton to," "quiddle," "book up,"
"crack up," "podder" (a favourite word of his), and "slosh." He retained
all of a young man's delight in his own convivial feats, and we find him
in one of his letters, after describing a rather prolonged and
complicated entertainment, asking gleefully, "Am I not a fast boy?"

His Yankee phrases were the hall-mark of his Yankee nature. Old England,
with all its beauty of landscape and its exquisite finish, never drove
New England from his head or heart. Thus, on his third visit to England,
he wrote to his wife: "I came through the English garden,--lawns of
emerald green, winding streams, light arched bridges, long lines
stretching between hedges of hawthorn all flowering; rustic cottages,
lordly mansions, and sweeping woods--the whole landscape a miracle of
beauty." And then he adds: "I would have given something to see a ragged
fence, or an old stump, or a bit of rock, or even a stone as big as
one's fist, to show that man's hand had not been combing Nature's head
so vigorously. I felt I was not in my own dear, wild America." Prescott
was a true Yankee also in the carefulness of his attention to matters of
business. He did not value money for its own sake. His father had left
him a handsome competence. He spent freely both for himself and for his
friends; but none the less, he made the most minute notes of all his
publishing ventures and analysed the publishers' returns as carefully as
though he were a professional accountant. This was due in part, no
doubt, to a natural desire to measure the popularity of his books by the
standard of financial success. He certainly had no reason to be
dissatisfied. Up to the time of his death, of the _Ferdinand and
Isabella_ there had been sold in the United States and England nearly
eighteen thousand copies; of the _Conquest of Mexico_, twenty-four
thousand copies; and of the _Conquest of Peru_, seventeen thousand
copies--a total, for the three works, of nearly sixty thousand copies.
When we remember that each of these histories was in several volumes and
was expensively printed and bound, and that the reading public was much
smaller in those days than now, this is a very remarkable showing for
three serious historical works. Since his death, the sales have grown
greater with the increase of general readers and the lapse of the
American copyright Prescott made excellent terms with his publishers, as
has already been recorded, and if a decision of the House of Lords had
been favourable to his copyright in England, his literary gains in that
country would have been still larger.[16]

His liking for New England country life led him to maintain in addition
to his Boston house, at 55 Beacon Street, two other places of residence.
One was at Nahant, then, as now, a very popular resort in summer. There
he had an unpretentious wooden cottage of two stories, with a broad
veranda about it, occupying an elevated position at the extremity of a
bold promontory which commanded a wide view of the sea. Nahant is famous
for its cool--almost too cool--sea-breeze, which even in August so
tempers the heat of the sun as to make a shaded spot almost
uncomfortably cold. This bracing air Prescott found admirably tonic, and
beneficial both to his eye and to his digestion, which was weak. On the
other hand, the dampness of the breeze affected unfavourably his
tendency to rheumatism, so that he seldom spent more than eight weeks of
the year upon the sea-shore. He found also that the reflection of the
sun from the water was a thing to be avoided. Therefore, he most
thoroughly enjoyed his other country place at Pepperell, where his
grandmother had lived. The plain little house, known as "The Highlands,"
and shaded by great trees, seemed to him his truest home. Here, more
than elsewhere, he threw off his cares and gave himself up completely to
his drives and rides and walks and social pleasures. The country round
about was then well wooded, and Prescott delighted to gallop through the
forests and over the rich countryside, every inch of which had been
familiar to him since his boyhood days. He felt something of the
English landowner's pride in remembering that his modest estate had been
in the possession of his family for more than a century and a half--"An
uncommon event," he wrote, "among our locomotive people." Behind the
house was a lovely shaded walk with a distant view of Mount Monadnock;
and here Prescott often strolled while composing portions of his
histories before committing them to paper. Beyond the road stood a
picturesque cluster of oak trees, making a thick grove which he called
"the Fairy Grove," for in it he used to tell his children the stories
about elves and gnomes and fairies which delighted them so much.

It was the death of his parents that led him in the last years of his
own life to abandon this home which he so dearly loved. The memories
which associated it with them were painful to him after they had gone.
He missed their faces and their happy converse, and so, in 1853, he
purchased a house on Lynn Bay, some five or six miles distant from his
cottage at Nahant. Here the sea-breeze was cool but never damp; while,
unlike Nahant, the place was surrounded by green meadow-land and
pleasant woods. This new house was much more luxurious than the cottages
at Nahant and Pepperell, and he spent at Lynn nearly all his summers
during his last five years. He added to the place, laying out its
grounds and tastefully decorating its interior, having in view not
merely his own comfort but that of his children and grandchildren, who
now began to gather about him. His daughter Elizabeth, who was married
in 1852 to Mr. James Lawrence of Boston, occupied a delightful country
house near by.

One memorial of Prescott long remained here to recall alike the owner
of the place and the work to which his life had been devoted. This was a
large cherry tree, which afforded the only shade about the house when he
first took possession of it. The state of his eye made it impossible for
him to remain long in the sunshine; and so, in his hours of composition,
he paced around the circle of the shade afforded by this tree, carrying
in his hand a light umbrella, which he raised for a moment when he
passed that portion of the circle on which the sunlight fell. He thus
trod a deep path in the turf; and for years after his death the path
remained still visible,--a touching reminder to those friends of his who
saw it.



While Prescott was still engaged in his Mexican and Peruvian researches,
and, in fact, even before he had undertaken them, another fascinating
subject had found lodgement in his mind. So far back as 1838, only a few
months after the publication of _Ferdinand and Isabella_, he had said:
"Should I succeed in my present collections, who knows what facilities I
may find for making one relative to Philip the Second's reign--a
fruitful theme if discussed under all its relations, civil and literary
as well as military." And again, in 1839, he reverted to the same
subject in his memoranda. Could he have been sure of obtaining access to
the manuscript and other sources, he might at that time have chosen this
theme in preference to the story of the Mexican conquest. He knew,
however, that nothing could be done unless he were able to make a free
use of the Spanish archives preserved at Simancas. To this ancient town,
at the suggestion of Cardinal Ximenes, the most precious historical
documents relating to Spanish history had been removed, in 1536, by
order of Charles V. The old castle of the Admiral of Castile had been
prepared to receive them, and there they still remained, as they do
to-day, filling some fifty large rooms and contained in some eighty
thousand packages. It has been estimated that fully thirty million
separate documents of various kinds are included in this remarkably rich
collection,--not only state papers of a formal character, but private
letters, secret reports, and the confidential correspondence of Spanish
ambassadors in foreign countries.[17] Such a treasure-house of
historical information scarcely exists elsewhere; and Prescott,
therefore, wrote to his friends in Madrid to learn whether he might hope
for access to this Spanish Vatican. In 1839, however, he made the
following memorandum: "By advices from Madrid this week, I learn that
the archives of Simancas are in so disorderly a state that it is next to
impossible to gather material for the reign of Philip II." His friend,
Arthur Middleton, cited to him the instance of a young scholar who had
been permitted to explore these collections for six months, and who had
found that the documents of a date prior to the year 1700 were "all
thrown together without order or index." Furthermore, Prescott's agent
in Spain, Dr. Lembke, had incurred the displeasure of the government,
which expelled him from the country. Prescott was, therefore, obliged
for the time to put aside the project of a history of Philip II., and he
turned instead to the study of the Mexican conquest.

Nevertheless, with that quiet pertinacity which was one of his
conspicuous traits, he still kept the theme in mind, and let it be known
to his friends in Paris and London, as well as in Madrid and elsewhere,
that all materials bearing upon the career of Philip II. were much
desired by him. These friends responded very zealously to his wishes. In
Paris, M. Mignet and M. Ternaux-Compans allowed Dr. Lembke to have their
important manuscript collections copied. In London, Prescott's
correspondent and former reviewer, Don Pascual de Gayangos, searched the
documents in the British Museum and a very rich private collection owned
by Sir Thomas Philips. He also visited Brussels, where he found more
valuable material, and later, having been appointed Professor of Arabic
in the University of Madrid (1842), he used his influence on behalf of
Prescott with very great success. Many noble houses in Spain put at his
disposal their family memorials. The National Library and other public
institutions offered whatever they possessed in the way of books and
papers. Two years later, this indefatigable friend spent some weeks at
Simancas, where he unearthed many an interesting _trouvaille_. Even
these sources, however, were not the only ones which contributed to
Prescott's store of documents. Ferdinand Wolf in Vienna, and Humboldt
and Ranke in Berlin, also aided him, and secured additional material,
not only in Austria and Prussia, but in Tuscany. His collection grew
apace; so that, long before he was ready to take up the subject of
Philip II., he possessed over three hundred and seventy volumes bearing
directly upon the reign of that monarch, while his manuscript copies,
which he caused to be richly bound, came to number in the end some
thirty-eight huge folios. These occupied a position of special honour in
his library, and were playfully called by him his Seraglio.

Thus, in 1847, when about to take up his fourth important work, he was
already richly documented. His health, however, was unsatisfactory. He
had now some ailments that had become chronic,--dyspepsia and a urethral
complication, which often caused him intense suffering. It was not until
July 29, 1849, that he began to write the first chapter of _Philip II._
at Nahant. He makes the laconic note: "Heavy work, this starting. I have
been out of harness too long.... The business of fixing thought is
incredibly difficult." He continued writing at Pepperell, and at his
home in Boston, until he had regained a good deal of his old facility.
His physical strength, however, was waning, and he could no longer
continue to work with his former regularity and method. He lost flesh,
and was threatened for a while with deafness, the fear of which was
almost too much for even his inveterate cheerfulness. In February, 1850,
he wrote: "Increasing interest in the work is hardly to be expected,
considering it has to depend so much on the ear. As I shall have to
depend more and more on this one of my senses as I grow older, it is to
be hoped that Providence will spare me my hearing. It would be a fearful
thing to doubt it." His depression finally became so great that he
suspended for a time his labours and made a short visit to Washington,
where he was received with abundant hospitality. He was entertained by
President Taylor, by Sir Henry Bulwer, the British Minister, by Webster,
and by many other distinguished persons; but he became more and more
convinced that a complete change was necessary to restore his health and
spirits; and so, on May 22d of the same year, he sailed from New York
for Liverpool, where he arrived on the 3d of June.

Prescott's stay in England was perhaps the most delightful episode in
his life. His biographer, Mr. Ticknor, speaks of it as "the most
brilliant visit ever made to England by an American citizen not clothed
with the prestige of official station." The assertion is quite true,
since the cordiality which Lowell met with in that country was, in part,
at any rate, due to his diplomatic rank, while General Grant was
essentially a political personage who was, besides, personally commended
to all foreign courts by his successor in office, President Hayes. But
Prescott, with no credentials save his reputation as a man of letters
and his own charming personality, enjoyed a welcome of boundless
cordiality. It was not merely that he was a literary celebrity and was
received everywhere by his brothers of the pen,--he became the fashion
and was unmistakably the lion of the season. From the moment when he
landed at Liverpool he found himself encircled by friends. The
attentions paid to him were never formal or perfunctory. He was admitted
to the homes of the greatest Englishmen, and was there made free of that
delightful hospitality which Englishmen reserve for the chosen few. No
sooner had he reached London than he was showered with cards of
invitation to the greatest houses, and with letters couched in terms of
personal friendship. Sir Charles Lyell, his old acquaintance, welcomed
him to London a few hours after his arrival. The American Minister, Mr.
Abbott Lawrence,[18] begged him to be present at a diplomatic dinner. In
company of the Lyells he was taken at once to an evening party where he
met Lord Palmerston, then Premier, and other members of the Ministry.
Lord Carlisle greeted him in a fashion strangely foreign to English
reserve, for he threw his arms around Prescott, making the historian
blush like a great girl. It would be tedious to recount the unbroken
series of brilliant entertainments at which Prescott was the guest of
honour. His letters written at this time from England are full of
interesting and often amusing bits of description, and they show that
even his exceptional social honours were very far from turning his head.
In fact, he viewed the whole thing as a diverting show, except when the
warmth of the personal welcome touched his heart. Through it all he was
the self-poised American, never losing his native sense of humour. He
made friends with Sir Robert Peel, who, at their first meeting,
addressed him in French, having taken him for the French dramatist M.
Scribe! He chatted often with the Duke of Wellington, and described him
in a comparison which makes one smile because it is so Yankee-like and

     "In the crowd I saw an old gentleman, very nicely made up, stooping
     a good deal, very much decorated with orders, and making his way
     easily along, as all, young and old, seemed to treat him with
     deference. It was the Duke--the old Iron Duke--and I thought myself
     lucky in this opportunity of seeing him.... He paid me some pretty
     compliments on which I grew vain at once, and I did my best to
     repay him in coin that had no counterfeit in it. He is a striking
     figure, reminding me a good deal of Colonel Perkins in his general

Prescott attended the races at Ascot with the American and Swedish
Ministers, was the guest of Sir Robert Peel, and was presented at
Court--a ceremony which he described to Mrs. Prescott in a very lively

     "I was at Lawrence's, at one, in my costume: a chapeau with gold
     lace, blue coat, and white trousers, begilded with buttons and
     metal,--a sword and patent leather boots. I was a figure indeed!
     But I had enough to keep me in countenance. I spent an hour
     yesterday with Lady M. getting instructions for demeaning myself.
     The greatest danger was that I should be tripped up by my own
     sword.... The company were at length permitted one by one to pass
     into the presence chamber--a room with a throne and gorgeous canopy
     at the farther end, before which stood the little Queen of the
     mighty Isle and her Consort, surrounded by her ladies-in-waiting.
     She was rather simply dressed, but he was in a Field Marshal's
     uniform, and covered, I should think, with all the orders of
     Europe. He is a good-looking person, but by no means so
     good-looking as the portraits of him. The Queen is better-looking
     than you might expect. I was presented by our Minister, according
     to the directions of the Chamberlain, as the historian of Ferdinand
     and Isabella, in due form--and made my profound obeisance to her
     Majesty, who made a very dignified curtesy, as she made to some two
     hundred others who were presented in like manner. I made the same
     low bow to his Princeship to whom I was also presented, and so
     bowed myself out of the royal circle, without my sword tripping up
     the heels of my nobility.... Lord Carlisle ... said he had come to
     the drawing-room to see how I got through the affair, which he
     thought I did without any embarrassment. Indeed, to say truth, I
     have been more embarrassed a hundred times in my life than I was
     here. I don't know why; I suppose because I am getting old."

Somewhat later, while Prescott was a guest at Castle Howard, where the
Queen was also entertained, he had something more to tell about her.

     "At eight we went to dinner all in full dress, but mourning for the
     Duke of Cambridge; I, of course, for President Taylor! All wore
     breeches or tight pantaloons. It was a brilliant show, I assure
     you--that immense table with its fruits and flowers and lights
     glancing over beautiful plate and in that superb gallery. I was as
     near the Queen as at our own family table. She has a good appetite
     and laughs merrily. She has fine eyes and teeth, but is short. She
     was dressed in black silk and lace with the blue scarf of the Order
     of the Garter across her bosom. Her only ornaments were of jet. The
     Prince, who is certainly a handsome and very well made man, wore
     the Garter with its brilliant buckle round his knee, a showy star
     on his breast, and the collar of a foreign order round his neck.

     "In the evening we listened to some fine music and the Queen
     examined the pictures. Odd enough the etiquette. Lady Carlisle, who
     did the honours like a high-bred lady as she is, and the Duchess of
     Sutherland, were the only ladies who talked with her Majesty. Lord
     Carlisle, her host, was the only gentleman who did so unless she
     addressed a person herself. No one can sit a moment when she
     chooses to stand. She did me the honour to come and talk with
     me--asking me about my coming here, my stay in the Castle, what I
     was doing now in the historic way, how Everett was and where he
     was--for ten minutes or so; and Prince Albert afterwards a long
     while, talking about the houses and ruins in England, and the
     churches in Belgium, and the pictures in the room, and I don't know
     what. I found myself now and then trenching on the rules by
     interrupting, etc.; but I contrived to make it up by a respectful
     'Your Royal Highness,' 'Your Majesty,' etc. I told the Queen of the
     pleasure I had in finding myself in a land of friends instead of
     foreigners--a sort of stereotype with me--and of my particular good
     fortune in being under the roof with her. She is certainly very
     much of a lady in her manner, with a sweet voice."

At Oxford, Prescott was the guest of the Bishop, the well-known
Wilberforce, popularly known by his sobriquet of "Soapy Sam." The
University conferred upon the American historian the degree of D.C.L. in
spite of the fact that he was a Unitarian. This circumstance was known
and caused some slight difficulty, but possibly the degree given to
Everett, another Unitarian, some years before in spite of great
opposition, was regarded as having established a precedent; and Oxford
cherishes the cult of precedent. At the Bishop's house, however,
Prescott shocked a lady by telling her of his creed. He wrote to
Ticknor: "The term [Unitarian] is absolutely synonymous in a large party
here with Infidel, Jew, Mohammedan; worse even, because regarded as a
wolf in sheep's clothing." The lady, however, succeeded in giving
Prescott a shock in return; for when he happened to mention Dr.
Channing, she told him that she had never even heard the man's name--a
sort of ignorance which to a Bostonian was quite incomprehensible.

Prescott's account of the university ceremonial is given in a letter to
Mr. Ticknor.

     "Lord Northampton and I were doctorised in due form. We were both
     dressed in flaming red robes (it was the hottest day I have felt
     here), and then marched out in solemn procession with the Faculty,
     etc., in their black and red gowns through the public streets....
     We were marched up the aisle; Professor Phillimore made a long
     Latin exposition of our merits, in which each of the adjectives
     ended, as Southey said in reference to himself on a like occasion,
     in _issimus_; and amidst the cheers of the audience we were
     converted into Doctors."

