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Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1868, by 

in the Clerk's Office of the District Court for the District of Massachusetts. 





WK are more than once mentioned together in the last testamentary dis 
positions of our friend, as persons for whom he felt a true regard, and to 
whose affection and fidelity he, in some respects, intrusted the welfare of 
those who were dearest to him in life. Permit me, then, to associate your 
names with mine in this tribute to his memory. 



THE following Memoir has been written in part pay 
ment of a debt which has been accumulating for 
above half a century. But I think it right to add, that 
my friend counted upon me, in case I should survive him, 
to prepare such a slight sketch of his literary life as he 
supposed might be expected, that, since his death, his 
family, and I believe the public, have desired a biograph 
ical account of him ampler than his own modesty had 
deemed appropriate, and that the Massachusetts Histor 
ical Society, who early did me the honor of directing me 
to prepare a notice of their lamented associate such as it 
is customary to insert in their official proceedings, have 
been content to accept the present Memoir as a substi 
tute. It is, therefore, on all accounts, offered to the 
public as a tribute to his memory, the preparation of 
which I should not have felt myself at liberty to refuse 
even if I had been less willing to undertake it. 

But if, after all, this Memoir should fail to set the 
author of the " Ferdinand and Isabella " before those 
who had not the happiness to know him personally, as 
a man whose life for more than forty years was one 
of almost constant struggle, of an almost constant sac 
rifice of impulse to duty, of the present to the future, 
it will have failed to teach its true lesson, or to present 
my friend to others as he stood before the very few who 
knew him as he was. 

PARK STREET, BOSTON, November, 1863. 











TO W. H. GARDINER .... .... 40 












IN EUROPE ............ 96 






IT OUT 115 


DINER AND MR. PARSONS . ....... 129 




OF IT ......... ...188 

















BERLIN ............. 216 

















JECTS .... 335 








CORRESPONDENCE .......... 376 













TlCKNOR 433 





INDEX . 447 







Salem, New England, on the fourth day of May, 
seventeen hundred and ninety-six. 1 

His father, then thirty-four years old, a person of remark 
able manly beauty, and great dignity and gentleness of char 
acter, was already in the flush of his early success at the 
bar, .where he subsequently rose to much eminence and honor. 
His mother, five years younger, was a woman of great energy, 
who seemed to have been born to do good, and who had from 
her youth those unfailing spirits which belong to the original 
temperament of the very few who have the happiness to pos 
sess them, and which, in her case, were controlled by a good 
sense and by religious convictions, that made her presence like 
a benediction in the scenes of sorrow and suffering, which, 
during her long life, it was her chosen vocation to frequent. 
They had been married between two and three years when 
William was born to them, inheriting not a few of the promi 
nent characteristics of each. He was their second child ; the 
first, also a son, having died in very early infancy. 

1 For an account of the Prescott Family, see Appendix (A). 

1 A 


The family of Mr. and Mrs. Prescott was always a happy 
one, respected and loved by those who came within the reach 
of its influence. Their pleasant, hospitable house in Salem is 
no longer standing ; but the spot it occupied is well remem 
bered, and is pointed out to strangers with pride, as the one 
where the future historian was born. Its site is now that of 
" Plummer Hall " ; a building erected for literary and scien 
tific purposes, from funds bequeathed by the lady whose name 
it bears, and who was long a friend of the Prescott family. 2 

William's earliest education was naturally in the hands of 
his affectionate and active mother, his great obligations to 
whom he always loved to acknowledge, and from whom, with 
slight exceptions, it was his happiness never to be separated so 
long as they both lived. He felt, to the last, that her influence 
upon liim had been one of the chief blessings of his life. On 
the afternoon of her death he spoke of it to me, as a guiding 
impulse for which he could not be too grateful. 

But, like the children of most of the persons who constituted 
the society in Salem to which his family belonged, he was sent 
to a school for the very young, kept by Miss Mehitable Higgin- 
son, a true gentlewoman, descended from the venerable Francis 
Higginson, who emigrated to Salem in 1629, when there were 
only seven houses on the spot now covered by the whole city, 
and who, from his scholarship, eloquence, and piety, has some 
times been called the founder of the churches of New England. 
Miss Higginson understood, with an instinct for which experi 
ence affords no sufficient substitute, what belongs to childhood, 
and how best to direct and mould its opening faculties. It was 
her wont to call herself, not the school mistress, but the school 
mother, of her little flo^k ; and a system of discipline which 
might be summed up in such a phrase could hardly fail of 
being effectual for good. Certainly it succeeded to a remark' 

2 Only a year before his death, the historian was invited to be present ai 
the dedication of " I'luminer Hall." He was not able to attend ; but, in 
reply to the invitation, he said: " I need not assure you that I take a sincere 
interest in the ceremonies of the day, and I have a particular interest in the 
spot which is to be covered by the new edifice, from its having been that on 
which I first saw the light. It is a pleasant thought to me, that, through 
the enlightened liberality of my deceased friend, Miss Plummer, it is now 
to be consecrated to so noble a purpose." 


able degree with her many pupils, during the half-century in 
which she devoted herself with truth and love to her calling. 
Of her more favored children, William was one. 

From the tender and faithful hands of Miss Higginson, he 
passed to the school of Mr. Jacob Newman Knapp, long known 
in Salem as " Master Knapp," a person who, as the best 
teacher to be obtained, had been procured by Mr. Prescott and 
a few of his more intimate friends, all of whom were anxious, 
as he was, to spare neither pains nor expense in the education 
of their children. Under Mr. Knapp's care William was placed 
at New- Year, 1803, when he was less than seven years old ; 
und he continued there until the midsummer of 1808, when his 
father removed to Boston. 

The recollections of him during these four or five years are 
distinct in the minds of his teacher, who still survives (1862) 
at a venerable old age, and of a few schoolmates, now no longer 
young. He was a bright, merry boy, with an inquisitive mind, 
quick perceptions, and a ready, retentive memory. His lessons 
were generally well learned ; but he loved play better than 
books, and was too busy with other thoughts than those that 
belonged to the school-room to become one of Master Knapp's 
best pupils. He was, though large for his years, not very vig 
orous in his person. He never fancied rude or athletic sports, 
but amused himself with such boys of his own age as preferred 
games requiring no great physical strength ; or else he made 
himself happy at home with such light reading as is most at 
tractive to all children, and especially to those whose opening 
tastes and tendencies are quiet, if not intellectual. In the latter 
part of his life he used to say, that he recollected no period of 
his childhood when he did not love books ; adding, that often, 
when he was a very little boy, he was so excited by stories 
appealing strongly to his imagination, that, when his mother 
left the room, he used to take hold of her gown, and follow her 
as she moved about the house, rather than be left alone. But 
in school he did not love work, and made no remarkable pro 
gress in his studies. 

Neither was he so universally liked by the boys with whom 
he was associated in Salem, as he was afterwards by the boys 
in other schools. He had indeed his favorites, to whom he 


was much attached and who were much attached to him, and 
he never faltered in his kindness to them subsequently, how 
ever humble or unfortunate their condition became ; but at 
home he had been encouraged to speak his mind with a bold 
ness that was sometimes rude ; partly from parental indul 
gence, and partly as a means of detecting easily any tendencies 
in his character that his conscientious father might think it 
needful to restrain. The consequence was, that a similar habit 
of very free speaking at school, joined to his great natural 
vivacity and excessive animal spirits, made him more confident 
in the expression of his opinions and feelings than was agree 
able, and prevented him from becoming a favorite with a por 
tion of his schoolmates. It laid, however, I doubt not, the 
foundation for that attractive simplicity and openness which 
constituted prominent traits in his character through life. 

His conscience was sensitive and tender from the first, and 
never ceased to be so. A sermon to children produced a strik 
ing effect upon him when he was still a child. It was a very 
simple, direct one, by Dr. Channing ; and William's mother 
told him to read it to her one evening when his conduct had 
required some slight censure, and she thought this the best 
way to administer it. He obeyed her reluctantly. But soon 
his lips began* to quiver, and his voice to choke. He stopped, 
and with tears said, " Mother, if I am ever a bad boy again, 
won't you set me to reading that sermon ? " 

His temperament was very gay, like his mother's, and his 
eager and sometimes turbulent spirits led him into faults of 
conduct oftener, perhaps, than anything else. Like most school 
boys, he was fond of practical jokes, and ventured them, not 
only in a spirit of idle mischief, but even rudely. Once he 
badly frightened a servant-girl in the family, by springing un 
expectedly upon her from behind a door. But his father, busy 
and anxious as he was with the interests of others, and occu 
pying himself less with the material concerns and affairs of his 
household than almost any person I ever knew, had yet an eye 
of unceasing vigilance for whatever related to the training of 
his children, and did not suffer even a fault so slight to pass 
without rebuke. After this, although William was always a 
boy full of life and mischief, he gave no more trouble by such 
rudeness at home. 


No doubt, therefore, his early education, and the circum 
stances most nearly connected with it, were, on the whole, 
favorable to the formation of a character suited to the position 
in the world that he was likely to occupy ; - a character, I 
mean, that would not easily yield to the temptations of pros 
perity, nor be easily broken down by adverse fortune, if such 
fortune should come upon it. It was, in fact, a condition of 
tilings that directly tended to develop those manly qualities 
which in our New-England society have always most surely 
contributed to progress and success. 

Nor was there anything in the circle with which his family 
was most connected to counteract these influences. Life in 
those days was a very simple thing in Salem, compared with 
what it is now. It was the period when Mr. Gray and Mr. 
Peabody, the Pickmans and the Derbys, were too busy with 
their widely extended commerce to think often of anything 
else ; when Mr. Justice Putnam was a young lawyer struggling 
up to eminence ; when Mr. Story, afterwards the distinguished 
jurist and judge, was only beginning to be heard of; and when 
the mathematical genius of Dr. Bowditch, and the classical 
studies of Mr. Pickering, which were destined later to have so 
wide an effect on our community, were hardly known beyond 
the limits of their personal acquaintance. 

In those active, earnest days, the modest luxury of hackney- 
coaches and hired waiters had not come to be deemed needful 
in Salem, even among those who were already prosperous and 
rich. When, therefore, Mrs. Prescott had invited friends to 
dine, a form of social intercourse which she and her husband 
always liked, and which they practised more freely than most 
persons then did, if the weather proved unfavorable, she 
sent her own chaise to bring her lady guests to her house, and 
carried them safely home in the same way when the hospitable 
evening was ended. Or, if the company were larger than her 
usual arrangements would permit to be well served, she bor 
rowed the servants of her friends, and lent her own in return. 
But the days of such unpretending simplicity are gone by, and 
a tasteful luxury has naturally and gracefully taken its place. 
They were days, however, on which my friend always looked 
back with satisfaction, and I doubt not, nor did he doubt, that 


it was well for him that his character received something of its 
early direction under their influence. He was always grateful 
that his first years were passed neither in a luxurious home nor 
in a luxurious state of society. 8 

Mr. Prescott the elder removed with his family to Boston 
in the summer of 1808, and established himself in a house on 
Tremont Street. But although he had come to a larger town, 
and one where those of his own condition indulged in some 
what more free habits of expense, the manner of life that he 
preferred and followed in his new home was not different from 
the one to which he had been accustomed in Salem. It was a 
life of cordial, open hospitality, but without show or pretension 
of any sort. And so it continued to the last. 

The promising son was sent in the early autumn to the best 
classical school then known in New England ; for his father, 
bred at Dummer Academy by " Master Moody," who in his 
time was without an equal among us as a teacher of Latin 
and Greek, always valued such training more than any other. 
And it was fortunate for William that he did so ; for his early 
classical discipline was undoubtedly a chief element in his sub 
sequent success. 

The school to which he was sent if school it could prop 
erly be called was one kept with few of the attributes of 
such an institution, but in its true spirit, by the Rev. Dr. Gar 
diner, 4 Rector of Trinity Church, Boston. Dr. Gardiner was 

8 For this sketch of society as it existed in Salem at the end of the last 
century I am indebted to the venerable Mrs. Putnam, widow of Mr. Justice 
Putnam, whose family, early connected with that of the elder Mr. Prescott 
by bonds of friendship and affection, has, in the third generation, been yet 
more intimately and happily united to it by the marriage of the eldest son 
of the historian with a granddaughter of the jurist. 

< Dr. Gardiner had earlier kept a regular school in Boston, with no small 
success; but, at the time referred to, he received in his own library, with 
little form, about a dozen youths, some who were to be prepared for col 
lege, and some who, having been already graduated, sought, by his assistance, 
to increase their knowledge of the Greek and Latin classics. It was excel 
lent, direct, personal teaching; the more effective because the nunlber of 
pupils was so small. It was, too, of a sort peculiarly adapted to make an 
impression on a mind and temperament like young Prescott's. Indeed, it be 
came the foundation of an attachment between him and his instructor, which 
was severed only by death, and of which a touching proof was afforded dur 
ing the last, long-protracted illness of Dr. Gardiner, who, as his infirmities 
increased, directed his servant to admit nobody, beyond the limits of his 


a good scholar, bred in England under Dr. Parr, who, some 
years afterwards, at Hatton, spoke of him to me with much 
regard and respect. But, besides his scholarship, Dr. Gardiner 
was a generous, warm-hearted man, who took a sincere interest 
in his pupils, and sympathized with them in their pursuits to a 
degree which, however desirable, is very rare. A great deal of 
his teaching was oral ; some of it, no doubt, traditional, and 
brought from his English school ; all of it was excellent. For," 
although recitations of careful exactness were required, and 
punishments not slight inflicted for negligence and breaches of 
discipline, still much knowledge was communicated by an easy 
conversational commentary, the best part of which could not 
readily have been found in books, while the whole of it gave 
a life and interest to the lessons that could have been given by 
nothing else. 

It was in this school, as soon as he became a member of it, 
that I first knew William, as a bright boy a little more than 
twelve years old* I had then been under Dr. Gardiner's in 
struction some months, not as a regular member of any class, 
but at private hours, with one or two others, to obtain a knowl 
edge of the higher Greek and Latin classics, not elsewhere to 
be had among us. Very soon the young stranger was brought 
by his rapid advancement to recite with us, and before long we 
two were left to pursue a part of our studies quite by ourselves. 
From this time, of course, I knew him well, and, becoming 
acquainted in his father's family, saw him not only daily at 
school, but often at home. It was a most agreeable, cheerful 
house, where the manners were so frank and sincere, that the 
son's position in it was easily understood. He was evidently 
loved much loved of all; his mother showing her fond 
ness without an attempt at disguise, his father not without 

family connections, except Mr. Prescott. It is needless to add, that, after 
this, his old pupil was almost daily at his door. Nor did he ever afterwards 
forget his early kind teacher. Dr. Gardiner died in 1830, in England, where 
he had gone with the hope of recovery; and on receiving the intelligence of 
his death, Mr. Prescott published, in one of our newspapers, an interesting 
obituary of him. Subsequently, too, in 1848, he wrote to Dr. Sprague, in 
Albany, an affectionate letter (to be found in that gentleman's " Annals of 
the American Pulpit," Vol. V. p. 365, 1859) on Dr. Gardiner's character, and 
in the very last year of his life he was occupied with fresh interest about its 


anxiety concerning his son's spirits and the peculiar temptations 
of his age and position. Probably he was too much indulged 
Certainly, in his fine, open nature there were great inducements 
to this parental infirmity ; and a spirit of boyish mischief in 
his relations with those of his own age, and a certain degree of 
presumption in his manners toward those who were older, were 
not wanting to justify the suspicion. That he was much trusted 
' to himself there was no doubt. 

But he loved books of the lighter sort, and was kept by his 
taste for them from many irregular indulgences. Books, how 
ever, were by no means so accessible in those days as they are 
now. Few, comparatively, were published in the United States, 
and, as it was the dreary period of the commercial restrictions 
that preceded the war of 1812 with England, still fewer were 
imported. Even good school-books were not easily obtained. 
A copy of Euripides in the original could not be bought at any 
bookseller's shop in New England, and was with difficulty 
borrowed. A German instructor, or means for learning the 
German language, were not to be had either in Boston or 
Cambridge. The best publications that appeared in Great 
Britain came to us slowly, and were seldom reprinted. New 
books from the Continent hardly reached us at all. Men felt 
poor and anxious in those dark days, and literary indulgences, 
which have now become almost as necessary to us as our daily 
food, were luxuries enjoyed by few. 

There was, however, a respectable, but very miscellaneous 
collection of books just beginning to be made by the proprie 
tors of the Boston Athenaeum ; an institution imitated chiefly 
from the Athenaeum of Liverpool, and established in an unpre 
tending building not far from the house of the Prescott family 
in Tremont Street. Its real founder was Mr. William S. Shaw, 
who, by a sort of common consent, exercised over it a control 
all but unlimited, acting for many years gratuitously as' its 
librarian. He was a near connection of the two Presidents 
Adams, the first of whom he had served as private secretary 
during his administration of the government ; and in conse 
quence of this relationship, when Mr. John Quincy Adams was 
sent as Minister of the United States to Russia, he deposited 
his library, consisting of eight or ten thousand volumes, in 


the Athenceum, and thus materially increased its resources 
during his absence abroad. The young sons of its proprietors 
had then, by the rules of the institution, no real right to fre 
quent its rooms ; but Mr. Shaw, with all his passion for books, 
and his anxiety to keep safely and strictly those instrusted 
to him, was a kind-hearted man, who loved bright boys, and 
often gave them privileges in his Athenaeum to which they 
had no regular claim. William was one of those who were 
most favored, and who most gladly availed themselves of the 
opportunity which was thus given them. He resorted to 
the Athenaeum, and to the part of it containing Mr. Adams's 
library, as few boys cared to do, and spent many of his play- 
hours there in a sort of idle reading, which probably did little 
to nourish his mind, but which, as he afterwards loved to 
acknowledge, had a decided influence in forming his literary 
tendencies and tastes. 5 

Of course such reading was not very select. He chiefly fan 
cied extravagant romances and books of wild adventure. How 
completely he was carried away by the " Amadis de Gaula " 
in Southey's translation he recorded long afterwards, when he 
looked back upon his boyish admiration, not only with surprise, 
but with a natural regret that all such feelings belonged to the 
remote past. The age of chivalry, he said sadly, was gone by 
for him. 6 

But, whatever may have been his general reading at this 
early period, he certainly did not, in the years immediately 
preceding his college life, affect careful study, or serious intel 
lectual cultivation of any kind. His lessons he learned easily, 
but he made a characteristic distinction between such as were 
indispensable for his admission to the University, and such as 
were prescribed merely to increase his classical knowledge and 
accomplishments. He was always careful to learn the first 
well, but equally careful to do no more, or at least not to seem 
willing to do it, lest yet further claims should be made upon 
him. I remember well his cheerful and happy recitations 
of the "CEdipus Tyrannus" ; but he was very fretful at being 
required to read the more difficult "Prometheus Vinctus" of 

6 Letter of \V. H. Gardiner, Esq. to T. G Gary, Esq. MS. 
6 North American Review, January, 1850. 
1 * 


JEschylus, because it was not a part of the course of study 
which all must pass through. Horace, too, of which we read 
some parts together, interested and excited him beyond his 
years, but Juvenal he disliked, and Persius he could not be 
made to read at all. He was, in short, neither more nor less 
than a thoroughly natural, bright boy, who loved play better 
than work, but who could work well under sufficient induce 
ments and penalties. 

During the whole of his school days in Boston, although 
he was a general favorite among the boys, his friend and fidus 
Achates was a son of his teacher, Dr. Gardiner, of just about 
his own age ; and, if not naturally of a more staid and sober 
character, kept by a wise parental discipline under more re 
straint. It was a happy intimacy, and one that was never 
broken or disturbed. Their paths in life diverged, indeed, 
somewhat later, and they necessarily saw each other less as 
they became engrossed by pursuits so different ; the one as a 
severe, retired student ; the other as an active, eminent lawyer, 
much too busy with the affairs of others to be seen often out of 
his own office and family. But their attachment always rested 
on the old foundation, and the friend of his boyhood became 
in time Mr. Prescott's chief confidential adviser in his worldly 
affairs, and was left at last the sole executor of his considerable 

In the first few years of their acquaintance they were con 
stantly together. Dr. Gardiner gave instruction only in Greek, 
Latin, and English. The two boys, therefore, took private les 
sons, as they were called, of other teachers in arithmetic and 
in writing ; but made small progress in either. They played, 
too, with French, Italian, and Spanish, but accomplished little ; 
for they cared nothing about these studies, which they account 
ed superfluous, and which they pursued only to please their 
friends. They managed, however, always to have the same 
instructors, and so were hardly separated at all. They learnt, 
indeed, the slight and easy lessons set them, but were careful 
to do no more, and so made no real progress. 

Much of their free time they gave to amusements not alto 
gether idle, but certainly not tending very directly to intel 
lectual culture. Some of them were such as might have been 


readily expected from their age. Thus, after frequenting a cir 
cus, they imitated what they had seen, until their performances 
were brought to a disastrous conclusion by cruelly scorching a 
favorite family cat that was compelled to play a part in them. 
At another time they fired pistols till they disturbed the quiet 
neighborhood, and came near killing a horse in the Prescott 
stable. This was all natural enough, because it was boyish, 
though it was a little more adventurous, perhaps, than boys' 
sports commonly are. Of the same sort, too, was a good deal 
of mischief in which they indulged themselves, with little harm 
to anybody, in the streets as they went to their school exercises, 
especially in the evening, and then came home again, looking 
all the graver for their frolics. But two of their amusements 
were characteristic and peculiar, and were, perhaps, not with 
out influence on the lives of each of them, and especially on 
the life of the historian. 

They devised games of battles of all sorts, such as they had 
found in their school-books, among the Greeks and Romans, 
or such as filled the newspapers of the time during the contest 
between the English and the French in the Spanish Peninsula ; 
carrying them out by an apparatus more than commonly in 
genious for boys of their age. At first, it was merely bits of 
paper, arranged so as to indicate the different arms and com 
manders of the different squadrons ; which were then thrown 
into heaps, and cut up at random with shears as ruthless as 
those of the Fates ; quite severing many of the imaginary 
combatants so as to leave no hope of life, and curtailing others 
of their fair proportions in a way to indicate wounds more or 
less dangerous. But this did not last long. Soon they came 
to more personal and soldier-like encounters ; dressing them 
selves up in portions of old armor which they found among 
the curiosities of the Athenaeum, and which, I fear, they had 
little right to use as they did, albeit their value for any purpose 
was small indeed. What was peculiar about these amusements 
was, that there was always an idea of a contest in them, 
generally of a battle, whether in the plains of Latium with 
Ericas, or on Bunker Hill under William's grandfather, or 
in the fanciful combats of knights-errant in the " Amadis de 
Gaula " ; and Prescott apparently cared more about them 01 
this account than on any other. 


The other especial amusement of the two friends was that 
of alternately telling stories invented as they went along. It 
was oftener their street-talk than anything else ; and, if the 
thread of the fiction in hand were broken off, by arriving at 
school or in any other way, they resumed it as soon as the 
interruption ceased, and so continued until the whole was fin 
ished ; each improvising a complete series of adventures for 
the entertainment of the other and of nobody else. Prescott's 
inventions were generally of the wildest ; for his imagination 
was lively, and his head was full of the romances that pre 
vailed in our circulating libraries before Scott's time. But 
they both enjoyed this exercise of their faculties heartily, and 
each thought the other's stories admirable. The historian 
always remembered these favorite amusements of his boyish 
days with satisfaction ; and, only two or three years before 
his death, when he had one of his grandchildren on his knee, 
and was gratifying the boy's demand for a fairy tale, he cried 
out, as Mr. Gardiner entered the room : " Ah, there 's the 
man that could tell you stories. You know, William," he 
continued, addressing his friend, " I never had any inventive 
faculty in my life ; all I have done in the way of story-telling, 
in my later years, has been by diligent hard work." Such, 
near the close of his life, was his modest estimate of his own 
brilliant powers and performances. 

How much these amusements may have influenced the char 
acter of the narrator of the Conquest of Mexico, it is not pos 
sible to determine. Probably not much. But one thing is 
certain. They were not amusements common with boys of 
his age ; and in his subsequent career his power of describing 
battles, and his power of relating a succession of adventures, 
are among his most remarkable attributes. 7 
But his boyish days were now over. In August, 1811, he 
was admitted to the Sophomore Class in Harvard College, 
having passed his examination with credit. The next day he 
wrote to his father, then attending the Supreme Court at Port 
s' For the facts in this account of the school-boy days of Mr. Prescott, I 
am partly indebted, as I am for much else in this memoir, especially what 
relates to his college career, to Mr. William Howard Gardiner, the early 
friend referred to in the text. 


land, in Maine, the following letter, characteristic of the easy 
relations which subsisted between them, but which, easy as 
they were, did not prevent the son, through his whole life, from 
looking on his admirable father with a sincere veneration. 


BOSTON, Aug. 23, [1811]. 

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, 8 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 parlor, 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. 9 It was not 
ended in the morning ; but we returned in the afternoon, when Professor 
Ware 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 hands. 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 con 
versation, 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 1 " Answer. 
" Why are you so particular, young man 1 Yes, you did yourself a great 
deal of credit." u 

8 This was, of course, his first knowledge of Mr. Arthur Middleton, with 
whom, as a classmate, he was afterwards much connected, and who, when 
lie was Secretary of Legation and Charge d j Affaires of the United States at 
Madrid, rendered his early friend important literary services, as we shall 
see when we reach that period of Mr. Prescott's life. Mr. Middleton died 
in 1853. 

9 President Kirkland, who had only a few months earlier become the head 
of the University, will always be remembered by those who knew him, not 
only for the richness and originality of his mind and for his great perspica 
city, but for the kindliness of his nature. The days, however, in which a 
dish of pears followed an examination, were, I think, very few even in "his 
time, connected with no traditions of the past, and not suited to the state 
of discipline since. It was, I suspect, only a compliment to William's fam 
ily, who had been parishioners of Dr. Kirkland, when he was a clergyman 
in Boston. 

10 Dr. Henry Ware was Hollis Professor of Divinity. 

II Before this examination, William had, for a short time, been under the 
private and especial instruction of Mr. Frisbie, who was then a Tutor in 
Harvard College, and subsequently one of its favorite Professors, too early 
taken away by death, in 1822. 


I feel to-day twenty pounds lighter than I did yesterday. I shall dine 
at Mr. Gardiner's. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner both say that on me depends 
William's going to college or not. If I behave well, he will go ; if not, 
that he certainly shall not go. Mr. W. P. Mason has asked me to dine 
with him on Commencement Day, as he gives a dinner. I believe I 
shall go. As I had but little time, I thought it best to tell a long story, 
and write it badly, rather than a short one written well. I have been to 
see Mr. II this morning ; no news. Remember me to your fellow- 
travellers, C., & M., &c., &c. Love to mother, whose affectionate son I 





AT the time William thus gayly entered on his collegiate 
career, he had, thanks to the excellent training he had 
received from Dr. Gardiner, a good taste formed and forming 
in English literature, and he probably knew more of Latin and 
Greek not of Latin and Greek literature, but of the lan 
guages of Greece and Rome than most of those who entered 
college with him knew when they were graduated. But, on the 
other hand, he had no liking for mathematics, and never ac 
quired any ; nor did he ever like metaphysical discussions and 
speculations. His position in his class was, of course, deter 
mined by these circumstances, and he was willing that it should 
be. But he did not like absolutely to fail of a respectable rank. 
It would not have been becoming the character of a cultivated 
gentleman, to which at that time he more earnestly aspired 
than to any other ; nor would it have satisfied the just expecta 
tions of his family, which always had much influence with him. 
It was difficult for him, however, to make the efforts and the 
sacrifices indispensable to give him the position of a real scholar. 
He adopted, indeed, rules for the hours, and even the minutes, 
that he would devote to each particular study ; but he was 
so careful never to exceed them, that it was plain his heart 
was not in the matter, and that he could not reasonably hope 
to succeed by such enforced and mechanical arrangements. 
Still, he had already a strong will concealed under a gay and 
light-hearted exterior. This saved him from many dangers. 


He 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 ; but he always acted up to it, and never passed the 
world's line of honor, or exposed himself to academical cen 
sures by passing the less flexible line drawn by college rules. 
He was, however, willing to run very near to both of them. 

Among the modes he adopted at this time to regulate his 
conduct, was one which had much more influence with him 
later, than it had at first. It was that of making good reso 
lutions ; a practice in which he persevered through life to 
an extraordinary extent, not always heeding whether he kept 
them with great exactness, but sure to repeat them as often as 
they were broken, until, at last, some of them took effect, and 
his ultimate purpose was, in part at least, accomplished. He 
pardoned himself, I suppose, too easily for his manifold neg 
lects and breaches of the compacts he had thus made with his 
conscience ; but there was repentance at the bottom of all, 
and his character was strengthened by the practice. The early 
part of his college career, however, when for the first time 
he left the too gentle restraints of his father's house, was less 
affected by this system of self-control, and was the most dan 
gerous period of his life. Upon portions of it he afterwards 
looked back with regret 

"It was about this time," says Mr. Gardiner, in a very interesting 
paper concerning his acquaintance with Mr. Prescott, which he lias been 
good enough to place at my disposition, " it was about this time, that is, 
pretty early in his college life, when the first excitements of perfect liberty 
of action were a little abated, that he began to form good resolutions, to 
form them, not to keep them. This was, so far as I remember, the feeble 
beginning of a process of frequent self-examination and moral self-control, 
which he afterwards cultivated and practised to a degree beyond all exam 
ple that has come under my observation in cases of like constitutional 
tendency. It was, I conceive, the truly great point of his moral character, 
and the chief foundation of all he accomplished in after life as a literary 
man ; a point which lay always concealed to transient observers under 
lightness and gayety of manner. 

" This habit of forming distinct resolutions about all sorts of things, 
sometimes important, but often in themselves the merest trifles in the 
world, grew up rapidly to an extent that became rather ludicrous ; cspe- 


cially as it was accompanied by another habit, that of thinking aloud, and 
concealing nothing about himself, which led him to announce to the first 
friend he met his latest new resolution. The practice, I apprehend, must 
have reached its acme about the time when he informed me one day that 
he had just made a new resolution, which was, since he found he could 
not keep those which he had made before, that he would never make 
another resolution as long as he lived. It is needless to say that this was 
kept but a very short time. 

" These resolutions, during college days, related often to the number of 
hours, nay, the number of minutes, per day to be appropriated to each par 
ticular exercise or study ; the number of recitations and public prayers per 
week that he would not fail to attend ; the number of times per week that 
lie would not exceed in attending balls, theatrical entertainments in Boston, 
c., &c. What was most observable in this sort of accounts that he used 
to keep with himself was, that the errors were all on one side. Casual 
temptations easily led him, at this time of life, to break through the 
severer restrictions of his rule, but it was matter of high conscience with 
him never to curtail the full quantity of indulgences which it allowed. 
He would be sure not to run one minute over, however he might some 
times fall short of the full time for learning a particular lesson, which he 
used to con over with his watch before him, lest by any inadvertence he 
might cheat himself into too much study. 

" On the same principle, he was careful never to attend any greater 
number of college exercises, nor any less number of evening' diversions in 
Boston, than he had bargained for with himself. Then, as he found out 
by experience the particular circumstances which served as good excuses 
for infractions of his rule, he would begin to complicate his accounts with 
himself by introducing sets of fixed exceptions, stringing on amendment, 
as it were, after amendment to the general law, until it became extremely 
difficult for himself to tell what his rule actually was in its application to 
the new cases which arose ; and, at last, he would take the whole subject, 
so to speak, into a new draft, embodying it in a bran-new resolution. And 
what is particularly curious is, that all the casuistry attending this process 
was sure to be published, as it went along, to all his intimates. 

" The manner in which he used to compound with his conscience in 
such matters is well illustrated by an anecdote, which properly belongs to 
a little later period, but which may well enough be inserted here. It is 
one which I was lately put in mind of by Mr. J. C. Gray, but which I had 
heard that gentleman tell long ago in Prescott's presence, who readily 
admitted it to be substantially true. The incident referred to occurred at 
the time he and Mr. Gray were travelling together in Europe. An ooulist, 
or physician, whom he had consulted at Paris, had advised him, among 
other things, to live less freely, and when pushed by his patient, as was his 
wont, to fix a very precise limit to the quantity of wine he might take, his 
adviser told him that he ought never to exceed two glasses a day. This 
rule he forthwith announced his resolution to adhere to scrupulously. And 
he did. But his manner of observing it was peculiar. At every new 
house of entertainment they reached in their travels, one of the first things 
Prescott did was to require the waiter to show him specimens of all the 
wine-glasses the house afforded. He would then pick out from among 



them the largest ; and this, though it might contain two or three times the 
quantity of a common wine-glass, he would have set by his plate as his 
measure at dinner to observe the rule in." 

But just at the period of his college history to which Mr. 
Gardiner chiefly refers, or a very little later, the painful acci 
dent befell him which, in its consequences, changed the whole 
aspect of the world to him, and tended, more than any single 
event in his life, to make him what he at last became. I refer, 
of course, to the accident which so fatally impaired his sight. 
Tt occurred in the Commons Hall-, one day after dinner, in his 
Junior year. On this occasion there was some rude frolicking 
among the undergraduates, such as was not very rare when the 
college officers had left the tables, as they frequently did, a few 
minutes before the room was emptied. There was not, however, 
in this particular instance, any considerable disorder, and Pres- 
cott had no share in what there was. But when he was pass 
ing out of the door of the Hall, his attention was attracted by 
the disturbance going on behind him. He turned his head 
quickly to see what it was, and at the same instant received a 
blow from a large, hard piece of bread, thrown undoubtedly 
at random, and in mere thoughtlessness and gayety. It struck 
the open eye ; a rare occurrence in the case of that vigilant 
organ, which, on the approach of the slightest danger, is almost 
always protected by an instant and instinctive closing of the 
lids. But here there was no notice, no warning. The mis 
sile, which must have been thrown with great force, struck the 
very disk of the eye itself. It was the left eye. He fell, 
and was immediately brought to his father's house in town, 
where, in the course of two or three hours from the occurrence of 
the accident, he was in the hands of Dr. James Jackson, the kind 
friend, as well as the wise medical adviser, of his father's family. 1 

The first effects of the blow were remarkable. They were, 
in fact, such as commonly attend a concussion of the brain. 

1 There is a graceful tribute to Dr. Jackson in Prescott's Memoir of Mr. 
John Pickering, where, noticing the intimacy of these two distinguished men, 
he says, that in London Mr. Pickering was much with Dr. Jackson, who was 
then " acquiring the rudiments of the profession which he was to pursue 
through a long series of years with so much honor to himself and such widely 
extended benefit to the community." Collections of the Massachusetts His 
torical Society, Third Series, Vol.'x. p. 208. 


The strength ;f the patient was instantly and completely 
prostrated. Sickness at the stomach followed. His pulse was 
feeble. His face became pale and shrunken, and the whole 
tone of his system was reduced so low, that he could not sit up 
in bed. But his mind was calm and clear, and he was able to 
give a distinct account of the accident that had befallen him, 
and of what had preceded and followed it. 

Under such circumstances no active treatment was deemed 
advisable. Quiet was strictly prescribed. Whatever could 
tend to the least excitement, physical or intellectual, was for 
bidden. And then nature was left to herself. This, no doubt, 
was the wisest course. At any rate, the system, which had at 
first yielded so alarmingly to the shock, gradually recovered its 
tone, and in a few weeks he returned to Cambridge, and pur 
sued his studies as if nothing very serious had happened ; a 
little more cautiously, perhaps, in some respects, but probably 
with no diminution of such very moderate diligence as he had 
previously practised. 2 But the eye that had been struck was 
gone. No external mark, either then or afterwards, indicated 
the injury that had been inflicted ; and, although a glimmering 
light was still perceptible through the ruined organ, there was 
none that could be made useful for any of the practical pur 
poses of life. On a careful examination, such as I once made, 
Avith magnifying lenses, at his request, under the direction of 
a distinguished oculist, a difference could indeed be detected 
between the injured eye and the other, and sometimes, as I sat 
with him, I have thought that it seemed more dim ; but to com 
mon observation, in society or in the streets, as in the well- 
known case of the author of the " Paradise Lost," no change was 
perceptible. It was, in fact, a case of obscure, deep paralysis 
of the retina, and as such was beyond the reach of the healing 
art from the moment the blow was given. 

One circumstance, however, in relation to the calamity that 
thus fell on him in the freshness of his youth, should not be 

* This account of the original injury to Mr. Prescott's eye, and the notices 
of his subsequent illnesses and death, in this Memoir, are abridged from an 
interesting and important medicaj letter, which Dr. Jackson was good enough 
to address to me in June, 1859, and which may be found entire in a little 
Yolume entitled, "Another Letter to a Young Physician," (Boston, 1861,) 
pp. 180-156. 


overlooked, because it shows, even at this early period, the 
development of strong traits in his character, such as marked 
his subsequent life. I refer to the fact that he rarely mentioned 
the name of the young man who had thus inflicted on him 
an irreparable injury, and that he never mentioned it in a way 
which could have given pain either to him or to those nearest 
to him. Indeed, he so often spoke to me of the whole affair as 
a mere chance-medley, for which nobody could be to blame, 
and of which little could be distinctly known, that, for a time, 
I supposed he was really ignorant, and preferred to remain ig 
norant, from whose hand the fatal blow had come. But it was 
not so. He always knew who it was ; and, years afterwards, 
when the burden of the injury he had received was much 
heavier on his thoughts than it had been at first, and when an 
opportunity occurred to do an important kindness to the un 
happy person who had inflicted it, he did it promptly and cor 
dially. It was a Christian act, the more truly Christian, 
because, although the blow was certainly given by accident, he 
who inflicted it never expressed any sympathy with the terrible 
suffering he had occasioned. At least, the sufferer, to whom, if 
to anybody, he should have expressed it, never knew that he 
regretted what he had done. . 

When William returned to College, and resumed his studies 
he had, no doubt, somewhat different views and purposes in life 
from those which had most influenced him before his accident. 
The quiet and suffering of his dark room had done their work, 
at least in part. He was, compared with what he had been, 
a sobered man. Not that his spirits were seriously affected by 
it. They survived even this. But inducements and leisure for 
reflection had been afforded him such as he had never known 
before ; and, whether the thoughts that followed his accident 
were the cause or not, he now determined to acquire a more 
respectable rank in his class as a scholar, than he had earlier 
deemed worth the trouble. 

It was somewhat late to do it ; but, having no little courage 
and very considerable knowledge in elegant literature, he in 
part succeeded. His remarkable memory enabled him to get 
on well with the English studies ; even with those for whic^ 
as for the higher metaphysics, he had a hearty disrelish. But 


mathematics and geometry seemed to constitute an insurmount 
able obstacle. He had taken none of the preparatory steps to 
qualify himself for them, and it was impossible now to go back 
to the elements, and lay a sufficient foundation. He knew, in 
fact, nothing about them, and never did afterwards. He be 
came desperate, therefore, and took to desperate remedies. 

The first was to commit to memory, with perfect exactness, 
the whole mathematical demonstration required of his class 
on any given day, so as to be able to recite every syllable and 
letter of it as they stood in the book, without comprehending 
the demonstration at all, or attaching any meaning to the 
words and signs of which it was composed. It was, no doubt, 
a feat of memory of which few men would have been capable, 
but it was also one whose worthlessness a careful teacher would 
very soon detect, and one, in itself, so intolerably onerous, that 
no pupil could long practise it. Besides, it was a trick ; and a 
fraud of any kind, except to cheat himself, was contrary to his 
very nature. 

After trying it, therefore, a few times, and enjoying what 
ever amusement it could afford him and his friends, who were 
in the secret, he took another method more characteristic. He 
went to his Professor, and told him the truth ; not only hia 
ignorance of geometry, and his belief that he was incapable 
of understanding a word of it, but the mode by which he had 
seemed to comply with the requisitions of the recitation-room, 
while in fact he evaded them ; adding, at the same time, that, 
as a proof of mere industry, he was willing to persevere in 
committing the lessons to memory, and reciting by rote what 
he did not and could not understand, if such recitations were 
required of him, but that he would rather be permitted to use 
his time more profitably. The Professor, struck with the hon 
esty and sincerity of his pupil, as well as with the singularity 
of the case, and seeing no likelihood that a similar one would 
occur, merely exacted his attendance at the regular hours, from 
which, in fact, he had no power to excuse him ; but gave him 
to understand that he should not be troubled further with the 
duty of reciting. The solemn farce, therefore, of going to the 
exercise, book in hand, for several months, without looking at 
the lesson, was continued, and Prescott was always grateful to 
the kindly Professor for his forbearance. 


On another occasion, he was in danger of more serious 
trouble with one of the Professors. In this case it arose from 
the circumstance, that, at all periods of his life, Prescott was 
now and then affected with a nervous laugh, or fit of laughter, 
which, as it was always without adequate cause, sometimes 
broke out most inopportunely. In a very interesting sketch of 
some passages in his life, by his friend Gardiner, which I have 
received since this Memoir was prepared, there is an account 
of two such outbreaks, both of which I will give here, because 
they are connected, and belong to nearly the same period in 
his life, and because the last is strictly to be placed among his 
college adventures. Speaking of this involuntary merriment, 
Mr. Gardiner says : 

" How mirthful he was, how fond of a merry laugh, how overflow 
ing with means to excite one on all admissible occasions, I have already 
mentioned. But what I now speak of was something beyond this. He 
had a sense of the ludicrous so strong, that it seemed at times quite to 
overpower him. He would laugh on such occasions, not vociferously 
indeed, but most inordinately, and for a long time together, as if possessed 
by the spirit of Momus himself. It seemed to be something perfectly un 
controllable, provoked often by the slightest apparent cause ; and some 
times, in his younger days, under circumstances that made its indulgence 
a positive impropriety. This seemed only to aggravate the disease. I 
call it a disease ; for it deprived him at the time of all self-control, and iu 
one of the other sex would have been perhaps hysterical. But there was 
something irresistibly comic in it to the by-standcrs, accompanied, as it 
used to be, by imperfect efforts, through drolleries uttered iu broken, half- 
intelligible sentences, to communicate the ludicrous idea. This original 
ludicrous idea he seldom succeeded in communicating ; but the infection 
of laughter would spread, by a sort of animal magnetism, from one to 
another, till I have seen a whole company perfectly convulsed with it, no 
one of whom could have told what iu the world he was laughing at, unless 
it were at the sight of Prescott, so utterly overcome, and struggling in vain 
to express himself. 

" To give a better idea of this, I may cite an instance that I witnessed 
in his younger days, either shortly before, or just after, his first European 
tour. A party of young gentlemen and ladies he and I among them 
undertook to entertain themselves and their friends with some private the 
atricals. After having performed one or two light pieces with some suc 
cess, we attempted the more ambitious task of getting up Julius Ca'sar. 
It proceeded only to two partial rehearsals ; but the manner in which they 
ended is to the present point. When all had sufficiently studied their 
parts, we met for a final rehearsal. The part of Mark Antony had been 
allotted to Picscott. He got through with it extremely well till he cam 
to the speech in the third act which begins, ' O pardon me, thou bleeding 
piece of earth ! ' This was addressed to one of our company, extended ou 


the floor, and enacting the part of Caesar's murdered corpse, with becom 
ing stillness and rigidity. At this point of the performance the Indirrous 
seized upon Prescott to such a degree, that he burst out into one of his 
grand fits of laughing, and laughed so immoderately and so infectiously, 
that the whole company, corpse and all, followed suit, and a scene of 
tumult ensued which put a stop to further rehearsal. Another evening we 
attempted it again, after a solemn assurance from Prescott that he should 
certainly command himself, and not give way to such a folly again. But 
he did, in precisely the same place, and with the same result. After 
that we gave up Julius Caesar. 

" A more curious instance occurred while he was in college. I was 
not present at this, but have heard him tell it repeatedly in after life. On 
some occasion it happened that he went to the study of the Rhetorical 
Professor, for the purpose of receiving a private lesson in elocution. The 
Professor and his pupil were entirely alone. Prescott took his attitude as 
orator, and began to declaim the speech he had committed for the purpose ; 
but, after proceeding through a sentence or two, something ludicrous sud 
denly came across him, and it was all over with him at once, just as 
when he came to the ' bleeding piece of earth,' in the scene above narrated. 
He was seized with just such an uncontrollable fit of laughter. The Pro 
fessor no laughing man looked grave, and tried to check him ; but 
the more he tried to do so, the more Prescott was convulsed. The Pro 
fessor began to think his pupil intended to insult him. His dark features 
grew darker, and he began to speak in a tone of severe reprimand. This 
only seemed to aggravate Prescott's paroxysm, while he endeavored, in 
vain, to beg pardon ; for he could not utter an intelligible word. At last, 
the sense of the extreme ludicrousness of the situation, and the perception 
of Prescott's utter helplessness, seized hold of the Professor himself. He 
had caught the infection. His features suddenly relaxed, and he too began 
to laugh ; and presently the two, Professor and pupil, the more they looked 
at each other the more they laughed, both absolutely holding on to their 
sides, and the tears rolling down their cheeks. Of course, there was an 
end of all reprimand, and equally an end of all declamation. The Pro 
fessor, as became him, recovered himself first, but only enough to say: 
' Well, Prescott, you may go. This will do for to-day.' " 

Mathematics, by the indulgence of his teacher, being dis 
posed of in the manner I have mentioned, and several other 
of the severer studies being made little more than exercises of 
memory, he was obliged to depend, for the distinction he de 
sired to obtain at college, and which his family demanded from 
him, almost entirely on his progress in Latin and Greek, and 
on his proficiency in English literature. These, however, to 
gether with his zeal in pursuing them, were, by the kindness 
of those in academical authority, admitted to be sufficient. He 
received, in the latter part of his college career, some of the 
customary honors of successful scholai-ship, and at its close a 


Latin poem was assigned to him as liis exercise for Commence 

No honor, however, that he received at college was valued 
so much by him, or had been so much an object of his ambition, 
as his admission to the Society of the Phi Beta Kappa, which 
was composed, in its theory and pretensions, and generally in its 
practice, of a moderate number of the best scholars in the two 
upper classes. As the selection was made by the undergradu 
ates themselves, and as a single black-ball excluded the candi 
date, it was a real distinction ; and Prescott always liked to 
stand well with his fellows, later in life no less than in youth. 
From his own experience, therefore, he regarded this old and 
peculiar society with great favor, and desired at all periods to 
maintain its privileges and influence in the University. 8 

The honor that he received on his graduation was felt to bo 
appropriate to his tastes, and was not a little valued by him 
and by his father, as a proof of diligence in his classical studies. 
It is a pity that the poem cannot be found ; but it seems to be 
irrecoverably lost. Only a few months before his death, his col 
lege classmate, Mr. S. D. Bradford, sent him one of a few 
copies, which he had privately printed for his children and 
friends, of his own scattered miscellanies, among which was a 
college exercise in Latin prose. Prescott then said, alluding to 
his own Latin poem : " I wish I had taken as good care of it 
as you have of your exercises. I have hunted for it in every 
quarter where I supposed I could have mislaid it, but in vain. 
If I should find it," he adds, with his accustomed kindliness, 
" I shall feel content if the Latin will pass muster as well as 
in your performance." 

It was a pleasant little poem, on Hope, " Ad Spem," and, if 

8 The $ B K, it should be remembered, was, at that period, a society of much 
more dignity and consequence than it is now. It had an annual public exhi 
bition, largely attended by such graduates as were its members, and, indeed, 
by the more cultivated portion of the community generally. The under 
graduates were in this way associated at once with the prominent and distin 
guished among their predecessors, who were themselves pleased thus to recall 
the rank, both as scholars and as gentlemen, which they had early gained, 
and which they still valued. Membership in such an association was precisely 
the sort of honor which a young man like Prescott would covet, and he 
ulways regretted that its influence among the undergraduates had not been 


I remember rightly, it was in hexameters and pentameters. It 
was delivered in a hot, clear day of August, 1814, in the old 
meeting-house at Cambridge, to a crowded audience of the 
most distinguished people of Boston and the neighborhood, 
attracted in no small degree by an entertainment which Mr. 
and Mrs. Prescott were to give the same afternoon in honor of 
their son's success, one of the very last of the many large 
entertainments formerly given at Cambridge on such occasions, 
and which, in their day, rendered Commencement a more bril 
liant festival than it is now. I was there to hear my friend. 
I could see, by his tremulous motions, that he was a good deal 
frightened when speaking before so large an assembly ; but still 
his appearance was manly, and his verses were thought well of 
by those who had a right to judge of their merit. I have no 
doubt they would do credit to his Latinity if Jhey could now 
be found, for at school he wrote such verses better than any 
boy there. 

After the literary exercises of the day came, of course, the 
entertainment to the friends of the family. This was given as 
a reward to the cherished son, which he valued not a little, and 
the promise of which had much stimulated his efforts in the 
latter part of his college life. It was, in fact, a somewhat 
sumptuous dinner, under a marquee, at which above five hun 
dred persons of both sexes sat down, and which was thoroughly 
enjoyed by all who took an interest in the occasion. His 
mother did not hesitate to express the pleasure her son's suc 
cess had given her, and if his father, from the instincts of his 
nature, was more reserved, he was undoubtedly no less satisfied. 
William was very gay, as he always was in society, and perfectly 
natural ; dancing and frolicking on the green with great spirit 
after the more formal part of the festivities was over. He was 
not sorry that his college life was ended, and said so ; but he 
parted from a few of his friends with sincere pain, as they left 
Cambridge to go their several ways in the world, never to 
meet again as free and careless as they then were. Indeed, on 
such occasions, notwithstanding the vivacity of his nature, he 
was forced to yield a little to his feelings, as I have myself 
sometimes witnessed. 4 

4 There are some remarks of Mr. Prescott on college life in his Memoir of 


Immediately after leaving college, he entered as a student in 
his father's office ; for the law was, in some soil, his natural 
inheritance, and with his own talents already sufficiently 
developed to be recognized, and with the countenance and aid 
of a lawyer as eminent as his father was the path to success 
at the bar seemed both tempting and sure. But his tastes 
were still for the pursuits which he had always most loved. 
He entertained, indeed, no doubt what would be his ultimate 
career in life ; but still he lingered fondly over his Greek and 
Latin books, and was encouraged in an indulgence of his pref 
erence by his family and friends, who rightly regarded such 
studies as the safest means and foundations for forensic emi 
nence. He talked with me about them occasionally, and I 
rejoiced to hear his accounts of himself; for, although I had 
then been myself admitted to the bar, my tastes were the same, 
and it was pleasant for me to have his sympathy, as he always 
had mine. 

Four or five months were passed in this way, and then 
another dark and threatening cloud came over his4iappy life. 
In January, 1815, he called one day on his medical adviser, 

Mr. Pickering, written in 1848, not without a recollection of his own early 
experiences, which may well be added here. " The four years of college life 
form, perhaps, the most critical epoch in the of the individual. 
This is especially the case in our country, where they occur at the transition 
period, when the boy ripens into the man. The University, that little 
world of itself, shut out by a great barrier, as it were, from the past equally 
with the future, bounding the visible horizon of the student like the walls of 
a monastery, still leaves within them scope enough for all the sympathies and 
the passions of manhood. Taken from the searching eye of parental super 
vision, the youthful scholar finds the shackles of early discipline fall from 
him, as he is left to the disposal, in a great degree, of his own hours and the 
choice of his own associates. His powers are quickened by collision with 
various minds, and by the bolder range of studies now open to him. He finds 
the same incentives to ambition as in the wider world, and contends with the 
same zeal for honors which, to his eye, seem quite as real and are they not 
so? as those in later life. He meets, too, 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 com 
panionship has left no stain for future tears to wash away." Collections of 
the Massachusetts Historical Society, Third Series, Vol. X., (1849,) pp. 206, 207. 


Dr. Jackson, and consulted him for an inconsiderable inflam 
mation of his right eye. It was his sole dependence for sight, 
and therefore, although it had served him tolerably well for 
above a year and a half since the accident to the other, the 
slightest affection of its powers inevitably excited anxiety. The 
inflammation was then wholly on the surface of the organ, but 
yet he complained of a degree of difficulty and pain in moving 
it, greater than is commonly noticed in a case of so little gravity 
as this otherwise seemed to be. Leeches, therefore, were or 
dered for the temple, and a saturnine lotion, simple remedies, 
no doubt, but such as were sufficient for the apparent affection, 
and quite as active in their nature as was deemed judicious. 

But in the course of the night the pain was greatly increased, 
and on the following morning the inflammation, which at first 
had been trifling, was found to be excessive, greater, indeed, 
than his physician, down to the present day, after a very wide 
practice of above sixty years, has, as he informs me, ever wit 
nessed since. The eye itself was much swollen, the cornea had 
become opaque, and the power of vision was completely lost. 
At the same time the patient's skin was found to be veiy hot, 
and his pulse hard and accelerated. The whole system, i' 
short, was much disturbed, and the case had evidently become 
one of unusual severity. 

To his calm and wise father, therefore, to his physician, 
who was not less his friend than his professional adviser, and 
to himself, for he too was consulted, it seemed that every 
risk, except that of life, should be run, to save him from the 
permanent and total blindness with which he was obviously 
threatened. Copious bleedings and other depletions were con* 
sequently at once resorted to, and seemed, for a few hours, 
to have made an impression on the disease ; but the suffering 
returned again with great severity during the subsequent night, 
and the inflammation raged with such absolute fury for five 
days, as to resist every form of active treatment that could ba 
devised by his anxious physician, and by Dr. John C. Warren, 
who had been summoned in consultation. The gloomiest appre 
hensions, therefore, were necessarily entertained ; and even 
when, on the sixth day, the inflammation began to yield, and, 
on the morning of the seventh, had almost wholly subsided, 


little encouragement for a happy result could be felt ; for the 
retina was found to be affected, and the powers of vision were 
obviously and seriously impaired. 

But in the afternoon of the seventh day the case assumed a 
new phasis, and the father, much alarmed, hastened in person 
to Dr. Jackson, telling him that one of the patient's knees had 
become painful, and that the pain, accompanied with redness 
and swelling, was increasing fast. To his surprise, Dr. Jack 
son answered very emphatically that he was most happy to 
hear it. 

The mystery which had hung over the disease, from the first 
intimation of a peculiar difficulty in moving the organ, was 
now dispelled. It was a case of acute rheumatism. This had 
not been foreseen. In fact, an instance in which the acute 
form of that disease not the chronic had seized on the 
eye was unknown to the books of the profession. Both of 
his medical attendants, it is true, thought they had, in their 
previous practice, noticed some evidence of such an affection ; 
and therefore when the assault was made on the knee in the 
present case, they had no longer any doubt concerning the 
matter. As the event proved, they had no sufficient reason 
for any. In truth, the rheumatism, which had attacked their 
patient in this mysterious but fierce manner, was the disease 
which, in its direct and indirect forms, persecuted him during 
the whole of his life afterwards, and caused him most of the 
sufferings and privations that lie underwent in so many different, 
ways, but, above all, in the impaired vision of his remaining 
eye. Bad, however, as was this condition of things, it was 
yet a relief to his anxious advisers to be assured of its real 
character ; not, indeed, because they regarded acute rheuma 
tism in the eye as a slight disease, but because they thought it 
less formidable in its nature, and less likely at last to destroy 
the structure of the organ, than a common inflammation so 
severe and so unmanageable as this must, in the supposed case, 
have been. ".-.... 

The disease now exhibited the usual appearances of acute 
rheumatism ; affecting chiefly the large joints of the lower 
extremities, but occasionally showing itself in the neck, and 
in other parts of the person. Twice, in the course of the next 


three months after the first attack, it recurred in the eye, 
accompanied each time with total blindness ; but, whenever it 
left the eye, it resorted again to the limbs, and so sevei e was it, 
even when least violent, that, until the beginning of May, a 
period of sixteen weeks, the patient was unable to walk a step. 

But nothing was able permanently to affect the natural flow 
of his spirits, neither pain, nor the sharp surgical remedies 
to which he was repeatedly subjected, nor the disheartening 
darkness in which he was kept, nor the gloomy vista that the 
future seemed to open before him. His equanimity and cheer 
fulness were invincible. 

During nearly the whole of this trying period I did not see 
him ; for I was absent on a journey to Virginia from the begin 
ning of December to the end of March. But when I did sec 
him, if seeing it could be called, in a room from which the 
light was almost entirely excluded, I found him quite un 
changed, either in the tones of his voice or the animation of his 
manner. He was perfectly natural and very gay ; talking 
unwillingly of*his own troubles, but curious and interested con 
cerning an absence of several years in Europe which at that 
time I was about to commence. I found him, in fact, just as 
his mother afterwards described him to Dr. Frothingham, 
when she said : " I never in a single instance, groped my way 
across the apartment, to take my place at his side, that he did 
not salute me with some expression of good cheer, not a 
single instance, as if we were the patients, and his place 
were to comfort us." 8 

The following summer wore slowly away ; not without much 
anxiety on the part of his family, as to what might be the end 
of so much suffering, and whether the patient's infirmities 
would not be materially aggravated by one of our rigorous 
winters. Different plans were agitated. At last, in the early 
autumn, it was determined that he should pass the next six 
months with his grandfather Hickling, Consul of the United 
States at St. Michael's, and then that he should visit London 
and Paris for the benefit of such medical advice as he might 
find in either metropolis ; travelling, perhaps, afterwards on the 

6 Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, (Boston, 1859,) 
p. 183. 


Continent, to recruit the resources of his constitution, which 
by such long-continued illness had been somewhat impaired. 
It was a remedy which was not adopted without pain and mis 
giving on both sides ; but it was evidently the best thing to be 
done, and all submitted to it with patience and hope. 




IN fulfilment of the plan for travel mentioned in the last 
chapter, he embarked at Boston, on the 26th of September, 
1815, for the Azores. Besides the usual annoyances of a sea- 
voyage in one of the small vessels that then carried on our 
commerce with the Western Islands, he suffered from the es 
pecial troubles of his own case ; sharp attacks of rheumatism 
and an inflammation of the eye, for which he had no remedies 
but the twilight of his miserable cabin, and a diet of rye pud 
ding, with no sauce but coarse salt. The passage, too, was 
tediously long. He did not arrive until the twenty-second day. 
Before he landed, he wrote to his father and mother, with the 
freedom and affection which always marked his intercourse 
with them : 

" I have been treated," he said, " with every attention by the captain 
and crew, and my situation rendered as comfortable as possible. But this 
cabin was never designed for rheumatics. The companion-way opens 
immediately upon deck, and the patent binnacle illuminators, vice windows, 
are so ingeniously and impartially constructed, that for every ray of light 
we have half a dozen drops of water. The consequence is, that the orbit 
of my operations for days together has been very much restricted. I have 
banished ennui, however, by battling with Democrats and bed-bugs, both 
of which thrive on board this vessel, and in both of which contests I have 
been ably seconded by the cook, who has officiated as my valet de chambre, 
and in whom I find a great congeniality of sentiment." 

An hour after writing this letter, October 18th, he landed. 
He was most kindly received by his grandfather, a generous, 
open-handed, open-hearted gentleman, seventy-two years old, 
who had long before married a lady of the island as his second 
wife, and was surrounded by a family of interesting children, 
some of whom were so near the age of their young nephew of 


the half-blood, that they made him most agreeable companions 
and friends. They were all then residing a few miles from 
Ponta Delgada, the capital of the island of St. Michael's, at a 
place called Rosto de Ciio, from the supposed resemblance of 
its rocks to the head of a dog. It was a country-house, in the 
midst of charming gardens and the gayest cultivation. The 
young American, who had been little from home, and never 
beyond the influences of the rude climate in which he was 
born, enjoyed excessively the all but tropical vegetation with 
which he found himself thus suddenly surrounded ; the laurels 
and myrtles that everywhere sprang wild ; and the multitudi 
nous orange-groves which had been cultivated and extended 
chiefly through his grandfather's spirit and energy, until their 
fruit had become the staple of the island, while, more than 
half the year, their flowers filled large portions of it with a 
delicious fragrance ; " Hesperian fables true, if true, here 

But his pleasures of this sort were short-lived. He had 
landed with a slight trouble in his eye, and a fortnight was 
hardly over before he was obliged to shut himself up with it. 
From November 1st to February 1st he was in a dark room ; 
six weeks of the time in such total darkness, that the furniture 
could not be distinguished ; and all the time living on a spare 
vegetable diet, and applying blisters to keep down active in 
flammation. But his spirits were proof alike against pain and 
abstinence. He has often described to me the exercise he took 
in his large room, hundreds of miles in all, walking from 
corner to corner, and thrusting out his elbows so as to get 
warning through them of his approach to the angles of the 
wall, whose plastering he absolutely wore away by the constant 
blows he thus inflicted on it. And all this time, he added, 
with the exception of a few days of acute suffering, he sang 
aloud in his darkness and solitude, with unabated cheer. Later, 
when a little light could be admitted, he carefully covered his 
eyes, and listened to reading ; and, at the worst, he enjoyed 
much of the society of his affectionate aunts and cousins. 

But he shall speak for himself, in two or three of the few 
letters which are preserved from the period of his residence in 
the Azores and his subsequent travels in Europe. 



EOSTO DE CAO, 13 Nov., 1815. 

It is with heart-felt joy, my beloved parents, that I can address yon 
from this blessed little isle. I landed on Wednesday, October 18th, at 
10 A. M., after a most tedious passage of twenty-two days, although I had 
made a fixed determination to arrive in ten. I cannot be thankful enough 
to Heaven that it had not cased in these rheumatic shackles the navigating 
soul of a Cook or a Columbus, for I am very sure, if a fifth quarter of the 
globe depended upon me for its exposure, it would remain terra incognita 

forever I was received on the quay by my Uncles Thomas and 

Ivers, and proceeded immediately to the house of the latter, where I dis 
posed of a nescio quantum of bread and milk, to the no small astonishment 
of two or three young cousins, who thought it the usual American appetite. 

The city of Ponta Delgada, as seen from the roads, presents an appear 
ance extremely unique, and, to one who has never been beyond the smoke 
of his own hamlet, seems rather enchantment than reality. The brilliant 
whiteness of the buildings, situated at the base of lofty hills, whose sides 
are clothed with fields of yellow corn, and the picturesque, admirably 
heightened by the turrets which rise from the numerous convents that dis 
grace and beautify the city, present a coup d'aeil on which the genius of a 
Radcliffe, or indeed any one, much less an admirer of the beauties of 
nature than myself, might expend a folio of sentimentality and nonsense. 
After breakfast I proceeded to Rosto de Cab, where I have now the good 
fortune to be domesticated. My dear grandfather is precisely, the man I 
had imagined and wished him to be. Frank and gentlemanly in his de 
portment, affectionate to his family, and liberal to excess in all his feelings, 
his hand serves as the conductor of his heart, and when he shakes yours, 
he communicates all the overflowings of his own benevolent disposition. 
His bodily virtues are no less inspiring than his mental. He rises every 
morning at five, takes a remarkable interest in everything that is going 
forward, and is so alert in his motions, that, at a fair start, I would lay 
any odds he would distance the whole of his posterity. He plumes himself 
not a little upon his constitution, and tells me that I am much more de 
serving of the title of " old boy " than himself. 

I should give you a sort of biography of the whole family, but my aunt, 
who officiates as secretary, absolutely refuses to write any more encomi 
ums on them, and, as I have nothing very ill to say of them at present, I 
shall postpone this until you can receive some official documents sub mea 
manu. The truth is, I am so lately recovered from a slight inflammation, 
which the rain water, salt water, and other marine comforts are so well 
calculated to produce, that I do not care to exert my eyes at present, for 
which reason my ideas are communicated to you by the hand of my aunt. 

We move into town this week, where I have been but seldom since my 
arrival, and have confined my curiosity to some equestrian excursions 
round the country. Novelty of scenery is alone sufficient to interest one 
who has been accustomed to the productions of Northern climates. It is 
very curious, my dear parents, to see those plants which one has been 
accustomed to see reared in a hot-house, flourishing beneath the open sky, 
2* o 


and attaining a height and perfection which no artificial heat can com 
mand. When I wander amid the groves of boxwood, cypress, and myr 
tle, I feel myself transported hack to the ages of Horace and Anacrcon, 
who consecrated their shades to immortality. 

The climate, though very temperate for winter, is much too frigid for 
summer, and before I could venture a flight of poesy, I should be obliged 
to thaw out my imagination over a good December fire. The weather is 
so capricious, that the inhabitants are absolutely amphibious ; if they 
are in sunshine one half of the day, they are sure to be in water the other 

Give my best affection to Aunt A 's charming family, and be par 
ticular respecting Mrs. H 's health. Tell my friends, that, when my 

eyes are in trim, I shall not fail to fatigue their patience. 

Remember me to our good people, and think often, my beloved parents, 
if your truly affectionate son, 



ST. MICHAEL'S, Ponta Delgada, March 12, 1816. 

I am happy, my darling sister, in an opportunity of declaring how 
nuch I love, and how often I think of you 

Since my recovery to avail myself of a simile not exactly Homeric 
I may be compared to bottled beer, which, when it has been imprisoned 
a long time, hursts forth with tremendous explosion, and evaporates in 
froth and smoke. Since my emancipation I have made more noise and 
rattled more nonsense than the ball-rooms of Boston ever witnessed. Two 
or three times a week we make excursions into the country on jacks, a 
very agreeable mode of riding, and visit the orangeries, which are now in 
their prime. What a prospect presents itself for the dead of winter! The 
country is everywhere in the bloom of vegetation ; the myrtles, the roses, 
and laurels are in full bloom, and the dark green of the orange groves is 
finely contrasted with " the golden apples " which glitter through their 
foliage. Amidst such a scene I feel like a being of another world, new 
lighted on this distant home 

The houses of this country are built of stone, covered with white lime. 
They are seldom more than two stories in height, and the lower floors are 
devoted to the cattle. They are most lavish of expense on their churches, 
which are profusely ornamented with gilding and carving, which, though 
poorly executed, produces a wonderful effect by candle-light. They are 
generally fortified with eight or ten bells, and when a great character walks 
off the carpet, they keep them in continual jingle, as they have great faith 
in ringing the soul through Purgatory. When a poor man loses his 
child, his friends congratulate him on so joyful an occasion ; but if his pig 
dies, they condole with him. I know not but this may be a fair estimate 
of their relative worth 

The whole appearance of this country is volcanic. In the environs I 
have seen acres covered with lava, and incapable of culture, and most of 
the mountains still retain the vestiges of craters. Scarcely a year passes 
without an earthquake. I have been so fortunate as to witness the most 


tremendous of these convulsions within the memory of the present inhabi 
tants. This was on the 1st of February, at midnight. So severe was the 
shock, that more than forty houses and many of the public edifices were 
overthrown or injured, and our house cracked in various places from top 
to bottom. The whole city was thrown into consternation. Our family 
assembled en chemise in the corridor. I was wise enough to keep quiet in 
bed, as I considered a cold more dangerous to me than an earthquake. 
But we were all excessively alarmed. There is no visitation more awful 
than this. From most dangers there is some refuge, but when nature is 
convulsed, where can we fly ? An earthquake is commonly past before 
one has time to estimate the horrors of his situation ; but this lasted three 
minutes and a half, and we had full leisure to summon up the ghosts of 
Lisbon and Herculaneum, and many other recollections equally soothing, 
and I confess the idea of terminating my career in this manner was not 
the most agreeable of my reflections. 

A few weeks since, my dear sister, I visited some hot springs in Ribeira 
Grande, at the northern part of the island ; but, as I have since been to 
"the Furnace," where I have seen what is much more wonderful and 
beautiful in nature, I shall content myself with a description of the latter 

Our road lay through a mountainous country, abounding in wild and 
picturesque scenery. Our party consisted of about twenty, and we trav 
elled upon jacks, which is the pleasantest conveyance in the world, both 
from its sociability, and the little fatigue which attends it. As we rode 
irregularly, our cavalcade had a very romantic appearance ; for, while 
some of us were in the vale, others were on the heights of the mountains, 
or winding down the declivities, on the brink of precipices two hundred 
feet perpendicular. 

As my imagination was entirely occupied with the volcanic phenomena 
for which the Furnace is so celebrated, I had formed no ideas of any milder 
attractions. What was my surprise, then, when, descending the moun 
tains at twilight, there burst upon our view a circular valley, ten miles in 
circumference, bounded on all sides by lofty hills, and in the richest state 
of cultivation. The evening l>ell was tolling, as we descended into the plain, 
to inform the inhabitants of sunset, the Angelus, and this, with the 
whistle of the herdsmen, which in this country is peculiarly plaintive, and 
the " sober gray " of evening, all combined to fill my bosom with senti 
ments of placid contentment 

I consider it almost fruitless to attempt to describe the Caldeiras [the 
Caldrons], as can I convey no adequate idea of their terrible appearance. 
There are seven principal ones, the largest about twenty feet in diameter. 
They are generally circular, but differing both in form and dimensions. 
They boil with such fervor as to eject the water to the height of twenty 
feet, and make a noise like distant thunder 

Grandfather's house is situated in the centre of this beautiful valley. It 
lias undergone several alterations since mother was here. The entrance 
is through a long avenue of shady box-trees, and you ascend to it by a 
flight of fifty stone steps. Near the house is a grove which was not even 
in embryo when mother was here. In front of it is a pond, with a 
small island in the middle, connected with the main land by a stone 


bridge. In this delightful spot I had some of the happiest hours which I 
have spent since I quitted my native shores. At " Yankee Hall " l every 
one is sans souci. The air of the place is remarkably propitious both to 
good spirits and good appetites. 8 

In my walks I met with many villagers who recollected Donna Cathe- 
rina, 3 and who testified their affection for her son in such hearty embrassades 
as I am not quite Portuguese enough to relish 

Adieu, my darling sister I know not how I shall be able to send you 
this letter. I shall probably take it with me to London, where opportuni 
ties will be much more frequent, and where your patience will be much 
oftener tried by your sincerely affectionate 



PONTA DELGADA, St. Michael's, March, 1816. 

I am fortunate, my dear Will, in an opportunity of addressing you from 
the orange bowers of St. Michael's, and of acknowledging the receipt of 
your Gazettes, with their budgets scandalous and philosophical. I must 
pronounce you, my friend, the optimus editorum, for, in the language of the 
commentators, you have not left a single desideratum ungratified. It is 
impossible to be too minute. To one absent from home trifles are of im 
portance, and the most petty occurrences are the more acceptable, as they 
transport us into scenes of former happiness, and engage us in the occupa 
tions of those in whom we are the most interested. I was much distressed 
by the death of my two friends. R 's I had anticipated, but the cir 
cumstances which attended it were peculiarly afflicting. Few I believe 
have spent so long a life in so short a period. He certainly had much 
benevolence of disposition ; but there was something uncongenial in his 
temper, which made him unpopular with the mass of his acquaintance. 
If, however, the number of his enemies was great, that of his virtues ex 
ceeded them. Those of us who shared his friendship knew how to appre 
ciate his worth.* P , with less steadiness of principle, had many social 

qualities which endeared him to his friends. The sprightliuess of his fancy 
has beguiled us of many an hour, and the vivacity of his wit, as you well 
know, has often set our table in a roar 

Your letters contain a very alarming list of marriages and matches. If 
the mania continues much longer, I shall find at my return most of my 
fair companions converted into sober matrons. I believe I had better adopt 
your advice, and, to execute it with a little more eclat, persuade some kind 
nun to scale the walls of her convent with me. 

Apropos of nunneries : the novelty of the thing has induced me to visit 
them frequently, but I find that they answer very feebly to those romantic 
notions of purity and simplicity which I had attached to them. Almost 

1 The name of the large house his grandfather had built at the " Caldei- 
ras," remembering his own home. 

2 Elsewhere he calls this visit, " Elysium, four days." 
8 His mother's Christian name. 

* A college friend of great promise who died in England in 1815. 


every nun has a lover ; that is, an innamorato who visits her every day, 
and swears as many oaths of constancy, and imprints as many kisses on the 
grates as ever Pyramus and Thisbe did on the unlucky chink which sepa 
rated them. I was invited the other day to select one of these fair penitents, 
but, as I have no great relish for such a correspondence, I declined th 
politeness, and content myself with a few ogles and sighs en passant. 

It is an interesting employment for the inhabitants of a free country, 
flourishing under the influences of a benign religion, to contemplate the 
degradation to which human nature may be reduced when oppressed by 
arbitrary power and papal .superstition. My observation of the Portuguese 
character. has half inclined me to credit Monboddo's theory, and consider 
the inhabitants in that stage of the metamorphosis when, having lost the 
tails of monkeys, they .have not yet acquired the brains of men. In me 
chanical improvements, and in the common arts and conveniences of life, 
the Portuguese are at least two centuries behind the English, and as to 
literary acquisitions, if, as some writers have pretended, "ignorance is 
bliss," they may safely claim to be the happiest people in the world. 

But, if animated nature is so debased, the beauties of the inanimate cre 
ation cannot be surpassed. During the whole year we have the unruffled 
serenity of June. Such is the temperature of the climate, that, although 
but a few degrees south of Boston, most tropical plants will nourish ; and 
such is the extreme salubrity, that nothing venomous can exist. These 
islands, however, abound in volcanic phenomena. I have seen whole fields 
covered with lava, and most of the mountains still retain the vestiges of 
craters. I have, too, had the pleasure of experiencing an earthquake, 
which shook down a good number of houses, and I hope I shall not soon 
be gratified with a similar exhibition. 

But the most wonderful of the natural curiosities are the hot wells, which 
are very numerous, and of which it would be impossible to give you an 
adequate conception. The fertility of the soil is so great, that they gen 
erally obtain two crops in a year, and now, while you are looking wofully 
out of the window waiting for the last stroke of the bell before you en 
counter the terrific snow-banks which threaten you, with us the myrtle, the 
rose, the pomegranate, the lemon and orange groves are in perfection, and 
the whole country glowing in full bloom. Indeed, there is everything 
which can catch the poet's eye, but you know, Sine Venere, friget Apollo, 
and, until some Azorian nymph shall warm my heart into love, the beau 
ties of nature will hardly warm my imagination into poesy. 

I must confess, however, that friendship induced me to make an effort 
this way. I have been confined to my chamber for some time by an indis 
position ; and while in duress I commenced a poetical effusion to you, and 
had actually completed a page, when, recovering my liberty, there were so 
many strange objects to attract the attention, and I thought it so much less 
trouble to manufacture bad prose than bad poetry, that I dismounted from 
Pegasus, whom, by the by, I found a confounded hard trotter. Now, as 
you are professedly one of the genus irritabile, I think you cannot employ 
your leisure better than in serving me an Horatian dish secundum artcm. 
Give my wannest affection to your father, mother, and sisters, and be 
assured, my dear Will, whether rhyme or reason, your epistles will ever 
confer the highest gratification on your friend, 




ST. MICHAEL'S, March 15, 1816. 

I cannot regret, my beloved parents, that the opportunities of writing 
have not been more frequent; for, although it would be cruel to inform 
you of distresses, while actually existing, which it was not in your power 
to alleviate, yet it is so soothing to the mind to communicate its griefs, that 
I doubt if I could refrain from it. 

The windows in Rosto de Cao are constructed on much the same prin 
ciple as our barn-doors. Their uncharitable quantity of light and a slight 
cold increased the inflammation with which I landed to such a degree, 
that, as I could not soften the light by means of blinds, which are unknown 
here, I was obliged to exclude it altogether by closing the shutters. The 
same cause retarded my recovery; for, as the sun introduced himself sans 
ce're'monie whenever I attempted to admit the light, I was oMiged to remain 
in darkness until we removed to the city, where I was accommodated with 
a room which had a northern aspect, and, by means of different thicknesses 
of baize nailed to the windows, I was again restored to the cheering beams 
of heaven. This confinement lasted from the 1st of November to the 1st 
of February, and during six weeks of it I was in such total darkness it was 
impossible to distinguish objects in the room. Much of this time has been 
beguiled of its tediousness by the attentions of A and H , particu 
larly the latter, who is a charming creature, and whom I regard as a second 

I have had an abundance of good prescriptions. Grandfather has strongly 
urged old Madeira as a universal nostrum, and my good uncle the doctor 
no less strenuously recommended beef-steak. I took their advice, for it 
cost me nothing ; but, as following it cost me rather too dear, I adhered 
with Chinese obstinacy to bread and milk, hasty pudding, and gruel. This 
diet and the application of blisters was the only method I adopted to pre 
serve my eye from inflammation. 

I have not often, my dear parents, experienced depression of spirits, and 
there have been but few days in which I could not solace my sorrows with 
a song. I preserved my health by walking on the piazza with a handker 
chief tied over a pair of goggles, which were presented to me by a gentle 
man here, and by walking some hundreds of miles in my room, so that I 
emerged from my dungeon, not with the emaciated figure of a prisoner, 
but in the florid bloom of a bon vivant. Indeed, everything has been done 
which could promote my health and happiness ; but darkness has few 
charms for those in health, and a long confinement must exhaust the 
patience of all but those who are immediately interested in us. A person 
situated as I have been can be really happy nowhere but at home, for 
where but at home can he experience the affectionate solicitude of parents. 
But the gloom is now dissipated, and my eyes have nearly recovered their 
former vigor. I am under no apprehension of a relapse, as I shall soon 
be wafted to a land where the windows arc of Christian dimensions, and 
the medical advice such as may be relied upon. 

The most unpleasant of my reflections suggested by this late inflamma 
tion arc those arising from the probable necessity of abandoning a profes- 


sion congenial with my taste, and recommended by such favorable oppor 
tunities, and adopting one for which I am ill qualified, and have but little 
inclination. It is some consolation, however, that this latter alternative, 
should my eyes permit, will afford me more leisure for the pursuit of my 
favorite studies. But on this subject I shall consult my physician, and 
will write you his opinion. My mind has not been wholly stagnant dur 
ing my residence here. By means of the bright eyes of H I have 

read part of Scott, Shakespeare, Travels through England and Scotland, 

the Iliad, and the Odyssey. A has read some of the Grecian and 

Roman histories, and I have cheated many a moment of its tedium by 
composition, which was soon banished from my mind for want of ao 




HIS relations to the family of his venerable grandfather 
at St. Michael' s, as the preceding letters show, were of 
the most agreeable kind, and the effect produced by his charac 
ter on all its members, old and young, was the same that it 
produced on everybody. They all loved him. His grand 
mother, with whom, from the difference of their languages, he 
could have had a less free intercourse than with the rest, wept 
bitterly when he left them ; and his patriarchal grandfather, 
who had, during his long life, been called to give up several of 
his house to the claims of the world, pressed him often in his 
arms on the beach, and, as the tears rolled down his aged 
cheeks, cried out, in the bitterness of his heart, " God knows, it 
never cost me more to part from any of my own children." 

