The New Student's Reference Work/Prescott, William Hickling

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Prescott, William Hickling, a distinguished American historian, was born at Salem, Mass., May 4, 1796, and graduated at Harvard College in 1814. During his college-course his left eye was put out by a piece of bread playfully thrown by a fellow-student, and the other eye was soon sympathetically affected, so that he was obliged to live for many months in a darkened room. He next traveled in England, France and Italy, married in 1820, and abandoned the study of law for literature, devoting himself to intense study, although able to use his eye only a portion of the time. His first studies were in Italian literature; and it was not until 1826 that he entered on the work of his life,—the study of Spanish history. After laboring with great patience for years, in 1838 he issued his History of Ferdinand and Isabella, which at once gave him a brilliant reputation in America and also in Europe, and was translated into French, Spanish and German. In 1843 he published The Conquest of Mexico and in 1847 The Conquest of Peru. In 1855 he published two volumes of The History of Philip II, but before the third volume was completed he died of apoplexy at Boston, Jan. 28, 1859. Prescott's style alone would have given him great popularity; and to this day he is without a rival for clear and vigorous narrative and sustained power of color. He cannot be called a philosophical historian; modern investigation and discovery have corrected much in his picture of precolumbian American culture; but he is a master of narrative and incident, and there is not a dull passage in all his works. See his Life by George Ticknor.