Prescott was much pleased with this Oxford degree, which rightly seemed
to him more significant than the like honours which had come to him from
various American colleges. "Now," said he, "I am a _real_ Doctor."

In the same letter he gives a little picture of Lord Brougham during a
debate in the House of Lords. Brougham was denouncing Baron Bunsen for
his course in the Schleswig-Holstein affair,--Bunsen being in the House
at the time.

     "What will interest you is the assault made so brutally by Brougham
     on your friend Bunsen. I was present and never saw anything so
     coarse as his personalities. He said the individual [Bunsen] took
     up the room of two ladies. Bunsen _is_ rather fat as also Madame
     and his daughter--all of whom at last marched out of the gallery,
     but not until eyes and glasses had been directed to the spot to
     make out the unfortunate individuals, while Lord Brougham was
     flying up and down, thumping the table with his fists and foaming
     at the mouth till all his brother peers, including the old Duke,
     were in convulsions of laughter. I dined with Bunsen and Madame the
     same day at Ford's."

Prescott met both Disraeli and Gladstone, and, among other more purely
literary men, Macaulay, Lockhart, Hallam, Thirlwall, Milman, and Rogers.
Of Macaulay he tells some interesting things.

     "I have met him several times, and breakfasted with him the other
     morning. His memory for quotations and illustration is a
     miracle--quite disconcerting. He comes to a talk like one specially
     crammed. Yet you may start the topic. He told me he should be
     delivered of twins on his next publication, which would not be till
     '53.... Macaulay's first draught--very unlike Scott's--is
     absolutely illegible from erasures and corrections.... He tells me
     he has his moods for writing. When not in the vein, he does not
     press it.... H---- told me that Lord Jeffrey once told him that,
     having tripped up Macaulay in a quotation from _Paradise Lost_, two
     days after, Macaulay came to him and said, 'You will not catch me
     again in the _Paradise_.' At which Jeffrey opened the volume and
     took him up in a great number of passages at random, in all of
     which he went on correctly repeating the original. Was it not a
     miraculous _tour d'esprit_? Macaulay does not hesitate to say now
     that he thinks he could restore the first six or seven books of the
     _Paradise_ in case they were lost."

Still again, Prescott expresses his astonishment at Macaulay's memory.

     "Macaulay is the most of a miracle. His _tours_ in the way of
     memory stagger belief.... His talk is like the laboured, but still
     unintermitting, jerks of a pump. But it is anything but
     wishy-washy. It keeps the mind, however, on too great a tension for

Writing of Samuel Rogers, who was now a very old man, he records a
characteristic little anecdote.

     "I have seen Rogers several times, that is, all that is out of the
     bedclothes. His talk is still _sauce piquante_. The best thing on
     record of his late sayings is his reply to Lady----, who at a
     dinner table, observing him speaking to a lady, said, 'I hope, Mr.
     Rogers, you are not attacking me.' 'Attacking you!' he said, 'why,
     my dear Lady----, I have been all my life defending you.' Wit could
     go no further."

Prescott was the guest of the Duke of Sutherland at Trentham and at
Stafford House. He was invited to Lord Lansdowne's, the Duke of
Northumberland's, the Duke of Argyle's, and to Lord Grey's, and he
describes himself in one letter as up to his ears in dances, dinners,
and breakfasts. This sort of life, with all its glitter and gayety,
suited Prescott wonderfully well, and his health improved daily. He
remarked, however: "It is a life which, were I an Englishman, I should
not desire a great deal of; two months at most; although I think, on the
whole, the knowledge of a very curious state of society and of so many
interesting and remarkable characters, well compensate the bore of a
voyage. Yet I am quite sure, having once had this experience, nothing
would ever induce me to repeat it, as I have heard you say it would not
pay." Some little personal notes and memoranda may also be quoted.

     "Everything is drawn into the vortex, and there they swim round and
     round, so that you may revolve for weeks and not meet a familiar
     face half a dozen times. Yet there is monotony in some things--that
     everlasting turbot and shrimp sauce. I shall never abide a turbot

     "Do you know, by the way, that I have become a courtier and affect
     the royal presence? I wish you could see my gallant costume,
     gold-laced coat, white inexpressibles, silk hose, gold-buckled
     patent slippers, sword and chapeau. Am I not playing the fool as
     well as my betters?"

     "A silly woman ... said when I told her it was thirty years since I
     was here, 'Pooh! you are not more than thirty years old.' And on my
     repeating it, she still insisted on the same flattering
     ejaculation. The Bishop of London the other day with his amiable
     family told me they had settled my age at forty.... So I am
     convinced there has been some error in the calculation. Ask mother
     how it is. They say here that gray hair, particularly whiskers, may
     happen to anybody even under thirty. On the whole, I am satisfied
     that I am the youngest of the family."

Writing to his daughter from Alnwick Castle, the seat of the Duke of
Northumberland, Prescott gave a little instance of his own extreme
sensibility. A great number of children were being entertained by the
Duke and Duchess.

     "As they all joined in the beautiful anthem, 'God save the Queen,'
     the melody of the little voices rose up so clear and simple in the
     open courtyard that everybody was touched. Though I had nothing to
     do with the anthem, some of my _opera tears_,[19] dear Lizzie, came
     into my eyes, and did me great credit with some of the John and
     Jennie Bulls by whom I was surrounded."

When he left Alnwick:--

     "My friendly hosts remonstrated on my departure, as they had
     requested me to make them a long visit; and 'I never say what I do
     not mean,' said the Duke, in an honest way. And when I thanked him
     for his hospitable welcome, 'It is no more,' he said, 'than you
     should meet in every house in England.' That was hearty."

The letters written by Prescott while in Europe are marked also by
evidences of the beautiful affection which he cherished for his wife, of
whom he once said, many years after their marriage: "Contrary to the
assertion of La Bruyère--who somewhere says that the most fortunate
husband finds reason to regret his condition at least once in
twenty-four hours--I may truly say that I have found no such day in the
quarter of a century that Providence has spared us to each other." In
the letters written by him during this English visit, there remain, even
after the ruthless editing done by Ticknor, passages that are touching
in their unaffected tenderness.

Thus, from London, June 14, 1850:--

     "Why have I no letter on my table from home? I trust I shall find
     one there this evening, or I shall, after all, have a heavy heart,
     which is far from gay in this gayety."

And the following from Antwerp, July 23, 1850:--

     "Dear Susan, I never see anything beautiful in nature or art, or
     hear heart-stirring music in the churches--the only place where
     music does stir my heart--without thinking of you and wishing you
     could be by my side, if only for a moment."

When Prescott returned from this, his last visit to Europe, he found
himself at the very zenith of his fame. In every respect, his position
was most enviable. The union of critical approval with popular
applause--a thing which is so rare in the experience of authors--had
been fairly won by him. His books were accepted as authoritative, while
they were read by thousands who never looked into the pages of other
historians. Even a volume of miscellaneous essays[20] which he had
collected from his stray contributions to the _North American_, and
which had been published in England by Bentley in 1845, had succeeded
with the public on both sides of the Atlantic. He had the prestige of a
very flattering foreign recognition, and his friendships embraced some
of the best-known men and women in Great Britain and the United States.
It may seem odd that the letters and other writings of his
contemporaries seldom contain more than a mere casual mention of him;
but the explanation of this is to be found in the disposition of
Prescott himself. As a man, and in his social intercourse outside of his
own family, he was so thoroughly well-bred, so far from anything
resembling eccentricity, and so averse from literary pose, as to afford
no material for gossip or indeed for special comment. In this respect,
his life resembled his writings. There was in each a noticeable absence
of the piquant, or the sensational. He pleased by his manners as by his
pen; but he possessed no mannerisms such as are sometimes supposed to be
the hall-marks of originality. Hence, one finds no mass of striking
anecdotes collected and sent about by those who knew him; any more than
in his writing one chances upon startling strokes of style.

Prescott, however, had his own very definite opinions concerning his
contemporaries, though they were always expressed in kindly words. To
Irving he was especially attracted because of a certain likeness of
temperament between them. His sensitive nature felt all the _nuances_ of
Irving's delicate style, especially when it was used for pathetic
effects. "You have read Irving's _Memoirs of Miss Davidson_," he once
wrote to Miss Ticknor. "Did you ever meet with any novel half so
touching? It is the most painful book I ever listened to. I hear it from
the children and we all cry over it together. What a little flower of
Paradise!" Yet he could accurately criticise his friend's
productions.[21] Longfellow was another of Prescott's associates, and
his ballads of the sea were favourites. Mr. T. W. Higginson quotes
Prescott as saying that _The Skeleton in Armor_ and _The Wreck of the
Hesperus_ were the best imaginative poetry since Coleridge. Of Byron he
wrote, in 1840, some sentences to a friend which condense very happily
the opinion that has finally come to be accepted. Indeed, Prescott shows
in his private letters a critical gift which one seldom finds in his
published essays--a judgment at once shrewd, clear-sighted, and

     "I think one is apt to talk very extravagantly of his [Byron's]
     poetry; for it is the poetry of passion and carries away the sober
     judgment. It defies criticism from its very nature, being lawless,
     independent of all rules, sometimes of grammar, and even of common
     sense. When he means to be strong he is often affected, violent,
     morbid.... But then there is, with all this smoke and fustian, a
     deep sensibility to the sublime and beautiful in nature, a
     wonderful melody, or rather harmony, of language, consisting ... in
     a variety--the variety of nature--in which startling ruggedness is
     relieved by soft and cultivated graces."

Probably the most pungent bit of literary comment that Prescott ever
wrote is found in a letter of his addressed to Bancroft,[22] who had
sent him a copy of Carlyle's _French Revolution_. The clangour and fury
of this book could hardly fail to jar upon the nerves of so decorously
classical a writer as Prescott.

     "I return you Carlyle with my thanks. I have read as much of him as
     I could stand. After a very candid desire to relish him, I must say
     I do not at all. The French Revolution is a most lamentable comedy
     and requires nothing but the simplest statement of facts to freeze
     one's blood. To attempt to colour so highly what nature has already
     over-coloured is, it appears to me, in very bad taste and produces
     a grotesque and ludicrous effect.... Then such ridiculous
     affectations of new-fangled words! Carlyle is ever a bungler in his
     own business; for his creations or rather combinations are the most
     discordant and awkward possible. As he runs altogether for dramatic
     or rather picturesque effect, he is not to be challenged, I
     suppose, for want of refined views. This forms no part of his plan.
     His views, certainly, so far as I can estimate them, are trite
     enough. And, in short, the whole thing ... both as to _forme_ and
     to _fond_, is perfectly contemptible."

Of Thackeray, Prescott saw quite a little during the novelist's visit to
America in 1852-1853, and several times entertained him. He did not
greatly care for the lectures on the English humorists, which, as
Thackeray confided to Prescott, caused America to "rain dollars." "I do
not think he made much of an impression as a critic, but the Thackeray
vein is rich in what is better than cold criticism." Thackeray on his
side expresses his admiration for Prescott in the opening sentences of
_The Virginians_, though without naming him:--

     "On the library wall of one of the most famous writers of America,
     there hang two crossed swords, which his relatives wore in the
     great war of Independence. The one sword was gallantly drawn in the
     service of the King; the other was the weapon of a brave and humane
     republican soldier. The possessor of the harmless trophy has earned
     for himself a name alike honoured in his ancestor's country and his
     own, where genius like his has always a peaceful welcome."

This little tribute pleased Prescott very much, and he wrote to Lady
Lyell asking her to get _The Virginians_ and read the passage, which, as
he says, "was very prettily done." On the whole, however, he seems to
have preferred Dickens to Thackeray, being deceived by the very
superficial cynicism affected by the latter. But in fiction, his prime
favourites were always Scott and Dumas, whose books he never tired of
hearing read. Thus, in mature age, the tastes of his boyhood continued
to declare themselves; and few days ever passed without an hour or two
devoted to the magic of romance.

During the winter following his return from Europe, which he spent in
Boston, he found it difficult to settle down to work again, and not
until the autumn did he wholly resume his life of literary activity.
After doing so, however, he worked rapidly, so that the first volume of
_Philip II._ was completed in April, 1852. It was very well received, in
fact, as warmly as any of his earlier work, and the same was true of the
second volume, which appeared in 1854. Prescott himself said that he was
"a little nervous" about the success of the book, inasmuch as a long
interval had elapsed since the publication of his _Peru_, and he feared
lest the public might have lost its interest in him. The result,
however, showed that he need not have felt any apprehension. Within six
months after the second volume had been published, more than eight
thousand copies were sold in the United States, and probably an equal
number in England. Moreover, interest was revived in Prescott's
preceding histories, so that nearly thirty thousand volumes of them were
taken by the public within a year or two. There was the same favourable
consensus of critical opinion regarding _Philip II._, and it received
the honour of a notice from the pen of M. Guizot in the _Edinburgh

In bringing out this last work Prescott had changed his
publishers,--not, however, because of any disagreement with the Messrs.
Harper, with whom his relations had always been most satisfactory, and
of whom he always spoke in terms of high regard. But a Boston firm,
Messrs. Sampson, Phillips and Company, had made him an offer more
advantageous than the Harpers felt themselves justified in doing. In
another sense the change might have been fortunate for Prescott,
inasmuch as the warehouse of the Harpers was destroyed by fire in 1853.
In this fire were consumed several thousand copies of Prescott's earlier
books, for which payment had been already made. Prescott, however, with
his usual generosity, permitted the Harpers to print for their own
account as many copies as had been lost. In England his publishing
arrangements were somewhat less favourable than hitherto. When he had
made his earlier contracts with Bentley, it was supposed that the
English publisher could claim copyright in works written by a foreigner.
A decision of the House of Lords adverse to such a view had now been
rendered, and therefore Mr. Bentley could receive no advantage through
an arrangement with Prescott other than such as might come to him from
securing the advance sheets and from thus being first in the field. As a
matter of fact, _Philip II._ was brought out in four separate editions
in Great Britain. In Germany it was twice reprinted in the original and
once in a German translation. A French version was brought out in Paris
by Didot, and a Spanish one in Madrid. Prescott himself wrote:--

     "I have received $17,000 for the _Philip_ and the other works the
     last six months.... From the tone of the foreign journals and those
     of my own country, it would seem that the work has found quite as
     much favour as any of its predecessors, and the sales have been
     much greater than any other of them in the same space of time."

Later, writing to Bancroft, he said:--

     "The book has gone off very well so far. Indeed, double the
     quantity, I think, has been sold of any of my preceding works in
     the same time. I have been lucky, too, in getting well on before
     Macaulay has come thundering along the track with his hundred

While engaged in the composition of _Philip II._, Prescott had
undertaken to write a continuation of Robertson's _History of Charles
V._ He had been asked to prepare an entirely new work upon the reign of
that monarch, but this seemed too arduous a task. He therefore rewrote
the conclusion of Robertson's book--a matter of some hundred and eighty
pages. This he began in the spring of 1855, and finished it during the
following year. It was published on December 8, 1856, on which day he
wrote to Ticknor: "My _Charles the Fifth_, or rather Robertson's with
my Continuation, made his bow to-day, like a strapping giant with a
little urchin holding on to the tail of his coat."[23] At about the same
time Prescott prepared a brief memoir of Mr. Abbott Lawrence, the father
of his daughter's husband. This was printed for private distribution.

During the year which followed, Prescott's health began steadily to
fail. He suffered from violent pains in the head; so severe as to rob
him of sleep and to make work of any kind impossible. He still, however,
enjoyed intervals when he could laugh and jest in his old careless way,
and even at times indulge in the pleasant little dinners which he loved
to share with his most intimate friends. On February 4th, however, while
walking in the street, he was stricken down by an apoplectic seizure,
which solved the mystery of his severe headaches. When he recovered
consciousness his first words were, "My poor wife! I am so sorry for you
that this has come upon you so soon." The attack was a warning rather
than an instant summons. After a few days he was once more himself,
except that his enunciation never again became absolutely clear. Serious
work, of course, was out of the question. He listened to a good deal of
reading, chiefly fiction. He was put upon a very careful regimen in the
matter of diet, and wrote, with a touch of rueful amusement, of the
vegetarian meals to which he was restricted: "I have been obliged to
exchange my carnivorous propensities for those of a more innocent and
primitive nature, picking up my fare as our good parents did before the
Fall." Improving somewhat, he completed the third volume of _Philip
II._; not so fully as he had intended, but mainly putting together so
much of it as had already been prepared. The book was printed in April,
1858, and the supervision of the proof-sheets afforded him some
occupation, as did also the making of a few additional notes for a new
edition of the _Conquest of Mexico_. The summer of 1858 he spent in
Pepperell, returning to Boston in October, in the hope of once more
taking up his studies. He did, in fact, linger wistfully over his books
and manuscripts, but accomplished very little; for, soon after the New
Year, there came the end of all his labours. On January 27th, his health
was apparently in a satisfactory condition. He listened to his
secretary, Mr. Kirk, read from one of Sala's books of travel, and, in
order to settle a question which arose in the course of the reading, he
left the library to speak to his wife and sister. Leaving them a moment
later with a laugh, he went into an adjoining room, where presently he
was heard to groan. His secretary hurried to his side, and found him
quite unconscious. In the early afternoon he died, without knowing that
the end had come.

Prescott had always dreaded the thought of being buried alive. His vivid
imagination had shown him the appalling horror of a living burial. Again
and again he had demanded of those nearest him that he should be
shielded from the possibility of such a fate. Therefore, when the
physicians had satisfied themselves that life had really left him, a
large vein was severed, to make assurance doubly sure.