On the 8th of April, 1816, he embarked for London. His 
acute rheumatism and the consequent inflammation in his eye 
recurred almost of course, from the exposures incident to a sea 
life with few even of the usual allowances of sea comforts. 
He was, therefore, heartily glad when, after a passage pro 
longed to four and twenty days, two and twenty of which he 
had been confined to his state-room, and kept on the most 
meagre fare, his suffering eye rested on the green fields of old 

In London he placed himself in the hands of Dr. Farre ; of 
Mr. Cooper, afterwards Sir Astley Cooper ; and of Sir William 
Adams, the oculist. He could not, perhaps, have done better. 
But his case admitted of no remedy and few alleviations ; for 


it was ascertained, at once, that the eye originally injured was 
completely paralyzed, and that for the other little could be 
done except to add to its strength by strengthening the whole 
physical system. He followed, however, as he almost always 
did, even when his hopes were the faintest, all the prescriptions 
that were given him, and submitted conscientiously to the pri 
vations that were imposed. He saw few persons that could 
much interest him, because evening society was forbidden, and 
he went to public places and exhibitions rarely, and to the 
theatre never, although he was sorely tempted by the farewell 
London performances of Mrs. Siddons and Mr. John Kemble. 
A friend begged him to use an excellent library as if it were 
his own ; " but," he wrote to his father and mother, " when I 
look into a Greek or Latin book, I experience much the same 
sensation one does who looks on the face of a dead friend, and 
the tears not infrequently steal into my eyes." He made a 
single excursion from London. It was to Richmond ; visiting 
at the same time Slough, where he saw Herschel's telescopes, 
Eton, Windsor, and Hampton Court, all with Mr. John 
Quincy Adams, then our Minister at the Court of St. James. 
It was an excursion which he mentions with great pleasure in 
one of his letters. He could, indeed, hardly have made it 
more agreeably or more profitably. But this was his only 
pleasure of the sort. 

A fresh and eager spirit, however, like his, could not stand 
amidst the resources of a metropolis so magnificent as London 
without recognizing their power. Enjoyments, therefore, he 
certainly had, and, if they were rare, they were high. Noth 
ing in the way of art struck him so much as the Elgin Mar 
bles and the Cartoons of Raphael. Of the first, which he 
visited as often as he dared to do so, he says, " There are few 
living beings in whose society I have experienced so much real 
pleasure," and of the last, that " they pleased him a great deal 
more than the Stafford collection." It may, as it seems to me, 
be fairly accounted remarkable, that one whose taste in sculp 
ture and painting could not have been cultivated at home 
should at once have felt the supremacy of those great works 
of ancient and modern art, then much less acknowledged 
than it is now, and even yet, perhaps, not so fully confessed 
ajs it will b,e. 


He \vent frequently to the public libraries and to the princi 
pal booksellers' shops, full of precious editions of the classics 
which he had found it so difficult to obtain in his own country, 
and which he so much coveted now. But of everything con 
nected with books his enjoyment was necessarily imperfect. 
At this period he rarely opened them. He purchased a few, 
however, trusting to the future, as he always did. 

Early in August he went over to Paris, and remained there, 
or in its neighborhood, until October. But Paris could hardly 
be enjoyed by him so much as London, where his mother 
tongue made everything seem familiar in a way that nothing 
else can. He saw, indeed, a good deal of what is external ; 
although, even in this, he was checked by care for his eye, and 
by at least one decided access of inflammation. Anything, how 
ever, beyond the most imperfect view of what he visited was 
out of the question. 

The following winter, which he passed in Italy, was proba 
bly beneficial to his health, so far as his implacable enemy, the 
rheumatism, was concerned, and certainly it was full of enjoy 
ment. He travelled with his old schoolfellow and friend, Mr. 
John Chipman Gray, who did much to make the journey pleas 
ant to him. After leaving Paris, they first stopped a day at La 
Grange to pay their respects to General Lafayette, and then 
went by Lyons, the Mont Cenis, Turin, Genoa, Milan, Venice, 
Bologna, and Florence to Rome. In Home they remained 
about six weeks ; after which, giving a month to Naples, they 
returned through Rome to Florence, and, embarking at Leg 
horn for Marseilles, made a short visit to Nismes, not forget 
ting Avignon and Vaucluse, and then hastened by Fontaine- 
bleau to Paris, where they arrived on the 30th of March. It 
was the customary route, and the young travellers saw what all 
travellers see, neither more nor less, and enjoyed it as all do 
who have cultivation like theirs and good taste. In a letter 
written to me the next year, when I was myself in Italy, he 
speaks with great interest of his visit there, and seems to regret 
Naples more than any other portion of that charming country. 
But twenty and also forty years later, when I was again in 
Italy, his letters to me were full, not of Naples, but of Rome. 
." Rome is the place," he said, " that -lingers longest, I suppose, 


in everybody's recollection ; at least, it is the brightest of all I 
saw in Europe." This was natural. It was the result of the 
different vistas through which, at widely different periods of his 
life, he looked back upon what he had so much enjoyed. 

One tiling, however, in relation to his Italian journeyings, 
though not remarkable at the time, appears singular now, 
when it is seen in the light of his subsequent career. He 
passed over the battle-fields of Gonsalvo de Cordova, and all 
that made the Spanish arms in Italy so illustrious in the time 
of Ferdinand and Isabella, without a remark, and, I suppose, 
without a thought. But, as he often said afterwards, and, 
indeed, more than once wrote to me, he was then fresli from 
the classical studies he so much loved ; Horace and Livy, I 
know, were suspended in the net of his travelling-carriage ; 
and he thought more, I doubt not, of Caesar and Cicero, Virgil 
and Tacitus, than of all the moderns put together. 

Indeed, the moderns were, in one sense, beyond his reach. 
He was unable to give any of his time to the language or the 
literature of Italy, so wholly were his eyes unfitted for use. 
But he was content with what his condition permitted ; to 
walk about among the ruins of earlier ages, and occasionally 
look up a passage in an ancient classic to explain or illustrate 
them. The genius loci was at his side wherever he went, and 
showed him things invisible to mortal sight. As he said in one 
of his letters to me, it was to him " all a sacred land," and 
the mighty men of old stood before him in the place of the 

A few days after he reached Paris, April 7, I arrived there 
from Germany, where I had been passing nearly two years ; 
and, as we both had accidentally the same banker, our lodgings 
had been engaged for us at the same hotel. In this way he 
was one of the very first persons I saw when I alighted. His 
parlor, I found, was darkened, and his eye was still too sensi 
tive for any healthy use of it ; but his spirits were light, and 
his enthusiasm about his Italian journey was quite contagious. 
We walked a little round the city together, and dined that day 
with our hospitable banker very gayly. But this was the last 
of his pleasures in Paris. When we reached our hotel, he 
complained of feeling unwell, and I was so much alarmed by 


the state of his pulse that I went personally for his physician, 
and brought him back with me, fearing, as it was already late 
at night, that there might otherwise be some untoward delay. 
The result showed that I had not been unreasonably anxious. 
The most active treatment was instantly adopted, and absolute 
quiet prescribed. I watched with him that night ; and, as I 
had yet made no acquaintances in Paris, and felt no interest 
there, so strong as my interest in him, I shut myself up with 
him, and thought little of what was outside the walls of our 
hotel till he was better. 

I was, in fact, much alarmed. Nor was he insensible to his 
position, which the severity of the remedies administered left 
no doubt was a critical one. But he maintained his composure 
throughout, begging me, however, not to tell him that his 
illness was dangerous unless I should think it indispensable to 
do so. In three or four days my apprehensions were relieved. 
In eight or ten more, during which I was much with him, he 
was able to go out, and in another week he was restored. But 
it was in that dark room that I first learned to know him as I 
have never known any other person beyond the limits of my 
immediate family ; and it was there that was first formed a 
mutual regard over which, to the day of his death, a period 
of above forty years, no cloud ever passed. 

In the middle of May, after making a pleasant visit of a 
week to Mr. Daniel Parker 1 at Draveil, he left Paris, and 
went, by the way of Brighton, to London, where he remained 
about six weeks, visiting anew, so far as his infirmities would 
permit, what was most interesting to him, and listening more 
than he had done before to debates in the House of Lords and 
the House of Commons. But the country gave him more 
pleasure than the city. His eyes suffered less there, and, 
besides, he was always sensible to what is beautiful in nature. 
Two excursions that he made gratified him very much. One 

1 Mr, Parker was an American gentleman, who lived very pleasantly on a 
fine estate at Draveil, near Paris. Mr. Prescott was more than once at his 
hospitable chateau, and enjoyed his visits there much. It was there he first 
became acquainted with Mr. Charles King, subsequently distinguished in 
political life and as the President of Columbia College, who, after the death 
of the historian, pronounced a just and beautiful eulogium on him before tha 
New- York Historical Society, Feb. 1st, 1859. 


was to Oxford, Blenheim, and the "Wye ; in which the Gothic 
architecture of New-College Chapel and the graceful ruins of 
Tintern Abbey, with the valley in which they stand, most 
attracted his admiration, the last " surpassing," as he said, 
" anything of the sort he had ever seen." He came back by 
Salisbury, and then almost immediately went to Cambridge, 
where he was more interested by the manuscripts of Milton 
and Newton than by anything else, unless, perhaps, it were 
King's College Chapel. But, after all, this visit to England 
was very unsatisfactory. He spoke to me in one of his letters 
of being " invigorated by the rational atmosphere of London," 
in comparison with his life on the Continent. But still the 
state of his eyes, and even of his general health, deprived him 
of many enjoyments which his visit would otherwise have 
afforded him. He was, therefore, well pleased to turn his face 
towards the comforts of home. 

Of all tin's, pleasant intimations may be found in the follow 
ing letter to his friend Gardiner : 

LONDON, 29th May, 1817. 

I never felt ia my life more inclined to scold any one, my dear Gardi 
ner, than I do to scold you at present, and I should not let you off so ea 
sily but that my return will prevent the benefits of a reformation. You 
have ere this received a folio of hieroglyphics which I transmitted to you 
from Home. 2 To read them, I am aware, is impossible ; for, as I was 
folding them up, I had occasion to refer to something, and found myself 
utterly unable to decipher my own writing. I preferred, however, to send 
them, for, although unintelligible, they would at least be a substantial 
evidence to my friend that I had not forgotten him. As you probably 
have been made acquainted with my route by my family, I shall not 
trouble you with the details. 

Notwithstanding the many and various objects which Italy possesses, 
they are accompanied with so many de'sagre'mens, poor inns, worse roads, 
and, above all, the mean spirit and dishonesty of its inhabitants, that 
we could not regret the termination of our tour. I was disappointed in 
France, that is to say, the country. That part of it which I have seen, 
excepting Marseilles, Nismcs, Avignon, and Lyons, possesses few beau 
ties of nature, and little that is curious or worthy of remark. Paris is 
everything in France. It is certainly unique. With a great parade of 
science and literary institutions, it unites a constant succession of frivolities 
and public amusements. I was pleased as long as the novelty lasted, and 
satiated in less than two months. The most cheerful mind must become 
dull amidst unintermitted gayety and dissipation, unless it is constructed 
upon a French anatomy. 

2 Written with his noctograph. 


I left in a retired part of the city, diligently occupied with the 

transition of the Roman language into the Italian, and with the ancient 
French Provencal dialect. There are some men who can unravel prob 
lems in the midst of a ball-room. In the fall goes down to Italy. 

I have now been a fortnight in London. Its sea-coal atmosphere is 
extremely favorable to my health. I am convinced, however, that travel 
ling is pernicious, and, instead of making the long tour of Scotland, shall 
content myself with excursions to the principal counties and manufactur 
ing towns in England. In a couple of months I hope to embark, and 
shall soon have the pleasure of recapitulating with you, my friend, my 
perils and experiences, and treading in retrospection the classic ground of 
Italy. I sincerely hope you may one day visit a country which contains 
so much that is interesting to any man of liberal education 

I anticipate with great pleasure the restoration to my friends ; to those 
domestic and social enjoyments which are little known in the great capi 
tals of Europe. Pray give my warmest regards to your father, mother, 
and sisters, and n'oubliez jamais 

Your sincerely affectionate 





HE embarked from England for home at midsummer, and 
arrived before the heats of our hot season were over. His 
affectionate mother had arranged everything for his reception that 
could insure the rest he needed, and the alleviations which, for an 
invalid such as he was, can never be found except in the bo?om 
of his family. Fresh paper and paint were put on his own 
room, and everything external was made bright and cheerful to 
welcome his return. But it was all a mistake. His eye, to 
the great disappointment of his friends, had not been strength 
ened during his absence, and could ill bear the colors that had 
been provided to cheer him. The white paint was, therefore, 
forthwith changed to gray, and the walls and carpet became 
green. But neither was this thought enough. A charming 
country-house was procured, since Nature furnishes truer car 
pets and hangings than the upholsterer ; but the house was 
damp from its cool position, and from the many trees that sur 
rounded it. 1 His old enemy, the rheumatism, therefore, set in 
with renewed force ; and in three days, just as his father was 
driving out to dine, for the first time, in their rural home, he 
met them all hurrying back to the house in town, where they 
remained nearly two years, finding it better for the invalid than 

1 This account is taken from the memoranda of his sister, Mrs. Dexter, 
whose graceful words I have sometimes used both here and elsewhere in the 
next few pages. 


any other. It was a large, comfortable old mansion in Bedford 
Street, and stood where the Second Congregational Church now 

The winter of 1817-18 he passed wholly at home. As he 
wrote to me, his " eyes made him a very domestic, retired man." 
He avoided strong light as much as he could ; and, extravagantly 
as he loved society, indulged himself in it not at all, because he 
found, or rather because he thought he found, its excitements in 
jurious to him. But his old schoolfellow and friend Gardiner, 
who was then a student-at-law in the elder Mr. Prescott's office, 
read some of his favorite classics with him a part of each day ; 
and his sister, three years younger than he was, shut herself up 
with him the rest of it, in the most devoted and affectionate man 
ner, reading to him sometimes six or even eight hours consecu 
tively. On these occasions he used to place himself in the corner 
of the room, with his face to the angle made by the walls, and his 
back to the light. Adjusted thus, they read history and poetry, 
often very far into the night, and, although the reader, as she 
tells me, sometimes dozed, he never did. It was a great enjoy 
ment to them both, to her, one of the greatest of her life ; 
but it was found too much for her strength, and the father and 
mother interfered to restrain and regulate what was unreason 
able in the indulgence. 

It was during this period that he made his first literary ad 
venture. The North- American Review had then been in exist 
ence two or three years, and was already an extremely respect 
able journal, with which some of his friends were connected. 
It offered a tempting opportunity for the exercise of his powers, 
and he prepared an article for it. The project was a deep 
secret ; and when the article was finished, it was given to his 
much trusted sister to copy. He felt, she thinks, some misgiv 
ings, but on the whole looked with favor on his first-born. It 
was sent anonymously to the club of gentlemen who then man 
aged the Review, and nothing was heard in reply for a week or 
more. The two who were in the secret began, therefore, to 
consider their venture safe, and the dignity of authorship, his 
sister says, seemed to be creeping over him, when one day he 
brought back the article to her, saying : " There ! it is good for 
nothing. They refuse it. I was a fool to send it." The sister 


was offended. But he was not. He only cautioned her not to 
tell of his failure. 

He was now nearly twenty-two years old, and it was time to 
consider what should be his course in life. So far as the pro 
fession of the law was concerned, this question had been sub 
stantially settled by circumstances over which he had no con 
trol. His earliest misgivings on the subject seemed to have 
occurred during his long and painful confinement at St. Mi 
chael's, and may be found in a letter, before inserted, which 
was written March 15th, 1816. 

A little later, after consulting eminent members of the medi 
cal profession in London, he wrote more decisively and more 
despondingly : " 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, and am afraid I shall never be able to draw upon 
my mind to any large amount," a singular prophecy, when we 
consider that his subsequent life for nearly forty years was a 
persistent contradiction of it. 

After his return home this important question became, of 
course, still more pressing, and was debated in the family with 
constantly increasing anxiety. At the same time he began to 
doubt whether the purely domestic life he was leading was the 
best for him. The experiment of a year's seclusion, he was 
satisfied, and so were his medical advisers, had resulted in no 
improvement to his sight, and promised nothing for the future 
if it should be continued. He began, therefore, to go abroad, 
gradually and cautiously at first, but afterwards freely. No 
harm followed, and from this time, except during periods when 
there was some especial inflammation of the eye, he always 
mingled freely in a wide range of society, giving and receiving 
great pleasure. 

The consequence followed that might have been anticipated 
from a nature at once so susceptible and so attractive. He soon 
found one to whom he was glad to intrust the happiness of his 
life. Nor was he disappointed in his hopes ; for, if there was 
ever a devoted wife, or a tender and grateful husband, they 
were to be found in the home which this union made happy. 

3 D 


As he said in a letter long afterwards, " Contrary to the asset 
tion of La Bruyere, 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." And so it continued to the last. I 
am sure that none who knew them will think me mistaken. 
The lady was Susan, daughter of Thomas C. Amory, Esq., a 
successful and cultivated merchant, who died in 1812, and of 
Hannah Linzee, his wife, who survived him, enjoying the great 
happiness of her child, until 1845. 

In the summer of 1819 I returned from Europe, after an 
absence of more than four years. The first friends who wel 
comed me in my home, on the day of my arrival, were the 
Prescott family; and the first house I visited was theirs, in 
which from that day I was always received as if I were of 
their kin and blood. William was then in the freshest glow 
of a young happiness which it was delightful to witness, and 
of which he thought for some months much more than he did 
of anything else. I saw him constantly ; but it was apparent 
that, although he read a good deal, or rather listened to a good 
deal of reading, he studied very little, or not at all. Real work 
was out of the question. He was much too happy for it. 

On the evening of the 4th of May, 1820, which was his 
twenty-fourth birthday, he was married at the house of Mrs. 
Amory, in Franklin Place. It was a wedding with a supper, 
in the old-fashioned style, somewhat solemn and stately at first; 
many elderly people being of the party, and especially an aged 
grandmother of the bride, whose presence enforced something 
of formality. But later in the evening our gayety was free 
in proportion to the restraints that had previously been laid 
upon it 2 

The young couple went immediately to the house of the 
Prescott family in Bedford Street, the same house, by a 

* Prescott always liked puns, and made a good many of them, generally 
very bad. But one may be recorded. It was apropos of his ma*riage to M : ss 
Amory, for which, when he was joked by some of his young bachelor friends 
aa a deserter from their ranks, he shook his finger at them, and repeated th 
adage of Virgil: 

Omnia vlncit Amor, et nos cedamus Amori." 


pleasant coincidence, in which Miss Linzee, the mother of the 
bride, had been married to Mr. Amory five and twenty years 
before ; and there they lived as long as that ample and com 
fortable old mansion stood. 8 

Another coincidence connected with this marriage should be 
added, although it was certainly one that augured little of the 
happiness that followed. The grandfathers of Mr. Prescott 
and Miss Amory had been engaged on opposite sides during 
the war for American Independence, and even on opposite 
sides in the same fight ; Colonel Prescott having commanded 
on Bunker Hill, while Captain Linzee, of the sloop-of-war 
Falcon, cannonaded him and his redoubt from the waters of 
Charles River, where the Falcon was moored during the whole 
of the battle. The swords that had been worn by the soldier 
and the sailor on that memorable day came down as heirlooms 
in their respective families, until at last they met in the library 
of the man of letters, where, quietly crossed above his books, 
they often excited the notice alike of strangers and of friends. 
After his death they were transferred, as he had desired, to 
the Historical Society of Massachusetts, on whose walls they 
have become the memorials at once of a hard-fought field and 
of " victories no less renowned than those of war." A more 
appropriate resting-place for them could not have been found. 
And there, we trust, they may rest in peace so long as the two 
nations shall exist, trophies, indeed, of the past, but warn 
ings for the future.* 

At the time of his marriage 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, by 
those who remember him at that period, 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 flush on his cheek that kept for him to the last an ap 
pearance of comparative youth, but, above all, with a smile 
that was the most absolutely contagious I ever looked upon. 

8 It was pulled down in 1845, and we all sorrowed for it, and for the yen- 
erable trees by which it was surrounded. 
* See Appendix B. 


As he grew older, he stooped a little. His father's figure was 
bent at even an earlier age, but it was from an organic in 
firmity of the chest, unknown to the constitution of the son, who 
stooped chiefly from a downward inclination which he instinc 
tively gave to his head so as to protect his eye from the light. 
But his manly character and air were always, to a remarkable 
degree, the same. 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 
death. Indeed, take him for all in all, I think no man ever 
walked our streets, as he did day by day, that attracted such 
regard and good-will from so many ; for, however few he might 
know, there were very many that knew him, and watched him 
with unspoken welcomes as he passed along. 

A little before his marriage he had, with a few friends 
nearly of his own age and of similar tastes, instituted a club 
for purposes both social and literary. Their earliest informal 
gathering was in June, 1818. On the first evening they num 
bered nine, and on the second, twelve. Soon, the number was 
still further enlarged ; but only twenty-four were at any time 
brought within its circle ; and of these, after an interval of 
above forty years, eleven still survive (1862). 5 

8 The names of the members of this genial, scholarlike little club were, 
*Alexander Bliss, William Powell Mason, 

*John Brazer, John Gorham Palfrey, 

*George Augustus Frederic Dawson, Theophilus Parsons, 
*Franklin Dexter, Octavius Pickering, 

Samuel Atkins Eliot, *William Hickling Prescott, 
*WiI!iam Havard Eliot, Jared Sparks, 

Charles Folsom, *\Villiam Jones Spooner, 

William Howard Gardiner, *Jonathan Maybe w Waiuwright, 

John Chipman Gray, John Ware, 

Francis William Pitt Greenwood, Henry Warren, 

*Enoch Hale, * Martin Whiting, 

Charles Greely Loring, *Francis William Winthrop. 

Those marked with an asterisk are dead; but it may be worth notice that, 
although several of the most_promising members of the club died so young 
that the time for their distinction never came, more than half of the whole 
number have been known as authors, no one of whom has failed to do 
credit to the association in which his youth, in part at least, was trained. 


Prescott, from his happy, social nature, as well as from his 
love of letters, was eminently fitted to be one of the members 
of such a club, and rarely failed to be present at its meetings, 
which he always enjoyed. In their earliest days, after the 
fashion of such youthful societies, they read papers of their 
own composition, and amused themselves by criticising one 
another, and sometimes their neighbors. As a natural conse 
quence of such intercourse, it was not long before they began 
to think that a part, at least, of what they had written was too 
good to be confined to their own meetings ; and chiefly, I 
believe, under Prescott's leading, they determined to institute 
a periodical, or rather a work which should appear at uncer 
tain intervals, and be as little subject to rules and restrictions 
of any sort as their own gay meetings were. At any rate, if 
he were not the first to suggest the project, he was the most 
earnest in promoting it after it was started, and was naturally 
enough, both from his leisure and his tastes, made editor. 

It was called " The Club-Room," and the first number was 
published February oth, 1820. But its life, though it seems to 
have been a merry one, was short ; for the fourth and last 
number appeared on the 19th of July of the same year. Nor 
was there any especial reason to lament its fate as untimely. 
It was not better than the average of such publications, perhaps 
not so good. Prescott, I think, brought but three contributions 
to it. The first is the leading article in the second number, 
and gives, not without humor, an account of the way in which 
the first number had been received when it was ushered into a 
busy, bustling world, too careless of such claims to its notice. 
The others were tales ; one of which, entitled " The Vale of 
Alleriot," was more sentimental than he would have liked later ; 
and one, " Calais," was a story which Allston, our great artist, 
used to tell with striking effect. Neither of them had anything 
characteristic of what afterwards distinguished their author, and 
neither could be expected to add much to the popular success 
of such a publication. The best of the contributions to it were, 
I think, three by Mr. Franklin Dexter, his brother-in-law ; two 
entitled " Recollections," and the other, " The Ruins of Rome " ; 6 
the very last being, in fact, a humorous anticipation of the mean 
See a notice of him in the account of the Prescott Family, Appendix (A). 


and miserable appearance Boston would make, if its chief edi 
fices should crumble away, and become what those of the mis 
tress of the ancient world are now. "And here ended this 
precious publication," as its editor, apparently with a slight 
feeling of vexation, recorded its failure. Not that he could be 
much mortified at its fate ; for, if it was nothing else, it was an 
undertaking creditable to the young men who engaged in it so 
as to accustom themselves to write for the public, and it had, 
besides, not only enlivened their evenings, but raised the tone 
of their intercourse with each other. 7 

When the last number of " The Club-Room " appeared, its 
editor had been married two months. The world was before 
him. Not only was his decision made to give up the law as a 
profession, but he had become aware that he must find some 
other serious occupation to take its place ; for he was one of those 
who early discover that labor is the condition of happiness, 
and even of content, in this world. His selection of a pursuit, 
however, was not suddenly made. It could not be. Many 
circumstances in relation to it were to be weighed, and he 

1 I cannot refuse my readers or myself the pleasure of inserting here a 
faithful account of Prescott's relations to this club, given to me by one of its 
original founders and constant supporters, in some sketches already referred 
to; I mean his friend Mr. William H. Gardiner. 

" The club formed in 1818, for literary and social objects combined, at first 
a stipper and afterwards a dinner club, was, to the end of our friend's days, 
a period of more than forty years, a source of high enjoyment to him. 
It came to be a peculiar association, because composed of men of nearly the 
same age, who grew up together in those habits of easy, familiar intercourse 
which can hardly exist except where the foundations are laid in very young 
days. He was, from the first, a leading spirit there, latterly quite the life 
and soul of the little company, and an object of particular affection as well 
as pride. He was always distinguished there by some particular sobriquet. 
At first we used to call him ' the gentleman,' from the circumstance of his 
being the only member who had neither profession nor ostensible pursuit. 
For many years he was called ' the editor,' from his having assumed to edit, 
in its day, the little magazine that has been mentioned, called ' The Club- 
Room.' Finally, he won the more distinguished title of ' the historian,' and 
was often so addressed in the familiar talk of the club. It comprised several 
of Mr. Prescott's most intimate personal friends. The most perfect freedom 
prevailed there. All sorts of subjects took their turn of discussion. So that, 
were it possible to recall particulars of his conversations at these meetings, 
extending through two thirds of his whole life, the reader would gain a very 
perfect idea of him as a social man. But the tirta Trrepoffra are too fleeting 
for reproduction; and even their spirit and effect can hardly be gathered 
from mere general descriptions." 


had many misgivings, and hesitated long. But his tastes and 
employments had always tended in one direction, and therefore, 
although the decision might be delayed, the result was all but 
inevitable. He chose a life of literary occupation ; and it was 
well that he chose it so deliberately, for he had time, before 
he entered on its more serious labors, to make an estimate of the 
difficulties that he must encounter in the long path stretched out 
before him. 

In this way he became fully aware, that, owing to the in 
firmity under which he had now suffered during more than 
six of the most important years of his life, he had much to do 
before he could hope even to begin a career that should end 
with such success as is worth striving for. In many respects, 
the very foundations were to be laid, and his first thought 
was that they should be laid deep and sure. He had never 
neglected his classical studies, and now he gave himself afresh 
to them during a fixed portion of each day. But his more 
considerable deficiencies were in all modern literature. Of 
the English he had probably read as much as most persons 
of his age and condition, or rather it had been read to him ; 
but this had been chiefly for his amusement in hours of pain 
and darkness, not as a matter of study, and much less upon 
a regular system. French he had spoken a little, though not 
well, while he was in France and Italy ; but he knew almost 
nothing of French literature. And of Italian and Spanish, 
though he had learnt something as a school-boy, it had been 
in a thoughtless and careless way, and, after the injury to his 
sight, both of them had been neglected. The whole, therefore, 
was not to be relied upon ; and most young men at the age of 
four or five and twenty would have been disheartened at the 
prospect of attempting to recover so much lost ground, and to 
make up for so many opportunities that had gone by never to 
return. When to this is added the peculiar discouragement 
that seemed almost to shut out knowledge by its main entrance, 
it would have been no matter of reproach to his courage or his 
manhood, if he had turned away from the undertaking as one 
beyond his strength. 

But it is evident that he only addressed himself to his task 
with the more earnestness and resolution. He began, I think 


wisely, with the English, being willing to go back to the very 
elements, and on the 30th of October, 1821, made a memoran 
dum that he would undertake "a course of studies" involving 

" 1. Principles of grammar, correct writing, &c. ; 

" 2. Compendious history of North America ; 

"3. Fine prose-writers of English from Roger Ascham to 
the present day, principally with reference to their mode of 
writing, not including historians, except as far as requisite 
for an acquaintance with style ; 

" 4. Latin classics one hour a day." 

The American history he did not immediately touch ; but 
on the rest he entered at once, and carried out his plan vigor 
ously. He studied, as if he had been a school-boy, Blair's 
Rhetoric, Lindley Murray's Grammar, and the prefatory mat 
ter to Johnson's Dictionary, for the grammatical portion of his 
task ; and then he took up the series of good English writers, 
beginning with Ascham, Sir Philip Sidney, Bacon, Browne, 
Raleigh, and Milton, and coming down to our own times, 
not often reading the whole of any one author, but enough of 
each to obtain, what he more especially sought, an idea of his 
style and general characteristics. Occasionally he noted down 
his opinion of them, not always such an opinion as he would 
have justified or entertained later in life, but always such as 
showed a spirit of observation and a purpose of improvement. 
Thus, under the date of November, 1821, he says : 

" Finished Eoger Ascham's ' Schoolmaster.' Style vigorous and pol 
ished, and even euphonious, considering the period ; his language often 
nngrammatical, inelegant, and with the Latin idiom. He was one of the 
first who were bold and wise enough to write English prose. He dislikes 
rhyme, and thinks iambics the proper quantity for English verse. Hence 
blank verse. He was a critical scholar, but too fastidious. 

" Milton, ' Reasons of Church Government.' Style vigorous, figurative 
to conceit ; a rich and sublime imagination ; often coarse, harsh ; constant 
use of Latin idiom ; inversion. He is very bold, confident in his own 
talent, with close, unrelenting argument ; upon the whole, giving the reader 
a higher idea of his sturdy principle than of his affections." 

In this way he continued nearly a year occupying himself 
with the good English prose-writers, and, among the rest, with 
the great preachers, Taylor, Tillotson, and Barrow, but not 
stopping until he had come down to Jeffrey and Gifford, whom 


he marked as the leading critics of our period. But during 
all this time, he gave his daily hour to the principal Latin 
classics, especially Tacitus, Livy, and Cicero ; taking care, as 
he says, to " observe their characteristic physiognomies, not 
style and manner as much as sentiments, &c." 

Having finished this course, he turned next to the French, 
going, as he intimates, " deeper and wider," because his purpose 
was not, as in the Latin, to strengthen his knowledge, but to 
form an acquaintance with the whole of French literature, 
properly so called. He" went back, therefore, as far as Frois- 
sart, and did not stop until he had come down to Chateaubriand. 
It was a good deal of it read by himself in the forenoons, thus 
saving much time ; for in 1822-1823, except when occasional 
inflammation occurred, his eye was in a condition to do him 
more service than it had done him for many years, and he hus 
banded its resources so patiently, and with so much care, that 
he rarely lost anything by imprudence. 

But French literature did not satisfy him as English had 
done. He found it less rich, vigorous, and original. He, 
indeed, enjoyed Montaigne, and admired Pascal, whom he 
preferred to Bossuet or to Fenelon, partly, I think, for the same 
reasons that led him to prefer Comeille to Racine. But La- 
fontaine and Moliere stood quite by themselves in his estima 
tion, although in some respects, and especially in the delineation 
of a particular humor or folly, he placed Ben Jonson before 
the great French dramatist. The forms of French poetry, and 
the rigorous system of rhymes enforced in its tragedies, were 
more than commonly distasteful to him. 

While, however, he was thus occupied with French litera 
ture as a matter of serious study during parts of 1822 and 1823, 
he listened to a good deal of history read to him in a miscel 
laneous way for his amusement, and went through a somewhat 
complete course of the old English drama from Heywood to 
Dryden, accompanying it with the corresponding portions of 
August Wilhelm Schlegel's Lectures, which he greatly relished. 
During the same period, too, we read together, at my house, 
three or four afternoons in each week, the Northern Antiqui 
ties, published by Weber, Jamieson, and Scott, in 1815 ; a good 
many of the old national romances in Ritson and Ellis, Sir 


Tristrem, Percy's Reliques, and portions of other similar col 
lections, all relating either to the very earliest English lit 
erature or to its connection with the Scandinavian and the Teu 
tonic. It was his first adventure in this direction, and he 
enjoyed it not a little, the more, perhaps, because he was 
then going on with the French, in which he took less interest. 

In the autumn of 1823, following out the same general 
purpose to which he had now devoted two years, he began 
the Italian. At first he only read such books as would soonest 
make him familiar with the language, and so much of Sis- 
mondi's " Litterature du Midi ' as would give him an outline 
of the whole field. Afterwards he took Ginguene and some 
times Tiraboschi for his guide, and went over an extraordinary 
amount of poetry, rather than prose, from Dante, and even from 
the " Poeti del Primo Secolo," to Metastasio, Alfieri, and Monti. 
It seems quite surprising how much he got through with, and it 
would be almost incredible, if his notes on it were not full and 
decisive. He wrote, in fact, more upon Italian literature than 
he had written upon either the English or the French, and it 
made apparently a much deeper impression upon him than the 
last. At different times he even thought of devoting a large 
part of his life to its study ; and, excepting what he has done 
in relation to Spanish history, nothing of all he has published 
is so matured and satisfactory as two articles in the " North- 
American Review " : one on Italian Narrative Poetry, pub 
lished in October, 1824, and another on Italian Poetry and 
Romance, published in July, 1831, both to be noticed hereafter. 

With what spirit and in what tone he carried on at this time 
the studies which produced an effect so permanent on his literary 
tastes and character will be better shown by the following famil 
iar notes than by anything more formal : 


Tuesday Morning, 8 o'clock, Dec. 15, 1823. 

I am afraid you will think my study too much like the lion's den ; the 
footsteps never turn outwards. I want to borrow more books ; viz. one 
volume of ancient Italian poetry ; I should like one containing specimens 
of Cino da Pistoia, as I suspect he was the best versifier in Petrarch's 
time ; also Ginguene' ; also, some translation of Dante. 


I spoke very rashly of Petrarch the other day. I had only read the 
first volume, which, though containing some of his best is on the whole, 
much less moving and powerful than Part II. It is a good way to read 
him chronologically ; that is, to take up each sonnet and canzone in the 
order, and understanding the peculiar circumstances, in which it was writ 
ten. Ginguene has pointed out this course. 

On the whole, I have never read a foreign poet that possessed more of 
the spirit of the best English poetry. In two respects this is very striking 
in Petrarch ; the tender passion with which he associates every place in 
the country, the beautiful scenery about Avignon, with the recollections of 
Laura ; and, secondly, the moral influence which his love for her seems to 
have had upon his character, and which shows itself in the religious senti 
ment that pervades more or less all his verses. 

How any one could ever doubt her existence who has read Petrarch's 
poetry, is a matter of astonishment to me. Setting aside external evi 
dence, which seems to me conclusive enough, his poetry could not have 
been addressed to an imaginary object ; and one fact, the particular delight 
which he takes in the belief that she retains in heaven, and that he shall 
Bee her there, with the same countenance, complexion, bodily appearance, 
&c., that she had on earth, is so natural in a real lover, and would be so 
unlikely to press itself upon a fictitious one, that I think that it is worth no 
ticing, as affording strong internal evidence of her substantial existence. I 
believe, however, that it is admitted generally now, from facts respecting 
his family brought to light by the Abbe do Sade, a descendant of her 

The richness and perfection of the Italian in the hands of Petrarch is 
truly wonderful. After getting over the difficulty of some of his mystical 
nonsense, and reading a canzone two or three times, he impresses one very 
much ; and the varied measures of the canzone put the facility and melody 
of verse-making to the strongest test. Gravina says, there are not two 
words in Petrarch's verses obsolete. Voltaire, I remember, says the same 
thing of the "Provincial Letters," written three hundred years later. 
Where is the work we can put our finger on in our own tongue before the 
eighteenth century and then say the same 1 Yet from long before Eliza 
beth's time there were no invasions or immigrations to new-mould the 

I hope you are all well under this awful dispensation oj snow. I have 
shovelled a stout path this morning, and can report it more than a foot 

deep. A fine evening for the party at , and I dine at ; so I get 

a morning and a half. Give my condolence to Anna, whom I hope to 
meet this evening, if the baby is well and we should not be buried alive in 
the course of the day. 

Yours affectionately, 


Being also shut up in the house by the snow-storm referred 
to, I answered him the same day with a long note entering into 
the question of the real existence of Laura, and the following 
rejoinder came the next day close upon the heel of my reply. 



Bedford Street, Dec. 17, 1823. 

I think better of snow-storms than I ever did before ; since, though 
they keep a man's body in the house, they bring his mind out. I suppose, 
if it had been fair weather yesterday, I should not have had your little dis 
sertation upon Madonna Laura, which interested as well as amused me. 
As to the question of the real existence of Madonna, I can have but little 

to say One thing seems to me clear, that the onus probandi is 

with those who would deny the substantiality of Laura ; because she is 
addressed as a living person by Petrarch, and because no contemporary 
unequivocally states her to have been an ideal one. I say unequivocally, 
because the remark you refer to of one of the Colonna family seems to 
have been rather an intimation or a gratuitous supposition, which might well 
come from one who lived at a distance from the scene of attachment, amour, 
or whatever you call this Platonic passion of Petrarch's. The Idealists, 
however, to borrow a metaphysical term, would shift this burden of proof 
upon their adversaries. On this ground I agree with you, that internal 
evidence derived from poetry, whose essence, as you truly say, is fiction, 
is liable to great misinterpretation. Yet I think that, although a novel or 
a long poem may be written, addressed to, and descriptive of some imag 
inary goddess, &c. (I take it, there is not much doubt of Beatrice, or of the 
original of Fiammetta), yet that a long series of separate poems should 
have been written with great passion, under different circumstances, through 
a long course of years, from the warm period of boyhood to the cool ret 
rospective season of gray hairs, would, I think, be, in the highest degree, 
improbable. But when with this you connect one or two external facts, 
e. g. the very memorandum, to which you refer, written in his private 
manuscript of Virgil, intended only for himself, as he expressly says in it, 
with such solemn, unequivocal language as this : " In order to preserve 
the melancholy recollections of this loss, I find a certain satisfaction min 
gled with my sorrow in noting this in a volume which often falls under my 
eye, and which thus tells me there is nothing further to delight me in this 
life, that my strongest tie is broken," &c., &c. Again, in a treatise " Do 
Contemptu Mundi," a sort of confession in which he seems to have had a 
sober communion with his own heart, as I infer from Ginguene, he speaks 
of his passion for Laura in a very unambiguous manner. These notes or 
memoranda, intended only for his own eye, would, I think, in any court 
of justice be admitted as positive evidence of the truth of what they assert. 
I should be willing to rest the point at issue on these two facts. 

Opening his poetry, one thing struck me in support of his sincerity, in 
seeing a sonnet, which begins with the name of the friend we refer to. 

" Rotta e F alta Colonna e '1 verde Lauro." 

Vile puns, but he would hardly have mingled the sincere elegy of a friend 
with that of a fictitious creation of his own brain. This, I admit, is not 
safe to build upon, and I do not build upon it. I agree that it may be 
highly probable that investigators, Italian, French, and English, have 
feigned more than they found, have gone into details, where only a few 

DANTE. 61 

general facts could be hoped for ; but the general basis, the real existence 
of some woman named Laura, who influenced the heart, the conduct, the 
intellectual character, of Petrarch, is, I think, not to be resisted. And I 
believe your decision docs not materially differ from this. 

I return the " Poeti del Primo Secolo." Though prosaic, they are 
superior to what I imagined, and give me a much higher notion of the 
general state of the Italian tongue at that early period than I had imagined 
it was entitled to. It is not more obsolete than the French in the time of 
Marot, or the English in the time of Spenser. Petrarch, however, you 
easily see, infused into it a warmth and richness a splendor of poetical 
idiom which has been taken up and incorporated with the language of 
succeeding poets. But he is the most musical, most melancholy, of all. 
Sismondi quotes Malaspina, a Florentine historian, as writing in 1280, 
with all the purity and elegance of modern Tuscan. But I think you 
must say, Sat prata biberunt. I have poured forth enough, I think, con 
sidering how little I know of the controversy. 

I have got a long morning again, as I dine late. So, if you will let me 
have " Gary," 8 1 think it may assist me in some very knotty passages, 
though I am afraid it is too fine [print] to read much. 

Give my love to Anna, who, I hope, is none the worse for last night's 

Yours affectionately, 


He soon finished Dante, and of the effect produced on him 
by that marvellous genius, at once so colossal and so gentle, the 
following note will give some idea. It should be added, that, 
the impression thus made was never lost. He never ceased to 
talk of Dante in the same tone of admiration in which he 
thus broke forth on the first study of him, a noteworthy 
circumstance, because, owing to the imperfect vision that so 
crippled and curtailed his studies, he was never afterwards able 
to refresh his first impressions, except, as he did it from time 
to time, by reading a few favorite passages, or listening to 
them. 9 


Jan. 21, 1824. 

I shall be obliged to you if you will let me have the " Arcadia " of San- 
nazaro, the " Pastor Fido," and the " Aminta," together with the vol 
umes of Ginguene, containing the criticism of these poems. 

I have finished the Paradiso of Dante, and feel as if I had made a mosl 

8 Translation of Dante. 

9 We, however, both listened to the reading of Dante, by an accomplished 
Italian, a few months later; but this I consider little more than a part of the 
same study of the altissimo poeia. 


important addition to the small store of my acquisitions. To have read 
the Inferno, is not to have read Dante ; his genius shows itself under so 
very different an aspect in each of his three poems. The Inferno will 
always be the most popular, because it is the most indeed the only one 
that is at all entertaining. Human nature is so delightfully constituted, 
that it can never derive half the pleasure from any relation of happiness 
that it does from one of misery and extreme suffering. Then there is a 
great deal of narrative, of action in the Inferno, and very little in the two 
other parts. Notwithstanding all this, I think the impression produced on 
the mind of the reader by the two latter portions of the work much the 
most pleasing. You impute a finer, a more exquisite (I do not mean a 
more powerful), intellectual character to the poet, and, to my notion, a 
character more deeply touched with a true poetical feeling. 

The Inferno consists of a series of pictures of the most ingenious, the 
most acute, and sometimes the most disgusting bodily sufferings. I could 
wish that Dante had made more use of the mind as a source and a means 
of anguish. Once he has done it with beautiful effect, in the description 
of a Barattiere, I believe, 10 who compares his miserable state in hell with 
h's pleasant residence on the banks of the Arno, and draws additional an 
guish from the comparison. In general, the sufferings he inflicts are of a 
purely physical nature. His devils and bad spirits, with one or two excep 
tions, which I remember you pointed out, are much inferior in moral 
grandeur to Milton's. How inferior that stupendous overgrown Satan of Ins 
to the sublime spirit of Milton, not yet stript of all its original brightness. 
I must say that I turn with more delight to the faultless tale of Francesca da 
Polenta, than to that of Ugolino, or any other in the poem. Perhaps it is 
in part from its being in such a dark setting, that it seems so exquisite, by 
contrast. The long talks in the Purgatorio and the dismal disputations in 
the Paradiso certainly lie very heavy on these parts of the work ; but then 
this very inaction brings out some of the most conspicuous beauties in 
Dante's composition. 

In the Purgatorio, we have, in the first ten cantos, the most delicious 
descriptions of natural scenery, and we feel like one who has escaped from 
a dungeon into a rich and beautiful country. In the latter portions of it 
he often indulges in a noble tone of moral reflection. I look upon the 
Purgatorio, full of sober meditation and sweet description, as more a 
VAnglaise than any other part of the Commedia. In the Pai-adiso his shock 
ing argumentations are now and then enlivened by the pepper and salt of 
bis political indignation, but at first they both discouraged and disgusted 
me, and. I thought I should make quick work of the business. But upon 
reading further, thinking more of it, I could not help admiring the 
genius which be has shown in bearing up under so oppressive a subject. 
It is so much easier to describe gradations of pain than of pleasure, 
but more especially when this pleasure must be of a purely intellectual 
nature. It is like a painter sitting down to paint the soul. The Scrip- 

1 My friend says, with some hesitation, " a Barattiere, I believe." It was in 
fact a " Falsificatore," a counterfeiter, and not a barrator or peculator. 
The barrators are found in the twenty-first canto of the Inferno; but the 
beautiful passage here alluded to is in the thirtieth. 

DANTE. 63 

tures have not done it successfully. They paint the physical tortures of 
hell, fire, brimstone, &c., but in heaven the only joys, i. e. animal joys, are 
singing and dancing, which to few people convey a notion of high delight, 
and to many are positively disagreeable. 

Let any one consider how difficult, nay impossible, it is to give an en 
tertaining picture of purely intellectual delight^ The two highest kinds 
of pure spiritual gratification which, I take it, a man can feel, at least, I 
esteem it so, are that arising from the consciousness of a reciprocated 
passion (I speak as a lover), and, second, one of a much more philosophic 
cast, that arising from the successful exertion of his own understanding (as 
in composition, for instance). Now Dante's pleasures in the Paradise are 
derived from these sources. Not that he pretends to write books there, 
but then he disputes like a doctor upon his own studies, subjects most 
interesting to him, but unfortunately to nobody else. It is comical to see 
how much he plumes himself upon his successful polemical discussions 
with St. John, Peter, &c., and how he makes those good saints praise and 
flatter him. 

As to his passion for Beatrice, I think there is all the internal evidence 
of its being a genuine passion, though her early death and probably his 
much musing upon her, exaggerated her good qualities into a sort of mys 
tical personification of his own, very unlike the original. His drinking in 
all his celestial intelligence from her eyes, though rather a mystical sen- 
timentalisni, is the most glorious tribute that ever was paid to woman. It 
is lucky, on the whole, that she died when she was young, as, had she 
lived to marry him, he would very likely have picked a quarrel with her, 
and his Divine Comedy have lost a great source of its inspiration. 

In all this, however, there was a great want of action, and Dante was 
forced, as in the Purgatorio, to give vent to his magnificent imagination in 
other ways. He has therefore, made use of all the meagre hints suggested 
metaphorically by the Scriptures, and we have the three ingredients, light, 
music, and dancing, in every possible and impossible degree and diversity. 
The Inferno is a sort of tragedy, full of action and of characters, all well 
preserved. The Paradiso is a great melodrama, where little is said, but 
the chief skill is bestowed upon the machinery, the getting up, and 
certainly, there never was such a getting up, anywhere. Every canto 
blazes with a new and increased effulgence. The very reading of it by 
another pained my poor eyes. And yet, you never become tired with 
these gorgeous illustrations, it is the descriptions that fatigue. 

Another beauty, in which he indulges more freely in the last than in the 
other parts, is his unrivalled similes. I should think you might glean 
from the Paradiso at least one hundred all new and appropriate, fitting, as 
he says, " like a ring to a finger," and most beautiful. Where are there 
any comparisons so beautiful 1 

I must say I was disappointed with the last canto ; but then, as the 
Irishman said, I expected to be. For what mortal mind could give a por 
trait of the Deity. The most conspicuous quality in Dante, to my notion, 
is simplicity. In this I think him superior to any work I ever read, un 
less it be some parts of the Scriptures. Homer's allusions, as far as I 
recollect, are not taken from as simple and familiar, yet not vulgar, objects, 
as are Dante's, from the most common intimate relations of domestic 


life, for instance, to which Dante often with great sweetness of nature 

I think it was a fortunate thing for the world, that the first poem 
in modern times was founded on a subject growing out of the Christian 
religion, or more properly on that religion itself, and that it was written 
by a man deeply penetrated with the spirit of its sternest creed. The 
religion indeed would have had its influence sooner or later upon literature. 
But then a work like Dante's, showing so early the whole extent of its 
powers, must have had an incalculable influence over the intellectual 
world, an influence upon literature almost as remarkable as that exerted 
by the revelation of Christianity upon the moral world. 

As to Gary, I think Dante would have given him a place in his ninth 
heaven, if he could have foreseen his Translation. It is most astonishing, 
giving not only the literal corresponding phrase, but the spirit of the 
original, the true Dantesque manner. It should be cited as an evidence of 
the compactness, the pliability, the sweetness of the English tongue. It 
particularly shows the wealth of the old vocabulary, it is from this that 
he has selected his rich stock of expressions. It is a triumph of our 
mother tongue that it has given every idea of the most condensed original 
in the Italian tongue in a smaller compass in this translation, his can 
tos, as you have no doubt noticed, are five or six lines shorter generally 
than Dante's. One defect he has. He does not, indeed he could not, 
render the na'ive terms of his original. This is often noticeable, but it is 
the defect of our language, or rather of our use of it. One fault he has, 
one that runs through his whole translation, and makes it tedious ; viz. 
a too close assimilation to, or rather adoption of, the Italian idiom. This 
leads him often to take liberties not allowable in English, to be ungram- 
matical, and so elliptical as to be quite unintelligible. 

Now I have done, and if you ask me what I have been doing all this 
for, or, if I chose to write it, why I did not put it in my Commonplace, 
I answer, 1st. That when I began this epistle, I had no idea of being 
so lengthy (as we say) ; 2d. That, in all pursuits, it is a great delight to 
find a friend to communicate one's meditations and conclusions to, and 
that you are the only friend I know in this bustling, money-getting world, 
who takes an interest in my peculiar pursuits, as well as in myself. So, 
for this cause, I pour into your unhappy ear what would else have been 
decently locked up in my escritoire. 

I return you Petrarca, Tasso, Ginguene, Vols. I. - IV., and shall be 
obliged to you, in addition to the books first specified, for any translation, 
&c., if you have any of those books ; also for an edition if you have 
such of the Canterbury Tales, Vol. I., that contains a glossary at the 
bottom of each page below the text ; Tyrrwhitt's being a dictionary. 

Give my love to Anna, and believe me, dear George, now and ever, 
Yours affectionately, 


Pursuing the Italian in tins earnest way for about a year, 
he found that his main purposes in relation to it were accom 
plished, and he would gladly, at once, have begun the German, 


of which he knew nothing at all, but which, for a considerable 
period, he had deemed more important to the general scholar 
ship at which he then aimed than any other modern language, 
and certainly more important than any one of which he did not 
already feel himself sufficiently master. " I am now," he re 
corded, two years earlier, in the spring of 1822, " 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. And this is enough," he adds quietly, " for general 

But the German, as he well knew, was much less easy of 
acquisition than any of the modern languages to which he had 
thus far devoted himself, and its literature much more unman 
ageable, if not more abundant. He was, however, unwilling to 
abandon it, as it afforded so many important facilities for the 
pursuits to which he intended to give his life. But the infir 
mity of his sight decided this, as it had already decided, and 
was destined later to decide, so many other questions in which 
he was deeply interested. After much deliberation, therefore, 
he gave up the German, as a thing either beyond his reach, or 
demanding more time for its acquisition than he could reason 
ably give to it. It seemed, in fact, all but an impossibility to 
learn it thoroughly ; the only way in which he cared to learn 

At the outset he was much discouraged by the conclusion to 
which he had thus come. The acquisition of the German was, 
in fact, the first obstacle to his settled literary course which 
his patience and courage had not been able to surmount, and 
for a time he became, from this circumstance, less exact and 
methodical in his studies than he had previously been. He 
recorded late in the autumn of 1824 : " I have read with no 
method and very little diligence or spirit for three months." 
This he found an unsatisfactory state of things. He talked 


with me much about it, and seemed, during nearly a year, 
more unsettled as to his future course, so far as I can now 
recollect, than he had ever seemed to me earlier; certainly, 
more than he ever seemed to me afterwards. Indeed, he was 
quite unhappy about it. 




AN accident as is sometimes the case in the life of even 
the most earnest and consistent men had now an in 
fluence on him not at all anticipated by either of us at the 
time, and one which, if it ultimately proved a guiding impulse, 
became such rather from the force of his own character than 
through any movement imparted to him from without. 

I had, at this period, been almost exclusively occupied for 
two or three years with Spanish literature, and had completed 
a course of lectures on Spanish literary history, which I had 
delivered to the highest class in Harvard College, and which 
became, many years afterwards, the basis of a work on that 
subject. Thinking simply to amuse and occupy my friend at 
a time when he seemed much to need it, I proposed to read 
him these lectures in the autumn of 1824. For this purpose 
he came to my house in the early part of a succession of even 
ings, until the whole was completed ; and in November he 
determined, as a substitute for the German, to undertake the 
Spanish, which had not previously constituted any part of his 
plan of study. 1 

He made his arrangements for it at once, and we prepared 
together a list of books that he should read. It was a great 

1 He speaks of this in February, 1841, writing to Don Pascual de Gayangos, 
one of our mutual Spanish friends; when, referring back to the year 1824, he 
Bays, "I heard Mr. Ticknor's lectures then with great pleasure." 


and unexpected pleasure to me to find him launched on a 
course of study in which I had long been interested, and I 
certainly encouraged him in it as much as I could without 
being too selfish. 

Soon after this, however, I left home with my family, and 
was absent during the greater part of the winter. My house 
was, of course, shut up, except that servants were left in charge 
of it ; but it had been understood between us, that, as he had 
no Spanish books of his own, he should carry on his Spanish 
studies from the resources he would find in my library. On 
the 1st of December he began a regular drill in the language, 
with a teacher, and on the same day, by way of announcing it, 
wrote to me : 

" Your mansion looks gloomy enough, I promise you, and as I pass it 
sometimes in the evening, with no cheerful light within to relieve it, it 
frowns doubly dismal on me. As to the interior, I have not set my foot 
within its precincts since your departure, which, you will think, docs not 
augur well for the Spanish. I propose, however, intruding upon the 
silence of the illustrious dead the latter part of this week, in order to 
carry off the immortal remains of Don Antonio dc Solis, whom you, dear 
George, recommended me to begin with." 

This was the opening of the Spanish campaign, which ended 
only with his life ; and it is worth noting that he was already 
more than twenty-eight years old. A few days afterwards he 
writes : " I snatch a fraction of the morning from the interest 
ing treatise of Monsieur Josse on the Spanish language, 2 and 
from the ' Conquista de Mexico,' which, notwithstanding the 
time I have been upon it, I am far from having conquered." 8 
But he soon became earnest in his work. On the 24th of 
January, 1825, he wrote to me again : 

"I have been much bent upon Spanish the last month, and have un- 

courteously resisted all invitations to break in upon my course of 

reading. I begin to feel my way perceptibly in it now. Did you never, 
in learning a language, after groping about in the dark for a long while, 

2 Joss4, Eldmens de la Grammaire de la Langue fispagnole. 

8 In the early part of his Spanish studies, as he here intimates, he was not 
much interested. At Christmas, 1824, he wrote to his friend Mr. Bancroft: 
" I am battling with the Spaniards this winter, but I have not the heart for it 
that I had for the Italians. I doubt whether there are many valuable things 
that the key of knowledge will unlock in that language " ; an amusing pre 
diction, when we consider wluvt followed. 


imddenly 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 Will you have 

the goodness to inform me in your next, where I can find some simple 
treatise on Spanish versification, also in which part of your library is 
the ' Amadis de Gaula.' 4 For I presume, as Cervantes spared it from 
the bonfire, you have it among your treasures. I have been accompany 
ing my course with Sismondi and Bouterwek, and I have been led more 
than once to reflect upon the injustice you are doing to yourself in seclud 
ing your own manuscript Lectures from the world. Neither of these 
writers has gone into the subject as thoroughly as you have," &c., &c. 5 

On coming back after my absence, he began to write me 
notes in Spanish, borrowing or returning books, and sometimes 
giving his opinion about those he sent home. His style was not, 
indeed, of the purest Castilian, but it was marked with a clear 
ness and idiomatic vigor which not a little surprised me. Three 
of these notes, which he wrote in March and April, 1825, still 
survive to give proof of his great industry and success ; and one 
of them is curious for opinions about Solis, more severe than he 
afterwards entertained when he came to study that historian's 
work on the Conquest of Mexico as a part of the materials for 
his own. 6 

But, during the summer of 1825, his reading was very mis 
cellaneous, and, excepting " Doblado's Letters on Spain," by 
Blanco White, no part of it, I think, was connected with his 
strictly Spanish studies. In the autumn, however, becoming 
much dissatisfied with this unsettled and irregular sort of life, 
he began to look round for a subject to which he could give 
continuous thought and labor. On the 16th of October he 

* He remembered, no doubt, the boyish pleasure he had found in reading 
Southey's rifacimento of it. See ante, p. 10. 

6 This, with much more like it in the present letter and in other letters, 
which I do not cite, was founded in a mistake, made by his kindness for me. 
The Lectures were far from being what he supposed them to be. They 
needed to be entirely recast, before they could be presented to the public 
with any decent claims to thoroughness. In fact, " The History of Spanish 
Literature " did not appear until a long time afterwards, and then it bore 
very few traces of its academic origin. 

6 On another occasion, making some remarks about Ercilla's " Araucana," 
he says, in the same spirit, " Both Solis and Ercilla disgust the temperate 
reader by the little value they set upon the sufferings of the heathen." In 
this view of the matter I heartily concur with him. 


recorded : " I have been so hesitating and reflecting upon what 
I shall do, that I have, in fact, done nothing." And October 
30th : " I have passed the last fortnight in examination of a 
suitable subject for historical composition. 7 It is well to deter 
mine with caution and accurate inspection." 

At first his thoughts were turned towards American history, 
on which he had bestowed a good deal of rather idle time dur 
ing the preceding months, and to which he now gave more. 9 
But Spanish literature began, unexpectedly to him, to have 
stronger attractions. He read, or rather listened to, the whole 
of Mariana's beautiful history, giving careful attention to some 
parts of it, and passing lightly over the rest. And in connec 
tion with this, as his mind became more directed to such sub 
jects, he listened with great interest to Mably's " Etude de 
1'Histoire," a work which had much influence in giving its 
final direction to his life, and wliich he always valued both for 
its acuteness and for its power of setting the reader to think 
for himself. The result was that, at Christmas, after no little 
reflection and anxiety, he made the following memorandum : 

"I have been hesitating between two topics for historical investiga 
tion, 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 a monarchy. A third 
subject which invites me is a biographical sketch of eminent geniuses, 
with criticisms on their productions and on the character of their times. 
I shall probably select the first, as less difficult of execution than the 
second, and as more novel and entertaining than the last. But I must 

7 As early as 1820, 1 find that he had been greatly impressed by reading 
Gibbon's Autobiography with Lord Sheffield's additions, a book which he 
always regarded with peculiar interest, and which doubtless had its influence 
in originally determining him to venture on historical composition. In one 
of his letters written in 1845, he says, he finds memoranda of a tendency to 
historical studies as early as 1819. 

8 Two or three years earlier than this date probably in 1822 I find 
the following among his private memoranda: "History has always been 
a favorite 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. But it requires time, and a long time, before 
the mind can be prepared for this department of writing." He took time, as 
we shall see, for it was seven years, at least, after this passage was written, 
before he began the composition of his Ferdinand and Isabella. " I think," 
he says, " thirty-five years of age full soon enough to put pen to paper." As 
it turned out, he began in earnest a little before he had reached thirty-four. 


discipline my idle fancy, or my meditations mil be little better than 
dreams. I have devoted more than four hours per diem to thinking 01 
dreaming on these subjects." 

But this delay was no matter of serious regret to him. He 
always deliberated long before he undertook anything of conse 
quence, and, in regard to his examination of this very matter, 
he had already recorded : " I care not how long a time I take 
for it, provided I am diligent in all that time." 

He was a little distracted, however, at this period, by the 
thought of writing sometliing like a history or general examina 
tion of Italian literature. As we have noticed, he had in 1823 
been much occupied with the principal Italian authors, and had 
found the study more interesting than any he had previously 
pursued in modern literature. A little later that is, in the 
autumn of 1824 and the spring of 1825 an accomplished 
Italian exile was in Boston, and, partly to give him occupation, 
and partly for the pleasure and improvement to be obtained 
from it, I invited the unfortunate scholar to come three or four 
times a week, and read aloud to me from the principal poets 
of his country. Prescott joined me in it regularly, and some 
times we had one or two friends with us. In this way we went 
over large portions of the " Divina Commedia," and the whole 
of the " Gerusalemme Liberata," parts of Ariosto's " Orlando 
Furioso," and several plays of Alfieri. The sittings were very 
agreeable, sometimes protracted to two or three hours, and we 
not only had earnest and amusing, if not always very profit 
able, discussions about what we heard, but sometimes we fol 
lowed them up afterwards with careful inquiries. The pleasure 
of the meetings, however, was their great attraction. The 
Italian scholar read well, and we enjoyed it very much. In 
consequence of this, Prescott now turned again to his Italian 
studies, and made the following record : 

" I have decided to abandon the Roman subject. A work on the revo 
lutions of Italian literature has invited my consideration this week, a 
work 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. The subject would admit 
of contraction or expansion ad libitum ; and I should be spared what I 
detest hunting up latent, barren antiquities." 

The last remark is noteworthy, because it is one of the many 


instances in which, after severe consideration, he schooled him 
self to do well and thoroughly what he much disliked to do, 
and what was in itself difficult. 

But on the same occasion he wrote further : 

" The subject would require a mass of [general] knowledge and a criti 
cal knowledge of the Italian in particular. It would not be new, after 
the production of Sismondi and the abundant notices in modern Reviews. 
Literary history is not so amusing as civil. Cannot I contrive to em 
brace the gift of the Spanish subject, without involving myself in the 
unwieldy, barbarous records of a thousand years ? What new and in 
teresting topics may be admitted not forced into the reigns of Fer 
dinand 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 1 Then I have the Inquisition, 
with its bloody persecutions ; the Conquest of Granada, a brilliant pas 
sage ; the exploits of the Great Captain in Italy, a proper character for 
romance as well as history ; the discovery of a new world, my own coun 
try ; the new policy of the monarchs towards the overgrown aristocracy, 
&c., &c. A Biography will make me responsible for a limited space only ; 
will require much less reading (a great consideration with me) ; will offer 
the deeper interest which always attaches to minute developments of 
character, and a continuous, closely connected narrative. The subject 
brings me to the point whence [modern] English history has started, is 
untried ground, and in my opinion a rich one. The age of Ferdinand is 
most important, as containing the germs of the modern system of Euro 
pean politics ; and the three sovereigns, Henry VII., Louis XI., and 
Ferdinand, were important engines in overturning the old system. 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 week." 

In May, 1847, above twenty years afterwards, he noted in 
pencil on this passage, " This was the first germ of my concep 
tion of Ferdinand and Isabella." 

But he did not, as he hoped he should, decide in a week, 
although, having advanced well towards a decision, he soon 
began to act as if it were already made. On the 15th of Jan 
uary, 1826, when the week had expired, he recorded: 

" Still doubting, looked through Hita's ' Guerras de Granada,' Vol. I. 
The Italian subject has some advantages over the Spanish. It will save 
me at least one year's introductory labor. It is in the regular course of 
my studies, and I am comparatively at home in literary history, particu 
larly the Italian. This subject has not only exercised my studies, but my 
meditations, so that I may fairly estimate my starting ground at one year. 
Then I have tried this topic in public journals, and know the measure of 
my own strength in relation to it. I am quite doubtful of my capacity 


for doing ju rtice to the other subject. I have never exercised my mind 
upon similar matters, and I have stored it with no materials for compari 
son. How can I pronounce upon the defects or virtues of the Spanish 
constitutions, when I am hardly acquainted with those of other nations ? 
How can I estimate the consequences, moral, political, &c., of laws and 
institutions, when I have, in all my life, scarcely ever looked the subject 
in the face, or even read the most elementary treatise upon it ? But will 
not a year's labor, judiciously directed, put me on another footing ? " 

After some further discussion in the nature of a soliloquy, he 
adds : 

" I believe the Spanish subject will be more new than the Italian ; 
more interesting to the majority of readers ; more useful to me by open 
ing another and more practical department of study ; and not more labo 
rious in relation to authorities to be consulted, and not more difficult to be 
discussed with the lights already afforded me by judicious treatises on the 
most intricate parts of the subject, and with the allowance of the introduc 
tory year for my novitiate in a new walk of letters. The advantages of 
the Spanish topic, on the whole, overbalance the inconvenience of the 
requisite preliminary year. For these reasons, I subscribe to the History 
of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, January 19th, 1826." 

And then follows in pencil, "A fortunate choice, May, 

He therefore began in earnest, and, on the 22d of January, 
prepared a list of books such as he should require, and wrote a 
long letter to Mr. Alexander H. Everett, then our Minister at 
Madrid, an accomplished scholar himself, and one who was 
always interested in whatever regarded the cause of letters. 
They had already been in correspondence on the subject, and 
Mr. Everett had naturally advised his younger friend to come 
to Spain, and make for himself the collections he needed, at 
the same time offering to serve him in any way he could. 

" I entirely agree with you," Prescott replied, " that it would be highly 
advantageous for me to visit Spain, and to dive into the arcana of those 
libraries which, you say, contain such ample stores of history, and I assure 
you, that, as I am situated, no consideration of domestic ease would detain 
me a moment from an expedition, which, after all, would not consume more 
than four or five months. But the state of my eyes, or rather eye, for 
I have the use of only one half of this valuable apparatus, precludes the 
possibility of it. During the last year this one has been sadly plagued 
with what the physicians are pleased to call a rheumatic inflammation, for 
which I am now under treatment I have always found travel 
ling, with its necessary exposures, to be of infinite disservice to my eyes, 
and in this state of them particularly I dare not risk it. 

" You will ask, with these disadvantages, how I can expect to succeed 


in ray enterprise. I answer, that I hope always to have a partial use of 
my eyes, and, for the rest, an intelligent reader, who is well acquainted 
with French, Spanish, and Latin, will enable me to effect with my ears 
what other people do with their eyes. The only material inconvenience 
will he a necessarily more tedious and prolonged labor. Johnson says, in 
his Life of Milton, that no man can compile a. history who is blind. But 
although I should lose the use of my vision altogether (an evil not in the 
least degree probable), by the blessing of God, if my ears arc spared me, 
I will disprove the assertion, and my chronicle, whatever other demerits it 
may have, shall not be wanting in accuracy and research. 9 If my health 
continues thus, I shall necessarily be debarred from many of the convivial, 
not to say social pleasures of life, and consequently must look to literary 
pursuits as the principal and permanent source of future enjoyment. As 
with these views I have deliberately taken up this project, and my pro- 
gross, since I have begun to break ground, entirely satisfies me of the 
feasibility of the undertaking, you will not wonder that I should be ex 
tremely solicitous to bring within my control an ample quantity of original 
materials, such as will enable me to achieve my design, and such as will 
encourage me to pursue it with steady diligence, without fear of compe 
tition from any quarter." 

But his courage and patience were put to a new and severe 
trial, before he could even place his foot upon the threshold of 
the great undertaking whose difficulties he estimated so justly. 
A dozen years later, in May, 1838, when the Ferdinand and 
Isabella was already published, he made a memorandum in 
pencil on the letter just cited : " This very letter occasioned the 
injury to the nerve from which I have never since recovered." 
Precisely what this- injury may have been, I do not know. 
He calls it at first " a stiffness of the right eye," as if it were a 
recurrence there of the rheumatism which was always more or 
less in some part of his person ; but a few months afterwards 
he speaks of it as "a new disorder." It was, I apprehend, 
only the result of an effort too great- for the enfeebled organ, 
and, whenever any considerable similar exertion during the 

9 " To compile a history from various authors, when they can only be con 
sulted by others' eyes, is not easy, nor possible, without more skilful and at 
tentive help than cau be commonly obtained ; and it was probably the difficulty 
of consulting and comparing, that stopped Milton's narrative at the Conquest, 
a period at which affairs were not very intricate, nor authors very numer 
ous." Johnson's Works, (London, 1816,) Vol. IX. p. 115. " This remark of 
the great critic," says Prescott, in a note to the Preface of Ferdinand and Isa 
bella, (1837,) where it is cited, " This remark, which first engaged my atten 
tion in the midst of my embarrassments, although discouraging at first, in the 
end stimulated my desire to overcome them." Nitor in adwrsum might have 
been his motto. 


rest of his life was required from it, he used to describe the 
sensation he experienced as " a strain of the nerve." It was, 
no doubt, something of the sort on this occasion, and he felt for 
a time much discouraged by it. 

The letter which it had cost him so much to write, because 
lie thought it necessary to do it with uncommon care, was left 
in his portfolio to wait the result of this fresh and unexpected 
attack on the poor resources of his sight. It was a painful 
interval. Severe remedies were used. The cuppings then 
made on his temples left marks that he carried to his grave. 
But in his darkened room, where I constantly saw him, and 
sometimes read to him, his spirits never failed. He bated " no 
jot of heart or hope." 

At last, after above four weary months, which he passed 
almost always in a dark room, and during which he made no 
record, I find an entry among his memoranda dated " June 4, 
1826. A melancholy gap," he says, " occasioned by this new 
disorder in the eye. It has, however, so much abated this sum 
mer, that I have sent my orders to Madrid. I trust I may yet 
be permitted to go on with my original plan. What I can't 
read may be read to me. I will secure what I can of the 
foreign tongues, and leave the English to my secretary. When 
I can't get six, get four hours per day. I must not waste time 
in going too deeply or widely into my subject ; or, rather, I 
must confine myself to what exclusively and directly concerns 
it. I must abjure manuscript and fine print. I must make 
memoranda accurate and brief of every book I read for this 
object. Travelling at this lame gait, I may yet hope in five or 
six years to reach the goal." In this, however, he was mis 
taken. It proved to be twice as much. 

As soon as the order for books was despatched, he made his 
plan of work. It was as ample and bold as if nothing had oc 
curred to check his hopes. 

" My general course of study," he says, "must be as follows. 1. Gen 
eral Laws, &c. of Nations. 2. History and Constitution of England. 
3. History and Government of other European Nations, France, Italy 
to 1550, Germany, Portugal. Under the last two divisions, I am partic 
ularly to attend to the period intervening between 1400 and 1550. 4. Gen 
eral History of Spain, its Geography, its Civil, Ecclesiastical, Statistical 
Concerns ; particularly from 1400 to 1550. 5. Ferdinand's Reign en yros. 


6. Whatever concerns such portions of my subject as I am immediately 
to treat of. The general division of it I will arrange when I have gono 
through the first five departments. 

" This order of study I shall pursue, as far as my eyes will allow. When 
they are too feeble to he used, I must have English writers read to me, and 
then I will select such works as have the nearest relation to the department 
of study which I may be investigating." 

Immediately after this general statement of his plan follows 
a list of several hundred volumes to be read or consulted, 
which would have been enough, one would think, to alarm 
the stoutest heart, and severely tax the best eyes. This, indeed, 
he sometimes felt to be the case. Circumstances seemed occa 
sionally to be stronger than his strong will. He tried, for 
instance, soon after making the last record, to read a little, and, 
went at the most moderate rate, through hah 4 ' a volume of 
Montesquieu's " Esprit des Lois," which was to be one of the 
first stepping-stones to his great fabric. But the trouble in his 
sight Avas so seriously aggravated by even this experiment, very 
cautiously made, that he recorded it as " a warning to desist 
from all further use of his eye for the present, if not for ever." 
In fact, for three months and more lie did not venture to open 
a book. 

At the end of that time he began to doubt whether, during 
the period in which it now seemed all but certain that he 
could have no use of his eye, and must often be shut up in a 
darkened room, he had not better, without giving up his mam 
purpose, undertake some other work more manageable than 
one that involved the use of books in several foreign languages. 
On the 1st of October, therefore, he records, evidently with 
great regret : 

" As it may probably be some years before I shall be able to use my 
own eyes in study, or even find a suitable person to read foreign languages 
to me, I have determined to postpone my Spanish subject, and to occupy 
myself with an Historical Survey of English Literature. The subject has 
never been discussed as a whole, and therefore would be somewhat new, 
and, if well conducted, popular. But the great argument with me is, that, 
while it is a subject with which my previous studies have made me toler 
ably acquainted and have furnished me with abundance of analogies in 
foreign literatures, it is one which I may investigate nearly as well with 
my ears as with my eyes, and it will uot be difficult to find good readers 
in t'lc English, though extremely difficult in any foreign language. Faus~ 
turn sit." 


A month, however, was sufficient to satisfy him that this 
was a mistake, and that the time which, with his ultimate 
purpose of writing a large work on Spanish history, he could 
afford to give to this intercalary project, could do little with a 
suhject so broad as English literature. After looking through 
Wartbn's fragment and Turner's Anglo-Saxons, he therefore 
writes, November 5th, 1826 : 

" I have again, and I trust finally, determined to prosecute my former 
subject, the lleign of Ferdinand and Isabella. In taking a more accurate 
survey of my projected English Literary History, I am convinced it will 
take at least five years to do anything at all satisfactory to myself, and I 
cannot be content to be so long detained from a favorite subject, and one 
for which I shall have such rare and valuable materials in my own pos 
session. But what chiefly influences me is the prospect of obtaining some 
one, in the space of a year, who, by a competent knowledge of foreign 
languages, will enable me to pursue my original design with nearly as 
great facility as I should possess for the investigation of English literature. 
And I am now fully resolved, that notliing but a disappointment in my 
expected supplies from Spain shall prevent me from prosecuting my origi 
nal scheme ; where, at any rate, success is more certain, if not more 

The difficulty that resulted from the want of a competent 
reader was certainly a great one, and he felt it severely. He 
talked with me much about it, but for a time there seemed no 
remedy. He went, therefore, courageously through several 
volumes of Spanish with a person who understood not a word 
of what he was reading. It was awkward, tedious work, 
more disagreeable to the reader, probably, than it was to the 
listener. But neither of them shrunk from the task, which 
sometimes, notwithstanding its gravity and importance, seemed 
ridiculous to both. 10 

At last he was satisfied that his undertaking to write history 
was certainly practicable, and that he could substantially make 
his ears do the work of his eyes. It was an important conclu- 

10 In a letter to me written in the summer of 1827, when I happened to be 
on a journey to Niagara, he says: " My excellent reader and present scribe 
reads to me Spanish with a true Castilian accent two hours a day, without 
understanding a word of it. What do you think of this for the temperature 
of the dog-days ? and which should you rather be, the reader or the readee t " 
In a letter ten years later Dec. 20, 1837 to his friend Mr. Bancroft, he 
says, that among those readings by a person who did not know the language 
were seven quarto volumes in Spanish. 


sion, and its date is, therefore, one of the turning points of his 
life. He came to it about the time he prepared the letter to 
Mr. Everett, and in consequence provided himself for a few 
months with a young reader of more accomplishments, who 
subsequently became known in the world of letters, and was 
among those who paid a tribute of graceful verse to the histo 
rian's memory. 11 

This, however, was only a temporary expedient, and he was 
desirous to have something which should be permanent. It 
cost not a little time and labor to fit anybody for duties so 
peculiar, and he had no time and labor to spare, especially if 
the embarrassment should recur as often as it had heretofore. 
Tlunking, from my connection with Harvard College, where I 
was then at the head of the department of Modern Literature, 
that I might be acquainted with some young man who, on 
completing his academic career, would be willing to become 
his secretary for a considerable period, he addressed himself to 
me. I advised with the instructors in the four modern lan 
guages, who knew the especial qualifications of their pupils 
better than I did, and a fortunate result was soon reached. 
Mr. James L. English, who was then a member of the College, 
accepted a proposition to study his profession in the office of 
Mr. Prescott, senior, and of his son-in-law, Mr. Dexter, who 
was then associated with the elder Mr. Prescott as a counsellor, 
and at the same time to read and write for the son five or six 
hours every day. This arrangement did not, however, take 
effect until after Mr. English was graduated, in 1827 ; and it 
continued, much to the satisfaction of both parties, for four 
years. It was the happy beginning of a new order of things 
for the studies of the historian, and one which, with different 
secretaries or readers, he was able to keep up to the last. 12 

During the interval of almost a year, which immediately pre- 

11 Mr. George Lunt. 

52 Mr. Prescott's different readers and secretaries were, as nearly as I can 
remember and make out, George R. M. Wellington, for a short period, 
which I cannot exactly determine; George Lunt, 1825-26; Hamilton Parker, 
1826-27; James Lloyd English, 1827-31; Henry Cheever Simonds, 1831 - 
35; E. D wight Williams, 1835-40; George F. Ware, 1840-42; Edmund B. 
Otis, 1842-46; George F. Ware again, 1846-47; Robert Carter, 1847-48; 
John Foster Kirk, 1848 - 59. 


ceded the commencement of Mr. English's services, nothing 
is more striking than the amount and thoroughness of Mr. 
Prescott's studies. It in fact was a broad basis that he now 
began to lay, in defiance of all the difficulties that beset him, 
for a superstructure which yet, as he clearly foresaw, could be 
erected only after a very long interval, if, indeed, he should 
ever be permitted to erect it. It was, too, a basis laid in the 
most deliberate manner, slowly and surely ; for, as he could not 
now read at all himself, every page, as it was listened to, had to 
be carefully considered, and its contents carefully appropriated. 
Among the books thus read to him were Montesquieu's <k Spirit 
of Laws," Enfield's " History of Philosophy," Smith's " Wealth 
of Nations," Hallam's " Middle Ages,'VBlackstone's '" Commen 
taries," Vol. I., Millar's " English Government," the four con 
cluding volumes of Gibbon, parts of Turner's " History of Eng 
land," parts of Mosheim's "Ecclesiastical History" and of John 
M tiller's " Universal History," Mills's " History of Chivalry," 
the Memoirs of Commines, Robertson's " Charles the Fifth," 
and his " America," and Watson's " Philip the Second." Be 
sides all this, he listened to translations of Plato's " Phaedo," of 
Epictetus, of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, and of Cice 
ro's " Tusculan Questions " and " Letters " ; and, finally, he 
went in the same way through portions of Sismondi's " Re"pub- 
liques Italiennes " in the original, as an experiment, and be 
came persuaded, from the facility with which he understood it 
when read at the rate of twenty-four ' pages an hour, that he 
should meet with no absolutely insurmountable obstacle in the 
prosecution of any of his historical plans. Everything, there 
fore, went according to his wish, and seemed propitious ; but 
his eyes remained in a very bad state. He was often in a dark 
room, and never able to use them for any of the practical pur 
poses of study. 13 

18 He makes hardly a note about his opinion on the authors embraced in 
liis manifold studies this year, from want of sight to do it. But what he re 
cords about Robertson and Watson, brief as it is, is worth notice, because 
these writers both come upon his chosen track. " Robertson's extensive sub 
ject," he says, " is necessarily deficient in connection; but a lively interest is 
kept up by a perpetual succession of new discoveries and brilliant adventures, 
seasoned with sagacious reflections, and enriched with a clear and vigorous 
diction." In some remarks concerning Charles V., thirty years later, he does 
Dr. Robertson the homage of calling him " the illustrious Scottish historian," 


Still, as always, his spirits rose with the occasion, and his 
courage proved equal to his spirits. He had a large part of 
the Spanish grammar read over to him, that he might feel 
quite sure-footed in the language, and then, confirming anew 
his determination to write the History of Ferdinand and Isa 
bella, he pushed vigorously forward with his investigations in 
that direction. 

He read, or rather listened to, Koch's " Revolutions de 
1'Europe " ; Voltaire's " Essai sur les Mreurs " ; Gibbon, so far 
as the Visigoths in Spain are concerned ; and Conde's " Spanish 
Arabs." As he approached his main subject more nearly, lie 
went through the reigns of several of the preceding and follow 
ing Spanish sovereigns m Ferreras's General History of Spain, 
as well as in Rabbe, Morales, and Bigland ; adding the whole of 
Gaillard's " Rivalite* de la France et de 1'Espagne," and of the 
Abbe Mignot's meagre " Histoire de Ferdinand et Isabelle." 
The geography of the country he had earlier studied on minute 
maps, when his eyes had for a short time permitted such use 
of them, and he now endeavored to make himself familiar with 
the Spanish people and their national character, by listening to 
such travellers as Bourgoing and Townsend. Finally, he fin 
ished this part of his preparation by going afresh over the con 
cluding portions of Mariana's eloquent History ; thus obtaining 
from so many different sources, not only a sufficient and more 
than sufficient mere basis for his own work, but from Mariana 
the best general outline for it that existing materials could fur 
nish. It is not easy to see how he could have been more thor 
ough and careful, even if he had enjoyed the full use of lu's 
sight, nor how, with such an infirmity, he could deliberately 
have undertaken and carried out a course of merely preparatory 
studies so ample and minute. 

