William Hickling Prescott

WILLIAM HICKLING PRESCOTT, an eminent American historian, was born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1796, the son of an able lawyer, and grandson of that Prescott who commanded our troops at Bunker's Hill. When he was twelve years of age his family removed to Boston, where Prescott has since resided, and where his classical training, begun in the place of his birth, was continued with success by Dr. Gardiner, a pupil of Dr. Parr. In 1811 he entered Harvard college, and was graduated there in 1814, with honors appropriate to his favorite studies, and with an intention to devote himself to the legal profession. But the great misfortune of his life had already befallen him. Before he had been graduated, an accidental blow had deprived him of the sight of one eye, and the natural consequences soon followed. The other became weakened by the increased labor thrown upon it; and, after a severe illness, during which he was entirely blind; he found the sight of his remaining eye so much impaired, that he was compelled to give up his professional studies and his hopes of success at the-bar. The next two years he spent in Europe, traveling for his health in England, France, and Italy, and seeking the aid of the great oculists of London and Paris. He returned to America with renovated health, but for his misfortune found no relief. Still he was not disheartened, but turned with alacrity to those studies which remained yet within his reach. He resolved to become, in the best sense of the word, a historian, and freely gave himself ten years to prepare for the task, by a course of the classical reading he had always loved. He then selected his subject, and, having done this, gave ten years more to his 'History of Ferdinand and Isabella,' one of the few important periods in the affairs of modern Europe that seemed to invite the hand of a master. With this great work, in 1838, at the age of forty-two, he appeared before the world as an author, publishing simultaneously in London and Boston. It was received on both sides of the Atlantic, with unhesitating applause. It has since run through many editions, and been translated into German, Italian, French, and Spanish. During his labor on this work, Mr. Prescott's vision had been somewhat improved by a diminution of the sensibility which had led to earlier inflammations, and which had compelled him to live in a darkened apartment, relying entirely on a reader when collecting his materials. His Conquest of Mexico, therefore, first printed in 1843, though prepared largely from manuscript documents, was perhaps a work of less troublesome toil than his first had been. The prompt honors that it received were even more brilliant than those paid to the Ferdinand and 'and having before been admitted to several of the distinguished academies of Europe, he was now elected a member of the French institute. His Conquest of Peru' appeared in 1847. It is marked by the same striking events which distinguished its predecessors, and is, with the exception of a volume of collated miscellanies, his last work. It is understood that he is now engaged in writing a 'History of Philip II.' In 1850 he made a short visit to England, where he was received with marked kindness and respect by whatever is most distinguished in society and letters, and where the ancient university of Oxford conferred on him the honorary degree of doctor in the civil law.