On the last day of January he was buried in the family tomb, in the
crypt of St. Paul's. Men and women of every rank and station were
present at the simple ceremony. The Legislature of the State had
adjourned so that its members might pay their tribute of respect to so
distinguished a citizen. The Historical Society was represented among
the mourners. His personal friends and those of humble station, whom he
had so often befriended, filled the body of the church. Before his
burial, his remains, in accordance with a wish of his that was well
known, had been carried to the room in which were his beloved books and
where so many imperishable pages had been written. There, as it were, he
lay in state. It is thus that one may best, in thought, take leave of
him, amid the memorials and records of a past which he had made to live



The _History of Ferdinand and Isabella_ is best regarded as Prescott's
initiation into the writing of historical literature. It was a
_prolusio_, a preliminary trial of his powers, in some respects an
apprenticeship to the profession which he had decided to adopt. When he
began its composition he had published nothing but a few casual reviews.
He had neither acquired a style nor gained that self-confidence which
does so much to command success. No such work as this had as yet been
undertaken by an American. How far he could himself overcome the
peculiar difficulties which confronted him was quite uncertain. Whether
he had it in him to be at once a serious investigator and a maker of
literature, he did not know. Therefore, the _Ferdinand and Isabella_
shows here and there an uncertainty of touch and a lack of assured
method such as were quite natural in one who had undertaken so ambitious
a task with so little technical experience.

In the matter of style, Prescott had not yet emancipated himself from
that formalism which had been inherited from the eighteenth-century
writers, and which Americans, with the wonted conservatism of
provincials, retained long after Englishmen had begun to write with
naturalness and simplicity. Even in fiction this circumstance is
noticeable. At a time when Scott was thrilling the whole world of
English readers with his vivid romances, written hastily and often
carelessly, in a style which reflected his own individual nature, Cooper
was producing stories equally exciting, but told in phraseology almost
as stilted as that which we find in _Rasselas_. This was no less true in
poetry. The great romantic movement which in England found expression in
Byron and Shelley and the exquisitely irregular metres of Coleridge had
as yet awakened no true responsive echo on this side of the Atlantic.
Among the essay-writers and historians of America none had summoned up
the courage to shake off the Addisonian and Johnsonian fetters and to
move with free, unstudied ease. Irving was but a later Goldsmith, and
Bancroft a Yankee Gibbon. The papers which then appeared in the _North
American Review_, to whose pages Prescott himself was a regular
contributor, give ample evidence that the literary models of the time
were those of an earlier age,--an age in which dignity was supposed to
lie in ponderosity and to be incompatible with grace.

Prescott's nature was not one that had the slightest sympathy with
pedantry. No more spontaneous spirit than his can be imagined. His
joyousness and gayety sometimes even tended toward the frivolous. Yet in
this first serious piece of historical writing, he imposed upon himself
the shackles of an earlier convention. Just because his mood prompted
him to write in an unstudied style, all the more did he feel it
necessary to repress his natural inclination. Therefore, in the text of
his history, we find continual evidence of the eighteenth century
literary manner,--the balanced sentence, the inevitable adjective, the
studied antithesis, and the elaborate parallel. Women are invariably
"females"; a gift is a "donative"; a marriage does not take place, but
"nuptials are solemnized"; a name is usually an "appellation"; a crown
"devolves" upon a successor; a poet "delivers his sentiments"; a king
"avails himself of indeterminateness"; and so on. A cumbrous sentence
like the following smacks of the sort of English that was soon to pass

     "Fanaticism is so far subversive of the most established principles
     of morality that under the dangerous maxim 'For the advancement of
     the faith all means are lawful,' which Tasso has rightly, though
     perhaps undesignedly, derived from the spirits of hell, it not only
     excuses but enjoins the commission of the most revolting crime as a
     sacred duty."[24]

And the following:--

     "Casiri's multifarious catalogue bears ample testimony to the
     emulation with which not only men but even females of the highest
     rank devoted themselves to letters; the latter contending publicly
     for the prizes, not merely in eloquence and poetry, but in those
     recondite studies which have usually been reserved for the other

The style of these sentences is essentially the style of the old _North
American Review_ and of eighteenth-century England. The particular
chapter from which the last quotation has been taken was, in fact,
originally prepared by Prescott for the _North American_, as already
mentioned,[26] and was only on second thought reserved for a chapter of
the history.

The passion for parallel, which had existed among historical writers
ever since the time of Plutarch, was responsible for the elaborate
comparison which Prescott makes between Isabella and Elizabeth of
England.[27] It is worked out relentlessly--Isabella and Elizabeth in
their private lives, Isabella and Elizabeth in their characters,
Isabella and Elizabeth in the selection of their ministers of State,
Isabella and Elizabeth in their intellectual power, Isabella and
Elizabeth in their respective deaths. Prescott drags it all in; and it
affords evidence of the literary standards of his countrymen at the
time, that this laboured parallel was thought to be the very finest
thing in the whole book.

If, however, Prescott maintained in the body of his text the rigid
lapidary dignity which he thought to be appropriate, his natural
liveliness found occasional expression in the numerous foot-notes, which
at times he wrote somewhat in the vein of his private letters from
Pepperell and Nahant. The contrast, therefore, between text and notes
was often thoroughly incongruous because so violent. This led his
English reviewer, Mr. Richard Ford,[28] to write some rather acrid
sentences that in their manner suggest the tone which, in our days, the
_Saturday Review_ has always taken with new authors, especially when
they happen to be American. Wrote Mr. Ford of Prescott:--

     "His style is too often sesquipedalian and ornate; the stilty,
     wordy, false taste of Dr. Channing without his depth of thought;
     the sugar and sack of Washington Irving without the half-pennyworth
     of bread--without his grace and polish of pure, grammatical,
     careful Anglicism. We have many suspicions, indeed, from his
     ordinary quotations, from what he calls in others 'the cheap
     display of school-boy erudition,' and from sundry lurking sneers,
     that he has not drunk deeply at the Pierian fountains, which taste
     the purer the higher we track them to their source. These, the
     only sure foundations of a pure and correct style, are absolutely
     necessary to our Transatlantic brethren, who are unfortunately
     deprived of the high standing example of an order of nobility, and
     of a metropolis where local peculiarities evaporate. The elevated
     tone of the classics is the only corrective for their unhappy
     democracy. Moral feeling must of necessity be degraded wherever the
     multitude are the sole dispensers of power and honour. All
     candidates for the foul-breathed universal suffrage must lower
     their appeal to base understandings and base motives. The authors
     of the United States, independently of the deteriorating influence
     of their institutions, can of all people the least afford to be
     negligent. Far severed from the original spring of English
     undefiled, they always run the risk of sinking into provincialisms,
     into Patavinity,--both positive, in the use of obsolete words, and
     the adoption of conventional village significations, which differ
     from those retained by us,--as well as negative, in the omission of
     those happy expressions which bear the fire-new stamp of the only
     authorised mint. Instances occur constantly in these volumes where
     the word is English, but English returned after many years'
     transportation. We do not wish to be hypercritical, nor to strain
     at gnats. If, however, the authors of the United States aspire to
     be admitted _ad eundem_, they must write the English of the 'old
     country,' which they will find it is much easier to forget and
     corrupt than to improve. We cannot, however, afford space here for
     a _florilegium Yankyense_. A professor from New York, newly
     imported into England and introduced into real _good_ society, of
     which previously he can only have formed an abstract idea, is no
     bad illustration of Mr. Prescott's _over-done_ text. Like the
     stranger in question, he is always on his best behaviour, prim,
     prudish, and stiff-necky, afraid of self-committal, ceremonious,
     remarkably dignified, supporting the honour of the United States,
     and monstrously afraid of being laughed at. Some of these
     travellers at last discover that bows and starch are not even the
     husk of a gentleman; and so, on re-crossing the Atlantic, their
     manner becomes like Mr. Prescott's _notes_; levity is mistaken for
     ease, an un-'pertinent' familiarity for intimacy, second-rate
     low-toned 'jocularities' (which make no one laugh but the retailer)
     for the light, hair-trigger repartee, the brilliancy of high-bred
     pleasantry. Mr. Prescott emulates Dr. Channing in his text, Dr.
     Dunham and Mr. Joseph Miller in his notes. Judging from the facetiæ
     which, by his commending them as 'good,' have furnished a gauge to
     measure his capacity for relishing humour, we are convinced that
     his non-perception of wit is so genuine as to be organic. It is
     perfectly allowable to rise occasionally from the ludicrous into
     the serious, but to descend from history to the bathos of
     balderdash is too bad--_risu inepto nihil ineptius_."

This passage, which is an amusing example of an overflow of High Tory
bile, does not by any means fairly represent the general tone of Ford's
review. Prescott had here and there indulged himself in some of the
commonplaces of republicanism such as were usual in American writings of
that time; and these harmlessly trite political pedantries had rasped
the nerves of his British reviewer. To speak of "the empty decorations,
the stars and garters of an order of nobility," to mention "royal
perfidy," "royal dissimulation," "royal recompense of ingratitude," and
generally to intimate that "the people" were superior to royalty and
nobility, roused a spirit of antagonism in the mind of Mr. Ford. Several
of Prescott's semi-facetious notes dealt with rank and aristocracy in
something of the same hold-cheap tone, so that Ford was irritated into a
very personal retort. He wrote:--

     "These pleasantries come with a bad grace from the son, as we learn
     from a full-length dedication, of 'the _Honourable_ William
     Prescott, _LL.D._' We really are ignorant of the exact value of
     this titular potpourri in a _soi-disant_ land of equality, of these
     noble and academic plumes, borrowed from the wing of a professedly
     despised monarchy."

Although Ford's characterisation of Prescott's style had some basis of
truth, it was, of course, grossly exaggerated. Throughout the whole of
the _Ferdinand and Isabella_, one is conscious of a strong tendency
toward simplicity of expression. Many passages are as easy and
unaffected as any that we find in an historical writer of to-day.
Reading the pages over now, one can see the true Prescott under all the
starch and stiffness which at the time he mistakenly regarded as
essential to the dignity of historical writing. In fact, as the work
progressed, the author gained something of that ease which comes from
practice, and wrote more and more simply and more after his own natural
manner. What is really lacking is sharpness of outline. The narrative is
somewhat too flowing. One misses, now and then, crispness of phrase and
force of characterisation. Prescott never wrote a sentence that can be
remembered. His strength lies in his _ensemble_, in the general effect,
and in the agreeable manner in which he carries us along with him from
the beginning to the end. This first book of his, from the point of view
of style, is "pleasant reading." Its movement is that of an ambling
palfrey, well broken to a lady's use. Nowhere have we the sensation of
the rush and thunder of a war-horse.

Ford's strictures made Prescott wince, or, as Mr. Ticknor gently puts
it, "disturbed his equanimity." They caused him to consider the question
of his own style in the light of Ford's very slashing strictures. In
making this self-examination Prescott was perfectly candid with himself,
and he noted down the conclusions which he ultimately reached.

     "It seems to me the first and sometimes the second volume afford
     examples of the use of words not so simple as might be; not
     objectionable in themselves, but unless something is gained in the
     way of strength or of colouring it is best to use the most simple,
     _unnoticeable_ words to express ordinary things; _e.g._ 'to send'
     is better than 'to transmit'; 'crown descended' better than
     'devolved'; 'guns fired' than 'guns discharged'; 'to name,' or
     'call,' than 'to nominate'; 'to read' than 'peruse'; 'the term,' or
     'name,' than 'appellation,' and so forth. It is better also not to
     encumber the sentence with long, lumbering nouns; as,'the
     relinquishment of,' instead of 'relinquishing'; 'the embellishment
     and fortification of,' instead of 'embellishing and fortifying';
     and so forth. I can discern no other warrant for Master Ford's
     criticism than the occasional use of these and similar words on
     such commonplace matters as would make the simpler forms of
     expression preferable. In my third volume, I do not find the
     language open to much censure."

He also came to the following sensible decision which very materially
improved his subsequent writing:--

     "I will not hereafter vex myself with anxious thoughts about my
     style when composing. It is formed. And if there be any ground for
     the imputation that it is too formal, it will only be made worse in
     this respect by extra solicitude. It is not the defect to which I
     am predisposed. The best security against it is to write with less
     elaboration--a pleasant recipe which conforms to my previous views.
     This determination will save me trouble and time. Hereafter what I
     print shall undergo no ordeal for the style's sake except only the

Some other remarks of his may be here recorded, though they really
amount to nothing more than the discovery of the old truth, _le style
c'est l'homme_.

     "A man's style to be worth anything should be the natural
     expression of his mental character.... The best undoubtedly for
     every writer is the form of expression best suited to his peculiar
     turn of thinking, even at some hazard of violating the conventional
     tone of the most chaste and careful writers. It is this alone which
     can give full force to his thoughts. Franklin's style would have
     borne more ornament--Washington Irving could have done with
     less--Johnson and Gibbon might have had much less formality, and
     Hume and Goldsmith have occasionally pointed their sentences with
     more effect. But, if they had abandoned the natural suggestions of
     their genius and aimed at the contrary, would they not in mending a
     hole, as Scott says, have very likely made two?... Originality--the
     originality of nature--compensates for a thousand minor
     blemishes.... The best rule is to dispense with all rules except
     those of grammar, and to consult the natural bent of one's genius."

Thereafter Prescott held to his resolution so far as concerned the first
draft of what he wrote. He always, however, before publication, asked
his friends to read and criticise what he had written, and he used also
to employ readers to go over his pages with great minuteness, making
notes which he afterwards passed upon, rejecting most of the
suggestions, but nevertheless adopting a good many.

From the point of view of historical accuracy, _Ferdinand and Isabella_
is a solid piece of work. The original sources to which Prescott had
access were numerous and valuable. Discrepancies and contradictions he
sifted out with patience and true critical acumen. He overlooked
nothing, not even those "still-born manuscripts" whose writers recorded
their experiences for the pure pleasure of setting down the truth. Ford
very justly said, regarding Prescott's notes: "Of the accuracy of his
quotations and references we cannot speak too highly; they stamp a
guarantee on his narrative; they enable us to give a reason for our
faith; they furnish means of questioning and correcting the author
himself; they enable readers to follow up any particular subject suited
to their own idiosyncrasy." It is only in that part of the book which
relates to the Arab domination in Spain that Prescott's work is
unsatisfactory; and even there it represents a distinct advance upon his
predecessors, both French and Spanish. At the time when he wrote, it
would, indeed, have been impossible for him to secure greater accuracy;
because the Arabic manuscripts contained in the Escurial had not been
opened to the inspection of investigators; and, moreover, a knowledge of
the language in which they were written would have been essential to
their proper use. In default of these sources, Prescott gave too much
credence to Casiri, and especially to Condé's history which had appeared
not long before, but which had been hastily written, so that it
contained some serious misstatements and inconsistencies. Condé,
although he professed to have gone to the original records in Arabic,
had in reality got most of his information at second hand from Cardonne
and Marmol. Hence, Prescott's chapters on the Arabs in Spain, although
they appear to the general reader to represent exact and solid
knowledge, are in fact inaccurate in parts. In other respects, however,
the most modern historical scholarship has detected no serious flaws in
_Ferdinand and Isabella_. Such defects as the book possesses are
negative rather than positive, and they are really due to the author's
cast of mind. Prescott, was not, and he never became, a philosophical
historian. His gift was for synthesis rather than for analysis. He was
an industrious gatherer of facts, an impartial judge of evidence, a
sympathetic and accurate narrator of events. He could not, however,
firmly grasp the underlying causes of what he superficially, observed,
nor penetrate the very heart of things. His power of generalisation was
never strong. There is a certain lack also, especially in this first one
of his historical compositions, of a due appreciation of character. He
describes the great actors in his drama,--Ferdinand, Isabella, Columbus,
Ximenes, and Gonsalvo de Cordova,--and what he says of them is eminently
true; yet, somehow or other, he fails to make them live. They are
stately figures that move in a majestic way across one's field of
vision; yet it is their outward bearing and their visible acts that he
makes us know, rather than the interplay of motive and temperament which
impelled them. His taste, indeed, is decidedly for the splendid and the
spectacular. Kings, princes, nobles, warriors, and statesmen crowd his
pages. Perhaps they satisfied the starved imagination of the New
Englander, whose own life was lived amid surroundings antithetically
prosaic. Certain it is, that, in dwelling upon a memorable epoch, he
omitted all consideration of a stratum of society which underlay the
surface which alone he saw. A few more years, and the fifteenth-century
_picaro_, the common man, the trader, and the peasant were destined to
emerge from the humble position to which the usages of chivalry had
consigned them. The invention of gunpowder and the use of it in war soon
swept away the advantage which the knight in armour had possessed as
against the humble foot-soldier who followed him. The discovery of
America and the opening of new lands teeming with treasures for their
conquerors roused and stimulated the consciousness of the lower orders.
Before long, the man-at-arms, the musketeer, and the artilleryman
attained a consequence which the ordinary fighting man had never had
before. After these had gone forth as adventurers into the New World,
they brought back with them not only riches wrested from the helpless
natives whom they had subdued, but a spirit of freedom verging even upon
lawlessness, which leavened the whole stagnant life of Europe. Then, for
the first time, such as had been only pawns in the game of statesmanship
and war became factors to be anxiously considered. Even literature then
takes notice of them, and for the first time they begin to influence the
course of modern history. A philosophical historian, therefore, would
have looked beyond the _ricos hombres_, and would have revealed to us,
at least in part, the existence and the mode of life of that great mass
of swarming humanity with which the statesman and the feudal lord had
soon to reckon.

As it was, however, Prescott saw the obvious rather than the recondite.
Within the field which he had marked out, his work was admirably done.
He delineated clearly and impartially the events of a splendid epoch
wherein the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon were united under two
far-seeing sovereigns, and wherein the power of Spanish feudalism was
broken, the prestige of France and Portugal brought low, the Moors
expelled, and Spain consolidated into one united kingdom from the
Pyrenees to the Mediterranean, while a new and unknown world was opened
for the expansion and enrichment of the old. He well deserved the praise
which a Spanish critic and scholar[29] gave him of having written in a
masterly manner one of the most successful historical productions of the
century in which he lived.