But he perceived the peculiar embarrassments, as well as the 
great resources, of his subject, and endeavored to provide against 
them by long consideration and reflection beforehand. In his 
Memoranda he says : 

but enters into no discussion of his peculiar merits. Of Watson, on the con 
trary, in his private notes of 1827, he says that he is " a meagre unphilosoph- 
ical chronicler of the richest period of Spanish history " ; an opinion substan 
tially confirmed in the Preface to his own Philip II., in 1855, where a com 
pliment is paid to Robertson at Watson's expense. 


"I must not be too fastidious, nor too anxious to amass every authority 
that can bear upon the subject. The materials that will aaturally offer 
themselves to me are abundant enough, in all conscience. Whatever I 
write will have the merit at least of novelty to an English reader. la 
such parts of the subject, therefore, as have been well treated by French 
writers, I had better take them pretty closely for my guides, without troub 
ling myself to hunt more deeply, except only for corroborative authorities, 
which can be easily done. It is fortunate that this subject is little known 
to English readers, while many parts of it have been ably discussed by 
accessible foreign writers, such as Marina and Sempere for the Consti 
tution ; Llorente for the Inquisition ; the sixth volume of the Historical 
Transactions of the Spanish Academy for the influence and many details 
of Isabella's reign, -&c. ; Flechier for the life of Ximenes ; Varillas for the 
foreign policy of Ferdinand ; Sismondi for the Italian wars and for the 
general state of Italian and European politics in that age, while the reflec 
tions of this historian passim may furnish me with many good hints in an 
investigation of the Spanish history and politics." 

This was the view he took of his subject, as he fully con 
fronted it for the first time, and considered how, with such use 
of his eyes as he then had, he could best address himself to the 
necessary examination of his authorities. But he now, and for 
some time subsequent, contemplated a shorter work than the one 
he finally wrote, and a work of much less learned pretensions. 
As, however, he advanced, he found that the most miuute 
investigations, such as he had above considered beyond his 
reach, would be both necessary and agreeable. He began, 
therefore, very soon, to examine all the original sources with 
painstaking perseverance, and to compare them, not only with 
each other, but with the interpretations that had subsequently 
been put upon them. He struck much more widely and 
boldly than he had intended or thought important. In short, 
he learned and he learned it soon that it is necessary for 
a conscientious author to read everything upon the subject he 
means to discuss ; the poor and bad books, as well as those 
upon which his reliance will ultimately be placed. He cannot 
otherwise feel strong or safe. 

Mr. Prescott had just reached this point in his studies, when, 
in, the autumn of 1827, Mr. English became his reader and 
secretary. The first collection of books and manuscripts from 
Madrid had been received a little earlier. But they had not 
yet been used. They had come at a most unlucky moment, 
when his eye was in a more than commonly suffering state, and 

4* V 


they presented anything but a cheerful prospect to him, as they 
lay unpacked and spread out on the floor of his study. As he 
paid long afterwards, " In my disabled condition, with my Trans 
atlantic treasures lying around me, I was like one pining from 
Lunger in the midst of abundance." 14 

But he went to work in earnest with his new secretary. The 
room in which they sat was an upper one in the back part of 
the fine old house in Bedford Street, retired and quiet, and 
every way well fitted for its purpose. Mr. English, in an 
interesting letter to me, thus truly describes it.. 

" Two sides of the room," he says, " were lined with books from floor 
to ceiling. On the easterly side was a green screen, which darkened that 
part of the room towards which he turned his face as he sat at his writing- 
table. On the westerly side was one window covered by several curtains 
of light-blue muslin, so arranged that any one of them could be wholly or 
partially raised, and thus temper the light exactly to the ability of his eye 
to bear it, as the sky might happen to be bright or cloudy, or his eye more 
or less sensitive. In the centre of the room stood his writing-table, at 
which he sat in a rocking-chair with his back towards the curtained win 
dow, and sometimes with a green shade over his eyes. When we had a 
fire, he used only coke in the grate, as giving out no flame, and he fre 
quently placed a screen between himself and the grate to keep off the 
glare of the embers. At the northwesterly corner of the room was the only 
window not partly or wholly darkened. It was set high up in the wall, 
and under it was my chair. I was thus brought a short distance from his 
left side, and rather behind him, as a sailor would say, on his quarter. 
In this position I read aloud to him regularly every day, from ten o'clock 
in the forenoon to two in the afternoon, and from about six in the evening 
to eight." 

They began by reading portions of Llorente's " Histoire de 
Tlnquisition " ; but their first serious attack was on the chroni 
cles of Andres Bernaldez, not then printed, but obtained by 
him in manuscript from Madrid, a gossiping, amusing book, 
whose accounts extend from 1488 to 1513, and are particularly 
important for the Moorish wars and the life of Columbus. But 
the young secretary found it very hard reading. 

" A huge parchment-covered manuscript," he calls Bernaldez, " my old 
enemy ; from whose pages I read and reread so many hours that I shall 
never forget him. Mr. Prcscott considered the book a great acquisition, 
and would sit for hours hearing me read it in the Spanish, at first with 
great difficulty and until I got familiar with the chirography. How he 
could understand me at first, as I blundered along, I could not conceive. 

i Conquest of 1'eru, (1867), Vol. I. p. xvi. 


If he was annoyed, as he well might be, he never betrayed his feelings 
to me. 

" He seemed fully conscious of the difficulty of the task before him, but 
resolutely determined to accomplish it, if human patience and perseverance 
could do so. As I read any passages which he wished to impress on his 
memory, he would say, ' Mark that,' that is, draw parallel lines in the 
margin with a pencil against it. He used also to take a note or memo 
randum of anything he wished particularly to remember, with a reference 
to it. His wilting apparatus always lay open before him on the table, and 
he usually sat with his ivory style in hand, ready to make his notes of 
reference. 15 These notes I afterwards copied out in a very large round 
hand for his future use, and, when he began actually to write the history, 
would read them over and verify the reference by the original authority, 
if he required it. I think, however, he did not very often find it necessary 
to refer to the book, as he seemed to have cultivated his memory to a very 
high degree, and had, besides, a habit of reflecting upon and arranging in 
his mind, or ' digesting,' as he phrased it, the morning's reading while sit 
ting alone afterwards in his study. A graphic phrase it was, too, consid 
ering that he took in through his ears I don't know-how many pages at a 
four hours' session of steady reading. The wonder was, how he could 
find time to 'digest' such a load between the sessions. But thus he fixed 
the substance of what had been read to him in his mind, and impressed the 
results of the forenoon's work on his memory. 

" When I first began to read to Mr. Prescott, his eye was in a very sen 
sitive state, and he did not attempt to use it at all. After some months, 
however, it got stronger, and he would sit at the curtained window, with a 
volume open upon a frame on a stand, and read himself, marking passages 
as he went along. While so reading, he would frequently raise or lower, 
wholly or partially, one or more of the blue curtains. Each of them had 
its separate cord, which he knew as well as a sailor knows his ropes. Every 
little white cloud that passed across the sky required a change in the ar 
rangement of these curtains, so sensitive was his eye to a variation of light 
imperceptible to me. But it was only a portion of the time that he could 
do this. His eye would give way or he Nyould feel symptoms of return 
ing trouble, and then, for weeks together, he would be compelled to take 
liis old seat in the rocking-chair, and return to the slow process of listening 
and marking passages, and having his notes and memoranda read over to 
him as at first." 

How sound and practical his general views were can be seen 
from his plan of work at this moment, when he had deter 
mined what he would do, but did not think himself nearly 
ready even to begin the actual composition of the History itself. 
In October, 1828, when they had been at work for a year 
in this preparatory reading, but during which his private 

16 His peculiar writing apparatus, already alluded to, will be presently 
described. It was the noctograph, which he had obtained in England. 


memoranda, owing to the state of his eye, had been very 
meagre, he says : 

" By the intermixture of reading for a given chapter and then writing 
for it, I shall be able, with the relief which this alternate occupation will 
give my eyes, to accomplish a good deal with them, I trust. After I have 
finished Bernaldez's manuscript and the few remaining pages of Pcrreras, 
and looked through the ' Modern Universal History ' from the accession of 
the house of Trastamara to the end of the reigns of the Catholic kings, and 
looked into Marina's Theory of the Cortes,' which will scarcely require 
more than a fortnight, I shall be prepared to begin to read for my first 

He added to this a syllabus of what, from the point of view 
at which he then stood, he thought might be the arrangement 
of his materials for the first two chapters of his work ; noting 
the length of time he might need to prepare himself to begin 
to write, and afterwards the time necessary to complete them. 
That he was willing to be patient is clear from the fact that 
he allowed two hundred and fifty-six days, or eight months 
and a half to this preparatory reading, although he had already 
been two years, more or less, on the work ; and that he was 
not to be discouraged by slowness of actual progress is equally 
clear, for, although it was above fourteen months before he 
finished this part of his task, yet at the end of that time his 
courage and hopes were as high as ever. 




THE long delay referred to in the last chapter was in 
part owing to a severe sorrow which fell on him in the 
winter of 1828 - 9, and stopped him in mid-career. On the 1st 
of February, the eldest of his two children died. It was a 
daughter, born on the 23d of September, 1824, and therefore 
four years and four or five months old, a charming, gentle 
child of much promise, who had been named after her grand 
mother, Catherine Hickling. He had doted on her. His 
mother said most truly, writing to Mrs. Ticknor in 1825 : It 
is a very nice little girl, and William is one of the happiest 
fathers you ever saw. All the time he can spare from Italian 
and Spanish studies is devoted to this little pet." Mr. English 
remembers well how she used to be permitted to come into the 
study, and interrupt whatever work was going on there, much 
to his own satisfaction as well as to the father's, for her en 
gaging ways had won the secretary's love too. The shock of her 
death was very great, and was, besides, somewhat sudden. I 
have seldom seen sorrow more deep ; and, what was remark 
able, the grandfather and grandmother were so much overcome 
by it as to need the consolation they would otherwise have 
gladly given. It was, indeed, a much distressed house. 1 

i In a letter dated June 30, 1844, to Don Pascual de Gayangos, who had 
just suffered from the loss of a young child, Mr. Prescott says, " A similar 
calamity befell me some years since. It was my favorite child, taken away 
at the age of four, when all the loveliness and vivacity of the character is 
opening upon us. I never can suffer again as I then did. It was my first 
heavy sorrow ; and I suppose we cannot feel twice so bitterly." 


But the father wrought out consolation for himself in his own 
way. A fortnight after the death of his child he records : 

"February 15th, 1829. The death of my dearest daughter on the 
first day of this month having made it impossible for me at; present to re 
sume the task of composition, I have been naturally led to more serious 
reflection than usual, and have occupied myself with reviewing the grounds 
of the decision which I made in 1819 in favor of the evidences of the 
Christian revelation. I have endeavored and shall endeavor to prosecute 
this examination with perfect impartiality, and to guard against the pres 
ent state of my feelings influencing my mind any further than by leading 
it to give to the subject a more serious attention. And, so far, such influ 
ence must be salutary and reasonable, and far more desirable than any 
counter influence which might be exerted by any engrossing occupation 
with the cares and dissipation of the world. So far, I believe, I have con 
ducted the matter with sober impartiality." 

What he did on this subject, as on all others, he did thor 
oughly and carefully. His secretary read to him the principal 
books which it was then considered important to go through 
when making a fair examination of the supernatural claims of 
Christianity. Among them, on the one side, were Hume's 
" Essays," and especially the one on Miracles ; Gibbon's fif 
teenth chapter, and parts of the sixteenth ; Middleton's " Free 
Inquiry," which whatever were its author's real opinions, leans 
towards unbelief; and Soame Jenyns's somewhat easy discus 
sion of the Evidences, which is yet not wanting in hidden skill 
and acuteness. On the other hand, he took Watson's "Apol 
ogy " ; Brown's " Lectures," so far as they are an amplification 
of his admirably condensed " Essay on Cause and Effect " ; 
several of Waterland's treatises; Butler's "Analogy" and Pa- 
ley's " Evidences," with the portions of Lardner needful to 
explain and illustrate them. The last three works he valued 
more than all the others. But I think he relied mainly upon a 
careful reading of the Four Gospels, and an especial inquiry 
into each one of the Saviour's miracles, as related by each of 
the Evangelists. This investigation he made with his father's 
assistance ; and, when it was over, he said that he considered 
such an examination, made with an old and learned lawyer, was 
a sufficient pledge for the severity of his scrutiny. He might 
have added, that it was the safer, because the person who 
helped him in making it was not only a man of uncommon 
fairness of mind, perspicacity, and wisdom, but one who was 


very cautious, and, on all matters of evidence, had a tendency 
to scepticism rather than credulity. 

The conclusions at which he arrived were, that the narra 
tives of the Gospels were authentic ; that, after so careful an 
examination of them, he ought not to permit his mind to be 
disturbed on the same question again, unless he should be able 
to make an equally faithful revision of the whole subject ; and 
that, even if Christianity were not a divine revelation, no sys 
tem of morals was so likely to fit him for happiness here and 
hereafter. But he did not find in the Gospels, or in any part 
of the New Testament, the doctrines commonly accounted 
orthodox, and he deliberately recorded his rejection of them. 
On one minor point, too, he was very explicit. He declared his 
purpose to avoid all habits of levity on religious topics. And 
to this purpose, I believe, he adhered rigorously through life. 
At least, I am satisfied that I never heard him use light expres 
sions or allusions of any kind when speaking of Christianity, or 
when referring to the Scriptures. His mind, in fact, was rev 
erential in its very nature, and so was his father's. 2 

After a few weeks devoted to these inquiries, he resumed 
his accustomed studies. At the moment when they had been 
broken off, he was not employed regularly on his History. He 
had already stepped aside to write an article for the " North- 
American Review." During eight years he had been in the 
habit occasionally of contributing what he sometimes called 
" his peppercorn " to that well-established and respectable peri 
odical ; regarding his contributions as an exercise in writing 
which could not fail to be useful to him. His first experiments 

2 It was noticed by one of the members of his Club, Dr. John Ware, 
whose judgment and acuteness render his observation important, that Mr. 
Prescott was much interested whenever the subject of religion, or anything 
that claimed to be connected with the spiritual world, came up in the familiar 
discussions of their meetings. " He was always desirous," says Dr. Ware, 
" to hear something about magnetism, when that was in vogue, and still more 
about spiritual manifestations, when they came in fashion." This falls in 
with my own recollections and impressions. He went once certainly, and 1 
think more than once, to witness the exhibitions of a medium. But no effect 
was produced on his mind. He was always slow of belief. His historical judg 
ments prove this, and what he saw of "the manifestations," as they were 
called, rested on nothing like the evidence he was accustomed to require. 
Besides, they offended the sentiment of reverence, which, as I have said, 
was strong in his whole nature. 


of this sort, saving always the youthful failure already recorded, 
were, I suppose, two short articles, in 1821, on Sprague's beau 
tifully prize " Ode to Shakespeare," and on Byron's Letter 
upon Pope. These had been followed, with the regularity 
that marked almost everything he did, by a single article on 
some literary subject every succeeding year. It was an excel 
lent discipline for him as a beginner, and although, from the slow 
ness with which he necessarily worked, it took much lime, he 
never, I think, seriously regretted the sacrifice it implied. 

But now, being engrossed with his inquiries into early Span 
ish history, he preferred to take a subject immediately con 
nected with them. He wrote, therefore, an article on Conde's 
" History of the Arabs in Spain," comprising a general view of 
the Arabian character and civilization. It was prepared with 
great care. He gave much time to previous reading and study 
on the subject, I do not know exactly how much, but cer 
tainly three months, probably four, and it was not till nearly 
seven months after he first began to collect materials for the 
article that it was completed ; a from which, however, should 
be deducted the sorrowful period of several weeks that preceded 
and followed his little daughter's death. But, after all, he did 
not send it to the periodical publication for which it had been 
written. He found, perhaps, that it was too important for his 
own ulterior purposes ; certainly, that it was not fitted for the 
more popular tone of such a work as the " North American." 
Substituting for it, therefore, a pleasant article on Irving's 
" Conquest of Granada," which had cost him much less labor, 
but which was quite as interesting, he laid the one on Conde 
quietly aside, and finally, with some modifications, used it as 
the eighth chapter in the First Part of his " Ferdinand and Isa 
bella," where it stands now, an admirable foreground to the 
brilliant picture of the siege and fall of Granada. 4 

8 The manuscript notes for this article, now before me, are extraordinarily 
elaborate and minute. They fill two hundred and forty-four large foolscap 
pages, and have an index to them. 

4 Mr. Bancroft, in a review of " Ferdinand and Isabella," selects this chap 
ter as a happy illustration of the faithful industry with which the work is 
written. " Let any American scholar," he says, " turn, for instance, to the 
chapter on the literature of the Saracens, and ask himself, how long a period 
would be required to prepare for writing it." Democratic Review, (1838,) 
Vol. II. p. 162. 


It was June, 1829, before he returned to his regular read 
ings preparatory to the actual composition of Ferdinand and 
Isabella. In his more leisure hours, generally in the evening, 
he went over several works, half biography, half history, 
such as Miss Aikin's " Queen Elizabeth," Voltaire's " Charles 
XI L," and Roscoe's "Lorenzo de' Medici" and his "Leo X.," 
to see if he could glean from them any ideas for the general 
management of his subject ; while, for easy, finished narrative, 
he listened to large portions of Barante's " Dues de Bour- 
gogne," and studied with some care Thierry, the marvellous, 
blind Thierry, for whom he always felt a strong sympathy in 
consequence of their common misfortune, and to whose manner 
of treating history with a free citation of the old ballads and 
chronicles he was much inclined. From all this, perhaps, he 
gained little, except warnings what to avoid. At the same 
time, however, that he was doing it, he gave his forenoons to 
the direct, severe study of his subject. He advanced slowly, 
to be sure ; for his eyes were in a very bad state, and he was 
obliged to depend entirely on his reader when going through 
even such important works as those of Marina and Sempere 
on the Cortes, and Palencia's Chronicle of the time of Henry 
IV. Still he got on, and, in the course of the summer, pre 
pared an elaborate synopsis of the chief events to be discussed 
in his contemplated history ; all chronologically arranged from 
1454, when John II., Isabella's father, died, to 1516, the 
date of Ferdinand's death, which, of course, would close the 

From this synopsis, and especially from the estimate it in 
volved of the proportions of its different divisions, he, indeed, 
sometimes varied, as his ample materials were unrolled before 
him. But the whole plan, as he then digested it, shows that 
he had mastered the outline of his subject, and comprehended 
justly the relations and combinations of its various parts. He 
thought, however, that he could bring it all into two moderate 
volumes in octavo. In this he was mistaken. The work, from 
his thorough and faithful treatment of it, grew under his 
hands, and the world is not sorry that at last it was extended 
to three. 

On the 6th of October, 1829, three years and a half from 


the time when he had selected his subject, and begun to work 
upon it, he finally broke ground with its actual composition. 
He had then been three months reading and taking notes ex 
clusively for the first chapter. It was a month before that 
chapter was finished, and afterwards it was all rewritten. 
Two months more brought liim to the end of the third chap 
ter ; and, although the space filled by the three so greatly 
overran the estimate in his synopsis as to alarm him, he still 
felt that he had made good progress, and took courage. He 
was, in fact, going on at a rate which would make his History 
fill five volumes, and yet it was long before he gave up the 
struggle to keep it down to two. Similar trouble he encoun 
tered all the way through his work. He was constantly over 
running his own calculations, and unreasonably dissatisfied 
with himself for his mistakes and bad reckoning. 

Two things are noteworthy at this stage of his progress, 
because one of them influenced the whole of his subsequent 
life as an historian, and the other did much towards giving a 
direction and tone to his discussion of the characters and reign 
ofFerdinand and Isabella. 

The first is his increased regard for Mably as a counsellor 
and guide. In January, 1830, after looking afresh through 
some of Mably's works, there occurs the following notice of 
him, chiefly with reference to his treatise " Sur 1'Etude de 
1' Histoire," which, as we have already noticed, had engaged 
his careful attention five years earlier : 6 " He takes wide views, 
and his politics are characterized by directness and good faith. 
I have marked occasionally passages in the portions I have 
looked over which will be worth recurring to. I like particu 
larly his notion of the necessity of giving an interest as well as 
utility to history, by letting events tend to some obvious point 
or moral ; in short, by paying such attention to the develop 
ment of events tending to this leading result, as one would in 
the construction of a romance or a drama." A few days after 
wards he records the way in which he proposes to apply this 
principle to the " History of Ferdinand and Isabella." With 

6 He calls Mably " a perspicuous, severe, shrewd, and sensible writer, full 
of thought, and of such thoughts as set the reader upon thinking for 


vrliat success he subsequently carried it out in his " Conquest 
of Mexico " need not be told. In each instance he was aware 
of the direction his work was taking, and cites Mably as the 
authority for it. The same purpose is plain in the " Conquest 
of Peru," although the conditions of the case did not permit it 
to be equally applicable. 6 

The other circumstance to which I referred, as worthy of 
notice at this time, is Mr. Prescott's increased and increasing 
sense of the importance of what Don Diego Clemencin had 
done in his " Elogio de la Reina Dona Isabel," for the life of 
that great sovereign. This remarkable work, which, in an im 
perfect outline, its author had read to the Spanish Academy of 
History in 1807, he afterwards enlarged and enriched, until, 
when it was published in 1821, it filled the whole of the sixth 
ample volume of the Memoirs of that learned body. Mr. 
Prescott, above a year earlier, had consulted it, and placed it 
among the books to be carefully studied, but now he used it 
constantly. Later, he said it was " a most rich repository of 
unpublished facts, to be diligently studied by me at every 
pausing point in my history." And in a note at the end of 
his sixth chapter he pronounces it to be a work of inestimable 
service to the historian. These tributes to the modest, faithful 
learning of the Secretary of the Spanish Academy of History, 
who was afterwards its Director, are alike creditable to him 
who offered them, and to Don Diego de Clemencin, who was 
then no longer among the living, and to whom they could not, 
therefore, be offered in flattery. 

6 In 1841, when he was occupied with the " Conquest of Mexico," he says, 
" Have read for the tenth time, ' Mably sur 1' Etude de 1'Histoire,' full of ad 
mirable reflections and hints. Pity that his love of the ancients made him 
high gravel-blind to the merits of the moderns." This treatise, which Mr. 
Prescott studied with such care and perseverance, was written by Mably as 
a part of the course of instruction arranged by Condillac, Mably's kinsman, 
for the use of the heir to the dukedom of Parma, and it was printed in 1775. 
Mably was, no doubt, often extravagant and unsound in his opinions, and is 
now little regarded. How the author of " Ferdinand and Isabella " hit upon a 
work so generally overlooked, I do not know, except that nothing seemed to 
escape him that could be made to serve his purpose. On another occasion, 
when speaking of it, he implies that its precepts may not be applicable 
to political histories generally, which often require a treatment more philo 
sophical. But that he consulted it much when writing the " Ferdinand and 
Isabella," and the ' Conquest of Mexico," is not doubtful. 


But while the historian of Ferdinand and Isabella valued 
Mably and Clemencin as trustworthy guides, he read every 
thing, and judged and decided for himself concerning every 
thing, as he went on. His progress, indeed, was on these and 
on all accounts slow. His eye at this period was not in a con 
dition to enable him to use it except with the greatest caution. 
He sometimes felt obliged to consider the contingency of losing 
the use of it altogether, and had the courage to determine, even 
in that event, to go on with his history. How patient he must 
have been, we may judge from the fact, that, in sixteen months, 
he was not able to accomplish more than three hundred pages. 
But neither then, nor at any time afterwards, was he disheart 
ened by the difficulties he encountered. On the contrary, al 
though progress perceptible progress was very important 
to his happiness, he was content to have it veiy slow. Some 
times, however, he went on more easily, and then he was much 
encouraged. In the summer of 1832, when he had been very 
industrious for two months, he wrote to me, " I have disposed 
of three chapters of my work, which is pretty good hammer 
ing for a Cyclops." Such intervals of freer labor gave him a 
great impulse. He enjoyed his own industry and success, and 
his original good spirits did the rest. 

As he advanced, his subject cleared up before him, and he 
arranged it at last in two nearly equal divisions ; the first illus 
trating more particularly the domestic policy of the sovereigns, 
and bringing Isabella into the foreground ; and the second mak 
ing their foreign policy and the influence and management of 
Ferdinand more prominent. In each he felt more and more 
the importance of giving interest to his work by preserving for 
it a character of unity, and keeping in view some pervading 
moral purpose. One thing, however, disappointed him. He 
perceived certainly that it must be extended to three volumes. 
This he regretted. But he resolved that in no event would 
he exceed this estimate, and he was happily able to keep his 
resolution, although it cost him much self-denial to do it. He 
was constantly exceeding his allowance of space, and as con 
stantly condensing and abridging his work afterwards, so as to 
come within it. To this part of his labor he gave full two 
years. It was a long time ; but, as he advanced with a step 


assured by experience, his progress became at least more even, 
and easy, if not faster. 

The early part of the summer of 1835, which he passed at 
Pepperell, was peculiarly agreeable and happy. He felt that 
his work was at last completely within his control, and was 
approaching its termination. He even began to be impatient, 
which he had never been before. 

In a pleasant letter to his friend Mr. Bancroft, dated Pep 
perell, June 17, 1835, he says : 

" I find the country, as usual, favorable to the historic Muse. I am so 
near the term of my labors, that, if I were to remain here six months 
longer, I should be ready to launch my cock-boat, or rather gondola, for 
it is a heavy three- volume affair, into the world. A winter's campaign 
ing in the metropolis, however, will throw me back, I suppose, six months 
further. I have little more to do than bury and write the epitaphs of the 
Great Captain, Ximenes, and Ferdinand. Columbus and Isabella are 
already sent to their account. So my present occupation seems to be that 
of a sexton, and I begin to weary of it." 7 

A month later he went, as usual, to the sea-shore for the hot 
season. But, before he left the spot always so dear to him, 
he recorded the following characteristic reflections and reso 
lutions : 

"July 12th, 1835. In three days, the 15th, we leave Pepperell, hav 
ing been here nearly ten weeks. We found the country in its barren 
spring, and leave it in the prime dress of summer. I have enjoyed the 
time, and may look back on it with some satisfaction, for I have not 
misspent it, as the record will show. 

" On the whole, there is no happiness so great as that of a permanent 
and lively interest in some intellectual labor. I, at least, could never bo 
tolerably contented without it. When, therefore, I get so absorbed by 
pleasures particularly exciting pleasures as to feel apathy, in any 
degree, in my literary pursuits, just in that degree I am less happy. No 
other enjoyment can compensate, or approach to, the steady satisfaction 
and constantly increasing interest of active literary labor, the subject of 
meditation when I am out of my study, of diligent stimulating activity 
within, to say nothing of the comfortable consciousness of directing my 

? The mother of the future historian and statesman was an early friend of 
the elder Mrs. Prescott, and the attachment of the parents was betimes trans 
ferred to the children. From the period of Mr. Bancroft's return home, after 
several years spent in Europe, where his academic course was completed, 
this attachment was cemented by constant intercourse and intimacy with the 
Prescott family, and was never broken until it was broken by death. Some 
allusions to this friendship have already been made. More will be found 


powers in some channel worthy of them, and of contributing something to 
the stock of useful knowledge in the world. As this must be my princi 
pal material for happiness, I should cultivate those habits and amusements 
most congenial with it, and these will be the quiet domestic duties 
which will also be my greatest pleasures and temperate social enjoy 
ments, not too frequent and without excess; for the excess of to-day will 
be a draft on health and spirits to-morrow. Above all, observe if my in 
terest be weakened in any degree in my pursuits. If so, be sure I am 
pursuing a wrong course somewhere, wrong even in an Epicurean sense 
for my happiness, and reform it at once. 

" With these occupations and temperate amusement, seek to do some 
good to society by an interest in obviously useful and benevolent objects. 
Preserve a calm, philosophical, elevated way of thinking on all subjects 
connected with the action of life. Think more seriously of the conse 
quences of conduct. Cherish devotional feelings of reliance on the Deity. 
Discard a habit of sneering or scepticism. Do not attempt impossibilities, 
or, in other words, to arrive at certainty [as if] on questions of historic 
evidence ; but be content that there is evidence enough to influence a 
wise man in the course of his conduct, enough to produce an assent, if 
not a mathematical demonstration to his mind, and that the great laws 
for our moral government are laid down with undeniable, unimpeachable 

A week after the date of these last reflections, he was quietly 
established at Nahant, having remained, as usual, two or three 
days in Boston to look after affairs that could not be attended 
to in the country. But he always disliked these periodical 
changes and removals. They broke up his habits, and made 
a return to his regular occupations more or less difficult and 
unsatisfactory. On this occasion, coming from the tranquil 
lizing influences of Pepperell, where he had been more than 
commonly industrious and happy, he makes an amusing rec 
ord of a fit of low spirits and impatience, which is worth 
notice, because it is the only one to be found in all his memo 
randa : 

"July 19th. Moved to Nahant yesterday. A most consumed fit ot 
vapors. The place looks dreary enough after the green fields of Pep 
perell. Don't like the air as well either, too chilly, find I bear and 
like hot weather better than I used to. Begin to study, that is the best 
way of restoring equanimity. Be careful of my eyes at first, till accom 
modated to the' glare. Hope I shall find this good working-ground, 
have generally found it so. This ink is too pale to write further. Every 
thing goes wrong here." 

But he had a good season for work at Nahant, after all. Ho 
wrote there, not only the troublesome account of the Conquest 


of Navarre, but the brilliant chapters on the deaths of Gon- 
salvo de Cordova and Ferdinand, leaving only the administra 
tion and fall of Cardinal Ximenes for a dignified close to the 
whole narrative part of the liistory, and thus giving a sort of 
tragical denouement to it, such as he desired. This he com 
pleted in Boston, about the middle of November. 

A chapter to review the whole of his subject, and point it 
with its appropriate moral, was, however, still wanted. It was 
a difficult task, and he knew it ; for, among other things, it in 
volved a general and careful examination of the entire legis 
lation of a period in which great changes had taken place, and 
permanent reforms had been introduced. He allowed five 
months for it. It took above seven, but it is an admirable part 
of his work, and worth all the time and labor it cost him. 

At last, on the 25th of June, 1836, he finished the conclud 
ing note of the concluding chapter to the History of Ferdinand 
and Isabella. Reckoning from the time when he wrote the 
first page, or from a period a little earlier, when he prepared a 
review of Conde on the Spanish Arabs, which he subsequently 
made a chapter in his work, the whole had been on his hands 
a little more than seven years and a half; and, deducting nine 
months for illness and literary occupations not connected with 
his History, he made out that he had written, during that time, 
at the rate of two hundred and thirty-four printed pages a year. 
But he had read and labored on the subject much in the two 
or three years that preceded the beginning of its absolute 
composition, and another year of corrections in the proof-sheets 
followed before it was fairly delivered to the world at Christ 
mas, 1837. He was, therefore, exact, even after making all 
the deductions that can belong to the case, when, in his general 
estimate, he said that he had given to the work ten of the best 
years of his life. 




STRANGE as it may seem, it is nevertheless true, that 
after these ten years of labor on the Ferdinand and Isa 
bella, and with the full happiness he felt on completing that 
work, Mr. Prescott yet hesitated at last whether he should 
publish it or not. As early as 1833, and from that time for 
ward, while the composition was going on, he had caused four 
copies of it to be printed in large type on one side only of the 
leaf. For this he had two reasons. If he should determine 
to publish the work in London, he could send a fair, plain copy 
to be printed from ; and, at any rate, from such a copy he 
might himself, whenever his eye could endure the task, revise 
the whole personally, making on the blank pages such correc 
tions and alterations as he might find desirable. This task 
was already accomplished. He had gone over the whole, a 
little at a time, with care. Some portions he had rewritten. 
The first chapter he wrote out three times, and printed it 
twice, before it was finally put in stereotype, and adjusted to 
its place as it now stands. 

Still he hesitated. He consulted with his father, as he al 
ways did when he doubted in relation to matters of conse 
quence. His father not only advised the publication, but told 
him that " the man who writes a book which he is afraid to 
publish is a coward." Tlu's stirred the blood of his grandfather 
in his veins, and decided him. 1 

He had, however, the concurrent testimony of judicious and 

l Griswold's Prose Writers of America, 1847, p. 372. 


faitliful friends. Mr. Sparks, the historian, in a note dated 
February 24th, 1837, says: "I have read several chapters, 
and am reading more. The book will be successful, bought, 
read, and praised." And Mr. Pickering, the modest, learned, 
philosophical philologist, to whom he submitted it a little later, 
sent him more decisive encouragement under date of May 1st. 


Being uninterrupted last evening, I had an opportunity to finish the few 
pages that remained of your work, and I now return the volumes with 
many thanks. I cannot, however, take leave of them without again ex 
pressing the high satisfaction I feel that our country should have produced 
such a work, a work which, unless I am much mistaken, will live as 
long as any one produced by your contemporaries either here or in Eng 

I am, my dear sir, with the warmest regard, 

Very truly yours, 


His friend Mr. Gardiner had already gone over the whole 
of the three volumes with his accustomed faithfulness, and with 
a critical judgment which few possess. He had suggested an 
important alteration in the arrangement of some of the early 
chapters, which was gladly adopted, and had offered minor 
corrections and verbal criticism of all sorts, with the freedom 
which their old friendship demanded, but a considerable part 
of which were, with the same freedom, rejected ; the author 
maintaining, as he always did, a perfect independence of judg 
ment in all such matters. 

How he himself looked upon his ten years' labor may be 
seen by the following extracts from his memoranda, before he 
passed the final, fatal bourn of the press. After giving some 
account of his slow progress and its causes, he says, under date 
of June 26th, 1836, when he had recorded the absolute com 
pletion of the History : 

" Pursuing the work in this quiet, leisurely way, without over-exertion 
or fatigue, or any sense of obligation to complete it in a given time, I have 
found it a continual source of pleasure. It has furnished food for my 
meditations, has given a direction and object to my scattered reading, and 
supplied me with regular occupation for hours that would otherwise have 
filled me with ennui. I have found infinite variety in the study, moreover, 
which might at first sight seem monotonous. No historical labors, rightly 
conducted, can be monotonous, since they afford all the variety of pursu 
ing a chain of facts to unforeseen consequences, of comparing doubtful and 
5 G 


contradictory testimony, of picturesque delineations of incident, and of 
analysis and dramatic exhibition of character. The plain narrative may 
be sometimes relieved by general views or critical discussions, and the 
story and the actors, as they grow under the hands, acquire constantly 
additional interest. It may seem dreary work to plod through barbarous 
old manuscript chronicles of monks and pedants, but this takes up but a 
small portion of the time, and even here, read aloud to, as I have l>ccn, 
required such close attention as always made the time pass glibly. In 
short, although I have sometimes been obliged to whip myself up to the 
work, I have never fairly got into it without deriving pleasure from it, and 
I have most generally gone to it with pleasure, and left it with regret. 

" What do I expect from it, now it is done ? And may it not be all in 
vain and labor lost, after all 1 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 tlu\ 
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 en 
couraged me in forming systematic habits of intellectual occupation, and 
proved to me that my greatest happiness is to be the result of such. It ia 
no little matter to be possessed of this conviction from experience." 

And again, in the following October, when he had entirely 
prepared his work for the press, he writes : 

" Thus ends the labor of ten years, for I have been occupied more or 
less with it, in general or particular readings, since the summer of 1826, 
when, indeed, from the disabled state of my eyes, I studied with little spirit 
and very little expectation of reaching this result. But what result? 
Three solid octavos of facts, important in themselves, new in an English 
dress, and which, therefore, however poor may be the execution of the 
work, must have some value in an historic view. With the confidence in 
its having such a value, however humble it may be, I must rest contented. 
And I now part with the companion of so many years with the cheering 
conviction, that, however great or little good it may render the public, it 
has done much to me, by the hours it has helped to lighten, and the habits 
of application it has helped to form." 

He caused the whole to be stereotyped without delay. This 
mode he preferred, because it was one which left him a more 
complete control of his own work than he could obtain in 


any other ,vay, and because, if it rendered corrections and 
alterations more difficult, it yet insured greater typographical 
accuracy at the outset. Mr. Charles Folsom, a member of 
the pleasant club that had been formed many years before, 
superintended its publication with an absolute fidelity, good 
taste, and kindness that left nothing to desire ; although, as 
the author, when referring to his friend's criticisms and sug 
gestions, says, they made his own final revision anything but a 
sinecure. It was, I suppose, as carefully carried through the 
press as any work ever was in this country. The pains that 
had been taken with its preparation from the first were contin 
ued to the last. 

That it was worth the many years of patient, conscientious 
labor bestowed upon it, the world was not slow to acknowledge. 
It was published in Boston by the American Stationers' Com 
pany, a corporate body that had a short time before been 
organized under favorable auspices, but which troubles in the 
financial condition of the country and other causes did not per 
mit long to continue its operations. The contract with them 
was a very modest one. It was dated April 10th, 1837, and 
stipulated on their part, for the use of the stereotype plates and 
of the engravings, already prepared at the author's charge. 
From these, twelve hundred and fifty copies might be struck 
off at the expense of the Company, who were to have five 
years to dispose of them. The bargain, however, was not, in 
one point of view, unfavorable. It insured the zealous and 
interested co-operation of a large and somewhat influential body 
in the sale and distribution of the work, a matter of much 
more importance at that time than it would be now, when book 
selling as a business and profession in the United States is so 
much more advanced. Otherwise, as a contract, it was cer 
tainly not brilliant in its promise. But the author thought 
well of it ; and, since profit had not been his object, he was 
entirely satisfied. 

I was then in Italy, having been away from home with my 
family nearly two years, during which I had constantly received 
letters from him concerning the progress of his work. On this 
occasion he wrote to me, April llth, 1837, the very day after 
the date of his contract, as follows : 


" If your eyes are ever greeted with the aspect of the old North [Amer 
ican Review] in your pilgrimage, you may see announced the ' History of 
Ferdinand and Isabella, 3 vols. 8vo,' as in press, which means, will be out 
in October. The American Stationers' Company a company got up 
with a considerable capital for the publication of expensive works have 
contracted for an edition of twelve hundred and fifty copies. I find the 
stereotype plates, which cost not a great deal more than the ordinary mode 
of composition, and they the paper and all other materials, and pay me a 
thousand dollars. The offer was a liberal one, and entirely answers my 
purpose of introducing the work into the channels of circulation, which I 
could not have effected by so small an inducement as a commission to a 
publisher. The Company, as proprietors of the edition, have every 
motive to disseminate it, and they have their agencies diffused through 
every part of the United States. What has given me most satisfaction is 
the very handsome terms in which the book has been recommended by 
Messrs. Pickering and Sparks, two of the committee for determining on 
the publication by the Company, and the former of whom before perusal, 
expressed himself, as I know, unfavorably to the work as a marketable con 
cern, from the nature of the subject. My ambition will be fully satisfied, 
if -the judgments of the few whose good opinion I covet are but half so 
favorable as those publicly expressed by these gentlemen 

" I must confess I feel some disquietude at the prospect of coming in full 
bodily presence, as it were, before the public. I have always shrunk from 
such an exhibition, and, during the ten years I have been occupied with 
the work, few of my friends have heard me say as many words about it. 
When I saw my name harmonious ' Hickling ' and all blazoned in 

the North American, it gave me, as S would say, ' quite a turn,' 

anything but agreeable. But I am in for it. Of one thing I feel confi 
dent, that the book has been compiled from materials, and with a fidel 
ity, which must make it fill a hiatus defteiidtis in Spanish history. For the 
same reasons, I cannot think that I have much to fear from criticism ; not 
to add, that the rarity of my materials is such, that I doubt if any but a 
Spaniard possesses the previous knowledge of the whole ground for a fair 
and competent judgment of my historical accuracy. But enough and too 
much of this egotism ; though I know you and Anna love me too well to 
call it egotism, and will feel it to be only the unreserved communication 
made aitmnd one's own fireside." 

A great surprise to all the parties concerned followed the 
publication. Five hundred copies only were struck off at first ; 
that number being thought quite sufficient for an experiment 
so doubtful as this was believed to be. No urgency was used 
to have the whole even of this inconsiderable edition ready 
for early distribution and sale. But during several days the 
demand was so great, that copies could not be prepared by the 
bookbinder as fast as they were called for. Three fifths of 
the whole number were disposed of in Boston before any could 
be spared to go elsewhere, and all disappeared in five weeks. 


In a few months, more copies were sold than by the contract it 
had been assumed could be disposed of in five years ; and from 
the beginning of May, 1838, that is, in the course of four 
months from its first publication, the History itself stood 
before the public in the position it has maintained ever since. 
A success so brilliant had never before been reached in so short 
a time by any work of equal size and gravity on this side of the 
Atlantic. Indeed, nothing of the sort had approached it. 

"But," as his friend Mr. Gardiner has truly said, " this wonderfully 
rapid sale of a work so grave, beginning in his own town, was due in the 
first instance largely to its author's great personal popularity in society, 
and may be taken as a signal proof of it. For Mr. 1'rescott had acquired 
earlier no marked reputation as an author. As a mere man of letters, his 
substantial merits were known only by a few intimate friends ; perhaps not 
fully appreciated by them. To the public he was little known in any way. 
But he was a prodigious favorite with whatever was most cultivated in 
the society of Boston. Few men ever had so many warmly attached per 
sonal friends. Still fewer without more or less previous distinction 01 
fame had ever been sought as companions by young and old of both 
sexes as he had been. When, therefore, it came to be known that the 
same person who had so attracted them by an extraordinary combination 
of charming personal qualities was about to publish a book, and it was 
known only a very short time before the book itself appeared, the fact 
excited the greatest surprise, curiosity, and interest. 

" The day of its appearance was looked forward to and talked of. It 
came, and there was a perfect rush to get copies. A convivial friend, for 
instance, who was far from being a man of letters, indeed, a person 
who rarely read a book, got up early in the morning, and went to wait 
for the opening of the publisher's shop, so as to secure the first copy. It 
came out at Christmas, and was at once adopted as the fashionable Christ 
mas and New Year's present of the season. Those who knew the author read 
it from interest in him. No one read it without surprise and delight. Mr. 
Daniel Webster, the statesman, who knew Prcscott well in society, was as 
much surprised as the rest, and spoke of him as a comet which had sud 
denly blazed out upon the world in full splendor. 

" Such is the history of this remarkable sale at its outbreak. Love of 
the author gave the first impetus. That given, the extraordinary merits 
of the work did all the rest." 

Meantime negotiations had been going on for its publication 
in London. My friend had written to me repeatedly about 
them, and so unreasonably moderate were his hopes, that, at 
one time, he had thought either not to publish it at all in the 
United States, or to give away the work here, and make his 
chief venture in England. As early as the 29th of Decem 
ber, 1835, he had written to me in Dresden, where I then 
was : 


" Before closing my letter, I shall detain you a little about my own 
affairs. I have nearly closed my maynum opus, that is, I shall close it, 
and have a copy of it printed, I trust, early next autumn. I print, you 
know, only four copies, designing, whether I publish it here or not, to 
have it printed in England 

" Although the subject has nothing in it to touch the times and present 
topics of interest and excitement particularly, yet, as filling up a blank of 
importance in modern history, I cannot but think, if decently executed, 
that it will not be difficult to find some publisher in London who would 
be interested in it. You know that lucre is not my object. I wish, if 
possible, to give the work a fair chance under fair auspices. As to the 
merits of the work, it will be easy to form a judgment, since the book 
seller will have the advantage of a fair printed copy. Now I wish your 
advice, how I had best proceed ? If you should be in London next win 
ter, my course would be clear. I would send the book to you, and doubt 
not you would put it in a train for getting it into the world, if any 
respectable accoucheur could be found to take charge of it. If you 
should not be there, as is most probable, can you advise me what to do 
next ? 

"I think it possible I may print the book here simultaneously. of 
fered the other day to take the concern off my hands, if I would give him 
the first impression of a certain number of copies. As I have no illusory 
hopes of a second, I don't know that I can do better. But I am persuaded 
the work, if worth anything, is suited to a European market, at least, 
enough to indemnify the publisher. Else ten years nearly of my life have 
been thrown away indeed. I hope you will not lose your patience with 
this long-winded prosing, and will excuse this egotism, from the impor 
tance of the subject to myself. As to the trouble I occasion you, I know 
you too well to think you will require an apology." 

To this I replied from Dresden, February 8th, 1836 : 

" You speak more fully about your opus magnum, and therefore I answer 
more fully than I did before. It must be a proud thought to you that 
you are so near the end of it ; and yet I think you will leave it with the 
same feeling of regret with which Gibbon left his Decline and Fall. What, 
then, will you do to fill up the first void ? Is it out of the question that 
you should fetch out your copy yourself, and get the peace of conscience 
that would follow making the arrangements for its publication in person ? 
I hope not. For we could easily manage to meet you in England two 
years hence, and I assure you, my own experience leads me to think it no 
very grave matter to travel with wife and children. But let us suppose 
you do not. What then ? I remain by the suggestion in my last letter, 
that Colonel Aspinwall is the man to take charge of it, provided neither 
you nor I should be in London, although, if both of us were on the spot, 
he would be the man with whom I think we should earliest advise in all 
publishing arrangements. His place as our Consul-Gcncral in London is 
something in talking to publishers. His character, prompt, business-like, 
firm, and honorable, is still more. And then, if I mistake not, he has a 
good deal of practice with these people ; for he certainly makes Irving's 

bargains, and, I believe, has managed for and others. This practice, 

too, is a matter of moment." 


Very fortunately for the author of Ferdinand and Isabella, 
Colonel Aspinwall was soon afterwards in Boston, which is his 
proper home, and in whose neighborhood he was born. He at 
once undertook in the pleasantest manner the pleasant com 
mission which was offered him, and a mutual regard was the 
consequence of the connection then formed, which was never 
afterwards broken or impaired ; so much was there in common 
between the characters of the two high-minded and cultivated 

In the autumn of 1836, one of the four printed copies, care 
fully corrected, was therefore, sent to Colonel Aspinwall, 
accompanied by a letter dated October 28th, in which the 
author says : 

" With regard to the arrangements for publication, which you hare 
been kind enough to allow me to trust to you, I can only say that I shall 
abide entirely by your judgment. I certainly should not disdain any 
profits which might flow from it, though I believe you will do me the 
justice to think that I have been influenced by higher motives in the com 
position of the work. If I have succeeded, I have supplied an important 
desideratum in history, but one which, I fear, has too little in it of a tem 
porary or local interest to win its way into public favor very speedily. 
But if the bookseller can wait, I am sure I can." 

The first attempts with the trade in London were not en 
couraging. Murray, the elder, to whom the book was at once 
offered, declined promptly to become its publisher; probably 
without an examination of its merits, and certainly without a 
thorough one. Longman took more time, but came to the 
same conclusion. The author, as might have been expected, 
was chagrined, and, with the openness of his nature, said so, in 
his letters both to Colonel Aspinwall and to me. 

" Murray's decision," he wrote to the former, " was too prompt to bo 
final with me; but Longman has examined the matter so deliberately, 
that I am convinced there is little reason to suppose the book can be 
regarded as a profitable concern for a London publisher. It will un 
doubtedly prejudice the work to go a-begging for a patron, and my 
ill-success will thus acquire a disagreeable notoriety not only there, but 
here, where nothing is known of my foreign negotiations. I think it best, 
therefore, to take Uncle Toby's advice on the occasion, and say nothing 
about it to any one. For the copy in your possession, you had best put 
it out of sight. It will soon be replaced by one of the Boston edition in 
a more comely garb. If you should have proposed the work before re 
ceiving this to any other person, I shall not care to hear of its refusal 
from you, as it will disgust me with the book before it is fairly born." 


Similar feelings he expressed even more strongly two days 
later. But this state of things was not destined to last long. 
Before the letter which was intended to discourage any further 
proposition in London had reached Colonel Aspinwall, Mr. 
Richard Bentley had accepted an offer of the book. A few 
days after learning this, the author wrote to me in a very 
different state of mind from that in which he had written his 
last letters. 

BOSTON, May 16, 1837. 

I told you in my last that no arrangement for the publication had 
been made in England. I was mistaken, however, as I soon afterwards 
received a letter from Colonel Aspinwall, informing me of one with 
Bentley, by which he becomes proprietor of one half of the copyright, 
and engages to publish forthwith an edition at his own cost and risk, and 
divide with me the profits. He says, " It will be an object for him to get 
out the work in elegant style, with engravings, vignettes, &c." This is 
certainly much better, considering the obscurity of the author and the 
absence of all temporary allusion or interest in the subject, than I had a 
right to expect. My object is now attained. I shall bring out the book 
in the form I desired, and under the most respectable auspices on both 
sides of the water, and in a way which must interest the publisher so 
deeply as to secure his exertions to circulate the work. My bark will be 
fairly launched, and if it should be doomed to encounter a spiteful puff or 
two of criticism, I trust it may weather it. 

But he encountered no such adverse blasts. Immediately 
after the appearance of the book at Christmas, 1837, but with 
the imprint of 1838, a very long and able article on it by his 
friend Mr. Gardiner, who, as we have seen, had just assisted in 
preparing it for the press, was published in the " North-Ameri 
can Review." 2 A little later, another friend, the Rev. Mr. 
Greenwood, whose name it is not possible to mention with 
out remembering what sorrow followed the early loss of one 
whose genius was at once so brilliant and so tender, wrote a 
review for the " Christian Examiner," no less favorable than 
that of Mr. Gardiner. 8 Others followed. An excellent notice 
by Mr. John Pickering appeared in the " New York Re 
view," true, careful, and discriminating. 4 And the series 
of the more elaborate American discussions was closed in the 
" Democratic Review " of the next month by Mr. Bancroft, 
himself an historian already of no mean note, and destined to 

2 January, 1838. * March, 1838. April, 1838. 


yet more distinction on both sides of the Atlantic. Of course, 
there were many other notices in periodical publications of less 
grave pretensions, and still more in the newspapers ; for the 
work excited an interest which had not been at all foreseen. 
It was read by great numbers who seldom looked into anything 
so solid and serious. It was talked of by all who ever talked 
of books. Whatever was written or said about it was in one 
tone and temper ; so that, as far as the United States were con 
cerned, it may be regarded as successful from the moment of 
its appearance. 

Nor did the notices which at the same time came from Eng 
land show anything but good-will towards the unknown and 
unheralded claimant for the higher class of literary honors. 
They were written, of course, by persons who had never before 
heard of him, but their spirit was almost as kindly as if they 
had been dictated by personal friendship. The " Athenaeum " 
led off with a short laudatory article, which I believe, was from 
the pen of Dr. Dunham, who wrote the summary History of 
Spain and Portugal in Lardner's Cabinet Cyclopaedia, 5 An 
article, however, in the " Edinburgh Review," a little later, was 
much more satisfactory. 6 It was the first examination that the 
work obtained in England from one whose previous special 
knowledge of the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella enabled him 
to do it thoroughly. Its author was Don Pascual de Gayangos, 
a learned and accomplished Spanish gentleman, then resident 
in London, who wrote the Castilian and the English with equal 
purity and elegance, and of whose kindly connection with Mr. 
Prescott it will be necessary for me to speak often hereafter. 
He made in his article on the " Ferdinand and Isabella " a faithful 
and real review of the work, going over its several divisions 
with care, and giving a distinct opinion on each. It was more 
truly an examination of the work, and less a dissertation on 
the subject, than is common in such articles, and on this account 
it will always have its value. 

To this succeeded in June an article in the " Quarterly Re 
view," by an English gentleman familiar with everything Span 
ish ; I mean Mr. Richard Ford, who wrote the " Handbook of 
Spain," a brilliant work, not without marks of prejudice, 

6 1838, pp. 42 - 44. January, 1839. 



but full of a singularly minute and curious local knowledge 
of Spain, and of Spanish history and manners. His article 
on " Ferdinand and Isabella " 7 is marked with the same char 
acteristics and similar prejudices. He is obviously a little 
unwilling to think that a book written with learning, judg 
ment, and good taste can come from such a Nazareth as the 
United States ; but he admits it at last. Perhaps his reluctant 
testimony was hardly less gratifying to the author than one 
more cordial would have been. 

A series of articles, however, which appeared in the " Bi- 
bliotheque Universelle de Geneve" between July, 1838, and 
January, 1840, five in number, and making together above 
a hundred and eighty pages, gave Mr. Prescott more satis 
faction than any other review of his work. And well they 
might, for no other review of the " Ferdinand and Isabella " 
can be compared to it in amplitude or elaborateness. It was 
written by Count Adolphe de Circourt, a person whom Lamar- 
tine has called "a living chart of human knowledge." 8 It 

7 June, 1839. 

8 Speaking of the peculiar fitness of the appointment of this gentleman to 
the very important mission at the Court of Berlin, immediately after the fall 
of Louis-Philippe, in 1848, Lamartine says: " Get homme, peu connu jusques- 
la hors du monde aristocratique, Htte>aire, et savant, se nommait Mons. de 
Circourt. II avait servi sous la Re'stauration dans la diplomatic. La reVolu- 
tion de Juillet 1'avait rejete dans 1'isolement et dans 1'opposition, plus pr6s du 
legitimisme que de la democratic. II avait profile 1 de ces ann^es pour se 
livrer a des etudes, qui aurient absorb^ plusieurs vies d'hommes, et qui n'e'tai- 
ent que des distractions de la sienne. Langues, races, geographic, histoire, 
philosophic, voyages, constitutions, religions des peuples depuis 1'enfance du 
rnonde jusqu'a nos jours, depuis le Thibet jusqu'aux Alpes, il avait tout incor- 
pore'eiilui; tout r&le'chi; tout retenu. On pouvait 1'interroger sur 1'univer- 
salite des fails ou des id<5es, dont se compose le monde, sans qu'il eut besoin, 
pour repondre, d'interroger d'autres livres que sa memoire, etendue, surface 
et profondeur immense des notions, dont jamais on ne rencontrait ni le fond, 
ni les limites, mappemonde vivante des connaissances humaines, hommo 
ou tout etait tete et dont la tete etait a la hauteur de toutes les ve'rite's; im 
partial du reste; indifferent entre les systemes comme un etre qui ne serait 
qu'intelligence, et qui ne tiendrait a la nature humaine que par le regard et 
par la curiosite. Mons. de Circourt avait e'pouse' une jeune femme Rnsse, de 
race aristocratique et d'un esprit Europeen. II tenait par elle a tout ce qu'il 
y avait d'eminent dans les lettres et dans les cours de 1' Allemagne et du Nord. 
Lui-meme avait reside 1 a Berlin, et il s'y etait lie avec les hommes d'etat. Le 
Koi de Prusse, souverain lettre et liberal, 1'avait honore de quelque intimite 1 
a sa cour. Mons. de Circourt, sans etre republicain de co2iir, etait assez 
frappd des grands horizons qu'une R<?publique Fran9aise edose du genio 


goes in the most thorough manner over the whole subject, and 
examines the difficult and doubtful points in the history of the 
period with a remarkable knowledge of the original sources and 
authorities. Sometimes the reviewer differs from the author ; 
maintaining, for instance, that the union of the crowns of Cas 
tile and Aragon was not a benefit to Spain, and that the war 
against Granada is not to be justified by the code of a Christian 
civilization. And sometimes he makes additions to the History 
itself, as in the case of the conquest of Navarre. But what 
ever he says is said in a philosophical spirit, and with a gener 
ous purpose ; and, coming in a foreign language from one who 
knew the author only in his book, it sounds more like the voice 
of posterity than either the American or the English reviews 
that were contemporary with it. 

progress! f, et pacifique de la France nouvelle pouvait ouvrir a 1'esprit hu- 
main, pour la saluer et la servir. II comprenait, comme Lamartine, que la 
liberty avait besoin de la paix, et que la paix e'tait a. Berlin et & Londres." 
Revolution de 1848, Livre xi. c. 13. 

I have inserted these striking remarks of Lamartine on Mons. and Mad. de 
Circourt, because they will appear hereafter as the friends of Mr. Prescott. 
They will also be remembered by many of my readers as the intimate friends 
and correspondents of De Tocqueville and Count Cavour. 





PASSING over the multitude of notices that appeared con 
cerning the " History of Ferdinand and Isabella," it will 
be pleasant to see how the author himself felt in the first flush 
of his unexpected honors. I was then in Paris, and ten days 
after the book was published in Boston he wrote to me as 
follows : 

" BOSTON, Jan. 6, 1838. 

" It is long since I have seen your handwriting ; though only a few- 
weeks since I received a most kind and welcome epistle from Anna. Your 
friends here say your arc not going to hold out your four years, and I could 
not help thinking that the complexion of Anna's sentiments looked rather 
homeish. 1 I wish it may prove so. You will, at least, be spared, by your 
return, sundry long communications from me, with a plentiful dash of 
egotism in them. 

" There is some excuse for this, however, just now, which is a sort of 
epoch in my life, my literary life at least. Their Catholic Highnesses 
have just been ushered into the world in three royal octavos. The bant 
ling appeared on a Christmas morning, and certainly has not fallen still 
born, but is alive and kicking merrily. How long its life may last is 
another question. Within the first ten days half the first edition of five 
hundred copies (for the publishers were afraid to risk a larger one for our 
market) has been disposed of, and they are now making preparations for a 
second edition, having bought of me twelve hundred and fifty copies. The 
sale, indeed, seems quite ridiculous, and I fancy many a poor soul thinks 
so by this time. Not a single copy has been sent South, the publishers 
not choosing to strip the market while they can find such demand here. 

" In the mean time the book has got summer-pufts in plenty, and a gale 
to the tune of ninety pages from the old North American.' S face 
tiously remarked, that ' the article should be called the fourth volume of the 

l I went abroad, with my family, for Mrs. Ticknor's health, in 1835, intend 
ing to stay abroad four years, if, as her physicians feared, so much time 
might be necessary for her restoration. She was well in three, and we gladly 
came home a few months after the date of this letter. 


History.' It was written by Gardiner, after several months' industrious 
application, though eventually concocted in the very short space of ten 
days, 2 which has given occasion to some oversights. It is an able, learned, 
and most partial review ; and I doubt if more knowledge of the particular 
subject can easily be supplied by the craft on the other side of the water, 
at least without the aid of a library as germane to the matter as mine, 
which, I think, will not readily be met with. I feel half inclined to send 
you a beautiful critique from the pen of your friend Hillard, as much to 
my taste as anything that has appeared. But pudor vetat. 

" In the mean time the small journals have opened quite a cry in my 
favor, and while one of yesterday claims me as a Bostonian, a Salem paper 
asserts that distinguished honor for the witch-town. So you see I am ex 
periencing the fate of the Great Obscure, even in my own lifetime. And 
a clergyman told me yesterday, he intended to make my case the obsta 
cles I have encountered and overcome the subject of a sermon. I told 
him it would help to sell the book, at all events. 

'" Poor fellow !' I hear you exclaim by this time, 'his wits aro 
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 popularitcUem 

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. 
The truth is, I appreciate, more than my critics can do, the difficulty of 
doing justice to my subject, and the immeasurable distance between me 
and the models with which they have been pleased to compare me 

" From two things I have derived unfeigned satisfaction ; one, the de 
light of my good father, who seems disposed to swallow without the 
requisite allowance of salt all the good-natured things which are said of 
the book, and the other, the hearty and active kindness of the few whom 
I have thought and now find to be my friends. I feel little doubt that 
the work, owing to their exertions, when it gets to the Southern cities 
where I am not known, will find a fair reception, though, of course, I 
cannot expect anything like the welcome it has met here. 3 I feel relieved, 
however, as well as the publishers, from all apprehensions that the book 
will burn their fingers, whatever it may do to the author's 

" I have sent a copy for you to Rich [London], who will forward it ac 
cording to your directions. I suppose there will be no difficulty in send 
ing it over to Paris, if you remain there. Only advise him thereof. 

A favorable notice in a Parisian journal of respectability would be worth 
a good deal. But, after all, my market and my reputation rest principally 
with England, and if your influence can secure me, not a friendly, but a 

2 He had, as has been noticed, gone over the whole work before it was pub 
lished, and had done it with a continual consultation of the authorities on 
which its facts and statements were founded. He was, therefore, completely 
master of the subject, and wrote with an authority that few reviewers cau 

8 See ante, p. 100. 


fair notice there, in any of the three or four leading journals, it would be 
the best thing you ever did for me, and that is no small thing to say. 
But I am asking what you will do without asking, if any foreigner could 
hope to have such influence. I know that the Jiat of criticism now-a-days 
depends quite as much on the temper and character of the reviewer as the 
reviewed, and, in a work filled with facts dug out of barbarous and obso 
lete idioms, it will be easy to pick flaws and serve them up as a sample 
of the whole. But I will spare you further twaddle about their Catholic 

A little later, April 30, 1838, in his private Memoranda, 
after giving a detailed account of the circumstances attending 
its publication, the contracts for printing, and the printing 
itself, all which he thus laid up for future use, he goes 
on : 

"Well, now for the result in America and England thus far. My 
work appeared here on the 25th of December, 1837. Its birth had been 
prepared for by the favorable opinions, en avance, of the few friends who 
in its progress through the press had seen it. It was corrected previously 
as to style, &c., by my friend Gardiner, who bestowed some weeks, and I 
may say months, on its careful revision, and who suggested many impor 
tant alterations in the form. Simonds 4 had previously suggested throw 
ing the introductory ' Section 2 ' on Aragon into its present place, it first 
having occupied the place after Chapter III. The work was indcfatigably 
corrected, and the references most elaborately and systematically revised 
by Folsom 

" From the time of its appearance to the present date, it has been the 
subject of notices, more or less elaborate, in the principal reviews and 
periodicals of the country, and in the mass of criticism I have not met 
with one unkind, or sarcastic, or censorious sentence ; and my critics have 
been of all sorts, from stiff conservatives to levelling loco-focos. Much 
of all this success is to be attributed to the influence and exertions of per 
sonal friends, much to the beautiful dress and mechanical execution of 
the book, and much to the novelty, in our country, of a work of research 
in various foreign languages. The topics, too, though not connected with 
the times, have novelty and importance in them. Whatever is the cause, 
the book has found a degree of favor not dreamed of by me certainly, nor 
by its warmest friends. It will, I have reason to hope, secure me an 
honest fame, and what never entered into my imagination in writing 
it put, in the long run, some money in my pocket. 

" In Europe things wear also a very auspicious aspect so far. The 
weekly periodicals the lesser lights of criticism contain the most 
simple commeiidations on the book ; several of the articles being written 
with spirit and beauty. How extensively the trade winds may have 
helped me along, I cannot say. But so far the course has been smooth 

4 Mr. Henry C. Simonds, who was Mr. Prescott's reader and secretary for 
four years, an accomplished young scholar, for whom he felt a very sincere 
resjard. Mr. Simonds died two years after this date, in 1840. 


and rapid. Bentley speaks to my friends in extravagant terms of the 
book, and states that nearly half the edition, which was of seven hundred 
and fifty copies, had heen sold by the end of March. 5 In France, thanks 
to my friend Ticknor, it has been put into the hands of the principal savant 
in the Castilian. Copies have also been sent to some eminent scholars in 
Germany. Thus far, therefore, we run before the wind." 

I will not refuse myself the pleasure of inserting what I had 
already written to him from Paris, February 20th, when, the 
London copy he had sent me having failed to come to hand, 
I had read the first volume of " Ferdinand and Isabella " in an 
American copy which had reached a friend in that city : 

" I have got hold of the first volume, and may, perchance, have the luck 
to see the others. It has satisfied all my expectations ; and when I tell 
you that I wrote to Colonel Aspinwall from Berlin, nearly two years ago, 
placing you quite at the side of Irving, you will understand how I feel 
about it. I spoke conscientiously when I wrote to Aspinwall, and I do 
the same now. You have written a book that will not be forgotten. The 
Dedication to your father was entirely anticipated by me, its tone and 
its spirit, everything except its beautiful words. He is happy to have 
received a tribute so true and so due, so worthy of him and so rarely 
to be had of any." 

But in the midst of the happiness which his success naturally 
produced, trouble came upon him. The family had gone, as 
usual, to Pepperell early in the summer of 1838, when a severe 
illness of his mother brought them suddenly back to town, and 
kept them there above two months, at the end of which she 
was happily restored, or nearly so. 

" Moved from Pepperell," he says in his private Memoranda, " prema 
turely, June 26th, on account of the distressing illness of my mother, which 
still, July 16th, detains us in this pestilent place, amidst heats which would 
do credit to the tropics. The same cause has prevented me from giving 
nearly as many hours to my studies as I should otherwise have done, being 
in rather an industrious mood. My mother's health, apparently improv 
ing, may permit me to do this." 

But the next notice, July 27th, is more comfortable : 

"Been a month now in Boston, which I find more tolerable than at first. 
The heat has much abated, and, indeed, a summer residence here has many 
alleviations. But I should never prefer it to a summer at Nahant. Have 
received an English copy of 'Ferdinand and Isabella.' Better paper, 

6 Mr. Bentley had requested me to tell Mr. Prescott that he was proud of 
having published such a book, and that he thought it would prove the best 
he had ever brought out. 


blacker ink, more showy pages, but, on the whole, not so good type, and, 
as the printer did not receive the corrections in season for the last three 
chapters, there are many verbal inaccuracies. The plates are good, the 
portrait of Columbus exquisite, and about as much like him, I suppose, 
as any other. On the whole, Bentlcy has done fairly by the work. My 
friend Ticknor brings me home a very favorable report of the opinions 
expressed of the work by French and English scholars. If this report is 
not colored by his own friendship, the book will take some rank on the 
other side of the water." 

As he intimates, I was just then returned from Europe after 
an absence of three years. He met me at the cars on my 
arrival from New York, where I had landed ; but his counte 
nance was sad and troubled with the dangerous illness of his 
mother, then at its height. I saw him, however, daily, and 
talked with him in the freest and fullest manner about his 
literary position and prospects ; giving him, without exaggera 
tion, an account of the opinions held in England and France 
concerning his work, which he could not choose but find very 

I had, in fact, received the book itself before I left Paris, 
and had given copies of it to M. Guizot, M. Mignet, Count 
Adolphe de Circourt, and M. Charles Fauriel. The last three, 
as well as some other friends, had expressed to me their high 
estimation of it, in terms very little measured, which were, in 
their substance, repeated to me later by M. Guizot, when he 
had had leisure to read it. Four persons better qualified to 
judge the merits of such a work could not, I suppose, have 
then been found in France ; and the opinion of Count Circourt. 
set forth in the learned and admirable review already alluded 
to, would, I think, subsequently have been accepted by any one 
of them as substantially his own. 

In England, where I passed the spring and early summer. 
I found the same judgment was pronounced and pronouncing. 
At Holland House, then the highest tribunal in London on the 
subject of Spanish history and literature, Lord Holland and 
Mr. John Allen, who were both just finishing its perusal, did 
not conceal from me the high value they placed upon it ; Mr. 
Allen telling me that he regarded the introductory sections on 
the constitutional history of Aragon and Castile which, it 
will be remembered, were tliree times written over, and twice 


printed, before they were finally given to the press for publica 
tion as possessing a very high merit as statesmanlike discus 
sions, and as better than anything else extant on the same 
subject. 6 Southey, whom I afterwards saw at Keswick, and 
from whose judgment on anything relating to Spanish history 
few would venture to appeal, volunteered to me an opinion no 
less decisive. 7 

The more important Reviews had not yet spoken ; but, re 
membering the wish expressed by my friend in a letter to me 
already cited, though, as he intimated, not needing such an 
expression, I made, through the ready kindness of Lord 
Holland, arrangements with Mr. McVey Napier, the editor of 
the " Edinburgh Review," for the article in that journal by 
Don Pascual de Gayangos, of which an account has already 
been given. Mr. Lockhart, the Aristarch of the " Quarterly 
Review," had not read the book when I spoke to him about it, 
but he told me he had heard from good authority that " it was 
one that would last " ; and the result of his own examination 
of it was Mr. Ford's review, Mr. Ford himself having been, 
I suppose, the authority referred to. Mr. Hallam, to whom I 
sent a copy in the author's name, acknowledged its receipt in 
a manner the most gratifying, and so did Mr. Milman ; both 
of these distinguished and admirable men becoming afterwards 
personally attached to Mr. Prescott, and corresponding with 
him, from time to time, until his death. These, and some 
others like them, were the suffrages that I bore to my friend 
on my return home early in July, and to which, in the pas 
sages I have cited from his Memoranda, he alludes. They 
were all of one temper and in one tone. I had heard of no 
others, and had, therefore, no others to give him. At home 

6 I ought, perhaps, to add here, that, by common consent of the scholars of 
the time, the opinion of no man in England, on such a point, would have 
been placed before Mr. Allen's. 

1 Mr. Prescott was especially gratified with this opinion of Mr. Southey, 
because he had much feared that the rejection of his book by the Longmans 
'was the result of advice from Southey, whose publishers they were, and who 
was often consulted by them respecting the publication of such works. But 
the Longmans declined it, as Southey himself told me, only because they did 
not, at the time, wish to increase their list of new publications. The same 
cause, I subsequently understood, had governed the decision of Murray, who 
did not even give the book to anybody for getting a judgment on its merits. 


its success, I found, was already fully assured. As Dr. Chan- 
ning had told him, " Your book has been received here with 
acclamation." 8 

8 A year after its publication, the author records very naturally, among 
his private Memoranda: " Dec. 25, 1838. The anniversary of the appearance 
of their Catholic Highnesses Ferdinand and Isabella, God bless them! What 
would I have given 'last year to know they would have run off so glibly ? " 
I think about twenty-eight hundred copies had been sold in the United States 
when this record was made, only a foretaste of the subsequent success. 
On the 1st of January, I860, the aggregate sales in the United States aud 
England amounted to seventeen thousand seven hundred and thirty-one. 




WHEN the " Ferdinand and Isabella " was published, 
in the winter of 1837 8, its author was nearly forty- 
two years old. His character, some of whose traits had been 
prominent from childhood, while others had been slowly devel 
oped, was fully formed. His habits were settled for life. He 
had a perfectly well-defined individuality, as everybody knew 
who knew anything about his occupations and ways. 

Much of what went to constitute this individuality was the 
result of his infirmity of sight, and of the unceasing struggle 
he had made to overcome the difficulties it entailed upon 
him. For, as we shall see hereafter, the thought of this 
infirmity, and of the embarrassments it brought with it, was 
ever before him. It colored, and in many respects it controlled, 
his whole life. 

The violent inflammation that resulted from the fierce attack 
of rheumatism in the early months of 1815 first startled him, 
I think, with the apprehension that he might possibly be 
deprived of sight altogether, and that thus his future years 
would be left in " total eclipse, without all hope of day." 
But from this dreary apprehension, his recovery, slow, and 
partial as it was, and the buoyant spirits that entered so largely 
into his constitution, at last relieved him. He even, from time 
to time, as the disease fluctuated to and fro, had hopes of an 
entire restoration of his sight. 

But before long, he began to judge things more exactly as 
they were, and saw plainly that anything like a full recovery 


of his sight was improbable, if not impossible. He turned his 
thoughts, therefore, to the resources that would still remain 
to him. The prospect was by no means a pleasant one, but 
he looked at it steadily and calmly. All thought of the profes 
sion which had long been so tempting to him he gave up. He 
saw that he could never fulfil its duties. But intellectual 
occupation he could not give up. It was a gratification and 
resource which his nature demanded, and would not be refused. 
The difficulty was to find out how it could be obtained. During 
the three months of his confinement in total darkness at St. 
Michael's, he first began to discipline his thoughts to such 
orderly co'mposition in his memory as he might have written 
down on paper, if his sight had permitted it. " I have cheated," 
he says, in a letter to his family written at the end of that dis 
couraging period, "I have cheated many a moment of tedium 
by compositions which were soon banished from my mind for 
want of an amanuensis." 

Among these compositions was a Latin ode to his friend 
Gardiner, which was prepared wholly without books, but 
which, though now lost, like the rest of his Latin verses, he 
repeated years afterwards to his Club, who did not fail to think 
it good. It is evident, however, that, for a considerable time, 
he resorted to such mental occupations and exercises rather as 
an amusement than as anything more serious. Nor did he at 
first go far with them even as a light and transient relief from 
idleness ; for, though he never gave them up altogether, and 
though they at last became a very important element in his 
success as an author, he soon found an agreeable substitute for 
them, at least so far as his immediate, every-day wants were 

The substitute to which I refer, but which itself implied 
much previous reflection and thought upon what he should 
commit to paper, was an apparatus to enable the blind to 
write. He heard of it in London during his first residence 
there in the summer of 1816. A lady, at whose house he 
visited frequently, and who became interested in his misfortune, 
" told him," as he says in a letter to his mother, " of a newly 
invented machine by which blind people are enabled to write. 
I have," he adds, " before been indebted to Mrs. Delafield for 


an ingenious candle-screen. If this machine can be procured, 
you will be sure to feel the effects of it." 

He obtained it at once ; but he did not use it until nearly a 
month afterwards, when, on the 24th of August, at Paris, he 
wrote home his first letter with it, saying, " It is a very happy 
invention for me." And such it certainly proved to be, for he 
never ceased to use it from that day ; nor does it now seem 
possible that, without the facilities it afforded him, he ever 
would have ventured to undertake any of the works which 
have made his name what it is. 1 

The machine if machine it can properly be called is 
an apparatus invented by one of the well-known Wedgewood 
family, and is very simple both in its structure and use. It 
looks, as it lies folded up on the table, like a clumsy portfolio, 
bound in morocco, and measures about ten inches by nine 
when unopened. Sixteen stout parallel brass wires fastened on 
the right-hand side into a frame of the same size with the cover, 
much like the frame of a school-boy's slate, and crossing it 
from side to side, mark the number of lines that can be written 
on a page, and guide the hand in its blind motions. This 
framework of wires is folded down upon a sheet of paper 
thoroughly impregnated with a black substance, especially on 
its under surface, beneath which lies the sheet of common 
paper that is to receive the writing. There are thus, when 
it is in use, three layers on the right-hand side of the opened 
apparatus ; viz. the wires, the blackened sheet of paper, and 
the white sheet, all lying" successively in contact with each 
other, the two that are underneath being held firmly in their 
places by the framework of wires which is uppermost. The 
whole apparatus is called a noctograph. 

When it has been adjusted, as above described, the person 
using it writes with an ivory style, or with a style made of 
some harder substance, like agate, on the upper surface of the 
blackened paper, which, wherever the style presses on it, trans- 

l This very apparatus, the first he ever had, it still extant. Indeed, he never 
possessed but one other, and that was its exact duplicate. The oldest is 
nearly used up. But, although he never had more than two for himself, he 
caused others to be made for persons suffering under infirmities like his own, 
not unfrequently sending them to those who were known to him only as 
needing such help. 


fers the coloring matter of its under surface to the white paper 
beneath it, the writing thus produced looking much like that 
done with a common black-lead pencil. 

The chief difficulty in the use of such an apparatus is obvi 
ous. The person employing it never looks upon his work ; 
never sees one of the marks he is making. He trusts wholly 
to the wires for the direction of his hand. He makes his 
letters and words only from mechanical habit. He must, 
therefore, write straight forward, without any opportunity for 
correction, however gross may be the mistakes he has made, or 
however sure he may be that he has made them ; for, if he 
were to go back in order to correct an error, he would only 
make his page still more confused, and probably render it quite 
illegible. When, therefore, he has made a mistake, great or 
small, all he can do is to go forward, and rewrite further on 
the word or phrase he first intended to write, rarely attempt 
ing to strike out what was wrong, or to insert, in its proper 
place, anything that may have been omitted. It is plain, 
therefore, that the person who resorts to this apparatus as a 
substitute for sight ought previously to prepare and settle in 
his memory what he wishes to write, so as to make as few 
mistakes as possible. With the best care, his manuscript will 
not be very legible. Without it, he may be sure it can hardly 
be deciphered at all. 

That Mr. Prescott, under his disheartening infirmities, I 
refer not only to his imperfect sight, but to the rheumatism 
from which he was seldom wholly free, should, at the age 
of five-and-twenty or thirty, with no help but this simple 
apparatus, have aspired to the character of an historian dealing 
with events that happened in times and countries far distant 
from his own, and that are recorded chiefly in foreign languages 
and by authors whose conflicting testimony was often to be 
reconciled by laborious comparison, is a remarkable fact in 
literary history. It is a problem the solution of which was, 
I believe, never before undertaken ; certainly never before 
accomplished. Nor do I conceive that he himself could have 
accomplished it, unless to his uncommon intellectual gifts had 
been added great animal spirits, a strong, persistent will, and a 
moral courage which was to be daunted by no obstacle that 


he might deem it possible to remove by almost any amount of 
effort. 2 

That he was not insensible to the difficulties of his under 
taking, we have partly seen, as we have witnessed how his hopes 
fluctuated while he was struggling through the arrangements 
for beginning to write his " Ferdinand and Isabella," and, in 
fact, during the whole period of its composition. But he 
showed the same character, the same fertility of resource, every 
day of his life, and provided, both by forecast and self-sacrifice, 
against the embarrassments of his condition as they successively 
presented themselves. 

The first thing to be done, and the thing always to be re 
peated day by day, was to strengthen, as much as possible, what 
remained of his sight, and at any rate, to do nothing that should 
tend to exhaust its impaired powers. In 1821, when he was 
still not without some hope of its recovery, he made this mem 
orandum. " I will make it my principal purpose to restore 
my eye to its primitive vigor, and will do nothing habitually 
that can seriously injure it." To this end he regulated his 
life with an exactness that I have never known equalled. 
Especially in whatever related to the daily distribution of his 
time, whether in regard to his intellectual labors, to his social 
enjoyments, or to the care of his physical powers, including his 
diet, he was severely exact, managing himself, indeed, in this 
last respect, under the general directions of his wise medical 
adviser, Dr. Jackson, but carrying out these directions with an 
ingenuity and fidelity all his own. 

He was an early riser, although it was a great effort for him 
to be such. From boyhood it seemed to be contrary to his 
nature to get up betimes in the morning. He was, therefore, 
always awaked, and after silently, and sometimes slowly and 
with reluctance, counting twenty, so as fairly to arouse himself, 

2 The case of Thierry the nearest known to me was different. His 
great work, " Histoire de la Conquete de PAngleterre par les Normands," 
was written before he became blind. What he published afterward was dic 
tated, wonderful, indeed, all of it, but especially all that relates to what he 
did for the commission of the government concerning the Tiers Etat, to be 
found in that grand collection of " Documents inddits surl'Histoire de France," 
begun under the auspices and influence of M. Guizot, when he was minister 
of Louis-Philippe. 


he resolutely sprang out of bed ; or, if he failed, he paid a for 
feit, as a memento of his weakness, to the servant who had 
knocked at his chamber-door. 8 His failures, however, were rare. 
When he was called, he was told the state of the weather and 
of the thermometer. This was important, as he was compelled 
by his rheumatism almost always present, and, when not 
so, always apprehended to regulate his dress with care ; and, 
finding it difficult to do so in any other way, he caused each 
of its heavier external portions to be marked by his tailor 
with the number of ounces it weighed, and then put them on 
according to the temperature, sure that their weight would 
indicate the measure of warmth and protection they would 
afford. 4 

As soon as he was dressed, he took his early exercise in the 
open air. This, for many years, was done on horseback, and, 
as he loved a spirited horse and was often thinking more of his 
intellectual pursuits than of anything else while he was riding, 
he sometimes caught a fall. But he was a good rider, and was 
sorry to give up this form of exercise and resort to walking or 
driving, as he did, by order of his physician, in the last dozen 
years of his life. No weather, except a severe storm, pre 
vented him at any period from thus, as he called it, " winding 
himself up." Even in the coldest of our very cold winter 
mornings, it was his habit, so long as he could ride, to see the 
sun rise on a particular spot three or four miles from town. In 
a letter to Mrs. Ticknor, who was then in Germany, dated 
March, 1836, at the end of a winter memorable for its ex 
treme severity, he says, " You will give me credit for some 
spunk when I tell you that I have not been frightened by the 
cold a single morning from a ride on horseback to Jamaica 
Plain and back again before breakfast. My mark has been 

When he was a bachelor, the servant, after waiting a certain number of 
minutes at the door without receiving an answer, went in and took away the 
bed-clothes. This was, at that period, the office of faithful Nathan Webster, 
who was remembered kindly in Mr. Prescott's will, and who was for nearly 
thirty years in the family, a true and valued friend of all its members. 

