Biography of William Prescott


WILLIAM HICKLING PRECOTT, L.L.D., American historian, son of a distinguished lawyer and statesman, and grandson of Colonel William Prescott, an officer of the Revolution, was born at Salem, Massachusetts, on the 4th of May, 1796. He entered Harvard College in 1811, and graduated in 1814. During his college course he had one eye blinded by a piece of bread playfully thrown by a fellow student, and his studies so affected the other, that he was sent abroad for his health, and travelled in England, France and Italy. On his return to America, he married, and abandoned the study of law for literature. In 1819, he determined to devote ten years to study, and the succeeding ten to composition. He contributed, however, several papers to the North American Review, collected in his Miscellanies. In 1825, he was engaged in the study of Spanish literature, and selected materials for his History of Ferdinand and Isabella. While engaged in this work, his sight failed, and, with the aid of a reader, who knew no Spanish, he went through the seven quarto volumes of Mariana's History. After ten years of painful labor, his work was made ready for the press, and a few copies struck off for his friends, whose warm approval secured its publication in 1837. It met with immediate success and was translated into French, Spanish and German. He next devoted six years to the History of the Conquest of Mexico, and four years to the Conquest of Peru. These careful, elaborate, and charmingly written works made for him a high reputation. He was chosen corresponding member of the French Institute, and on his visit to Europe in 1850, he was received with the highest distinction. In 1855, he published two volumes of his History of Philip II, and a third volume in 1858, but left it unfinished. He died at Boston, January 28, 1859. Mr. Prescott was an elegant scholar and writer methodical in his habits, and persevering in his pursuits. He walked five miles regularly every day, composing as he walked. He devoted five hours to literary labor, two hours to novel-reading, for the refreshment of his mind - Scott, Dickens, Dumas, and Sue being his favorite authors. He gave one tenth of his ample income in charity, and divided his time between his winter mansion in Boston, a summer residence at Nahant, and a farm-house where he spent the autumn. In his large library, with the light carefully regulated for his imperfect vision, he wrote with a stylus each day what he had composed, which was then copied, read over and carefully corrected.