Regarded simply from the standpoint of literary criticism, the _Conquest
of Mexico_ is Prescott's masterpiece. More than that, it is one of the
most brilliant examples which the English language possesses of literary
art applied to historical narration. Its theme is one which contains all
the elements of the romantic,--the chivalrous daring which boldly
attempts the seemingly impossible, the struggle of the few against
overwhelming odds, the dauntless heroism which never quails in the
presence of defeat, desertion, defiance, or disaster, the spectacle of
the forces of one civilisation arrayed against those of another, the
white man striving for supremacy over the red man, and finally, the True
Faith in arms against a bloody form of paganism. In Prescott's treatment
of this theme we find displayed the conscious skill of the born artist
who subordinates everything to the dramatic development of the central
motive. The style is Prescott's at its best,--not terse and pointed like
Macaulay's, nor yet so intimately persuasive as that of Parkman, but
nevertheless free, flowing, and often stately--the fit instrument of
expression for a sensitive and noble mind. Finally, in this book
Prescott shows a power of depicting character that is far beyond his
wont, so that his heroes are not lay figures but living men. We need
not wonder, then, if the _Conquest of Mexico_ has held its own, as
literature, and if to-day it is as widely read and with the same
breathless interest as in the years when the world first felt the
fascination of so great a literary achievement.

When we come to analyse the structure of the narrative, we find that one
secret of its effectiveness lies in its artistic unity. Prescott had
studied very carefully the manner in which Irving had written the story
of Columbus, and he learned a valuable lesson from the defects of his
contemporary. In a memorandum dated March 21, 1841, he set down some
very shrewd remarks.

     "Have been looking over Irving's _Columbus_ also. A beautiful
     composition, but fatiguing as a whole to the reader. Why? The fault
     is partly in the subject, partly in the manner of treating it. The
     discovery of a new world ... is a magnificent theme in itself, full
     of sublimity and interest. But it terminates with the discovery;
     and, unfortunately, this is made before half of the first volume is
     disposed of. All after that event is made up of little
     details,--the sailing from one petty island to another, all
     inhabited sailing from one petty island to another, all inhabited
     by savages, and having the same general character. Nothing can be
     more monotonous, and, of course, more likely to involve the writer
     in barren repetition.... Irving should have abridged this part of
     his story, and instead of four volumes, have brought it into
     two.... The conquest of Mexico, though very inferior in the leading
     idea which forms its basis to the story of Columbus, is, on the
     whole, a far better subject; since the event is sufficiently grand,
     and, as the catastrophe is deferred, the interest is kept up
     through the whole. Indeed, the perilous adventures and crosses with
     which the enterprise was attended, the desperate chances and
     reverses and unexpected vicissitudes, all serve to keep the
     interest alive. On my plan, I go on with Cortés to his death. But
     I must take care not to make this tail-piece too long."

This is a bit of very accurate criticism; and the plan which Prescott
formed was executed in a manner absolutely faultless. Never for a moment
is there a break in the continuity of its narrative. Never for a moment
do we lose sight of the central and inspiring figure of Cortés fighting
his way, as it were, single-handed against the intrigues of his own
countrymen, the half-heartedness of his followers, the obstacles of
nature, and the overwhelming forces of his Indian foes, to a superb and
almost incredible success. Everything in the narrative is subordinated
to this. Every event is made to bear directly upon the development of
this leading motive. The art of Prescott in this book is the art of a
great dramatist who keeps his eye and brain intent upon the true
catastrophe, in the light of which alone the other episodes possess
significance. To the general reader this supreme moment comes when
Cortés makes his second entry into Mexico, returning over "the black and
blasted environs," to avenge the horrors of the _noche triste_, and in
one last tremendous assault upon the capital to destroy forever the
power of the Aztecs and bring Guatemozin into the possession of his
conqueror. What follows after is almost superfluous to one who reads the
story for the pure enjoyment which it gives. It is like the last chapter
of some novels, appended to satisfy the curiosity of those who wish to
know "what happened after." In nothing has Prescott shown his literary
tact more admirably than in compressing this record of the aftermath of
Conquest within the limit of some hundred pages.

The superiority of the _Conquest of Mexico_ to all the rest of
Prescott's works is sufficiently proved by one unquestioned fact. Though
we read his other books with pleasure and unflagging interest, the
_Conquest of Mexico_ alone stamps upon our minds the memory of certain
episodes which are told so vividly as never to be obliterated. We may
never open the book again; yet certain pages remain part and parcel of
our intellectual possessions. In them Prescott has risen to a height of
true greatness as a story-teller, and masterful word-painter. Of these,
for example, is the account of the burning of the ships,[30] when
Cortés, by destroying his fleet, cuts off from his wavering troops all
hope of a return home except as conquerors, and when, facing them, in
imminent peril of death at their hands, his manly eloquence so kindles
their imagination and stirs their fighting blood as to make them shout,
"To Mexico! To Mexico!" Another striking passage is that which tells of
what happened in Cholula, where the little army of Spaniards, after
being received with a show of cordial hospitality, learn that the
treacherous Aztecs have laid a plot for their extermination.[31]

     "That night was one of deep anxiety to the army. The ground they
     stood on seemed loosening beneath their feet, and any moment might
     be the one marked for their destruction. Their vigilant general
     took all possible precautions for their safety, increasing the
     number of sentinels, and posting his guns in such a manner as to
     protect the approaches to the camp. His eyes, it may well be
     believed, did not close during the night. Indeed, every Spaniard
     lay down in his arms, and every horse stood saddled and bridled,
     ready for instant service. But no assault was meditated by the
     Indians, and the stillness of the hour was undisturbed except by
     the occasional sounds heard in a populous city, even when buried in
     slumber, and by the hoarse cries of the priests from the turrets of
     the _teocallis_, proclaiming through their trumpets the watches of
     the night."[32]

Here is true literary art used to excite in the reader the same
fearfulness and apprehension which the Spaniards themselves experienced.
The last sentence has a peculiar and indescribable effect upon the
nerves, so that in the following chapter we feel something of the
exultation of the Castilian soldier when morning breaks, and Cortés
receives the Cholulan chiefs, astounds them by revealing that he knows
their plot, and then, before they can recover from their thunderstruck
amazement, orders a general attack upon the Indians who have stealthily
gathered to destroy the white men. The battle-scene which follows and of
which a part is quoted here, is unsurpassed by any other to be found in
modern history.

     "Cortés had placed his battery of heavy guns in a position that
     commanded the avenues, and swept off the files of the assailants as
     they rushed on. In the intervals between the discharges, which, in
     the imperfect state of the science in that day, were much longer
     than in ours, he forced back the press by charging with the horse
     into the midst. The steeds, the guns, the weapons of the Spaniards,
     were all new to the Cholulans. Notwithstanding the novelty of the
     terrific spectacle, the flash of fire-arms mingling with the
     deafening roar of the artillery as its thunders reverberated among
     the buildings, the despairing Indians pushed on to take the places
     of their fallen comrades.

     "While this fierce struggle was going forward, the Tlascalans,
     hearing the concerted signal, had advanced with quick pace into the
     city. They had bound, by order of Cortés, wreaths of sedge round
     their heads, that they might the more surely be distinguished from
     the Cholulans. Coming up in the very heat of the engagement, they
     fell on the defenceless rear of the townsmen, who, trampled down
     under the heels of the Castilian cavalry on one side, and galled by
     their vindictive enemies on the other, could no longer maintain
     their ground. They gave way, some taking refuge in the nearest
     buildings, which, being partly of wood, were speedily set on fire.
     Others fled to the temples. One strong party, with a number of
     priests at its head, got possession of the great _teocalli_. There
     was a vulgar tradition, already alluded to, that on removal of part
     of the walls the god would send forth an inundation to overwhelm
     his enemies. The superstitious Cholulans with great difficulty
     succeeded in wrenching away some of the stones in the walls of the
     edifice. But dust, not water, followed. Their false god deserted
     them in the hour of need. In despair they flung themselves into the
     wooden turrets that crowned the temple, and poured down stones,
     javelins, and burning arrows on the Spaniards, as they climbed the
     great staircase which, by a flight of one hundred and twenty steps,
     scaled the face of the pyramid. But the fiery shower fell harmless
     on the steel bonnets of the Christians, while they availed
     themselves of the burning shafts to set fire to the wooden citadel,
     which was speedily wrapt in flames. Still the garrison held out,
     and though quarter, _it is said_, was offered, only one Cholulan
     availed himself of it. The rest threw themselves headlong from the
     parapet, or perished miserably in the flames.

     "All was now confusion and uproar in the fair city which had so
     lately reposed in security and peace. The groans of the dying, the
     frantic supplications of the vanquished for mercy, were mingled
     with the loud battle-cries of the Spaniards as they rode down their
     enemy, and with the shrill whistle of the Tlascalans, who gave full
     scope to the long-cherished rancour of ancient rivalry. The tumult
     was still further swelled by the incessant rattle of musketry and
     the crash of falling timbers, which sent up a volume of flame that
     outshone the ruddy light of morning, making altogether a hideous
     confusion of sights and sounds that converted the Holy City into a

This spirited description, which deserves comparison with Livy's picture
of the rout at Cannæ, shows Prescott at his best. In it he has shaken
off every trace of formalism and of leisurely repose. His blood is up.
The short, nervous sentences, the hurry of the narrative, the rapid
onrush of events, rouse the reader and fill him with the true
battle-spirit. Of an entirely different _genre_ is the account of the
entrance of the Spanish army into Mexico as Montezuma's guest, and of
the splendid city which they beheld,--the broad streets coated with a
hard cement, the intersecting canals, the inner lake darkened by
thousands of canoes, the great market-places, the long vista of snowy
mansions, their inner porticoes embellished with porphyry and jasper,
and the fountains of crystal water leaping up and glittering in the
sunlight. Memorable, too, is the scene of the humiliation of Montezuma
when, having come as a friend to the quarters of the Spaniards, he is
fettered like a slave; and that other scene, no less painful, where the
fallen monarch appears upon the walls and begs his people to desist from
violence, only to be greeted with taunts and insults, and a shower of

But most impressive of all and most unforgettable is the story of the
_noche triste_--the Spanish army and their Indian allies stealing
silently and at dead of night out of the city which but a short time
before they had entered with so brave a show.

     "The night was cloudy, and a drizzling rain, which fell without
     intermission, added to the obscurity. The great square before the
     palace was deserted, as, indeed, it had been since the fall of
     Montezuma. Steadily, and as noiselessly as possible, the Spaniards
     held their way along the great street of Tlacopan, which so lately
     had resounded with the tumult of battle. All was now hushed in
     silence; and they were only reminded of the past by the occasional
     presence of some solitary corpse, or a dark heap of the slain,
     which too plainly told where the strife had been hottest. As they
     passed along the lanes and alleys which opened into the great
     street, or looked down the canals, whose polished surface gleamed
     with a sort of ebon lustre through the obscurity of night, they
     easily fancied that they discerned the shadowy forms of their foe
     lurking in ambush and ready to spring on them. But it was only
     fancy; and the city slept undisturbed even by the prolonged echoes
     of the tramp of the horses and the hoarse rumbling of the artillery
     and baggage-trains. At length, a lighter space beyond the dusky
     line of buildings showed the van of the army that it was emerging
     on the open causeway. They might well have congratulated themselves
     on having thus escaped the dangers of an assault in the city
     itself, and that a brief time would place them in comparative
     safety on the opposite shore. But the Mexicans were not all asleep.

     "As the Spaniards drew near the spot where the street opened on the
     causeway, and were preparing to lay the portable bridge across the
     uncovered breach, which now met their eyes, several Indian
     sentinels, who had been stationed at this, as at the other
     approaches to the city, took the alarm, and fled, rousing their
     countrymen by their cries. The priests, keeping their night-watch
     on the summit of the _teocallis_, instantly caught the tidings and
     sounded their shells, while the huge drum in the desolate temple of
     the war-god sent forth those solemn tones, which, heard only in
     seasons of calamity, vibrated through every corner of the capital.
     The Spaniards saw that no time was to be lost.... Before they had
     time to defile across the narrow passage, a gathering sound was
     heard, like that of a mighty forest agitated by the winds. It grew
     louder and louder, while on the dark waters of the lake was heard a
     plashing noise, as of many oars. Then came a few stones and arrows
     striking at random among the hurrying troops. They fell every
     moment faster and more furious, till they thickened into a terrible
     tempest, while the very heavens were rent with the yells and
     warcries of myriads of combatants, who seemed all at once to be
     swarming over land and lake!"

What reader of this passage can forget the ominous, melancholy note of
that great war drum? It is one of the most haunting things in all
literature--like the blood-stained hands of the guilty queen in
_Macbeth_, or the footprint on the sand in _Robinson Crusoe_, or the
chill, mirthless laughter of the madwoman in _Jane Eyre_.

One other splendidly vital passage is that which recounts the last great
agony on the retreat from Mexico. The shattered remnants of the army of
Cortés are toiling slowly onward to the coast, faint with famine and
fatigue, deprived of the arms which in their flight they had thrown
away, and harassed by their dusky enemies, who hover about them, calling
out in tones of menace, "Hasten on! You will soon find yourselves where
you cannot escape!"

     "As the army was climbing the mountain steeps which shut in the
     Valley of Otompan, the vedettes came in with the intelligence that
     a powerful body was encamped on the other side, apparently awaiting
     their approach. The intelligence was soon confirmed by their own
     eyes, as they turned the crest of the sierra, and saw spread out,
     below, a mighty host, filling up the whole depth of the valley, and
     giving to it the appearance, from the white cotton mail of the
     warriors, of being covered with snow.... As far as the eye could
     reach, were to be seen shields and waving banners, fantastic
     helmets, forests of shining spears, the bright feather-mail of the
     chief, and the coarse cotton panoply of his follower, all mingled
     together in wild confusion and tossing to and fro like the billows
     of a troubled ocean. It was a sight to fill the stoutest heart
     among the Christians with dismay, heightened by the previous
     expectation of soon reaching the friendly land which was to
     terminate their wearisome pilgrimage. Even Cortés, as he
     contrasted the tremendous array before him with his own diminished
     squadrons, wasted by disease and enfeebled by hunger and fatigue,
     could not escape the conviction that his last hour had

But it is not merely in vivid narration and description of events that
the _Conquest of Mexico_ attains so rare a degree of excellence. Here,
as nowhere else, has Prescott succeeded in delineating character. All
the chief actors of his great historic drama not only live and breathe,
but they are as distinctly differentiated as they must have been in
life. Cortés and his lieutenants are persons whom we actually come to
know in the pages of Prescott, just as in the pages of Xenophon we come
to know Clearchus and the adventurous generals who, like Cortés, made
their way into the heart of a great empire and faced barbarians in
battle. The comparison between Xenophon and Prescott is, indeed, a very
natural one, and it was made quite early after the appearance of the
_Ferdinand and Isabella_ by an English admirer, Mr. Thomas Grenville.
Calling upon this gentleman one day, Mr. Everett found him in his
library reading Xenophon's _Anabasis_ in the original Greek. Mr. Everett
made some casual remark upon the merits of that book, whereupon Mr.
Grenville holding up a volume of _Ferdinand and Isabella_ said, "Here is
one far superior."[34]

Xenophon's character-drawing was done in his own way, briefly and in
dry-point; yet Clearchus, Proxenus, and Menon are not more subtly
distinguished from each other than are Cortés, Sandoval, and Alvarado.
Cortés is very real,--a bold, martial figure, the ideal man of action,
gallant in bearing and powerful of physique, tireless, confident, and
exerting a magnetic influence over all who come into his presence;
gifted also with a truly Spanish craft, and not without a touch of
Spanish cruelty. Sandoval is the true knight,--loyal, devoted to his
chief, wise, and worthy of all trust. Alvarado is the reckless
man-at-arms,--daring to desperation, hot-tempered, fickle, and
passionate, yet with all his faults a man to extort one's liking, even
as he compelled the Aztecs to admire him for his intrepidity and
frankness. Over against these three brilliant figures stands the
melancholy form of Montezuma, around whom, even from the first, one
feels gathering the darkness of his coming fate. He reminds one of some
hero of Greek tragedy, doomed to destruction and intensely conscious of
it, yet striving in vain against the decree of an inexorable destiny.
One recalls him as he is described when the head of a Spanish soldier
had been cut off and sent to him.

     "It was uncommonly large and covered with hair; and, as Montezuma
     gazed on the ferocious features, rendered more horrible by death,
     he seemed to read in them the dark lineaments of the destined
     destroyers of his house. He turned from it with a shudder, and
     commanded that it should be taken from the city, and not offered at
     the shrine of any of his gods."[35]

The contrast between this dreamy, superstitious, half-hearted, and
almost womanish prince and his successor Guatemozin is splendidly worked
out. Guatemozin's fierce patriotism, his hatred of the Spaniards, his
ferocity in battle, and his stubborn unwillingness to yield are
displayed with consummate art, yet in such a way as to win one's
sympathy for him without estranging it from those who conquered him. A
touch of sentiment is delicately infused into the whole narrative of the
Conquest by the manner in which Prescott has treated the relations of
Cortés and the Indian girl, Marina. Here we find interesting evidence of
Prescott's innate purity of mind and thought, for he undoubtedly
idealised this girl and suppressed, or at any rate passed over very
lightly, the truth which Bernal Diaz, on the other hand, sets forth with
the blunt coarseness of a foul-mouthed old soldier.[36] No one would
gather from Prescott's pages that Marina had been the mistress of other
men before Cortés. Nor do we get any hint from him that Cortés wearied
of her in the end, and thrust her off upon one of his captains whom he
made drunk in order to render him willing to go through the forms of
marriage with her. In Prescott's narrative she is lovely, graceful,
generous, and true; and the only hint that is given of her former life
is found in the statement that "she had her errors."[37] To his readers
she is, after a fashion, the heroine of the Conquest,--the tender,
affectionate companion of the Conqueror, sharing his dangers or averting
them, and not seldom mitigating by her influence the sternness of his
character. Another instance of Prescott's delicacy of mind is found in
the way in which he glides swiftly over the whole topic of the position
which women occupied among the Aztecs, although his Spanish sources were
brutally explicit on this point. There were some things, therefore,
from which Prescott shrank instinctively and in which he allowed his
sensitive modesty to soften and refine upon the truth.