4 As in the case of the use of wine, hereafter to be noticed, he made, from 
year to year, the most minute memoranda about the use of clothes, finding it 
necessary to be exact on account of the rheumatism which, besides almost 
constantly infesting his limbs, always affected his sight when it becaina 


to see the sun rise by Mr. Greene's school, if you remember 
where that is." When the rides here referred to were taken, 
the thermometer was often below zero of Fahrenheit. 

On his return home, after adjusting his dress anew, with ref 
erence to the temperature within doors, he sat down, almost 
always in a very gay humor, to a moderate and even spare 
breakfast, a meal he much liked, because, as he said, he 
could then have his family with him in a quiet way, and so 
begin the day happily. From the breakfast-table he went at 
once to his study. There, while busied with what remained of 
his toilet, or with the needful arrangements for his regular oc 
cupations, Mrs. Prescott read to him, generally from the morn 
ing papers, but sometimes from the current literature of the 
day. At a fixed hour seldom later than ten his reader, 
or secretary, came. In this, as in everything, he required 
punctuality ; but he noted tardiness only by looking significantly 
at his watch ; for it is the testimony of all his surviving secre 
taries, that he never spoke a severe word to either of them in 
the many years of their familiar intercourse. 

When they had met in the study, there was no thought but 
of active work for about three hours. 6 His infirmities, how 
ever, were always present to warn him how cautiously it must 
be done, and he was extremely ingenious in the means he de 
vised for doing it without increasing them. The shades and 
shutters for regulating the exact amount of light which should 
be admitted ; his own position relatively to its direct rays, and 
to those that were reflected from surrounding objects ; the 
adaptation of his dress and of the temperature of the room 
to his rheumatic affections ; and the different contrivances for 
taking notes from the books that were read, to him, and for 
impressing on his memory, with the least possible use of his 
sight, such portions of each as were needful for his imme- 

6 I speak here of the time during which he was busy with his Histories. In 
the intervals between them, as, for instance, between the " Ferdinand and 
Isabella" and the "Mexico," between the " Mexico " and " Peru," &c., his 
habits were very different. At these periods he indulged, sometimes for 
many months, in a great deal of light, miscellaneous reading, which he used 
to call " literary loafing." This he thought not only agreeable, but refreshing 
and useful ; though sometimes he complained bitterly of himself for carrying 
his indulgences of this sort too far. 


diate purpose, were all of them the result of painstaking 
experiments, skilfully and patiently made. But their inge 
nuity and adaptation were less remarkable than the conscien 
tious consistency with which they were employed from day to 
day for forty years. 

In relation to all such arrangements, two circumstances 
should be noted. 

The first is, that the resources of his eye were always very 
small and uncertain, except for a few years, beginning in 1840, 
when, from his long-continued prudence or from some inscruta 
ble cause, there seemed to be either an increase of strength 
in the organ, or else such a diminution of its sensibility as en 
abled him to use it more, though its strength might really be 

Thus, for instance, he was able to use his eye very little in 
the preparation of the " Ferdinand and Isabella," not looking 
into a book sometimes for weeks and even months together, 
and yet occasionally he could read several hours in a day if he 
carefully divided the whole into short portions, so as to avoid 
fatigue. While engaged in the composition of the " Conquest 
of Mexico," on the contrary, he was able to read with consider 
able regularity, and so he was while working on the " Conquest 
of Peru," though, on the whole, with less. 6 

But he had, during nearly all this time, another difficulty to 
encounter. There had come on prematurely that gradual 
alteration of the eye which is the consequence of advancing 
years, and for which the common remedy is spectacles. Even 
when he was using what remained to him of sight on the 

6 How uncertain was the state of his eye, even when it was strongest, may 
be seen from memoranda made at different times within less than two years 
of each other. The first is in January, 1829, when he was full of grateful 
feelings for an unexpected increase of his powers of sight. " By the blessing 
of Heaven," he says, " I have been enabled to have the free use of my eye 
hi the daytime during the last weeks, without the exception of a single 
day, although deprived, for nearly a fortnight, of my accustomed exercise. 
I hope I have not abused this great privilege." But this condition of 
things did not last long. Great fluctuations followed. In August and Sep 
tember he was much discouraged by severe inflammations; and in October, 
1880, when he had been slowly writing the " Ferdinand and Isabella " for 
about a year, his sight for a time became so much impaired that he waa 
brought I use his own words " seriously to consider what steps he should 
take in relation to that work, if his sight should fail him altogether." 


u Conquest of Mexico " with a freedom which not a little ani 
mated him in his pursuits, he perceived this discouraging 
change. In July, 1841, he says: "My eye, for some days, 
feels dim. ' I guess and fear,' as Burns says." And in June, 
1842, when our families were spending together at Lebanon 
Springs a few days which he has recorded as otherwise very 
happy, he spoke to me more than once in a tone of absolute 
grief, that he should never again enjoy the magnificent specta 
cle of the starry heavens. To this sad deprivation he, in fact, 
alludes himself in his Memoranda of that period, where, in re 
lation to his eyes, he says : " I find a misty veil increasing 
over them, quite annoying when reading. The other evening 

B said, ' How beautiful the heavens are with so many 

stars ! ' I could hardly see two. It made me sad." 

Spectacles, however, although they brought their appropriate 
relief, brought also an inevitable inconvenience. They fatigued 
his eye. He could use it, therefore, less and less, or if he used 
it at all, beyond a nicely adjusted amount, the excess was 
followed by a sort of irritability, weakness, and pain in the 
organ which he had not felt for many years. This went on 
increasing with sad regularity. But he knew that it was 
inevitable, and submitted to it patiently. In the latter part of 
his life he was able to use his eye very little indeed for the 
purpose of reading, in the last year, hardly at all. Even in 
several of the years preceding, he used it only thirty-five minutes 
in each day, divided exactly by the watch into portions of five 
minutes each, with at least half an hour between, and always 
stopping the moment pain was felt, even if it were felt at the 
first instant of opening the book. I doubt whether a more per 
sistent, conscientious care was ever taken of an impaired physi 
cal power. Indeed, I do not see how it could have been made 
more thorough. But all care was unavailing, and he at last 
knew that it was so. The decay could not be arrested. He 
spoke of it rarely, but when he perceived that in the evening 
twilight he could no longer walk about the streets that were 
familiar to him with his accustomed assurance, he felt it 
deeply. Still he persevered, and was as watchful of what 
remained of his sight as if his hopes of its restoration had 
continued unchecked. Indeed, I think he always trusted that 


he was saving something by his anxious care ; he always be 
lieved that great prudence on one day would enable him to do 
a little more work on the next than he should be able to do 
without so much caution. 

The other circumstance that should be noticed in relation 
to the arrangements for his pursuits is, the continually in 
creased amount of light he was obliged to use, and which he 
could use without apparent injury. 

In Bedford Street, where he first began his experiments, 
he could, from the extreme sensitiveness of his eye, bear very 
little light. But, even before he left that quiet old mansion, 
he cut out a new window in his working-room, arranging it so 
that the light should fall more strongly and more exclusively 
upon the book he might be using. This did very well for 
a time. But when he removed to Beacon Street, the room 
he built expressly for his own use contained six contiguous 
windows ; two of which, though large, were glazed each with a 
single sheet of the finest plate-glass, nicely protected by several 
curtains of delicate fabric and of a light-blue color, one or 
more of which could be drawn up over each window to tem 
per the light while the whole light that was admitted through 
any one opening could be excluded by solid wooden shutters. 
At first, though much light was commonly used, these appli 
ances for diminishing it were all more or less required. But, 
gradually, one after another of them was given up, and, at last, 
I observed that none was found important. He needed and 
used all the light he could get. 

The change was a sad one, and he did not like to allude to 
it. But during the last year of his life, after the first slight 
access of paralysis, which much disturbed the organ for a time, 
and rendered its action very irregular, he spoke plainly to me. 
He said he must soon cease to use his eye for any purpose 
of study, but fondly trusted that he should always be able to 
recognize the features of his friends, and should never become 
a burden to those he loved by needing to be led about. Hia 
hopes were, indeed, fulfilled, but not without the sorrow of 
all. The day before his sudden death he walked the streets as 
freely as he had done for years. 

Still, whatever may have been the condition of his eye at 


any period, from the fierce attack of 1815 to the very end 
of his life, it was always a paramount subject of anxiety 
with him. He never ceased to think of it, and to regulate 
the hours, and almost the minutes, of his daily life by it. 
Even in its best estate he felt that it must be spared ; in its 
worst, he was anxious to save something by care and abstinence. 
He said, " he reckoned time by eyesight, as distances on rail 
roads are reckoned by hours." 

One thing in this connection may be noted as remarkable. 
He knew that, if he would give up literary labor altogether, 
his eye would be better at once, and would last longer. His 
physicians all told him so, and their opinion was rendered 
certain by his own experience ; for whenever he ceased to 
work for some time, as during a visit to New York in 1842 
and a visit to Europe in 1850, in short, whenever he took a 
journey fv indulged himself in holidays of such a sort as pre 
vented him from looking into books at all or thinking much 
about them, his general health immediately became more 
vigorous than might have been expected from a relief so tran 
sient, and his sight was always improved ; sometimes materially 
improved. But he would not pay the price. He preferred to 
submit, if it should be inevitable, to the penalty of ultimate 
blindness, rather than give up his literary pursuits. 

He never liked to work more than three hours consecutively. 
At one o'clock, therefore, he took a walk of about two miles, 
and attended to any little business abroad that was incumbent 
on him, coming home generally refreshed and exhilarated, and 
ready to lounge a little and gossip. Dinner followed, for the 
greater part of his life about three o'clock, although, during a 
few years, he dined in winter at five or six, which he preferred, 
and which he gave up only because his health demanded the 
change. In the summer he always dined early, so as to have tho 
late afternoon for driving and exercise during our hot season. 

He enjoyed the pleasures of the table, and even its luxuries, 
more than most men. But he restricted himself carefully in 
the use of them, adjusting everything with reference to its 
effect on the power of using his eye immediately afterwards, and 
especially on his power of using it the next day. Occasional 
indulgence when dining out or with friends at home he found 


useful, or at least not injurious, and was encouraged in it by his 
medical counsel. But he dined abroad, as he did everything 
of the sort, at regulated intervals, and not only determined be 
forehand in what he should deviate from his settled habits, but 
often made a record of the result for his future government. 

The most embarrassing question, however, as to diet, regard 
ed the use of wine, which, if at first it sometimes seemed to be 
followed by bad consequences, Avas yet, on the whole, found use 
ful, and was prescribed to him. To make everything certain, 
and settle the precise point to which he should go, he instituted 
a series of experiments, and between March, 1818, and Novem 
ber, 1820, a period of two years and nine months, he re 
corded the exact quantity of wine that he took every day, 
except the few days when he entirely abstained. It was 
Sherry or Madeira. In the great majority of cases four 
fifths, I should think it ranged from one to two glasses, 
but went up sometimes to four or five, and even to six. He 
settled at last, upon two or two and a half as the quantity best 
suited to his case, and persevered in this as his daily habit, until 
the last year of his life, during which a peculiar regimen was 
imposed upon him from the peculiar circumstances of his health. 
In all this I wish to be understood that lie was rigorous with 
himself, much more so than persons thought who saw him 
only when he was dining with friends, and when, but equally 
upon system and principle, he was much more free. 

He generally smoked a single weak cigar after dinner, and 
listened at the same time to light reading from Mrs. Prescott. 
A walk of two miles more or less followed ; but always 
enough, after the habit of riding was given up, to make the 
full amount of six miles' walking for the day's exercise, and 
then, between five and eight, he took a cup of tea, and had his 
reader with him for work two hours more. 

The labors of the day were now definitively ended. He 
came down from his study to his library, and either sat there 
or walked about while Mrs. Prescott read to him from some 
amusing book, generally a novel, and, above all other novels, 
those of Scott and Miss Edgeworth. In all this he took great 
solace. He enjoyed the room as well as the reading, and, as he 
moved about, would often stop before the books, especially 

HABITS. 127 

his favorite books, and be sure that they were all in their 
proper places, drawn up exactly to the front of their respective 
shelves, like soldiers on a dress-parade, sometimes speaking 
of them, and almost to them, as if they were personal friends. 

At half past ten, having first taken nearly another glass of 
wine, he went to bed, fell asleep quickly, and slept soundly and 
well. Suppers he early gave up, although they were a form of 
social intercourse much liked in his father's house, and common 
thirty or forty ye#rs ago in the circle to which he belonged. 
Besides all other reasons against them, he found that the lights 
commonly on the table shot their horizontal rays so as to in 
jure his suffering organ. Larger evening parties, which were 
not so liable to this objection, he liked rather for their social in 
fluences than for the pleasure they gave him ; but he was seen 
in them to the last, though rarely and only for a short time in 
each. Earlier in life, when he enjoyed them more and stayed 
later, he would, in the coldest winter nights, after going home, 
run up and down on a plank walk, so arranged in the garden 
of the Bedford-Street house that he could do it with his eyes 
shut, for twenty minutes or more, in order that liis system might 
be refreshed, and his sight invigorated, for the next morning's 
work. 7 Later, unhappily, this was not needful. His eye had 
lost the sensibility that gave its value to such a habit. 

In his exercise, at all its assigned hours, he was faithful and 
exact. If a violent storm prevented him from going out, 
or if the bright snow on sunny days in winter rendered it dan 
gerous for him to expose his eye to its brilliant reflection, he 
would dress himself as for the street and walk vigorously 
about the colder parts of the house, or he would saAV and chop 
fire-wood, under cover, being, in the latter case, read to all the 

The result he sought, and generally obtained, by these efforts 
was not, however, always to be had without suffering. The 

' Some persons may think this to have been a fancy of my friend, or an 
over-nice estimate of the value of the open air. But others have found the 
same benefit who needed it less. Sir Charles Bell says, in his journal, that he 
used to sit in the open air a great deal, and read or draw, because on the fol 
lowing day, he found himself so much better able to work. Some of the best 
passages in his great treatises were, he says, written under these circum 


first mile or two of his walk often cost him pain sometimes 
sharp pain in consequence of the rheumatism, which seldom 
deserted his limbs ; but he never on this account gave it up ; 
for regular exercise in the open air was, as he well knew, 
indispensable to the preservation of whatever remained of his 
decaying sight He persevered, therefore, through the last 
two suffering years of his life, when it was peculiarly irksome 
and difficult for him to move ; and even in the days imme 
diately preceding his first attack of paralysis, when he was 
very feeble, he was out at his usual hours. His will, in truth, 
was always stronger than the bodily ills that beset him, and 
prevailed over them to the last. 8 

8 On one occasion, when he was employed upon a work that interested him 
because it related to a friend, he was attacked with pains that made a sitting 
posture impossible. But he would not yield. He took his noctograph to a 
sofa, and knelt before it so as to be able to continue his work. This resource, 
however, failed, and then he laid himself down flat upon the floor. This 
extraordinary operation went on during portions of nine successive days. 




A TRUE and sufficient understanding of Mr. Prescotts 
modes of life cannot be obtained without a more de 
tailed account than has been thus far given of his social 
relations, and of the exactness with which he controlled and 
governed them. 

" Never was there," says his friend Mr. Gardiner, in an interesting paper 
addressed to me, on this side of our friend's character, " Never was there 
a man, who, by natural constitution, had a keener zest of social enjoyment 
in all its varieties. His friend Mr. Parsons says of him, that one of the 
' most remarkable traits of this remarkable man was his singular capacity 
of enjoyment. He could be happy in more ways, and more happy in 
every one of them, than any other person I have ever known.' This may 
be a strong manner of stating the characteristic referred to ; but so far as 
respects one of his chief sources of happiness, social enjoyment, the 
idea would seem to be exemplified by the very diiferent kinds of society 
from which he appeared to derive almost equal pleasure. 

" So, in regard to his capacity of imparting pleasure to others, Mr. 
Parsons makes an equally strong statement ; but it is one I fully concur 
in. ' If I were asked/ he says, ' to name the man, whom I have known, 
whose coming was most sure to be hailed as a pleasant event by all whom 
he approached, I should not only place Prescott at the head of the list, but 
I could not place any other man near him.' I also must bear testimony, 
that I never have known any other man whose company was so univer 
sally attractive, equally so to men and to women, to young and to old, 
and to all classes that he mingled with. 

" With these capacities for both giving and receiving the highest degree 
of pleasure in social entertainment, there is no cause for wonder that this 
should have been with him a favorite pursuit. The wonder is, rather, that 
he should always at least after the first effervescence of youth have 
kept it in such perfect subordination to those more important pursuits 
which were the business, and at the same time, on the whole, the highest 
enjoyment, of his life. I use the term pursuit, applying it to the one ob 
ject no less than the other ; for this it is which constitutes the peculiarity. 
Both were pursued at the same time, ardently and systematically. Neither 
was sacrificed to the other for any great length of time. He felt that a due 
6* i 


proportion of each literary labor and social amusement was essential 
to his happiness, and he studied the philosophy of life, both theoretically 
and practically, with reference to his own natural temper and constitution, 
to ascertain in what proportions they could best be combined to answer his 
whole purpose. 

" These proportions varied certainly at different times. There was a 
natural tendency of the graver pursuits to predominate more and more as 
he advanced in age, but never to the entire exclusion of a perfectly youth 
ful enjoyment of whatever society he sought. There were, too, periods 
of close retirement, chiefly during his villegiaturas as he used to call his 
country life, when he devoted himself, for a time almost exclusively, to 
his studies and compositions, with little addition to the agreeable social 
circle and quiet domestic life of his own and his father's family. But there 
were also corresponding periods of great relaxation, what lie used to call 
his ' loafing times,' not always of short duration either, especially in 
the interval tjetween one long labor finished and the beginning of another. 
At these periods he gave himself up to a long holiday, dividing his time 
almost wholly between the lightest literature and a great deal of social 
amusement. There was usually something of this, though for a shorter 
term, when he first returned to the city, after a summer or autumn cam 
paign at Pepperell. And seldom, when away from Peppcrcll, was he so 
hard at work as not to enjoy an ample allowance of social pleasure. Nay, 
at the period of his life when he used to pass a long summer, as well as 
autumn, at Pepperell, that is, before either he or his father had a house 
on the sea-shore, it was his custom to find an excuse for an occasional 
visit of a day or two to the city, when he always arranged for, and counted 
upon, at least one gay meeting of old friends at the dinner-table. After 
he became a summer inhabitant of Nahant, living in the unavoidable pub 
licity of a fashionable watering-place, the difficulty was to guard against 
the intrusion of too much company, rather than to get the quantum he 
required. Tin's was among the causes which led him, in later years, to 
forsake Nahant for his more quiet sea-shore residence at Lynn. But, 
wherever his residence was, frequent recreations of society domestic, 
fashionable, literary, and convivial were as much a part of his plan of 
life as the steady continuance of historical studies and labors of authorship. 

" Yet, both before and after the publication of his ' Ferdinand and Isa 
bella,' the first notice, be it remembered, even to his personal friends, 
of his extraordinary merits as a man of letters, he was scrupulously 
observant of hours. Though indulging so freely, and with such a zest, in 
this round of various society, he would never allow himself to be drawn 
by it into very late sittings. This was partly, no doubt, from domestic 
considerations regarding the general habit of his father's household, con 
tinued afterwards in his own, but mainly because he began the day early, 
and chose to keep his study hours of the morrow unimpaired. Except, 
therefore, on some extraordinary and foreseen occasions of his earlier days, 
carefully arranged for beforehand, he used to make a point of quitting tho 
company, of whatever kind, and whatever might be its attractions, at his 
hour. This was, for a long time, ten o'clock. It did not mean ten o'clock 
or thereabouts, as most men would have made it ; but at ten precisely he 
would insist on going, in spite of all entreaty, as if to an engagemeut of 
the last importance. 


" I remember particularly one instance to illustrate this. It occurred at 
some time while he was yet a member of his father's family, but, I think, 
after his marriage, and certainly before he had published himself to the 
world as an author, that is, while he was scarcely known to many persons 
as one engaged in any serious occupation. The case left an impression, 
because on this occasion Mr. Prescott, though not in his own house, was 
not a guest, but the entertainer, at a restaurateur's, of an invited company 
of young men, chiefly of the bon-vivant order. He took that mode some 
times of giving a return dinner to avoid intruding too much on the hospi 
tality of his father's roof, as well as to put at ease the sort of company 
which promised exuberant mirth. His dinner hour was set early ; pur 
posely, no doubt, that all might be well over in good season. But it 
proved to be a prolonged festivity. Under the brilliant auspices of their 
host, who was never in higher spirits, the company became very gay, and 
not at all disposed to abridge their gayety, even after a reasonable number 
of hours. As the hour of ten drew near, I noticed that Prescott was be 
ginning to get a little fidgety, and to drop some hints, which no one seemed 
willing to take, for no one present, unless it were myself, was aware that 
time was of any more importance to our host than it was to many of bia 
guests. Presently, to the general surprise, the host himself got up abruptly, 
and addressed the company nearly as follows : ' Really, my friends, I am 
very sorry to be obliged to tear myself from you at so very unreasonable 
an hour ; but you seem to have got your sitting-breeches on for the night. 
I left mine at home, and must go. But 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 several yet uncorked bottles, 
which stood in a corner. ' Then you know,' he added, ' 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 wine, 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.' With this he was off, and 
the Old South clock, hard by, was heard to strike ten at the instant." 

Mr. Gardiner, in the preceding remarks, refers more than 
once to the opinions of Professor Theophilus Parsons on Mr. 
Prescott's social character. They are contained in a paper 
which this early and intimate friend of the historian was good 
enough to give me ; but there are other portions of the same 
paper so true, and so happily expressed, that I should be un 
just to my readers, if I were not to give them more than the 
glimpses afforded in Mr. Gardiner's remarks. 

Speaking of Mr. Prescott's " marvellous popularity," Mr. 
Parsons goes on : 

" I do not speak of this as his success in society, for that would imply 
that he sought for popularity and aimed at it, and this would be wholly 
untrue. It was not perhaps undesired, and it certainly was neither uii- 


known nor unwelcome to him. But it came, not because he made any 
effort to procure it, but simply because it was inevitable, by which I mean 
that it was the necessary effect of the combination of certain qualities in 
his character. Foremost among these, undoubtedly, was his universal, 
constant, and extreme kindness of heart, and its fitting exponent in as 
sweet a temper as ever man had. But even these would not have sufficed, 
but for his capacity for sympathy, a quality which is not always the com 
panion of a real benevolence If Prescott never demanded or desired 

that others should stand around and bow to him, it was not because ho 
could have no reason for claiming this. For all whom he came near felt, 
what he never seemed to feel, that there was, if not some renunciation of 
right, at least a charming forgetfulness of self, in the way in which he 
asserted no superiority over any, but gave himself up to the companion of 
the moment, with the evident desire to make him as happy as he could. 
And his own prompt and active sympathy awoke the sympathy of others. 
His gayety became theirs. He came, always bringing the gift of cheerful 
ness, and always offering it with such genuine cordiality, that it was sure 
to be accepted, and returned with increase. No wonder that he was just 
as welcome everywhere as sunshine. If I were asked to name the man. 
whom I have known, whose coming was most sure to be hailed as a pleas 
ant event by all whom he approached, I should not only place Prescott at 
the head of the list, but I could not place any other man near him. And 
with all this universal sympathy there was never any sacrifice or loss of 
himself. He did not go willingly to others because his mind had no home 
of its own. When we see one seeking society often, and enjoying it with 
peculiar relish, we can hardly forbear thinking that he thus comes abroad 
to find necessary recreation, and that, even if he be content at home, his 
joys are elsewhere. Nothing could be less true of Prescott. It would 
have been equally difficult for one who knew him only in his home activi 
ties and his home happiness, or only in the full glow of his social pleas 
ures, to believe that he knew but half of the man, and that the other half 
was quite as full of its own life, and its own thorough enjoyment, as the 
half he saw." 




MR. PRE SCOTT early discovered what many, whose 
social position makes no severe demand on them for 
exertion, fail to discover until it is too late, I mean, that 
industry of some sort and an earnest use of whatever faculties 
God has given us, are essential to even a moderate amount of 
happiness in this world. He did not, however, come to this 
conclusion through his relations with society. On the contrary, 
these relations during the most exposed period of his youth 
were tempting him in exactly the opposite direction, and thus 
rendering his position dangerous to his character. He was 
handsome, gay, uncommonly entertaining, and a great favorite 
wherever he went. The accident to his sight obviously ex 
cluded him from the professions open to persons of his own 
age and condition, and his father's fortune, if not great, was 
at least such as to relieve the son, with whose misfortune his 
whole family felt the tenderest sympathy, from the necessity of 
devoting himself to any occupation as a means of subsistence. 
A life of dainty, elegant idleness was, therefore, as freely open 
to him as it was to any young man of his time ; and his in 
firmities would no doubt have excused him before his friends 
and the world, if he had given himself up to it. His personal 
relations, in fact, no less than his keen relish of social enjoy 
ments and his attractive qualities as a mere man of society, all 
eeemed to solicit him to a life of self-indulgence. 


But he perceived betimes that such a life would be only 
one long mistake, that it might satisfy the years of youth, 
when the spirits are fresh, and the pursuit of pleasure has been 
checked neither by sorrow nor by disappointment, but that it 
must leave the graver period of manhood without its appro 
priate interests, and old age without its appropriate respect. 
" It is of little moment," he therefore recorded, for his own 
warning and government, as early as 1822, " it is of little 
moment whether I succeed in this or that thing, but it is of 
great moment that I am habitually industrious." This con 
clusion was reached by him three years before he began his 
search for a subject to which he could devote serious and con 
secutive labor. But it was eight years after the occurrence 
of the accident that had shut him out from the field of adven 
ture in which most of those who had been his companions and 
friends were already advancing and prosperous. 1 

And these eight years had been full of silent, earnest teach 
ings. The darkness in which he had so often been immured 
for weeks and months together had given him leisure for 
thoughts which might otherwise never have come to him, or 
which would have come with much less power. Notwith 
standing his exuberant spirits, he had suffered hours of ennui, 
which, in a free and active life, and amidst the pleasures of 
society, would have been spared to him. The result, there 
fore, to which he was brought by the workings of his own mind, 
was, that, to be happy, he must lead a life of continuous, useful 
industry, such as he would at last enjoy if it were faithfully 
persisted in, and if it tended to the benefit of others. 

We have seen how ingenious he was in inventing for him 
self the mechanical contrivances indispensable to the labor and 
study on which, with his imperfect sight, he so much depended. 
But there was another obstacle in his way of a different sort, 
and one still more difficult and disagreeable to encounter. He 
did not love work. He could do it, and had done it often, but 

1 The same thought is often repeated in his Memoranda, but nowhere in 
stronger terms than in a paper written twenty-seven years later, and show 
ing that he adhered to his conviction on the subject through life. " I am 
convinced," he says, " that whether clairvoyant or stone-blind, intellectual 
occupation steady, regular literary occupation is the only true vocation 
for me, indispensable to my happiness." 


only under some strong stimulus. He had, for instance, com 
monly learned his lessons well in boyhood, because he respected 
Dr. Gardiner, and was sure to be punished, if he had neglected 
them. At college, he considered a certain moderate amount 
of scholarship necessary to the character of a gentleman, and 
came up to his own not very high standard with a good degree 
of alacrity. And he had always desired to satisfy and gratify 
his father, whose authority he felt to be gentle as well as just, 
and whose wishes were almost always obeyed, even in his 
earlier and more thoughtless years. But the present purpose 
of his life demanded a different foundation from all this, 
one much deeper and much more solid. He was now to be a 
scholar, and to work not only faithfully, but gladly, almost 
disinterestedly ; for without such work, as he well knew, no 
permanent and worthy result could be obtained, no ultimate 
intellectual success achieved. " Be occupied always" he there 
fore recorded firmly at the outset of his new life. 

But his nature buoyant, frolicsome, and simple-hearted 
and his temperament strong, active, and wilful long con 
tended against his wise determination. While he was engaged 
with his French and Italian studies, he did not, indeed, find 
industry difficult ; for such studies were both pleasant and light. 
But when they were over, and he was persuaded that German 
was inaccessible to him, his exertions relaxed. " I have read 
with no method, and very little diligence or spirit, for three 
months," he said in 1824. " To the end of my life, I trust, 
I shall be more avaricious of time, and never put up with a 
smaller average than seven hours of intellectual occupation per 
diem. Less than that cannot discharge my duties to mankind, 
satisfy my own feelings, or give me a rank in the community of 
letters." But a few months afterwards he finds it needful to 
adopt new resolutions of reform. He complains bitterly that he 
" really works less than an hour a day," and determines that it 
shall at any rate be five hours, a determination, however, 
which he makes only to be mortified again and again, that he 
can, with much effort, hardly come up to three or four. And 
so it went on for two years of alternating struggles and failures. 
Even after he had entered on the composition of the " Ferdi 
nand and Isabella," it was not much better. The habit of 


industry indispensable to success was hard to be acquired. 
Resolutions, such as he had been long in the habit of making, 
but which, from their nature, should rather have been called 
good purposes, would not do it. He broke them continually. 
Some other expedient, therefore, one more absolute and of 
more stringent authority, must be resorted to, or he must 
fail. 2 

A good deal annoyed with himself, he turned to what had 
earlier been a favorite mode of compelling himself to keep 
his own good resolutions, I mean a system of pecuniary 
mulcts and penalties. In college, he began this practice, which 
he continued through his whole life, by punishing himself 
with a moderate fine, to be paid, after certain neglects or 
offences, to some charity. But this had not quite enough of the 
essential character of punishment in it, since he was liberally 
supplied with money, and loved to give it away almost as well 
as his mother did. He therefore adopted another mode, that 
proved a little more effectual. He made bets, of some con 
sequence, with such of his college friends as would take them, 
to the effect that he would avoid or would do certain things, 
in relation to which he was sure he should be mortified to have 
them know he had failed. But it was a whimsical peculiarity 
of these bets, to be on such subjects, or in such forms, that 
commonly nobody but himself could know whether he had 
lost or won. The decision was left to his own honor. It 
should be added, therefore, that, as such bets were made wholly 
for his own improvement, he was never at this period known 
to exact a forfeit when his adversary had lost. He considered 
his success as his true winning, and had no wish that any 
body should be punished for it. He desired only to punish 
himself, and therefore, when he had lost was sure to proclaim 
himself the loser and pay the bet. When he had won, he said 

It was to this last form of stimulus or punishment, there 
fore, that he resorted, when he found his industry in relation 

2 There is a characteristic allusion to this frailty in his notice of a good 
resolution which he made at the end of one of his memorandum-books, and 
to which lie refers in the first words of the next: " I ended the last book with 
a good resolution. I shall never be too old to make them. See if I shall ever 
be old enough to keep them." 


to the composition of the " Ferdinand and Isabella " not only- 
flagging, but so seriously falling off that he began to be alarmed 
for the final result. In September, 1828, he gave a bond to 
Mr. English, then acting as his reader and secretary, to pay 
him a thousand dollars, if, within one year from that date, he 
had not written two hundred and fifty pages of his history, 
" the object being," as he said, " to prevent further vacillation 
until he had written so much as would secure his interest in 
going through with it." He did not incur the penalty, and 
thirteen years afterwards he recorded his conviction that the 
arrangement had been wise. " I judged right," he said, " that 
when I had made so large an investment of time and labor, I 
should not flag again." 

But Mr. English's account of the affair is more minute, and 
is not a little curious as an expression of Mr. Prescott's char 

" The bond or agreement made," he writes to me, " bound each of us 
to take from the other the amount Mr. Prescott should himself decide to 
be won on certain wagers written by himself and sealed up. I never saw 
them, and do not, to this day, know the subject of the bets. I took 
his word that they were made to gratify some fancy of his own, and that 
they were so proportioned that the odds were much in my favor, for 
instance, that he risked in the proportion of one hundred to my twenty. 
This contract, I suppose, continued to his death ; at any rate, he never 
notified me that it had ceased. He often added hew wagers, or in 
creased the amount of the old ones, as we have written our signatures 
with fresh dates over and over again on the bottom and margins of tho 
sheets at numerous times since 1831, 3 down to within a few years of his 
death. He would bring the paper to my office so folded that I could not 
read what was written in it, and, with a smile, ask me to sign again. I 
always did so at his request, without knowing what I signed, having the 
most implicit confidence that it was only a harmless affair, and leaving it 
wholly to him to decide whether I lost or won. I remember his paying 
me two winnings, one, several years ago, of twenty or thirty dollars, 
the other, somewhere about ten years ago, of one hundred. He afterwards 
called on me to pay a loss of twenty or thirty, I forget which. He would 
come into my office with a smile, lay down his money, and say, ' You re 
member that bond ? you have won that, and go out with a laugh. On 
the other occasion, ' You have lost this time, and must pay me twenty or 
thirty dollars/ whichever it was. I handed him the money without re 
mark. He laughed and said, that, on the whole, I was in pocket so far, 
but he could not tell how it would be next time, and went out without 
anything more said on either side." 

In 1831, Mr. English ceased to act as Mr. Prescott's secretary. 


Tliis document is lost, but another, not unlike it, and, what 
is remarkable, made with another friend, while the first bond 
was yet in full force, is preserved, and is very minute and 
stringent. Both prove that work was often painfully unwel 
come to him, even when he had been long accustomed to it, 
and that not unfrequently, in order to rouse himself to a proper 
exertion of his faculties, he was willing to call in the aid of 
some foreign, direct stimulus. And this he did from a delib 
erate persuasion that it was a duty he owed to himself, to em 
ploy the talents that had been given to him " as ever in the 
great Taskmaster's eye." His literary memoranda afford abun 
dant proof of this. Indeed, they are throughout a sort of mon 
ument of it, for they were made in a great degree to record his 
shortcomings, and to stimulate his uncertain industry. They 
contain many scores of phrases, like these, scattered over more 
than twenty'years of the most active and important part of his 

" I have worked lazily enough, latterly, or, rather, have been too lazy 
to work at all. Ended the old year [1834] very badly. The last four 
weeks absolute annihilation. Another three months, since the last entry, 
and three months of dolce far niente. Not so dolce either. Fortunately 
for the good economy and progress of the species, activity activity, 
mental or physical is indispensable to happiness." 

On another occasion, after enumerating the work he had 
done during the preceding six months, he says : 

" There is the sum total of what I have done in this dizzy-paled winter, 
which has left me in worse health and spirits, and with less to show in 
any other way, than any past winter for ten years, nay, twenty, 
proh pudor!" 

And again, in 1845 : 

"I find it as hard to get under way as a crazy hulk that has been 
hauled up for repairs. But I will mend, and, that I may do so, will mako 
hebdomadal entries of my laziness. I think I can't stand the repetition 
of such records long." 

But the very next week, in reference to the " Conquest of 
Peru," which he was then writing, he says : 

" Horresco referens! I have actually done nothing since last entry. 

If I can once get in harness and at work, I shall do well enough. 

But my joints arc stiff, I think, as I grow old. So, to give myself a start, 
I have made a wager with Mr. Otis, 4 that I will reel off at least one page 

* Mr. Edmund B. Otis, who was then acting as his secretary. 


per diem, barring certain contingencies. If I can't do this, it most be a 
gone case, and Pizarro may look to have his misdeeds shown up by a 
better pen." 

No doubt, in these passages of his private Memoranda, and 
in many more, both earlier and later, of the same sort, there is 
high coloring. But it was intentional. The main object of 
the whole record for nearly forty years was to stimulate his 
industry, and to prevent himself from relapsing into the idle 
ness, or into the light and pleasant occupations, that constantly 
tempted him from his proper studies. As he intimates in the 
last extract, when he was well entered on a subject and the im 
petus was obtained, he generally enjoyed his work, and felt the 
happiness and peace of conscience which he knew he could get 
in no other way. But the difficulty was, to obtain the impetus. 
After finishing one work, he did not like to begin another, and, 
even when he had completed a single chapter, he was often 
unwilling to take up the next. When he moved from the town 
to the country, or from the country to the town, he did not 
naturally or easily fall into his usual train of occupations. In 
short, whenever there was a pause, he wanted to turn aside 
into some other path, rather than to continue in the difficult 
one right before him ; but he very rarely went far astray, be 
fore he had the courage to punish himself and come back. 

But, besides being intended for a rebuke to the idle and 
light-hearted tendencies of his nature, his Memoranda were 
designed to record the various experiments he made to over 
come the peculiar difficulties in his way, and thus assist him to 
encounter others more successfully. Some of these bear the 
same marks of ingenuity and adaptation which characterized 
his mechanical contrivances for sparing his sight, and were near 
akin to them. 

The notes that were taken from the books read to him, or 
which he was able to read himself, were made with very great 
care. They varied in their character at different periods, going 
more into detail at first than they did later. But they were 
always ample, abundant. I have now before me above a thou 
sand pages of them, which yet cover only a small portion of 
the ground of " Ferdinand and Isabella." From these, and 
Bimilar masses of manuscript, were selected, when they were 


wanted, such materials and hints as would suit the purpose of 
any given chapter or division of the work that might be in 
hand, and these again were transcribed by themselves, in a 
very plain hand, for use. If his eye served him tolerably well, 
he read such of these selected notes as were most important, 
with great care, repeatedly, until he felt himself to be absolute 
master of their contents. If they were not so important, they 
were read to him, rarely less than six times, generally 
more, " some," he says, " a dozen times," so that he might 
not only comprehend their general scope, but be able to judge 
of any varieties involved in their separate statements, whether 
of opinion or of fact. 

When he had thus collected all needful materials, he began 
the task of composition in his memory, very difficult, from 
the detail into which it was necessarily carried, and from 
the exactness that was to be observed in each step as he 
advanced. Of its value and importance he was early aware, 
and, as he gradually surmounted the peculiar embarrassments 
it presented, he relied on it more and more exclusively, until 
at last he attained an extraordinary power in its use and ap 

In 1824, he said, that, before composing anything, he found 
it necessary " to ripen the subject by much reflection in his 
mind." This, it will be remembered, was when he had not 
even begun his preliminary Spanish studies, and had, in fact, 
hazarded nothing more serious than an article for the " North- 
American Review." But, as soon as he had entered on the 
composition of the " Ferdinand and Isabella," he felt fully its 
great importance and wide consequences. Within a fortnight, 
he recorded : " Never take up my pen, until I have travelled 
over the subject so often, that I can write almost from memory." 
It was really desirable to write, not almost, but altogether, 
from memory. He labored, therefore, long for it, and suc 
ceeded, by great and continuous efforts, in obtaining the much- 
coveted power. " Think concentratedly," he says, " when I 
think at all." And again, " Think closely, gradually concen 
trating the circle of thought." 6 At last, in 1841, when he was 

6 Again, November 10, 1839, he records: " Think continuously and closely 
before taking up my pen ; make the corrections chiefly in my own mind ; not 


employed on the " Mexico," he records, after many previous 
memoranda on the subject: "My way has lately been to go 
over a large mass, over and over, till ready to throw it on 
paper." And the next year, 1842, he says : " Concentrate 
more resolutely my thoughts the first day of meditation, going 
over and over, thinking once before going to bed, or in bed, 
or before rising, prefer the latter. And after one day of 
chewing the cud should be [i. e. ought to be] ready to write. 
It was three days for this chapter." [" Conquest of Mexico," 
Book V., Chapter II.] Sometimes it was longer, but, in gen 
eral, a single whole day, or two or three evenings, with the 
hours of his exercise in riding or walking, were found to be 
sufficient for such careful meditation. 6 

The result was remarkable almost incredible as to the 
masses he could thus hold in a sort of abeyance in his mind, 
and as to the length of time he could keep them there, and 
consider and reconsider them, without confusion or weariness. 
Thus, he says that he carried in his memory the first and 
second chapters of the fifth book of the " Conquest of Peru," 
and ran over the whole ground several times before beginning 
to write, although these two chapters fill fifty-six pages of printed 
text ; and he records the same thing of chapters fifth, sixth, 
and seventh, in the second book of " Philip the Second," which 

attempt to overlook my nqctographs ; very trying to the eye. If I would 
enjoy composition, write well, and make progress, I must give my whole soul 
to it, so as not to know the presence of another in the room ; going over 
the work again and again (not too fastidious, nor formal); thinking when 
walking and dressing, &c. ; and not too scrupulous, hesitating, in my final 
corrections. It is a shame and a sin to waste time on mere form. Have 
been very contented and happy here [Pepperell] ; fine weather, and pleasing 

6 In preparing Chapter III., of the Introduction to the " Conquest of 
Peru," about thirty printed pages, he records that, after having done 
all the necessary reading, he studied five days on the memoranda he had 
made, reflected on them one day more, and then gave four days to writing 
the text, and five to writing the notes. Gibbon, too, used to compose in his 
mind; but it was in a very different way, and with very different results. 
He prepared only a paragraph at a time, and that he did, as he says, in order 
" to try it by the ear." (Misc. Works, 1814, Vol. I. p. 230.) I think the effect 
of this loud recital of his work to himself is plain in the well-known cadence 
of his sentences. Mr. Prescott never, so far I as know, repeated his chapters 
aloud. His mental repetition was generally done when he was riding, or 
walking, or driving. 


make together seventy-two pages, and on which he was em 
ployed sixty-two days. 7 

He frequently kept about sixty pages in his memory for 
several days, and went over the whole mass five or six times, 
moulding and remoulding the sentences at each successive 
return. But this power did not remain in full vigor to the 
last. When he was writing the third volume of " Philip the 
Second," he found that he could not carry more than about 
forty pages in his mind at once, and spoke to me of it as a sad 
failure of memory, which no doubt, it was in one point of 
view, although in another, it can be regarded only as an ex 
pression of the surprising power at one time reached by a 
faculty which in its decline was still so marvellous. But, 
whatever might be the amount that he had thus prepared in his 
mind, he went over it five or six times, as a general rule, 
sometimes more, and once, at least, he did it, for a single 
chapter, sixteen times, an instance of patient, untiring labor 
for which it will not be easy to find a parallel. 8 

Writing down by the help of his apparatus what had been 
BO carefully prepared in his memory was a rapid and not dis 
agreeable operation, especially in the composition of his " Con 
quest of Mexico," and of his later works, when the habit of 
doing it had become fixed and comparatively easy. As the 
sheets were thrown off, the secretary deciphered and copied 

* His words are: "The batch all run over in my mind several times, 
from beginning to end, before writing a word has been got out, reading, 
thinking, and writing, in sixty-two days." 

8 Diouysins of Halicarnassus (De Compositione Verborum, Ed. Schaefer, 
1808, p. 406) says, that Plato continued to correct and polish the style of his 
Dialogues when he was eighty years old. C Q 8e JlXaraiv TOVS eavrov 
SiaXoyove xrevifav KOI fto<TTpv\ia>v Kal navra rpi'nrov avan\Kuv ov 
dieXmfv oySoijKoi/ra yeyovas errj. See, also, the well-considered remarks 
on a careful revision of style by good writers of all ages, in the twenty-first 
of Mr. George P. Marsh's Lectures on the English Language (New York, 
1860), a book full of rich, original thought and painstaking, conscientious 
investigation. '' Literary Biography," he says, ' furnishes the most abundant 
proofs, that, in all ages, the works which stand as types of language and com 
position have been of slow and laborious production, and have undergone the 
most careful and repeated revision and emendation." This, 1 have no doubt, 
is what Dionysius meant, when he said that Plato did not cease to comb and 
curl and braid the locks of his Dialogues, even when he was eighty years 
old, an odd figure of speech, but a very significant one. 


them in a large round hand, and then they were laid aside, 
generally for some months, or even longer, that the subject 
might cool in the author's mind, and the imperfections of its 
treatment become, in consequence, more readily apparent to 
him. At the end of this period, or whenever the time for a 
final revision had come, he chose the hours or the minutes in 
each day for they were often only minutes when his eye 
would permit him to read the manuscript himself, and then he 
went over it with extreme care. This he held to be an impor 
tant process, and never, I think, trusted it wholly to the ear. 
Certainly he never did so, if he could possibly avoid it He 
believed that what was to be read by the eye of another 
should be, at least once, severely revised by the eye of its 

As the proof-sheets came from the press, his friend Mr. Fol- 
som corrected them, suggesting, at the same time, any emenda 
tions or improvements in the style that might occur to him, 
with the freedom of an old friendship, as well as with the skill 
and taste of a well-practised criticism; and then the author 
having himself passed judgment upon the suggestions thus 
offered to him, and having taken such as he approved, rarely 
more than one third, or even one fifth, the whole was de 
livered to the unchanging stereotype. 9 

This process, from the first breaking ground with inquiries 
into the subject to the final yielding of the completed work to 
the press, was, no doubt, very elaborate and painstaking ; but 
it seems to me that it was singularly adapted to the peculiar 
difficulties and embarrassments of Mr. Prescott's case, and I do 
not suppose that in any other way he could have accomplished 
BO much, or have done it so well. But, whether this were so 

9 Mr. Folsom who had known him from the period of his college life 
made before the American Academy, soon after his friend's death, some very 
graceful and appropriate remarks on his modes of composition, with which 
his " Cambridge Aldus," as Prescott was wont to call Mr. Folsom, was espe 
cially familiar. On the same occasion, other more general, but not less in 
teresting, remarks on his life and character were made by the Rev. Dr. 
George E. Ellis of Charlestown, the Hon. Charles G. Loring of Boston, and 
Professor Theophilus Parsons of Harvard College, the last two, like Mr. 
Folsom, members of the Club to which Mr. Prescott so many years belonged'. 
See the " Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences," 
Vol. IV. pp. 149-163. 


or not, the great labor it implied, added to the unceasing care 
he was compelled to practise for forty years, in order to pro 
tect his health, and preserve and prolong the failing powers of 
the single eye that remained to him, so as to enable him to 
pursue the minute historical investigations which seemed to be 
forbidden by the conditions of his life, is a very extraordinary 
spectacle. It is, no less, one full of instruction to those who 
think that a life without serious occupation can be justified 
either by the obstacles or the temptations it may be called to 

But there is another side of his character, which should not 
be left out of view, and yet one which I cannot approach ex 
cept with misgiving; I mean that which involves the moral 
and religious elements of his nature. Of these, so far as a 
belief in Christianity is concerned, and a conscientious and 
repeated examination of its authority as a revelation, I have 
already spoken. His life, too, devoted to hard labor, often 
physically painful, with the prevalent idea not only of cul 
tivating his own faculties, and promoting his own improve 
ment, but of fulfilling his duties towards his fellow-men, was 
necessarily one of constant careful discipline, but behind all 
this, and deeper than all this, lay, as its foundation, his watch 
fulness over his moral and religious character, its weaknesses 
and its temptations. 

With these he dealt, to a remarkable degree, in the same 
way, and on the same system, which he applied to his physical 
health and his intellectual culture. He made a record of 
everything that was amiss, and examined and considered and 
studied that record constantly and conscientiously. It was 
written on separate slips of paper, done always with his own 
hand, seen only by his own eye. These slips he preserved 
in a large envelope, and kept them in the most reserved and 
private manner. From time to time, when his sight permitted, 
and generally on Sunday, after returning from the morning 
service, he took them out and looked them over, one by one. 
If any habitual fault were, as he thought, eradicated, he 
destroyed the record of it ; if a new one had appeared, he 
entered it on its separate slip, and placed it with the rest for 
future warning and reproof. This habit, known only to the 


innermost circle of those who lived around his heart, was per 
severed in to the last. After his death the envelope was found, 
marked, as it was known that it would be, " To be burnt." 
And it was burnt. No record, therefore, remains on earth of 
this remarkable self-discipline. But it remains in the memory 
of his beautiful and pure life, and in the books that shall be 
opened at the great day, when the thoughts of all hearts shall 
be made manifest 

Probably to those who knew my friend only as men com 
monly know one another in society, and even to the many 
who knew him familiarly, these accounts of his private habits 
and careful self-discipline may be unexpected, and may seem 
strange. But they are true. The foundations of his character 
were laid as deep as I have described them, the vigilance 
over his own conduct was as strict. But he always desired to 
have as little of this seen as possible. He detested all pretence 
and cant. He made no presumptuous claims to the virtues 
which everybody, who knew him at all, knew he possessed. 
He did not, for instance, like to say that he acted in any 
individual case from " a sense of duty." He avoided that par 
ticular phrase, as he more than once told me he did, and as I 
know his father had done before him, because it is so often 
used to hide mean or unworthy motives. I am pretty sure 
that I never heard him use it ; and on one occasion, when a 
person for whom he had much regard was urging him to do 
something which, after all, could only end in social pleasures 
for both of them, and added as an ultimate argument, " But 
can't you make a duty of it ? " he repeated the words to me 
afterwards with the heartiest disgust. But, during his riper 
years, nobody, I think, ever saw anything in him which con 
tradicted the idea that he was governed by high motives. It 
was only that he was instinctively unwilling to parade them, 
that he was remarkably free from anything like pretension. 

He carried this very far. To take a strong example, few 
persons suspected him of literary industry till all the world 
knew what he had done. Not half a dozen, I think, out of his 
own family, were aware, during the whole period in which he 
was employed on his " Ferdinand and Isabella," that he was 
occupied with any considerable literary undertaking, and hardly 
7 j 


anybody knew what it was. Most of his friends thought that 
he led rather an idle, unprofitable life, but attributed it to hig 
infirmity, and pardoned or overlooked it as a misfortune, rather 
than as anything discreditable. On one occasion a near con 
nection, whom he was in the habit of meeting in the most 
familiar and pleasant manner at least once a week, affection 
ately urged him to undertake some serious occupation as a 
thing essential to his happiness, and even to his respectable 
position in society. And yet, at that moment, he had been 
eight years laboring on his first great work ; and, though thus 
pressed and tempted, he did not confess how he was cm- 
ployed. 10 

He was sensitive from his very nature as well as from the 
infirmities that beset him ; and this sensitiveness of tempera 
ment made it more than commonly disagreeable to him to 
have his exact habits interfered with or intruded upon. But 
he did not willingly permit his annoyance to be seen, and few 
ever suspected that he felt it. When he was riding or taking 
his long walks, he was, as we have seen, in the habit of going 
over and over again in his memory whatever he might last 
have composed, and thus correcting and finishing his work in a 
way peculiarly agreeable to himself. Of course, under such 
circumstances, any interruption to the current of his thoughts 
was unwelcome. And yet who of the hundreds that stopped 
him in his daily walks, or joined him on horseback, eager for 
his kindly greeting or animated conversation, was ever received 
with any other than a pleasant welcome ? During one winter, 
I know that the same friend overtook him so often in his 
morning ride, that he gave up his favorite road to avoid a 
kindness which he was not willing to seem to decline. His 

10 As early as 1821, he showed signs of this sensitiveness, which so remark 
ably characterized all his literary labors. After indicating two or three per 
sons, one of whom he might consult when he should be writing a review for 
the " North American," he adds: ' Nor shall any one else, if I can help it, 
know that I am writing." This occasional reticence so complete, so abso 
lute, as it was in the case of the " Ferdinand and Isabella " is a remark 
able trait in the character of one who was commonly open-hearted almost to 
weakness. I do not believe that three persons out of his own home knew 
that he was writing that work until it was nearly completed. Indeed, I am 
not aware that anybody knew it for several years except myself, his family 
Mid those who helped him abroad in collecting materials. 


father and he understood one another completely on this point 
They often mounted at the same time, but always turned their 
horses in different directions. 

Nor was there in his intercourse at home or abroad with 
strangers or with his familiar friends any noticeable trace of 
the strict government to which he subjected his time and his 
character. In his study everything went on by rule. His 
table and his papers were always in the nicest order. His 
chair stood always in the same spot, and what was important 
in the same relations to the light. The furniture of the 
room was always arranged in the same manner. The hours, 
and often even the minutes, were counted and appropriated. 
But when he came out from his work and joined his family, 
the change was complete, the relaxation absolute. Espe 
cially in the latter part of his life, and in the cheerful parlor of 
the old homestead at Pepperell, surrounded by his children and 
their young friends, his gay spirits were counted upon by all as 
an unfailing resource. The evening games could not be begun, 
the entertaining book could not be opened, until he had come 
from his work, and taken his accustomed place in the circle 
which his presence always made bright. 

In society it was the same. He was never otherwise than 
easy and unconstrained. It would have been difficult to find 
him in a company of persons where any one was more attrac 
tive than he was. But he never seemed to be aware of it, or 
to make an effort to distinguish himself. The brilliant things 
he sometimes said were almost always in the nature of repartees, 
and depended so much for their effect on what had gone be 
fore that those who saw him oftenest and knew him best re 
member little of his conversation, except that it was always 
agreeable, often full of drollery, occasionally sparkling. 
But it was one of its peculiarities, that it became sometimes 
amusing from its carelessness, running into blunders and in 
consequences, not unlike Irish bulls, which nobody seemed to 
enjoy so heartily as he did, or to expose with such happy 
gayety. Eminently natural he always was, everybody saw 
it who met him, and in this quality resided, no doubt, 
much of the charm of his personal intercourse. 

But it was certainly remarkable that one who lived so many 


hours of each day by such rigorous rules, and who subjected 
himself constantly to a discipline, physical, intellectual, and 
moral, so exact, should yet have been thus easy, unconstrained, 
and even careless in all societies, at home and abroad, with 
his children hardly more than with persons whom he saw for 
the first time. Such apparent contradictions such a union 
of qualities and characteristics which nature commonly holds 
carefully asunder were not always intelligible to those who 
occasionally caught glimpses of them, without being constantly 
near enough to see how they were produced, or how they acted 
upon each other. It was a combination which could, I con 
ceive, have been originally found or formed in no nature that 
had not that essential goodness and sweetness for which the 
best training is but a poor substitute ; and they could have been 
brought into such intimate union by no solvent less active than 
his charming spirits, which seemed to shed brightness over his 
whole character. His ^unny smile was absolutely contagious, 
his cordial, easy manners were irresistible. All who ap 
proached him felt and acknowledged their influence, and few 
thought of what might lie beneath them. 

One trait of his character, however, which, from its nature, 
was less obvious than the traits expressed by his general man 
ners, should be especially noticed, I mean his charity to the 
poor. His liberality in contributing to whatever would im 
prove and benefit the community was necessarily known of 
many. Not so his private generosity. This he had, as it 
were, inherited. His mother's greatest happiness, beyond the 
circle of her family, was found in a free-handed beneficence. 
In the latter part of her life, when her resources were much 
beyond the claims that could be made on them by children 
already independent, she avoided all personal expense, and gave 
more than half her income to the poor. Her son fully shared 
her spirit. While she lived, he co-operated with her, and, after 
her death, her pensioners were not permitted, so far as money 
could do it, to feel their loss. 

But, from his earliest manhood, he was always free and 
liberal. In many years he gave away more than he intended 
to do, and more than he afterwards thought he ought to have 
done. But this did not prevent him from repeating the mis- 


take or the miscalculation. Indeed, though he was considerate 
and careful, as well as liberal, in his contributions to public in 
stitutions, he was very impulsive in his private charities. An 
instance happily recorded by Mr. Robert Carter, who was his 
secretary for about a year, in 1847 1848, will better explain 
this part of his character than a page of generalities. 

" One bitter cold day," he says, " I came to the study as usual at half 
past ten. Mr. Prescott went to work immediately on two long and impor 
tant letters, one to Senor de Gayangos at Madrid, the other to Count Cir- 
court at Paris, which he was very anxious to have finished in season to go 
by that week's mail to Europe. There was barely sufficient time to get 
them ready before the mail closed. They were about half done when 
twelve o'clock, his hour for exercise, arrived. He was so anxious to get 
them off that he did what I had never known him to do before ; he relin 
quished his walk, and kept at his writing-case, telling me to go out and 
stretch my legs, but to be sure and return at one o'clock, when he would 
have the letters ready to be copied. I offered to remain and copy as he 
wrote, but he said there would be time enough if I came back at one 
o'clock. He never would allow me to work for him beyond the hours 
stipulated in our agreement, and was very careful not to encroach upon 
my time, even for a minute, though he often made me take holidays. I 
strolled about the city for half an hour, and on my way back passing 
through Broad Street, where the Irish congregate, met one Michael Sulli 
van, whom I knew. He seemed to be in trouble, and I inquired what 
ailed him. He said he had been sick and out of work, and had no money, 
and his family were starving with cold. I went with him to the den 
where he lived, and found his wife and three or four small children in a 
wretched loft over a warehouse, where they were lying on the floor huddled 
in a pile of straw and shavings, with some rags and pieces of old carpet 
over them. The only furniture in the room was a chair, a broken table, 
and a small stove, in which were the expiring embers of a scanty handful 
of coal, which they had begged from neighbors equally poor. The mer 
cury was below zero out of doors, and the dilapidated apartment was not 
much warmer than the street. I had no time to spare, and the detention, 
slight as it was, prevented me from getting back to Mr. Prescott's till a 
quarter past one. His manuscript lay on my desk, and he was walking 
about the room in a state of impatience, I knew, though he showed none, 
except by looking at his watch. As I warmed my chilled hands over the 
fire, I told him, by way of apology, what had detained me. Without 
speaking, he stepped to a drawer where scraps of writing paper were kept, 
took out a piece, and, laying it on my desk, told me to write an order on 

Mr. (a coal dealer with whom he kept an account always open for 

such purposes) for a ton of coal, to be delivered without delay to Michael 
Sullivan, Broad Street. He then went to his bell-rope, and gave it a vehe 
ment pull. A servant entered as I finished the order. ' Take this,' he 

said, ' as quick as you can to Mr. , and see that the coal is delivered 

at once. What is the number of the house in Broad Street ? ' 

" I had neglected to notice the number, though I could find the place 


readily myself. I therefore suggested to Mr. Prescott, that, as there were 
probably twenty Michael Sullivans in Broad Street, the coal might not reach 
the right man, unless I saw to it in person, which I would do when I 
went to dinner at half past two o'clock. 

" ' Thank you ! thank you ! ' he said ; 'but go at once, there will be 
time enough lost in getting the coal.' 

" I reminded him of the letters. ' Go ! go ! never mind the letters. 
Gayangos and Circourt will not freeze if they never get them, and Mrs. 
O'Sullivan may, if you don't hurry. Stay! can the man be trusted with 
money ? or will he spend it all for drink T ' He pulled out his pocket- 
book. I told him he could be trusted. He handed me five dollars. 
' See that they are made comfortable, at least while this cold spell lasts. 
Take time enough to see to them ; I shall not want you till six. Don't let 
them know I sent the money, or all Broad Street will be here begging 
within twenty-four hours.' 

" I relieved Mr. O'Sullivan, as Mr. Prescott persisted in calling him, 
and, when I returned at six, I entered in the account-book, ' Charity five 
dollars.' Always tell me when you know of such cases,' he said, 
and I shall be only too happy to do something for them. I cannot 
go about myself to find them out, but I shall be always ready to con 

" He did not let the matter rest there, but kept playfully inquiring 
after my friends Mr. and Mrs. O'Sullivan, until I satisfied him by ascer 
taining that he had found employment, and could provide for his family. 
After that he never alluded to them again." u 

11 From the New York " Tribune," as copied into the " Prescott Memo 
rial," New York, 1859. Sullivan was, no doubt, a Catholic, as were most 
of the poor Irish, who then herded in Broad Street. But Prescott cared 
not a whit what was the religion of the poor he helped. It was enough that 
they were suffering. 




THE summer of 1836, when the composition of " Ferdinand 
and Isabella " was completed, and the following eighteen 
months, during which it was carried through the press and its 
success made sure, constituted a very happy period in Mr. 
Prescott's life. The inexperienced author speculated, indeed, 
more than he needed to have done on the risks of his venture, 
and felt concerning the final result a good deal of nervous curi 
osity, which, if it did not amount to anxiety, was something 
very near to it. But he soon began to consider what he should 
do when the holidays in which he was indulging himself should 
come to an end. For some time he was very uncertain. It 
was his way in such cases to doubt long. 

At one period, he determined, if the " Ferdinand and Isa 
bella " should be coldly received, to take up some lighter sub 
ject, for which, with all his distrust of himself, he could not 
doubt his competency. Several subjects came readily to his 
thoughts, but none tempted him so much as Moliere, on whose 
character and works he had, in 1828, written a pleasant article 
for the " North American Review," the " Old North," as he 
used to call it. As soon, therefore, as he had corrected the last 
sheets of the " Catholic Sovereigns," he wrote to me about his 
new project, knowing that I was in Paris, where I might 
help him in collecting materials for it. This was in Septem 
ber, 1837. 1 

1 He had, somewhat earlier, a considerable fancy for literary history, of 
which he ofteii spoke to me. Wheii he was half through the composition of 


It was not difficult to do all he desired. I advised with 
M. Jules Taschereau, 2 who, besides his other claims on the 
republic of letters, had then recently published the second 
edition of his " Life of Moliere," altogether the best book 
on its subject, though with an air of greater learning than 
might have been anticipated from the brilliant character of 
the genius to whom it is devoted. Having made sure of the 
assistance of M. Taschereau, I at once undertook the com 
mission, and wrote to my friend how I proposed to execute it. 
He replied in the postscript to a letter already extending to 
four sheets, which he thus characterizes : 

" My letter resembles one of those old higglety-pigtjlety houses that have 
been so much tinkered and built upon that one hardly knows the front 
from the rear. I have got to-day your letter of November 24th, a kind 
letter, showing that you are, as you always have been ever since you camo 
into the world, thinking how you can best serve your friends. I am truly 
obliged by your interest in the little Moliere purchases, and, if anything 
occurs to you of value that I have omitted, pray order it My de 
sign is to write a notice of his life and works, which, without pretence (for 
it would be but pretence) to critical skill in the French language or drama, 

would make an agreeable book for the parlor table As the thing, 

in my prosy way, would take two or three years, I don't care to speak of 
it to any one else. 

" But my heart is set on a Spanish subject, could I compass the mate 
rials, viz. the Conquest of Mexico, and the anterior civilization 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. But 
how can I compass it in these troubled times, too troubled, it would 
seem, for old Navarrete to follow down the stream of story, which he has 
carried to the very time of Corte's." 8 

his " Ferdinand and Isabella," and hastening to finish it, he recorded: " But, 
after all, literary history is more consonant with my taste, my turn of mind, 
and all my previous studies. The sooner I complete my present work, the 
sooner I shall be enabled to enter upon it. So festina." 

2 Now (1862) the head of the Imperial Library at Paris. 

8 He refers to the remarkable work mainly documentary entitled 
" Coleccion de Vinges y Descubrimientos que hicieron por Mar los Espnnoles 
desde fines del Siglo XV. coordinada e 1 ilustrada por Don Martin Fernandez 
de Navarrete." Madrid, 1825-37. 6 Tomos, 4to. It begins, of course, with 
Columbus; but it cornes down only to Loaisa and Saavedra, without touch 
ing the expedition of Corte's for the Conquest of Mexico; or even approach 
ing that of the Pizurros for the Conquest of Peru. The manuscript materials 
for both of these, however, as we shall see hereafter, were placed by Navar 
rete, who had collected them for publication, with true Spanish generosity, 
at the disposition of Mr. Prescott. 


The result of the matter was, that I sent him a collection of 
about fifty volumes, which, for anybody who wished to write a 
pleasant life of Moliere, left little to be desired, and nothing for 
one whose purpose was general literary criticism, rather than 
curious biographical or bibliographical research. But before 
he had received the purchase I had thus made for him, the 
success of his " Ferdinand and Isabella " had happily turned 
his attention again to the Spanish subject, which lay nearest 
his heart. On the sixth of April, he wrote to me concerning 
both the " Mexico " and the " Moliere," telling me, at the same 
time, of a pleasant acquaintance he had made, which promised 
much to favor his Spanish project, and which, in the end, did 
a great deal more, giving him a kind, true, and important 

" I have been much gratified," he says, " by the manner in which the 
book has been received by more than one intelligent Spaniard here, in 
particular by the Spanish Minister, Don Angel Calderon dc la Barca, who 
has sent me a present of books, and expresses his intention of translating 
my History into Castilian. In consequence of this, ae well as to obtain 
his assistance for the other crotchets I have in my head, I paid a visit to 
New York last week, a momentous affair, for it would be easier for you 
to go to Constantinople. Well, I saw his, and was very much 
pleased with him, a frank, manly caballero, who has resigned his office 
from a refusal to subscribe the late democratic constitution. He is quite 
an accomplished man, and in correspondence with the principal Spanish 
scholars at home, so that he will be of obvious use to me in any project I 
may have hereafter. He told me he had sent a copy of the work to the 
Royal Academy of History, and should present one to the Queen, if he 
had not retired from office. There 's a feather in my cap ! 

" In New York I saw your old friends the L s, and passed an evening 

with them. It is ten years to a month since I was there with you 

" The New-Yorkers have done the handsome thing by me, that is, 
the book. But sink the shop ! I have dosed you and Anna with quite 
enough of it. The truth is, I always talk to you and Anna as I should 
to my own flesh and blood ; and if you do not so take it, I shall make a 
pretty ridiculous figure in your eyes. But I will venture it. 

" I believe I have not written to you since the arrival of the French 
books [about Moliere] all safe and sound. Never was there so much 
multum in so little parvo, and then the 'damage' a mere bagatelle. How 
much am I obliged to you, not only for thinking, but for thinking in the 
right place and manner, for me, and for acting as well as thinking. I 
begin to believe I have Fortunatus's wishing-cap while you are in Europe. 
For that reason, perhaps, I should show more conscience in putting the 
said wishing-cap on my head. Well, the wish I have nearest at heart, 
God knows, is to see you and Anna and the petites safe on this side of the 
water again. And that will come to pass, too, before long. Yon will 


find us a few years older. Father Time has thinned out the loose hairs 
from some craniums, and shaken his vile dredging-box over others. For 
myself, I have turned forty, since you went away, an ugly corner, that 
takes a man into the shadow of life, as it were. But better be in the 
shadow with the friends you love, than keep in the everlasting sunshine 
of youth, if that were possible, and see them go down into the valley 
without you. One does not feel his progress, when all around is going on 
at the same rate. I shall not, however, give up entirely my claims to be 
reckoned young, since a newspaper this very week styles me ' our young 
and modest townsman.' I suppose you will admit one epithet to be as 
true as the other." 

As we have seen, the period that followed the publication of 
" Ferdinand and Isabella " was not fruitful in literary results. 
Except a pleasant article on Lockhart's " Life of Scott," which 
he prepared for the " North American Review," he wrote 
nothing during that winter, not even his accustomed private 
memoranda. No doubt, he was, in one sense, idle, and he 
more than once spoke of these months afterwards with regret 
and pain ; but the vacation, though a pretty long one, seems 
not to have been entirely amiss in its occupations or its conse 
quences. He read, or rather listened to much reading ; light 
and miscellaneous in general, but not always so. Sometimes, 
indeed, during his protracted holidays, it was of the gravest 
sort ; for, while his work was going through the press, he oc 
cupied himself again with careful inquiries into the authority 
and doctrines of the Christian religion. He read Marsh on 
the origin of the first three Gospels in his Prolegomena to the 
translation of " Michaelis " ; the first volume being all then 
published of Norton's " Genuineness of the Gospels," to 
whose learning and power he bore testimony in a note to the 
" Ferdinand and Isabella " ; Newcome's " Harmony " ; Paley's 
" Evidences " ; Middleton's " Free Inquiry " ; and Gibbon's 
famous chapters, works the last three of which he had 
considered and studied before. A little later he read Norton's 
" Statement of Reasons," and Furness on the Four Gospels ; 
but he did not go so thoroughly as he had in his previous 
inquiries into the orthodox doctrines, as they are called ; for, 
as he said, he was more and more satisfied that they were un 
founded. After expressing himself decidedly on these points, 
and coming to the general conclusion that " the study of po 
lemics or biblical critics will tend neither to settle principles 


nor clear up doubts, but rather to confuse the former and mul 
tiply the latter," he concludes with these striking words : 

" To do well and act justly, to fear and to love God, and to love our 
neighbor as ourselves, in these is the essence of religion. To do this is 
the safest, our only safe course. 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 re 
ligious and moral truths inculcated by the Saviour as the words of inspira 
tion ? I cannot, certainly. On these, then, I will rest, and for all else 

' Wait the great teacher Death, and God adore.' " 

When he had come to the conclusion that the " Ferdinand 
and Isabella " was a successful book, and likely to last, a re 
sult at which he arrived very slowly, he abandoned the idea 
of writing the Life of Moliere, and turned, with a decided pur 
pose, to the History of the Conquest of Mexico, which had 
been, for some time, interesting and tempting him in a way 
not to be resisted. One cause of his long hesitation was the 
doubt he felt whether he could obtain the materials that he 
deemed necessary for the work. He had written for them to 
Madrid, in April, 1838 ; but before a reply could reach him, 
weary of a vacation which, reckoning from the time when he 
finished the composition of " Ferdinand and Isabella," was now 
protracted to nearly two years, and quite sure that on all ac 
counts he ought to be at work again, he began cautiously to 
enter on his new subject with such books as he could com 
mand. 4 

In June he records that he had read with much care Hum- 
boldt's " Researches concerning the Institutions of the Ancient 
inhabitants of America," and his " New Spain." It was his 
earliest acquaintance with the works of this great man, except 
that, when writing an account of the first voyage of Columbus for 
his " Ferdinand and Isabella," he had resorted to that mine of 
knowledge and philosophy, the " Examen Critique de 1'Histoire 

4 He felt the need of a grave subject, and of success in it, as, I think, he 
always did after he had once begun his historical career. " Mere ephemeral 
success," he records in 1838, " still less paltry profit, will not content rne I 
am confident." 


et de la Geographic du Nouveau Continent." 6 The two works 
he now studied are, however, in some respects, of more sig 
nificance, and he thus notes his opinion of them : 

" Humboldt is a true philosopher, divested of local or national preju 
dices, fortified with uncommon learning, which supplies him with abun 
dant illustrations and analogies. Like most truly learned men, he is 
cautious and modest in his deductions, and, though he assembles very 
many remarkable coincidences between the Old World and the New in 
their institutions, notions, habits, &c., yet he does not infer that the New 
World was peopled from the Old, much less from what particular 
nation, as more rash speculators have done." 

The notes to his " Conquest of Mexico " abound in similar 
expressions of admiration for the great traveller ; a man who, 
as an observer of nature, was once said by Biot (a competent 
judge, if anybody was) to have been equalled by none since the 
days of Aristotle. 

But though my friend was much interested in these works, 
and, during the year 1838, read or ran over many others of less 
moment relating to the geography and physical condition of 
that part of America to which they relate, he did not yet begin 
to labor in earnest on his " Conquest of Mexico." In Septem 
ber, his disinclination to work was very strong. 

" I have been indolent," he says, " the last fortnight. It is not easy to 
go forward without the steady impulse of a definite object. In the un 
certainty as to the issue of my application in Spain, I am without such 
impulse. I ought always to find sufficient in the general advantages re 
sulting from study to my mental resources, advantages to be felt on 
whatever subject my mind is engaged. But I am resolved to mend, and 
to employ all the hours my reader is with me, and something more, when 
my eye will serve. Of one thing I am persuaded. No motives but those 
of ;in honest fame and of usefulness will have much weight in stimulating 
my labors. I never shall be satisfied to do my work in a slovenly way, 
nor superficially. It would be impossible for me to do the job-work of a 
literary hack. Fortunately, I am not obliged to write for bread, and I 
never will write for money." 

One anxiety, which had troubled him for a time, was re 
moved in the following winter by the prompt courtesy of Mr. 
"Washington Irving. It was not such an anxiety as would have 
occurred to everybody under the same circumstances, nor one 
that would have been always so readily and pleasantly re 
moved as it was in the present case, by the following corre 
spondence : 

Ferdinand and Isabella, Part I. Chap. XVI., notes. 



BOSTON, Dec. 31, 1838. 

If you will allow one to address you so familiarly who has not the 
pleasure of your personal acquaintance, though he feels as if he had known 
you for a long time. Our friend Mr. Cogswell, 5 who is here on a short 
visit, has mentioned to me a conversation which he had with you respect 
ing the design I had formed of giving an account of the Conquest of 
Mexico and Peru. I hope you will excuse me if I tell you how the 
matter stands with me. 

Soon after I had despatched their Catholic Highnesses, Ferdinand and 
Isabella, I found the want of my old companions in the long hours of an 
idle man's life, and, as I looked round for something else, the History of 
Cortes and Pizarro struck me as the best subject, from its growing out of 
the period I had become familiar with, as well as from its relation to our 
own country. I found, too, that I had peculiar facilities for getting such 
books and manuscripts as I needed from Madrid, through the kindness of 
Senor Calderon, whom you know. 

The only doubts I had on the subject were respecting your designs in 
the same way, since you had already written the adventures of the early dis 
coverers. I thought of writing to you, to learn from you your intentions, 
but I was afraid it might seem impertinent in a stranger to pry into your 
affairs. I made inquiries, however, of several of your friends, and could 
not learn that you had any purpose of occupying yourself with the sub 
ject ; and, as you had never made any public intimation of the sort, I be 
lieve, and several years had elapsed since your last publication of the kind, 
during which your attention had been directed in another channel, I con 
cluded that you had abandoned the intention, if you had ever formed it. 

I made up my mind, therefore, to go on with it, and, as I proposed to 
give a pretty thorough preliminary view of the state of civilization in Mex 
ico and Peru previous to the Conquest, I determined to spare no pains or 
expense in collecting materials. I have remitted three hundred pounds to 
Madrid for the purchase and copying of books and manuscripts, and have 
also sent for Lord Kingsborough's and such other works relating to Mex 
ico as I can get from London. 7 I have also obtained letters to individuals 
in Mexico for the purpose of collecting what may be of importance to me 
there. Some of the works from London have arrived, and the drafts from 

6 The reference here is to Mr. J. G. Cogswell, the well-known head of the 
Astor Library, New York, to whose disinterestedness, enthusiasm, and knowl 
edge that important institution owes hardly less of its character and success 
than it does to the elder Mr. Astor, whose munificence founded it, or to the 
younger Mr. Astor, who, in the same spirit, has sustained it and increased 
its resources. Mr. Cogswell, from his youth, was intimate in the Prescott 
family, and always much cherished by every member of it; so that, being 
on equally intimate and affectionate terms with Mr. Irving, he was the best 
possible person to arrange such a delicate affair between the parties. 

1 This he had done about nine months earlier. 


Madrid show that my orders are executing there. Such works as can bo 
got here in a pretty good collection in the College library I have already 
examined, and wait only for my books from Spain. 

This is the state of affairs now that I have learned from Mr. C. that 
you had originally proposed to treat the same subject, and that you re 
quested him to say to me, that you should relinquish it in my favor. I 
cannot sufficiently express to you my sense of your courtesy, which I caa 
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 ; for I am 
but a dull sailer from the embarrassments I labor under, and should have 
found but sorry gleanings in the field which you had thoroughly burn* 
over, as they say in the West. 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. 8 But I trust 
you will think differently when I accept your proffered courtesy in the 
same cordial spirit in which it was given. 

It will be conferring a still further favor on me, if you will allow me 
occasionally, when I may find the want of it, to ask your advico in the 
progress of the work. There are few persons among us who have paid 
much attention to these studies, and no one, here or elsewhere, is so 
familiar as yourself with the track of Spanish adventure in the New World 
and so well qualified certainly to give advice to a comparatively raw hand. 
Do not fear that this will expose you to a troublesome correspondence. I 
have never been addicted to much letter-writing, though, from the speci 
men before you, I am afraid you will think those I do write are some 
what of the longest. 

Believe me dear Sir, with great respect, 

Your obliged and obedient servant, 


P. S. Will you permit me to say, that if you have any materials in 
your own library having a bearing on this subject, that cannot be got here, 
and that you have no occasion for yourself, it will be a great favor if you 
will dispose of them to me. 


NEW YORK, Jan. 18, 1839. 

Your letter met with some delay in reaching me, and since the receipt 
of it I have been hovering between town and country, so as to have had 
no quiet leisure for an earlier reply. 

I had always intended to write an account of the " Conquest of Mex 
ico," as a suite to my " Columbus," but left Spain without making the 

8 A similar idea is very gracefully expressed in the Preface to the Conquest 
of Mexico, where, after relating the circumstance of Mr. Irving's relinquish- 
mentof the subject, Mr. Prescott adds: " While I do but justice to Mr. Irving 
by this statement, I feel the prejudice it does to myself in the unavailing re 
gret I am exciting in the bosom of the reader." 


requisite researches. The unsettled life I subsequently led for some years, 
and the interruptions to my literary plans by other occupations, made me 
defer the undertaking from year to year. Indeed, the more I considered 
the subject, the more I became aware of the necessity of devoting to it 
great labor, patient research, and watchful discrimination, to get at the 
truth, and to dispel the magnificent mirage with which it is enveloped. For, 
unless this were done, a work, however well executed in point of literary 
merit, would be liable to be subverted and superseded by subsequent works, 
grounded on those documentary evidences that might be dug out of the 
chaotic archives of Spain. These considerations loomed into great ob 
stacles in my mind, and, amidst the hurry of other matters, delayed me in 
putting my hand to the enterprise. 

About three years since I made an attempt at it, and set one of my 
nephews to act as pioneer and get together materials under my direction, 
but his own concerns called him elsewhere, and the matter was again post 
poned. Last autumn, after a fit of deep depression, feeling the want of 
something to rouse and exercise my mind, I again recurred to this subject. 
Fearing that, if I waited to collect materials, I should never take hold of 
them, and knowing my own temperament and habits of mind, I determined 
to dash into it at once ; sketch out a narrative of the whole enterprise, 
using Solis, Hen-era, and Bernal Diaz as my guide-books ; and, having 
thus acquainted myself with the whole ground, and kindled myself into a 
heat by the exercise of drafting the story, to endeavor to strengthen, cor 
rect, direct, and authenticate my work by materials from every source 
within my reach. 

I accordingly set to work, and had made it my daily occupation for 
about three months, and sketched out the groundwork for the first volume, 
when I learned from Mr. Cogswell that you had undertaken the same 
enterprise. I at once felt how much more justice the subject would re 
ceive at your hands. Ever since I had been meddling with the theme, 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. The history of Mexico prior to the discovery and con 
quest, and the actual state of its civilization at the time of the Spanish 
invasion, are questions in the highest degree curious and interesting, yet 
difficult to be ascertained clearly from the false lights thrown upon them. 
Even the writings of Padre Sahagun perplex one as to the degree of faith to 
be placed in them. These themes are connected with the grand enigma 
that rests upon the primitive population and civilization of the American 
continent, and of which the singular monuments and remains scattered 
throughout the wilderness serve but as tantalizing indications. 