The mention of this circumstance leads one to consider the much-mooted
question as to how far the _Conquest of Mexico_ may be accepted as
veracious history. Is it history at all or is it, as some have said,
historical romance? Are we to classify it with such books as those of
Ranke and Parkman, whose brilliancy of style is wholly compatible with
scrupulous fidelity to historic fact, or must we think of it as verging
upon the category of romances built up around the material which history
affords--with books like _Ivanhoe_ and _Harold_ and _Salammbô_? In the
years immediately following its publication, Prescott's great work was
accepted as indubitably accurate. His imposing array of foot-notes, his
thorough acquaintance with the Spanish chronicles, and the unstinted
approval given to him by contemporary historians inspired in the public
an implicit faith. Then, here and there, a sceptic began to raise his
head, and to question, not the good faith of Prescott, but rather the
value of the very sources upon which Prescott's history had been built.
As a matter of fact, long before Prescott's time, the reports and
narratives of the conquerors had in parts been doubted. As early as the
eighteenth century Lafitau, the Jesuit missionary, in a treatise
published in 1723,[38] had discussed with great acuteness some questions
of American ethnology in a spirit of scientific criticism; and later in
the same century, James Adair had gathered valuable material in the same
department of knowledge.[39] Even earlier, the Spanish Jesuit, José de
Acosta, had published a treatise which exhibits traces of a critical
method.[40] Again, Robertson, in his _History of America_ (a book, by
the way, which Prescott had studied very carefully), shows an
independence of attitude and an acumen which find expression in a
definite disagreement with much that had been set down by the Spanish
chroniclers. Such criticism as these and other isolated writers had
brought to bear was directed against that part of the accepted tradition
which relates to the Aztec civilisation. Prescott, following the notices
of Las Casas, Herrera, Bernal Diaz, Oviedo, Cortés himself, and the
writer who is known as the _conquistador anonimo_, had simply weighed
the assertions of one as against those of another, striving to reconcile
their discrepancies of statement and following one rather than the
other, according to the apparent preponderance of probability. He did
not, however, perceive in these discrepancies the clue which might have
guided him, as it subsequently did others, to a clearer understanding of
the actual facts. Therefore, he has painted for us the Mexico of
Montezuma in gorgeous colours, seeing in it a great Empire, possessed of
a civilisation no less splendid than that of Western Europe, and
exhibiting a political and social system comparable with that which
Europeans knew. The magnificence and wealth of this fancied Empire gave,
indeed, the necessary background to his story of the Conquest. It was a
stage setting which raised the exploits of the conquerors to a lofty
and almost epic altitude.

The first serious attempt directly to discredit the accuracy of this
description was made by an American writer, Mr. Robert A. Wilson. Wilson
was an enthusiastic amateur who took a particular interest in the
ethnology of the American Indians. He had travelled in Mexico. He knew
something of the Indians of our Western territory, and he had read the
Spanish chroniclers. The result of his observations was a thorough
disbelief in the traditional picture of Aztec civilisation. He,
therefore, set out to demolish it and to offer in its place a substitute
based upon such facts as he had gathered and such theories as he had
formed. After publishing a preliminary treatise which attracted some
attention, he wrote a bulky volume entitled _A New History of the
Conquest of Mexico_.[41] In the introduction to this book he declares
that his visit to Mexico had shaken his belief "in those Spanish
historic romances upon which Mr. Prescott has founded his magnificent
tale of the conquest of Mexico." He adds that the despatches of Cortés
are the only valuable written authority, and that these consist of two
distinct parts,--first, "an accurate detail of adventures consistent
throughout with the topography of the region in which they occurred";
and second, "a mass of foreign material, apparently borrowed from fables
of the Moorish era, for effect in Spain." "It was not in great battles,
but in a rapid succession of skirmishes, that he distinguished himself
and won the character ... of an adroit leader in Indian war." Wilson
endeavours to show, in the first place, that the Aztecs were simply a
branch of the American Indian race; that their manners and customs were
essentially those of the more northern tribes; that the origin of the
whole race was Phoenician; and that the Spanish account of early
Mexico is almost wholly fabulous. Writing of the different historians of
the Conquest, he mentions Prescott in the following words:--

     "A more delicate duty remains,--to speak freely of an American
     whose success in the field of literature has raised him to the
     highest rank. His talents have not only immortalised himself--they
     have added a new charm to the subject of his histories. He showed
     his faith by the expenditure of a fortune at the commencement of
     his enterprise, in the purchase of books and Mss. relating to
     'America of the Spaniards.' These were the materials out of which
     he framed his two histories of the two aboriginal empires, Mexico
     and Peru. At the time these works were written he could not have
     had the remotest idea of the circumstances under which his Spanish
     authorities had been produced, or of the external pressure that
     gave them their peculiar form and character. He could hardly
     understand that peculiar organisation of Spanish society through
     which one set of opinions might be uniformly expressed in public,
     while the intellectual classes in secret entertain entirely
     opposite ones. He acted throughout in the most perfect good faith;
     and if, on a subsequent scrutiny, his authorities have proved to be
     the fabulous creations of Spanish-Arabian fancy, he is not in
     fault. They were the standards when he made use of them--a
     sufficient justification of his acts. 'This beautiful world we
     inhabit,' said an East Indian philosopher, 'rests on the back of a
     mighty elephant; the elephant stands on the back of a monster
     turtle; the turtle rests upon a serpent; and the serpent on
     nothing.' Thus stand the literary monuments Mr. Prescott has
     constructed. They are castles resting upon a cloud which reflects
     an eastern sunrise upon a western horizon."

This book appeared in the year of Prescott's death, and he himself made
no published comment on it. A very sharp notice, however, was written
by some one who did not sign his name, but who was undoubtedly very near
to Prescott.[42] The writer of this notice had little difficulty in
showing that Wilson was a very slipshod investigator; that he was in
many respects ignorant of the very authorities whom he attempted to
refute; and that as a writer he was very crude indeed. Some portions of
this paper may be quoted, mainly because they sum up such of Mr.
Wilson's points as were in reality important. The first paragraph has
also a somewhat personal interest.

     "Directly and knowingly, as we shall hereafter show, he has availed
     himself of Mr. Prescott's labours to an extent which demanded the
     most ample 'acknowledgment.' No such acknowledgment is made. But we
     beg to ask Mr. Wilson whether there were not other reasons why he
     should have spoken of this eminent writer, if not with deference,
     at least with respect. He himself informs us that 'most kindly
     relations' existed between them. If we are not misinformed, Mr.
     Wilson opened the correspondence by modestly requesting the loan of
     Mr. Prescott's collection of works relating to Mexican history, for
     the purpose of enabling him to write a refutation of the latter's
     History of the Conquest. That the replies which he received were
     courteous and kindly, we need hardly say. He was informed, that,
     although the constant use made of the collection by its possessor
     for the correction of his own work must prevent a full compliance
     with this request, yet any particular books which he might
     designate should be sent to him, and, if he were disposed to make a
     visit to Boston, the fullest opportunities should be granted him
     for the prosecution of his researches. This invitation Mr. Wilson
     did not think fit to accept. Books which were got in readiness for
     transmission to him he failed to send for. He had, in the meantime,
     discovered that 'the American standpoint' did not require any
     examination of 'authorities.' We regret that it should also have
     rendered superfluous an acquaintance with the customs of civilised
     society. The tone in which he speaks of his distinguished
     predecessor is sometimes amusing from the conceit which it
     displays, sometimes disgusting from its impudence and coarseness.
     He concedes Mr. Prescott's good faith in the use of his materials.
     It was only his ignorance and want of the proper qualifications
     that prevented him from using them aright 'His non-acquaintance
     with Indian character is much to be regretted.' Mr. Wilson himself
     enjoys, as he tells us, the inestimable advantage of being the son
     of an adopted member of the Iroquois tribe. Nay, 'his ancestors,
     for several generations, dwelt near the Indian agency at Cherry
     Valley, on Wilson's Patent, though in Cooperstown village was he
     born.' We perceive the author's fondness for the inverted style in
     composition,--acquired, perhaps, in the course of his long study of
     aboriginal oratory. Even without such proofs, and without his own
     assertion of the fact, it would not have been difficult, we think,
     to conjecture his familiarity with the forms of speech common among
     barbarous nations....

     "Mr. Wilson ... has found, from his own observation,--the only
     source of knowledge, if such it can be called, on which he is
     willing to place much reliance,--that the Ojibways and Iroquois are
     savages, and he rightly argues that their ancestors must have been
     savages. From these premises, without any process of reasoning, he
     leaps at once to the conclusion, that in no part of America could
     the aboriginal inhabitants ever have lived in any other than a
     savage state. Hence he tells us, that, in all statements regarding
     them, everything 'must be rejected that is inconsistent with
     well-established Indian traits.' The ancient Mexican empire was,
     according to his showing, nothing more than one of those
     confederacies of tribes with which the reader of early New England
     history is perfectly familiar. The far-famed city of Mexico was 'an
     Indian village of the first class,'--such, we may hope, as that
     which the author saw on his visit to the Massasaugus, where, to his
     immense astonishment, he found the people 'clothed, and in their
     right minds.' The Aztecs, he argues, could not have built temples,
     for the Iroquois do not build temples. The Aztecs could not have
     been idolaters or offered up human sacrifices, for the Iroquois are
     not idolaters and do not offer up human sacrifices. The Aztecs
     could not have been addicted to cannibalism, for the Iroquois never
     eat human flesh, unless driven to it by hunger. This is what Mr.
     Wilson means by the 'American standpoint'; and those who adopt his
     views may consider the whole question settled without any debate."

     "If, at Mr. Wilson's summons, we reject as improbable a series of
     events supported by far stronger evidence than can be adduced for
     the conquests of Alexander, the Crusades, or the Norman conquest of
     England, what is it, we may ask, that he calls upon us to believe?
     His scepticism, as so often happens, affords the measure of his
     credulity. He contends that Cortés, the greatest Spaniard of the
     sixteenth century, a man little acquainted with books, but endowed
     with a gigantic genius and with all the qualities requisite for
     success in warlike enterprises and an adventurous career, had his
     brain so filled with the romances of chivalry, and so preoccupied
     with reminiscences of the Spanish contests with the Moslems, that
     he saw in the New World nothing but duplicates of those
     contests,--that his heated imagination turned wigwams into palaces,
     Indian villages into cities like Granada, swamps into lakes, a
     tribe of savages into an empire of civilised men,--that, in the
     midst of embarrassments and dangers which, even on Mr. Wilson's
     showing, must have taxed all his faculties to the utmost, he
     employed himself chiefly in coining lies with which to deceive his
     imperial master and all the inhabitants of Christendom,--that,
     although he had a host of powerful enemies among his countrymen,
     enemies who were in a position to discover the truth, his
     statements passed unchallenged and uncontradicted by them,--that
     the numerous adventurers and explorers who followed in his track,
     instead of exposing the falsity of his relations and descriptions,
     found their interest in embellishing the narrative."

Of course Wilson's book was unscientific to a degree, with its
Phoenician theories, its estimate of Spanish sources of information,
and its assorted ignorance of many things. Its author, had, however,
stumbled upon a bit of truth which no ridicule could shake, and which
proved fruitful in suggestion to a very different kind of investigator.
This was Mr. Lewis Henry Morgan, an important name in the history of
American ethnological study. As a young man Morgan had felt an interest
in the American Indian, which developed into a very unusual enthusiasm.
It led him ultimately to spend a long time among the Iroquois, studying
their tribal organisation and social phenomena. He embodied the
knowledge so obtained in a book entitled _The League of the
Iroquois_,[43] a truly epoch-making work, though the author himself was
at the time wholly unaware of its far-reaching importance. This book
described the forms of government, the social organisation, the manners
and the customs of the Iroquois, with great accuracy and thoroughness.
Seven years later, Morgan happened to fall in with a camp of Ojibway
Indians, and found to his astonishment that their tribal customs were
practically identical with those of the Iroquois. While this coincidence
was fresh in his mind, Morgan read Wilson's iconoclastic book on Mexico.
The suggestion made by Wilson that the Aztec civilisation was
essentially the same as that of the northern tribes of Red Indians did
much to crystallise the hypothesis which has now been definitely
established as a fact.

Those who do not care to read a long series of monographs and several
large volumes in order to arrive at a knowledge of what recent
ethnologists hold as true of Ancient Mexico may find the essence of
accepted doctrine somewhat divertingly set forth in a paper written by
Mr. Morgan in criticism of H. H. Bancroft's _Native Races of the Pacific
States_. Mr. Morgan's paper is entitled "Montezuma's Dinner."[44] In it
the statement is briefly made that the Aztecs were simply one branch of
the same Red Race which extended all over the American Continent; that
their forms of government, their usages, and their occupations were not
in kind different from those of the Iroquois, the Ojibways, or any other
of the North American Indian tribes. These institutions and customs
found no analogues among civilised nations, and could not, in their day,
be explained in terms intelligible to contemporary Europeans. Hence,
when the Spaniards under Cortés discovered in Mexico a definite and
fully developed form of civilisation, instead of studying it on the
assumption that it might be different from their own, they described it,
as Mr. A. F. Bandelier has well said, "in terms of comparison selected
from types accessible to the limited knowledge of the times."[45] Thus,
they beheld in Montezuma an "emperor" surrounded by "kings," "princes,"
"nobles," and "generals." His residence was to them an imperial palace.
His mode of life showed the magnificent and stately etiquette of a
European monarch, with lords-in-waiting, court jesters, pages,
secretaries, and household guards. In narrating all these things, the
first Spanish observers were wholly honest, although in their enthusiasm
they added many a touch of literary colour. Their records are
paralleled by those of the English explorers who, in New England,
thought they had found "kings" among the Pequods and Narragansetts, and
who, in Virginia, viewed Powhatan as an "emperor" and Pocahontas as a
"princess." That the Spaniards, like the English, wrote in ignorant good
faith, rather than with a desire to deceive, is shown by the fact that
they actually did record circumstances which even then, if critically
studied, would have shown the falsity of their general belief. Thus, as
Mr. Bandelier points out, the Spaniards tell of the Aztecs that they had
great wealth, reared great palaces, and acquired both scientific
knowledge and skill in art, while in mechanical appliances they remained
on the level of the savage, using stone and flint for tools and weapons,
making pottery without the potter's wheel, and weaving intricate
patterns with the hand-loom only. Equally inconsistent are the
statements that the Aztecs were mild, gentle, virtuous, and kind, and
yet that they sacrificed their prisoners with the most savage rites,
made war that they might secure more sacrificial victims, viewed
marriage as a barter, and regarded chastity as a restraint.[46] Still
further inconsistencies are to be found in the Spanish accounts of the
Aztec government. Montezuma, for instance, is picturesquely held to have
been an absolute ruler, one whose very name aroused awe and veneration
throughout the whole extent of his vast dominions; and yet it is
recorded that while still alive he was superseded by Guatemozin; and
even Acosta notes that there was a council without whose consent nothing
of importance could be done. In fact, under the solvent of Mr. Morgan's
criticism, the gorgeous Aztec empire of Cortés and Prescott shrinks to
very modest proportions. Montezuma is transformed from an hereditary
monarch into an elective war-chief. His dominions become a territory of
about the size of the state of Rhode Island. His capital appears as a
stronghold built amid marshes and surrounded by flat-roofed houses of
_adobe_; while his "palace" is a huge communal-house, built of stone and
lime, and inhabited by his gentile kindred, united in one household. The
magnificent feast which the Spaniards describe so lusciously,--the
throned king served by beautiful women and by stewards who knelt before
him without daring to lift their eyes, the dishes of gold and silver,
the red and black Cholulan jars filled with foaming chocolate, the
"ancient lords" attending at a distance, the orchestra of flutes, reeds,
horns, and kettle-drums, and the three thousand guards without--all this
is converted by Morgan into a sort of barbaric buffet-luncheon, with
Montezuma squatting on the floor, surrounded by his relatives in
breech-clouts, and eating a meal prepared in a common cook-house,
divided at a common kettle, and eaten out of an earthen bowl.

One need not, however, lend himself to so complete a disillusionment as
Mr. Morgan in this paper seeks to thrust upon us. Still more recent
investigations, such as those of Brinton, McGee, and Bandelier, have
restored some of the prestige which Cortés and his followers attached to
the early Mexicans. While the Aztecs were very far from possessing a
monarchical form of government, and while their society was constituted
far differently from that of any European community, and while they are
to be studied simply as one division of the Red Indian race, they were
scarcely so primitive as Mr. Morgan would have us think. They differed
from their more northern kindred not, to be sure, in kind, but very
greatly in degree. Though we have to substitute the communal-house for
the palace, the war-chief for the king, and the tribal organisation for
the feudal system, there still remains a great and interesting people,
fully organised, rich, warlike, and highly skilled in their own arts. In
architecture, weaving, gold and silver work, and pottery, they achieved
artistic wonders. Their instinct for the decorative produced results
which justified the admiration of their conquerors. Their capital,
though it was not the immense city which the Spaniards saw, teeming with
a vast population, was, nevertheless, an imposing collection of
mansions, great and small, whose snowy whiteness, standing out against
the greenery and diversified by glimpses of water, might well impress
the imagination of European strangers. If the communal-houses lacked the
"golden cupolas" of Disraeli's Oriental fancy, neither were they the
"mud huts" which Wilson tells of. If Montezuma was not precisely an
occidental Charles the Fifth, neither is he to be regarded as an earlier
Sitting Bull.

So far, then, as we have to modify Prescott's chapters which describe
the Mexico of Cortés, this modification consists largely in a mere
change of terminology. Following the Spanish records, he has accurately
reproduced just what the Spaniards saw, or thought they saw, in old
Tenochtitlan. He has looked at all things through their eyes; and such
errors as he made were the same errors which they had made while they
were standing in the great _pueblo_ which was to them the scene of so
much suffering and of so great a final triumph. When Prescott wrote,
there lived no man who could have gainsaid him. His story represents the
most accurate information which was then attainable. As Mr. Thorpe has
well expressed it: "No historian is responsible for not using
undiscovered evidence. Prescott wrote from the archives of Europe ...
from the European side. If one cares to know how the Old World first
understood the New, he will read Prescott." Even Morgan, who goes
further in his destructive criticism than any other authoritative
writer, admits that Prescott and his sources "may be trusted in whatever
relates to the acts of the Spaniards, and to the acts and personal
characteristics of the Indians; in whatever relates to their weapons,
implements and utensils, fabrics, food and raiment, and things of a
similar character." Only in what relates to their government, social
relations, and plan of life does the narrative need to be in part
rewritten. It is but fair to note that Prescott himself, in his
preliminary chapters on the Aztecs, is far from dogmatising. His
statements are made with a distinct reserve, and he acknowledges alike
the difficulty of the subject and his doubts as to the finality of what
he tells. Even in his descriptive passages, he is solicitous lest the
warm imagination of the Spanish chroniclers may have led them to throw
too high a light on what they saw. Thus, after ending his account of
Montezuma's household and the Aztec "court," drawn from the pages of
Bernal Diaz, Toribio, and Oviedo, he qualifies its gorgeousness in the
following sentence:[47]

     "Such is the picture of Montezuma's domestic establishment and way
     of living as delineated by the Conquerors and their immediate
     followers, who had the best means of information; too highly
     coloured, it may be, by the proneness to exaggerate which was
     natural to those who first witnessed a spectacle so striking to the
     imagination, so new and unexpected."

And in a foot-note on the same page he expressly warns the student of
history against the fanciful chapters of the Spaniards who wrote a
generation later, comparing their accounts with the stories in the
_Arabian Nights_.

Putting aside, then, the single topic of Aztec ethnology and tribal
organisation, it remains to see how far the rest of Prescott's history
of the Conquest has stood the test of recent criticism. Here one finds
himself on firmer ground, and it may be asserted with entire confidence
that Prescott's accuracy cannot be impeached in aught that is essential
to the truth of history. His careful use of his authorities, and his
excellent judgment in checking the evidence of one by the evidence of
another, remain unquestioned. In one respect alone has fault been found
with him. His desire to avail himself of every possible aid caused him
to procure, often with great difficulty and at great expense, documents,
or copies of documents, which had hitherto been inaccessible to the
investigator. So far he was acting in the spirit of the truly scientific
scholar. But sometimes the very rarity of these new sources led him to
attach an undue value to them. Here and there he has followed them as
against the more accessible authorities, even when the latter were
altogether trustworthy. In this we find something of the passion of the
collector; and now and then in minor matters it has led him into
error.[48] Thus, in certain passages relating to the voyage of Cortés
from Havana, Prescott has misstated the course followed by the pilot, as
again with regard to the expedition from Santiago de Cuba[49]; and he
errs because he has followed a manuscript copy of Juan Diaz, overlooking
the obviously correct and consistent accounts of Bernal Diaz and other
standard chroniclers. There are similar though equally unimportant slips
elsewhere in his narrative, arising from the same cause. None of them,
however, affects the essential accuracy of his text. His masterpiece
stands to-day still fundamentally unshaken, a faithful and brilliant
panorama of a wonderful episode in history. Those who are inclined to
question its veracity do so, not because they can give substantial
reasons for their doubt, but because, perhaps, of the romantic colouring
which Prescott has infused into his whole narrative, because it is as
entertaining as a novel, and because he had the art to transmute the
acquisitions of laborious research into an enduring monument of pure



The _Conquest of Peru_ was, for the most part, written more rapidly than
any other of Prescott's histories. Much of the material necessary for it
had been acquired during his earlier studies, and with this material he
had been long familiar when he began to write. The book was, indeed, as
he himself described it, a pendant to the _Conquest of Mexico_. Had the
latter work not been written, it is likely that the _Conquest of Peru_
would be now accepted as the most popular of Prescott's works.
Unfortunately, it is always subjected to a comparison with the other and
greater book, and therefore, relatively, it suffers. In the first place,
when so compared, it resembles an imperfect replica of the _Mexico_
rather than an independent history. The theme is, in its nature, the
same, and so it lacks the charm of novelty. The exploits of Pizarro do
not merely recall to the modern reader the adventurous achievements of
Cortés, but, as a matter of fact, they were actually inspired by them.
Thus, Pizarro's march from the coast over the Andes closely resembles
the march of Cortés over the Cordilleras. His seizure of the Inca,
Atahualpa, was undoubtedly suggested to him by the seizure of Montezuma.
The massacre of the Peruvians in Caxamarca reads like a reminiscence of
the massacre of the Aztecs by Alvarado in Mexico. The fighting, if
fighting it may be called, presents the same features as are found in
the battles of Cortés. So far as there is any difference in the two
narratives, this difference is not in favour of the later book. If
Pizarro bears a likeness to Cortés, the likeness is but superficial. His
soul is the soul of Cortés _habitans in sicco_. There is none of the
frankness of the conqueror of Mexico, none of his chivalry, little of
his bluff good comradeship. Pizarro rather impresses one as
mean-spirited, avaricious, and cruel, so that we hold lightly his
undoubted courage, his persistency, and his endurance. Moreover, the
Peruvians are too feeble as antagonists to make the record of their
resistance an exciting one. They lack the ferocity of the Aztec
character, and when they are slaughtered by the white men, the tale is
far more pitiful than stirring. Even Prescott's art cannot make us feel
that there is anything romantic in the conquest and butchery of a flock
of sheep. The outrages perpetrated upon an effeminate people by their
Spanish masters form a long and dreary record of robbery and rape and it
is inevitably monotonous.

Another fundamental defect in the subject which Prescott chose was
thoroughly appreciated by him. "Its great defect," he wrote in 1845, "is
want of unity. A connected tissue of adventures ... but not the especial
interest that belongs to the _Iliad_ and to the _Conquest of Mexico_."
In another memorandum (made in 1846) he calls his subject "second
rate,--quarrels of banditti over their spoils." This criticism is
absolutely just, and it well explains the inferiority of the story of
Peru when we contrast it with the book which went before. Up to the
capture of the Inca there is no lack of unity; but after that, the
stream of narration filters away in different directions, like some
river which grows broader and shallower until at last in a multitude of
little streams it disappears in dry and sandy soil. The fault is not the
fault of the writer. It is inherent in the subject. Nowhere has Prescott
written with greater skill. It is only that no display of literary art
can give dignity and distinction to that which in itself is unheroic and
sometimes even sordid. The one passage which stands out from all the
rest is that which sets before us the famous incident at Panama, when
Pizarro, at the head of his little band of followers, mutinous,
famished, and half-naked, still boldly scorns all thought of a return.

     "Drawing his sword he traced a line with it on the sand from East
     to West. Then, turning towards the South, 'Friends and comrades!'
     he said, 'on that side are toil, hunger, nakedness, the drenching
     storm, desertion, and death; on this side ease and pleasure. There
     lies Peru with its riches; here, Panama and its poverty. Choose,
     each man, what best becomes a brave Castilian. For my part, I go to
     the South.' So saying, he stepped across the line."

Here is an heroic event told with that simplicity which means
effectiveness. This is the one page in the _Peru_ where the narrator
makes us thrill with a sense of what, in its way, verges upon moral

As to the historical value of the book, it stands in much the same
category as the _Conquest of Mexico_. All that relates to the actual
history of the Conquest is told with the same accurate regard for the
original authorities which Prescott always showed, and for this part of
the narrative, the original authorities are worthy of credence. The
preliminary chapters on Peruvian antiquities are less satisfactory even
than the corresponding portions of the other book. Prescott found them
very hard to write. He was conscious that the subject was a formidable
one. He did the best he could and all that any one could possibly have
done at the time in which he wrote. Even now, after the elaborate
explorations and researches of Bandelier, Markham, Baessler, Cunow, and
others, the social and political relations of the Peruvians are little
understood. Much has been learned of their art and of the monuments
which they have left behind; but of their institutional history the
records still remain obscure. The modern student, however, discovers
many indications that they, too, like the Aztecs, were of the Red Race,
and that their government was based upon the clan system; so that even
the Inca himself, like the Mexican war-chief, was merely the elected
executive of a council of the gentes. Here, as in Mexico, the Spaniards
carelessly described in terms of Europe the institutions which they
found, and made no serious attempt to understand them. Even the account
of the Peruvian religion which Prescott gives, in accordance with the
statements of the early Catholic missionaries, needs considerable

The Spanish chroniclers whom Prescott followed describe the Peruvians as
united under a great monarchy,--an "empire,"--the head of which, the
Inca, was an hereditary and absolute ruler, whose person was sacred in
that he was divine and the sole giver of law. The system was, therefore,
a theocratic one, with the chief priest appointed by the Inca. There was
a nobility, but the great offices of state were filled by the members
of the imperial family. The rule of the Inca extended over a vast
territory, and of it he was the supreme lord, having his wives from
among the Virgins of the Sun, the fifteen hundred beautiful maidens who
abode in the Palace of the Sun in Cuzco. Over the wonderful system of
roads which intersected the empire, the couriers of the Inca passed back
and forth with the commands of their master, to which all gave heed. The
Peruvian religion was strongly monotheistic in that it recognised the
unity, and preëminence of a supreme deity.

Recent investigation has left practically nothing of this interesting
fiction which has been repeated by hundreds of writers with every
possible magnificence of detail. There was no "empire" of Peru. The
Indians of the coast governed themselves, though they sometimes paid
tribute to the Cuzco Indians. There was, however, no homogeneous
nationality. In the valley of Cuzco there was a tribe known as the Inca,
perhaps seventy thousand souls in all, who were locally divided into
twelve clans, each having its own government, and dwelling in its own
village or ward; for it was a combination of these twelve villages which
made up the whole settlement collectively styled Cuzco. A council of the
twelve clans chose a war-chief whom some of the other tribes called
"Inca," but who was not so called by his own people. He was not an
hereditary chief; he could be deposed; he had no especial sanctity. The
Virgins of the Sun were something very different from virgins. The road
system of the Peruvians really constituted no system at all. The nobles
were not nobles. The religion was not monotheistic, but embodied the
worship not only of sun, moon, and stars, but of rocks, mountains, stone
idols, and a variety of fetishes. Metal-work, pottery, weaving, and
building were the chief arts of the Peruvians; but in them all,
quaintness, utility, and permanence were more conspicuous than

Disregarding, however, all questions of Peruvian archæology, we may
accept the judgment passed upon the _Conquest of Peru_ by one of the
most eminent of modern investigators, Sir Clements Markham, who, as a
young man, knew Prescott well, and to whom the reading of this book
proved to be an inspiration in his chosen field. Long after Prescott's
death, and speaking with the fuller knowledge of the subject which he
had acquired, he declared of the Peru: "It deservedly stands in the
first rank as a judicious history of the Conquest."

The _History of the Reign of Philip II._ remains an unfinished work. Its
subject, of course, provokes a comparison with the two brilliant
histories by Motley,--_The Rise of the Dutch Republic and The History of
the United Netherlands_. The interest in this comparison lies in the
view which each of the historians has taken of the gloomy Philip. The
contrasted temperaments of the two writers are well indicated in a
letter which Motley sent to Prescott after the first volume of _Philip
II._ had appeared. He wrote:--

     "I can vouch for its extraordinary accuracy both of narration and
     of portrait-painting. You do not look at people or events from my
     point of view, but I am, therefore, a better witness to your
     fairness and clearness of delineation and statement. You have by
     nature the judicial mind which is the _costume de rigueur_ of all
     historians.... I haven't the least of it--I am always in a passion
     when I write and so shall be accused, very justly perhaps, of the
     qualities for which Byron commended Mitford, 'wrath and

The two men, indeed, approached their subject in very different fashion.
In Motley, rigidly scientific though he was, there are always a touch of
emotion, a love of liberty, a hatred of oppression. He once wrote to his
father that it gratified him "to pitch into the Duke of Alva and Philip
II. to my heart's content." Prescott, on the other hand, was more
detached, partly because he was by nature tolerant and calm; and it may
be also because his protracted Spanish studies had given him
unconsciously the Spanish point of view. He even came at last to adopt
this theory himself, and he wrote of it in a humorous way. Thus to Lady
Lyell, he declared:--

     "If I should go to heaven ... I shall find many acquaintances
     there, and some of them very respectable, of the olden time....
     Don't you think I should have a kindly greeting from good Isabella?
     Even Bloody Mary, I think, will smile on me; for I love the old
     Spanish stock, the house of Trastamara. But there is one that I am
     sure will owe me a grudge, and that is the very man I have been
     making two good volumes upon. With all my good nature, I can't wash
     him even into the darkest French grey. He is black and all
     black.... Is it not charitable to give Philip a place in heaven?"

Again, he styles Philip one "who may be considered as to other Catholics
what a Puseyite is to other Protestants." And elsewhere he confesses to
"a sneaking fondness for Philip." It was very like him, this hesitation
to condemn; and it recalls a memorandum which he made while writing his
_Peru_: "never call hard names à la Southey." Hence in a letter of his
to Motley, who had sent him a copy of the _Dutch Republic_,--a letter
which forms an interesting complement to Motley's note to him, he

     "You have laid it on Philip rather hard. Indeed, you have whittled
     him down to such an imperceptible point that there is hardly enough
     of him left to hang a newspaper paragraph on, much less five or six
     volumes of solid history as I propose to do. But then, you make it
     up with your own hero, William of Orange, and I comfort myself with
     the reflection that you are looking through a pair of Dutch
     spectacles after all."

Prescott's _Philip II_. raised no such questions of accuracy as followed
upon the publications of the Mexican and Peruvian histories. As in the
case of the _Ferdinand and Isabella_, the sources were unimpeachable,
first-hand, and contained the more intimate revelations of incident and
motive. There were no archæological problems to be solved, no obscure
racial puzzles to perplex the investigator. The reign of Philip had
simply to be interpreted in the light of the revelations which Philip
himself and his contemporaries left behind them--often in papers which
were never meant for more than two pairs of eyes. How complete are these
revelations, one may learn from a striking passage written by Motley,
who speaks in it of the abundant stores of knowledge which lie at the
disposal of the modern student of history.

     "To him who has the patience and industry, many mysteries are thus
     revealed, which no political sagacity or critical acumen could have
     divined. He leans over the shoulder of Philip the Second at his
     writing-table, as the King spells patiently out, with cipher-key
     in hand, the most concealed hieroglyphics of Parma, or Guise, or
     Mendoza.... He enters the cabinet of the deeply pondering
     Burghleigh, and takes from the most private drawer the memoranda
     which record that minister's unutterable doubtings; he pulls from
     the dressing-gown folds of the stealthy, soft-gliding Walsingham
     the last secret which he has picked from the Emperor's pigeon-holes
     or the Pope's pocket.... He sits invisible at the most secret
     councils of the Nassaus and Barneveldt and Buys, or pores with
     Farnese over coming victories and vast schemes of universal
     conquest; he reads the latest bit of scandal, the minutest
     characteristic of King or minister, chronicled by his gossiping
     Venetians for the edification of the Forty."[52]

All this material and more was in Prescott's hands, and he made full use
of it. His narrative, moreover, was told in a style which was easy and
unstudied, less glowing than in the _Mexico_, but even better fitted for
the telling of events which were so pregnant with good and ill to
succeeding generations. In the pages of _Philip II._ we have neither the
somewhat formal student who wrote of Ferdinand and Isabella, nor the
romanticist whose imagination was kindled by the reports of Cortés.
Rather do we find one who has at last reached the highest levels of
historical writing, and who with perfect poise develops a noble theme in
a noble way. The only criticism which has ever been brought against the
book has come from those who, like Thoreau, regard literary finish as a
defect in historical composition. The author of Walden seemed, indeed,
to single out Prescott for special animadversion in this respect, and
his rather rasping sentences contain the only jarring notes that were
sounded by any contemporary of the historian. Thoreau, writing of the
colonial historians of Massachusetts, such as Josselyn, remarked with a
sort of perverse appreciation: "They give you one piece of nature at any
rate, and that is themselves, smacking their lips like a
coach-whip,--none of those emasculated modern histories, such as
Prescott's, cursed with a style."

If style be really a curse to an historian, then Prescott remained under
its ban to the very last. As a bit of vivid writing his description of
the battle of Lepanto was much admired, and Irving thought it the best
thing in the book. A bit of it may be quoted by way of showing that
Prescott in his later years lost nothing of his vivacity or of his
fondness for battle-scenes.