The manner in which you have executed your noble " History of Fer 
dinand and Isabella " gave me at once an assurance that you were the man 
to undertake the subject. Your letter shows that I was not wrong in the 
conviction, and that you have already set to work on the requisite prepa 
rations. In at once yielding up the thing to you, I feel that I am but 
doing my duty in leaving one of the most magnificent themes in American 
history to be treated by one who will build up from it an enduring mon 
ument in the literature of our country. I only hope that I may live to see 


your work executed, and to read in it an authentic account of that con 
quest, and a satisfactory discussion of the various questions which since my 
boyhood have been full of romantic charm to me, but which, while they 
excited my imagination, have ever perplexed my judgment. 

I am sorry that I have no works to offer you that you have not in the 
Boston libraries. I have mentioned the authors I was making use of. 
They are to be found in the Boston Athenaeum, though I doubt not you 
have them in your own possession. While in Madrid, I had a few chap 
ters of Padre Sahagun copied out for me, relating merely to some points 
of the Spanish invasion. His work you will find in Lord Kingsborough's 
collection. It professes to give a complete account of Mexico prior to the 
conquest, its public institutions, trades, callings, customs, &c., &c. Should 
I find among my books any that may be likely to be of service, I will send 
them to you. In the mean time do not hesitate to command my service.! 
in any way you may think proper. 

I am scrawling this letter in great haste, as you will doubtless perceive, 
but beg you will take it as a proof of the sincere and very high respect 
and esteem with which I am 

Your friend and servaqt, 



BOSTON, Jan. 25, 1839. 

You will be alarmed at again seeing an epistle from me so soon, but I 
cannot refrain from replying to your very kind communication. I have 
read your letter with much interest, and I may truly say, as to that 
part of it which animadverts on the importance of the theme, as illustrat 
ing the Mexican Antiquities with some dismay. I fear you will be 
sadly disappointed, if you expect to see a solution by me of those vexed 
questions which have bewildered the brains of so many professed anti 
quarians. My fingers are too clumsy to unravel such a snarl. All I pro 
pose to do in this part of the subject is, to present the reader such a view 
of the institutions and civilization of the conquered people as will interest 
him in their fortunes. To do this, it will not be necessary, I hope, to in 
volve myself in those misty speculations which require better sight than 
mine to penetrate, but only to state facts as far as they can be gathered 
from authentic story. 

8 How Mr. Prescott felt on receiving this letter, may be seen from the fol 
lowing note enclosing it to me, the day it came to hand: 

JANUARY, 21st. 

I told you that I wrote to Irving, thanking him for his courtesy the other 
day. Here is his response, which I thought you would like to see. He puts 
me into a fright, by the terrible responsibilities he throws on the subject, or 
rather on the man who meddles with it. 

Ever thine, 



For this part of the subject, therefore, I have not attempted to collect 
manuscripts, of which I suppose there is a great number in the libraries of 
Mexico, at least, there was in Clavigero's time, but I shall content 
myself with the examination of such works as have been before the public, 
including, indeed, the compilation of Lord Kingsborough, and the great 
French work, " Antiquites Mexicaines," since published, the chief value 
of both of which, I suspect, except the chronicle of Sahagun in the former, 
consists in their pictorial illustrations. My chief object is the Conquest, 
and the materials I am endeavoring to collect are with the view to the 
exhibition of this in the most authentic light. 

It will give you satisfaction to learn that my efforts in Spain promise 
to be attended with perfect success. I received letters last week from 
Madrid, informing me that the Academy of History, at the instance of 
Senor Navarrete, had granted my application to have copies taken of any 
and all manuscripts in their possession having relation to the Conquest of 
Mexico and Peru, and had appointed one of their body to carry this into 
effect. This person is a German, named Lembke, the author of a work 
on the early history of Spain, which one of the English journals, I re 
member, rapped me over the knuckles for not having seen. 10 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 illustrative of tho 
Mexican Conquest, which, he writes me, will place the expedition in a 
new and authentic light. He has already sent off two boxes to Cadiz, 
and is now employed in hunting up the materials relating to Peru, in 
which, he says, the Library appears to be equally rich. I wish he may 
not be too sanguine, and that the manuscripts may not fall into the hands 
of Carlist or Christino, who would probably work them up into musket- 
waddings in much less time than they were copying. 

The specifications of manuscripts, furnished me by Dr. Lembke, make 
me feel nearly independent of Mexico, with which the communications 
are now even more obstructed than with Spain. I have endeavored to 
open them, however, through Mr. Poinsctt and the Messrs. Barings, and 
cannot but hope I shall succeed through one or the other channel. 

I had no idea of your having looked into the subject so closely your 
self, still less that you had so far broken ground on it. I regret now that 
I had not communicated with you earlier in a direct way, as it might have 

10 Geschichte von Spanien, von Friederich Wilhelm Lembke, Erster Band. 
Hamburg, 1831, 8vo. It goes no farther than about the year A. D. 800, and 
therefore could not have been of the least importance to one writing the His 
tory of Ferdinand and Isabella, who lived seven hundred years later. Dr. 
Lembke, indeed, rendered good service to Mr. Prescott in collecting the 
materials for the " Conquests " of Mexico and Peru; but he wrote no more 
of his own History of Spain, which was, however, continued by Heinrich 
Schiifer, down to about 1100, a period still far from that of the Catholic 
Sovereigns, besides which Schiifer's work did not appear until 1844, six 
years after the appearance of the " Ferdinand and Isabella." So much for 
the clairvoyance of the English journalist. 


saved both, or rather one of us, some previous preparation ; for during 
the summer and autumn I have been occupied with the investigation of 
the early Mexican history, having explored all the sources within my 
reach here, and being stopped by the want of [more of] them. 

Now that I have gone on so far with my preparations, I can only 
acknowledge your great courtesy towards me with my hearty thanks, for 
I know well that whatever advantage I might have acquired on the score 
of materials would have been far very far outweighed by the superi 
ority in all other respects of what might fall from your pen. And your 
relinquishing the ground seems to impose on me an additional responsi 
bility, to try to make your place good, from which a stouter heart than 
mine might well shrink. I trust, however, that in you I shall find a gen 
erous critic, and allow me to add, with sincerity, that the kind words you 
have said of the only child of my brain have gratified me, and touched 
me more deeply than anything that has yet reached me from my coun 

Believe me, my dear sir, 

With sincere respect, 

Your friend ana servant, 


Since writing this chapter, and, in fact, since this work itself was finished 
and sent to press, the third volume of the charming " Life and Letters of 
Washington Irving, by his Nephew, Pierre M. Irving," has been published. 
It contains the following additional interesting facts upon the subject of the 
Conquest of Mexico: 

" Mr. Irving," says his biographer, " was now busy upon the History of the 
Conquest of Mexico, and it was upon this theme that he was exercising that 
4 vein of literary occupation ' alluded to at the close of the foregoing letter [to 
Mrs. Van Wart, his sister]. He had not only commenced the work, but had 
made a rough draught to form the groundwork of the first volume, when he 
went to New York to procure or consult some books on the subject. He was 
engaged in the ' City Library,' as it is commonly designated, though its official 
style is ' The New York Society Library,' then temporarily in Chambers 
Street, when he was accosted by Mr. Joseph G. Cogswell, the eminent 
scholar, afterwards so long and honorably connected with the Astor Library. 
It was from this gentleman that Mr. Irving first learned that Mr. Prescott, 
who had a few months before gained a proud name on both sides of the 
Atlantic, by his 'History of Ferdinand and Isabella,' now had the work in 
contemplation upon which he had actively commenced. Cogswell first 
sounded him, on the part of Mr. Prescott, to know what subject he was occu 
pied upon, as he did not wish to come again across the same ground with 
him. Mr. Irving asked, ' Is Mr. Prescott engaged upon an American sub 
ject? ' ' He is,' was the reply. ' What is it? Is it the Conquest of Mexi 
co?' 'It is,' answered Cogswell. 'Well then,' said Mr. Irving, 'I am 
engaged upon that subject ; but tell Mr. Prescott I abandon it to him, and I 
am happy to have this opportunity of testifying my high esteem for his talents 
and my sense of the very courteous manner in which he has spoken of myself 

MR. IRVING. 163 

and my writings, in his " Ferdinand and Isabella," though they interfered 
with a part of the subject of his history.' " 

About five years later, Mr. Irving, then our Minister in Spain, received from 
Mr. Prescott a copy of his " History of the Conquest of Mexico," in the 
Preface to which he makes his public acknowledgment to Mr. Irving for 
giving up the subject. 

How Mr. Irving received it will appear from the following account by his 
biographer. " ' I need not say,' writes Mr. Irving to me, in noticing its re 
ceipt, ' how much I am delighted with the work. It well sustains the high 
reputation acquired by the " History of Ferdinand and Isabella. " ' Then, ad 
verting to the terms of Mr. Prescott's handsome acknowledgment in the Pre 
face, to which I had called his attention, he adds : ' I doubt whether Mr. Prescott 
was aware of the extent of the sacrifice I made. This was a favorite 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 profit of it to recruit my waning finances. I 
had no other subject at hand to supply its place. I was dismounted from my 
che.val de bataille, and have never been completely mounted since. Had I 
accomplished that work, my whole pecuniary situation would have been 
altered When I made the sacrifice, it was not with a view to com 
pliments or thanks, but from a warm and sudden impulse. I am not sorry 
for having made it. Mr. Prescott has justified the opinion I expressed at the 
time, that he would treat the subject with more close and ample research 
than I should probably do, and would produce a work more thoroughly 
worthy of the theme. He has produced a work that does honor to himself 
and his country, and I wish him the full enjoyment of his laurels.' " Life 
of Irving, 1863, Vol. III. pp. 133 sqq., and 143 sqq. 

There are few so beautiful passages as this in literary history, deformed as 
it often is with the jealousies and quarrels of authorship. One, however, not 
unlike it will be found subsequently in this volume, when we come to the 
relations between the author of the " History of Philip the Second," and the 
author of " The Rise of the Dutch Republic." 





UNTIL some time after the appearance of " Ferdinand 
and Isabella," Mr. Preseott wrote very few letters to 
anybody, and most of those he did write are lost. He corre 
sponded, of course, with his family, in 1816 and 1817, when 
he was in Europe, and he wrote subsequently to one or two 
personal and household friends, whenever he or they happened 
to be away from Boston. These letters, so far as they have 
been preserved, I have used in the preceding narrative. But 
Ids life, though he was much in society in Boston, was both 
from preference and from his peculiar infirmities in one 
sense very retired. He travelled hardly at all, thinking that 
the exposures involved by journeys injured his eye, and there 
fore the occasions on which he wrote letters to his family were 
very rare. At the same time, his urgent and steady occupa 
tions made it difficult for him to write to others, so that he had 
no regular correspondence from 1818 to 1839 with any single 
person. In one of the few letters that he wrote before he be 
came known as an author, he says that in the preceding three 
months he had written to but two persons, to both on busi 
ness ; and in another letter, equally on business, but written a 
little later, he says, that the friend to whom it was addressed 
would " hardly know what to make of it " that he should write 
to him at all. 

With his private Memoranda, begun in 1820, and continued 
to the last, so as to fill above twelve hundred pages, the case 
is somewhat different, although the result is nearly the same. 
Ample enough they certainly are from the first, and, for their 


private purposes, they are both apt and sufficient. But nearly 
or quite the whole of the earlier two-thirds of this minute 
record is filled with an account of his daily studies, of his good 
resolutions, often broken, and of his plans for the future, often 
disappointed. Such records were from their nature only for 
himself, and only of transient interest even to him. 

But after the success of the " Ferdinand and Isabella," his 
relations to the world were changed, and so, in some degree, 
were his hopes and purposes in life. While, therefore, until 
that time, his correspondence and Memoranda furnish few ma 
terials for his life, they constitute afterwards not only the best, 
but the largest, part of whatever may be needful to exhibit him 
as he really was. I begin, therefore, at once with the letters 
and Memoranda of 1839, for, although some of them look much 
ahead, and talk about his " History of Philip the Second," 
while he was yet busy with the " Conquest of Mexico," and 
before he had even taken in hand that of Peru, still they show 
what, at the time, were his occupations and -thoughts, and give 
proof of the providence and forecast which always constituted 
important traits in his character, and contributed much to his 
success in whatever he undertook. 

The first of his letters belonging to this period is one con 
taining his views on a subject which has by no means yet lost 
the whole of its interest as a public question, that of inter 
national copyright. 


BOSTON, Dec. 24, 1839. 

I received some weeks since a letter from Dr. Lieber, of Columbia Col 
lege, South Carolina, in which he informed me, that measures were to be 
taken in Congress, this session, for making such an alteration in our copy 
right law as should secure the benefits of it to foreigners, and thus enable 
us to profit in turn by theirs. He was very desirous that I should write, 
if I could not see you personally, and request your co-operation in the 
matter. I felt very reluctant to do so, knowing that you must be much 
better acquainted than I was with the state of the affair, and, of course, 
could judge much better what was proper to be done. My indefatigable 
correspondent, however, has again written to me, pressing the necessity of 
communicating with you, and stating in confidence, as he says, that Mr. 


Clay is to bring in a bill this session, and that Mr. Preston ! is to make 
the speech, &c. Mr. Preston told him that it would be very desirable to 
have a brief memorial, signed by the persons most interested in the success 
of the law, and that you were the proper person to prepare it. If anything 
be done, there can be no doubt that you are the one who, from your lit 
erary position in the country, should take the lead in it. Whether anything 
effectual can be done seems to me very doubtful. 

Such a law is certainly demanded by every principle of justice. But I 
suspect it is rather late in the day to talk of justice to statesmen. At all 
events, one of those newspapers which they are now turning out every 
week here, and which contains an octavo volume of the new publications; 
at sixpence apiece, will, I am afraid, be too cogent an argument in favor 
of the present state of things, to be refuted by the best memorial ever 
drafted. Still we can but try, and, while the effort is making by the best 
men in Congress, it may be our duty to try. 

Of all this, however, you can best judge. I can only say, that, if yon 
will prepare a paper, I shall be very glad, when it has been signed in your 
city, to do all in my power to get such signatures to it here as will give it 
most weight. I trust I shall not appear to you officious in this matter, 
for I can well understand, from my own feelings, how distasteful this sort 
of work must be to you. 

It will give you pleasure, I flatter myself, to know that I have com 
pletely succeeded in my negotiations in Spain. Sefior Navarrete, with 
whom you were acquainted in Madrid, has very liberally supplied me with 
copies of his entire collection of manuscripts relating to Mexico and Peru, 
which it is improbable from his advanced age that he will ever publish 
himself. Through his aid I have also obtained from the Academy copies 
of the collections made by Murioz and by its former President, Vargas y 
Ponce, making all together some five thousand pages, all in fair condi 
tion, the flower of my Spanish veterans. 

From Mexico, through my good friend Calderon, who is now gone 
there, you know, as minister, I look for further ammunition, though I 
am pretty independent of that now. I have found some difficulty in col 
lecting the materials for the preliminary view I propose of the Aztec civi 
lization. The works are expensive, and Lord Kingsborough's is locked 
up in chancery. I have succeeded, however, in ferreting out a copy, 
which, to say truth, though essential, has somewhat disappointed me. 
The whole of that part of the story 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. 

As I have only half an eye of my own, and that more for show than 
use, my progress is necessarily no more than a snail's gallop. I should 
be very glad to show you my literary wares, but I fear you are too little 
of a locomotive in your habits to afford me that great pleasure. Though 
I cannot see you bodily, however, I am sitting under the light of your 
countenance, for you are ranged above me (your immortal part) in a 

1 William C Preston, then in the Senate of the United States from South 


goodly row of octavos, not in the homespun garb, but in the nice cos 
tume of Albemarle and Burlington Streets. 

My copy of the Sketch-Book, by the by, is the one owned by Sir James 
Mackintosh, and with his pencilliugs in the margin. It was but last even 
ing that my little girl read us one of the stories, which had just enough of 
the mysterious to curdle the blood in the veins of her younger brother, who 
stopped up both his ears, saying he " would not hear such things just as 
he was going to bed," and as our assertions that no harm would come of 
it were all in vain, we were obliged to send the urchin off to his quarters 
with, I fear, no very grateful feelings towards the author. 

At about the same time that he wrote thus to Mr. Irving, 
he received three letters from eminent historians, which gave 
him much pleasure. The first is 



I have just received your letter from Boston, of the 1st of July, with the 
beautiful present which accompanies it. It has touched me, it has flattered 
me, but at the same time it has made me experience a very lively regret. 
I had found on my arrival at Paris, the last year, the English edition of 
your beautiful work. The address alone had informed me that it was a 
present of the author, and I have never known how it arrived to me. On 
my return here I wrote you on the 22d of July, to express to you my 
entire gratitude, the interest with which I had seen you cast so vivid a 
light over so interesting a period of the history of our Europe, my aston 
ishment at your having attained such rich sources of learning, which are for 
the most part interdicted to us ; my admiration, in fine, for that force of 
character, and, without doubt, serenity of spirit, which had assisted you 
in pursuing your noble enterprise under the weight of the greatest calam 
ity which can attend a man in his organs, and especially a man of letters, 
the loss of sight. I do not remember what circumstance made me 
think that you lived at New York, and it is thither that I directed my let 
ter to you, but I took care to add to your name, " Author of the History 
of Ferdinand and Isabella," and I represented to myself that your fellow- 
countrymen ought to be sufficiently proud of your book for the directors 
of the post of one of your largest cities to know your residence, and send 
you my letter. It is more than a year since that, and in the interval you 
have been able to learn how firmly established is the success of your work, 
and my suffrage has lost the little worth it might have had. I am morti 
fied nevertheless to have been obliged to appear insensible to your kind 

I cannot believe that, after ten years so usefully, so happily employed, 
you lay aside the pen. You are now initiated into the History of Spain, 
and it will be much more easy to continue it than to begin it. After Rob 
ertson, after Watson, the shadows thicken upon the Peninsula ; will you 
not dissipate them ? Will you not teach us what we have so much need 


of knowing * Will not you exhibit this decay ever more rapid, from the 
midst of which you will extract such important lessons ? Consider that 
the more you have given to the public, the more it would have a right to 
demand of you. Permit me to join my voice to that of the public in this 
demand, as I have done in applauding what you have already done. 
Believe me, with sentiments of the highest consideration, 

Your obedient servant, 

J. C. L. dE SlSMOKDI. 

Chines, pres Geneve, Sept. 1, 1839. 

The next letter referred to, which is one from the author of 
the " Histoire de la Conquete de 1'Angleterre par les Nor- 
mands," himself quite blind, is very interesting on all ac 



Pardonnez moi d'avoir tarde" si longtemps a vous remercier du present 
que vous avez eu la bonte de me faire. Deux causes ont contribue a 
ce retard : d'abord j'ai voulu lire en entier votre bel ouvrage, et les aveu- 
glcs lisent lentement ; ensuite j'ai voulu vous envoyer, comme un bien 
faible retour, deux volumes qui etaient sous presse ; je prends la liberte' de 
vous les offrir. Je no saurais, Monsieur, vous exprimer tout le plaisir que 
ma'a fait la lecture de votre " Histoire du Regnc de Ferdinand et d'lsa- 
belle." C'est un de ces livres egalemcnt remarquables pour le fond et pour 
la forme, oil se montrent a la fois des etudes appro fondies, uiie haute raison 
ct un grand talent d'ecrivain. On sent que vos recherches ont penetre au 
fond du sujet, que vous avez tout etudie aux sources, les origines na- 
tionales et provinciales, les traditions, les mceurs, les dialectes, la legisla 
tion, les coutumes ; vos jugemeuts sur la politique intericure et exterieure 
de la monarchic fepagnolc au 15e m e siecle sont d'une grande fermete' et 
d'uiie complete impartialite' ; enfin il y a dans le recit des e'-vencments 
cette clarte parfaite, cette gravite' sans effort et sobrement colore'e, qui cst 
scion moi le vrai style de 1'histoire. 

Vous avez travaille cc sujet avec predilection, parceque la se trouvent les 
prolegomeues de 1'histoire du nouveau monde oil votre pays tient la pre 
miere place ; continucz, Monsieur, a lui clever le monument dont vous 
vcnez de poser la base. J'apprends avec pcine que votre vue sc perd de 
nouveau, mais je suis sans inquietude pour vos travaux a venir ; vous ferez 
comme moi, vous repeterez le devise du stoicien Sustine, ubstine, et vous 
cxercerez les yeux de Tame a dcfaut des yeux du corps. Croyez, Mon 
sieur, a ma vivc sympathie pour unc destinec qui sous ce rapport resscm- 
ble a la mienne et agre'ez avec mcs remerciments bien sinceres 1'expression 
de ma haute estime et de mon de'vouement. 

Paris, le 17 Mars, 1840. 


The last of the three letters from writers of historical repu 
tation is one 


34 Devonshire Place [London], Monday, Feb. 24, 1840. 

I trust you will pardon my so addressing you, but it is impossible for 
me to use any colder terms, in acknowledging your letter and the accom 
panying present of your " History of Ferdinand and Isabella." To the 
high merit of the work, and to the place it has now confessedly taken 
in European literature, I was no stranger ; but to receive it as a mark 
of your approbation and regard, and to be addressed from the New World 
as a brother laborer, greatly enhances the gift. I am indeed much en 
couraged when I find that anything I have done, or rather attempted to 
do, has given you pleasure, because I can sincerely say that I feel the 
value of your praise. You are indeed a lenient critic, and far overrate my 
labors, but it will, I believe, be generally found that they who know best, 
and have most successfully overcome, the difficulties of historical research 
are the readiest to think kindly of the efforts of a fellow-laborer. 

I trust that you are again engaged on some high historical subject, and 
sincerely hope that your employing an amanuensis is not indicative of 
any return of that severe calamity which you so cheerfully and magnani 
mously overcame in your " Ferdinand and Isabella." At present I am 
intently occupied with the last volume of my " History of Scotland," 
which embraces the painful and much-controverted period of Mary. I 
have been fortunate in recovering many letters and original papers, hitherto 
unknown, and hope to be able to throw some new light on the obscurer 
parts of .her history ; but it is full of difficulty, and I sometimes despair. 
Such as it is, I shall beg your kind acceptance of it and my other volumes 
as soon as it is published. 

Believe me, dear Sir, 

With every feeling of respect and regard, 

Most truly yours, 


Other letters followed, of which one, characteristic of its 
author, may be here inserted. 



How ungrateful must you have thought me in neglecting so long to 
thank you for your invaluable present ; but, strange as it may be, I really 
imagined that I had done so in a letter to our excellent friend Mr. Tick- 
nor ; and, if I have not expressed what I felt, I have not felt the less ; for 
I cannot tell you the delight with which I have read every page of your 


History, a history so happy in the subject, and, what is now a thing 
almost unknown, so well studied in the execution, which, wherever it 
comes, interests old and young, and is nowhere more esteemed than in the 
cities of Spain. Thinking of it as I must, it can be no small consolation 
to me to learn that in what I have done, or rather attempted to do, I have 
given the author any pleasure, early or late. At my age, much as I may 
wish for it, I have little chance of seeing you, though the distance lessens 
every day. But I am determined to live, if I can, till you have finished 
what I understand you are now writing ; a noble task, and every way 
well worthy of you. 

Pray allow me to subscribe myself 

Your much obliged and sincere friend, 

London, March 30, 1840. 

The next letter belongs to the important series of those to 
the Spanish scholar who contributed so much to Mr. Prescott's 
success in preparing his " History of Philip the Second," 2 by 
collecting the larger portion of the materials for it. 


BOSTON, June 20, 1840. 

Our friend Ticknor has informed me, that you desired him to say to 
me, that there are some documents in the British Museum relating to 
Mexico, which may be of value to me. I am extremely obliged and flat 
tered by the friendly interest you take in my literary labors, and I shall be 
glad to avail myself of the treasures in the Museum. By a letter, dated 
April 4th, which you must have received ere this, I mentioned to you, that 
I had received a large mass of manuscripts from Madrid. 3 As my friend 
Mr. Sparks, with whose high literary reputation you are probably ac 
quainted, is going to London, where he will pass some months, I send by 
him a list of the documents which I possess relating to Mexico and Peru, 
that I may not receive duplicates of any from the British Museum. If 
there are others of real value there relating to the Conquests of these two 
kingdoms, I should be very glad to have copies of them, and Mr. Sparks, 
whose labors will require him to be much in the British Museum, will do 
whatever you may advise in regard to having the copies made, and will 
forward them to me. I shall be very glad if you can get some one to 
select and copy from the correspondence of Gonsalvo and the Catholic 
Kings, and Mr. Sparks will reimburse you for the charges incurred on this 
account. But I fear, to judge from the specimen you have sent me, it will 
not be easy to find one capable of reading such hieroglyphical characters 
as these worthy persons made use of. 

I am glad to learn from Ticknor that you are on the eve of publishing 

* See ante, p. 105. 

This letter does not seem to have been preserved. 


your Spanish History. You have not mentioned the nature of the work, 
but I suppose from the direction of your studies, as far as I understand 
them, it is the Spanish Arabic History. If so it is a splendid theme, which 
exhibits the mingled influences of European and Asiatic civilization, won 
derfully picturesque and striking to the imagination. It is a subject 
which, to be properly treated, requires one who has wandered over the 
scenes of faded grandeur, and stored his mind with the ricli treasures of 
the original Arabic. Very few scholars are at all competent to the subject, 
and no one will rejoice more than myself in seeing it fall into your hands. 
But perhaps I have misapprehended your work, as in your letter to Mr. 
Ticknor you merely call it a " History of Spain," and I shall be obliged 
by your telling me, when you do me the favor to write, what is the precise 
nature and object of it. Since writing to you, I have received letters from 
my friend Calderon,* the Spanish Minister at Mexico, communicating 
sundry documents, which he has procured for me there, as the public 
offices have all been thrown open to him. This is very good luck. But 
the collections I had previously from Spain were drawn, iu part, from the 
same source. 


August 14, 1840. General Miller, a very gallant and intelligent En 
glishman, who has filled the highest posts in the revolutionary wars of 
South America, has been at Nahant the last fortnight, and leaves to-mor 
row. He brought letters to me, and I have derived great benefit as well 
as pleasure from his society. He has given me much information respect 
ing military matters, and has looked into the accounts of the battles in my 
work, and pointed out a few inaccuracies. 5 

August 15, 1840. Monsieur Thierry, the author of the " Conquest of 
England by the Normans," made the following remark in a letter the other 
day to Ticknor, which I cannot refuse myself the pleasure of transcribing, 
as it comes from one who is at the head of his art. 

" Si je pouvais renouer nos conversations d'il y a deux ans, je ne voua 
parlerais de la question du Canada, morte aujourd'hui, mais de 1'avenir 
litte'raire des Etats Uuis, qui semblent vouloir prendre en ce point, comme 
en tout le reste, leur revanche sur la vieille Augleterre. J'ai dit a votre 
ami M. Prcscott, tout le plaisir quo m'a fait son livre. C'est un ouvrage 
etudie a fond sur les sources, et parfaitement compose. U y a la autant 
de talent de style, et plus de liberte' d'e'sprit, quo chez les meilleurs histo- 
riens Anglais." 

4 See ante, p. 153. 

6 General Miller died in South America in 1861, sixty-six years old. An 
account of the early part of his career was written by his brother, John Mil 
ler, of which the second edition was published at London, in 2 vols., 8vo, 
1829. It is an interesting book, involving a history of much that was impor 
tant in the affairs of South America, and was translated into Spanish by 
General Torrijos, well known and much honored hi the war of the Peninsula, 



BOSTON, Feb. 1, 1841 

At last I have received the welcome present of your volume on the 
" Spanish Arabs," and the manuscripts of the " Great Captain." I can 
not sufficiently express to you my admiration of your work, published, too, 
as it should be, in so splendid a form. It far exceeds the expectations I 
had entertained, which, however, were great, knowing your own familiarity 
with the ground. 6 During the few days it has been in my possession, I 
have greedily run over it, as well as my eyes, aided by those of another, 
would allow, and, though I have travelled over the ground before, as far 
as Spanish writers have cleared the way, I now see how mucli was left ob 
scure and misunderstood, and perverted by the best of them. The work 
you have selected for translation is most happily chosen, uot only from its 
own merits, but from its embodying so many copious extracts from other 
sources, that it is in itself a sort of abridgment or encyclopaedia of the 
choicest passages relating to the multifarious topics of which it treats. 
These certainly arc of great interest and importance. But your own notes 
throw a light over the whole, which can only come from a life of previous 
study in this department. 

I wish it had been my good fortune to have had such a guide in my 
poor attempts among the remains of Arabian Spain. And how much am 
I gratified to find my own labors, such as they are, noticed by you with 
the beautiful encomium, which, when I read your learned and accurate 
pages, I feel I am poorly entitled to. Your book must certainly suposr 
sede all that has gone before it on this topic, the learned but unsatisfac 
tory I did not know how unsatisfactory labors of Conde, Masdeu, 
Casiri, Cardonne, &c. You have furnished a clear picture of that Asiatic 
portion of the Peninsular history without which the European cannot be 
rightly interpreted or understood. I, of course, have had time only to 
glance rapidly through these pages, and very imperfectly. I shall return 
to them with more deliberation, when I come to a good resting-place in 
my own narrative. I am just bringing my account of the state of the 
Aztec civilization to a close ; the most perplexing and thorny part of my 
own subject, which has cost me two years' labor. But I have wished to 
do it as thoroughly as I could, and 1 work much slower than you do, and. 
I suspect, much less industriously. 

From about this time he occasionally wrote letters to my 
eldest daughter, and sent them to her just as they came from 
his noctograph, without being copied. Some of them are in 
serted, to show how pleasantly he accommodated himself to the 
tastes and humors of a young person. 

" History of the Mohammedan Dynasties in Spain, from the Arabic of Al- 
Makkari, translated by Pascual de Gayangos," 4to, Vol. I., London, 1840; 
Vol. II., 1843; published by the " Oriental Translation Fund." 



Oct. 1, 1840. 

You said you should like to try to make out my writing with my nocto- 
graph ; so I will give you a specimen of it, and believe, if you can deci 
pher it, you will be qualified to read Egyptian papyri or the monuments 
of Palmyra. When in Europe, some twenty years since, I met with this 
apparatus, and have used it ever since, ' by which my eyes have been 
spared, and those of others severely taxed. I hope you will never be re 
duced to so poor a substitute for pen and ink. But if you are, I hope you 
will find as obliging an amanuensis as you have been to me sometimes. 

But to change the subject, and take up one which we were speculating 
upon this morning at the breakfast table, Lord Byron. I think one is 
very apt to talk extravagantly of his poetry ; for it is the poetry of pas 
sion, and carries away the sober judgment. It defies criticism from its 
very nature, being lawless, independent of all rules, sometimes of gram 
mar, and even of common sense. When he means to be strong, he is 
often affected, violent, morbid ; if striking, is very obscure, from dealing 
more in impressions than ideas. And partly from affectation, I suppose, 
partly from want of principle, and partly from the ennui and disgust occa 
sioned by long self-indulgence and by naturally violent passions, he is led 
into extravagances which outrage the reader, offend the taste, and lead 
many persons of excellent principles and critical discernment to condemn 
him, both on the ground of moral and literary pretensions. This is true, 
the more the pity. 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, not in an unbroken flow of 
versification, like Pope or Campbell, but in a variety, the variety of 
nature, in which startling ruggedness is relieved by soft and cultivated 
graces. As he has no narrative hardly in " Childe Harold," he would be 
very tiresome, if it were not for this very variety of manner, so that what 
is a fault in itself produces a beautiful effect taken as a whole. He has 
great attractions, and, pouring out his soul unreservedly, turns up the 
depths of feeling which even those who acknowledge the truth of it would 
shrink from expressing themselves. " There is a mess for you," as 

D says. When you have made this out, burn it, as a lady would say 



PEPPERELL, Oct. 25, 1840. 

You are so clever at hieroglyphics that I shall send you a little more of 
them to unravel at your leisure, and in time you may be qualified to 
make out a mummy wrapper or an obelisk inscription as well as Cham- 
pollion or Dr. Young. 

1 A name he gave to her in order to distinguish her from her mother, whom 
he commonly called by her first name, which was also Anna. 


We were glad to learn you had reached the Yankee Athens in safety. 
You set out in a true wind from " The Horn," 8 a cornucopia certainly 
you had of it. You left us all very sad and melancholic. The traveller 
on these occasions finds new scenes to divert him. But they who are left 
behind see only the deserted halls, the vacant place at the board, which 
was lighted by the bright countenance of a friend. Absence seems to be 
a negative thing, but there is nothing so positive, nothing which touches 
us more sensibly than the absence of the faces we love from the seats in 
which we have been used to see them. The traveller has always the best 
of the bargain on these occasions, therefore. 

Well, we shall soon be in the gay metropolis with you. We have had 
many warnings to depart. The leaves have taken their leave, one after 
another. The summer weather is quite spent, and almost the autumnal. 
The bright colors have faded, the naked trees stare around wildly, and, as 
the cold wind whistles through them, the shrivelled leaves that still hold 
out rattle like the bones of a felon hung in chains. The autumn seems 
to be dying, and wants only the cold winding-sheet of winter to close the 
scene. In fact, she is getting some shreds of this winding-sheet before 
the time, for, while I am writing, the snow-flakes are dancing before the 
window. There's a mess of romance for you, all done up in hiero 
glyphics. When you read Mrs. Radcliffe, or Miss Porter, or Miss 

any other mumbler of scenery and sentiment, you '11 find it all there. Your 

papa talks of Mr. T 's sending me his book. Ask him if he has not 

mixed up Mr. T with Mr. D. T , very different men, I wot. I 

am glad he has seen General Miller. He is worth a wilderness of , 

as Shakespeare says. 

Tell your papa and mamma, their maxims of education have not fallen 
on deaf cars, nor a stony heart. But I believe this will be quite enough 
for once. I must begin with small doses. But it is such a comfort to 
find any who can read me without my eternal amanuensis at my elbows, 
where, to-day being Sunday, he is not now. Adieu, dear Anika. Do 
not forget Amory and E.'s love to Lizzy, and mine to your honored 

I hope your respected father gets on yet without his wig, ear-trumpet, 
and glasses ! By the by, my mother lost her spectacles yesterday. All 
the town has been ransacked for them in vain. They were a gold pair. 
Do you think your father carried them off? 

Once more addio! 

Your affectionate uncle,* 


8 The name very often given on the southern coast of Massachusetts to 
" Cape Horn," which so many of the people of that part of the country double 
in search of whales. I spent two or three summers there with my family; and 
Mr. Prescott, when he visited us, used to be much amused with the familiar 
manner in which that very remote part of the world was spoken of, as if it 
were some small cape in the neighborhood. The letter in the text was writ 
ten immediately after we had returned to Boston from a visit to Pepperell. 

8 There was no blood relationship between us, but the children on both 
sides were always accustomed to speak of us as " uncles " and " aunts," 
while all round their elders accepted the designation as a pleasant mark of 



BOSTON, Feb. 28, 1841. 

.... I have run into a most interminable length of prosing, and 
could not do worse if I were writing to an absolute far niente, instead of 
one with whom minutes are gold-dust. You would smile if you were to 
see how I am writing with a writing-case made for the blind, in which I 
do not see a word of what I write ; furnishing a scrawl as illegible as 
Gonsalvo's 10 for my secretary to transcribe. Adieu ! my dear friend. 
Pray accept my sincere congratulations on the happy addition to your 
family circle. I can sympathize with you, counting two boys and a girl, 
the youngest of whom is ten years old. I should like to present them to 
you, but still better to take you by the hand myself. And, now that 
steam lias annihilated time and space, that may come to pass. 

I have received a letter from the Marquis Gino Capponi of Florence 
this morning, informing me that nearly half my work is translated into 
the language of Dante and Petrarch, and that the remainder would be 
completed before long under his supervision. You may know his reputa 
tion as a scholar, which is high in Italy. 11 


March 21, 1841. Am fairly now engaged, though not with thorough 
industry, in beating the bushes for the narrative [of the Conquest of Mex 
ico]. Last week have been considering the best modus operandi, and been 
looking over some celebrated narratives of individual enterprises, as Vol 
taire's " Charles XII." and Livy's Expedition of Hannibal, lib. 22, 23, 
the last a masterly story, in which the interest, though suspended by 
necessary digression, more necessary in a general history, is never 
broken. The historian, the greatest of painters, shows his talent in pic 
tures of natural scenery, the horrors of the Alps and Apennines, as well 
as in the delineation of passions. Voltaire's volume, so popular, is very 
inferior in literary merit. It bears much resemblance to the gossiping 

10 Nothing can well be more difficult to decipher than the handwriting of 
the Great Captain. I have one of his autograph letters, but am nearly igno 
rant of its contents. 

11 A distinguished scholar, statesman, and man ; the head of a family 
mentioned by Dante, and great before Dante's time, as well as in many 
generations since. The present Marquis (1862) is now entirely blind, and 
was nearly so when he first interested himself in the translation of " Ferdi 
nand and Isabella " ; but he has never ceased to maintain a high place in the 
affairs of his country, as well as in the respect of his countrymen. He was 
at one time head of the government of Tuscany, and, notwithstanding his 
blindness, was President of the Council of Advice in State Affairs, during 
the anxious period of the transition of power to the Kingdom of Italy. Their 
common infirmity caused a great sympathy between the Marquis Capponi 
and Mr. Prescott. 


memoir-writing of the nation, with little regard to historic dignity ; not 
much method, or apparently previous digestion of his suhjcct. It has, 
however, the great requisite, in a work meant to be popular, that of in 
terest. This is maintained hy the studious exhibition of Charles's remark 
able character, with all its petty infirmities and crazy peculiarities. The 
easy, careless arrangement of the narrative gives it a grace very taking. 
The style, like Livy's (magis par quam similis), easy and natural, gives 
additional charm. After all, Chambers's " History of the Rebellion of 
1 745 " is about as well-written, lively, and agreeable a narrative of an 
interesting event, and is managed altogether as skilfully, as any that I 

Have been looking over Irving's " Columbus " also ; a beautiful com 
position, but fatiguing, as a whole, to the reader. Why 1 The fault is 
partly in the subject, partly in the manner of treating it. The discovery 
of a new world the result of calculation and an energy that rose above 
difficulties that would have daunted a common mind 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 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. The chief 
interest that attaches to the rest of the story is derived from the navigator's 
own personal misfortunes, and these are not exciting enough to create a 
deep or strong sensation. Irving should have abridged this part of his 
story, and, instead of four volumes, have brought it into two. Posterity 
may do this for him. But it is better for an author to do his own work 

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 sub 
ject, 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 is attended, the desperate chances and 
reverses and unexpected vicissitudes, all serve to keep the interest alive. 
On my plan, I go on with Cortes to his death. But I must take care not 
to make this tail-piece too long. A hundred pages will be quite enough. 


FITFUL HEAD [Nahant], July 25, 1841. 

What a nice quiet time you have had of it for reading or sleeping, or 
anything else that is rational. Has the spirit of improvement beset you in 
your solitude, and carried you through as much metaphysics and Spanish 
as it has your respected parents ? or have you been meandering among 
romances and poeticals 1 You have read Irving's " Memoirs of Miss Da 
vidson," I believe. Did you ever meet with any novel half so touching 1 
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 ! Do 


you remember Malherbe's beautiful lines, which I happen just now not 

" Et comme une rose elle a vecu 
L'dspace d'un matin," 

and Young's, no less beautiful, 

" She sparkled, was exhaled, and went to heaven " ? 

Her whole life was one dying day, one long heart-break. How fitting 
that her beautiful character should be embalmed in the delicate composi 
tion of Irving ! Ecad over her farewell to Ruremont, if you forget it 
It is really a sad subject. 

Well, we descend on "The Hole" on Tuesday next. 12 William Pres- 
cott 1st, 2d, and 3d will make the party. Three persons and one name, 
just the opposite of my friends the Spaniards, who each have a dozen 
names at least. On Monday, the 2d of August, we embark on the great 
Providence Railroad ; reach New Bedford, we hope, that evening ; pass 
the night in that great commercial emporium of the spermaceti ; and the 
next morning by noon shall embrace the dear " Toads in the Hole." And 
as we can't get away, and you won't turn us out the while, we shall be 
siege you till Friday ; and, if you are tired of us, you can send us to see 
Mr. Swain, 13 cr to the ancient city of Nantucket ; not a literary empo 
rium, though I believe it smells of the lamp pretty strong. I feel quite in 
the trim of a little vagabondizing, having fairly worked myself down. 
Indeed, my father and I half arranged a little journey before visit 
ing you, but I showed the white feather, as usual. I mean to date health 
and spirits and renovated industry from the visit to " Wood's Hole." 

Don't you think our traveller, Palenque Stephens, would smile at our 
great preparations in the travelling line ? I was in town yesterday, and 
saw a picture which came from Mexico, a full-length of Cortes, in armor 
the upper part of his body ; his nether extremities in a sort of stockinet, 
like the old cavaliers of the sixteenth century, a very striking and 
picturesque costume superior to my Spanish painting in execution. But 
it is too large, and carries an acre of canvas, seven feet by four and a half. 
I called a council of war as to the expediency of cutting his feet off, but 
Mr. Folsom came in at the moment, and said I never should forgive 
myself; so I have concluded to frame him, legs and all. But my wife 
thinks I shall have to serve him like the Vicar of Wakefield's great family 
picture, he is so out of all compass. 

Well, here I am, dear Anika, at the end of my letter. Let us know 
if our arrangements can be altered for the better, i. e. if you are to be 
without company. Love to your father and mother. All of us send 
much love to you and them. 
Believe me, most truly, 

Your affectionate uncle, 


12 We were then passing the summer at " Wood's Hole," on the southern 
shore of Massachusetts. 

18 On the adjacent island of Naushon, where Mr. Swain lived. 

8* * 



March 22, 1842. My good friends the Ticknors received this last 
week a letter from Miss Edgeworth, containing a full critique on " Ferdi 
nand and Isabella," which she had just been reading. She condemns my 
parallel of the English and Castilian queens, and also my closing chapter ; 
the former as not satisfactory and full enough, and rather feeble ; the latter 
as superfluous. I will quote two remarks of another kind : " It is of great 
consequence both to the public and private class of readers, and he will 
surely have readers of all classes, from the cottage and the manufactory to 
the archbishopric and the throne in England, and from Papal jurisdiction 
to the llussian Czar and the Patriarch of the Greek Church. The work will 
last," &c. If Jupiter grants me half the prediction, I shall be pretty well 
off for readers. The other sentence is towards the end of the critique : 
" Otherwise an individual ought not to expect that a single voice should 
be heard amidst the acclaim of universal praise with which his work has 
been greeted in Europe." This from Miss Edgeworth. 

I never worked for the dirty lucre. Am I not right in treasuring up 
such golden opinions from such a source ? 


BOSTON, March 27, 1842. 

1 received from Mr. Everett by this steamer copies of a corre 
spondence of the Tuscan ambassadors at Philip's court, giving some very 
interesting details of the proceedings, and all in favor of the monarch. 14 I 
wrote you to see Mr. Everett, 15 who will, I am sure, take pleasure in com 
municating with you. I have written to him by this packet, that I have 
asked yon to call on him, as he was out when you went before. He is 
much occupied witli perplexing affairs, but I have never found him too 
much so for his friends. Should you find any impediment to the exami 
nation in the State Office, he will use his influence in your favor, I am 
certain. And I think you had better get a letter from him to Mignet or 
Guizot. Lord Morpeth, who was here this winter, offered me his services 
to obtain anything I desired. But that will be too late for you, as he will 
not return till summer. But if there remains anything to be done then, 
let me know, and I can get at it through him. 


BOSTON, May 30, 1842. 

I have not written by the last packets, having nothing particular to say. 
I have received yours of the 2d of April, and am glad you have seen Mr. 

14 On the death of Don Carlos. He had now, as we have seen, been some 
time collecting materials for his History of Philip the Second. 

16 Then Minister of the United States in London. See post, for Mr. Pres- 
cott's correspondence with him. 


Everett, and are pleased with him. I am sure he will give you any facility 
in his power for getting access to the French depositories. I should sup 
pose a line from him to Mignet would be serviceable. 

You have found the British Museum a much richer field than you had 
first anticipated, and the length of your stay in London, fortunately for 
me, will enable you to reap the harvest. You mention one or two chroni 
cles or memoirs which you have met with there. I have always found a 
good, gossiping chronicle or memoir the best and most fruitful material for 
the historian. Official documents, though valuable on other accounts, con 
tain no private relations ; nothing, in short, but what was meant for the pub 
lic eye. Even letters of business are very apt to be cold and general. But 
a private correspondence like Peter Martyr's, or a chronicle like Pulgar's, 
or Bernal Diaz's, or Bcrnaldcz's, is a jewel of inestimable price. There is 
nothing so serviceable to the painter of men and manners of a distant age. 
Pray get hold of such in manuscript or in print. 

I hope you will get for me whatever printed books fall in your way, 
useful for a history of that reign. And I shall be much obliged by your 
making out a list of all such as may be desirable for me hereafter to get, 
as you promise to do. I can then pick them up at my leisure. I find 
some referred to in Ferreras, and others in Nic. Antonio. I am truly glad 
you arc going to Madrid soon, or in the course of a couple of years. I 
shall be most happy to leave the collection then all in your hands, and, 
while Irving is there, I am sure you can count on his services, if they can 
be worth anything to you to get access to any archives which may be 
under the control of the government. He has assured me of his cordial 
desire to promote my views and Ticknor's in our researches. You will 
bear in mind, in the copying, to get it done in as legible a hand as possi 
ble. I don't care for the beauty of it, so it is legible. I suppose in Paris, 
and I know in Madrid, the expense will be greatly lightened. 

I am very much obliged by your great kindness in sending me your 
own collection of manuscripts. They have all reached me safely, as I 
desired Mr. Rich to inform you. They are a most curious and valuable 
collection to the historian of the period. But Charles V. has been handled 
by Robertson, and I have not the courage nor the vanity to tread where 
he has gone before. I do not think the history of his period will make as 
good a pendant to " Ferdinand and Isabella " as Philip the Second will. 
Philip's reign is the first step towards the decline, as Isabella's was the 
last step in the rise, of the Spanish monarchy. I hope to treat this great 
theme in all its relations, literary, social, and political. It will be a tea 
years' work. Da, Jupiter, annos. 


HEVITRE, near Exeter, June 5, 1842. 

Permit me to offer you my very best thanks for the copy of your last 
edition of " Ferdinand and Isabella," which you have been so kind as to 
direct Mr. Bentley to send to me. I have lived so long in Spain, and 
particularly in the Alhambra, that the work possesses for me a more than 


ordinary interest, great as is that which it has inspired in readers of all 
countries. Indeed, it is a History of which America, and, if you will 
allow me to say so, England, has every reason to be most proud, and of 
which it may be justly said, as was said of Gibbon's, that, although the 
first to gcapple with a vast subject, it has left no room for any future 

I hope that, having now fleshed your pen, you will soon resume it, 
non in reluctantes dracones. Our mutual friend Pascual de Gayangos has 
often suggested, as an almost virgin subject, the life of Philip the Second. 
The poor performance of Watson is beneath notice. What a new and 
noble field for you, what an object for a tour to Europe to inspect the rich 
archives of England, Paris, and Simancas, where, as I can tell you from 
personal inspection, the state papers, interlined by Philip himself, are most 
various and numerous 


LONDON, 34 Devonshire Place, June 6, 1842. 

I entreat your kind acceptance of a copy of the second edition of the 
" History of Scotland." A single additional volume the ninth will 
complete the work, bringing it down to the union of the crowns in 1603, 
and I then purpose, if God grant me health, to write an introductory dis 
sertation on the more ancient history of Scotland in another volume. In 
the mean time, although still an unfinished work, I hope you will place 
it in your library as a testimony, slight indeed, but most sincere, of the 
pleasure and instruction your excellent History has given me, and, I may 
add, my family. I feel, too, that in the love of history, for its own sake, 
there is a common and congenial tie, which, although so far separated, 
binds us together, and that one who has, like you, so successfully over 
come the difficulties of history, will make the readiest allowance for the 
errors of a brother. 

I met some time ago at Lady Holland's a Spanish gentleman, 18 who in 
formed me of your having wished him to examine for you the manuscripts 
in the State Paper Office about the time of Philip and Mary. When 
writing, or rather making collections for, my " Letters during the Reigns 
of Edward the Sixth and Mary," I made a good many transcripts con 
nected with the history of Philip and Mary, which, if they could be of the 
least service to you, are much at your disposal. 

Believe me, dear Sir, 

With sincere regard and respect, 

Very truly yours, 


18 Don Pascual de Gayangos. 




FROM the letter to Mr. Irving at the beginning of the last 
chapter, we have seen that Mr. Prescott's earlier appre 
hension about the failure of his application at Madrid for man 
uscripts concerning the " Conquest of Mexico " was not well 
founded. He had excellent friends to assist him, and they had 
succeeded. The chief of them were Don Angel Calderon, Mr. 
A. H. Everett, then our Minister in Spain, and Mr. Middleton, 
his Secretary of Legation, who had been Mr. Prescott's class 
mate and college chum, all of whom were earnest and help 
ful, to say nothing of Dr. Lembke, who was in his service 
for a considerable time, collecting manuscripts, and was both 
intelligent and efficient. Mr. Prescott, therefore, no longer 
feared that he should fail to obtain all he could reasonably 
expect. But his industry, which he thought had needed only 
this stimulus, did not come with the promise of abundant ma 
terials for its exercise. During three months he did very 
little, and records his regrets more than once in terms not to 
be mistaken. 

In May, 1839, however, he was better satisfied with himself 
than he had been for at least two years. " I have begun," he 
says, " to lay my bones to the work in good earnest. The last 


week I have read a variety of authors, i. e. looked into 
them, affording illustration, in some way or other, of the 
Mexican subject. Yesterday I completed my forty-third birth 
and my nineteenth wedding day. If they do not prove happy 
days for me, it is my own fault." And again, a week later : 
" An industrious week for me. My eyes have done me fair 
service ; and when I do not try them by exposure to light, the 
hot air of crowded rooms, and the other et cceteras of town life, 
I think I can very generally reckon on them for some hours a 
day. The last winter they have not averaged me more than 
one hour ; my fault in a great measure, I suspect." 

Except from occasional exposures to lights in the evening, I 
think he suffered little at this time, and, as he now put himself 
into rigorous training for work, and avoided everything that 
could interfere with it, I suppose it was the period when, for 
three or four years, he enjoyed more of the blessings of sight 
than he did during the rest of his life subsequent to the origi 
nal injury. Certainly he used with diligence whatever he 
possessed of it, and sometimes seemed to revel presumptuously 
in the privileges its very partial restoration afforded him. 

After two or three months of careful preliminary reading 
on the subject of Mexico generally, he formed a plan for the 
whole work much as he subsequently executed it, although, as 
in the case of the " Ferdinand and Isabella," he for a long time 
hoped it would not exceed two volumes. The composition 
he began October 14th, 1839. But he had gone only a few 
pages, when he became dissatisfied with what he had done, 
and rewrote them, saying, k ' One would like to make one's 
introductory bow in the best style " ; and adds, " The scenery- 
painting with which it opens wants the pencil of Irving." 

This, however, was only the beginning of his troubles. The 
first part of the work he had undertaken was difficult, and cost 
him more labor than all the rest. It involved necessarily the 
early traditions and history of Mexico, and whatever related 
to its peculiar civilization before the Conquest and during the 
period when that extraordinary event was going on. It is true, 
he soon discovered that much of what passes for curious learn 
ing in the manifold discussions of this obscure subject is only 
" mist and moonshine speculations," and that Hutnboldt is " the 


first, almost the last, writer on these topics, who, by making 
his theories conform to facts, instead of bending his facts to 
theories, truly merits the name of a philosopher." Notwith 
standing, however, the small value he found himself able to 
place on most of the writers who had examined the Mexican 
traditions and culture, he read all who might be considered 
authorities upon the subject, and even many whose works were 
only in a remote degree connected with it. Thus, he not only 
went carefully over all that Humboldt had written, and all he 
could find in the old printed authorities, like Herrera, Torque- 
mada, and Sahagun, together with the vast documentary collec 
tions of Lord Kingsborough, and the " Antiquites Mexicaines"; 
but he listened to the manuscript accounts of Ixtlilxochitl, of 
Camargo, Toribio, and ^uazo. He compared whatever he 
found in these with the oldest records of civilization in other 
countries, with Herodotus, Champollion, and Wilkinson for 
Egypt ; with Marco Polo and Sir John Mandeville for the 
East ; and with Gallatin, Du Ponceau, McCulloh, Heckewel- 
der, and Delafield for our own continent. Nothing, in short, 
seemed to escape him, and it was curious to see in his notes 
how aptly, and with what grace, he draws contributions from 
Elphinstone, Milman, and Lyell, from Homer, Sophocles, 
Southey, and Schiller, and, finally, what happy separate 
facts he collects from all the travellers who have at any time 
visited Mexico, beginning with old Bernal Diaz, and coming 
down to the very period when he himself wrote, I mean to 
that of Bullock, Ward, and Stephens. 

Such studies for the deep foundations of the epic super 
structure he contemplated were, of course, the work of time, 
and demanded not a little patience, more, in fact, of both 
than he had foreseen. He had reckoned for his Introduction 
one hundred pages. It turned out two hundred and fifty. He 
thought that he could accomplish it in six months. It took 
nearly a year and a half, not counting the year he gave to pre 
paratory reading on Mexico generally. Three months, indeed, 
before he put pen to paper, his notes already filled four hundred 
pages ; and subsequently, when he showed them to me, as the 
composition was in progress, their mass was still greater. I do 
not know an instance of more conscientious labor ; the more 


worthy of note, because it dealt with subjects less agreeable to 
his tastes and habits than any others to which he ever devoted 
himself. 1 

For the rest of his History he prepared himself, not only by 
reading some of the great masters of historical narrative, but 
by noting down in what particulars their example could be 
useful to him. This he found a very pleasant and encouraging 
sort of work, and it enabled him to go on with spirit. Not 
that he failed to find, from time to time, interruptions more or 
less serious, which checked his progress. One of these inter 
ruptions occurred almost immediately after he had completed 
his severe labor on the Introduction. It was the project for a 
visit to England, which tempted him very much, and occupied 
and disturbed his thoughts more thau it needed to have done. 
Speaking of his work on his History, he says : " Now, why 
should I not go ahead ? Because I am thinking of going to 
England, to pass four months in the expedition, and my mind 
is distracted with the pros and cons" And, ten days later, he 
says : " Have decided, at length, after as much doubt and 
deliberation as most people would take for a voyage round the 
world, and decided not to go to England." He thought he 
had given up the project for life. Happily this was not the 

Another interruption was caused by a threatened abridgment 
of his " Ferdinand and Isabella," the untoward effect of which 

1 After going carefully through with the hieroglyphical writing of the 
Aztecs, he says: "Finished notes on the hieroglyphical part of the chapter, 
a hard, barren topic. And now on the astronomy, out of the frying-pan 
into the fire. I find it, however, not so hard to comprehend as I had an 
ticipated. Fortunately, the Aztec proficiency does not require a knowledge 
of the ' Principia.' Still it was enough to task all my mathematics, and 
jatience to boot; it may be, the reader's, too." 

On this part of his labors, Mr. Gardiner well remarks: " In earlier life he 
nsed to fancy that his mind was constitutionally incapable of comprehend 
ing mathematical truths, or at least of following out mathematical demon 
strations beyond the common rules of arithmetic. It was a mistake. They 
were only hard for him, and uncongenial; and, at the period referred to, he 
avoided real intellectual labor as much as he could. But now, though with 
no previous training, he did overcome all such difficulties, whenever they lay 
in the way of his historical investigations, whether on the coins and currency 
of the time of Ferdinand and Isabella, or on the astronomy of the Aztecs. It 
is a striking proof of the power his will had acquired over his intellectual 
tastes and propensities." 


lie determined to forestall by making an abridgment of it him 
self. This annoyed him not a little. After giving an account 
of a pleasant journey, which our two families took together, 
and which greatly refreshed him, he goes on : 

" The week since my return, lazy and listless and dreamy. Ot /ioi. 
And I must now thermometer at 90 in the shade abandon my Mexi 
can friends and the pleasant regions of the plateau for horresco referens 

an abridgment of my ' History of Ferdinand and Isabella.' Nothing 

but the dire necessity of protecting myself from piracy induces me to do 
tliis unnatural work, sweating down my full-grown offspring to the size 
of a pygmy, dwarfing my own conception from, I trust, a manly stat 
ure, to the compass of a nursery capacity. I never was in love with my 
own compositions. I shall hammer over them now, till they give me the 
vdmito." 2 

Disgusted with his work, which, after all, he never pub 
lished, as the idea of the piratical abridgment was early given 
up by the bookselling house that threatened it, he finished it 
as soon as he could. But whether it was the disagreeableness 
of the task or the earnestness of his labors, it was too much 
for him. He grew feeble and listless, and came, as already 
noticed in one of his letters, with his father, to visit us for 
a few days on the southern coast of Massachusetts at Wood's 
Hole, where the milder sea-breezes might, he thought, prove 

On the 9th of August he records : 

" I have done nothing except the abridgment, since May 26, when I 
went on a journey to Springfield. My health must be my apology the 
last three weeks, and a visit, from which I returned two days since, to my 
friends at Wood's Hole, an agreeable visit, as I anticipated. Nahant 
has not served me as well as usual this summer. I have been sorely 
plagued with dyspeptic debility and pains. But I am resolved not to 
heed them more, and to buckle on my harness for my Mexican campaign 
in earnest again, though with more reserve and moderation." 

This was a little adventurous, but it was successful. He 
worked well during the rest of August at Nahant, and when, 
in the autumn, we visited him as usual at Pepperell, where he 
went early in September, we found him quite restored, and en 
joying his studies heartily. The last days there were days of 

* It should be remembered that, when he wrote this passage, he had just 
been describing this terrible scourge itself. (Conquest of Mexico, Vol. I. pp. 
394, etc.) The same disgust is expressed in one of his letters at the time, in 
which he says that he went through the whole work in twenty-four days. 


great activity, and he returned to Boston, as he almost always 
did, with no little reluctance. Writing at the end of October, 
he says : 

" Leave Pepperell on Wednesday next, November 3. Yesterday and 
the afternoon previous, beginning at four P. M., I wrote on my Chapter 
IV. (Book III.) between eighteen and nineteen pages print, or twelve 
pages per diem. I shall soon gallop to the ' Finis ' at this pace. But 
Boston ! The word includes a thousand obstacles. Can I not overcome 
them ? " 

One of these obstacles, however, which he encountered as 
soon as he reached town, was a very pleasant one, and the 
source' of much happiness to him afterwards. He found there 
Lord Morpeth, now the Earl of Carlisle, who had just arrived 
on a visit to the United States, and who spent several weeks 
in Boston. They soon became acquainted, and an attachment 
sprang up between them almost at once, which was interrupted 
only by death. 

How warm it was on the part of Lord Morpeth will be 
plainly seen by the following letter, written not long after he 
left Boston. 

LA HABANA, March 30, 1842. 

Yoa are about the first person in my life who has made me feel in a 
hurry to write to him ; and I have really forborne hitherto, from thinking 
it might cross your mind that you had got rather more of a bargain than 
you wished when we made our corresponding compact. I am sure, you 
have a very faint idea of the pleasure I derive from the thoughts of the 
acquaintance which has been so short, and the friendship which is to be so 
lasting between us ; and whenever, as has, however, been very seldom the 
case, matters have not gone quite so pleasantly on my journey, and the 
question, " Was it worth while after all ? " would just present itself, " Yes, 
I have made acquaintance with Prescott," has been the readiest and most 
efficacious answer. I stop, though, lest you should imagine I have caught 
the Spanish infection of compliments. It is at least appropriate to write 
to you from Spanish ground. 

I have now been in this island about a fortnight, having spent most of 
the first week in Havana, and returned to it this afternoon from an expedi 
tion into the interior. I was entrapped into a dreadfully long passage 
from Charleston in an American sailing packet, having been almost 
guaranteed a maximum of six days, whereas it took us thirteen. Pain 
fully we threaded the coast of Georgia and Florida, 

" And wild Altama murmured to our woe." 

However, we did arrive at last, and nothing can be conceived more 'pic 
turesque than the entrance into this harbor under the beetling rock of the 


fortress, or so peculiar, un-English, un-American, un-Bostonian, as the 
appearance of everything houses, streets, persons, vehicles that meets 
your eye. I take it to be very Spanish, modified by the black population 
and the tropical growths. I have been on a ten days' expedition into the 
interior, and have visited sundry sugar and coffee estates. At one of 
these, the Count Fernandina's, I had great satisfaction in meeting the 
Calderons. I immediately felt that you were a link between us, and that 
I had a right to be intimate with them, which I found it was very well 
worth while to be on their own account also. There is great simplicity 
of character, as well as abundant sense and good feeling, about him, and 
I think her most remarkably agreeable and accomplished. I leave you to 
judge wiiat a resource and aid they must have been to me in a country- 
house, where everybody else was talking Spanish. We did all think it a 
pity that you had not gone to visit them in Mexico ; there is so much 
truth in the Horatian rule about " oculis subjecta fidelibus," but, my dear 
and good friend, perhaps you think that is not the epithet exactly to be 
applied to you. They rave, especially Madame C., of what they saw 
during their equestrian exploration in Mexico, the climate and the pro 
ducts of every latitude, the virgin forests, of everything but the state of 
society, which seems almost hopelessly disorganized and stranded. With 
respect to Cuban scenery, I think I can best condense my impression aa 
follows : 

" Ye tropic forests of unfading green, 

Where the palm tapers and the orange glows, 
Where the light bamboo weaves her feathery screen, 
And her far shade the matchless ceiba throws ! 

" Ye cloudless ethers of unchanging blue, 

Save when the rosy streaks of eve give way 
To the clear sapphire of your midnight hue, 
The burnished azure of your perfect day ! 

* Yet tell me not, my native skies are bleak, 

That, flushed with liquid wealth, no cane-fields wave; 
For Virtue pines, and Manhood dares not speak, 
And Nature's glories brighten round the slave." 

Shall you be in a hurry to ask me to write again when you see what 
it brings upon you ? I only wish you would pay me in kind by sending 
me any bit of a more favorite passage, a more special inspiration, a Pisgah 
morsel, out of your History, as it runs along. By the way, upon the 
subject of my last line, and as you know that I do not for the first time 
assume the function of saying tilings disagreeable and impertinent, I do 
not think that you seemed to possess quite the sufficient repugnance to the 
system of slavery. Come here to be duly impressed. Will you very 
kindly rememlwr me to all the members of your family, from the ex to the 
growing Judge. If you ever have a mind to write to me, Sumner will be 
always able to ascertain my direction from Mr. Lewis. Give that good 
friend of ours my blessing ; I wish it were as valuable as a wig. If I 
could give you a still stronger assurance of my wish to l>e always pleas 
antly remembered by you, it is that, excessively as I should like to hear 


from you at all times, I yet had rather you did not write when not entirely 
inclined to do so. I set off for New Orleans next week. You see, that I 
have had the good fortune to lose my election, which makes me more able 
to encourage the hope that we may yet meet again on the soil of your re 
public. That would be very pleasant. 
Believe me ever, 

Your affectionate friend, 


There is no allusion to this new friendship among the literary 
memoranda, except the following, made immediately after Lord 
Morpeth was gone : 

"December 28th, 1841. Finished text, twenty-three pages of print, 
and the notes to Chapter VIII. Oi pot, Oi /xot. Not a page a day. So 
much for dinners, suppers, Lord Morpeth, and nonsense. I wish I may 
never have a worse apology, however, than his Lordship, a beautiful 
specimen of British aristocracy in mind and manners. But what has it 
all to do with the ' Conquest of Mexico ' 1 If I dou't mend, my Spaniards 
will starve among the mountains. I WILL ! " 

And this time he kept his resolution. During the rest of 
the winter of 1841-1842, he worked hard and successfully, 
but made few memoranda. Under the 7th of May, however, 
I find the following : 

" Another long hiatus. Since last entry paid two visits to New York, 
a marvellous event in my history ! First, a visit, about three weeks since, 
I paid to meet Washington Irving before his departure for Spain. Spent 
half a day with him at Wainwright's, 3 indeed, till twelve at night. 
Found him delightful and what, they say, is rare wide awake. He 
promises to aid me in all my applications. Stayed but two days.- Second 

visit, April 25, and stayed till May 3 ; went to see an oculist, Dr. . 

at request of friends, my own faith not equal to the minimum requi 
site, the grain of mustard-seed. I consumed about a week or more in 
inquiring about him and his cases. Returned re infectd. Passed a very 
agreeable week, having experienced the wannest welcome from the good 
people of New York, and seen what is most worthy of attention in their 
society. The life I have led there, leaving my eyes uninjured, shows that, 
when I do not draw on them by constant literary labors, I can bear a 
great exposure to light and company. During my absence I have been to 
bed no night till twelve or later, and have dined every day with a dinner 

party in a blaze of light. Now for the old Aztecs again Shall I 

not work well after my holiday ? " 

8 The Rev. Jonathan M. Wainwright, afterwards Bishop of the Diocese of 
New York. He had been from an earlier period a friend of Air. Prescott, a 
member of his Club in Boston, and for some time, as Rector of Trinity 
Church, his clergyman. Bishop Wainwright died in 1854. 


But he did not. He found it as hard as ever to buckle on 
his harness afresh, and complained as much as ever of his indo 
lence and listlessness. He however wrote a few pages, and then 
broke off, and we went I mean both our families went to 
Lebanon Springs, of which he made the following record : 

" Next day after to-morrow, June 2, I am going a journey with our 
friends the Ticknors to Lebanon Springs, and then 

' To fresh fields and pastures new." " 

" June 11. Returned from my excursion on the 9th. Now to resume 
my historical labors, and, I trust, with little interruption. The week has 
passed pleasantly, amidst the rich scenery of Lebanon, Stoekbridge, and 
Lenox, which last we have visited, making the Springs our point d'appui, 
There are few enjoyments greater than that of wandering amidst beautiful 
landscapes with dear friends of taste and sympathies congenial to your 

From this time until the " Conquest of Mexico " was finished 
he was very active and industrious, suffering hardly any inter 
ruption, and working with an interest which was not less the 
result of his devotion to his task than of the nature of his sub 
ject. Sometimes he advanced very rapidly, or at the rate of 
more than nine printed pages a day ; almost always doing more 
and enjoying it more when he was in the country than any 
where else. 

On the 2d of August, 1843, the whole of the work was com 
pleted ; three years and about ten months from the time when he 
began the actual composition, and above five years from the time 
when he began to investigate the subject loosely and listlessly. 
His labor in the last months had been too severe, and he felt it. 
But he felt his success too. " On the whole," he writes the day 
he finished it, " the last two years have been the most industri 
ous of my life, I think, especially the last year, and, as 
I have won the capital, entitle me to three months of literary 
loafing." * 

4 The following are his own dates respecting the composition of the " Con 
quest of Mexico." 

" May, 1838. Began scattered reading on the subject, doubtful if I get my 
documents from Spain. Very listless and far-niente-ish for a year. Over- 
visiting and not in spirits. 

"April, 1839. Began to read in earnest, having received MSS. from 

" Oct. 14, 1839. Wrote first page of Introduction at Pepperell. 


A few months earlier he had sold the right of publishing 
" The Conquest of Mexico " from stereotype plates furnished 
by himself to the Messrs. Harper and Brothers of New York. 

" They are to have five thousand copies," he says, " paying therefor 
seven thousand five hundred dollars in cash (deducting three months' in 
terest) at the date of publication. The right is limited to one year, during 
which they may publish as many more copies as they please on the same 

terms I hope they may not be disappointed, for their sakes as 

well as mine. But this is a different contract from that which ushered 
' Ferdinand and Isabella ' into the world." 

His arrangements with his publishers made it necessary for 
him to deliver them the stereotype plates of the completed work 
by the 15th of October, and thus caused a pressure upon him 
to which he resolved that he would never again expose himself. 
But he needed not to feel anxious or hurried. His work was 
all stereotyped on the 10th of September. 

He went immediately to Pepperell. that he might begin the 
pleasant " literary loafing " he had proposed as his reward. " I 
promise myself," he says, " a merry autumn with lounging at 
my ease among friends and idle books ; a delicious contrast 
after the hard summer's work I have done." A part of this 
we spent with him, and found it as gay as he had anticipated. 
But, as he approached its end, a sad disappointment awaited 
him. On the 28th of October, his father suffered a slight 
shock of paralysis and the next day he wrote to me as follows. 

PEPPERELL, Sunday Evening. 

I suppose you may have heard through William of our affliction in the 
illness of my father. As you may get incorrect impressions of his condi 
tion, I will briefly state it. 

His left cheek was slightly, though very visibly, affected by the paralysis, 
his articulation was so confused that he was scarcely intelligible, and 
his mind was sadly bewildered. He was attacked in this way yesterday 
about half past nine A. M. In a few hours liis face was restored to its 

" March 1, 1841. Finished Introduction and Part I. of Appendix. 

" August 2, 1843. Finished the work. So the Introduction, about half a 
vol., occupied about as long as the remaining 2.J vols. of dashing narrative. 

"August, 1841 - August, 1842. Composed 562 pages of print, text and 
notes of the narrative. 

" August, 1842 - August, 1843. Composed 425 pp. print, text and notes ; 
revised Ticknor's corrections and his wife's of all the work. Corrected, &c. 
proofs of nearly all the work. The last Book required severe reading of MSS." 


usual appearance. His articulation was gradually improved, and to-day 
is nearly perfect ; and his mind has much brightened, so that you would 
not detect any failing unless your attention were called to it. I have no 
doubt the present attack will pass away in time without leaving permanent 
consequences. But for the future, I should tremble to lift the veil. There 
is an oppressive gloom over the landscape, such as it never wore to my 
eyes before. God bless you and yours. 

Most affectionately, 


Later, he records his feelings in the same tone. 

" A cloud is thrown over our happy way of life by the illness of my dear 
father, who three days since was attacked by a stroke of paralysis, which 
affected his speech materially, and for the first time threw a darkness over 
that fine intellect. The effects of the shock have, thank Heaven, much 
passed away ; and we may hope that it is not intended that so much wis 
dom and goodness shall be taken away from us yet. Still it has filled me 
with a sadness such as but one other event of my life ever caused ; for he 
has been always a part of myself; to whom I have confided every matter 
of any moment ; on whose superior judgment I have relied in all affairs 
of the least consequence ; and on whose breast I have been sure to find 
ready sympathy in every joy and sorrow. I have never read any book of 
merit without discussing it with him, and his noble example has been a 
light to my steps in all the chances and perplexities of life. When that 
light is withdrawn, life will wear a new and a dark aspect to me." 

As he fondly anticipated, his father's health was soon in a 
great measure restored, and he enjoyed life much as he had 
done for some years previous to this attack. Meantime the 
inevitable press went on, and the " Conquest of Mexico " waa 
published on the 6th of December, 1843. 

"It is," he says, "six years next Christmas, since 'Ferdinand and Isa 
bella ' made their bow to the public. This second apparition of mine is 
by no means so stirring to my feelings. I don't know but the critic's 
stings, if pretty well poisoned, may not raise a little irritation. But I am 
sure I am quite proof against the anodyne of praise. Not that I expect 
much either. But criticism has got to be an old story. It is impossible for 
one who has done that sort of work himself to feel any respect for it. How 
can a critic look his brother in the face without laughing? As it is not in 
the power of the critics to write a poor author up into permanent estima 
tion, so none but an author who has once been kindly received can write 
himself down. Yet I shall be sorry if the work does not receive the appro 
bation of my friends here and abroad and of the few."* 

6 It seems singular now that he should have had any anxiety about the 
success of the " Conquest of Mexico." But he had. Above a year earlier, 
he recorded his doubts : " The Ticknors, wl o have read my manuscript 


But there was no need of this misgiving, or of any misgiving 
whatever. The work was greeted from one end of the United 
States to the other with a chorus of applause, such as was 
never vouchsafed to any other, of equal gravity and impor 
tance, that had been printed or reprinted among us. Within a 
month after it appeared, more than a hundre^ end thirty news 
papers from different pails of the country had been sent to 
the author, all in one tone. Within the same period, many of 
the booksellers' shops were exhausted of their supplies several 
times, so as to be unable to meet the current demand. And 
finally, for a fortnight after the fourth thousand was sold, the 
whole market of the country was left bare. The five thousand 
copies, provided for by the contract, which he thought could 
hardly be sold within a year, disappeared, in fact, in about four 
months. The sale of the work was, therefore, as remarkable 
as the applause with which it had been received on its appear 
ance. The author ceased to be anxious, and the publishers 
were jubilant. 6 

An English edition was at the same time published by Mr. 
Bentley in London ; the copyright, after considerable negotia 
tion, having been sold to him on the author's behalf by his 
kind and excellent friend, Colonel Aspinwall, for six hundred 
and fifty pounds. A second edition was called for in the May 
following, and Baudry published one at Paris in the original 
soon afterwards. It had at once a great run in England and 
on the Continent. 

Of course, the reviews of all kinds and sizes were prompt 
in their notices. At home the authors of such criticisms ran 
no risk. They were to deal with a writer whose character was 
fully settled, in his own country at least. There was, there 
fore, no difference of opinion among them, no qualification, no 
reserve ; certainly none that I remember, and none of any mo 
ment. A beautiful article, written with great judgment and 

relating to the Conquest, assure me that the work will succeed. Would they 
were my enemies that say so ! But they are friends to the backbone." He 
had the same misgivings, I know, until the work had been published two or 
three weeks. 

6 This was the genuine fruit of a well-earned fame, as the earliest sales in 
Boston of the " Ferdinand and Isabella " were the honorable fruit of great 
social and personal regard. See ante, p. 101. 


kindness, by Mr. George S. Hillard, appeared in the "North 
American Review" for January, 1844, and was followed by 
two of no less power and finish in the " Christian Examiner " 
by Mr. George T. Curtis, and in the " Methodist Quarterly " 
by Mr. Joseph G. Cogswell. These all came from the hands 
of personal friends. But friendship was not needed to help 
the success of a book which, while it was settled on an assured 
foundation of facts carefully ascertained, yet read, in the narra 
tive portions, like a romance, and was written in a style often 
not less glowing than that of Scott, and sometimes reminding 
us of what is finest in " Ivanhoe," or " The Talisman." 

The same verdict, therefore, soon arrived from England, 
where the book was necessarily judged without reference to its 
author. The articles in the " Athenaeum " were, I think, the 
earliest ; one of no small ability, which appeared rather late, by 
Charles Philips, Esq., in the " Edinburgh," was, on the whole, 
the most laudatory. But they were all in the same spirit. 
A long and elaborate criticism, however, in the " Quarterly," 
written by the Rev. Mr. Milman, now (1862) the Dean of St. 
Paul's, was the most carefully considered and thorough of any. 
It gratified Mr. Prescott very much by its strong, manly sense 
and graceful scholarship, but still more by the estimate which 
a person of such known elevation of character placed upon the 
moral tendencies of the whole work. It became at once the 
foundation of an acquaintance which ripened afterwards into a 
sincere personal friendship. 

But Mr. Prescott did not suffer these things to have more 
than their due weight with him, or to occupy much of his time 
or thought. After giving a slight notice of them, he says : 
" It is somewhat enervating, and has rather an unwholesome 
effect, to podder long over these personalities. The best course 
is action, things, not self, at all events not self-congratula 
tion. So now I propose to dismiss all further thoughts of my 
literary success." 



NAHAST, July 11, 1842. 

I understand from Mrs. Ticknor that you are to be in town this week, 
previous to sailing. I trust we shall have the pleasure of shaking hands 
with you and Mrs. Lyell again before you shake the dust of our republi 
can soil off your feet. Perhaps your geological explorations may lead you 
among our cliffs again. If so, will you and Mrs. L. oblige us by dining 
and making our house your head-quarters for the day ? I regret, my father 
and mother are absent in the country this week. But I need not say, that 
it will give my wife and myself sincere pleasure to see you both, though 
we had rather it should be in the way of " how d' ye do," than " good-by." 
Pray remember me most kindly to Mrs. Lyell, and believe me 
Very faithfully yours, 



BOSTON, Jan. 30, 1843. 

From yours of December 25th, I find you are still in London. I hope 
you received mine of November 14th, informing you of Mr. Tytler's kind 
offer to place his extracts from the State Paper Office at my disposal, and 
that you also received my note of December 1st. When you have exam 
ined the papers in Brussels and Paris you will be able to form an estimate 
of what the copying them will cost. I think that the first twenty letters 
in Raumer's " History of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries " show 
that there are very important materials in the Bibliotheque Royale in 
Paris ; and I should think it would be well to get copies of the very doc 
uments of which he gives some slight abstracts. They seem, several of 
them, to relate to the private life of Philip and his family, and interesting 
details of the court in his reign, and the latter part of that of Charles the 

The Venetian Rdazioni are, I suppose, some of them quite important, 
considering the minuteness with which the ministers of that republic en 
tered into the affairs of the courts where they resided. Mr. Everett speaks 
of Mansard's account of these Relations as affording all the information one 
could desire to guide one. If Mr. E. is right, the Archives du Royaume, 
in the Hotel Soubise, must also contain much of interest relating to our 
subject. But to say truth, valuable as are official documents, such as 

' This letter is inserted here, as the first in a very interesting correspond 
ence, of which large portions will hereafter be given, and which was termi 
nated only by Mr. Prescott's death. Mr. Lyell now Sir Charles Lyell 
was in July, 1842, just finishing his first visit to the United States, of which 
he afterwards published an account in 1845, one of the most acute and just 
views of .ie character and condition of the people of the United States that 
has ever been printed. 


treaties, instructions to ministers, &c., I set still greater store by those 
letters, diaries, domestic correspondence, which lay open the characters 
and habits of the great actors in the drama. The others furnish the cold 
outlines, but these give us the warm coloring of history, all that gives it 
its charm and interest. Such letters as Peter Martyr's, such notices as the 
Qilincuagenas of Oviedo, and such gossiping chronicles as Bernal Diaz's, 
are worth an ocean of state papers for the historian of life and manners, 
who would paint the civilization of a period. Do you not think so ? 


" BOSTON, Jan. 30, 1843. 

You will also probably see Senor Benavidcs, my translator.* 

I am greatly obliged by the account which you have given me of him and 
the other translators, who, I suppose, will now abandon the ground. You 
eay Senor B. will controvert some of my opinions. So much the better, 
if he does it in a courteous spirit, as I have no doubt he will ; for if he 
did not approve of the work on the whole, lie would, I should suppose, 
hardly take the trouble to translate it. If he presents views differing on 
some points from mine, the reader will have more lights for getting at 
truth, which ought to be the end of history. Very likely I have pleased 
my imagination with a beau ideal ; for you know I am born a republican, 
but not a fierce one, and in my own country, indeed, am ranked among 
what in England would correspond with the conservatives. 

I hope his work will be got up in creditable style, as regards typographi 
cal execution, as well as in more important matters. I should like to 
make a good impression on my adopted countrymen, and a good dress 
would help that. From what you say of Senor Benavides I augur favor 
ably for the work. I hope he will see the last London edition, full of 
errors as it is in the Castilian. You will be good enough to send me 
some copies when it is published. 


NEW YORK, June 22, 1843. 