First we see the Turkish armament moving up to battle against the allied

     "The galleys spread out, as usual with the Turks, in the form of a
     regular half-moon, covering a wider extent of surface than the
     combined fleets, which they somewhat exceeded in number. They
     presented, indeed, as they drew nearer, a magnificent array, with
     their gilded and gaudily-painted prows, and their myriads of
     pennons and streamers fluttering gayly in the breeze; while the
     rays of the morning sun glanced on the polished scimitars of
     Damascus, and on the superb aigrettes of jewels which sparkled in
     the turbans of the Ottoman chiefs.... The distance between the two
     fleets was now rapidly diminishing. At this solemn moment a
     death-like silence reigned throughout the armament of the
     confederates. Men seemed to hold their breath, as if absorbed in
     the expectation of some great catastrophe. The day was magnificent.
     A light breeze, still adverse to the Turks, played on the waters,
     somewhat fretted by the contrary winds. It was nearly noon; and as
     the sun, mounting through a cloudless sky, rose to the zenith, he
     seemed to pause, as if to look down on the beautiful scene, where
     the multitude of galleys moving over the water, showed like a
     holiday spectacle rather than a preparation for mortal combat."

Then we have the two fleets in the thick of combat:--

     "The Pacha opened at once on his enemy a terrible fire of cannon
     and musketry. It was returned with equal spirit and much more
     effect; for the Turks were observed to shoot over the heads of
     their adversaries. The Moslem galley was unprovided with the
     defences which protected the sides of the Spanish vessels; and the
     troops, crowded together on the lofty prow, presented an easy mark
     to their enemy's balls. But though numbers of them fell at every
     discharge, their places were soon supplied by those in reserve.
     They were enabled, therefore, to keep up an incessant fire, which
     wasted the strength of the Spaniards; and, as both Christian and
     Mussulman fought with indomitable spirit, it seemed doubtful to
     which side victory would incline....

     "Thus the fight raged along the whole extent of the entrance to the
     Gulf of Lepanto. The volumes of vapour rolling heavily over the
     waters effectually shut out from sight whatever was passing at any
     considerable distance, unless when a fresher breeze dispelled the
     smoke for a moment, or the flashes of the heavy guns threw a
     transient gleam on the dark canopy of battle. If the eye of the
     spectator could have penetrated the cloud of smoke that enveloped
     the combatants, and have embraced the whole scene at a glance, he
     would have perceived them broken up into small detachments,
     separately engaged one with another, independently of the rest, and
     indeed ignorant of all that was doing in other quarters. The
     contest exhibited few of those large combinations and skilful
     manoeuvres to be expected in a great naval encounter. It was
     rather an assemblage of petty actions, resembling those on land.
     The galleys, grappling together, presented a level arena, on which
     soldier and galley-slave fought hand to hand, and the fate of the
     engagement was generally decided by boarding. As in most
     hand-to-hand contests, there was an enormous waste of life. The
     decks were loaded with corpses, Christian and Moslem lying
     promiscuously together in the embrace of death. Instances are
     recorded where every man on board was slain or wounded. It was a
     ghastly spectacle, where blood flowed in rivulets down the sides of
     the vessels, staining the waters of the Gulf for miles around.

     "It seemed as if a hurricane had swept over the sea and covered it
     with the wreck of the noble armaments which a moment before were so
     proudly riding on its bosom. Little had they now to remind one of
     their late magnificent array, with their hulls battered, their
     masts and spars gone or splintered by the shot, their canvas cut
     into shreds and floating wildly on the breeze, while thousands of
     wounded and drowning men were clinging to the floating fragments
     and calling piteously for help."

Had Prescott lived, his history of Philip II. would have been extended
to a greater length than any of his other books--probably to six volumes
instead of the three which are all that he ever finished. It is likely,
too, that this book would have constituted his surest claim to high rank
as an historian. He came to the writing of it with a mind stored with
the accumulations of twenty years of patient, conscientious study. He
had lost none of his charm as a writer, while he had acquired
laboriously that special knowledge and training which are needed in one
who would be a master of historical research. _Philip II._ shows on
every page the skill with which information drawn from multifarious
sources can be massed and marshalled by one who is not only documented
but who has thoroughly assimilated everything of value which his
documents contain. No better evidence of Prescott's thoroughness is
needed than the tribute which was paid to him by Motley, who had
diligently gleaned in the same field. He said; "I am astonished at your
omniscience. Nothing seems to escape you. Many a little trait of
character, scrap of intelligence, or dab of scene-painting which I had
kept in my most private pocket, thinking I had fished it out of unsunned
depths, I find already in your possession."[53]

And we may well join with Motley in his expression of regret that so
solid a piece of historical composition should remain unfinished.
Writing from Rome to Mr. William Amory soon after Prescott's death,
Motley said:--

     "I feel inexpressibly disappointed ... that the noble and crowning
     monument of his life, for which he had laid such massive
     foundations, and the structure of which had been carried forward in
     such a grand and masterly manner, must remain uncompleted, like the
     unfinished peristyle of some stately and beautiful temple on which
     the night of time has suddenly descended."[54]



In forming an estimate of Prescott's rank among American writers of
history, one's thought inevitably associates him with certain of his
contemporaries. The Spanish subjects which he made his own invite a
direct comparison with Irving. His study of the sombre Philip compels us
to think at once of Motley. The broadly general theme of his first three
books--the extension of European domination over the New World--brings
him into a direct relation to Francis Parkman.

The comparison with Irving is more immediately suggested by the fact
that had Prescott not entered the field precisely when he did, the story
of Cortés and of the Mexican conquest would have been written by Irving.
How fortunate was the chance which gave the task to Prescott must be
obvious to all who are familiar with the writings of both men. It has
been said that in Irving's hands literature would have profited at the
expense of history; but even this is too much of a concession, Irving,
even as a stylist, was never at his best in serious historical
composition. His was not the spirit which gladly undertakes a work _de
longue haleine_, nor was his genial, humorous nature suited to the
gravity of such an undertaking. His fame had been won, and fairly won,
in quite another field,--a field in which his personal charm, his mellow
though far from deep philosophy of life, and his often whimsical
enjoyment of his own world could find spontaneous and individual
expression. The labour of research, the comparison of authorities, the
long months of hard reading and steady note-taking, were not congenial
to his nature. He moved less freely in the heavy armour of the historian
than in the easy-fitting modern garb of the essayist and story-teller.
The best that one can say of the style of his _Granada_, his _Columbus_,
and his _Washington_ is that it is smooth, well-worded, and correct. It
shows little of the real distinction which we find in many of his
shorter papers,--in that on Westminster Abbey, for example, and on
English opinion of America; while the peculiar flavour which makes his
account of Little Britain so delightful is wholly absent.

On the purely historical side, the two men are in wholly different
classes. Irving resembled Livy in his use of the authorities. Such
sources as were ready to his hand and easy to consult, he used with
conscientious care; but those that were farther afield, and for the
mastery of which both time and labour were demanded, he let alone. Thus,
his history of Columbus was prepared in something less than two years,
in which period both his preliminary studies and the actual composition
were completed. Yet this book was the one over which he took the
greatest pains, and for which he made his only serious attempt at
something like original investigation. His _Mahomet_ was confessedly
written at second hand; while in his _Washington_ he followed in the
main such records and already published works as were convenient. In the
_Granada_ he only plays with history, and ascribes the main portion of
the narrative to a mythical ecclesiastic, "the worthy Fray Antonio
Agapida," in whose lineaments we may not infrequently detect a strong
family resemblance to the no less worthy Diedrich Knickerbocker. In the
letter which Irving wrote to Prescott, relinquishing to him the subject
of Cortés, he lets us see quite plainly the very moderate amount of
reading which he had been doing.[55] He had dipped into Solis, Bernal
Diaz, and Herrera, using them, so he said, "as guide-books." Upon the
basis of this reading he had sketched out the entire narrative, and had
fallen to work upon the actual history with the intention of "working
up" other material as he went along. When we compare these easy-going
methods with the scientific thoroughness of Prescott, his ransacking, by
agents, of every important library in Europe, his great collection of
original documents, the many years which he gave to the study of them,
and the conscientious judgment with which he weighed and balanced them,
we cannot fail to see how much the world has gained by Irving's act of
generous self-abnegation. It is only fair to add that he himself, at the
time when Prescott wrote to him, was beginning to doubt whether he had
not undertaken a task unsuited to his inclinations and beyond his
powers. "Ever since I have been meddling with the theme," he said, "its
grandeur and magnificence had been growing upon me, and I had felt more
and more doubtful whether I should be able to treat it
_conscientiously_,--that is to say, with the extensive research and
thorough investigation which it merited."

Professor Jameson hazards the conjecture[56] that Irving's real
importance in the development of American historiography is not at all
to be discerned in the serious works which have just been mentioned, but
rather in his quaintly humorous picture of New York under the Dutch,
contained in the pretended narration of Diedrich Knickerbocker, and
published as early as 1809. There can be no doubt that, as Professor
Jameson says, this book did much to excite both interest and curiosity
concerning the Dutch régime. "Very likely the great amount of work which
the state government did for the historical illustration of the Dutch
period, through the researches of Mr. Brodhead in foreign archives, had
this unhistorical little book as one of its principal causes." Here,
indeed, is only one more illustration of the fact that the work which
one does in his natural vein and in his own way is certain not only to
be his best, but to exercise a genuine influence in spheres which at the
time were quite beyond the writer's consciousness.

Something has already been said concerning Prescott in his relationship
to Motley as an historian. A brief but more explicit comparison may be
added here. The diligence and zeal of the investigator both men shared
on even terms. The only advantage which Motley possessed was the
opportunity, denied to Prescott, of prosecuting his own researches, of
discovering his own materials, and of visiting and living in the very
places of which he had to write, instead of working largely through the
eyes and brains of other men. This was a very real advantage; for the
inspiration of the search and of the scenes themselves gave a keen
stimulus to the ambition of the scholar and a glow to the imagination
of the writer. One attaches less importance to Motley's academic
training; for while it was broader than that of Prescott, and comprised
the valuable teaching which was given him in the two great universities
of Berlin and Göttingen, we cannot truthfully assert that Prescott's
equipment was inferior to that of his contemporary. Indeed, _Ferdinand_
and _Isabella_ and _Philip II._ can better stand the test of searching
criticism than Motley's _Dutch Republic_.

Motley is, indeed, the most "literary" of all the so-called "literary
historians". In the glow and fervour of his narrative he is unsurpassed.
He feels all the passion of the times whereof he writes, and he makes
the reader feel it too. He has, moreover, a power of drawing character
which Prescott seldom shows and which, when he shows it, he shows in
less degree. Motley writes with the magnetism of a great pleader and
with something also of the imagination of a poet. Unlike Prescott, he
understands the philosophy of history and delves beneath the surface to
search out and reveal the hidden causes of events. Yet first and last
and all the time, he is a partisan. He is pleading for a cause far more
than he is seeking for impartial truth. In this respect he resembles
Mommsen, whose _Römische Geschichte_ is likewise in its later books a
splendid piece of partisanship. Motley is an American and a Protestant,
and therefore he is eloquent for liberty and harsh toward what he views
as superstition. William the Silent is his hero just as Cæsar is
Mommsen's, and he hates tyranny as Mommsen hated the insolence of the
Roman _Junkerthum_. This vivid feeling springing from intensity of
conviction makes both books true masterpieces, nor to the critical
scholar does it greatly lessen their value as historical compositions.
Yet in each, one has continually to check the writer, to modify his
statements, and to make allowance for his very individual point of view.
In reading Prescott, on the other hand, nothing of the sort is
necessary. He is free from the passion of politics, his judgment is
impartial, and those who read him feel, as an eminent scholar has
remarked, that they are listening to a wise and learned judge rather
than to a skilful advocate. Even in the sphere of characterisation,
Prescott is more sound than Motley, even though he be not half so
forceful. Re-reading many of the portraits which the latter has drawn
for us in glowing colours, the student of human nature will perceive
that they are quite impossible. Take, for instance Motley's Philip and
compare it with the Philip whom Prescott has described for us. The
former is not a man at all. He is either a devil, or a lunatic, or it
may be a blend of each. Indeed, Motley himself in conversation used to
describe him as a devil, though he once remarked, "He is not my head
devil." Everywhere Philip is depicted in the same sable hues, without a
touch of light to relieve the blackness of his character. On the other
hand, Prescott shows us one who, with all his cruelty, his hypocrisy,
and his superstition, is still quite comprehensible because, after all,
he remains a human being. Prescott discovers and records in him some
qualities of which Motley in his sweeping condemnation takes no heed. We
see a Philip scrupulously faithful to his duty as he understands it,
bearing toil and loneliness, patient to his secretaries, gracious to his
petitioners, whom he tries to set at ease, generous in his patronage of
art, and putting aside all his coldness and reserve while watching the
progress of his favourite architects and builders. These things and
others like them count perhaps for very little in one sense; yet in
another they bring out the fact that Prescott viewed his subject in the
clear light of historic truth rather than in the glare of fiery

There are some who would rate Parkman above Prescott. They speak of him
as more truly an American historian because the topic which he
chose--the development of New France--has a direct bearing upon the
national history of the United States. This, however, is at once to
limit the word "American" in a thoroughly unreasonable way, and also to
allow the choice of theme to prejudice one's judgment of the manner in
which that theme is treated. Parkman, to be sure, has merits of his own,
some of which are less discernible in Prescott. For picturesqueness, as
for accuracy, both men are on a level. There is a greater freshness of
feeling in Parkman, a sort of open air effect, which is redolent of his
actual experience of the great plains and the far Western mountains in
the days which he passed among the Indian tribes. This cannot be
expected of one whose physical infirmities confined him to the limits of
his library. But, on the other hand, Prescott chose a broader field, and
he made that field more thoroughly his own. These two--Prescott and
Parkman--must take rank not far apart. Between them, they have divided,
so to speak, the early history of the American Continent in the sphere
which lies beyond the bounds of purely Anglo-Saxon conquest.

Disciples of the dismal school of history often yield a very grudging
tribute to the enduring merit of what Prescott patiently achieved. Yet
in their own field he met them upon equal terms and need not fear
comparison. Though self-trained as an historical investigator, his
mastery of his authorities has hardly been excelled by those whose merit
is found solely in their gift for delving. The evidence of his
thoroughness, his judgment, and his critical faculty is to be seen in
the documentary treasures of his foot-notes. He did not, like Mommsen,
write a brilliant narrative and leave the reader without the ready means
of verifying what he wrote. He has, to use his own words, "suffered the
scaffolding to remain after the building has been completed." Those who
sneer at his array of testimony are none the less unable to impeach it.
Though historical science has in many respects made great advances since
his death, his work still stands essentially unshaken. He had the
historical conscience in a rare degree; one feels his fairness and is
willing to accept his judgment. If he seems to lack a special gift for
philosophical analysis, the plan and scope of his histories did not
contemplate a subjective treatment. What he meant to do, he did, and he
did it with a combination of historical exactness and literary artistry
such as no other American at least, has yet exhibited. Without the
humour of Irving, or the fire of Motley, or the intimate touch of
Parkman, he is superior to all three in poise and judgment and
distinction; so that on the whole one may accept the dictum of a
distinguished scholar[57] who, in summing up the merits which we
recognise in Prescott, declares them to be so conspicuous and so
abounding as to place him at the head of all American historians.



    Academy, Royal Spanish, 76, 80.

    Adair, James, 146.

    Adams, Dr. C. K., quoted, 180.

    Adams, John Quincy, library of, 20;
      absence in Europe, 20, 23, 37;
      professor at Harvard, 23;
      Minister to England, 37.

    Adams, Sir William, 37.

    Albert, Prince, 105, 106.

    Amory, Thomas C., 43.

    Amory, William, letter to, 172.

    Athenæum, Boston, 19, 20, 21.

    Aztecs, 76, 82, 136, 143, 144, 146;
      as viewed by Wilson, 147-151;
      Morgan's view of, 152-155;
      later opinions regarding, 155-156.


    Bancroft, George, 10;
      letters to, 48, 114, 117;
      reviews _Ferdinand and Isabella_, 69;
      honour conferred on, 86;
      quoted, 87; estimate of, 122.

    Bancroft, H. H., quoted, 153, 159.

    Bandelier, A. F., 155, 163, 165;
      quoted, 136, 153, 154.

    Bentley, Richard, 69, 80, 85, 112, 116, 117.

    Bradford, Governor William, 8.

    Brougham, Lord, Prescott's description of, 107, 108.

    Brown, Charles Brockden, novels of, 5;
      _Life of_, 65, 112.

    Bunsen, Baron, 107, 108.

    Byron, Lord, Prescott's estimate of, 113;
      as exponent of romanticism, 122;
      quoted, 166.


    Calderon de La Barca, Señor, 76, 91.

    Carlisle, Lord, Prescott's friendship with, 88, 91, 104, 105, 106.

    Carlyle, Thomas, Prescott's comment on, 114.

    Channing, W. E., 28, 107, 124, 126.

    _Charles V._, _History of_, 117, 118.

    Circourt, Comte Adolphe de, 71.

    _Club-Room_, edited by Prescott, 42.

    Cogswell, J. G., 74, 75.

    Condé, _History of the Arabs in Spain_, 65, 130.

    Cooper, Sir Astley, 37.

    Cortés, Hernan, 134, 135, 155;
      quoted, 136;
      attack on Cholulans, 137, 138;
      retreat from Mexico, 141, 142;
      of, 143, 144, 147, 151;
      compared with Pizarro, 160, 161.

    Cashing, Caleb, 88.


    Dante, Prescott's admiration for, 46.

    Daudet, Alphonse, 86.

    Dexter, Franklin, 42.

    Diaz, Bernal, 146, 159;
      quoted, 144.