I feel much obliged to you for the copy of Veytia's " Historia Antigua 
de Mexico," sent me by Mr. Catherwood. Unfortunately I have so far 
forgotten Spanish, as everything else which I learnt late in life, that to read 
it has become a labor; and Veytia is not veiy amusing or inviting. Still 
his work deserves attention. The authorities he quotes are precisely those 
of Clavigero, and the two books were written independent of each other. 
I have only run through Veytia, and I intend (if I can) to read it more 
carefully. But the result in my mind, so far as I have compared, is that, 
beyond the one hundred years which preceded the Spanish conquest, the 
Mexican history is but little better than tradition ; at least beyond the 
limits of the valley of Mexico. Our best historical authorities are, as it 

8 Of the " Ferdinand and Isabella." 


seems to me, those which the Spaniards found and saw on their arrival, 
and the still existing monuments. But I should not indulge in such crude 
conjectures, and wait with impatience for your work, the publication of 
which please to hasten that I may have a chance to read it. Please to 
accept the assurance of my high regard and distinguished consideration, 
and to believe me, 

Dear Sir, 

Your obedient and faithful servant, 



BOSTOX, Nov. 30, 1843. 

I am glad to find by your letter of October 1 0, that you are so comfort 
ably established in Madrid, and most happy that you are placed in the 
Arabic chair for which you are so well qualified. 8 It is much preferable 
to an African mission on every account, and I hope, whatever party comes 
uppermost in your land of trastomos, you will not be disturbed in it. 10 I 
am not very much surprised at the impediments you met with in the pub 
lic libraries from their confused state, and from the apathy of those who 
have the care of them. How can the regard for letters flourish amidst 
such cruel civil dissensions 1 But meliora speremus. In the mean time I do 
not doubt that your habitual perseverance and the influence of your posi 
tion will give you access to what is of most importance. You say nothing 
of the Escorial, in speaking of the great collections. Is not that a reposi 
tory of much valuable historic matter ? And is it not in tolerable order ? 
I believe it used to be. 

It will be very hard if the Spaniards refuse me admittance into their 
archives, when I am turning my information, as far as in my power, to 
exhibit their national prowess and achievements. I see I am already criti 
cised by an English periodical for vindicating in too unqualified a manner 
the deeds of the old Conquerors. If you were in England, I should be 
sure of one champion, at least, to raise a voice in my favor ! But I hope 
it will not be needed. 

You are most fortunate in having access to such private collections aa 
those of Alva, Santa Cruz, Infantado, &c. The correspondence of the 
admiral of the Armada, and that also of Requesens, must have interest. 
It was the archives of the Santa Cruz family of which Seiior Navarrete 
spoke as containing materials relating to Philip the Second. Pray thank 
that kind-hearted and venerable scholar for his many courtesies to me. 
You will of course add to our collection whatever he and his brother 
Academicians publish in reference to this reign. 

9 In the University of Madrid. 

1 Don Pascual had some thought of going, in an official capacity, to 
Tunis, &c., so as to collect Arabic manuscripts. In fact, he did go later; but 
not at this time, and not, I think, burdened with official cares. 




At Paris, where I was idling away one of the autumn months, I received 
your welcome letter ; and I need not say with what pleasure I discovered 
your volumes on my table when 1 returned to London. Let me congratu 
late you on an achievement at once so bloodless and so honorable to your 
country and yourself. 

" It seems to me," says Mr. Hume to Mr. Gibbon, " that your country 
men, for almost a whole generation, have given themselves up to barba 
rous and absurd faction, and have totally neglected all polite letters. I no 
longer expected any valuable production ever to come from them." 

May it not in some measure be said even now of England and France, 
and I fear also of America, the many who would except themselves 
there being for the most part a multitude of fast writers and fast readers, 
who descend from one abyss to another'? 

That you may long continue in health and strength, to set a better ex 
ample, is the ardent but disinterested wish of one who cannot live to avail 
himself of it. 

Sincerely yours, 


London, Nov. 30, 1843. 


WILTON CRESCENT, London, Dec. 29, 1843. 

I received, not long after your letter reached my hands, a copy of your 
" History of the Conquest of Mexico," which you had so kindly led me 
to expect ; and should have sooner acknowledged it, if my absence from 
London soon afterwards had not retarded my perusal of it, and if I had 
not been forced to wait some weeks for an opportunity of sending my an 
swer through our friend Mr. Everett. 

I sincerely congratulate you on this second success in our historic field. 
If the subject is not, to us at least of the Old World, quite equal in in 
terest to the " History of Ferdinand and Isabella," you have perhaps been 
able to throw still more fresh light on the great events which you relate, 
from sources hardly accessible, and at least very little familiar to us. It 
has left Robertson's narrative, the only popular history we had, very far 
behind. But I confess that the history of your hero has attracted me less 
than those chapters relating to Mexican Antiquities, which at once excite 
our astonishment and curiosity. Mr. Stephens's work had already turned 
our minds to speculate on the remarkable phenomenon of a civilized nation 
decaying without, as far as we can judge, any subjugation, (or, of one by 
a more barbarous people, this, though not unprecedented, is still remarka 
ble,) and without leaving any record of its existence. Some facts, if such 
they are, mentioned by you, are rather startling, especially those of relig 
ious analogy to Jewish and Christian doctrines ; but they do not all seem 


to rest on certain evidence. If true, we must perhaps explain them by 
help of the Norwegian settlement. 

Your style appears to me almost perfect, and better, I think, than in 
your former history. You are wholly free from what we call American 
isms. Sometimes I should think a phrase too colloquial, especially in 
the notes. 

I beg you to give my best regards to Mr. and Mrs. Ticknor, when yon 
next see them, and I remain, my dear sir, 

Very faithfully yours, 



LONDON, Jan. 2, 1844. 

We have been reading the " Conquest of Mexico " about our 

fireside, and finish the second volume this evening. I enjoy it more than 
its predecessor. The interest is of a more epic kind ; and reading it aloud 
is more favorable to attention and effect. I think its success complete. I 
hear different opinions as to its merit compared with "Ferdinand and 
Isabella." Old Mr. Thomas Grenville (the son of George, of Stamp Act 
fame, and the collector, I think, of the best private library of its size I 
know) gives the preference to " Ferdinand and Isabella." Mr. Hallam 
inclines, I think, to prefer " The Conquest." He said he thought the style 
was rather easier in the latter ; but Mr. Grenville made precisely the same 
criticism as to " Ferdinand and Isabella," which he told me he thought 
the ablest modern history in the English language. This extraordinary 
and venerable person was eighty-eight years old on the 31st of December. 
On that day he walked from his house near Hyde Park Corner to Staf 
ford House, and called on me on his way home ; not seeming more 
fatigued than I should have been with the same circuit. I once asked 
him if he recollected his uncle, Lord Chatham, and he answered that he 
recollected playing ninepins with him at the age of fourteen. 

I enclose you a letter from Mr. Hallam. The article on your book in 
the " Quarterly," as I learn from Dr. Holland, was written by Mr. Mil- 
man. Mr. Grenville spoke with great severity of the article on " Ferdi 
nand and Isabella " which appeared in the same journal. 


January 7, 1844. The first entry in the New Year. It begins auspi 
ciously for this second child of my brain, as 1838 did for its elder brother. 
More than a hundred and thirty papers from different parts of the coun 
try, 11 and a large number of kind notes from friends, attest the rapid 
circulation of the work, and the very favorable regard it receives from the 
public. The principal bookstores here have been exhausted of their 

11 These were sent to him in a flood, chiefly by mail and by his publishers. 


copies two or three times, though there has always been a supply at the 
inferior depots. The Harpers have not been able to scud the books nearly 
as fast as ordered. I suppose the delay is explained by the time occupied, 
in binding them. 

From the prevalent (with scarcely an exception) tone of criticism, I 
think thrive things may be established in regard to this History, of which I 
had previously great doubts. 1. The Introduction and chapter in Appen 
dix I. are well regarded by the public, and I did not spend my time inju 
diciously on them. 2. The last book, on the biography of Cortes, is 
considered a necessary and interesting appendage. 3. The style of the 
whole work is considered richer, freer, more animated and graceful than 
that of " Ferdinand and Isabella." This last is a very important fact, 
for I wrote with much less fastidiousness and elaboration. Yet I rarely 
wrote without revolving the chapter many times in my mind before writ 
ing. But I did not podder over particular phrases. 

..... Had I accepted half of my good friend Folsom's criticisms, what 
would have become of the style 1 Yet they had and will always have 
their value for accurate analysis of language and thought, and for accu 
racy of general facts. My Postscripts, written with least labor, have been 
much commended as to style. 


CASTLE HOWARD, Jan. 23, 1844. 

You will have thought me over-long in answering your most gracious 
and precious gift of your " Mexico," but I sent you a message that you 
were not to have a word from me about it till I had quite finished it, and, 
as I read it out loud to my mother and sister, this has not taken place so 
soon as you might have expected. And now my poor verdict will come 
after you are saturated with the public applause, and will care mighty little 
for individual suffrage. Still 1 will hope that, however careless you may 
be of the approbation, you will not be wholly indifferent to the pleasure 
with which our occupation has been attended. Nothing could be more 
satisfactory than to roll along through your easy, animated, and pictured 
periods, and your candid and discriminating, but unassuming, disquisi 
tions, and to have my own interest and approval shared by those to whom 
I read ; and then further to find the wide circle without corroborate our 

" And nations hail thee with a love like mine." 

We are getting through the mildest winter almost ever remembered. 
Before you receive this, I probably shall be a member of the House of 
Commons, a re-entry upon public turmoil of which I do not at all relish 
the prospect. Are you beginning Pizarro ? How you must have pleased 
Rogers by your mention of him. Pray give my kindest regards to your 

Believe me, ever affectionately yours, 




BOSTON, Jan. 30, 1844. 

If you will allow one to address you so familiarly who has not the honor 
to be personally known to you ; and yet the frequency with which I have 
heard your name mentioned by some of our common friends, and my long 
familiarity with your writings, make me feel as if you were not a stranger 
to me. I have learnt from my friend Mr. Everett that you are the author 
of a paper in the last London " Quarterly " on the " Conquest of Mexico." 
It is unnecessary to say with what satisfaction I have read your elegant 
and encomiastic criticism, written throughout in that courteous and gentle 
manlike tone, particularly grateful as coming from a Transatlantic critic, 
who has no national partialities to warp his judgment. Speaking the same 
language, nourished by the same literature, and with the game blood in our 
veins, I assure you the American scholar, next to his own country, looks 
for sympathy and countenance to his fatherland more than to any other 
Country in the world. And when he receives the expression of it from 
those whom he has been accustomed to reverence, he has obtained one of 
his highest rewards. 

May I ask you to remember me kindly to Mr. and Mrs. Lyell and to 
Mr. Ilallam, and believe me, my dear sir, 
With great respect, 

Your obliged and obedient servant, 



BOSTON, Feb. 10, 1844. 

I have read the notice of my work in the last " Democratic Review," 
and as you interested yourself to get it written, you may perhaps be pleased 
to know my opinion about it. I like it very much. It is written through 
out in a very courteous and gentlemanlike spirit. As far as I am person 
ally concerned, I should be very unreasonable were I not gratified by the 
liberal commendation of my literary labors. 

The great question of the proper standard of historic judgment is one 
in which of course I must be at issue with the writer, : or rather one in 
which he chooses to be at issue with me. In managing die argument, he 
shows much acuteness and plausibility. Yet if we accept his views of it, 
some of the fairest names in the dark period of the Middle Ages, and of 
antiquity, will wear a very ugly aspect. The immorality of the act and 
of the actor seem to me two very different things ; and while we judge the 
one by the immutable principles of right and wrong, we must try the other 
by the fluctuating standard of the age. The real question is, whether a 
man was sincere, and acted according to the lights of his age. We can 
not fairly demand of a man to be in advance of his generation, and where 
a generation goes wrong, we may be sure that it is an error of the head, 


not of the heart. For a whole community, including its best and wisest, 
will not deliberately sanction the habitual perpetration of crime. This 
would be an anomaly in the history of man. The article in the last Lon 
don " Quarterly," from the pen of Mihnan, a clergyman of the Church of 
England, you know, expressly approves of my moral estimate of Corte's. 
This is from a great organ of Orthodoxy. One might think the " Demo 
cratic " and the " Quarterly " had changed sides. Rather funny, n'est ce 
pas * 

As to the question of fact, what Cortes did, or did not do, the 
" Reviewer " has leaned exclusively on one authority, that of the chroni 
cler Diaz, an honest man, but passionate, credulous, querulous, and writing 
the reminiscences of fifty years back. Truth cannot be drawn from one 
source, but from complicated and often contradictory sources. 

I think you will hardly agree that the Conqueror deserved censure for 
not throwing off his allegiance to the Emperor, and setting up for himself. 
However little we can comprehend the full feeling of loyalty, I think we 
can understand the baseness of treason. But I will not trouble you with 
an argument on this topic. I must say, however, that I respect the 
" Democratic," arid am sure the " North American " contains few articles 
written with more ability than this, much as I differ from some of the 
positions taken in it. 

I have run, I find, into an unconscionable length of line, which I hope 
you will excuse. Pray remember me kindly to your wife and daughter, 
and believe me, 

Very sincerely, your friend, 



34 Devonshire Place, April, 1844. 

Your precious present of the " History of Mexico," and the kind letter 
which accompanied it, found me entangled with my ninth and last volume 
of the " History of Scotland," and the winding up my imperfect labors. 
This must be my apology for a delay which has weighed heavily on my 
conscience, but I could not bear the idea of dipping into, or giving a hasty 
perusal to anything proceeding from your pen, and Cortes was deferred 
till Elizabeth and King Jamie were at rest. And now, my dear sir, let 
me thank you most sincerely for the delight and the instruction which I 
have received. " Ferdinand and Isabella " had prepared me to expert 
much ; but in the " Conquest of Mexico " you have outstript yourself, and 
produced a work which can instruct the wisest, and charm and interest the 
youngest reader ; which combines a pathetic and stirring narrative with 
some of the gravest lessons that can be derived from history. How you 
should have achieved such a work, under the continued privation to which 
you allude so simply and beautifully in your Preface, is to me, I own, 
little less than miraculous ; for, composed under every advantage of indi 
vidual consultation and research, "Mexico" would be a noMc monument 
of labor and genius. Long, very long may you live to conquer such diffi 
culties as would overwhelm any inferior mind. 


Believe me, my dear Mr. Prescott, with sincere regard and respect, most 
trnly yours, 


P. S. I have sent along with this the ninth and last volume of my 
" History of Scotland," with some manuscripts, letters, and extracts, re 
lating to the times of Philip and Mary, which I copied from the originals 
in the State Paper Office. These are entirely at your service, if they can 
be of the least assistance in the researches into this period which I under 
stood you at one time contemplated. 


Cloisters, Westminster Abbey, April 12, 1844. 

I reproach myself for having delayed so long to acknowledge the note 
in which you expressed your gratification at the notice of your Mexican 
work in the " Quarterly Review." I assure you that nothing could give 
me greater pleasure than finding an opportunity of thus publicly, though 
anonymously, declaring my high opinion of your writings. Our many 
common friends have taught me to feel as much respect for your private 
character as your writings have commanded as an author. I was much 
amused, after I had commenced the article, with receiving a letter from 
our friend Lord Morpcth, expressing an anxious hope that justice would 
be done to the work in the " Quarterly Review." Without betraying my 
secret, I was able to set his mind at rest. 

Can we not persuade you to extend your personal acquaintance with 
our men of letters, and others whose society you would appreciate, by a 
visit to England 1 Perhaps you might not find much to assist you in 
your researches (if report speaks true, that you are engaged on the Con 
quest of Peru), which you cannot command in America, yet even in that 
respect our libraries might be of service. But of this I am sure, that no 
one would be received with greater cordiality or more universal esteem. 

If this be impossible or impracticable, allow me to assure you that I 
shall be delighted if this opening of our correspondence should lead to fur 
ther acquaintance, even by letter. I shall always feel the greatest interest 
in the labors of one who does so much honor to our common literature. 
In letters we must be brethren, and God grant that we may be in political 
relations, and in reciprocal feelings of respect and regard. 
Believe me, my dear sir, ever faithfully yours, 

H. H. MlLMAN. 





IT has, I believe, been generally thought that Mr. Prescott's 
style reached its happiest development in his " Conquest 
of Mexico." No doubt, a more exact finish prevails in many 
parts of the " Ferdinand and Isabella," and a high authority 
has said that there are portions of " Philip the Second " written 
with a vigor as great as its author has anywhere shown. 1 But 
the freshness and freedom of his descriptions in the " Mexico," 
especially the descriptions of scenery, battles, and marches, are, 
I think, not found to the same degree in either of his other 
histories, and have rendered the style of that work singularly 
attractive. Certainly, it is a style well fitted to its romantic 
subject, although it may be one which it would have been ad 
venturous or unwise to apply, in the same degree, to subjects 
from their nature more grave and philosophical. 

But whatever Mr. Prescott's style may at any period have 
been, or in whichever of his works its development may have 
been most successful, it was unquestionably the result of much 
consideration and labor, and of very peculiar modes of com 
position. With what self-distrust he went back, when he was 
already above twenty-five yeai-s old, and toiled through Mur 
ray's English Grammar, and Blair's Rhetoric, as if he were a 
schoolboy, and how he followed up these humble studies with 
a regular investigation of what was characteristic in all the 
great English prose-writers, from Roger Ascham down to cur 
own times, we have already seen. It was a deep and .solid 

1 Letter from Dean Milman. 


foundation, laid with a distinct purpose, that cannot be mis 
taken, and one which, in years subsequent, well repaid the 
weary hours it cost him. I remember how conscientious and 
disagreeable these labors were, for he sometimes grew impa 
tient and complained of them. But he persevered, as he always 
did in what he deliberately undertook. 

He determined, however, at the same time, that, whatever 
his style might be, it should be his own. 

" Every one," he said at the outset of his severer studies, " pours out 
his thoughts best in a style suited to his own peculiar habits of thinking. 

" The best method for a man of sense to pursue is to examine his own 
composition, after a sufficiently long period shall have elapsed for him to 
have forgotten it. He will then be in a situation to pronounce upon his 
own works as upon another's. 2 He may consult one or two good friends 
in private. Their opinions will be valuable, inasmuch as they will in all 
probability be more honest and sincere than a printed criticism, and, 
moreover, they will not exert the same depressing influence on the spirits 
that a reverence for public criticism is apt to beget. I am inclined to 
believe that it would be for a man's interest as an author never to consult 
a printed criticism on his own publications." 3 

These were wise and wary conclusions to have been reached 
so early in his literary life, and they were substantially adhered 
to through the whole of it. He did not, however, refrain from 
reading the criticisms that appeared on his larger works, be 
cause they were unfavorable. None, it is true, were really 
such. But whether he read them or not, he judged and cor 
rected whatever he wrote with the assistance of at least one 
friend, exactly in the way he has here indicated ; maintaining, 
however, at all times, an entire independence of opinion as to 
his own style. 

Imitation he heartily dreaded. Five years before he began 
his " Ferdinand and Isabella," he said : " Model myself upon 
no manner. A good imitation is disgusting, what must a 

3 " In order to correct my own history advantageously," he said, nine years 
later, when he was just beginning to write his " Ferdinand and Isabella," " I 
must never revise what I have written until after an interval of as many years 

3 I think the tone of these remarks about " printed criticisms " is owing to 
certain notices of the " Club-Room " that appeared about that time, and which 
I know somewhat annoyed him. He would hardly have made them later, 
when he wrote an article on Sir Walter Scott, where he speaks very slight 
ingly of reviewers and their criticisms. 

STYLE. 205 

bad one be ? " " Rely on myself for criticism of my own com 
positions." " Neither consult nor imitate any model for style, 
but follow my own natural current of expression." 

This sort of independence,- however, made him only more 
rigorous with himself. When he had been four months em 
ployed on his " Ferdinand and Isabella," he made this memo 
randum : \-. 

Two or three faults of style occur to me in looking over some former 
compositions. 4 Too many adjectives ; too many couplets of substantives, 
as well as adjectives, and perhaps of verbs ; too set ; sentences too much 
in the same mould ; too formal periphrasis instead of familiar ; sentences 
balanced by ands, buts, and semicolons ; too many precise, emphatic pro 
nouns, as t/iese, those, which, &c., instead of the particles the, a, &c. 

He even went into an elaborate inquiry as to the punc 
tuation he should adopt, and as to the proper use of capital 
initials, recording the whole with care for his own govern 
ment. But, after all his pains, he failed for a long time to 
satisfy himself. Every word he wrote of the early chapters of 
the " Ferdinand and Isabella " was rewritten, when he came to 
prepare that work for the press. So was the beginning of the 
" Mexico," and I think also that of the " Peru." One reason 
of this, especially in the first instance, was, that he thought he 
had been too elaborate. He early said, " On the whole, I think, 
with less fastidiousness I should write better." And, long be 
fore he published his " Ferdinand and Isabella," he deliberately 
recorded : 

With regard to the style of this work I will only remark that most of 
the defects, such as they are, may be comprehended in the words trap 
soif/tie. At least, they may be traced to this source. The only rule is, to 
write with freedom and nature, even with homeliness of expression occa 
sionally, and with alternation of long and short sentences ; for such 
variety is essential to harmony. But, after all, it is not the construction 
of the sentence, but the tone of the coloring, which produces the effect. 
If the sentiment is warm, lively, forcible, the reader will be carried along 
without much heed to the arrangement of the periods, which differs ex 
ceedingly in different standard writers. Put life into the narrative, if you 
would have it take. Elaborate and artificial fastidiousness in the form of 
expression is highly detrimental to this. A book may be made up of 
perfect sentences and yet the general impression be very imperfect. 
In fine, be engrossed with the thought, and not with the fashion of 
expressing it. 

4 Probably articles in the " Club-Room " and the " North American Re 


As he advanced with his work, he grew less and less anxious 
for anything like a formal exactness in his style, or rather, per 
haps I should say, he became more and more persuaded of the 
importance of freedom. 

"I am now convinced from experience," he says, after four years' 
trial, "that fastidious care and precision as to style, when composing, aie 
fatal to excellence as well as to rapidity of writing, excluding many not 
merely legitimate expressions, but positive graces and beauties of lan 
guage, as well as nature and ease." 

No doubt he profited all his h'fe by the pains he early took 
with his style, and certainly he never regretted it, minute and 
troublesome as it had been. Nor did he ever cease to scruti 
nize with patience what he had freely composed, and to correct 
it, even in the proof-sheets, with severity. But undoubtedly, 
too, his first draft in his noctograph was made every year with 
increasing boldness and ease. In this respect he was like a 
person who in his childhood has been trained to good manners, 
and in his riper years proves the gentleness of his breeding 
without remembering or in any way showing the rules by 
which he had been drilled to it. 

But at last the day of reckoning came. " The History of 
Ferdinand and Isabella," on which he had labored so long and 
so conscientiously, was published, and all the Reviews, or 
almost all of them, made a point of discussing its style. None 
complained, except the " London Quarterly," in which a some 
what dashing, but on the whole brilliant and favorable article 
appeared, written by Mr. Richard Ford, the distinguished 
Spanish scholar, with whom afterwards Mr. Prescott became 
personally acquainted, and enjoyed a pleasant correspondence. 
This article Mr. Prescott read carefully more than once. It 
somewhat disturbed his equanimity, and led him to an exami 
nation of his style as compared with that of English writers 
whose purity and excellence are acknowledged. He gave sev 
eral days to the task, the unpleasantness of which did not 
prevent him from making it thorough, and then he recorded 
his deliberate and singularly candid opinion as follows : 

The only strictures [in this article] which weigh a feather with me are 
these on my style, in forming which I liave taken much pains, and of the 

STYLE. 207 

success of which I am not the hest judge. This I may say, however, 
that of the numerous notices of the work, both in this country and in 
Europe, while almost all have commended more or less and some ex 
cessively the diction, none, that I am aware, have censured it. Many 
of these critics are scholars, entirely competent to form a judgment on its 
merits ; more so, to judge from their own styles, than the critic in ques 
tion. I have received and seen many letters from similar sources to the 
same effect. Indeed, the work could not have obtained its rapid and wide 
popularity, had the execution been bad in this all-important respect. 

I say not this to lay a flattering unction to my soul, but to put myself 
on my guard against rashly attempting a change in a very important 
matter on insufficient grounds, and thus, perhaps, risking for the future 
one of the most essential elements of past success. Nevertheless, I have 
devoted several days to a careful scrutiny of my defects, and to a com 
parison of my style with that of standard English writers of the present 

Master Ford complains of my text as being too formal, and my notes 
as having too much levity. This shows some versatility in me, at all 
events. As regards the former, it seems to me, the first and sometimes 
the second volume affords 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 coloring it is best to use the most simple, 
unnoticeable words to express ordinary things ; ex. gr. " 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," in 
stead 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. 

As to the notes, it is doubtless bad taste to shock the current of feeling, 
where there is much solemnity or pathos in the text, by unseasonable 
jests. But I do not find such in such places. In regard to them I do 
not find anything to alter in any particular in future. 

My conclusion from the whole is, after a very honest and careful ex 
amination of the matter, that the reader may take my style for better 
or worse as it now is formed, and that it is not worth while for me to 
attempt any alteration in it until I meet a safer critic to point out its 
defects than Master Ford. 

One more conclusion is, that I will not hereafter vex myself with anx 
ious 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 gram 
mar, and that I may safely trust to my Harvard Aldus. 5 

To the latter part of this decision he did not adhere. He 
asked counsel to the end of life about his works before they 
were printed, and corrected them with no less care than he 
had done earlier. But he never interfered with the general 
characteristics of his style, nor permitted any friend or critic to 
do it. 

" A man's style," he said, as a final settlement of his opinion on the 
whole matter, "a man's style, to be worth anything, should be the nat- 
ural expression of his mental character, and where it is not, the style is 
either painfully affected, or it falls into that conventional tone which, like 
a domino at a masquerade, or the tone of good-breeding in society, may 
be assumed by anybody that takes pains to acquire it ; fitting one person 
as well as another, and belonging to anybody, nobody. The best con 
sequence of such a style is, that it offends no one. It delights no one, for 
it is commonplace. It is true that genius will show itself under this coat 
ing, as an original will peep out under a domino. But this is not the 
best dress for it. 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. Frank, 
lin'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 aud Goldsmith have occasionally pointed their sen 
tences with more effect. But, if they had abandoned the natural sugges 
tions of their genius, and aimed at the contrary, would they not in mend 
ing a hole, as Scott says, have very likely made two 1 

" There are certain faults which no writer must commit : false meta 
phors; solecisms of grammar; unmeaning and tautological expressions; 
for these contravene the fundamental laws of all writing, the object of 
which must be to express one's ideas clearly and correctly. But, within 
these limits, the widest latitude should be allowed to taste and to the 
power of unfolding the thoughts of the writer in all their vividness and 
originality. Originality the originality of nature compensates for a 
thousand minor blemishes. 

" Of one thing a writer may be sure, if he adopt a manner foreign to his 
mind he will never please. Johnson says, ' Whoever would write in a 
good style, &c., &c., must devote his days and nights to the study of Ad- 
dison.' Had he done so, or had Addison formed his style on Johnson's, 

6 Mr. Folsom. 

6 Johnson is a little more cautious in his phraseology, but the substance of 
his meaning, so far as it was needed for the purpose in hand, is given in the 
text with sufficient precision. His exact words are: " Whoever wishes to 
attain an English style, familiar, but not coarse, and elegant, but not ostenta 
tious, must give his days and his nights to the volumes of Addison." It is the 
last sentence in Addison's Life, and was, no doubt, intended, by its position 
for a sort of epigrammatic eficct. 

STYLE. 209 

what a ridiculous figure eacK would have cut ! One man's style will no 
more fit another, than one man's coat, or hat, or shoes will fit another. 
They will be sure to be too big, or too small, or too something, that will 
make the wearer of them ill at ease, and probably ridiculous. 

" It is very easy for a cool, caustic critic, like Brougham, to take to piecca 
the fine gossamer of Dr. Channing's style, 7 which has charmed thousands 
of readers in this country and in Europe, and the Doctor would be a fool 
to give up his glorious mystifications if they are such for the home 
spun, matter-of-fact materials out of which a plainer and less imaginative 
mind would make its tissue. It would be impossible for Brougham in 
his way of writing, tolerably set and sometimes pedantic, with an occa 
sional air of familiarity that matches the rest of the sentences badly 
enough to ascend into the regions of the true sublime, as Dr. Channing 
does, or to call up such a strong sense of the beautiful. It may be the 
best style for criticism, however, the best for the practical, ordinary uses 
of life. But I should not advise the Doctor to take it up, and still less 
the Ex-Chancellor to venture into the Doctor's balloon, or as his ad 
mirers might think his chariot of fire. 

"How many varieties of beauty and excellence there are in this world ! 
As many in the mental as the material creation, and it is a pedantic spirit 
which, under the despotic name of taste, would reduce them all to one 
dull uniform level. A writer who has succeeded in gaining the public 
favor should be cautious how he makes any innovation in his habitual 
style. The form of expression is so nicely associated with the idea ex 
pressed, that it is impossible to say how much of his success is owing to 
the one or the other. It is very certain, however, that no work in any of 
the departments of the belles-lettres can dispense with excellence of style 
of some kind or other. If this be wanting, a work, however sound or 
original in the conception, can hardly be popular, for it cannot give picas 
ure or create interest, things essential in every kind of composition 
which has not science exclusively for its end. 

" Let the writer, therefore, who has once succeeded in gaining the public 
suffrages, the suffrages of the higher public, the well-educated, let 
him beware how he tampers with the style in which he has before ap 
proached them. Let him be still more slow to do this in obedience to the 
suggestions of a few ; for style is the very thing which, all-important as 
it is, every well-educated man is competent to judge of. In fact, he had 
better not make any serious innovation in it, unless, like Sharon Turner 
or Jeremy Beutham, it is the object of such universal censure as shows he 
has succeeded in spite of it, and not in consequence of it. Innovation is 
not reform in writing any more than in politics. The best rule is to dis 
pense with all rules except those of grammar, and to consult the natural 
bent of one's genius." 

Saving the last sweeping sentence, which I suspect was 

7 This refers to a somewhat bitter review of Dr. Channing, in the " Edin 
burgh " for October, 1829, by Lord Brougham, a man who could no more 
comprehend Dr. Channing, as an eminent person who knew him well once 
said, than Dickens could comprehend Laplace. 



prompted by the half-play upon the word "rules," and to 
whose doctrine the author of the " Conquest of Mexico " and 
of " Philip the Second " by no means conformed in his own 
practice, I do not know where, within the same compass, 
so much good sense on the subject of style is uttered with so 
much spirit and point. 

But, whatever we may think of the opinions contained in 
these striking extracts, one fact is plain from them ; I mean 
that, while their author was willing and even glad to profit 
by Mr. Ford's criticisms in the " Quarterly Review," he was 
thoroughly independent in the use he made of them, and thor 
oughly determined that, at all hazards, his style should be his 
own, and should not be materially modified by anybody's un 
favorable opinion of it, unless he were satisfied the opinion was 
just. In this he was right. The success of the " Ferdinand 
and Isabella" had no doubt given him increased confidence in 
his manner of writing, and the habit of composing entirely in 
his memory had given him both greater freedom and greater 
facility. 8 But, even before this, his style had become substan 
tially what it always was after he was tolerably advanced in 
the " Ferdinand and Isabella." It had, in fact, from its first 
proper formation, been settled on foundations too deep to be 

Instead, therefore, of writing more anxiously, in consequence 
of Mr. Ford's criticisms, he wrote more freely. While he was 
employed on his next work, " The Conquest of Mexico," he 
made such memoranda as the following : " I will write calamo 
currente, and not weigh out my words like gold-dust, which 
they are far from being." " Be not fastidious, especially about 
phraseology. Do not work for too much euphony. It is lost 
in the mass." " Do not elaborate and podder over the style." 
" Think more of general effect ; don't quiddle." 

When the " Mexico " was published, he found no reason to 
regret the indulgence he had thus granted to himself in its 

8 " Tried to write with imperfect pre-thinking, i. e. thinking, as Irving said 
to me, with a pen. It won't do for bad eyes. It requires too much cor 
recting. The correcting in the mind and writing from memory suit my 
peculiarities bodily, and, I suspect, mental, better than the other process." 
He was approaching the end of the '' Conquest of Mexico" when he wrota 

STYLE. 211 

composition. He learned, at once, from the Reviews and in 
many other ways, that his manner was regarded as richer, freer, 
more animated and graceful than it had been in his " Ferdinand 
and Isabella." " This," he says, " is a very important fact ; for 
I wrote with much less fastidiousness and elaboration. Ye.t I 
rarely wrote without revolving the chapter half a dozen times 
in my mind. But I did not podder over particular phrases. 
Had I accepted half of my good friend Folsom's corrections, 
what would have become of my style ? Yet they had, and 
always will have, their value for accurate analysis of language 
and thought." 9 

From this time to the end of his life, a period of fifteen 
years, he makes hardly any memoranda on his style, and 
none of any consequence. Nor was there reason why he 
should. His manner of writing was, from the time he pub 
lished " The Conquest of Mexico," not only formed but sanc 
tioned ; and sanctioned, not only by the public at large, but 
by those whose opinion is decisive. Mr. Milman's review of 
that work, and the conclusion of one in the " Christian Ex 
aminer " by Mr. George T. Curtis, in both of which the 
remarks on his style are very beautiful, and, as I know, gave 
Mr. Prescott much pleasure, left no doubt in his mind 
touching this point. Hallam, too, noticed by Sir James Mack 
intosh as singularly parsimonious in commendation, wrote to 
Mr. Prescott, December 29th, 1843 : " Your style appears to 
me to be nearly perfect." With these judgments before him, 
and others hardly less valued and safe, he had no motive for 
reconsidering his style, if he had desired, for any reason, to do 
so. But he was too wise to desire it. 

It may, perhaps, seem singular to those who knew him little, 
that such a style should have been formed by such a process ; 
that the severe, minute rules and principles in which it was 
originally laid should have been, as it were, cavalierly thrown 
aside, and a manner, sometimes gay and sparkling, sometimes 
rich and eloquent, but always natural and easy, should have 

9 Mr. Folsom had the excellent habit of noting whatever occurred to him 
as doubtful, no less than what he regarded as a blemish, thinking that such 
minute suggestions were due to the author. I speak as one who has profited 
by his skill and kindness. 


been the result. This, however, was characteristic of his whole 
moral constitution and conduct, and was in harmony with the 
principles and habits that in other respects governed his lite. 
Thus every day in his study he was rigorous with himself, and 
watchful of those he employed ; but in his family and with his 
friends nobody was more free, gay, and unexacting. Those 
who met him only at the dinner-table, or in general society, 
would be surprised to learn that his wine even there was care 
fully measured, and that, if he seemed to indulge as much as 
others did, and to enjoy his indulgence more, it was all upon a 
system settled beforehand, just as much as was his spare every 
day diet at home. How vigilant he was in whatever regarded 
his character ; how strictly he called himself to account in 
those solitary half-hours on Sunday when he looked over the 
secret record of his failings and faults, we have seen ; but who 
ever saw restraint in his manner when he was with others ; 
who ever saw him when he seemed to be watchful of himself, 
or to be thinking of the principles that governed his life ? And 
just so it was with his style. He wrote rapidly and easily. 
But the rules and principles on which his manner rested, even 
down to its smallest details, had been so early and so deeply 
settled, that they had become like instincts, and were neither 
recurred to nor needed when he was in the final act of compo 
sition. 10 

But there was one charm in Mr. Prescott's style which, I 
think, was much felt, without being much understood by the 
great mass of his readers. He put not a little of his personal 
character into it ; a great deal more, I think, than is common 
with writers of acknowledged eminence. The consequence 
was, that the multitudes who knew him in no way except as 
an author were yet insensibly drawn to him by the qualities 
that made him so dear to his friends as a man, and felt, in 
some degree, the attachment that is commonly the result only 

1 There are some remarks by Mr. Prescott on purity of style, in his Memoir 
of Mr. John Pickering (Massachusetts Historical Society's Collections, 8vo, 
Third Series, Vol. X. pp. 210, 211), which are valuable. But they relate 
chiefly to the danger of Americanisms, as they are called, Mr. Prescott main 
taining that " one and the same language cannot have two standards of 
purity." See also what Mr. Marsh says in his excellent Lectures on the 
English Language (1860), pp. 446 sqq. 

STYLE. 213 

of personal intercourse. They seemed to know him more than 
they know other authors whom they have never seen ; and, as 
most of us have favorite writers without being able always to 
explain why they are such, he became peculiarly so to many, 
who yet never stopped to inquire what was the cause of an 
interest so agreeable to them. 

To this result the insensible communication to his works 
of so much that belonged to himself personally and to his in 
most nature two circumstances, immediately connected with 
the infirmity of his sight, I doubt not, contributed. 

The first of these circumstances was the long and severe 
thought which he felt himself compelled to give in the course 
of his investigation of any subject, before he began to write on 
it. For, after he had collected the materials for any chapter, or 
other less definite portion of his subject, that is, after every 
thing about it in the way of authority or opinion had been 
read to him, and he had caused it all to be embodied in short 
notes, to which he listened again and again, as the only way to 
make himself master of their contents, then he sat down, as 
we have seen, in silence, and gave to the whole the benefit of 
the most vigorous action of his own mind. Being generally 
unable to look at all at the notes which had been thus prepared 
for him, he turned every fact or circumstance in the case on 
which he was employed over and over again in his memory, 
and examined on every side whatever related to it. While 
doing this, he put the greatest stress he was able to put on 
his faculties, and urged his mind to the most concentrated and 
unbroken action, so as to make sure that he had mastered all 
the details. And this process was sometimes long-continued. 
I knew one instance in which, after preparatory investigations 
which occupied only two days, he gave yet three days more to 
the mere shaping and moulding of his materials. The result 
was sure. The general outline was right, if it was in his 
power to make it so. But no other process, I suppose, could 
have so completely digested and harmonized his materials, or 
made them so completely a part of himself; no other process 
could have tinged his works so largely and so deeply with what 
was most characteristic of his own mind and temperament ; 
nothing could have made so certain to the reader his love of 


truth, of justice, of liberty, of toleration. And for these and 
other kindred qualities, thus insensibly but thoroughly infused 
into the very materials and fabric of his tissues, though almost 
never seen on their surface, the reader, after a little experience, 
came to trust the author, and take a personal interest in him, 
without considering or knowing exactly why he did it. Tho 
chord of sympathy between them was invisible, indeed, but 
it was already there, and it was strong enough to hold them 

But thus far in the process of his work not a phrase or sen 
tence had been adjusted or thought out. The composition, as 
that word is commonly understood, was still to be done. And 
here again his infirmity was a controlling influence, and is to 
be counted among the secrets of a manner which has been 
found at once so simple and so charming. He was compelled 
to prepare everything, down to the smallest details, in his 
memory, and to correct and fashion it all while it was still 
held there in silent suspense ; after which he wrote it down, 
by means of his noctograph, in the freest and boldest manner, 
without any opportunity really to change the phraseology as 
he went along, and with little power to alter or modify it 
afterwards. This, I doubt not, was among the principal causes 
of the strength as well as of the grace, ease, and attractiveness 
of his style. It gave a life, a freshness, a freedom, both to his 
thoughts and to his mode of expressing them. It made his 
composition more akin than it could otherwise have been to the 
peculiar fervor and happiness of extemporaneous discussion. 
It not only enabled but it led him to address his reader, as it 
were, with his natural voice, so that those who never heard a 
word from his lips seemed yet, in this way, to find something 
like its effects in the flow and cadence of his sentences. 

By such processes and habits, Mr. Prescott's style, which he 
began to form with a distinct purpose in 1822, became, before 
he had finished the " Ferdinand and Isabella," fifteen years 
afterwards, in its essential characteristics, what it is in all his 
published historical works. At first, this mode of composi 
tion so different from the common one of composing while 
the pen is in the author's hand, excited and influenced as most 
writers are by its mechanical movements, and by the associa- 

STYLE. 215 

tions they awaken was difficult and disagreeable. But I 
never knew him to give up any good thing for either of these 
reasons. On the contrary, he always went on the more ear 
nestly. And the extent to which, in this particular case, he 
succeeded, was remarkable. For, as we have seen, he was 
able to carry what was equal to sixty pages of printed matter 
in his memory for many days, correcting and finishing its style 
as he walked or rode or drove for his daily exercise. 

In 1839, therefore, after going carefully over the whole 
ground, he said, as we have noticed, " My conclusion is, that 
the reader may take my style for better or for worse, as it 
now is." And to this conclusion he wisely adhered. His man 
ner became, perhaps, a little freer and easier, from continued 
practice, and from the confidence that success necessarily brings 
with it ; but, in its essential elements and characteristics, it was 
never changed. 




" A ND now," he says on the 3d of February, 1844, 
J\ " now I propose to break ground on ' Peru.' I shall 
work the mine, however, at my leisure. Why should I 
hurry ? " Nor did he. On the contrary, he procrastinated, 
as usual, from an unwillingness to begin hard work. He sat 
to Mr. Joseph Ames for his portrait in oils, an excellent piece 
of coloring, now in the possession of Mr. James Lawrence, and 
to Mr. Richard S. Greenough for a bust, now in the possession 
of Mrs. Prescott, beautiful as a work of art, and very valuable 
as a happy likeness at the period when it was taken. But the 
sittings to these artists consumed a good deal of time, and broke 
up many days in February and March. He was, however, too 
willing to be idle. 

In the middle of April he made a visit to New York, partly 
out of listlessness, and partly in order to settle some trifling 
affairs with his publishers. It was designed to fill only a few 
days ; but, by the solicitations of friends and the eagerness to 
become acquainted with him on the part of those who had not 
earlier enjoyed that pleasure, it proved to be a visit of a fort 
night, and a very gay and happy one. 

" Three weeks since," he says under date of May 5th, 1844, " I went 
to New York, thinking I might pass a couple of days. It turned out 
twelve, and then I found it no easy matter to break away from friends 
who, during my stay there, feasted and feted me to the top of my constitu 
tion. Not a day in which I rose before nine, dined before five or six, went 
to bed before twelve. Two years ago I did not know half a dozen New- 
Yorkers ; I have now made the acquaintance of two hundred at least, and 


the friendship, I trust, of many. The cordiality with which I was greeted 
is one of the most gratifying tributes I have received from my country 
men, coming as it did from all classes and professions. It pleased mo 
that the head of the Roman Catholic clergy, Archbishop Hughes, a 
highly respectable person, should openly thank and commend me for 
< the liberality I had shown in my treatment of the Catholics.' x I have 
stood the tug of social war pretty well. Yet, on the whole, it was too 
long a time for such excitement. Five days should be the limit. The 
faculties become weary, and the time does not move so fleetly as in the 
regular occupations at home. How could I stand then a season in Lon 
don 1 I shall not try. Nor shall I ever exceed two, or at most three 
days, in a great American city." 

During all this time I mean during the autumn, winter, 
and spring of 1843 and 1844 he thought very little of his 
" Conquest of Peru." He even, for a large part of the period, 
made few entries among his literary memoranda ; and when 
he began the record again, after an absolute silence of almost 
three months, he says, in relation to this unwonted neglect, 
that it was indeed a very long interval, and that such long in 
tervals were proof either of great occupation or great idleness. 
" The latter," he adds, " will account for this." 

He had, however, not been so wholly idle as such self- 
reproach might seem to imply. He had listened to the Inca 
Garcilasso's important Commentaries on the earliest history 
and traditions of Peru ; to some of the more familiar and com 
mon writers who cover the same ground ; and to a manuscript 
of Sarmiento, President of the Royal Council of the Indies, 
who had travelled in that part of South America immediately 
after its conquest, and who is one of the most ample and trust 
worthy authorities for its early condition. It was not, indeed, 
much to have accomplished in so long a time, nor was any of it 
difficult or disagreeable ; but his interruptions had been many 
and inevitable. During his father's illness he had watched 

1 In connection with this well-deserved commendation from a man so emi 
nent, may be aptly mentioned a remark which the late President John Quincy 
Adams made to Mr. Edmund B. Otis, who, during four years, rendered ex 
cellent and kind service to Mr. Prescott, as his secretary. " Mr. Adams said, 
that Mr. Prescott possessed the two great qualifications of an historian, who 
should be apparently without country and without religion. This," Mr. Otis 
adds, " he explained by saying that the history should not show the political 
or religious bias of the historian. It would be difficult, Mr. Adams thought, 
to tell whether Mr. Prescott were a Protestant or a Catholic, a monarchist or 
a republican." See Appendix (C). 


him with a care that interfered not a little with his own regu 
lar occupations, and during his convalescence had accompanied 
him in many a long walk, from which he derived no little 
pleasure and consolation. But his father, whose faculties had 
not been impaired by his illness, was now restored to as much 
physical health as he was ever likely to enjoy, and, from his 
nature, rather preferred to be independent in his out-of-door 
exercise than to be assisted or accompanied. The son, there 
fore, after nine months of " literary loafing," as he called it, 
instead of three, which he had proposed to himself, turned 
resolutely to his new work. 

He did not need to make a collection of materials for it. 
That had been done when he gathered his ample stores for 
the " Conquest of Mexico." His first studies were on Cieza 
de Leon, the careful geographer of Peru, contemporary almost 
with its conquest ; on Diego Fernandez de Palencia, a some 
what tedious chronicler of the country at the same period ; 
on Fernando Montesinos, who lived a century later, and is 
much less trustworthy ; and on the crude collections of Lord 
Kingsborough, made in our own time, but marked with the 
credulity and rashness of the time of the Pizarros. This read 
ing, and more of the same sort during the summer of 1844, all 
related to the mythical rather than to the historical period of 
Peruvian Antiquities ; and before the month of August was 
ended the mere notes and references for this part of his subject 
filled above three hundred compact pages. It was not, indeed, 
so important as the corresponding period of the Mexican an 
nals, but it was interesting, and had its peculiar attractions. 
He made his plan for it, accordingly, and, having accumulated 
notes to the amount of eighty large sheets, allowed five or six 
months for the work, and a hundred pages. But here, as in 
the case of the " Mexico," he was mistaken, although his error 
was less considerable. It took eight months and made a hun 
dred and eighty pages ; more troublesome and disagreeable 
from the nature of the subject than any other part of the work, 
and in some respects more so than the Introduction to the 
" Conquest of Mexico." 

But before he could put pen to paper, the course of his 
studies was again interrupted, first by the death of his brother 


Edward, 2 which occurred at sea on a voyage to Europe, and 
afterwards by a journey to Niagara on account of his daughter's 
health, which for some months had given cause for anxiety. 
At last, however, after reading Alfieri's life to quicken his 
courage, he began his work in earnest. " I find it very diffi 
cult," he said, " to screw up my wits to the historic pitch ; so 
much for the vagabond life I have been leading ; and breaking 
ground on a new subject is always a dreary business." 

He wrote the first sentences on the 12th of August, 1844, a 
little more than a year from the time when he had completed 
his " Conquest of Mexico." He was at Nahant, where what 
with the rheumatism which often troubled him much in that 
damp climate, and the interruptions of company, which at such 
a watering-place could not always be avoided, he found his 
progress both slow and uneasy. But he made vigorous efforts 
with himself, and succeeded, before he left the sea-shore, so far 
as to make the following record : 

Industry good, and with increased interest. Spirits an amiable word 
for temper improved. Best recipe, occupation with things, not self. 

At Pepperell, where, as WAS his custom, he passed the early 
autumn, he pursued his labors in a manner still more satisfac 
tory to himself. 

" Industry," he says, referring to the good effects of a tranquil country, 
life, " industry, as usual, excellent ; interest awakened ; progress sen 
sible ; the steam is up." 

And again a few days later : 

1 have got my working-tackle on board, and should be delighted not 
to quit these highland solitudes till they are buried under snow-drifts. 
Now, how glorious they are to eye and ear and every other sense, 
the glories of an American autumn. Surely a man is better, and forms a 
better estimate of life and its worthlessness here in the country than any 
where else. 

The town, as he anticipated, was less favorable to work. 
When he had been there some time, he noted : " Nearly three 
weeks in town, and not looked at ' Peru.' The old sin of the 
town. Shall I never reform ? " Still, after the pressure of 

2 For a notice of his brother Edward, see Appendix (A), on the Prescott 


affairs which had accumulated during his absence was re 
moved, and a little gay lounging among his friends was over, 
he was going on well again, when he was stopped by a great 
sorrow. His father died suddenly on Sunday morning, the 
8th of December, and an hour afterwards I received from him 
the following note : 


I write to tell you, what you may learn from other sources, and what 
will give you much pain. My father was taken with a fainting turn this 
morning, about eight o'clock, which has terminated fatally. Nathan, 
who takes this, will give you the account. 

We are all very tranquil, as my writing to you now shows. Do not 
come till after church, as nothing can be done now. 

Your affectionate 


1 went to him, of course, as soon as the morning services 
were over, and found him tranquil, indeed, but more tenderly 
and more easily moved than I had ever seen him before, and 
more than I ever saw him afterwards. His mind was sorrow 
fully filled with the thought of the great tie that had been so 
suddenly broken, and of the consequences that must follow. 
He could talk only of his father or of his desolate mother ; 
and, although I saw him again before the day was ended, and 
each succeeding day afterwards for some time, it was still the 
same. He was unable to think continuously on any other 
subject. There was, however, nothing violent or extravagant 
in his sorrow. He saw things as they really were. He did 
not seem so much oppressed with the idea of his immediate 
loss, as with the idea that it was one he should never cease to 
feel. And in this he judged himself rightly. He was always 
afterwards more or less sensible of the void that had been left 
by the death of his father, and recurred to it frequently in 
conversation with me, down even to one of the last times I 
saw him. 

The evening after the funeral there seemed to be more of 
bitterness in his grief than there had been before. The day 
had been raw and cheerless, with much wind and dust in the 
streets as the procession passed along. His eye had been seri 
ously troubled by it, and was still painful. I noticed how close 


he had followed the body as we turned in, all on foot, to enter 
the crypt under St. Paul's Church, and that his head at that 
moment was almost brought in contact with the sad drapery 
of the hearse. " Yes," he said, " my eye suffered very much 
from the wind and dust that came out of the passage, and he 
protected me to the last, as he always had." 

It was long before he could settle himself to his work 
again. The world had assumed a new look to him, and its 
ways seemed harder to tread. Burdens were hereafter to rest 
on his shoulders which had earlier been borne by another. 
Counsels were to fail on which he had always relied. Much 
business was to be done requiring both time and thought. 
More than two months, therefore, elapsed before he returned 
to his literary labors, and when he did he found it impossible 
to recover, in a manner at all satisfactory to himself, the 
thoughts with which he had intended to go on, and which, 
before his father's death, lay all settled and spread out in his 
memory. He found, as he said, that they had been effaced as 
completely as if they had been wiped out by a sponge. He 
began, therefore, a new chapter, without absolutely finishing 
the one on which he had till then been employed. 

He was soon cheered on his course by the following letter 
from Alexander von Humboldt, which he justly deemed " as 
high a recompense as he could receive in this way " : 


Dans la crainte, que pent etre la premiere expression de ma juste ad 
miration, addressee, au moment ou je re9evais votre important ouvrage sur 
le Mexique, ne vous soit pas parvenue, je donne ce peu de lignes a Mons. 
Lieber, qui nous est cher, et qui part pour votre beau pays. Apres avoir 
de'ploye' le grand et noble talent d'historien de 1'Europe dans la Vie do 
Ferdinand et d'Isabelle, apres avoir retrace des evenements que les ca- 
lamites recentes de 1'Espagne rendent doublement instructives aux peuples 
" qui oublient et apprennent peu," Mons. Prescott a daigne jetter une 
vive lumiere sur un pays qui a eu 1'independance avant les elements de la 
liberte civile ; mais auquel je ticns par tous les liens de la reconnaissance 
et des souvenirs, croyant avoir le faible merite d'avoir fait connaitre le pre 
mier, par des observations astronomiques et des mesures de hauteur, la 
merveilleuse configuration du Mexique, et le reflet de cette configuration 
sur les progres et les entraves de la civilization. Ma satisfaction a etc 
hien grande en etudiant ligne par ligne votre excellent ouvrage, Monsieur. 
On est un juge severe, souvent enclin a 1'injustice, lorsqu'on a eu la vi- 
vante impression des lieux et que 1'etude de 1'histoire antique dont je me 


suis occup^e avec predilection a etc' snivie sur le sol meme, oh nne partie 
des grands evenements s'est passee. La seve'rite cst desarmce, Monsieur, 
a la lecture de votre " Conquete du Mexique." Vous peignez avec suc- 
ces parce que vous avez vu Acs yeux de 1'esprit, du sens inte'rieur. C'est 
nn l>onheur pour moi, citoyen du Mexique, d'avoir vecu assez longtcmps 
pour vous lire ; pour vous parlor de ma reconnaissance dcs expressions de 
hienveillance dont vous avez honore mon nom. L'Amerique Espagnolc, 
bien malhcureuse aujourd'hui, dechiree par d'ignobles guerres intestines 
trop grandc heureusement, pour que 1'importation d'un joug etrangcr soit 
possible trouvera avec toute societe humaine son equilibre inte'rieur. 
Je ne desespere pas. Je dirai avec Christophe Columb, dans le re ve a la 
riviere de Bclem : Que le Seigneur tient dans son pouvoir une longue 
heredite d'annees ; muchas heredades ricne el Scnor y grandisimas. 8 Si 
je n'etais tout occupe de mon Cosmos d'une Physique du Monde 
que j'ai 1'imprudcnce d'imprimer, j'aurais voulu traduire votre ouvrage 
dans la langue de mon pays. 

Je suis heurcux de savoir que votre sante s'cst solidement ameliore'e, ct 
que nous pcuvons dsperer vos travaux sur le Pe'rou et son antique ct mys- 
terieuse civilization. 

Agrecz, Monsieur, je vous prie, Pexpression renouvelee du respectueux 
attachement avec Icquel j'ai 1'honneur d'etre, 

Votre tres humble et tres obeissant serviteur, 

A Sans Souci, ce 26 Octobre, 1844. 

On devrait se rappeler un jour, que lorsque j'ai public mon Atlas du 
Mexique et 1'Essai Politique il n'existait aucunc autre carte du pays, que 
celle qu'Alzate a offert a 1' Academic des Sciences a Paris. 

Such a letter was, as he intimated, an honor second to few 
that he could receive. Other honors, however, were not want 
ing. Four months later in February, 1845 he. was elected 
into the French Institute, as a Corresponding Member of the 
Academy of Moral and Political Science, and into the Royal 
Society of Berlin, as a Corresponding Member of the Class of 
Philosophy and History. He had no intimation of either until 

8 The words which Humboldt has here cited from memory, and which he 
has a little spiritualized, are found in a letter which Columbus wrote from 
Jamaica, July 7, 1503, to Ferdinand and Isabella, giving an eloquent and 
solemn account of a vision which he believed himself to have had on the 
coast of Veragua, one of the magnificent illusions which occasionally filled 
his mind, and persuaded him that he was inspired and commissioned of 
Heaven to discover the passage to the Indies, and perhaps the terrestrial 
Paradise. The exact words referred to by Humboldt are, muchat heredadet 
tiene El, grandifimas. They refer to God, and, with the context, intimate 
that Columbus himself was to receive some of these reserved "hereda 
des," ^ossessM>?u, or inheritances. 


he received the diploma announcing it ; and it was not until 
some weeks afterwards, April 23d, 1845, that he made the 
following entry among his literary memoranda : 

In my laziness I forgot to record the greatest academic honor I have 
received, the greatest I shall ever receive, my election as Correspond 
ing Member of the French Institute, as one of the Academy of Moral and 
Political Science. I was chosen to fill the vacancy occasioned hy the 
death of the illustrious Navarrete. This circumstance, together with the 
fact, that I did not canvass for the election, as is very usual with the can 
didates, makes the compliment the more grateful to me. 

By the last steamer I received a diploma from the Royal Society of 
Berlin also, as Corresponding Member of the Class of Philosophy and 
History. This body, over which Humboldt presides, and which has been 
made famous by the learned labors of Niebuhr, Von Raumer, Ranke, &c., 
&c., ranks next to the Institute among the great Academies of the Conti 
nent. Such testimonies, from a distant land, are the real rewards of a 
scholar. What pleasure would they have given to my dear father I I feel 
as if they came too late ! 

Similar remarks, as to the regret he felt that his father could 
no longer share such honors with him, he had made earlier to 
more than one of his friends, with no little emotion. 4 They 
were honors of which he was always naturally and justly 
proud, for they had been vouchsafed neither to Bowditch 
nor to Irving, but sorrow for a time dimmed their bright 
ness to him. As Montaigne said on the death of Boetie, 
" We had everything in common, and, now that he is gone, I 
feel as if I had no right to his part." 

Of the election at Berlin, which, according to the diploma, 
was made in February, 1845, I have no details ; but at Paris, 
I believe, the forms Avere those regularly observed. On the 
18th of January, 1845, M. Mignet, on behalf of the Section 
of History, reported to the Academy of Moral and Political 
Science the names of those who were proposed as candidates 

4 This seems, indeed, to have been his first feeling on receiving the intelli 
gence. Dr. George Hayward, the distinguished surgeon, met him on the 
steps of the post-office as he came with the official notice of his election to 
the Institute in his hand, and told me a few days afterwards, that, while Mr. 
Prescott showed without hesitation how agreeable to him was the intelligence 
he had received, he added immediately a strong expression of his regret that 
the unsolicited and unexpected honor had not come to him before the death 
of his father. Mr. Parsons, Mr. Prescott's early friend, has sent me a state 
ment somewhat similar. Both agree entirely with my own recollections and 
those of his family, as to his feelings at the same period. 


to fill the place of Navarrete, who had died the preceding 
year ; viz. in the first rank, Mr. Prescott ; in the second rank, 
ex cequo, Mr. Turner and Mr. Bancroft; in the third, Mr. 
Dahlmann. M. Mignet at this meeting explained the grounds 
for his report, and the President inquired whether the Acad 
emy would confine itself to the list of candidates thus offered. 
M. Berenger, 6 without proposing to add the name of M. Cesare 
Cantu, called the attention of the Section to his claims. M. 
Mignet and M. Cousin then spoke, and the subject was passed 
over. At the next meeting, that of January 25th, when 
the subject came up in course, no discussion took place ; and 
on the 1st of February, when the election was made, Mr. Pres 
cott was chosen by eighteen ballots out of twenty, one being 
for Mr. Bancroft and one blank. 

In a letter of business to his friend, Colonel Aspinwall, at 
London, dated March 30th, Mr. Prescott says, with his accus 
tomed frankness : 

You will be pleased to learn that by the last steamer I received a di 
ploma of Corresponding Member of the Institute of France, to fill the 
vacancy occasioned by the death of the Spanish historian Navarrete. 
This academic honor is often canvassed pretty zealously for ; but, as I 
got it without the asking on my part, it is the more welcome. I don't 
know how they came to think of an out-of-the-way Yankee for it. 8 


June 30, 1844. Nahant, where lighted the 28th. Returned from my 
tour to Trenton and Niagara Falls on the 25th, being fifteen days. A 
most romantic excursion of eleven hundred miles through the whole 
length of the great Empire State, which the traveller sees in all its glory 
of vegetation and wonderful fertility, its noble streams, lofty woods, 
and matchless cataracts, the valley of the Mohawk, the broad Hudson, 
with its navy of little vessels, the Erie Canal, winding like a silver snake 
through its cultivated fields, its cities and villages rising up like fairy 
creations in the wide expanse of its clearings, and all the evidences of a 
busy, thriving population amidst the wreck of gigantic forests, that show 
the contest with savage nature had not been of very long date. It is 
indeed the " Empire State," and Niagara is a fitting termination to such 
a noble tour. But I grow twaddling. A pleasant tour of a couple ot 
weeks not more with pleasant companions (mine were so), is not a 

6 Not the poet, who spelt his name differently, but a distinguished jurist 
nd statesman. 
6 See Appendix (D), for other literary honors. 


bad break intc the still life of the student. It gives zest to the quiet 
course of literary labor. Yet it is not easy, after such a vagabond life, 
to come up to the scratch. The hide gets somewhat insensible to the 
spur of lofty ambition, that last infirmity which the poet speaks of. 
Yet may I never be insensible to it. 

July 21, 1844. Industry and literary ardor improve. Been reading, 
or rather listening to, Alfieri's Life, a strange being, with three ruling 
passions, literary glory, love, and horses ! the last not the least powerful. 
His literary zeal by fits only, it is true is quite stimulating, and, like 
Gibbon's Memoirs, rouses the dormant spark in me. It is well occasion 
ally to rdnvigorate by the perusal of works so stirring to the flagging 
student. I ought not to flag with such an audience as I am now sure to 
have. Life out of Boston, whether at Nahant or Pepperell, very favor 
able to regular studious habits and scholar-like ardor. My ideal would 1x5 
best accomplished by a full six months' residence in the quiet country. 
But would my general vigor, and especially that of the stomach, allow 
it 1 I fear not. This is a good place for effective work, even in the dog- 
days. But my eyes are better in the country, and rheumatism becomes a 
formidable enemy on these bleak and misty shores. 

The face of nature, whether here or in the country, is most tranquilliz 
ing, and leads to contemplative occupation. I feel as if my studies, 
family, and the sight of a few friends, rum brevi intervaUo, not con 
vivial friends, would answer all my desires, and best keep alive the best 
source of happiness in me ; literary ambition, not the mere ambition of 
fame, I have obtained that, but of advancing the interests of hu 
manity by the diffusion of useful truth. I have been more truly gratified 
by several messages I have received since the publication of the " Con 
quest," thanking me for the solace I had afforded in a sick-chamber, than 
by commendations from higher sources. Yet I read with satisfaction a 
passage in our Minister Wheaton's letter from Berlin this week, in which 
he says : " M. de Humboldt never ceases praising your book, and he is 
not a little difficult in his judgment of those who venture on his Ameri 
can ground." Humboldt is the most competent critic my work has to 

This week I have been reviewing my notes for the Introduction, 
already reaching to seventy sheets, and not done yet. I have been 
arranging under what heads I must distribute this farrago of facts and 
fiction. The work of distribution, by the appropriate figure for each sen 
tence, will be no joke. 

Been to town twice last week, most uncommon for me, once to 
see my friend Calderon, returned as Minister from Spain, and once to see 
my poor friend Sumner, who has had a sentence of death passed on him 
by the physicians. His sister sat by his side, struck with the same dis 
ease. It was an affecting sight to see brother and sister, thus hand in 
hand, preparing to walk through the dark valley. 7 I shall lose a good 
friend in Sumner, and one who, though I have known him but a few 
years, has done me many kind offices. 

1 It is not necessary to say that Mr. Sumner recovered from this attack. 
The prognostications relating to his sister were unhappily fulfilled. 

10* o 


August 18, 3844. Began Chapter I. of Book I., the Introduction of 
the " Conquest of Peru," on Monday, August 12th ; wrote 8 noctograph 
== 10 pp. print, slow work and not particularly to my mind cither. 
I have found it best to alter my plan, and throw military policy into 
another chapter, and continue this chapter by treating of the civil admin 
istration, else it comes cart before the horse. 

My spirits this season at Nahant have been variable, and my temper 
ditto ; I am convinced that I am to expect contentment only, or rather 
chiefly, from steady and engrossing literary occupation. When one work is 
finished, don't pause too long before another is begun, and so on till eyes, 
ears, and sense give way ; then resignation ! I doubt even the policy of 
annual journeys ; am clear against episodical excursions for a few days in 
addition to the one journey of two weeks at most. I suspect my summer 
migrations for residence will be enough for health, and better for spirits. 
Locomotion riles up all the wits, till they are as muddy as a dirt-puddle, 
and they don't settle again in a hurry. Is it not enough to occupy my 
self with my historical pursuits, varying the scene by change of residence 
suited to the season, and by occasionally entertaining and going into 
society, occasionally, not often ? What a cursed place this is for rheu 
matism and company, yet good for general vigor. No dog-days here, 
and all might be working-days if I had pluck for it. 


PEPPERELL, Oct. 13, 184. 

I am glad to receive your very kind letter of August 28th, and to learn 
that you have at length accomplished the residencia at Simancas. Fifty- 
two days was a long while, and, if you had had the command of all your 
time, would have enabled you to have sifted, at the rapid rate at which 
you go on, half the library. But what absurd rules ! I think you 
made the most of that precious hour allowed for the papdes reservados. 
Your use of ciphers stood you in good stead. It was a rare piece of for 
tune to have stumbled on such a budget, which nobody else has. But 
how can a government wish to exclude the light from those who are occu 
pied with illustrating its history, necessarily compelling the historian to 
take partia and limited views, and that, too, of events three hundred 
years old ! There will be a great trastorno when the archives are poured 
into the Escorial. 8 


BOSTON, Jan. 30, 1845. 
I am truly obliged by your kind letter, and the beautiful pieces of 

8 It was proposed to remove the collections of Simancas to the Escorial 
and theve unite all the documents of the kingdom relating to the national 
history, as had been so admirably done in Seville for the history of Spanish 


criticism from your pen which accompanied it. I have read them with 
the greatest pleasure. The account of the Venetian language is full of 
novel historical details, as well as of architectural criticisms, that carry 
me back to those witching scenes where in earlier life I passed some very 
happy days. The sketch of the German pastor Hebel is conceived in the 
tranquil and beautiful spirit which so well accords with his own life and 
character. And the translations of the Tartar poems have all the fresh 
ness of original composition, with a singular coloring of thought alto 
gether different from the European. Why do you not gather these little 
gems of criticism together, which you thus scatter at random, into one 
collection, where they may be preserved as the emanation of one and the 
same mind ? I was talking this over with Ticknor the other day, and we 
both agreed that few volumes of any one author would present such a 
rich variety of criticism and disquisition on interesting and very diversified 
topics. And yet you write with the ease and fulness of one who had 
made each of these topics his particular study. I assure you I am saying 
to you what I have said to our common friend, and he, with a superior 
judgment to mine, fully confirmed. 

I must also thank you for M. Chevalier's article in the "Journal des 
Debats," which contains a spirited analysis of my historical subject. It 
is very kind in him to bestow so much time on it, and I have now written 
to thank him ; and shall request his acceptance of a copy of the American 
edition of ' the work, which I shall send this week by the New York 
packet, with another copy to the French translator. I esteem myself 
fortunate in the prospect of seeing my thoughts clothed in the beautiful 
tongue of Racine and Rousseau. Did I mention to you that the work is 
in process of translation in Berlin and in Rome ? In Mexico, a Spanish 
translator has undertaken to make such alterations (according to his pro 
spectus) as shall accommodate my religious ideas and my opinions of 
modern Mexico more satisfactorily to the popular taste ! 

Should you find leisure to write the notice which you contemplate in 
the " Bibliotheque Universelle," you will, of course, have the kindness to 
forward me a copy ; though I trust you will not allow this subject 
to make such demands on your time as my former history did, or else the 
publication of a new work by me will be no day of jubilee to you. 

A little while before I had the pleasure of receiving your letter, I met 
with a domestic calamity of which I shall allow myself to speak to one 
who has shown such a friendly interest in my literary reputation. This 
is the death of my father, who has been my constant companion, coun 
sellor, and friend from childhood to the present time ; for we have always 
lived under the same roof together. As he had the most cultivated tastes 
himself, and took the deepest interest in my literary career, his sympathy 
had become almost a necessary part of my existence ; and now that he is 
gone life wears a new aspect, and I feel that much of the incentive and 
the recompense of my labors is withdrawn from me. But I have no right 
to complain ; he was spared to me, in the full possession of his powers of 
head and heart, to a good old age. I take the liberty to enclose you a 
little obituary notice of him from the pen of our friend Ticknor, as I 
know you will read what he has written with pleasure, and it gratifies my 
own feelings to think that one for whom I feel as high a regard as your- 


self, in a distant land, should hold my father's name in honor. I hope 
you will not think this is a weakness. 

I pray you, my dear Sir, to accept the assurance of the sincere respect 
with which I remain 

Your obliged friend, 



February 6, 1845. A long interval since my last entry, and one preg 
nant with important and most melancholy results to me, for in it I have 
lost my father, my counsellor, companion, and friend from boyhood to the 
hour of his death. This event took place on Sunday morning, about 
eight o'clock, December 8th, 1844. I had the sad comfort of being with 
him in his last moments, and of witnessing his tranquil and beautiful 
death. It was in keeping with the whole tenor of his mild and philosoph 
ical life. He had complained of a slight obstruction or uneasiness in his 
left side for ten days before, and the bad weather confined him in the 
house, and prevented his getting his customary exercise. The physicians 
thought it a rheumatic affection. But he did not feel confidence in this. 
His strength became impaired by confinement, and half an hour before his 
death, while in the library in which he spent so many happy and profit 
able hours of his life, he was taken with a faintness. His old domestic, 
Nathan Webster, was there with him, and immediately ran for assistance. 
My father recovered, but soon after relapsed. He was laid on the floor, 
and we were all apprehensive of a recurrence of the melancholy attack 
with which he had been visited at Pcpperell, the year preceding. But his 
mind was not affected otherwise than with the languor approaching to in 
sensibility which belongs to faintness. On the speedy arrival of the 
physician he was carried up stairs to his own apartment, in the arms of the 
family, and in fifteen minutes his spirit took its departure to a happier 
world. On an examination, it was found that the arteries leading from 
the heart had not conducted off the blood, and the pressure of this had 
caused the uneasy sensation. The machinery was worn out. The clock 
to borrow the simile of the poet had run down, and stopped of its own 

He lived to a good old age, being eighty- two August 19th, 1844, and 
we have certainly great reason for gratitude that he was spared to us so 
long, and that he did not, even then, outlive his noble faculties. To have 
survived the decay of his mind would have been a blow which even he, 
with all his resignation, could not well have borne. But the temporary 
cloud of the preceding year had passed away, and he died in the full pos 
session of the powers which he has now returned, strengthened and increased 
by unceasing industry and careful cultivation, into the hands of his merci 
ful Father. Yet, though there is much, very much to be thankful for, it 
is only time that can reconcile me to the rupture of a tie that has so long 
bound us closely together. It is a great satisfaction that his eminent vir 
tues have been so justly appreciated by the community in which he lived. 
.Rarely has a death excited such wide and sincere sorrow. For his high 
intellectual character commanded respect ; but his moral qualities, his 


purity of principle, his high sense of honor, his sympathy with others, es 
pecially those who stood most in need of it, insured veneration and love. 
Yet those only who have dwelt under his roof, and enjoyed the sweet 
pleasures of the most intimate domestic intercourse, can estimate the real 
extent of his excellence. The nearer the intimacy, the deeper and more 
constant was the impression produced by his virtues. His character stood 
the test of daily, hourly inspection. 

It would be most ungrateful in me not to acknowledge the goodness of 
that Providence which has spared such a friend to be the guide of my 
steps in youth, and my counsellor in riper years. And now that he is, 
gone, it must be my duty and my pleasure to profit by this long inter 
course, and to guide myself through the rest of my pilgrimage by the 
memory of his precepts and the light of his example. He still lives, and 
it must be my care so to live on earth as to be united with him again and 

I have not felt in heart to resume my historical labors since his death, 
and my time has been much engrossed by necessary attention to family 
affairs. But I must no longer delay to return to my studies, although 
my interest in them is much diminished, now that I have lost my best rec 
ompense of success in his approbation. Yet to defer this longer would 
be weakness. It will at least be a satisfaction to me to pursue the literary 
career in which he took so much interest, and the success of which, it is 
most consoling for me to believe, shed a ray of pleasure on the evening 
of his days. 




JUST at this time the winter of 1844-5 Mr. Prescott 
made an arrangement with Bentley in London for pub 
lishing a volume of Miscellanies, entitled in the English edi 
tion, " Critical and Historical Essays " ; chiefly articles from 
the " North American Review," for which, though his contri 
butions had already become rare, and subsequently ceased 
altogether, he wrote with some regularity for many years. 

The subjects he had discussed were almost wholly literary, 
and, having little relation to anything local, political, or per 
sonal, were likely, on many accounts, to be read with interest 
in England. He therefore selected a few of his contributions 
as a specimen, and sent them to his friend Colonel Aspinwall, 
in London, with a good-humored letter, dated November 15th, 
1844, in which he says : 

As the things are already in print, and stale enough here, I can't expect 
the London publishers will give much for them. Possibly they may not 
be willing to give a farthing. I would not advise them to. But you will 
probably think best to ask something, as I shall still have to select and 
dress them up a little. But, though I will not insist on a compensation 
if I can't get it, I had rattier not have them published than to have them 
appear in a form which will not match with my other volumes in size. I 
would add, that at all events I should be allowed a dozen copies for my 
self. If Bentley, who should have the preference, or Murray, do not 
think them worth the taking, I would not go farther with the trumpery. 
Only, pray see that they are returned safely to your hands to be destroyed. 

Now, I hope this will not put you to much trouble. It is not worth it, 
and I do not intend it. Better accede to any proposition, as far as 
profits are concerned, they must be so trifling, than be bothered with 
negotiations. And, after all, it may be thought this r&dmufft of old bones 


is not profitable enough to make it worth while for a publisher to under 
take it at all. If so, I shall readily acquiesce. There will be no labor 

Bentley, however, thought better of the speculation than 
the author did, and accepted, with a just honorarium, the 
whole of what, a few months later, was sent to him. It made 
a handsome octavo volume, and appeared in the summer of 
1845 ; but there was prefixed to it an engraved portrait, which, 
though great pains were taken to have it a good one, was a 
total failure. 1 The articles were fourteen in number, marking 
very well the course of the author's studies, tastes, and associa 
tions during the preceding twenty years. Some of them had 
cost him no little labor ; all were written with a conscientious 
fidelity not common in such contributions to the periodical 
press. They were therefore successful from the first, and 
have continued to be so. An edition by the Harpers at New 
York appeared contemporaneously with Bentley's ; a second 
London edition was called for in 1850 ; and these have been 
followed by others both in England and the United States, 
making in all, before the end of 1860, a sale of more than 
thirteen thousand copies. The misgivings of the author, there 
fore, about his " rechauffe of old bones " were soon discovered 
to be groundless. 

The first article in the volume, reckoning by the date of 
its composition, is on " Italian Narrative Poetry," and was 
originally published in the " North American Review " for 
October, 1824. At that time, or a little earlier, Mr. Prescott 
had, it will be remembered, occupied himself much with the 
literature of Italy, and, among other things, had taken great 
pleasure in listening to an accomplished Italian, who had read 
parts of Dante, Tasso, Ariosto, and Alfieri, in a succession of 
mornings, to two or three friends who met regularly for the 
purpose. He was, therefore, in all respects, well qualified to 
discuss any department of Italian literature to which he might 
direct a more especial attention. The choice he made on this 
occasion was fortunate ; for narrative poetry is a department in 
which Italian genius has had eminent success, and his treatment 

1 When he sent me a copy of the English edition, he said, in the note ac 
companying it: " You will recognize everything in it except the portrait." 


of the subject was no less happy than the choice ; especially, I 
think, in whatever regarded his judgments on Politian, Berni, 
and Bojardo. 

But excellent and pleasant as was the article in question, it 
was not satisfactory to a very respectable Italian, then living 
in the United States, who seems to have been more keenly 
sensitive to the literary honor of his country than he needed to 
have been. This gentleman, Signer Lorenzo Da Ponte, had 
been the immediate successor of Metastasio as Imperial Poet 
Poeta Cesareo at Vienna, and had early gained much reputa 
tion by writing to " Don Giovanni " the libretto which Mozart's 
music has carried all over the world. But the life of the Im 
perial Poet had subsequently been somewhat unhappy ; and, 
after a series of adventures and misfortunes, which he has 
pleasantly recorded in an autobiography published in 1823, at 
New York, he had become a teacher of his native language in 
that metropolis, where he was deservedly much regarded and 

Signor Da Ponte was an earnest, it may fairly be said, 
an" extravagant admirer of the literature of his native country, 
and could ill endure even the very cautious and inconsiderable 
qualifications which Mr. Prescott had deemed it needful to 
make respecting some of its claims in a review otherwise over 
flowing with admiration for Italy and Italian culture. In this 
Signor Da Ponte was no doubt unreasonable, but he had not 
the smallest suspicion that he was so ; and in the fervor of his 
enthusiasm he soon published an answer to the review. It 
was, quaintly enough, appended to an Italian translation, which 
he was then editing, of the first part of Dodsley's "Economy 
of Human Life," and fills nearly fifty pages. 2 

2 The title-pnge is, " Economia della Vita Humana, tradotta dal Inglese da 
L. Giudelli, resa alia suavera lezione da L. Da Ponte, con una traduzione del 
medesimo in verso rimato della Settima Parte, che ha per titolo La Keligione, 
con varie lettere dei suoi allievi. E con alcune osservazioni sull' articolo quarto, 
pubblicato nel North American Review il mese d'Ottobre 1824, ed altre Prose e 
Poesie. Nuova Yorka, 1825 " (16mo, pp. 141). This grotesquely compound 
ed little volume is now become so rare, that, except for the kindness of Mr. 
Henry T. Tuckerman, who found it only after long search, I should probably 
now have been unable to obtain the use of a copy of it. I, however, recol 
lect receiving one from the author when it first appeared, and the circum 
stances attending and following its publication. 


As a matter almost of course, an answer followed, which 
appeared in the "North American Review" for July, 1825, 
and is reprinted in the " Miscellanies." It treats Signer Da 
Ponte with much respect, and even kindness ; but, so far as it 
is controversial in its character, its tone is firm and its success 
complete. No reply, I believe, was attempted, nor is it easy 
to see how one could have been made. The whole affair, in 
fact, is now chiefly interesting from the circumstance that it is 
the only literary controversy, and indeed I may say the only 
controversy of any kind, in which Mr. Prescott was ever en 
gaged, and which, though all such discussion was foreign from 
his disposition and temperament, and although he was then 
young, he managed with no little skill and decision. 

In the same volume is another review of Italian Literature, 
published six years later, 1831, on the "Poetry and Romance 
of the Italians." The curious, who look into it with care, 
may perhaps notice some repetition of the opinions expressed 
in the two preceding articles. This is owing to the circum-- 
stance that it was not prepared for the journal in which it 
originally appeared, and in which the others were first pub 
lished. It was written, as I well remember, in the winter 
of 1827 - 8, for a leading English periodical, and was gladly 
accepted by its scholar-like editor, who in a note requested the 
author to indicate to him the subjects on which he might be 
willing to furnish other articles, in case he should indulge 
himself further in the same style of writing. But, as the 
author did not give permission to send his article to the press 
until he should know the sort of editorial judgment passed on 
it, it happened that, by a series of accidents, it was so long 
before he heard of its acceptance, that, getting wearied with 
waiting, he sent for the paper back from London, and gave it 
to the " North American Review." Mr. Prescott adverts to 
these coincidences of opinion in a note to the article itself, 
as reprinted in the " Miscellanies," but does not explain the 
reason for them. 

The other articles in the same volume are generally of not 
less interest and value than the three already noticed. Some 
of them are of more. There is, for instance, a pleasant " Life 
of Charles Brockden Brown," our American novelist, in which, 


perhaps, his merits are overstated. At least, the author after 
wards thought so himself; but the task was voluntarily under 
taken as a contribution to the collection of biographies by his 
friend Mr. Sparks, in 1834, and he felt that it would be some 
what ungracious to say, under such circumstances, all he might 
otherwise have deemed becoming. No doubt, too, he thought 
that Brown, who died in 1810, and was the best of the pioneers 
in romantic fiction on this side of the Atlantic, had a claim to 
tenderness of treatment, both from the difficult circumstances 
in which he had been placed, and from the infirmities which 
had carried him to an early grave. It should, however, be 
understood, while making these qualifications, that the Life 
itself is written with freedom and spirit, and shows how well 
its author was fitted for such critical discussions. 