    Dickens, Charles, entertained by Prescott, 91;
      preferred by him to Thackeray, 115.

    Dumas, Alexandre, 115.

    Dunham, Dr. S.P., 70, 126.


    Edwards, Jonathan, 7, 9.

    English, James, Prescott's secretary, 58, 59, 60, 61, 63, 64.

    Everett, A. H., 77.

    Everett, Edward, 25, 106.


    Farre, Dr., 37.

    _Ferdinand and Isabella_, beginnings of, 52, 61;
      progress, 62-65;
      completion and publication, 66-71;
      success of, 69-71, 77, 79, 95;
      style of, 121, 127;
      historical accuracy, 129, 130, 131, 132.

    Ford, Richard, criticises _Ferdinand and Isabella_, 70;
      his ridicule of Prescott's style, 124-126;
      Prescott's reply, 127, 128;
      quoted, 129, 130.

    Franklin, Benjamin, 5;
      style of, 129.


    Gardiner, Rev. Dr. John S., 18, 19.

    Gardiner, William, 20, 21, 22, 40.

    Gayangos, Don Pascual de, reviews _Ferdinand and Isabella_, 70, 132;
      aids Prescott, 76, 77, 101.

    Grenville, Thomas, quoted, 142.

    Guatemozin, character of, 143, 144;
      successor of Montezuma, 135, 154.

    Guizot, M., reviews _Philip II._, 116.


    Hale, Edward Everett, quoted, 77, 78.

    Hallam, Henry, praises _Ferdinand and Isabella_, 71;
      Prescott's acquaintance with, 108.

    Harper Brothers, publish _Conquest of Mexico_, 79, 80;
      publish _Conquest of Peru_, 84;
      Prescott's generosity to, 116.

    Harvard College, faculty of, in 1811, 22, 23, 25;
      entrance examinations, 24;
      curriculum, 24, 25;
      methods, 25, 26, 33;
      confers degree upon Prescott, 80.

    Hickling, Thomas, 15, 35, 36.

    Higginson, Mehitable, 16.

    Higginson, T. W., 113.

    Hughes, Thomas, quoted, 55.

    Humboldt, Baron Alexander von, 81, 101.


    Irving, Washington, characteristics of, 5;
      quoted, 57;
      correspondence regarding _Conquest of Mexico_, 74-77;
    praised by Prescott, 113;
      compared to Goldsmith, 122;
      style of, 124, 129; his _Columbus_ criticised by Prescott, 134;
      comment on _Philip II._, 169;
      compared with Prescott, 173-175, 180.


    Jackson, Dr. James, 31.

    Jameson, Prof. J. F., quoted, 3 _n._, 54 _n._, 176.

    Jeffrey, Lord, 108.

    Johnson, Dr. Samuel, quoted, 54;
      style of, 122, 129.


    Kirk, John Foster, Prescott's secretary, 87, 119, 136.

    Kirkland, Rev. Dr. John Thornton, 22, 23.

    Knapp, Jacob Newman, 16.


    La Bruyère, quoted, 111.

    Lafitau, Père, 145.

    Lawrence, Abbott, 103, 105;
      memoir of, 118.

    Lawrence, James, 97, 103.

    Lembke, Dr. J. B., Prescott's agent in Spain, 77, 100, 101.

    Linzee, Hannah, 43.

    Longfellow, Henry W., Prescott's admiration for, 113.

    Lowell, James Russell, 12, 23, 103.

    Lyell, Lady, entertained by Prescott, 91;
      letter to, 115, 166.

    Lyell, Sir Charles, 91, 103.

    Lynn, Prescott's house at, 97, 98.


    Macaulay, Lord, anecdotes of, 108, 109; style of, 117, 133.

    Marina, 144.

    Markham, Sir Clements, judgment of Prescott's _Peru_, 165.

    Massachusetts Historical Society, 57, 86, 120, 142, 172.

    Mather, Cotton, his _Magnalia_, 8.

    _Mexico_, _Conquest of_, preparations for, 72-77;
      four years of work on, 78-79;
      publication and success of, 79-81, 95;
      estimate of, 133-159.

    Middle States, literature in the, 4-6.

    Middleton, Arthur, 26;
      aids Prescott in Spain, 77, 100.

    Mommsen, Theodor, as a partisan compared with Motley, 177, 178;
      compared with Prescott, 180.

    Montezuma, described by Prescott, 139, 143;
      Spaniards' view of, 153-156.

    Morgan, Lewis Henry, Indian researches of, 152, 153, 155, 156;
      quoted, 157.

    Motley, J. L., quoted, 89, 165, 166, 167, 168, 171, 172;
      compared with Prescott, 176-179, 180.


    Nahant, Prescott's cottage at, 91, 96, 97.

    Navarrete, M. F., 76, 80.

    New England, literature in, 6-10;
      historians of, 10-12.

    Noctograph, description of, 57.

    Northumberland, Duke of, entertains Prescott, 110, 111.


    Ogden, Rollo, quoted, 93, 172.

    Oxford University, 88;
      confers degree on Prescott, 106, 107.


    Parkman, Francis, style of, 133, 145;
      compared with Prescott, 179, 180.

    Parr, Dr. Samuel, 18.

    Parsons, Theophilus, 42;
      quoted, 89.

    Peabody, Dr. A. P., _Harvard Reminiscences_, 22 _n._

    Peel, Sir Robert, 104.

    Peirce, Benjamin, 25.

    Pepperell, Prescott's home at, 96, 97.

    _Peru_, _Conquest of_, memorising of parts of, 59;
      composition and publication, 81, 82, 84, 85, 95;
      estimate of, 160-165.

    Peruvians, 163-165.

    Phi Beta Kappa, 34.

    _Philip II._, Prescott's memorising of parts, 59;
      obstacles in way, 99-100;
      preparations for, 101, 102;
      two volumes completed, 115, 116, 117;
      third volume, 119;
      estimate of, 165-172;
      compared with _Dutch Republic_, 177.

    Pickering, John, memoir of, 86.

    Pizarro, Francisco, 160;
      character of, 161;
      quoted, 162.

    Poe, Edgar Allan, 4.

    Prescott, Catherine Hickling, parentage and character, 15, 16;
      rearing of son, 16.

    Prescott, Colonel William, 13, 14, 43.

    Prescott, John, 18.

    Prescott, Oliver, 14.

    Prescott, Susan Amory, 50, 93;
      marriage to Prescott, 42, 43;
      character, 43;
      letters to, 104, 105, 111.

    Prescott, William, birth and career, 14;
      characteristics of, 15, 82, 83;
      home, 14, 15;
      illness of, 17;
      removal to Boston, 17, 18;
      quoted, 67;
      death, 82.

    PRESCOTT, William Hickling, literary importance of, 12;
      birth of, 15;
      his first teachers, 16;
      traits as a boy, 16, 17;
      prepares for college, 18, 19;
      his tastes in reading, 19, 20;
      amusements, 20, 21, 22;
      candidate for Harvard, 22;
      letter to father about examination, 25, 26;
      enters college, 27;
      his studies and ideals, 27;
      love of pleasure, 28;
      laxity of conduct, 28, 29, 30;
      accident, 31;
      loss of eye, 31;
      effect on character, 32;
      magnanimity, 32;
      returns to college, 32;
      dislike for mathematics, 33;
      commencement poem, 33, 34;
      election to Phi Beta Kappa, 34;
      studies law, 34;
      second illness and temporary blindness, 34, 35;
      sails for Azores, 35, 36;
      third illness, 36;
      first visit to London, 36, 37;
      visits Paris and Italy, 37, 38;
      returns to England, 38;
      sails for home, 38;
      anxiety regarding career, 39, 40;
      vicarious reading, 40, 41;
      first attempts at composition, 41, 42, 46;
      marriage, 42, 43;
      resolves to become a man of letters, 44;
      studies languages, 45, 46, 47;
      interest in Spanish, 47, 48;
      drift toward historical composition, 49, 50;
      perplexity in choosing subject, 50, 51, 52;
      decides upon _Ferdinand and Isabella_, 52, 53;
      difficulties of task, 54, 55;
      time of preparation and composition, 55, 56, 62, 66;
      his methods, of work, 56, 57, 58, 59, 61;
      his memory, 33, 57, 58, 59;
      his mode of life, 59, 60, 61, 62;
      death of daughter, 62, 63, 73;
      contributes to periodicals, 64, 65;
      completes _Ferdinand and Isabella_, 66;
      search for publisher, 66, 67;
      terms of contract, 67;
      success of book, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 95;
      criticisms, 69, 70, 71;
      theological studies and beliefs, 73, 74;
      begins Mexican researches, 74, 75, 76, 77;
      correspondence with Irving, 75;
      writes _Conquest of Mexico_, 78, 79;
      contract with the Harpers, 79, 80;
      honours conferred upon, 80, 81;
      writes _Conquest of Peru_, 81, 82, 84;
      reception of book, 85, 86;
      death of father, 82;
      opinion of American critics, 85;
      period of inactivity, 83, 86;
      political views, 89, 90;
      entertainment of friends, 91, 92, 93;
      his boyish ways, 93;
      his tactlessness, 93;
      his Yankeeisms, 94;
      preparations for _Philip_
      _II._, 99, 100, 101, 102;
      his Boston residence, 83, 96;
      the homestead at Pepperell, 96, 97;
      his cottage at Nahant, 96, 97;
      cottage at Lynn, 97, 98;
      third visit to England, 94, 102-111;
      presented at court, 105;
      his sensibility, 110;
      at zenith of his fame, 111, 112;
      his opinions of contemporary writers, 112, 113, 114, 115;
      completes two volumes of _Philip II._, 115, 116, 117;
      rewrites conclusion of Robertson's _Charles V._, 117, 118;
      health fails, 118;
      completes third volume of _Philip II._, 119;
      death, 119;
      his burial, 119, 120;
      style and accuracy of _Ferdinand and Isabella_, 121-131;
      criticised by Ford, 124, 125, 126;
      his place as an historian, 173-181.


    Quincy, Josiah, 7, 25.


    Raumer, Friedrich von, 81.

    _Review_, _Edinburgh_, notices of Prescott's books, 70, 76, 85, 116.

    _Review_, _English Quarterly_, 46, 70, 85.

    _Review, North American_, Prescott's contributions to, 41, 46, 64, 65;
      its notices of Prescott's books, 62, 69.

    Robertson, William, 117, 146.

    Rogers, Samuel, 108, 109.


    Scott, General Winfield, 90, 91.

    Scott, Sir Walter, 6, 86, 108, 122;
      a favourite of Prescott's, 41, 115;
      quoted, 129.

    Shepherd, Dr. W.R. 100 _n._

    Simancas, archives at, 99, 100.

    Southern States, literature in the, 2-4.

    Southey, Robert, 20, 67;
      praises _Ferdinand and Isabella_, 71;
      quoted, 107.

    Sparks, Jared, 12, 42;
      estimate of, 9, 10;
      encourages Prescott, 46, 65, 68, 88.

    Stith, Dr. W., quoted, 3.

    Story, Judge Joseph, 25.

    Sumner, Charles, Prescott's friendship with, 88, 89, 90.


    Talleyrand, quoted, 11.

    Thackeray, W. M., 43, 86;
      entertained by Prescott, 91, 114;
      tribute to Prescott, 114, 115.

    Thierry, Augustin, 54, 86.

    Thoreau, Henry D., quoted, 168, 169.

    Ticknor, George, 25, 94, 111;
      quoted, 19, 22, 26, 28, 43, 48, 71, 84, 103, 127;
      letters to, 46, 69, 70, 107, 117, 118;
      reads to Prescott, 47.

    Tocqueville, Alexis de, 11, 71.


    Victoria, Queen, 105, 106.


    Ware, John, 42.

    Wars, Napoleonic, 21.

    Wellington, Duke of, 21, 104.

    Wendell, Prof. Barrett, 5.

    Wilson, J. Grant, quoted, 91 n.

    Wilson, Robert A., criticises Prescott's _Conquest of Mexico_, 147, 148;
      reply to, 149-151.


    Xenophon, Prescott compared with, 142, 143.

       *       *       *       *       *



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[1] Quoted by Jameson: _Historical Writing in America_, p. 72, Boston,

[2] This house was long ago demolished. Its site is now occupied by
Plummer Hall, containing a public library.

[3] A very interesting appreciation of President Kirkland is given by
Dr. A. P. Peabody in his _Harvard Reminiscences_ (Boston, 1888).

[4] John Quincy Adams was titularly Professor of Rhetoric, but he had
been absent for several years on a diplomatic mission in Europe.

[5] The first number appeared in February, 1820; the last in July of the
same year.

[6] Her mother had been Miss Hannah Linzee, whose father, Captain
Linzee, of the British sloop-of-war _Falcon_, had tried by heavy
cannonading to dislodge Colonel William Prescott from the redoubt at
Bunker Hill. The swords of the two had been handed down in their
respective families, and now found a peaceful resting-place in young
Prescott's "den," where they hung crossed upon the wall above his books.

[7] Professor Jameson mentions two other contemporary instances,--Karl
Szaynocha and Prescott's Florentine correspondent, the Marquis Gino

[8] Prescott owned two noctographs, but did nearly all of his writing
with one, keeping the other in reserve in case the first should suffer
accident. One of these two implements is preserved in the Massachusetts
Historical Society.

[9] See ch. vii.

[10] _Life of Irving_, 111. p. 133 (New York, 1863).

[11] Lembke was a German, the author of a work on early Spanish history,
and a member of the Spanish Historical Academy. Prescott mentions him in
his letter to Irving. "This learned Theban happens to be in Madrid for
the nonce, pursuing some investigations of his own, and he has taken
charge of mine, like a true German, inspecting everything and selecting
just what has reference to my subject. In this way he has been employed
with four copyists since July, and has amassed a quantity of unpublished
documents. He has already sent off two boxes to Cadiz."

[12] Hale, _Memories of a Hundred Years_, ii. pp. 71, 72 (New York,

[13] In place of Navarrete, deceased. Prescott received eighteen ballots
out of the twenty that were cast.

[14] Wilson, _Thackeray in America_, i. pp. 16, 17 (New York, 1904).

[15] Meaning, of course, that he took more wine than was good for his

[16] See p. 116.

[17] For an interesting account of Simancas and the archives, see a
paper by Dr. W. R. Shepherd, in the _Reports of the American Historical
Association for 1903_ (Washington, 1905).

[18] The father of Mr. James Lawrence, who afterward married Prescott's
daughter Elizabeth. See p. 97.

[19] Alluding to the fact that he always shed tears at the opera.

[20] The English title of this book was _Critical and Historical
Essays_. It contained twelve papers and also the life of Charles
Brockden Brown already mentioned (p. 65). The American edition bore the
title _Biographical and Critical Miscellanies_. It has been several
times reprinted, the last issue appearing in Philadelphia in 1882.

[21] _Infra_, p. 134.

[22] November 1, 1838.

[23] Nearly seven thousand copies of this book had been taken up before
the end of the following three years.

[24] p. 268.

[25] p. 285.

[26] _Supra_, p. 65.

[27] iii. pp. 199-204.

[28] In the _British Quarterly Review_, lxiv (1839).

[29] Don Pascual de Gayangos.

[30] i. pp. 364-369. Ed. by Kirk (Philadelphia, 1873).

[31] For a revision of Prescott's narrative here in its light of later
research, see Bandelier, _The Gilded Man_, pp. 258-281 (New York, 1893).

[32] ii. p. 20.

[33] ii. pp. 379-380.

[34] Everett, Memorial Address, delivered before the Massachusetts
Historical Society (1859).

[35] ii. p. 157.

[36] _Mujer entremetida y desembuelta_ (Diaz).

[37] i. p. 294.

[38] _Moeurs des Sauvages Américains Comparées aux Moeurs des
Premiers Temps_ (Paris, 1723). Lafitau had lived as a missionary among
the Iroquois for five years, after which he returned to France and spent
the rest of his life in teaching and writing.

[39] _The History of the American Indians_ (London, 1775).

[40] H_istoria Natural y Moral de las Indias_ (Seville, 1590).

[41] Philadelphia, 1859.

[42] _Atlantic Monthly_, iii, pp. 518-525 and pp. 633-645.

[43] New York, 1851.

[44] _North American Review_, cxxii, pp. 265-308 (1876).

[45] _The Romantic School of American Archæology._ A paper read before
the New York Historical Society, February 3, 1885 (New York, 1885).

[46] Bandelier, _op. cit._, p. 8.

[47] ii. p. 125.

[48] "Though remarkably fair and judicious in the main, Mr. Prescott's
partiality for a certain class of his material is evident. To the copies
from the Spanish archives, most of which have been since published with
hundreds of others equally or more valuable, he seemed to attach an
importance proportionate to their cost. Thus, throughout his entire
work, these papers are paraded to the exclusion of the more reliable,
but more accessible standard authorities."--H. H. Bancroft, _History of
Mexico_, i. p. 7, _Note_.

[49] i. pp. 222, 224.

[50] Brinton, _Myths of the New World_, p. 52 (Philadelphia, 1868).

[51] See the section by Markham on "The Inca Civilisation in Peru," in
Winsor, _A Narrative and Critical History of America_, vol. i. (Boston,
1889); and an interesting summary of the results of eleven years
researches by Bandelier in a paper entitled "The Truth about Inca
Civilisation," published in H_arper's Magazine_ for March, 1905.

[52] Motley, _History of the United Netherlands_, i. p. 54.

[53] Quoted by Ogden, _Prescott_, p. 32.

[54] Cited by R. C. Winthrop, address before the Massachusetts
Historical Society, June 14, 1877.

[55] Letter of January 18, 1839.

[56] _Historical Writing in America_, pp. 97-98.

[57] Dr. C. K. Adams.

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