Another article, which interested him more, is on the condi 
tion of those who suffer from the calamity which constituted 
the great trial of his own life, and on the alleviations which 
pubb'c benevolence could afford to their misfortunes. I refer, 
of course, to the blind. 

In 1829, by the exertions mainly of the late excellent Dr. 
John D. Fisher, an " Asylum for the Blind," now known as 
"The Perkins Institution," was established in Boston, the 
earliest of such beneficent institutions that have proved success 
ful in the United States, and now one of the most advanced in 
the world. It at once attracted Mr. Prescott's attention, and 
from its first organization, in 1830, he was one of its trustees, 
and among its most efficient friends and supporters. 8 

He began his .active services by a paper published in the 
" North American Review " in July, 1830, explaining the 
nature of such asylums, and urging the claims of the one in 
which he was interested. His earnestness was not without 

8 A substantial foundation for this excellent charity was laid somewhat 
later by Colonel Thomas H. Perkins, so well known for his munificence to 
many of our public institutions. He gave to it an estate in Pearl Street, 
valued at thirty thousand dollars, on condition that an equal sum should be 
raised by subscription from the community. This was done; and the insti 
tution bears in consequence his honored name. In the arrangements for this 
purpose Mr. Prescott took much interest, and bore an important part, not 
only as a trustee of the "Asylum," but as a personal friend of Colonel 


fruits ; and the institution which he helped with all his heart 
to found is the same in which, under the singularly successful 
leading of Dr. Samuel G. Howe, a system has heen devised 
for printing books so as to enable the blind to read with an 
ease before deemed unattainable, and is the same institution in 
which, under the same leading, the marvel has been accom 
plished of giving much intellectual culture to Laura Bridgman, 
who, wholly without either sight or hearing, has hardly more 
than the sense of touch as an inlet to knowledge. Mr. Pres- 
cott's sympathy for such an institution, so founded, so managed, 
was necessarily strong, and he continued to serve it with fidel 
ity and zeal as a trustee for ten years, when, its success being 
assured, and other duties claiming his time and thoughts more 
urgently, he resigned his place. 

Some parts of the article originally published in the " North 
American Review;" in order to give to the Boston Asylum for 
the Blind its proper position before the public, are so obviously 
the result of his personal, experience, that they should be re 
membered as expressions of his personal character. Thus, in 
the midst of striking reflections and illustrations connected with 
his general subject, he says : 

The blind, from the cheerful ways of men cut off, are necessarily ex 
cluded from the busy theatre of human action. Their infirmity, however, 
which consigns them to darkness, and often to solitude, would seem 
favorable to contemplative habits, and the pursuits of abstract science and 
pure speculation. Undisturbed by external objects, the mind necessarily 
turns within, and concentrates its ideas on any point of investigation with 
greater intensity and perseverance. It is no uncommon thing, therefore, 
to find persons sitting apart in the silent hours of evening for the purpose 
of composition, or other purely intellectual exercise. Malebranche, when 
he wished to think intensely, used to close his shutters in the daytime, 
excluding every ray of light ; and hence Democritus is said to have put 
out his eyes in order that he might philosophize the better ; a story, the 
veracity 4 of which Cicero, who relates it, is prudent enough not to 
vouch for. 

Blindness must also be exceedingly favorable to the discipline of the 
memory. Whoever has had the misfortune, from any derangement of 
that organ, to be compelled to derive his knowledge of books less from 
the eye than the ear, will feel the truth of this. The difficulty of recall 
ing what has once escaped, of reverting to or dwelling on the passages 

4 Addison so uses the word, and I suppose his authority is sufficient. But 
veracity is strictly applicable only to a person, and not to a statement of 


read aloud by another, compels the hearer to give undivided attention to 
the subject, and to impress it more forcibly on his own mind by subse 
quent and methodical reflection. Instances of the cultivation of this 
faculty to an extraordinary extent have been witnessed among the blind. 5 

And, near the end of the article, he sayg, in a noble tone, 
evidently conscious of its application to himself : 

There is no higher evidence of the worth of the human mind, than its 
capacity of drawing consolation from its own resources under so heavy 
a privation, so that it not only can exhibit' resignation and cheerfulness, 
but energy to burst the fetters with which it is encumbered.* 

These words, it should be remembered, were written at the 
moment when their author was just stretching forth his hand, 
not without much anxiety, to begin the composition of his 
" Ferdinand and Isaoella," of which the world knew nothing 
and suspected nothing for nearly ten years. But the words, 
which had little meaning to others at that time, are instinct 
with the spirit which in silence and darkness animated him to 
his bold undertaking, and not only earned him through it, but 
gave to the rest of his life its direction and character. 7 

The other articles in this volume, published in 1845, less 
need to be considered. One is a short discussion on Scottish 
popular poetry, written as early as the winter of 1825- G, and 
published in the following summer, when he was already busy 
with the study of Spanish, and therefore naturally compared 
the ballads of the two countries. 8 Another is on Moliere, dat 
ing from 1828, and was the cause of directing his thoughts, ten 
years later, while he was uncertain about his success as an 
liistorian, to inquiries into the life of that great poet. 9 A third 
is on Cervantes, and was written as an amusement in 1837, 
immediately after the "Ferdinand and Isabella" was com- 

6 Critical and Historical Essays, London, 1850, pp. 40,41. 

6 Ibid., p. 59. There are also some striking remarks, in the same tone, 
and almost equally applicable to himself, in his notice of Sir Walter Scott's 
power to resist pain and disease, with the discouragements that necessarily 
accompany them. Ibid., pp. 144, 145. 

1 I think he took pleasure, for the same reason, in recording (Article on 
Moliere) that " a gentleman dined at the same table with Corneille for six 
months, without suspecting the author of the Cid." 

8 Critical and Historical Essays, pp. 55 sqq. 

9 Ibid., pp. 247 sqq. 


pleted, and before it was published. And a fourth and fifth, 
on Lockhart's Life of Scott and on Chateaubriand, followed 
soon afterwards, before he had been able to settle himself down 
to regular work on his " Conquest of Mexico." 

A few others he wrote, in part at least, from regard for 
the authors of the books to which they relate. Such were a 
notice of Irving's " Conquest of Granada " ; 10 a review of the 
third volume of Bancroft's " History of the United States " ; 
one of Madame Calderon's very agreeable " Travels in Mexico," 
which he had already ushered into the world with a Preface ; 
and one on my own " History of Spanish Literature." This 
last, which was published in January, 1850, and which, there 
fore, is not included in the earliest edition of the "Miscella 
nies," was the only review he had written for seven years. 
His record in relation to it is striking: 

October 25th, 1849. Leave Pepperell to-morrow; a very pleasant 
autumn and a busy one. Have read for and written, an article in the 
" North American Review " on my friend Ticknor's great work ; my last 
effort in the critical line, amounting to forty-nine sheets noctograph ! The 
writing began the 12th, and ended the 21st of the month ; not bad as to 
industry. No matter how often I have reviewed the ground, I must still 
review it again whenever I am to write, when I sit down to the task. 11 
Now, Muse of History, never more will I desert thy altar ! Yet I shall 
have but little incense to offer. 

This promise to himself was faithfully kept. He never 
wrote another article for a review. 

In tlu's, I do not doubt, he was right. He began, when 
he was quite young, immediately after the failure of the 
'' Club-Room," and wrote reviews upon literary subjects of 
consequence, as an exercise well fitted to the general course 
of studies he had undertaken, and as tending directly to the 
results he hoped at last to reach. It was, he thought, a 
healthy and pleasant excitement to literary activity, and an 

10 It may be worth notice here, that, in the opening of this review, writ 
ten in 1829, Mr. Prescott discusses the qualifications demanded of an histo 
rian, and the merits of some of the principal writers in this department of 

11 This is among the many proofs of his conscientious care in writing. Ho 
had read my manuscript, and had made ample notes on it; but still, lest he 
should make mistakes, he preferred to go over the printed book, now that he 
was to review it. 


obvious means of forming and testing his style. For twelve 
years, therefore, beginning in 1821, he contributed annually 
an article to the " North American Review." At one time he 
thought of writing occasionally, from the same motives, for 
the more eminent English periodicals ; but from this he was 
diverted partly by accident, but chiefly by labors more impor 
tant and pressing. Indeed, from 1833, when he was in the 
midst of his "Ferdinand and Isabella," to 1837, when its 
composition was completed, he found no time for such lighter 
occupations ; and, during the last six and twenty years of his 
life, his contributions were only eight, nearly all of which 
were undertaken from motives different from those that had 
prompted his earlier efforts. As far as he himself was con 
cerned, review-writing had done its work, and he was better 
employed. 12 

But, besides his own engrossing occupations, he had another 
reason for abandoning the habit of criticising the works of 
others. He had come to the conclusion that this form of 
literary labor is all but worthless. In his review of the Life 
of Scott, he had noticed how little of principle is mingled 
with it, and in his memoranda five years later, when his own 

12 Even before the publication of the " Ferdinand and Isabella " he had 
begun to see the little value of American Reviews. This is plain from the 
following extract from a letter discovered since this memoir was finished, and 
dated October 4, 1837. It was addressed from Pepperell by Mr. Prescott to 
his friend, Mr. Gardiner, in Boston. 

" The last number of the ' North American ' has found its way into our 
woods. I have only glanced at it, but it looks uncommonly weak and water- 
ish. The review of Miss Martineau, which is meant to be double-spiced, is 
no exception. I don't know how it is: but our critics, though not pedantic, 
have not the business-like 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 sledge-hammer stroke of the 'Quarterly.' They 
twaddle out their humor 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. I suppose the paltry price the 
' North ' pays (all it can bear, too, I believe) will not command the variety of 
contributions, and from the highest sources, as with the English journals. 
Then, 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 
criticism. For a' that, however, the old ' North ' is the best periodical we have 
ever had, or, considering its resources, are likely to have, for the present." 


experiences of it had become abundant, he says : " Criticism 
has got to be an old story. It is impossible for one who has 
done that sort of work himself to have any respect for it. How 
can one critic look another in the face without laughing ? " He 
therefore gave it up, believing neither in its fairness, nor in its 
beneficial effect on authors or readers. Sir James Mackintosh, 
after long experience of the same sort, came to the conclusion 
that review-writing was a waste of time, and advised Mr. 
Tytler, the historian, who had occasionally sent an article to 
the " Edinburgh," to abandon the practice ; 13 and in the same 
spirit, De Tocqueville, writing at the end of his life, said, some 
what triumphantly : " Je n'ai jamais fait de ma vie un article 
de revue." I doubt not they were all right, and that society, 
as it advances, will more and more justify their judgment. 

.18 Mr. Prescott's articles in the "North American Review " are as follows, 
those marked with an asterisk (*) constituting, together with the Life of 
Charles Brockden Brown, the volume published in London with the title of 
"Critical and Historical Essays," and in the United States with that of 
" Biographical and Critical Miscellanies ": 

1821. Byron's Letters on Pope. 

1822. Essay-Writing. 

1823. French and English Tragedy. 

1824. Italian Narrative Poetry.* 

1825. Da Ponte's Observations.* 

1826. Scottish Song.* 

1827. Novel-Writing. 

1828. Moliere.* 

1829. Irving's Granada.* 

1830. Asylum for the Blind.* 

1831. Poetry and Romance of the Italians.* 

1832. English Literature of the Nineteenth Century. 

1837. Cervantes.* 

1838. Lockhart's Life of Scott.* 

1839. Kenyon's Poems. 
1839. Chateaubriand. 

1841. Bancroft's United States.* 

1842. Mariotti's Italy. 

1843. Madame Calderon's Mexico.* 
1850. Ticknor's Spanish Literature.* 

At one period, rather early, he wrote a considerable number of short arti 
cles for some of our newspapers; and even in the latter part of his life 
occasionally adopted this mode of communicating his opinions to the public. 
But he did not wish to have them remembered. " This sort of ephemeral 
trash," he said, when recording his judgment of it, " had better be forgotten 
by me as soon as possible." 




ON the 4th of May, 1845, Mr. Prescott made, with his 
own hand, what is very rare in his memoranda, a notice 
of his personal feelings and domestic relations. It is. simple, 
touching, true ; and I recollect that he read it to me a few days 
afterwards with the earnest tenderness which had dictated it. 

" My forty-ninth birthday," he says, " and my twenty-fifth wedding- 
day ; a quarter of a century the one, and nearly half a century the other. 
An English notice of me last month speaks of me as being on the sunny 
side of thirty-five. My life has been pretty much on the sunny side, for 
which I am indebted to a singularly fortunate position in life ; to inesti 
mable parents, who both, until a few months since, were preserved to me 
in health of mind and body ; a wife, who has shared my few troubles 
real and imaginary, and my many blessings, with the sympathy of 
another self; a cheerful temper, in spite of some drawbacks on the score 
of health ; and easy circumstances, which have enabled me to consult my 
own inclinations in the direction and the amount of my studies. Family, 
friends, fortune, these have furnished me materials for enjoyment 
greater and more constant than is granted to most men. Lastly, I must 
not omit my books ; the love of letters, which I have always cultivated 
and which has proved my solace invariable solace under afflictions 
mental and bodily, and of both I have had my share,- and which 
have given me the means of living for others than myself, of living, I 
may hope, when my own generation shall have passed away. If what 
I have done shall be permitted to go down to after times, and my soul 
shall be permitted to mingle with those of the wise and good of future 
generations, I have not lived in vain. I have many intimations that I 
am now getting on the shady side of the hill, and as I go clown, the 
shadows will grow longer and darker. May the dear companion who has 
accompanied me thus far be permitted to go with me to the close, ' till 
ws sleep together at the foot ' as tranquilly as we have lived." 

Immediately after this entry occurs one entirely different, 


and yet not less characteristic. It relates to the early chapters 
of his " Conquest of Peru," which, it will be remembered, he 
had begun some months before, and in which he had been so 
sadly interrupted by the death of his father. 

May llth, 1845. Finished writing not corrected yet, from secre 
tary's illness Chapters I. and II. of narrative, text. On my nocto- 
graph these two chapters make just twenty-nine sheets, which will scarcely 
come to less than thirty eight pages print. But we shall see, when the 
copy, by which I can alone safely estimate, is made. I began composi 
tion Wednesday ; finished Saturday noon ; about three days, or more than 
twelve pages print per diem. I never did so much, I think, before in the 
same time, though I have done more in a single day. At this rate, I 
should work up the " Peru " the two volumes in just about two 
months. Lord, deliver me ! What a fruitful author I might become, 
were I so feloniously intent ! Felo de se, it would be more than all 

I have great doubts about the quality of this same homespun that has 
run off so rapidly. I never found it so hard to come to the starting-point. 
Tlie first chapter was a perfectly painful task, as painful as I ever per 
formed at school. 1 I should not have scraped over it in a month, but I 
bound myself by a forfeit against time. Not a bad way (Mem.) to force 
things out, that might otherwise rot from stagnation. A good way 
enough for narrative, which requires only a little top-dressing. But for 
the philosophy and all that of history, one must delve deeper, and I query 
the policy of haste. It is among possibilities that I may have to rewrite 
said first chapter, which is of the generalizing cast. The second, being 
direct narrative, was pleasant work to me, and as good, I suppose, as the 
raw material will allow. It is not cloth of gold by a long shot ! A 
hero that can't read ! I must look at some popular stories of high 

May 18th, 1845. The two chapters required a good deal of correction ; 
yet, on the whole, read pretty well. I now find that it only needed a 
little courage at the outset to break the ice which had formed over my 
ideas, and the current, set loose runs on naturally enough. I feel a return 
of my old literary interest ; am satisfied that this is the secret of content 
ment, of happiness, for me ; happiness enough for any one in the passing 
[day] and the reflection. I have written this week the few notes to be 
hitched on here and there. They will be few and far between in this 
work. The Spanish quotations corroborative of the text must be more 

The summer of 1845 he passed entirely at Pepperell ; the 
first he had so spent for many years. It was, on the whole, a 
most agreeable and salutary one. The earliest weeks of the 
season were, indeed, saddened by recollections of his father, 

1 This is the first chapter and is on the civilization of the Incas. 
11 P 



peculiarly associated with everything about him on that spot 
where from his infancy their intercourse hud been more free 
and unbroken than it could be amidst the business and cares 
of the town. The mingled feelings of pleasure and sadness 
which scenes and memories like these awakened are, I think, 
very naturally and gracefully expressed in a letter, addressed 
to Mrs. Ticknor, at Geneseo, New York, where we were pass 
ing the summer for her health, in frequent intercourse with 
the cultivated family of the Wadsworths, to which our friend 
alludes among the pleasures of our condition. 

PEPPERELL, June 19, 1845. 

I took a letter out of the post-office last evening which gladdened my 
eyes, as I recognized the hand of a dear friend ; and now take the first 
return of daylight to answer it, and, as you see, with my own hand, 
though this will delay it ; for I cannot trust my broken-down nags to a 
long heat. 

I am rejoiced to hear that you are situated so much to your mind. 
Fine scenery, with the rural quiet broken only by agreeable intercourse 
with two or three polished families ; pleasant drives ; hooks ; the last 
novel that is good for anything, and, of course, not very new ; old books, 
old friends, and most of these at corresponding distances ; what could 
one desire more for the summer, except, indeed, not to be baked alive 
with the heat, and a stomach not beset by the foul fiend Dyspepsia, 
abhorred by gods and men, who has laid me on my back more than one 
day here 1 But we should not croak or be ungrateful. And yet, when 
the horn is filled with plenty, it is apt to make the heart hard. 

We lead a very rational way of life. A morning ride among these 
green lanes, never so green as in the incrry month of June, when the 
whole natural world seems to be just turned out of the Creator's hand ; 
a walk at noon, under the broad shades that the hands of my father pre 
pared for me ; a drive at evening, with Will or the Judge 2 officiating in 

the saddle as squire of dames to Miss B or to Miss C , who 

happens to he on a visit here at present ; the good old stand-by, Sir 
Walter, to bring up the evening. Nor must I omit the grateful fumes of 
the segar to help digestion under the spreading branches of the old oilnut- 
trces. So wags the day. " How happily the hours of Thalaba went 

2 It was customary, in the affectionate intercourse of Mr. Prescott's family, 
to call the eldest son sometimes Will and sometimes " the Colonel," because 
his great-grandfather, of Bunker Hill memory, had been a Colonel; but the 
youngest son, who was much of a pet, was almost always called " the Judge," 
from the office once held by his grandfather. The historian himself long 
wore the sobriquet of "the Colonel," which Dr. Gardiner gave him in his 
school-boy days, and it was now handed down to another generation by 


by ! " I try between-whiles to pick some grains of gold out of the 
Andes. I hope the manufacture will not turn out mere copper-wash. 

June 20. 

Another day has flitted by, and with it my wife has flitted also ; gone 
to town for a cook. O the joys, the pains of housekeeping ! The " neat- 
handed Phyllis " who prepares our savory messes is in love, and fancies 
herself homesick. So here I am monarch of all I survey, a melan 
choly monarchy ! The country never looked so charming to my eyes ; 
the fields were never spread with a richer green ; the trees never seemed 
so flourishing ; the streams never rolled fuller or brighter ; and the moun 
tain background fills up the landscape more magnificently than ever. 
But it is all in mourning for me How can it be otherwise ? Is it not 
full of the most tender and saddening recollections 1 Everything her 
whispers to me of him ; the trees that he planted ; the hawthorn hedges , 
the fields of grain as he planned them last year ; every occupation, the 
rides, the rambles, the social after-dinner talks, the evening novel, all 
speak to me of the friend, the father, with whom I have enjoyed them 
from childhood. I have good bairns, as good as fall to the lot of most 
men ; a wife, whom a quarter of a century of love has made my better 
half ; but the sweet fountain of intellectual wisdom of which I have 
drunk from boyhood is sealed to me forever. One bright spot in life baa 
become dark, dark for this world, and for the future how doubtful ! 

I endeavor to keep everything about me as it used to be in the good 
old time. But the spirit which informed it all, and gave it its sweetest 
grace, is fled. I have lead about the heart-strings, such as I never had 
there before. Yet I never loved the 'spot half so well. 

I am glad to hear that George is drinking of the old Castilian fount 
again, so much at his leisure. I dare say, he will get some good 
draughts at it in the quiet of Geneseo. I should like to break in on him 
and you some day. Quien sabe ? as they say in the land of the hidalyo. 
If I am obliged to take a journey, I shall set my horses that way. But 
I shall abide here, if I can, till late in October. 

Pray tell your old gentleman, that I have had letters from the Harper's 
expressing their surprise at an advertisement they had seen of a volume 
of " Miscellanies, Biographical and Critical," in the London papers, and 
that this had led to an exchange of notes, which will terminate doubtless 
in the rcpublication of the said work here, in the same style with its his 
torical predecessors. 

My mother has not been with us yet. She is conducting the great 
business of transmigration, and we get letters from her every other day. 
The days of the auld manse are almost numbered. 3 

The children send love to you and Anika. Elizabeth says she shall 
write to you soon. Pray remember me to your caro sposo, and believe 
me always 

Most truly and affectionately yours, 


' They were then removing from Bedford Street to Beacon Street, and the 
old house in Bedford Street was about to be pulled down. 


But, notwithstanding the discouragements suggested in the 
preceding letter, his work went on well in the country. His 
habits were as regular as the most perfect control of his own 
time could enable him to make them, and the amount of exer 
cise he took was more than usual ; for the heats of the interior, 
so much greater than anything of the sort to which he had 
been accustomed on the sea-coast, had made the assaults of 
liis old enemy, the dyspepsia, more active than ever, and had 
compelled him to be more than ever in the open air. He rose, 
as he always did, early, and, unless prevented by rain, got an 
hour and a half in the saddle before breakfast. At noon he 
walked half an hour in the shade of his own trees, and towards 
evening drove an hour and a half, commonly stopping so as to 
lounge for a mile or two on foot in some favorite woodland. 
In this way he went through the summer without any very 
severe attack, and did more work than usual.* One result of 
it, however, was, that he became more than ever enamored of 
his country life, and hoped that he should be able to enjoy it 
for at least six months in every year. But he never did. 
Indeed, he was never at Pepperell afterwards as long, in any 
summer, as he was during this one. 

On reaching town, he established himself at once in a house 
he had bought in Beacon Street, overlooking the fine open 
ground of the Mall and the old Common. The purchase had 
been made in the preceding spring, when, during the adjust 
ment of his father's affairs, he determined on a change of 
residence, as both useful and pleasant. He did not. however, 
leave the old house in Bedford Street without a natural regret. 
When he was making his first arrangements for it, he said, 
" It will remove me from my old haunts and the scenes of 
many a happy and some few sad hours. May my destinies be 
as fortunate in my new residence ! " 

The process of settlement in his new house, from which he 
expected no little discomfort, was yet more disagreeable than 
he had anticipated. He called it, " a month of Pandemonium ; 

* He records, for instance, that he wrote in June two chapters, one of 
twenty-five, and the other of twenty -six printed pages, in four days, adding: 
'' I never did up so much yarn in the same time. At this rate, Peru would 
not hold out six months. Can I finish it iu a year? Alas for the reader !" 


an unfurnished house coming to order ; parlors without furni 
ture ; a library without books ; books without time to open 
them. Old faces, new faces, but not the sweet face of Nature." 

Early in December, however, the removal was complete ; 
the library-room, which he had built, was filled with his 
books ; a room over it was secured for quiet study, arid his 
regular work was begun. The first entry in his memoranda 
after this revolution was one on the completion of a year from 
his father's death. " How rapidly," he says, " has it flitted. 
How soon will the little [remaining] space be over for me and 
mine! His death has given me a new position in life, a 
new way of life altogether, and a different view of it from 
what I had before. 1 have many, many blessings left ; family, 
friends, fortune. May I be sensible of them, and may I so 
live that I may be permitted to join him again in the long 

He was now in earnest about the " Conquest of Peru," and 
determined to finish it by the end of December, 1846. But 
he found it very difficult to begin his work afresh. He there 
fore, in his private memoranda, appealed to his own conscience 
in every way he could, by exhortation and rebuke, so as to 
stimulate his flagging industry. He even resorted to his old 
expedient of a money wager. At last, after above a month, 
he succeeded. A little later, he was industrious to his heart's 
content, and obtained an impulse which carried him well 

His collection of materials for the " History of the Conquest 
of Peru " he found to be more complete even than that for 
the corresponding period in Mexico. The characters, too, that 
were to stand in the foreground of his scene, turned out more 
interesting and important than he had anticipated, and so did 
the prominent points of the action and story. No doubt the 
subject itself, considered as a whole, was less grave and grand 
than that of the " Conquest of Mexico," but it was ample and 
interesting enough for the two volumes he had devoted to it ; 
and, from the beginning of the year 1846, he went on his 
course with cheerfulness and spirit. 

Once, indeed, he was interrupted. In March he " strained," 
as he was wont to describe such an access of trouble, the nerve 


of the eye severely. " Heaven knows how," he says, " proba 
bly by manuscript-digging ; and the last fortnight, ever since 
March 10th, I have not read or written, in all, five minutes 
on my History, nor ten minutes on anything else. My notes 
have since been written by ear-work ; snail-like progress. I 
must not use my eye for reading nor writing a word again, till 
restored. When will that be ? Eheu ! pazienza ! " 

It was a long time before he recovered any tolerable use of 
his sight ; never such as he had enjoyed during a large part 
of the time when he was preparing the " Conquest of Mexico." 
On the 4th of May, 1846, he records : 

My fiftieth birth-day ; a half-century ! This is getting on with a ven 
geance. It is one of those frightful halting-places in a man's life, that 
may make him reflect a little. But half a century is too long a road to 
be looked over in half an hour ; so I will defer it till when 1 But 
what have I done the last year ? Not misspent much of it. The first 
eleven months, from April 26th, 1845, to March 26th, 1846, I wrote five 
hundred and twenty pages, text and notes, of my " Conquest of Peru." 
The quantity is sufficient, and, in the summer especially, my industry was 
at fever-heat. But I fear I have pushed the matter indiscreetly. 

My last entry records a strain of the nerve, and my eye continued in so 
disabled a state that, to give it a respite and recruit my strength, I made a 
journey to Washington. I spent nearly a week there, and another at New 
York on my return, which, with a third on the road, took up three weeks. 
I was provided with a very agreeable fellow-traveller in my excellent 
friend, Charles Sumner. The excursion has done me sensible benefit, 
both bodily and mental. I saw much that interested me in Washington; 
made many acquaintances that I recollect with pleasure ; and in New 
York I experienced the same hearty hospitality that I have always found 
there I put myself under Dr. Elliott's hands, and his local ap 
plications to the eye were of considerable advantage to me. The applica 
tion of these remedies, which I continue to use, has done much to restore 
the morbid circulation, and I have hope that, with a temperate use of the 
eye, I may still find it in order for going on with my literary labors. But 
I have symptoms of its decay not to be mistaken or disregarded. I shall 
not aspire to more than three hours' use of it in any day, and for the rest 
I must font per alium. 6 This will retard my progress ; but I have time 
enough, being only half a century old ; and why should I press ? 

6 Qui farit per alium, fadt per se. A pun made originally by Mr. T. Bige- 
low, a distinguished lawyer of this neighborhood, who was at one time Speaker 
of the House of Representatives, and otherwise much connected with the 
government of the Commonwealth. The pleasantry in question may be 
found happily recorded at p. 110 of a little volume of " Miscellanies," pub 
lished in 1821, by Mr. William Tudor, a most agreeable and accomplished 
person, who died as our Qiarge d 1 Affaires in Brazil. Mr. Bigelow, still re- 


But in these hopes he soon found himself disappointed. He 
with difficulty strengthened his sight so far that he was able to 
use his eye half an hour a day, and even this modicum soon 
fell back to ten minutes. He was naturally much disheartened 
by it. " It takes the strength out of me," he said. 

But it did not take out the courage. He was abstinent from 
work, and careful ; he used the remedies appointed ; and econo 
mized his resources of all kind as well as he could. The hot 
weeks of the season, beginning June 25th, except a pleasant 
excursion to Albany, in order to be present at the marriage 
of Miss Van Bensselaer and his friend, Mr. N. Thayer, were 
passed at Nahant, and he found, as he believed, benefit to his 
eye, and his dyspepsia, from the sea-air, although it was rude 
in itself and full of rheumatism. He was even able, by per 
haps a rather too free use of the active remedies given him, to 
read sometimes two hours a day, though rarely more than one 
and a half; but he was obliged to divide this indulgence into 
several minute portions, and separate them by considerable 
intervals of repose. 

The rest of the season, which he passed at Pepperell, was 
equally favorable to effort and industry. His last chapter 
the beautiful one on the latter part of Gasca's healing adminis 
tration of the affairs of Peru, and the character of that wise 
and beneficent statesman was finished in a morning's gallop 
through the woods, which were then, at the end of October, 
shedding their many-colored honors on his head. The last 
notes were completed a little later, November 7th, making just 
about two years and three months for the two volumes. But 
he seems to have pushed his work somewhat indiscreetly at 
last; for, when he closed it, the resources of his sight were 
again considerably diminished. 

The composition of the " Conquest of Peru " was, therefore, 
finished within the time he had set for it a year previously, 
and, the work being put to press without delay, the printing 
was completed in the latter part of March, 1847 ; about two 

jnembered by a few of us, as he was in Mr. Tudor's time, for " his stores 
of humor and anecdote," was the father of Mrs. Abbott Lawrence, and 
the grandfather of Mr. James Lawrence, who, as elsewhere noted, married 
the only daughter of Mr. Prescott the historian. 


years and nine months from the day when he first put pen to 
paper. It made just a thousand pages, exclusive of the Appen 
dix, and was stereotyped under the careful correction and super 
vision of his friend, Mr. Folsom, of Cambridge. 

While it was passing through the press, or just as the stereo 
typing was fairly begun, he made a contract with the Messrs. 
Harper to pay for seven thousand five hundred copies on the 
day of publication at the rate of one dollar per copy, to be sold 
within two years, and to continue to publish at the same rate 
afterwards, or to surrender the contract to the author at his 
pleasure ; terms, I suppose, more liberal than had ever been 
offered for a work of grave history on this side of the Atlantic. 
In London it was published by Mr. Bentley, who purchased 
the copyright for eight hundred pounds, under the kind auspi 
ces of Colonel Aspinwall ; again a large sum, as it was already 
doubtful whether an exclusive privilege could be legally main 
tained in Great Britain by a foreigner. 

An author rarely or never comes to the front of the stage 
and makes his bow to the public without some anxiety. The 
present case was not an exception to the general rule. Not 
withstanding the solid and settled reputation of " Ferdinand 
and Isabella," and the brilliant success of the " Conquest of 
Mexico," their author was certainly not free from misgivings 
when his new argosy was launched. He felt that his subject 
had neither the breadth and importance of the subjects of 
those earlier works, nor the poetical interest that constituted 
so attractive an element in the last of them. About negli 
gence in the matter of his style, too, he had some fears ; for 
he had written the " Conquest of Peru " with a rapidity that 
might have been accounted remarkable in one who had the 
free use of his eyes, turning off sometimes sixteen printed 
pages in a day, and not infrequently ten or a dozen. About 
the statement of facts he had no anxiety. He had been care 
ful and conscientious, as he always was ; and, except for mis 
takes trifling, accidental, and inevitable, honest criticism, he 
knew, could not approach him. 

But whatever might have been his feelings when the " Con 
quest of Peru " first came from the press, there was soon noth 
ing of doubt mingled with them. The reviews, great and 


email, at home arid in Europe, spoke out at once loudly and 
plainly ; but the public spoke yet louder and plainer. In five 
months five thousand copies of the American edition had been 
sold. At about the same time, an edition of half that number 
had been exhausted in England. It had been republished in 
the original in Paris, and translations were going on into 
French, German, Spanish, and Dutch. A more complete suc 
cess in relation to an historical work of so much consequence 
could, I suppose, hardly have been asked by any author, how 
ever much he might previously have been favored by the 
public. 8 


May 18th, 1845. I received the " Edinburgh Review" this week. It 
contains an article on the " Conquest of Mexico," written with great spirit 
and elegance, and by far the most cordial as well as encomiastic I have ever 
received from a British journal ; much beyond, I suspect, what the public 
will think I merit. It says, Nothing in the conduct of the work they 
would wish otherwise, that I unite the qualifications of the best histori 
cal writers of the day, Scott, Napier, Tytler, is emphatic in the com 
mendation of the style, &c., &c. I begin to have a high opinion of Re 
views ! The only fault they find with me is, that I deal too hardly with 
Cortes. Shade of Montezuma ! They say I have been blind several 
years ! The next thing, I shall hear of a subscription set on foot for the 
blind Yankee author. But I have written to the editor, Napier, to set it 
right, if he thinks it worth .while. Received also twenty columns of 
" newspaperial " criticisms on the " Conquest," in a succession of papers 
from Quebec. I am certainly the cause of some wit, and much folly, in 

In relation to the mistake in the " Edinburgh Review " 
about his blindness, he expressed his feelings very naturally 
and very characteristically, when writing immediately after 
wards, to his friend, Colonel Aspinwall, London. He was too 
proud to submit willingly to commiseration, and too honest to 
accept praise for difficulties greater than he had really over 

" I am very much obliged to you," he wrote May 1 5th, 1 845, " for 
your kind suggestion about the error in the ' Edinburgh Review ' on my 
blindness. I have taken the hint and written myself to the editor, Mr. 
Napier, by this steamer. I have set him right about the matter, and he 
can correct it, if he thinks it worth while. I can't say I like to be called 

6 To January 1, 1860, there had been sold of the American and English 
euitions of the " Conquest of Peru," 16,965 copies. 


blind. I have, it is true, but one eye ; but that has done me some service, 
and, with fair usage, will, I trust, do me some more. I have been so 
troubled witli inflammations, that I have not been able use it for months, 
and twice for several years together." 

The following letter from the editor of the " Edinburgh 
Review " to Mr. Everett, then American Minister in London, 
and the subsequent memorandum of Mr. Prescott himself, 
show the end of tlu's slight matter. 


EDINBURGH, June 10, 1845. 

A short absence in the country has till now prevented me from acknowl 
edging the receipt of the flattering letter of the 2d with which you have 
been pleased to honor me, covering a very acceptable enclosure from Mr. 

Thank God, there is an extensive as well as rich neutral territory of 
science and literature, where the two nations may, and ever ought to meet, 
without any of those illiberal feelings and degrading animosities which too 
often impart a malignant aspect to the intercourse and claims of civil life; 
imd it has really given me high satisfaction to find, that both you and Mr. 
Prescott himself are satisfied that his very great merits have been kindly 
proclaimed in the article which I have lately had the pleasure of inserting 
in the " Edinburgh Review." 

I hope I may request that, when you shall have any call otherwise to 
write to Mr. Prescott, you will convey to him the expression of my satis 
faction at finding that he is pleased with the meed of honest approbation 
that is there awarded to him. 

I am truly glad to learn from that gentleman himself, that the statement 
as to his total blindness, which I inserted in a note to the article, on what 
I thought good authority, proves to be inaccurate ; and from his wish 
natural to a lofty spirit that he should not be thought to have originated 
or countenanced any statement as to the additional merits of historical re 
search which so vast a bereavement would infer, I shall take an opportu 
nity to correct my mistake ; a communication which will, besides, prove 
most welcome to the learned world. 

With respect to the authorship of the article, there needs to be no hesi 
tation to proclaim it. With the exception of a very few editorial inser 
tions and alterations, which do not by arty means enhance its merits, it 
was wholly written by Mr. Charles Phillipps, a young barrister and son 
of Mr. Phillipps, one of the Under-Secretaries of State for the Home-De 
partment. He is the author of some other very valuable contributions. 
You are quite at liberty to mention this to Mr. Prescott. 

I have the honor to remain, with very great esteem, dear sir, 
Your obliged and faithful servant, 




- August 10th, 1845. The editor of last "Edinburgh Review" has 
politely inserted a note correcting the statement, in a preceding number, 
of my blindness, on pretty good authority, viz. myself. So I trust it 
will find credit. 


PEPPERELL, Sept. 28, 1845. 

The Gasca manuscript, which I believe is in the box, will be in 

perfect season, as I am yet a good distance from that period. 7 I have been 
very industrious this summer, having written half a volume in these quiet 
shades of Pepperell. This concludes my first volume, of which the In 
troduction, about one hundred and fifty pages, took me a long while. The 
rest will be easy sailing enough, though I wish my hero was more of a 
gentleman and less of a bandit. I shall not make more than a brace of 
volumes, lam resolved. Ford has sent me his "Handbook of Spain." 
What an olio, podrida it is ! criticism, travels, history, topography, &c., 
&c., all in one. It is a perfect treasure in its way, and will save me the 
trouble of a voyage to Spain, if I should be inclined to make it before 
writing " Philip." He speaks of you like a gentleman, as he ought to 
do ; and I have come better out of his hands than I did once on a 

Have you got the copy of my " Miscellanies " I ordered for you ? You 
will see my portrait in it, which shows more imagination than anything 
else in the book, I believe. The great staring eyes, however, will show 
that I am not blind, that 's some comfort. 


BOSTON, Nov. 13, 1845. 

And now, my dear friend, I want to say a word about the man 
uscripts, which I found awaiting me on my return to town. I have as 
yet, with the aid of my secretary's eyes, looked through only about half 
of them. They are very precious documents. The letters from San 
Geronimo de Yuste have much interest, and show that Charles the Fifth 
was not, as Robertson supposed, a retired monk, who resigned the world, 
and all the knowledge of it, when he resigned his crown. I sec mentioned 
in a statement of the manuscripts discovered by Gonzalcs, printed in our 
newspapers and written by Mr. Wheaton, our Minister at Berlin, that one 
of these documents was a diary kept by the Major Domo Quixada and 
Vasquez de Molina, the Emperor's private secretary, to be transmitted to 
Dona Juana, the Princess of Portugal ; which journal contains a minute 
account of his health, actions, and conversation, &c., and that the diary 
furnished one great source of Gouzales's information. It is now, I sup- 

* An important MS. relating to the administration of Gasca in Peru. 


pose, too late to get it, as most probably the situation of the manuscript to 
not known to the clerks of the archives. Mignct told a friend of mine that 
he should probably publish some of the most important documents he had 
got from Gonzales before long. I have no trouble on that s,core, as I feel 
already strong enough with your kind assistance. The documents relating 
to the Armada have extraordinary interest. The despatches of Philip are 
eminently characteristic of the man, and show that nothing, great or little, 
was done without his supervision. We are just now exploring the letters 
of the Santa Cruz collection. But this I have done only at intervals, 
when I could snatch leisure. In a week or two I hope to be settled. 


BOSTON, Aug. 31, 1846. 

The translation 8 appears faithful, as far as I have compared it. 

As to its literary execution in other respects, a foreigner cannot decide. 
But I wish you would give my thanks to the translator for the pleasure it 
has given me. His notes on the whole are courteous, though they show 
that Scnor Sabau has contemplated the ground often, from a different 
point of view from myself. But this is natural. For am I not the child 
of democracy ? Yet no bigoted one, I assure you. I am no friend to 
bigotry in politics or religion, and I believe that forms are not so impor 
tant as the manner in which they are administered. The mechanical ex- 
ecution of the book is excellent. It gives me real pleasure to see myself 
put into so respectable a dress in Madrid. I prize a translation into the 
noble Castilian more than any other tongue. For if my volumes are 
worthy of translation into it, it is the best proof that I have not wasted 
my time, and that I have contributed something in reference to the insti 
tutions and history of the country which the Spaniards themselves would 
not willingly let die. 


BOSTON, Oct. 13, 1846. 

I have great pleasure in acknowledging the receipt of the six volumes 
of Rdazioni, which you have been so obliging as to send me through Mr. 

It is a work of inestimable value, and .furnishes the most authentic basis 
for history. Your method of editing it appears to me admirable. The 
brief but comprehensive historical and chronological notices at the begin 
ning, and your luminous annotations throughout, put the reader in pos 
session of all the information he can desire in regard to the subjects 
treated in the Relazioni. At the close of the third volume, on the Otto 
mans, you place an Index of the contents of the volume, which is a great 

8 Of " Ferdinand and Isabella," by Sabau. 


I suppose, from what you say in the Preface, there will be a full Index 
of the whole when completed. 

I have a numher of Venetian Relazioni in manuscript, copied from the 
libraries of Berlin and Gotha. They relate to the court of Philip the 
Second, on which you must now, I suppose, be occupied, and I shall look 
forward to the conclusion of your learned labors with the greatest interest. 
Many of your manuscripts, I see, are derived from the Marquis Gino 
Capponi's collection. It must be very rich indeed. I am much grieved 
to -learn that his eyes have now failed him altogether. My own privations 
in this way, though I have the partial use of my eyes, make me feel how 
heavy a blow it is to a scholar like him. It is gratifying to reflect that 
he bears up under it with so much courage, and that the misfortune does 
not quench his generous enthusiasm for letters. Pray give my sincere 
respects and regards to him, for, though I never saw him, I had the 
pleasure formerly of communicating with him, and I know his character 
so well that I feel as if I knew him personally. 


EDGEWORTH'S TOWN, Aug. 28, 1847. 

Your Preface to your " History of the Conquest of Peru " is most 
interesting ; especially that part which concerns the author individually. 
That delicate integrity which made him apprehend that he had received 
praise or sympathy from the world on false pretences, converts what 
might have been pity into admiration, without diminishing the feeling for 
his suffering and his privations, against which he has so nobly, so perse- 
veringly, so successfully struggled. Our admiration and highest esteem 
now are commanded by his moral courage and truth. 

What pleasure and pride honest, proper pride you must feel, my 
dear Mr. Prescott, in the sense of difficulty conquered ; of difficulties 
innumerable vanquished by the perseverance and fortitude of genius ! It 
is a fine example to human nature, and will form genius to great works 
in the rising generation and in ages yet unborn. 

What a new and ennobling moral view of posthumous fame ! A view 
which short-sighted, narrow-minded mediocrity cannot reach, and probably 
would call romantic, but which the noble-minded realize to themselves, 
and ask not either the sympathy or the comprehension of the common 
place ones. You need not apologize for speaking of yourself to the 
world. No one in the world, whose opinion is worth looking to, will 
ever think or call this " egotism," any more than they did in the case of 
Sir Walter Scott. Whenever he spoke of himself it was with the same 
noble and engaging simplicity, the same endearing confidence in the sym 
pathy of the good and true-minded, and the same real freedom from all 
vanity which we see in your addresses to the public. 

As to your judgments of the advantages peculiar to each of your His 
tories, the " Conquest of Mexico " and the " Conquest of Peru," 
of course you, who have considered and compared them in all lights, must 
be accurate in your estimate of the facility or difficulty each subject pro- 


scntcd ; and you have well pointed out in your Preface to " Peru " the 
difficulty of making out a unity of subject, where, in fact, the first 
unity ends, as we may dramatically consider it, at the third act, when the 
conquest of the Incas is effected, but not the conquest of Peru for 
Spain, which is the thing to be done. You have admirably kept the 
mind's eye upon this, the real end, and have thus carried on, and pro 
longed, and raised, as you carried forward, the interest sustained to the 
last moment happily by the noble character of Gasca, with which termi 
nates the history of the mission to Peru. 

You sustain with the dignity of a just historian your mottoes from 
Claudian and from Lope de Vega. And in doing this con amore yon 
carry with you the sympathy of your reader. The cruelties of the Span 
iards to the inoffensive, amiable, hospitable, trusting Peruvians and their 
Incas are so revolting, that, unless you had given vent to indignation, the 
reader's natural, irrepressible feelings would have turned against the nar 
rator, in whom even impartiality would have been suspected of want of 
moral sense. 

I wish that you could have gone further into that comparison or in 
quiry which you have touched upon and so ably pointed out for further 
inquiry, How far the want of political freedom is compatible or incom 
patible with happiness or virtue 1 You well observe, that under the Incas 
this experiment was tried, or was tiying, upon the Peruvians, and that the 
contrary experiment is now trying in America. Much may be said, 
but much more is to be seen, on both sides of this question. There is a 
good essay by a friend of mine, perhaps of yours, the late Aube Morel- 
let, upon the subject of personal and political freedom. I wonder what 
your negroes would say touching the comforts of slavery. They seem to 
feel freedom a curse, when suddenly given, and, when unprepared for the 
consequences of independence, lie down with the cap of liberty pulled 
over their ears and go to sleep or to death in some of our freed, lazy colo 
nies and the empire of Hayti. But, I suppose, time and motives will 
settle all this, and waken souls in black bodies as well as in white. Mean 
while, I cannot but wish you had discussed a little more this question, 
even if you had come upon the yet more difficult question of races, and 
their unconquerable, or their conquerable or exhaustible differences. Who 
could do this so well 1 

I admire your adherence to your principle of giving evidence in your 
notes and appendices for your own accuracy, and allowing your own opin 
ions to be rejudged by your readers in furnishing them with the means of 
judging which they could not otherwise procure, and which you, having 
obtained witli so much labor and so much favor from high and closed 
sources, bring before us gratis with such unostentatious candor and hu 

I admire and favor, too, your practice of mixing biography with his 
tory ; genuine sayings and letters by which the individuals give their own 
character and their own portraits. And I thank you for the quantity of 
information you give in the notices of the principal authorities to whom 
you refer. These biographical notices add weight and value to the 
authorities, in the most agreeable manner ; though I own that I was 
often mortiiied by my own ignorance of the names you mention of great 


men. your familiars. You have made me long to have known your 
admirable friend, Don Fernandez de Navarrete, of whom you make such 
honorable and touching mention in your Preface. 

I must content, myself, however, and comfortably well I do content 
myself, with knowing your dear friend Mr. Ticknor, whom I do esteem 
jvnd admire with all my heart, as you do. 

You mention Mr. O. Rich as a bibliographer to whom you have been 
obliged. It occurred to me that this might be the Mr. O. Rich residing 
in London, to whom Mr. Ticknor had told me I might apply to convey 
packets or books to him, and, upon venturing to ask the question, Mr. 
Rich answered me in the most obliging manner, confirming, though with 
great humility, his identity, and offering to convey any packets 1 might 
wish to send to Boston. 

I yesterday sent to him a parcel to go in his next box of books to Mr. 
Ticknor. In it I have put, addressed to the care of Mr. Ticknor, a very, 
trifling offering for you, my dear sir, which, trifling as it is, 1 hope and 
trust your good nature will not disdain, half a dozen worked marks to 
put in books ; and I intended those to be used in your books of reference 
when you are working, as I hope you are, or will be, at your magnum 
opus, the History of Spain. One of these marks, that which is marked 
in green silk, "Maria E for Prescott's works " ! ! ! is my own handi 
work every stitch ; in my eighty-first year, eighty-two almost, I shall 
be eighty-two the 1st of January. I am proud of being able, even in this 
trifling matter, to join my young friends in this family in working souvenirs 
for the great historian. 

Believe me, my dear Mr. Prescott, your much obliged and highly grati 
fied friend, and admiring reader and marker, 



BOSTON, Jan. 27, 1848. 

I have been overhauling my Philip the Second treasures, and 

making out a catalogue of them. It is as beautiful a collection, printed 
and manuscript, I will venture to say, as history-monger ever had on his 
shelves. How much am I indebted to you ! There are too many of 
your own books in it, however, by half, and you must not fail to advise 
me when you want any or all of them, which I can easily understand 
may be the case at any time. 



Pardonncz moi le long retard que j'ai mis a vous remercier du pre- 
cieux envoi que vous avez eu la bonte de me faire ; la lentcur de mes 
lectures d'aveugle, surtout en langue e'trangere, le peu de loisir que me 
laisse le triste e'tat de ma sante et des travaux imperieux auxqucls j'ai 
peine a suffire, voila quelles ont e'te' les causes dc ma negligence apparente 


a remplir un devoir de gratitude et de haute estime pour vous. Je von- 
lais avoir completement lu vos deux nouveaux et tres remnrquables 
volumes. Je trouve que, pour le fond, pour les recherches, la nettete et 
la justesse des vues, ils sont egaux a vos precedentes publications, ct que 
peut-etre ils les surpassent pour la forme. Le style est sobre et ferine, 
1'exposition nette ct la partie dramatique de 1'histoirc vivement traitee. 
Poursuivez, Monsieur, des travaux dont le succes egale le merite, et qui 
ont rendu votre nom illustre de ce cote-ci de 1'Atlantique ; donnez' leur 
toute I'etendue que vos projets comportaient, et ne vous laissez pas 
decourager par la menace d'un mal qui, j'en ai fait I'expcrience, est, 
dans la carriere d'historien, une gene, un embarras, mais nullement nn 

Vous me demandez si la necessite, mere de toute industrie, ne m'a pas 
Buggere quclques methodes particulieres, qui attenucnt pour moi les diffi- 
cultes du travail d'aveuglc. Je suis force d'avouer que je n'ai rien 
d'intercssant k vous dire. Ma fa9on de travailler est la memo qu'au terns 
ou j'avais I'usage de mes yeux, si ce n'cst que je dicte et me fais lire ; 
je me fais lire tons les mateYiaux que j'emploie, car je ne m'en rapporte 
qu'a moi-memc pour 1'exactitude des recherches et le choix des notes. II 
resulte de la une certaine perte de temps. Le travail est long, mais voilk 
tout ; je marche lentcment mais je marche. II n'y a qu'un moment diffi 
cile, c'est le passage subit de 1'ecriture manuelle a la dicte'e ; quand uno 
fois cc ]>oint est gagne, on ne trouve plus de veritables opines. Pcut-etre, 
Monsieur, avcz-vous deja 1'habitude de dieter a un secretaire ; si ccla est, 
mettez vous a la faire exclusivement, ct ne vous inquietez pas du reste. 
En quelques semaines vous deviendrez ce que je suis moi-meme, aussi 
calme, aussi present d'csprit pour tons les details du style que si je 
travaillais avec mes yeux, la plume a la main. Ce n'est pas au point ou 
vous etes parvenu qu'on s'arrete ; vous avez eprouve vos forces ; elles ne 
vous manqueront pas ; ct le succes est certain pour tout cc que vous ten- 
terez de'forrnais. Je suivrai de loin vos travaux avec la sympathie d'un 
ami de votre gloire ; croyez le, Monsieur, ct agreez avec mes remcrcimenta 
les plus vifs, 1'assurance de mes sentiments d'affection et d'admiration. 

22 Fevrier, 1848. 



I hope that you will receive with this letter, or at least very soon after 
wards, a volume which I have intrusted to the care of our friend, Mr. 
Bancroft. 9 It contains only the gleanings of the harvest, and I can 
hardly find a sufficiently modest name for it. After thirty years I found 
more to add, and, I must say, more to correct, in my work on the " Mid 
dle Ages," than could well be brought into the foot-notes of a new edition. 
I have consequently produced, under the title " Supplemental Notes," 

9 Then Minister of the United States in London. 


almost a new volume, but referring throughout to the original work, so 
that it cannot be of any utility to those who do not compare the two. 
This is, perhaps, rather a clumsy kind of composition, and I am far from 
expecting much reputation by it : but I really hope that it may be useful 
to the readers of the former volumes. A great deal required expansion 
and illustration, besides what I must in penitence confess to be the over 
sights and errors of the work itself. I have great pleasure, however, in 
sending copies to my friends, both here and what few I possess in the 
United States ; and among them I am proud to rank your name, sep 
arated as we are by the Atlantic barrier, which at my age it would be too 
adventurous to pass. Rumors have from time to time reached me, that, 
notwithstanding the severe visitation of Providence under which you labor, 
you have contemplated yourself so arduous a voyage. May you have 
health and spirits to accomplish it, while I yet remain on earth ! But I 
have yesterday entered my seventy-second year. 

I will not speak of the condition of Europe. You have been conver 
sant with the history of great and rapid revolutions ; but nothing in the 
past annals of mankind can be set by the side of the last months. We 
rejoice in trembling, that God has hitherto spared this nation ; but the 
principles of disintegration, which France and Germany are so terribly 
suffering under, cannot but be at work among us. 

I trust that you are proceeding as rapidly as circumstances will permit 
with your fourth great History, that of Philip the Second. It always 
appears marvellous to me, how you achieve so much under so many im 

Believe me, my dear sir, 

Most faithfully yours, 



NAHANT, FITFUL HEAD, Aug. 5, 1848. 

We are passing our summer in our rocky eyrie at Nahant, tak 
ing in the cool breezes that blow over the waters, whose spray is dashing 
up incessantly under my window. I am idly-busy with looking over my 
Philip the Second collection, like one who looks into the dark gulf, into 
which he is afraid to plunge. Had I half an eye in my head, I should not 
" stand shivering on the brink " so long. The Ticknors are at a very 
pleasant place on the coast, some twenty miles off, at Manchester. I hear 
from them constantly, but see them rarely. 


LONDON, Nov. 18, 1848. 

I sadly fear that, if a strict investigation of my last date took place, it 
would be found that I had lagged behind the yearly bargain ; and I fear I 
am the delinquent. I will honestly own why I put olf writing for some 



time ; I wished to have read your " Peru " before I did so, and to tell you 
what I thought of it. I will carry my honesty further, and intrepidly 
avow, that I still labor under the same disqualification, though in fact this 
is both my shame and my merit, for I am very sure it would have been a 
far more agreeable and delightful occupation to me than the many tedious, 
harassing shreds of business which engross and rule all my hours. I can 
as honestly tell you, that I have heard very high and most concurrent 
praise of it, and there are many who prefer it to " Mexico." I wonder 
what you are engaged upon now ; is it the ancient project of " Philip the 
Second " 1 

Europe is in the meanwhile acting history faster than you can write it. 
The web becomes more inextricable every day, and the tissues do not wear 
lighter hues. I think our two Saxon families present very gratifying con 
trasts, on the whole, to all this fearful pother. 

You will probably be aware, that my thoughts and feelings must have 
of late been mainly concentrated upon a domestic bereavement, 10 and, at 
the end of my letter, you will read a new name. After my long silence, I 
was really anxious to take a very early opportunity of assuring you that it 
inherits and hopes to perpetuate all the esteem and affection for you that 
were acquired under the old one. My dear friend, absence and distance 
only rivet on my spirit the delight of claiming communion with such a one 
as yours; for I am sure it is still as bright, gentle, and high-toned, as 
when I first gave myself to its spell. 

I must not write to his brother-historian without mentioning that Ma- 
caulay tells me the two first volumes of his History will be out in less than 
a fortnight. Tell Sumncr how unchangcdly I feel towards him, though, 
Z fear, I have been equally guilty to him. 
Does Mrs. Ticknor still remember me ? 
Ever, my dear Prescott, 

Affectionately yours, 


M The death of his father, sixth Earl of Carlisle. 




SOMEWHAT earlier than the period at which we are now 
arrived, in fact, before the " Conquest of Peru " was 
published, an interesting circumstance occurred connected 
immediately with the " History of Philip the Second," which 
Mr. Prescott was at this time just about to undertake in ear 
nest, and for which he had been making arrangements and 
preparations many years. I refer to the fact, now well known, 
that Mr. J. Lothrop Motley, who has since gained so much 
honor for himself and for his country as an historian, was 
in ignorance of Mr. Prescott's purposes already occupied 
with a kindred subject. 1 The moment, therefore, that he was 
aware of this condition of things and the consequent possibility 
that there might be an untoward interference in their plans, he 
took the same frank and honorable course with Mr. Prescott, 
that Mr. Prescott had taken in relation to Mr. Irving, when 
he found that they had both been contemplating a " History 
of the Conquest of Mexico." The result was the same. Mr. 
Prescott, instead of treating the matter as an interference, 
earnestly encouraged Mr. Motley to go on, and placed at his 
disposition such of the books in his library as could be useful 
to him. How amply and promptly he did it, Mr. Motley's 
own account will best show. It is in a letter, dated at Rome, 
26th February, 1859, the day he heard of Mr. Prescott's 

1-" The Rise of the Dutch Republic," not published until 1556. 


death, and was addressed to his intimate friend, Mr. William 
Amoiy, of Boston, Mr. Prescott's much loved brother-in-law. 

It seems to me but as yesterday, though it must be now twelve years 
ago, that I was talking with our ever-lamented friend Stackpole 2 about 
my intention of writing a history upon a subject to which I have since 
that time been devoting myself. I had then made already some general 
studies in reference to it, without being in the least aware that Prescott 
had the intention of writing the " History of Philip the Second." Stack- 
pole had heard the fact, and that large preparations had already been made 
for the work, although "Peru" had not yet been published. I felt nat 
urally much disappointed. I was conscious of the immense disadvantage 
to myself of making my appearance, probably at the same time, before the 
public, with a work, not at all similar in plan to Philip the Second, but 
which must, of necessity, traverse a portion of the same ground. 

My first thought was inevitably, as it were, only of myself. It seemed 
to me that I had nothing to do, but to abandon at once a cherished dream, 
and probably to renounce authorship. For I had not first made up my 
mind to write a history, and then cast about to take up a subject. My 
subject had taken me up, drawn me on, and absorbed me into itself. It 
was necessary for me, it seemed, to write the book I had been thinking 
much of, even if it were destined to fall dead from the press, and I had no 
inclination or interest to write any other. When I had made up my mind 
accordingly, it then occurred to me that Prescott might not be pleased 
that I should come forward upon his ground. It is true, that no announce 
ment of his intentions had been made, and that he had not, I believe, even 
commenced his preliminary studies for Philip. At the same time, I thought 
it would be disloyal on my part not to go to him at once, confer with him 
on the subject, and, if I should find a shadow of dissatisfaction on his mind 
at my proposition, to abandon my plan altogether. 

I had only the slightest acquaintance with him at that time. I was 
comparatively a young man, and certainly not entitled, on any ground, to 
more than the common courtesy which Prescott never could refuse to any 
one. But he received me with such a frank and ready and liberal sym 
pathy, and such an open-hearted, guileless expansiveness, that I felt a 
personal affection for him from that hour. I remember the interview as 
if it had taken place yesterday. It was in his father's house, in his own 
library, looking on the garden. House and garden, honored father and 
illustrious son, alas ! all numbered with the things that were ! He as 
sured me that he had not the slightest objection whatever to my plan, 
that lie wished me every success, and that, if there were any books in his 
library bearing on my subject that I liked to use, they were entirely at 
my service. After I had expressed my gratitude for his kindness and cor 
diality, by which I had been, in a very few moments, set completely at 
case, so far as my fears of his disapprobation went, I also, very nat 
urally stated my opinion, that the danger was entirely mine, and that it 

8 Mr. J. L. Stackpole, a gentleman of much cultivation, and a kinsman of 
Mr. Motley by marriage, was 'suddenly killed by a railroad accident in 


was rather wilful of me thus to risk such a collision at my first venture, 
the prohable consequence of which was utter shipwreck. I recollect how 
kindly and warmly he combated this opinion, assuring me that no two 
books, as he said, ever injured each other, and encouraging me in the 
warmest and most earnest manner to proceed on the course I had marked 
out for myself. 

Had the result of that interview been different, had he distinctly 
stated, or even vaguely hinted, that it would be as well if I should select 
some other topic, or had he only sprinkled me with the cold water of con 
ventional and commonplace encouragement, I should have gone from 
him with a chill upon my mind, and, no doubt, have laid down the pen at 
once ; for, as I have already said, it was not that I cared about writing a 
history, but that I felt an inevitable impulse to write one particular history. 

You know how kindly he always spoke of and to me ; and the generous 
manner in which, without the slightest hint from me, and entirely unex 
pected by me, he attracted the eyes of his hosts of readers to my forth 
coming work, by so handsomely alluding to it in the Preface to his own, 
must be almost as fresh in your memory as it is in mine. 

And although it seems easy enough for a man of world-wide reputation 
thus to extend the right hand of fellowship to an unknown and struggling 
aspirant, yet I fear that the history of literature will show that such in 
stances of disinterested kindness are as rare as they are noble. 3 

To this frank and interesting statement I can add, that Mr. 
Prescott told it all to me at the time, and then asked me 
whether I would not advise him to offer Mr. Motley the use 
of his manuscript collections for " Philip the Second," as he 
had already offered that of his printed books. I told him, that 
I thought Mr. Motley would hardly be willing to accept such 
an offer ; and, besides, that, if there were anything peculiarly 
his own, and which he should feel bound to reserve, as giving 
especial authority and value to his History, it must be the 
materials he had, at so much pains and cost, collected from 
the great archives and libraries all over Europe. The idea, I 
confess, struck me as somewhat extravagant, and no doubt he 
would have felt pain in giving away personal advantages so 
obvious, so great, and so hardly earned ; but, from the good- 

8 The whole of this striking letter is to be found in the Proceedings of 
the Massachusetts Historical Society for 1858,1859, pp. 266-271. It is a 
true and touching tribute to Mr. Prescott's personal character and intellect 
ual eminence, the more to be valued, since, in 1860, Mr. Motley was elected 
to the place left vacant in the French Institute by Mr. Prescott's death, an 
honor not only fit in itself, but peculiarly appropriate, since it preserves the 
succession of Spanish historians in the same chair unbroken, from the time 
of Navarrete's election, half a century earlier. 


ness of his nature, I have no doubt that he was capable of the 

In due time, as we have seen, the " Conquest of Peru " was 
published ; and Mr. Prescott naturally turned to the next great 
work he was to undertake, and which had been ten years, at 
least, among his well-digested plans for the future. 

His position for such an undertaking was, in many respects, 
fortunate. The state of his eyes indeed was bad, and his gen 
eral health seemed a little shaken. But he was only fifty-two 
years old ; his spirits and courage were as high as they had 
been in his youth ; his practice as a writer and his experience 
of the peculiar difficulties he had to encounter were as great as 
they well could be ; and, above all, success had set a seal on 
his previous brilliant efforts which seemed to make the future 

Still he paused. The last sheets of the " Conquest of Peru " 
were corrected for the press, and the work was therefore en 
tirely off his hands, in March, 1847 ; as, in fact, it had been 
substantially since the preceding October. But in March, 
1848, he could not be said to have begun in earnest his studies 
for the reign of Philip the Second. This long hesitation was 
owing in part to the reluctance that always held him back from 
entering promptly on any new field of labor, and partly to the 
condition of his sight. 

The last, in fact, had now become a subject of such serious 
consideration and anxiety, as he had not felt for many years. 
The power of using his eye his only eye, it should always 
be remembered had been gradually reduced again, until it 
did not exceed one hour a day, and that divided into two por 
tions, at considerable intervals from each other. On exami 
nation, the retina was found to be affected anew, and incipient 
amaurosis, or decay of the nerve, was announced. Hopes were 
held out by an oculist who visited Boston at this period, and 
whom Mr. Prescott consulted for the first time, that relief 
more or less considerable might still be found in the resources 
of the healing art, and that he might yet be enabled to prose 
cute his labors as well as he had done. But he could not accept 
these hopes, much as he desired to do so. He knew that for 
thirty-four years one eye had been compelled to do the work of 


two, and that the labor thus thrown upon the single organ 
liowever carefully he had managed and spared it had been 
more than it could bear. He felt that its powers were decay 
ing ; in some degree, no doubt, from advancing years, but more 
from overwork, which yet could not have been avoided with 
out abandoning the main hopes of his literary life. He there 
fore resorted for counsel to physicians of eminence, who were 
his friends, but who were not professed oculists, and laid his 
case before them. It was not new to them. They had known 
it already in most of its aspects, but they now gave to it again 
their most careful consideration. The result of their judg 
ment coincided with his own previously formed opinion ; and, 
under their advice, he deliberately made up his mind, as he 
has recorded it, " to relinquish all use of the eye for the future 
in his studies, and to be content if he could preserve it for the 
more vulgar purposes of life." 

It was a ^hard decision. I am not certain that he made it 
without a lingering hope, such as we are all apt to indulge, 
even in our darkest moments, concerning whatever regards 
health and life ; a hope, I mean, that there might still be a 
revival of power in the decayed organ, and that it might still 
serve him. in some, degree, as it had done, if not to the same 
extent. But if he had such a hope, he was careful not to fos 
ter it or rely on it. His record on this point is striking and 

Thus was I in a similar situation with that in which I found myself 
on beginning the " History of Ferdinand and Isabella " ; with this 
important difference. Then I had hopes to cheer me on ; the hope of 
future improvement, as the trouble then arose from an excessive sensi 
bility of the nerve. But this hope has now left me, and forever. And 
whatever plans I am to make of future study must be formed on the same 
calculations as those of a blind man. As this desponding conviction 
pressed on me, it is no wonder that I should have paused and greatly 
hesitated before involving myself in the labyrinth of researches relating to 
one of the most busy, comprehensive, and prolific periods of European 
history. The mere sight of this collection from the principal libraries 
and archives of Europe, which might have daunted the resolution of a 
younger man, in the possession of his faculties, filled me with apprehen 
sion bordering on despair ; and I must be pardoned if I had not the 
heart to plunge at once into the arena, and, blindfold as I was, engage 
again in the conflict. 

And then I felt how slow must be my progress. Any one who has had 


occasion to consult numerous authorities, and those, too, in foreign lan 
guages, for every sentence, will understand how slow and perplexing. 
And though, once entered on this career, I could have gone on in spite 
of obstacles, as, at times, I had already done, yet I hesitated before thus 
voluntarily encountering them. 

The first six months after the publication of my " Peru " were passed 
in that kind of literary loafing in which it is not unreasonable to indulge 
after the completion of a long work. As I tired of this, I began to 
coquet with my Philip the Second, by reading, or rather listening to, the 
English histories which had any bearing on the story, and which could 
show me the nature and compass of it. Thus, I have heard Robertson's 
" Charles the Fifth," Watson's " Philip the Second," Ranke's " Popes," 
and other works of Ranke and Von Raumer done into English, and 
Dunham's volume relating to the period in his " Spain and Portugal." 
I have, also, with the aid of my Secretary, turned over the title-pages and 
got some idea of the contents of my books and manuscripts; a truly 
precious collection of rarities, throwing light on the darkest corners of 
this long, eventful, and, in some respects, intricate history. 

The result of the examination suggests to me other ideas. There is so 
much incident in this fruitful reign, so many complete and interesting 
episodes, as it were, to the main story, that it now occurs to me I may 
find it expedient to select one of them for my subject, instead of attempt 
ing the wftole. Thus, for example, we have the chivalrous and fatal expe 
dition of Don Sebastian and the conquest of Portugal ; the romantic 
siege of Malta ; the glorious war of the revolution in the United Provin 
ces. This last is by far the greatest theme, and lias some qualities as 
those of unity, moral interest, completeness, and momentous and benefi 
cent results which may recommend it to the historian, who has the 
materials for both at his command, in preference to the Reign of Philip 
the Second. 

One obvious advantage to me in my crippled state is, that it would not 
require more than half the amount of reading that the other subject would. 
But this is a decision not lightly to be made, and I have not yet pondered 
it as I must. Something, I already feel, I must do. This life of far 
niente is becoming oppressive, and " I begin to be aweary of the sun." I 
am no longer young, certainly ; but at fifty-two a man must be even more 
crippled than I am to be entitled to an honorable discharge from service. 

With such mingled feelings, disheartened by the condition 
of his eye, and yet wearied out with the comparative idleness 
his infirmity had forced upon him, it is not remarkable that 
he should have hesitated still longer about a great undertaking, 
the ample materials for which lay spread out before him. Just 
at this time, too, other things attracted his attention, or de 
manded it, and he gladly occupied himself with them, feeling 
that they were at least an apology for not turning at once to 
his severer work. 

DOUBTS. 265 

One of these was a Memoir of Mr. John Pickering, a wise, 
laborious, accurate scholar, worthy every way to be the son of 
that faithful statesman, who not only filled the highest places 
in the government under Washington, but was Washington's 
personal, trusted friend. This Memoir the Massachusetts 
Historical Society had appointed Mr. Prescott to prepare 
for its Collections, and his memorandum shows with what feel 
ings of affection and respect he undertook the work assigned 
to him. 

" It will not be long," he says, " but, long or short, it will be a labor 
of love ; for there is no man whom I honored more than this eminent 
scholar, estimable alike for the qualities of his heart and for the gifts of 
his mind. He was a true and kind friend to me ; and, from the first 
moment of my entering on my historic career down to the close of his 
life, he watched over my literary attempts with the deepest interest. It 
will be a sad pleasure for me to pay an honest tribute to the good man's 

The Memoir is not long nor eulogistic ; but as a biography it 
is faithful and sincere, and renders to Mr. Pickering's intellect 
ual and moral character the honors it so richly deserved. The 
style throughout is simple and graceful, without the slight 
est approach to exaggeration ; such, in short, as was becom 
ing the modest man to whose memory the Memoir itself was 
devoted. 4 

Another of the subjects that occupied a good deal of hi3 
time during the spring of 1848 was a careful revision which he 
gave to my manuscript " History of Spanish Literature," then 
nearly ready for the press. It was an act of kindness for 
which I shall always feel grateful, and the record of which I 
preserve with care, as a proof how faithful he was and how 
frank. It took him some weeks, too many, if he had not 
then been more than usually idle, or, at least, if he had not 
deemed himself to be so. 

But he was not really idle. In comparison with those days 
of severe activity which he sometimes gave to his " Mexico," 
when his eyes permitted him to do for two or three hours a 
day what he could never do afterwards, his work might not 

* It is in the " Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society," 
Third Series, Vol. X. 



now be accounted hard ; but still, during the summer of 1848, 
it was real work, continuous and effective. 

The great subject of the reign of Philip the Second had, as I 
have already intimated, been many years in his mind. As early 
as the spring of 1838, when he had only just sent to Madrid 
for the materials on which to found his histories of the Con 
quest of Mexico and Peru, and while he was still uncertain of 
success about obtaining them, he said : " Should I succeed in 
ray present collections, who knows what facilities I may find 
for making one relative to Philip the Second's reign, a fruit 
ful theme if discussed under all its relations, civil and literary 
as well as military, the last of which seems alone to have occu 
pied the attention of Watson." 

In fact, from this time, although he may occasionally have 
had doubts or misgivings in relation to his resources for writing 
it, the subject itself of the reign of Philip the Second was 
never long out of his mind. Somewhat more than a year later 
he says : " 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 materials for the reign of Philip the 
Second. I shall try, however " ; adding that, unless he can 
obtain the amplest collections, both printed and manuscript, he 
shall not undertake the work at all. 

The letters to which he refers were very discouraging. One 
was from Dr. Lembke, who had so well served him in collect 
ing manuscripts and books for his Conquests of Mexico and 
Peru, but who seemed now to think it would be very difficult 
to get access to the archives of Simancas, and who was assured 
by Navarrete, that, even if he were on the spot, he would find 
everything in confusion, and nobody competent to direct or 
assist his researches. The other letter, which was from the 
Secretary of the American Legation, his old college friend, 
Middleton, was still more discouraging. 

" I enclose you," he writes, " Lembkc's letter, and confirm what he 
Bays as to the difficulty of getting at the Simancas papers, or even obtain 
ing any definite notion of their subjects. A young gentleman who had 
free access to them during six months, under the auspices of a learned 
professor, assured me that, with the exception of those relating to the 
Bourbon dynasty (i. e. since 1 700), the papers are all thrown together 
without order or index. Whatever step, therefore, you may be inclined 


to take in the matter, would be a speculation, and the question is, whether 
it would be worth your while." 6 

But, as Mr. Prescott well knew, Siraancas must necessarily 
be the great depository for original, unpublished documents 
relating to the reign of Philip the Second, the collection of 
which was begun there by that monarch ; and he therefore 
determined to persevere in his efforts, and by some means 
obtain access to them. Indeed, as we have all along seen, he 
was not of a temper readily to give up anything important 
which he had once deliberately undertaken. 

Just at this moment, however, he was deprived of the ser 
vices of Dr. Lembke. That gentleman had become obnoxious 
to the Spanish government, and was ordered out of the country 
with hardly the formality of a warning. But his first refuge 
was Paris, and there he was again able to be useful to Mr. 
Prescott. M. Mignet and M. Ternaux-Compans opened to 
him freely their own rich manuscript collections, and indicated 
to him yet otlfler collections, from which also he caused copies 
to be made of documents touching the affairs of Philip. But 
Dr. Lembke, I think, remained in Paris only a few months, and 
never was able to return to Madrid, as he intended and hoped 
when he left it. His services to Mr. Prescott, therefore, which 
had been, up to this time, both important and kind, could no 
longer be counted upon. 

Happily, however, Mr. Prescott was now able to turn to Don 
Pascual de Gayangos, the Spanish scholar, who, as we have 
noticed, had written eighteen months earlier a pleasant article 
in the " Edinburgh Review " on " Ferdinand and Isabella," 
and who was now in London publishing for " The Oriental 
Fund Society " his translation of Al Makkari on the Moham 
medan rule in Spain. Some correspondence of a friendly 
nature had already passed between them, 6 and Mr. Prescott 

6 These letters were written in 1839. In 1841, Mr. Middleton ceased to be 
connected with the Spanish Legation. When Mr. Prescott received the last 
results of his friend's care for his wants, he said: " I have received another 
supply, the last of the manuscripts from Middleton, in Madrid.. I lose 
there a good friend, who has been efficient and true in his labors for me." 

6 I have not been able to procure the earliest letters in the correspondence 
between Mr. Prescott and Don Pascual de Gayangos, and suppose they are 
lost. The eiu'liest one that has come to my hands is from Don Pascual, and 


now asked Don PascuaTs counsel and aid in collecting the 
materials he needed for his work on the reign of Philip the 
Second. He could not have addressed himself more fortu 
nately. Don Pascual entered into the literary projects of Mr. 
Prescott, as we have already seen, in his previous correspond 
ence, with great disinterestedness and zeal. He at once caused 
above eighteen hundred pages of manuscript to be copied in 
the British Museum and the State-Paper Office, London, and 
went with an assistant, to the remarkable collection of Sir 
Thomas Phillips, in Worcestershire, where he again obtained 
much that proved valuable. Subsequently he visited Brussels, 
and, with letters from Mr. Van de Weyer, the accomplished 
Minister of Belgium in London, was permitted to take copies 
of whatever could be found in the archives there. Still later, 
he went to Paris, and, assisted by M. Mignet, discovered other 
rich materials, which were immediately transcribed and sent 
io their destination. The mass of manuscripts was, therefore, 
in 1842, already considerable. 

But Spain was, after all, the country where the chief mate 
rials for such a subject were to be found ; and nobody knew 
this better than Mr. Prescott. Wliile, therefore, he neglected 
no resource outside of the Pyrenees ; and while, by the kind 
ness of Mr. Edward Everett, our statesman at once and our 
scholar, who happened then to be in Florence ; by that of Dr. 
Ferdinand Wolf of Vienna, learned in everything Spanish ; and 
by that of Humboldt and Ranke, at Berlin, each primus inter 
pares on such matters, he had obtained a great deal that was 
most welcome from the public offices and libraries of Tuscany, 
Austria, Prussia, and Gotha, still he kept his eye fastened 
on Spain, as the main resource for his great undertaking. 

is dated Dec. 1, 1839. From this I infer that Mr. Prescott had written to 
him on the 30th of March preceding, to thank him for his review of the 
" Ferdinand and Isabella," and on the 6th of July concerning his literary 
projects generally ; but that illness and absence from London had prevented 
Don Pascual from answering earlier. On the 28th of December, 1841, Mr. 
Prescott records in his memoranda: "I have had the satisfaction to learn 
from tljat accomplished scholar, Gayangos, that he will undertake the col 
lection of manuscripts for me relating to Philip the Second's history, so far 
as it can be effected in Paris and London." A part of Mr. Prescott's corre 
spondence with Don Pascual about the materials for a history of Philip the 
Second has already been given, as its dates required, while Mr. Prescott was 
employed ou his " Conquest of Peru." 


And here again he was fortunate. Don Pascual de Gayan- 
gos, having finished his important work for the " Oriental 
Fund," naturally returned to Madrid, with whose University 
he became connected as Professor of Arabic Literature. This 
was in 1842, and from that time he never ceased to send Mr. 
Prescott, not only rare books in large numbers, but manuscripts, 
both original and copied, of the greatest value. 7 Already, in 
1849, these collections seemed to be complete ; but for several 
years more they were continued and increased. The muni 
ment rooms of the great families in Spain the Alvas, the 
Santa Cruz, and others were thrown open ; the Public 
Archives, the National Library, in short, whatever could be 
used as a resource, were all visited and examined. In 1844, 
Don Pascual spent nearly two months at Simancas, under the 
most favorable auspices, and brought away and subsequently 
secured, from this great treasure-house and tomb of the Span 
ish government and its diplomacy, spoils which one less familiar 
with the history of the times would hardly have been able to 
discover amidst the confusion that had so long reigned there 

The collection thus made with great labor in the course of 
nearly twenty years is, no doubt, one of the richest and most 
complete ever made on any subject of historical research. Set 
ting aside the books in Mr. Prescott's library that relate only 
incidentally to the affairs of Spain in the sixteenth century, the 
number of which is very considerable, there are above three 
hundred and seventy volumes that regard especially the times 
of Philip the Second ; and. when the manuscript copies that had 
been made for him all over Europe were brought together and 
bound, they made fifteen thick folios, not counting those which 
came to him already bound up, or which still remain unbound, 
to the amount of eight or ten volumes more. 8 It needed many 

T In a letter to Don Pascual, dated March 27, 1842, he says: "I wish you 
could spend only three months in Spain, and I should ask no better luck." 
And again, July 14: " It will be very fortunate for me, if you can visit both 
Paris and Spain. It will leave me nothing to desire." Before the year was 
over, this wish was most unexpectedly fulfilled. 

8 The greater part of his rich collection of manuscripts for the " Mexico," 
" Peru," and '' Philip the Second," stood together, well bound in morocco, 
and made quite a striking appearance in his library. He sometimes called 
this part of it " his Seraglio." 


skilful, kind, and faithful hands in many countries to form such 
a collection ; but without the assistance of a scholar to superin 
tend and direct the whole, like Don Pascual de Gayangos, full 
of knowledge on the particular subject, proud of his country, 
whose honor he knew he was serving, and disinterested as a 
Spanish hidalgo of the olden temper and loyalty, Mr. Prescott 
could never have laid the foundations he did for his " History of 
Philip the Second," or executed his purpose so far and so well. 
Some of these treasures arrived in the course of the last 
two or three years of his life ; but most of them were already 
on his shelves in the summer of 1848, when he had not yet 
given himself up to severe labor on his " History of Philip 
the Second," and when, indeed, as we have seen, he was com 
plaining of his idleness. But he was somewhat unjust to him 
self on this point now, as he had occasionally been before. He 
had not, in fact, been idle during the summer. When the 
autumn set in and he returned to town, he had read, or rather 
listened to, San Miguel's " Historia de Felipe Segundo," pub 
lished between 1844 and 1847 in four goodly octavos ; the " His- 
toire de 1'Espagne," by Weiss ; the portion of Tapia's " Civili- 
zacion Espanola," which covers the sixteenth century ; and tiie 
corresponding parts of Sismondi's " Histoire des Franc,ais," and 
of Lingard's "ilistoiy of England." But, above all, he had 
read and studied Ranke's " Spanish Empire " ; a book which 
whoever writes on the history of Spain must, if he is wise, 
consider carefully in all its positions and conclusions. In his 
memoranda Mr. Prescott truly describes Ranke as " acute 
and penetrating ; gathering his information from sources little 
known, especially the reports of the Venetian Ambassadors."' 
u His book," the personal memoranda go on, " contains inesti 
mable material for a more minute and extended history. It 
is a sort of skeleton, the bone-work of the monarchy. It must 
be studied for the internal administration, the financial system, 
the domestic politics, &c. ; just the topics neglected by Wat 
son and the like common, uncommonplace writers. The his 
torian of Philip the Second will be largely indebted to Ranke, 
to his original acuteness and to his erudition." 

9 Since published at Florence, under the able editorship of the Cavaliere 
Eugeuio Alb6ri. 


This portion of Ranke's work, therefore, became now to Mr. 
Prescott what Clemencin's dissertation on Queen Isabella had 
been in the composition of his History of the Catholic Sover 
eigns. Indeed, foreseeing from the outset how important it 
would be, and finding it ill printed in the English translation, 
he caused four copies of the part touching Philip the Second 
to be struck off on a large type, so that, whenever his eye 
would permit the indulgence, he might recur to it as to his 
manual and guide. It makes in this form barely one hundred 
and sixty-eight pages in octavo ; and being printed on thick 
paper and only on one side of each leaf, so as to render every 
letter perfectly distinct, it was as well fitted to its peculiar pur 
pose as it could be. Probably he never looked on it for ten 
minutes together at any one time ; but we have already no 
ticed how thoughtful and ingenious he was in whatever related 
to the means of encountering the many obstacles laid in his 
way by his great infirmity, and how little he cared for money 
or ease when anything of this sort was to be accomplished. 
This reprint of Ranke was, in truth, one of his contrivances 
for an end that never was long absent from his thoughts. 




WHILE Mr. Prescott was going on with his " Philip the 
Second " as well as he could, considering the slow pro 
cess for work to which he was now reduced, " dull sailing," 
as he called it, he was surprised by a tempting invitation to 
write a history of the Second Conquest of Mexico, the one, 
I 'mean, achieved by General Winfield Scott in 1847. The 
subject was obviously a brilliant one, making, in some respects, 
a counterpart to the history of the first conquest under Cortes ; 
and, as to the bookselling results that would have accrued from 
such a work glowing with the fervent life Mr. Prescott's style 
would have imparted to it, and devoted to the favorite national 
hero of the time, there can be no doubt they would have ex 
ceeded anything he had ever before dreamed of as the profits 
of authorship. But his course in another direction was plainly 
marked out, and had long been so. Contemporary events, tran 
sient and unsettled interests, personal feelings and ambitions, 
had never entered into his estimates and arrangements for a 
literary life. He felt that he should hardly know how to deal 
with them. He therefore declined the honor, and an honor 
it certainly was, without hesitation. " The theme," he said, 
" would be taking ; but I had rather not meddle with heroes 
who have not been under ground two centuries at least." 1 

1 He often expressed this feeling. In a letter to me in 1856, he says: "I 
belong to the sixteenth century, and am quite out of place when I sleep else 
where," a remark which reminds one of old Bernal Diaz, who, it has been 
said, wore his armor so long and so constantly in the conquest of Mexico, 
that afterwards lie could not sleep in comfort without it. 


His weeks at Pepperell in the subsequent autumn of 1849 
were agreeable, as they always were, but not as fruitful of 
literary results as they had been in many preceding years. 
" The delicious stillness of the fields," he writes soon after his 
emigration there from Nahant, " is most grateful after the in 
cessant, restless turmoil of the ocean, whose melancholy beat 
makes no music like the wind among the boughs of the forest 
The sweet face of Nature is the only face that never grows 
old, almost the only one that we never tire of." 

But in truth the trouble lay deeper. He could do little 
work. His eyes were in a very bad state, and sometimes 
occasioned him much suffering. He therefore was able to 
" Philippize," as he called it, very little ; and when he returned 
to town at the end of October, he recorded that he had had 
" a pleasant villeggiatura" but added : " The country is now 
dark with its sad autumnal splendors. Is it not my true 
home ? Monadnock and his brotherhood of hills seemed to 
look gloomily on me as I bade them farewell. What may 
betide me of weal or woe before I see them again ? " 

But this was not a permanent state of feeling with him. 
During that autumn and winter, he went slowly, but with 
much regularity, over the whole ground, which, as he foresaw, 
must be occupied by a history of Philip the Second and his 
times, endeavoring to get a bird's-eye view of it in its general 
relations and proportions without descending to details. When 
he had done this, he felt that the time for a final decision as to 
the nature and form which his labors should take was come, 
and he made it promptly and decisively. 

"I have, indeed," he says, looking back over the eighteen months' 
deliberation on this subject, and considering at the same time the bad con 
dition of his eyes and of his general health, "I have, indeed, hardly 
felt courage to encounter the difficulties of a new work, de longue haleine, 
in my crippled state. But if I am crippled, I am not wholly disabled 
yet ; and I have made up my mind to take the subject the whole sul>- 
ject of Philip the Second. I can, by a little forecast, manage so that it 
will cost me no more labor or research than a fraction of the subject, 
which I should treat, of course, more in extenso. I must select the most 
important and interesting features of the reign, and bring these, and these 
only, into as clear a light as possible. All the wearisome research into 
constitutional, financial, ecclesiastical details, I must discard, or at least go 
into them sparingly ; only so as to present a background to the great 
transactions of the reign. 

12* K 


" The brilliant passages are numerous, and must be treated, of course, 
witli reference to one another, as well as to their individual merit, so as to 
preserve their respective proportions, and harmonize into one whole. A 
dominant and central interest for the mighty and richly varied panorama 
must be ever kept in view. The character of Philip will be the dominant 
principle controlling every other ; and his policy will be the central object 
of interest, to which almost every event in the reign must be in a great 
degree referred. That policy, doubtless, will be found to be the establish 
ment of the Roman Catholic religion and of absolute power. These 
were the ends ever kept in view by him, and they must be so, therefore, 
by his historian, as furnishing the true clew to his complicated story. 

" There will be no lack of great events of the highest interest and the 
most opposite character ; the war with the Turks, and the glowing battle 
of Lepanto ; the bloody revolt of the Moriscos ; the conquest of Portu 
gal, and, preceding it, the Quixotic expedition of Don Sebastian ; the 
tragic domestic story of 'Don Carlos, and the mysterious adventures of 
Antonio Perez ; the English invasion, and the gallant days of the 
Armada ; and above all, and running through all, the glorious war of 
the Netherlands, the war of freedom then begun and not yet ended. 

" As for portraits, great events call forth great men, and there is good 
Btore of them, Don John of Austria, frank and chivalrous ; the great 
Duke of Alva, a name of terror ; William of Orange, the Washington 
of Holland ; Farnese, the greatest captain of his times ; Don Sebastian, 
the theme for romance rather than history ; contemporary foreign princes, 
Henry the Fourth, Elizabeth, &c., and at home Charles the Fifth in his 
latter days, of which so little has hitherto been known ; and Philip the 
Second, the master-spirit, who, in the dark recesses of the Escorial, him 
self unseen even by his own subjects, watches over the lines of communi 
cation which run out in every direction to the farthest quarters of the 

" I propose to go on with sober industry, the festina Jente sort, 
working some four hours a day, and if the whole should run to four vol 
umes, which is enough, I may get out two at a time, allowing four years 
for each brace. Da, Jupiter annos ! But I must mend my habits, or I 
shall not get out a volume in as many centuries 

" I am not sure that it will not be better for me to call the work Me 
moirs, instead of History, &c. This will allow a more rambling style 
of writing, and make less demand on elaborate research, and so my eyes 
and my taste both be accommodated." 

To these general remarks he added, as he was wont in such 
cases, a synopsis or summary of the whole work he was about 
to undertake, one intended to suggest the different subjects 
and points upon which he should chiefly concentrate his atten 
tion, but not intended to govern his treatment of the details. 
It was a sort of outline map, and was made in February, 1849. 

But his doubts and anxieties at that time, and for a long 
while afterwards, were very considerable, both as to the form 


of his work, whether memoirs or history, and as to the amount 
of labor which his advancing years and infirmities might war 
rant him in hoping to bestow upon it. While his mind contin 
ued thus unsettled, he talked with me much on the embarrass 
ments he felt, and I endeavored to strengthen him in a purpose 
of taking up the whole subject under the gravest forms of 
regular history, and treating it with absolute thoroughness as 
such ; anxious neither as to how slow his progress might be, 
nor how laborious it might prove. 

One ground of my judgment at that time 2 but unhappily 
one which failed at last was, that I counted upon a long life 
for him, like that of his father and of his mother. But I felt, 
too, whether he lived many years, as I fondly hoped, or few, 
that the most active and earnest occupation of his faculties was 
necessary to his own happiness, and that he would become dis 
contented with himself, if he should not fulfil his own idea of 
what his subject implied in its widest and most serious requisi 
tions. I did not, in short, believe that he would be satisfied to 
write Memoirs of Philip the Second after having written the 
History of Ferdinand and Isabella. Nor did I believe that 
scholars or the public would be better satisfied than he would 
be himself. 

He expresses his state of mind on this subject in his memo 
randa : 

June 28th, 1849. At Nahant, where we arrived on the 23d, after a 
week of tropical heats in town, that gave me the dyspepsia. These sum 
mer months were once my working months. But now, alas! all times 
and places are alike to me. I have even ceased to make good resolutions, 
the last infirmity of feeble minds. Since last summer, what have I 
done 1 My real apology for doing nothing is still my health, which 
hedges me round, whichever way I attempt to go. Without eyes I can 
not read. Yet I constantly try to do something, and as constantly strain 
the nerve. An organic trouble causes me pain, if I sit and write half an 
hour, so that I am baffled and disheartened, and I find it impossible (shall 
I say the coward's word ?) to get up a lively interest, the interest I felt 
in happier days in my historical labors. 

Yet I am determined to make one serious trial before relinquishing the 

8 This was in 1849. He did not determine to write a history rather than 
memoirs, until he came to the troubles in the Netherlands, in October, 1851. 
And the change of purpose is to be noted after page 360 of the first volume 
of the American edition. 


. glorious field, on which I have won some laurels, and on which I had 
promised myself a long career. I will make up my mind to dispense 
with my eyes nearly all the time. I will dictate, -if I cannot write. I 
will secure three hours every day for my work, and, with patience, I may 
yet do something. 3 

I will not seek to give that minute and elaborate view of the political 
and economical resources of the country which I attempted in " Ferdi 
nand and Isabella," and for which I have such rich materials for this 
reign. But I must content myself with a more desultory or a pictu 
resque view of things, developing character as much as possible, illustrat 
ing it by the anecdote, and presenting the general features of the time and 
the court. The work in this way, though not profound, may be amusing, 
and display that philosophy which consists in the development of human 
passion and character. 

Great events, told with simplicity, will interest the reader, and the 
basis on which the narrative throughout will rest will be of the most au 
thentic kind, enabling me to present facts hitherto unknown, and, of 
course, views and deductions not familiar to the student of history. The 
book will lose much of its value compared with what it might have had 
'under happier auspices ; but enough may remain to compensate both the 
reader and myself for the time bestowed on it. But, then, I must proceed 
on the right principle ; content with accomplishing what the embarrass 
ments of my situation will permit me to accomplish, without aiming at 
what, by its difficulties, would disgust me in its progress, and by its fail 
ure in the end bring only mortification and chagrin. I will try. 

The conditions were hard, and the first efforts he made to 
break ground were anything but cheerful or encouraging ; for 
his eyes were in a very bad state, and he was otherwise not a 
little disordered. After an experiment of nearly a month, he 

says : 

Looked over various works for an introductory chapter. Worked about 
three hours per diem, of which with my own eyes (grown very dim, alas ! 
perceptible in this strong light) about thirty minutes a day. I can man 
age with tliis to make progress on a less searching plan of study. Am 
now prepared to think. But after this long repose, the business of fixing 
thought is incredibly difficult. It must be done. 

And it was done. On the 29th of July, 1849, at Nahant, he 
records : " Last Thursday (July 26th), at 6 P. M., began the 
composition of Chapter First of ' Philip the Second,' whether 
memoirs or history time will show. Heavy work this starting. 
I have been out of harness too long." 

* He did not, in fact, succeed in getting so much work as this out of him 
self in the summer and autumn of 1849. 


At Pepperell, where he went with his accustomed eagerness 
on the 6th of September, his eyes were rather worse than they 
had been at Nahant, and he was more troubled with dyspepsia 
and his other chronic ailments. But he worked, against wind 
and tide, as earnestly, if not as hopefully, as if both had been 
in his favor. 

On his return to town, about the end of October, he talked 
with me afresh concerning his plans in relation to " Philip the 
Second," of which he had been able to complete only two 
chapters. On the whole, he was confirmed in his decision 
that he would take the entire reign of that monarch for his 
subject, and not any episode of it, however brilliant, like the 
war with the Turks, or the siege of Malta, or however im 
portant, like the grand tragedy of the contest with the Nether 
lands. But he did not feel strong enough to make more of it 
than memoirs, as distinguished from history. On the first 
point, I concurred with him entirely ; on the last, I regretted 
his decision, but submitted to it, if not as to something inevi 
table, at least as to a result concerning which his health and 
years afforded grounds, of which he was to judge rather than 
anybody else. 

His decision, however, which seemed then to be final, had 
one good effect immediately. He worked more freely, and 
for a time made a degree of progress that satisfied himself. 
But about Christmas his strength began to fail. He lost flesh 
visibly, and his friends, though they certainly did not look on 
the state of his health with anxiety, yet felt that more than 
ordinary care had become necessary. He himself did not 
share their feelings ; but he had other doubts and misgivings 
more disheartening than theirs. In February, 1850, he said : 
" Increasing interest in the work is hardly to be expected, con 
sidering 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 hear 
ing. It would be a fearful thing to doubt it." 

Happily he was never called to encounter this terrible trial. 
Not infrequently, indeed, a suspicion occurred to him, espe 
cially about this period, that the acuteness of his hearing was 
impaired, as, in truth, I think it was, but in so small a degree. 


that he was rarely admonished of it, even by his own fears, 
and certainly never so much as to interfere with the course 
which his studies necessarily took. But whenever the thought 
came to him of what might possibly be the result in this re 
spect, darkness seemed to settle on his thoughts ; and, although 
his elastic spirits soon obtained the mastery, it was not until 
after a struggle such as they had not heretofore been sum 
moned to make. A few of my conversations with him on this 
subject were among the most painful that I remember ever to 
have had. But the most painful of them were later, in the last 
two years of his life. 

In the early spring of 1850, finding that he was less able 
to work than he had previously been, and that he could not 
command his thoughts for the concentrated efforts he had 
always found important to success, he made a journey south 
ward, to anticipate the milder season. He was accompanied 
by his daughter, by Mrs. Charles Amory, by Mrs. Rowland 
Shaw, and by his brother-in-law, Mr. William Amory, a 
party as agreeable as affection and friendship could have col 
lected for him. I chanced to be in Washington when he ar 
rived there, and was witness to the pleasure with which he was 
everywhere received. All sorts of hospitalities were offered to 
him by General Taylor, then President of the United States ; 
by the Calderons, his old and faithful friends ; by the British 
Minister, Sir Henry Bulwer ; by our own great New-England 
statesman, Mr. Webster, who had always entertained the sin- 
cerest veneration for the elder Mr. Prescott, and always wel 
comed the son as worthy of his ancestry ; in short, he was 
received by whatever was eminent in the diplomatic society 
of Washington, or among those collected there to administer 
our own affairs, with a distinction not to be mistaken or misin 
terpreted. His friends sought eagerly to enjoy as much of his 
society as he could give them, and strangers gladly seized the 
opportunity to know personally one with whom in so many 
other ways they were already familiar. But he was little in a 
coadition to accept the kindness which under different circum 
stances would have been so pleasant to him. He was not well. 
He was not happy. He felt that he needed the comforts and 
the solace to which he was accustomed at home. He remained 


in Washington, therefore, only a short time, and then returned 
to Boston. 

The comforts of home, however, were not all that he needed. 
He needed a change of life for a time, something that should, 
as it were, renew, or at least refresh and strengthen the re 
sources of a constitution which had so long been touched with 
infirmities, not of the gravest sort, indeed, but yet constantly so 
pressing on the springs of life, and so exhausting their elas 
ticity, that neither his physical nor his mental system was any 
longer capable of the severe efforts which he had always claimed 
from them, and almost always with success. 

After some time, therefore, the project of visiting England, 
which he had partly entertained at different times for many 
years, but had constantly rejected, recurred with new force. 
His friends, who had heretofore urged it on the ground of the 
personal enjoyment he could not fail to derive from such a 
visit, now urged it on the stronger ground of health, and of 
the sort of renovation which so great a change of ch'mate and 
of his modes of life and thought often give to the whole moral 
and physical constitution at the age which he had now reached. 
He acknowledged the force of what they pressed upon him, but 
still he hesitated. His domestic life was so wisely regulated; 
everything about him was so carefully adjusted and adapted, 
by the watchfulness of affection, to his peculiar infirmities, and 
the wants they entailed on him ; in short, his condition in his 
own home, and with his daily occupations, was so entirely such 
as demanded only gratitude to God, that he naturally felt un 
willing to interrupt its long-settled, even, and happy course. 
But the strong hours conquered, as they always must in what 
regards health and life. The reasons for a European excur 
sion grew every week more distinct and decisive, and at last 
he yielded. 

He embarked from New York the 22d day of May, 1850. 
On board the steam-packet in which he took passage he found, 
as he did everywhere, the kindness that was drawn out by the 
magnetism of his own affectionate nature, and by his obvious 
infirmities, added to the strong interest he had excited as an 
author. He was at once provided with readers for all the 
hours when he was well enough to listen, and among them 


were some members of the Middleton family of South Carolina, 
who were connections of his old classmate, and who became at 
once not only interesting and agreeable companions, but per 
sonal friends. Notwithstanding, therefore, the usual tribute of 
sea-sickness, which he paid like others, and complained of as 
bitterly, his passage was far from being disagreeable. 

Just so it was when, at midnight, on Monday, the 3d of 
June, the vessel on which he was embarked arrived in the 
Mersey, at Liverpool. The first voice he heard through the 
darkness, from a boat which came alongside five minutes after 
the steamer's anchor had been dropped, was that of an English 
friend whose face he had not seen for three and thirty years, 
but whose regard had survived unimpaired from the days when 
they had been together almost as boys in Italy. At the house 
of that friend, Mr. Alexander Smith, he found at once an affec 
tionate reception, and remained there hospitably entertained 
until two days later, when he hurried up to London. 

" On Wednesday, June 5th," he says in his second letter to Mrs. Pres- 
cott, " I came by railway to ' London town,' through the English garden, 
lawns of emerald green, winding streams, light arched bridges, long lines 
stretching out of sight between hedges of hawthorn, all flowering, 
rustic cottages, lordly mansions, and sweeping woods ; flocks of sheep, 
and now and then peasants shearing off the fat fleeces ; cattle of the 
Durham breed, but all more or less white, often wholly so, white as 
snow ; the whole landscape a miracle of beauty, all of the cultivated sort, 
too tame on the whole ; and before I reached the great leviathan, 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." 

London hospitality had met him at Liverpool. Lady Lyell, 
to whom, like everybody else who was permitted to become 
really acquainted with her during her visits to the United 
States, he was already much attached, had sent him charming 
words of welcome, which he received as he stepped on shore in 
the night. 4 Mr. Lawrence, too, his friend and kinsman, then 

* I add the answer to Lady Lyell's kind note, welcoming him to England. 


LIVERPOOL, June 4, 1850. 
I have just received your kind note, in the midst of trunks, luggage (you 


American Minister at the Court of St. James, had begged him 
in the same way to be in season for a large diplomatic dinner 
which he was to give on the evening that Mr. Prescott would 
naturally reach London. Others had, in other ways, sent salu 
tations both courteous and cordial. It was all very flattering 
and kindly, and, accompanied as he was by his faithful and 
intelligent secretary, Mr. Kirk, he did not, from the moment 
of his landing, feel for an instant that he was either alone or 
upon a stranger soil. 

On reaching London, he drove at once to Mivart's Hotel, 
where lodgings had been engaged for him ; but he had hardly 
alighted when Sir Charles Lyell entered and gave him his first 
London greeting, which he loved always afterwards to remem 
ber for its affectionate warmth. The dinner at Mr. Lawrence's 
he had declined, being too fresh from a long journey to enjoy 
it ; but he took tea a little later with Lady Lyell, and went 
with her to the evening party at the Minister's, which followed 
the more serious dinner, and was, in fact, a part of it. His 
introduction to much of what was most distinguished in Eng 
lish society, including Lord Palmerston and several others of 
the Ministers, could hardly have been more agreeable or moro 

It was on this occasion that he first saw the Milmans, with 
whom he had long felt acquainted, and to whom he soon be 
came personally much attached. It was then, too, that he first 
saw the venerable mother of his friend Lord Carlisle, and 
many other persons of distinction, his meeting with whom he 
often afterwards recalled with peculiar pleasure. But that with 
Lord Carlisle went to his heart, and well it might, for it was 
warmer than he intimates it to have been, even in a letter to 

see my Yankee breeding), and all the other custom-house trumpery from 
which it is so difficult a matter, after a voyage, to disentangle one's self. I 
am passing a day here with an old friend, and to-morrow shall take the eleven 
o'clock train for London. Many thanks for your agreeable invitation, which 
I shall have the pleasure of answering in person to-morrow evening. I have 
declined an invitation to dine with our Minister, as I shall not be in condition 
to dine, so soon after my journey, with an array of Ministers and Ministers* 
ladies. But I shall be in first-rate condition for seeing friends whom I value 
so much as you and your husband. 

Pray remember me warmly to him, and believe me, my dear Lady 
Lyell, &c. 


Mrs. Prescott, in which he says, that it made him " feel as 
awkward as a young girl." A person who was present said 
that Lord Carlisle almost embraced him. But he remained at 
this first London party only a little while. He was too tired 
after his journey. 

From this moment his table was covered with cards and 
invitations. His preference and pleasure were undoubtedly for 
the more cultivated and intellectual society which received him 
on all sides with earnest cordiality ; but he was also the fash 
ion. He was invited everywhere. He was the lion of the 
season. 5 

His own letters to his family, and his more intimate friends, 
will show this in the simplest and pleasantest manner. 


LONDON, Tuesday, June 11, 1850. 

I returned last evening from a visit to the Homers, Lady Lyell's 
parents and sisters, a very accomplished and happy family-circle. They 
occupy a small house, with a pretty lawn stretching between it and the 
Thames, that forms a silver edging to the close-shaven green. The family 
gather under the old trees, on the little shady carpet, which is sweet with 
the perfumes of flowering shrubs, and you sec sails gliding by and stately 
swans of which there are several hundreds on the river. Any injury to 
these birds is visited with a heavy penalty. The next day, Sunday, after 
dinner, which we took at four, we strolled through Hampton Court 
and its royal park. The entrance to the park is not more than half a 
mile from Mr. H.'s house. We spent a couple of hours in rambling over 
it, a most superb green lawn stretching in all directions, covered with 
avenues of stately trees planted in the time of William and Mary, mostly 
the English elm. Troops of deer were standing and lying idly round, 
and every now and then we started a hare. Whole companies of rooks 
a bird seen everywhere here sailed over the tops of the trees, such 

6 The Nepaulese Princes were in London that year, and were much stared 
at for their striking costumes and magnificent diamonds. Alluding to this 
circumstance, Mr. Lockhart, the first time he met Mr. Prescott, said, play 
fully, but not without a touch of the cynical spirit always in him, that " he 
was happy to make the acquaintance of Mr. Prescott, who, as he had heard, 
was the great lion of London, he and the Nepaulese Princes." " Yon 
forget the hippopotamus!" retorted Mr. Prescott. It was not, perhaps, the 
most auspicious and agreeable beginning of an acquaintance, but it did not 
prevent them from being a good deal together afterwards, and liking each 
other much. A parting dinner with Ford and Stirling at Lockhart's was 
always remembered by Mr. Prescott as peculiarly gay and gratifying. 


trees ! In front of the old palace were broad red gravel walks through 
the green turf, with artificial basins of water. In short, the real scene 
looked like the picture in our camera at Pepperell. Here was the favorite 
residence of William and Mary, and of their predecessor, the merry 
Charles the Second, whose beauties, by the hands of Sir Peter Lely, still 
decorate the walls. I fancied, as I strolled through the grounds, I could 
see the gallant prince and his suite sauntering among the lordly avenues, 
playing with his spaniels and tossing crumbs to the swans in the waters. 
We walked home at twilight, hearing the nightingale at his evening song, 
and the distant cuckoo, sounding so like the little toy the children play 

The next day we had our picnic at Box-Hill, a sweet, romantic spot 
in Surrey, on a high hill, looking over half the country, and fragrant with 
the odors of the box, which rises here into trees. There was a collection 
of seven and twenty persons in all, friends of the family. So we spread 
our cloth in a shady spot, and produced our stores of good things, and 
with the aid of a little of the spiritual with the material, we had a merry 

time of it. T A will tell you all about it, as he returns by the 

next steamer ; so he intends, at least, at the present moment. The 

P s return by it also. To think that I should have missed them ! 

William was at just such a picnic last year, and I heard many kind things 
of him. He made some good friends here, and left everywhere, I believe, 
a good impression. I have written to our Minister at Madrid to look him 
up, for I have not yet heard from him. Unlucky enough ! but I think he 
must soon turn up. 9 

Friday noon. 

I have so many things to tell you of since my last date, and so little 
time to do it in, dear Susan, that I don't know which to take, the 
Ascot races, dinner at Sir Robert Peel's, or I will begin (probably end) 

with the visit to Lady S s, which I was about to make when I left oft'. 

I went at eleven, and found myself in the midst of a brilliant saloon, rilled 
with people, amongst whom I could not recognize one familiar face. You 
may go to ten parties in London, be introduced to a score of persons in 
each, and in going to the eleventh party not see a face that you have ever 
seen before ; so large is the society of the Great Metropolis ! I was soon 
put at my ease, however, by the cordial reception of Lord and Lady 
C , who presented me to a number of persons. 

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. Lord C asked me if I would like to 

know him, and immediately presented me to him. He paid me some 
pretty compliments, on which I grew vain at once, and I did my best to 

The reference is to Mr. Prescott's eldest son, who had been some time in 
Europe, but with whom Mr. Prescott had found it difficult to come into com 
munication at this time. The son did not yet know that his father had 
thought of leaving America, and he was, in fact, now in Africa. 


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 air, 7 though 
his countenance is fresher. His aquiline nose is strongly cut, as in earlier 
days, when I saw him at the head of his troops in Paris, and his large 
forehead has but few wrinkles. He does not .show the wear and tear of 
time and thought, and his benevolent expression has all the iron worked 
out of it. He likes the attention he receives in this social way, spending 
half an hour in working his way quietly through the rooms, and, having 
received the general homage, disappears. He wore round his neck the 
ribbons and ornaments of the Golden Fleece, and on his coat the diamond- 
star of the Order of the Garter. He is in truth the lion of England, not 
to say of Europe, and I could not take my eyes off him while he re 

We had a stately dinner at Sir Robert's, four and twenty guests. 
He received us in a long picture-gallery. The windows of the gallery at 
one end look out on the Thames, its beautiful stone bridges with lofty 
arches, Westminster Abbey with its towers, and the living panorama on 
the water. The opposite windows look on the Green Gardens behind the 
palace of Whitehall, gardens laid out by Cardinal Wolsey, and near 
the spot where Charles the First lived and lost his life on the scaffold. 
The gallery is full of masterpieces, especially Dutch and Flemish, 
among them the famous Chapeau de Faille, which cost Sir Robert over five 
thousand pounds, or twenty-two thousand dollars. In his dining-room are 
also superb pictures, the famous one by Wilkie, of John Knox preach 
ing, which did not come up to the idea I had formed from the excellent 
engraving of it; and Waagen, the German critic, who was. there, told me, 
as I said this to him, that I was perfectly correct in the judgment. So I 
find I am a connoisseur! There was a portrait of Dr. Johnson, by Rey 
nolds, the portrait owned by Mrs. Thrale, and engraved for the Diction 
ary. What a bijou ! 

We sat at dinner, looking out on the moving Thames. We dined at 
eight, but the twilight lingers here till half past nine o'clock at this season. 
Sir Robert was exceedingly courteous to his guests ; told some good 
stories, at which some laughed immoderately ; showed us his pictures, his 
collection of autographs, &c. He has the celebrated letter, written by 
Nelson, in which he says, " If I die, frigate will be found written on my 
heart." 8 

1 The resemblance to the Duke of Wellington of the late Colonel Thomas 
H. Perkins, already referred to as a munificent merchant of Boston, was ofteu 
noticed and very obvious. 

8 An anecdote of this dinner, connected with an account of another, is 
happily given by Mr. Stirling, in a little memoir of Mr. Prescott, which was 
originally published in " Fraser's Magazine,'' for March, 1859, and was sub 
sequently printed privately, with additions. 

"Amongst the many occasions when it was the good fortune of the author 
of this sketch to meet Mr. Prescott, there is one which has especially stamped 
itself on his memory. It was on a delightful summer day, at a dinner given at 
the ' Trafalgar,' at Greenwich, by Mr. Murray, of Albemarle Street. Of 
that small and well-chosen circle, the brightest lights are, alas! already 


Is not this a fine life 1 I am most sincerely tired of it. Not that I do 
not enjoy the social meetings, and there are abundant objects of interest. 
But I am weary of the dissipation, and would not exchange my regular 
domestic and literary occupations in the good old Puritan town for this 
round of heedless, headless gaycty, not if I had the fortune of the 
Marquis of Westminster, the richest peer in England. It .is hard work to 
make a life of pleasure. Wherever you go, you see wealth, splendor, and 
fashion, horses, carriages, houses, all brilliant and gorgeous ; but 
nothing like repose, and not always good taste. All seem to be eagerly 
pursuing the goddess Pleasure, hard to be caught, and vanishing in the 
grasp. If I could bring it with a wish, August 15th would be here in 

quenched. The festive humor of Ford will no more enliven the scene he 
loved so well ; nor will the wit of Lockhart and the wisdom of Hallam ever 
more brighten or adorn banquets like that at which they met their fellow- 
laborer from the New World. Everything was in perfection, the weather, 
the preliminary stroll beneath the great chestnut -trees in Greenwich Park, 
the cool upper room with its balcony overhanging the river, the dinner, from 
the prefatory water-souchy to the ultimate devilled white-bait, the assort 
ment, spirits, and conversation of the guests. On our return to town in the 
cool of the summer night, it was the good fortune of the present writer to sit 
beside Mr. Prescott, on the box of the omnibus which Mr. Murray had 
chartered for his p:irty. It was there that the historian related to him the 
fortunes of his first historical work, as told above. He likewise described 
with great zest a more recent incident of his life. Some days before that, he 
had dined with the late Sir Robert Peel. With the punctuality which was 
very noticeable amidst all the bustle of Mr. Prescott's endless London en 
gagements, he was in Whitehall gardens at the precise moment indicated on 
the card of invitation. It followed, as a natural result, that he was for some 
minutes the sole occupant of the drawing-room. In due time, Sir Robert 
walked in, very bland and a little formal, somewhat more portly than he ap 
peared on the canvas of Lawrence, somewhat less rotund than he was wont 
to be figured in the columns of Punch. Although not personally known to 
his host, Mr. Prescott took for granted that his name had been announced. 
It was to his great surprise, therefore, that he found himself addressed in 
French. He replied in the same language, inly musing whether he had been 
mistaken for somebody else, or whether to speak French to all persons from 
beyond the sea was the etiquette of British statesmanship, or the^private pre 
dilection of Peel. After some introductory topics had been got over, he was 
still further mystified by finding the dialogue turned towards the drama, and 
being complimented on his great success in that unfamiliar walk of letters. 
The astonished historian was making the reply which his native modesty dic 
tated, when a second guest, a friend of his own, entered, and addressed both of 
them in English. Mr. Prescott had been mistaken for M. Scribe, a blunder 
ludicrous enough to those who know the contrast that existed between the 
handsome person of the historian, and the undistinguished appearance of the 
most prolific of modern playwrights. By a curious chance, M. Scribe did 
not arrive until a large party of political and literary celebrities were seated 
at dinner, and Mr. Prescott concluded his story by remarking on the graceful 
kindness with which Sir Robert hastened to meet him at the door, and 
smoothed the foreigner's way to a place amongst strangers." 


less than no time, 9 and then, Ho for Yankee-land ! Mr. Rogers has 
just sent me a message to say, that lie must at least shake hands with me. 
How kind is this ! although his house is crowded with visitors, he sees no 
one but his physicians. 

Remember me kindly to George and Anna, and to any other friends. 
Kiss mother and Lizzie, and believe me, dearest, 

Your loving husband, 



LONDON, June 14, 1860. 

As your mother tells me that you are to write me this week, I will do 
the same good turn to you. What shall I tell you about ? There are so 
many tilings that would interest you in this wonderful city. But first of 
all, I think on reflection, you judged wisely in not coming. You would 
have had some lonely hours, and have been often rather awkwardly 
situated. Girls of your age make no great figure here in society. One 
never, or very rarely, meets them at dinner-parties, and they are not so 
numerous in the evening parties as with us, unless it be the balls. Six 
out of seven women whom you meet in society are over thirty, and many 
of them over forty and fifty, not to say sixty. The older they are, the 
more they are dressed and diamonded. Young girls dress little, and 
wear very little ornament indeed. They have not much money to spend 
on such costly luxuries. At the Ascot races yesterday, I happened to be 

next to Lady , a very pleasing girl, the youngest sister of Lord 

She seemed disposed to bet on the horses ; so I told her I would venture 
anywhere from a shilling to a sovereign. She said she never bet higher 
than a shilling, but on this occasion would go as high as half a crown. 
So she did, and lost it. It was quite an exciting race, between a horse 
of Lord Eglinton's, named " Flying Dutchman," and a little mare of 
Lord Stanley's, 10 named " Canezou." The former had won on several 
occasions, but the latter had lately begun to make a name in the world, 
and Lord Stanley's friends were eagerly backing her. It was the most 
beautiful show in the world. 

But I will begin with the beginning. I went with the Lawrences. 
We went by railway to Windsor, then took a carriage to Ascot, some 
half-dozen miles distant. The crowds of carriages, horses, &c. on the 
road filled the air with a whirlwind of dust, and I should have been 
blinded but for a blue veil which was lent me to screen my hat and face. 
The Swedish Minister, who furnished these accommodations, set the 
example by tying himself up. On reaching Ascot, we were admitted to 
the salon, which stands against the winning-post, and which is occupied by 
the Queen, when there. It was filled with gay company, all in high 
spirits. Lord Stanley was looking forward to a triumph, though he 
talked coolly about it. He is one of the ablest, perhaps the ablest, debater 

' The period at which he then proposed to embark for home. 
Now (1862) the Earl of Derby. 


in Parliament, and next Monday will make a grand assault on the Cabi 
net. This is the way he relieves himself from the cares of public life. I 
suspect he was quite as much interested in the result of the race yesterday 
as he will be in the result of the Parliamentary battle on Monday. 

The prize, besides a considerable stake of money from subscription, was 
a most gorgeous silver vase, the annual present of the Emperor of Russia 
for the Ascot races. It represents Hercules taming the horses of Dio- 
mede, beautifully sculptured, making an ornament for a sideboard or a 
table, some five feet in height, and eighteen inches square. What a trophy 
for the castle of the Earl of Derby, or for the Eglinton halls in Scotland ! 

The horses were paraded up and down before the spectators, betting 
ran very high, men and women, nobles and commoners, who crowd 
the ground by thousands, all entering into it. Five horses started on 
a heat of two miles and a half. The little bay mare led off gallantly, 
' Flying Dutchman " seemed to lose ground, the knowing ones began 
to shake, and the odds rose in " Canezou's " favor, when, just as 
they were within half a mile of the goal, Lord Eglinton's jockey gave his 
horse the rein, and he went oft' in gallant style, not running, but touch 
ing the ground in a succession of flying leaps that could hardly have 
brushed the wet from the grass, for it began to rain. There was a general 
sensation ; bets changed ; the cry was for the old favorite ; and as the 
little troop shot by us, " Flying Dutchman " came in at the head, by the 
length of several rods, before all the field. Then there was a shouting 
and congratulations, while the mob followed the favorite horse as if they 
would devour him. He was brought directly under our windows, and 
Lady Eglinton felt, I have no doubt, as much love for him at the moment 
as for any of her children. It was a glorious triumph, and the vase was 
hers, or her lord's, whom I did not see. Now I did not feel the least 
excited by all this, but excessively tired, and I would not go to another 
race, if I could do it by walking into the next street ; that is, if I had to 
sit it out, as I did here, for three mortal hours. How hard the English 
fine people are driven for amusement ! 

Coming home, we drove through the royal park at Windsor, among 
trees hundreds of years old, under which troops of deer were lazily 
grazing, secure from all molestation. The Thames is covered with swans, 
which nobody would dare to injure. How beautiful all this is ! I wish, 
dear Lizzie, you could have a peep at the English country, with its 
superb, wide-stretching lawns, its numerous flocks of sheep, everywhere 
dotting the fields, and even the parks in town, and the beautiful white 
cows, all as clean as if they had been scrubbed down. England, in the 
country, is without a rival. But in town, the houses are all dingy, and 
most of them as black as a chimney with the smoke. This hangs like a 
funeral pall over the city, penetrating the houses, and discoloring the curtains 
and furniture in a very short time. You would be amused with the gay 
scene which the streets in this part of the town present. SplciMid equipages 
fill the great streets as far as the eye can reach, blazing with rich colors, 
and silver mountings, and gaudy liveries. Everything here tells of a proud 
and luxurious aristocracy. I shall see enough of them to-day, as I have 
engagements of one kind or another to four houses, before bed-time, which 
is now with me very regularly about twelve, sometimes later, but 1 do 
not like to have it later. 


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. 

Your affectionate father, 


The account of his presentation at Court is much in the 
same style with the last. It is addressed to Mrs. Prescott, and, 
after an introduction on slight subjects, goes on as follows : 

Thursday, 6 P. M. 

Well, the presentation has come off, and I will give you some account 
of it before going to dine with Lord Fitzwilliam. This morning I break 
fasted with Mr. Monckton Milnes, where I met Macaulay, the third 
time this week. We had also Lord Lyttleton, an excellent scholar, 
Gladstone, and Lord St. Germans, a sensible and agreeable person, 
and two or three others. We had a lively talk ; but I left early for the 
Court affair. 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, 
the coat buttons up, single-breasted, to the throat, 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 in 
structions for demeaning myself. The greatest danger was, that I should 
be tripped up by my own sword. On reaching St. James's Palace we 
passed up-stairs through files of the guard, beef-eaters, and were 
shown into a large saloon, not larger than the great room of the White 
House, but richly hung with crimson silk, and some fine portraits of the 
family of George the Third. It was amusing, as we waited there an 
hour, to see the arrival of the different persons, diplomatic, military, and 
courtiers. All, men and women, blazing in all their stock of princely finery; 
and such a power of diamonds, pearls, emeralds, and laces, the trains of 
the ladies' dresses several yards in length ! Some of the ladies wore coro 
nets of diamonds that covered the greater part of the head, others neck 
laces of diamonds, and emeralds that were a size perfectly enormous. I 

counted on Lady 's head two strings of diamonds, rising gradually 

from the size of a fourpence to the size of an English shilling, and thick 

in proportion. Lady had emeralds mingled with her diamonds, of 

the finest lustre, as large as pigeon's eggs. The parure was not always in 

the best taste. The Duchess of 's dress was studded with diamonds 

along the border and down the middle of the robe, each of the size of 
half a nutmeg. The young ladies, a great many of whom were pre 
sented, were dressed generally without ornament. I tell all this for Liz 
zie's especial benefit. The company were at length permitted one by 
one to pass into the presence-chamber, a room of about the same size as 
the other, with a throne and gorgeous canopy at the farther end, before 
which stood the little Queen of the mighty Isle, and her consort, sur 
rounded by her ladies in waiting. She was rather simply dressed, but ha 


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 bettor looking than 
you might expect. I was presented by our Minister, according to the di 
rections 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 courtesy, as she made to .some two hundred others, 
who were presented in like manner. Owing to there having been no 
drawing-room for a long time,, there was an unusual number .of presenta 
tions of young ladies ; but very few gentlemen were presented. 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. As I was drawing off, Lord Carlisle, who was 
standing on the edge of the royal circle, called me, and kept me by his' 
side, telling me the names of the different lords and ladies, who, after pay 
ing their obeisance to the Queen, passed out before us. He said, he had : 
come to the drawing-room to see now I got through the affair, which he 
thought 1 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. I passed another hour' 

in talking and criticising, especially with Lady T , whom E 

D knew, and with Lady M H and Lord M , all of 

whom happened to gather in that part of the room. I had also some talk' 
with Sir Robert Peel and his wife, who has the remains of beauty, and 
whose daughter, much admired, according to Lord C., has much beauty 
herself. I talked also for some time with the old Iron Duke, who had 
more gold than iron about him to-day, and looked very well, although hjs 
utterance is not perfectly distinct, and he is slightly deaf. 

After the drawing-room, I went at five to Stafford House, the Duchess 
of Sutherland's, where I lunched, and spent a couple of hours in rambling 
through the rooms of the magnificent palace ornamented with hundreds 
of the most exquisite paintings and statues, and commanding a beautiful 
view of Hyde Park. Nothing can be more kind than the behavior of the 
whole of Lord C.'s relatives to me. Luckily for me, they are of the best' 
families in England. They treat me, one and all, as if I were one of 
themselves. What can be so grateful to the wanderer in a foreign land, 
as to find himself at once among friends, who seem to be friends of an old 
standing ? If I were to tell you of the cordial and affectionate greetings 
they give me, I should seem more vain than I seem now, I fear, if pos 
sible. But you will feel that I am talking to you, and do not say half I 
should if I were really talking. 

I am most desirous to embark by September 1st, but I must see four or 
five specimens of English country-life; and Parliament confound it 
will not rise before the middle of August, unless the Ministry are upset, 
which may be. I have invitations to Lord Lansdowne's, the Duke of 
Northumberland's, Lord Fitzwilliam's, the Duke of Argyll's, and all that 
kith and kin, and several other places. Lord Carlisle wants me to go 
first to Castle Howard, then to old Nawarth Castle, on the borders> which 
he has entirely restored since the fire, and the family spend some weeks 
there. I am afraid all this will carry me into September. But if so, 
13 s 


I shall abridge some of the visits. I shall try to embark by the first Oi 

Your loving husband, 


To his mother he begins a letter in London, June 20th, but 
continues it from the Bishop of Oxford's palace. 


You will be surprised at the date of my continuation, perhaps, dear 
mother. I am about seven miles from Oxford, at the residence of the 
Bishop, called Cuddesdon Palace ; a very old building, and the mansion 
occupied from ancient times by his predecessors. The present Bishop is 
the son of the famous Wilberforce. He is a very handsome man, polished 
in his manners, and an eloquent preacher. He invited me to stay here 
two or three days. We have besides a dozen persons in the house, a 
brother bishop, Thirhvall, who wrote the " History of Greece," an amiable 
and unpretending scholar ; the Lawrences ; Lord and Lady Castlercagh, 
&c. It is very convenient for me, as I am to-morrow to receive the degree 
of Doctor of Laws from Oxford University. The Marquis of Northamp 
ton, 11 who is also here, is to receive a degree at the same time, and a 
special convocation has been called for the purpose. After the ceremonj 
we all lunch at the Vice-Chancellor's, and return in the evening to Lon 
don. I came down to Oxford yesterday in the train with the Lawrences. 
The Bishop was obliged unluckily to remain in London till this morning, 
to attend the christening of the last royal infant. He had arranged, there 
fore, that we should dine with the Principal of one of the Colleges in Oxford, 
after which, at ten, we drove over to Cuddesdon. Lord Northampton and 
I came over together, and I found him a lively, sensible person, full of in 
teresting anecdote. He has travelled a good deal, and is much connected 
with science and scientific men. Before going to bed, the whole house 
hold guests included went to the chapel, a very pretty building 
erected by the present Bishop, and heard the evening service, very sol 
emn, and parts of it chanted by the domestics of the house. There are 
two chaplains attached to the establishment. My bedroom looks out on a 
lawn, dotted with old trees, over whose tops the rooks are sailing and caw 
ing, while a highly gifted nightingale is filling the air with his melody. I 
am writing, you must understand, at five o'clock in the afternoon, while the 
rest of the household have gone to the afternoon service in the parish 
church. I went there this morning, and heard the Bishop preach. He 
arrived here from London, late last night, after we had all retired to rest. 
The church is one I should much like you to see. It is of the greatest 
antiquity, parts of it going back to the times of the Plantagenets, to 
the reigns, indeed, of Henry the Third and John. Is not that a gloriona 
antiquity ? We sat in the venerable pile, where prayer and praise had 

n President of the Royal Society. He died the next year. 


ascended for nearly seven centuries. The crumbling walls have been re 
stored by the present Bishop, a man of great architectural taste. The 
light streams in through the stained panes, on which the arms and names 
of a long roll of bishops, from the beginning of the fourteenth century, 
were colored. The service was performed with a ceremony quite Ro?nan- 
Catholic. The chant was conducted by all the congregation, as it seemed to 
me, and a great deal of the service read by us was chanted. The sermon 
was adapted, or meant to be adapted, to a parish church ; but I did not 
acquiesce in the views of the preacher, though the tones of his voice 
would have melted the most obdurate heart. They started an unfortunate 
urchin who had fallen asleep, and whom he paused in his sermon to ad 
monish in a very pastoral but decided tone. There must be little danger 
of the good Bishop's flock going to sleep, I should think, with this sort of 
improvement of the discourse. In truth, he is so eloquent that there must 
be very little danger of it at any rate. I walked with some of the ladies 
for a long while under the old elms in the grounds, after church. 

I wish you could see the pretty picture the English picture under 
my window ; the green lawn, as smooth as velvet and of as deep a ver 
dure. There are circular beds of roses, and yellow and purple flowers, 
gayly set out in one part of it, clumps of stately elms, and cypresses 
throwing masses of shadow over the turf, and several of the party, re 
turned from church, stretched out under the trees, while the great birds, 
the rooks, are wheeling in the air, and the woods are alive, as the evening 
sun is withdrawing his fiercer rays. For it has been " real " warm 

Cuddcsdon stands on a high terrace, and from the grounds, which are 
not extensive, you have a wide view of the rich vale of the Isis, as it 
winds through Oxfordshire. The pastures are covered with white or 
white-streaked cattle, that look as if they had been groomed like horses, so 
clean and shining are they, and flocks of sheep, that always speckle au 
English landscape. Then there is a beautiful chime of bells, that has 
twice sent its musical echoes to-day over hill and dale, filling the air and 
the heart with a sober Sabbath melody. Then just beyond the grounds, 
around the old church, lies the country churchyard, where rest the mortal 
part of many a brave soul that lived in the times of the Edwards and 
Henrys. What is there like these old links of Time, that bind us to the 
past, as much our past as it is John Bull's ? 

To-morrow morning we go to Oxford, for the ceremony of Doctmizing 
which takes place in the theatre, before the Bigwigs. Our household 
all go over to do us honor, and eat the Vice-Chancellor's lunch, who 
wrote me a note inviting me to bring my friends. "So fare you well, dear 
mother. Pray be careful of your health. Do stay, if you can, some time 
with Susan at Nahant. Give my love to her and Lizzie, with as many 
kisses as you please, and tell my dear wife she must take this for her letter 
this time, as I intend to write to Ticknor. God bless you all. 
Your affectionate son, 


He was at Cuddesdon, as we have seen, partly in order to be 


near Oxford, when he was " called up " there, as the phrase is, 
to be made a Doctor of Civil Law. Of this he gives a more 
distinct account in the following letter than I find elsewhere. 


LONDON, June 26, 1860. 

I must thank you for your kind letter by the Asia, which made hef 
trip in ten days and a bittock. I had written to my mother from Oxford 
that I should send you a line by this steamer ; so you will consider me, 
if you please, as quick on the trigger as yourself. 

Well, here I am in the hurry-scurry of London, up to my ears in 
dances, dinners, and breakfasts, some of the last at 10 A. M., some at 5 
P. M., to say nothing of luncheons, the most beautiful of which that I 
have seen, was yesterday at Lansdowne House. I am booked up for din 
ners to the middle of July, and then I intend to stop, as I may take a 
week for a trip to Holland, the land of my historic avenir. Meanwhile 
I have invitations of one kind or another, often three or four a day. So 
I shall not go to sleep till bedtime certainly; and I believe, though I have 
been here but three weeks, I have been industrious enough to be able to 
form a pretty good judgment of the stuff of which London society is made. 
On the whole, it is a very extraordinary kind of life, and, as far as health 
is concerned, agrees with me wonderfully. My eyes and many et-ceteras 
are improved, and even the digestive organs, which must form the great 
piece de resistance in the battle, so far come up to the mark gloriously. 
Yet 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 knowl 
edge of a very curious state of society, and of so many interesting and re 
markable characters, well compensates 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. 

The world here are all in great agitation and suspense as to the fate of 
the Ministry. It hangs, you know, on the vote of the Commons on the 
Greek question. I will not trouble you with the details, with which you are 
too good a reader of English politics not to be familiar. I was in the 
House of Peers at the grand charge of Lord Stanley, and have heard 
some speeches in the Commons, but not the best. If government do not 
get a majority of over thirty, at least, it is understood they will go out, 
and then there will be such a scramble, for they reign by the weakness 
and division of their opponents. The voting on this motion will, I im 
agine, cause no less division in the government ranks. It is curious to 
see the interest shown by the women in political matters. 

What will interest you more than the contest is the assault made so 
brutally by Brougham on your friend Bunsen. I was present, and nevcf 
saw anything so coarse as his personality. He said the individual 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 


eves and glasses had been directed to the spot, to make out the unfortunate 
individual, while Lord Brougham was flying up and down, thumping the 
table with his fist, and foaming at the mouth, till all his brother-peers, in 
cluding the old Duke, were in convulsions of laughter. I dined with Bun- 
sen and Madame the same day, at Ford's. He has since received scores of 
condoling visits, as well as the most conciliatory communications from 
Lord Palmerston, &c., &c. It will, probably, end in providing a place 
for the Corps Diplomatique, who have hitherto been shuffled with "dis 
tinguished foreigners " into the vacant space around the throne. 

I returned day before yesterday from a visit to the Bishop of Oxford, 
Wilberforce, you know ; one of the best-bred men, and most pleasing in 
conversation, that I have met with. However canny he may be in his 
church politics, he is certainly amiable, for uniform good-breeding implies 
a sacrifice of self that is founded on- benevolence. There was some agree 
able company at the house, among them a lady, very well read, the daugh 
ter of a Bisjiop, who told me she had never heard the name of Dr. Chan- 
ning ! I gave her a great shock by telling her I was a Unitarian. The term, 
is absolutely synonymous, in a large party here, with Infidel, Jew, Mo 
hammedan ; worse even, because regarded as a wolf in sheep's clothing. 

On Monday morning our party at the Bishop's went to Oxford, where 
Lord Northampton and I were Doctorized 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, &c., in their 
black and red gowns, through the public street, looking, that is, we, like 
the victims of an auto de fe'; though, I believe, on second thoughts, the 
san benito was yellow. The house was well filled by both men and women. 
The Archaeological Society is holding its meetings there. 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. We lunched with the 
Vice-Chancellor, who told me I should have had a degree on Commem 
oration-day, the regular day ; but he wrote about me to the Dean of St. 
Paul's, who was absent from town, and so an answer was not received 
until too late. He did not tell me that the principal object of the letter 

waii to learn my faith, having some misgivings as to my heresy. M 

wrote him word that he thought my books would be found to be vouchers 
enough for me to obtain a degree. So a special convocation was called, 
and my companion in the ceremony was a better man than a military 
chief, like Lord Gough. I like Lord Northampton very much. He was 
at the Bishop's, and we drove together from Cuddesdon to Oxford. 12 He 
is a man of very active mind. He told me some good anecdotes ; among 
others, an answer of the Duke to a gentleman who asked him if he had 

12 Mr. Prescott had already received more than one honorary degree at 
home; but, with his accustomed ingenuousness and simplicity, remembering 
how lavishly and carelessly such distinctions are conferred by most of our 
American colleges, he could not repress his satisfaction that he was " now a 
real Doctor." 


not been surprised at the battle of Waterloo. The Duke coldly replied, 
" I never was surprised, as well as I can remember, till now, in my life." 
Did you ever hear of his fine answer to a lady who was glorifying his vic 
tories ? "A victory, ma'am, is the saddest thing in the world, except a 
defeat." Now that Sidney Smith is gone, Rogers furnishes the nicest 
touches in the way of repartee. His conversation even in his dilapidated 
condition, on his back, is full of salt, not to say cayenne. I was praising 
somebody's good-nature very much. "Yes," he said, "so much good 
nature, that there is no room for good-sense." Perhaps you have heard 
of a good thing of Rogers's, which Lord Lansdowne told me the other 
day he lieard him say. It was at Lord Holland's table, when Rogers 
asked Sir Philip Francis (the talk had some allusion to Junius) if he, Sir 
Philip, would allow him to ask a certain question. " Do so at your 
peril," was the amicable reply. " If he is Junius," said Rogers in an un 
dertone to his neighbor, " he must be Junius Brutus." 

Since writing the preceding, I have passed half an hour with Lockhart 
in his own quarters. He showed me some most interesting memorials of 
Scott ; among the rest the diary, in which the trembling character, more 
and more trembling, and the tottering thoughts showed the touch of apo 
plexy. Very affecting, is it not t 

Macaulay has gone to Scotland to look over topography ; among the 
rest, the scene of the massacre of Glencoe. 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 l>e delivered of twins on his next publication, which would not 
be till '53. I was glad to hear him say this, though it will be a disap 
pointment to brethren of the trade, who think a man may turn out his- 
toricals, like romances and calicoes, by the yard. Macaulay's first 
draught very unlike Scott's is absolutely illegible from erasures and 
corrections. He showed me a sheet just written. I found de as an 
abridgment of castle, and all on that plan. This draft he copies always, 
with alteration, &c. This shows more care than I had supposed. He 
tells me he has his moods for writing. When not in the vein, lie does not 

press it. Johnson, you remember, ridiculed this in Gray. 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. " Y.OU 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 not this a miraculous tour d'&prit ? Macaulay docs 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. 

The world here is agitated by the debate still going on in the Com. 
mons, on which the fate of the Ministry depends. Lord Palmerston 
made a most able defence evening before last. The Speaker says he 
never heard one superior to it since he has presided there, nearly a dozen 
years. His wife heard the whole of it, and seems to feel the full glory 
which has come upon her husband. Yet, although it has made a good 
rally for the party, the issue is very doubtful. Day before yesterday I 


dined with your friend Kenyon. I found him kind and most cordial. It 
is the first time I have seen him ; no fault of his, for he has called, and 
repeatedly asked me to dine ; nor of mine, for I have called also. But 
meeting any particular body in London is a small chance, too small to 
he counted on by any person. I have seen much of the Milmans and 
Lyells. Nothing can be kinder. Lord Carlisle and his whole kith and 
kin, ditto. These I had some right to count upon, but, in truth, the ex 
pressions of kindness from utter strangers have been what I had no right 
to anticipate. I avail myself so much of this friendly feeling that I flatte 1 " 
myself I shall see as much of London (the interior) in six weeks as most 
of its inhabitants would in as many months. Twice this week I kept my 
ground in the ball-room till ghost-time had passed, once till an hour after 
dawn. Am I not a fast boy ? 

Of all the notabilities no one has struck me more than the Iron Duke. 
His face is as fresh as a young man's. He stoops much and is a little 
deaf. It is interesting to see with what an affectionate and respectful 
feeling he is regarded by all, not least by the Queen. 

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 chapcau, &c. This and my Cardinal's robe on Monday ! Am I not 
playing the fool as well as my betters ? No wonder that the poet who 
lived in London should find out that " The world 's a stage, and all the 
men," &c. But I must conclude this long talk, so pleasant with a dear 
friend, but not without thanking you for so kindly condensing my char 
acter into twelve hundred words ; better than if you had had more words 

allowed to tell it in. 13 L , in the haste of my departure, asked if 

he could not refer to some one, and I told him you ; for I had rather he 
in your hands than in any other man's alive. If I had not been in yours, 
I should have been in his. I hope to get something better than the 

paralysis effigy which L got of me an hour before sailing, as I am 

engaged to sit for my portrait next week to an excellent artist, Rich 
mond, in the same style as our Cheney, for Lord Carlisle ; a thing I did 
not expect to do again. 

With ever so much love to Anna, and Anika, and little Lizzie, 
I remain, dear George, 

Always affectionately yours, 



LONDON, Sunday, June 30, 1850. 

I go this afternoon to the Dean of St Paul's to lunch and hear his 
afternoon service in the great Cathedral. I shall call for our good friend 
Lady Lyell, and take her with me. What shall I tell you of the past 

18 A notice of Mr. Prescott, which I prepared for a publication at New 
York, entitled "Illustrious Americans," where I was limited to twelve hun 
dred words, as it was only intended to explain a portrait of him. 


week 1 I will run over my engagements for yesterday and a day or two 
coming, that you may know my whereabouts. I was invited to a rural 
party at a Mrs. Lawrence's, Baling Park, where went the Duke of Cam 
bridge. But I could not go, having engaged to visit Lambeth, the old 
palace of the Archbishop of Canterbury, with my friends the Milmans. 
And friends they are ; I wish you knew Mrs. M., you would so like her. 
Her letter to me last summer was a fair index to her character. 

I received your letter, enclosing that of Amory, to whom I shall write 
this week. But I write so much to you, that it really leaves me little 
time for others. But writing to you is my chief happiness, as it is talking 
with my best friends, you and mother. Well, where was I ? At the 
Queen's. (The servant has just brought me a note from Alison, inviting 
me most cordially to make his house in Glasgow my head-quarters, should 
I visit Scotland, where he goes in a day or two. That is kind from a 
brother of the craft.) After some of the company had paid their 
respects, dancing began. The Queen danced a quadrille very gracefully 
with the Prince of Prussia. The crowd in the- neighborhood of the 
Queen was intense, and the heat suffocating. I strolled through the whole 
suite of magnificent apartments, all filled with a blaze of beauty, simply 
attired in the young, and of age bejewelled from head to foot, the men 
in their picturesque diplomatic costumes, or military or court-dresses 
blazing with diamond-crosses and ribbons, and noble orders. It was a 
gorgeous sight. At midnight we went to supper, the Queen leading in 
the procession, while the whole band played the grand national air. The 
supper-table ran through the whole length of the immense hall, the 
farther end of which was hung with gold or gilt shields of great size and 
lighted up with a thousand lights. The rest of the room was in compara 
tive darkness. It was a grand stage effect, which I did not much admire. 
The servants stood next to the wall. They were as many as could stand 
at the tables, which at the end were united by a transverse table. They 
were all gold and finery, so that I felt very diffident of calling on them 
for anything. The Queen kept her state at the head of the room, and, 
as well as her guests, was on the inside of the tables. The supper was 
magnificent, especially in fruits and confectionery. You know I have a 
failing in the way of confectionery, and the English have varieties that 
would make the fortune of a Yankee. After supper, dancing again, till 
I saw one young lady in a waltz before the Queen, who never waltzes, go 
down with a thump that I thought might have broken a bone. Two 
other couples had the like fate that evening. The floors are of hard wooa 
and polished. At two her Majesty retired. So could not I ; for my car 
riage was more than an hour in getting to the door, and the daylight war 
broad in the streets before I laid my head on the pillow. There is th* 
Court Ball ! And from one you may learn all. We are now in great 
stir here for the accident which has befallen Sir Robert Peel ; I called 
.there to-day, and left my card, as do half London. It is curious to see 
the interest excited. A police-officer is stationed at the gates to prevent 
disorder, and bulletins are handed round to the crowd, containing the last 
report of die physicians. You will see the particulars in the newspapers. 
It is a serious, very probably a fatal accident. 


July 3d. Sir Robert Peel is dead ! The news has given a shock to 
the whole town. He died in his dining-room, the very room where I 
was with him a fortnight ago. It seems a frivolous thing, this dining 
and dancing in the midst of death. I am getting a-weary of the life, I 
assure you. 

Fourth of July. William came in upon me to-day at noon. He 
arrived in the Southampton steamer from Gibraltar. He has been in 
Africa and Southern Spain, and, as his letters remained in Paris by his 
order?; he heard nothing of my being in London till he received a note 
from car Minister in Madrid. He looks very well, just as he did when he 
sailed, except that he is as black as a Moor from the African sun. It was 
a merry meeting on both sides. He is very simple and unaffected in his 
manners, and is full of his adventures. He has brought with him your 
daguerrotype, the sight of which, dear, was as welcome to me as the 
sight of him. He has left some articles in Paris, and I think I shall let 
him run over there for a few days. On the 20th, I shall go with him for 
a week to Belgium ; then take him with me to a few country-places, and 
early in September I shall embark. If Parliament did not continue sitting 
till the middle of August, I should not be so late. With love to mother 
and Lizzie, and to E. Dexter, 

I remain your loving husband, 


My eyes are much better, and health generally very good. William 
compliments me by saying I look younger than when he left. 

I am now writing to Amory, 14 and shall send the letters to-day. It is 
a fine day, and I go at noon on my expedition to Greenwich with Ford, 
Lockhart, Hallam, Stirling, Rawlinson, Cummings, the African lion- 
hunter, &c. William is to be one of the party. I sat up with him late 
last night after my return from dinner, till one o'clock, hearing hia 
Southern adventures, and indulging with him in the fume of cigars. 


Wednesday evening. Just returned from the Countess Grey's. A small 
party of ten. I sat between two ladies, whose united ages amounted to one 

hundred and fifty, Lady and Lady . There was also a charming 

lady there to whom I lost my heart, dear wife, some three weeks since. 
Don't be jealous, she is over seventy, Lady Morley, a most natural, 
lively, benevolent body. I know you would like her. I really think the 
elder bodies here are very charming. In fact, nobody is old. I have not 
seen any up to one I have left in Beacon Street. What a delightful letter 
from mother ! Your letters of June 30th came in this afternoon. I have 
sent your nice little notes to Lady Lyell and Mrs. Smith. How good it 
was in them to write ! Your note to me was a shabby one. You must 

l* His younger son, William Amory Prescott. 


not write the less that others write. I shall answer Anna Ticknor by a 
good letter this mail for her kindness in thinking of me. 


LONDON, July 18, 1860. 

Thank you, my dear Anna, for so kindly thinking of me in the practi 
cal way of a letter. I knew your superscription before I broke the seal, 
and it was "good for sair e'en." I did mean to answer you with a bigger 
letter, but on returning home this evening after a visit to the city, I found 
my friends here had cut out work enough for Mr. Kirk, 15 which could not 
be passed over. To-morrow I go to the Continent, an historical tour, for 
a few days. 

I have now seen life in London and its environs, wealth, wit, and 
beauty, and rank ; sometimes without either ; women talking politics, men 
talking nonsense ; literary breakfasts, fashionable dinners, convivial din 
ners, political dinners; lords without pretension, citizens with a good deal, 
literary lion, fashionable lions, the Nepaulese, the hippopotamus, &c., &c. 
But I have not seen an old woman. As to age, nobody, man or woman, 
is old here. Even Miss Berry is but getting old. I forgot, however, 
Miss Joanna Baillie, decidedly old, much older than her sister. What 
a little world it is ! 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 

The dinners are very agreeable, if you are planted between agree 
able people. But what a perilous affair the settling of the respective 
grades, as you move in solemn procession to the banquet ! It is a nation 
of castes, as defined as those in India. But what cordial hearts are some 
times found under the crust of shyness and reserve ! There are some, 
however, so invincibly shy that they benumb the faculties of any one, 
at least, any stranger who approaches them. 

I have found the notabilities here pretty much as I had supposed. 
Macaulay is the most of a miracle. His tours in the way of memory 
stagger belief. He does not go about much now, except at breakfast. I 
lost a pleasant dinner with him on Monday at Denison's. His talk is like 
the labored, 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 
table-talk. The Milmans are the most lovable people I have met with, 
always excepting our friends the Lyells and Lord Carlisle and his family. 
These are the people whom I have seen the most of, and enjoyed the 
most ; invariable kindness, shown not merely in passing hospitality, 
but active measures for promoting one's happiness in every way that a 
stranger could 'desire. I have seen Rogers several times, that is, all that 
is out of the bed-clothes. His talk is still sauce piquante. The best 
thing on record of his late sayings is his reply to Lady , who at a 

18 His secretary. 


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. 

Since writing the above, I have returned from a dinner with Lockhart. 
We had only Ford, Stirling, and Major Rawlinson. Carlyle was invited, 
but was unwell. He came the other day to a place five minutes after I 
left it, and I sat next but two to him at a dinner-table some time since, 
and never knew I was in his company. Odd enough ! It proves he did 
not talk loud that day. So I have never seen him ; is it not droll ? Yet 
there are many men I should have more cared to see. Lockhart showed 
us the diary of Sir Walter. He (Lockhart) had two copies of it printed 
for himself. One of them was destroyed in printing the Memoir, for 
which he made extracts. 

But I must bid you good-night, dear Anna, as it is midnight. The iron 
tongue strikes it as I write these words. Good night, dear friend. 
Much love to George and to Anika. Thank your husband for his kind 
letter, which he will be kind enough to consider partly answered in this. 
Love to little Lizzie. 

Believe me, now and ever, 

Yours affectionately, 





THE expedition to the Continent was begun the next day 
after the last letter was written, and on the afternoon of 
the day following, July 20th, Mr. Prescott was in Paris. But 
he did not stop there. He was in brilliant Paris hardly two 
days, and one of them was a Sunday. He left it on the 22d, 
and on the 23d wrote from Antwerp to Mrs. Prescott a long 
letter, from which I select the portion that has a general 


ANTWERP, July 23, 1850. 

In Brussels I found myself in the heart of the Middle Ages. Old 
buildings of stone, curiously carved, immense gables and fantastic archi 
traves, and cornices of the houses ; churches with antique Gothic spires. 
The Place Royale, in which my hotel stood, was the spot on which 
Charles the Fifth abandoned the crown in presence of the most royal 
assembly that ever met in Brussels. What do I dream of at night ? Not 
Charles the Fifth, but Boston. That is a fact ; but my waking dreams 
were of the sixteenth century. I visited the Hotel de Ville, a most glorious 
municipal monument of the Middle Ages, standing as it stood when, 
directly in front of it, those gallant nobles, Egmont and Home, were be 
headed on a public scaffold by order of Alva. I visited the house, a fine 
old Gothic edifice, still standing, from which the Flemish patriots walked 
out to the scaffold, and from the windows of which Alva witnessed the 
execution. What a square that is ! If I don't make something out of 
my visit to Brussels and its glorious squares, I don't know what there is 
in eyesight. Yet I do know what there is in the want of it too well. 
My eyes, however, have been much better of late, and I read some every 
day. Then the noble cathedral of Brussels, dedicated to Saint Gudulc ; 
the superb organ filling its long aisles with the most heart-thrilling tones, 
as the voices of the priests, dressed in their rich robes of purple and gold,, 


rose in a chaut that died away in the immense vaulted distance of the 
cathedral. It was the service for the dead, and the coffin of some wealthy 
burgher, probably, to judge from its decorations, was in the choir. A 
number of persons were kneeling and saying their prayers in rapt atten 
tion, little heeding the Protestant strangers who were curiously gazing at 
the pictures and statues with which the edifice was filled. I was most 
struck with one poor woman who was kneeling at the shrine of the saint, 
whose marble corpse, covered by a decent white gauze veil, lay just before 
her, separated only by a light railing. The setting sun was streaming 
in through the rich colored panes of the magnificent windows, that rose 
from the floor to the ceiling of the cathedral, some hundred feet in height. 
The glass was of the time of Charles the Fifth, and I soon recognized 
his familiar face, the whopper-jaw of the Austrian line. As I heard the 
glorious anthem rise up to Heaven in this time-honored cathedral, which 
had witnessed generation after generation melt away, and which now dis 
played the effigies of those, in undying colors, who had once worshipped 
within its walls, I was swept back to a distant period, and felt I was a 
contemporary of the grand old times when Charles the Fifth held his 
Chapters of the Golden Fleece in this very building. 

But in truth I do not go back quite so far. A silly woman, with whom 
I came into Paris, said when I told her it was thirty years since I was here, 
" Poh ! you are not more than thirty years old ! " and on my repeating 
it, 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, and that is just the age at which Richmond's portrait, so excellent, 
puts me ! So I am convinced there has been some error in the calcula 
tion. Ask mother how it is. They say here that gray hairs, particularly 
whiskers, may happen to anybody, even under thirty. On the whole, I 
am satisfied, I am the youngest of the family. 

I had a note to M. de Praet, Leopold's Minister, who lives with him in 
his palace at Brussels. Mr. Van der Weyer expressed a desire that I 
should see Leopold, and gave me the letter for that purpose. It would have 
been an easy matter, as the king is very accessible, with very little form, 
and, as he is a clever person, is an interesting one in the line of 
crowned heads. But Fate has decided otherwise. On calling, I found his 
Belgian Majesty was not to come to-day (I am writing Tuesday, the 23d) 
from his country-place, and had sent for his Minister, half an hour before, 
to come to him. As I was to leave Brussels in a couple of hours, I left 
the note, with my regrets, and thus the foundation of what might have 
been a permanent friendship between us I mean, of course, Leopold 
and me was entirely destroyed ! At three, I left Brussels for Antwerp, 
another of the great historical cities of the Low Countries. Our road lay 
through fat meadows, wheat spreading out for miles, all yellow as gold, 
and as high as a man's head ; fields of the most tender green checkering 
the landscape ; rows of willow, trees, elms, and lindens, all in straight 
lines ; hedges of hawthorn ; such a fruitful country as yctr eye never 
rested on. It heats England all hollow. The women in the fields, reap 
ing and binding the sheaves ; the cattle all speckled white and black, 
suggesting lots of cream, delicious butter, and Dutch cheeses, such as 
Mr. B sent me, you know ; cottages wretchedly poor, shaded by old 


trees, and enchanting creepers and wild-flowers ; the whole as level as a 
bowling-green. 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. But I shall be by yours before September 
is closed. I mean to take my passage, on my return to England, for 
the 7th. 

To-morrow I go by steam to Rotterdam, take a peep into Holland, and 
see " the broad ocean lean against the land." It will be but a peep. 
But fare thee well. Good night, dear. Love to mother and Lizzie, and a 
hearty kiss, by way of good night, to both of them. Remember me to 
Elizabeth and the Ticknors, and believe me, 

Your affectionate husband, 


He made a little excursion in Holland, and, returning to 
Antwerp five days afterwards, wrote to his daughter on the 
28th another long letter, like the last to Mrs. Prescott, but one 
from which, as in that case, I omit such details as are of a 
domestic nature and do not belong to the public. 



ANTWERP, Sunday, July 28, 1850. 

From Antwerp I went to Rotterdam, Delft, the Hague, Haarlem, and 
Amsterdam. At Delft I saw the spot on which William of Orange, the 
hero of the Netherlands, was standing when he was assassinated ; the 
very spot is indicated by a tablet in the wall. He was just coming down 
stairs when he was shot by the assassin. The pistol has been preserved, 
and is so long that it could hardly have been presented without touching 
William's body in the narrow passage. Was it not an interesting spot to 
me ? I wish you could have been with me on the visit to Holland. Life 
is so different there from what it is anywhere else. Your mother would 
revel in its neatness. The great streets of Rotterdam and Amsterdam are 
filled with women, all busily engaged in different labors, some of which 
with us are performed by men. They were all dressed in neat caps, and 
with no bonnets or shawls, so it seemed as if we were in some great 
house, instead of being out of doors. We went to the little town of 
Broek, remarkable even here for its extravagant neatness. The streets 
looked as if they had been scoured down every day. We went into 
stables where the accommodations for cows were as nice as those usually 
for the masters and mistresses. They have a front-door to each of the 
houses, which is never opened except for weddings and funerals. One 
thing would have delighted you in all the Dutch towns, the quantities 
of little babies, the prettiest little rosy-faced things in the world, and 
without a spisck on their clothes. How the Dutch mammas manage their 


babies and their other handiwork, I don't comprehend. But every woman 
almost seems to have one of them in her arms. On the whole, I was 
much pleased with my bird's-eye view of the people, men and women, 
although the former do smoke intensely, not hesitating to light their pipes 
and cigars in the carriage or at the breakfast-table. 

On the 29th of July he was again in his old quarters at 
Mivart's Hotel. His object, however, was not London or Lon 
don society ; but English country life, and what is best in it. 
He began, therefore, a series of visits, with which, according to 
his previous arrangements, he was to close his European excur 
sion ; stopping, however, one day for a most agreeable dinner 
at Lord Carlisle's, to which he had promised himself before he 
went over to Holland. 

His first country visit was a charming one to Ham's Hall, in 
Warwickshire, where he went with a kinsman and friend of 
the statesman who is the master of that noble and luxurious 
establishment. The three days they spent there were most 
agreeable in all respects, involving, as they did, excursions with 
a brilliant party to Kenilworth, Warwick, and Stoneleigh Ab 
bey. But he was obliged to hurry away in order to keep an 
engagement for a great annual festival observed at Alnwick 
Castle, in Northumberland, and of which he gives a full 
account in the following letter to his daughter, familiar 
certainly in its whole tone, but the better and more agreeable 
because it is so. 


ALNWICK CASTLE, August 8, 1850. 

It was very good of you to write me such a charming letter, and so 
very interesting. I received it here in the ancient castle of the Percy's ; 
and it was more pleasant to my sight than the handwriting if I could 
meet with it of Harry Hotspur himself. So I cannot do better than to 
answer it by some account of the magnificent place where I am now 
quartered. We reached it three days since in a heavy rain. It rains in 
England twice as much as with us ; and in the North and in Scotland four 
times as much, I understand. But nobody minds rain ; and the ladies 
jump into their saddles or put on their walking-shoes as soon in a drizzle 
or a light shower as in' sunshine. I wonder they do not grow web-footed,. 
as I have told them. I received a note from the Duke a day or two before 
I left London, advising me to be in time for dinner, and it was just after 


the first bell rang that our carriage drove up. Alnwick Castle stands at 
the end of the town, from which it is cut off by high walls and towers, 
and it looks out on a bold hilly country, with the river Alne flowing below 
its walls. My chamber, where I am now writing, overlooks a wide stretch 
of border land, made famous by many a ballad ; and away to the west 
rise the blue hills of Cheviot, with Chevy Chase between, and farther to 
the west is the field of Flodden. Is it not a stirring country 1 Then to 
look on it from the towers of Alnwick ! 

I went down to dinner, and found the Duke with a few friends, waiting 
for the ladies. He gave us a cordial welcome. He was no stranger to 
me, as I have met both him and the Duchess in London. He is a good- 
looking man, with light hair, blue eyes, rather tall, frank and cordial in 
his manners. He has been a captain in the navy. He immediately took 
me to a window, and showed me the battle-ground, where Malcolm, who 
succeeded Macbeth, was slain, when besieging Alnwick. A little stone 
cross still marks the spot. In fifteen minutes the company assembled in 
the drawing-room to the number of forty. The dining-room is very large, 
as you may imagine, to accommodate so many persons. There was a 
multitude of servants, and the liveries, blue, white, and gold, of the Duke 
were very rich. We had also our own servants to wait on us. The table 
was loaded with silver. Every plate was silver, and everything was blaz 
oned with the Northumberland arms. The crest is a lion, and you sec the 
lion carved on the stone-work displayed in sugared ornaments on the table, 
in the gilt panelling of the rooms, &c. As you enter the town of Alnwick, 
a stone column some sixty feet high is seen, surmounted by a colossal lion, 
and four monsters of the same family in stone lie at its base. The 
Northumberland lion has his tail always sticking out straight, which has 
proved too strong a temptation for the little boys of Alnwick, who have 
amused themselves with breaking off that ornamental appendage to a little 
lion sculptured on a bridge below the house. After dinner, which was a 
great London dinner over again, we retreated to the drawing-room, where 
a concert was prepared for us, the musicians having been brought from 
London, three hundred miles distant. The room was hung round with 
full-length portraits of the Duke's ancestors, some of them in their robes 
of state, very showy. I went to bed in a circular room in one of the 
towers, with a window, shaped something like a rose, set into a wall from 
five to six feet thick. In the morning I waked up, and heard the deep 
tones of the old clock announcing seven. My head was full of the stout 
Earl of Northumberland who 

" A vow to God did make, 
His pleasure in the Scottish woods," &c. 

As I looked out of the window, I saw myself to be truly in an old 
baronial fortress, with its dark walls, and towers gloomily mustered arouud 
it. On the turrets, in all directions, were stone figures of men, as large 
as life, with pikes, battle-axes, &c., leaning over the battlements, appar 
ently in the act of defending the castle, a most singular effect, and to 
be found only in one or two fortresses. It reminded me of the description 
in Scott of the warders pacing to and fro on the battlements of " Nor- 
ham's castled steep," while the banner of Northumberland waved high iu 


the morning breeze. It was a glorious prospect, which called up the old 
border minstrelsy to memory, and I felt myself carried back to the days 
when the Douglas came over the borders. The dwelling of the family is 
the keep of the castle, the interior fortress. It was entirely rebuilt on the 
old foundations by the Duke's grandfather. But in conforming to them 
he has been led into such a quantity of intricacies, odd-shaped rooms, per 
plexing passages, out-of-the-way staircases, &c., that it is the greatest 
puzzle to find one's own room, or anybody's else. Even the partition- 
walls are sometimes five feet thick. The whole range of towers, which 
are offices for domestics and for the Duke's men of business, together 
with the walls, are of the ancient Norman structure ; and the effect of the 
whole, as seen from different points of view, is truly majestic. The print 
which I send you may give you some idea of the castle, though not a 
very good one. 

At a quarter past nine the whole household assembled for prayers in, 
the chapel, to the number, it might be, of over a hundred. Services 
were performed by the Duke's chaplain, and at parts of them every one 
knelt. Prayers in this way are read every morning in the English houses 
that I have seen, and, where there is no chaplain, by the master. It is an. 
excellent usage, and does much for the domestic morals of England. 
From prayers we go to the breakfast-table, an informal meal. After 
the breakfast the company disperses to ride, to walk, to read, &c. 

One day I amused myself with going over the different towers explor 
ing the secrets of the old castle, with a party of ladies who could not be 
persuaded to descend into the dungeon, which is still covered by its iron 
grating in the floor above. The good old times ! One day I took a ride 

with Lord M in the park, to see the ruins of Huhn Abbey. The 

park is a noble piece of ground, surrounded by a ring fence, a high wall 
of ten miles in circumference. It is carpeted with beautiful verdure, 
filled with old trees, and watered by the river Alne, which you cross at 
fords when there are no bridges. As you drive along over the turf and 
among the green thickets, you start hares and pheasants, and occasionally 
a troop of deer. The Duke has some red deer, which at times it is not 

pleasant for the pedestrian to meet. Lord told me that he was 

with a party once, when a stag of this kind planted himself in the path, 
and, on the carriage's advancing, rushed against the horses, and plunged 
his horns into the heart of one of them, who reared and fell dead. On 
reaching the Abbey we found the Duchess with a party of ladies had just 
arrived there, in two carriages drawn by four horses each, with postilions 
whose gay liveries looked pretty enough among the green trees. The 
Abbey is in a deep valley, a charming cultivated spot. The old monks 
always picked out some such place for their nest, where there was plenty 
of sweet water and feed for their cattle, and venison to boot. We wan 
dered over the ruins, over which Time had thrown his graceful mantle of 
ivy, as he always does over such ruins in England. From the topmost 
tower the eye ranged along a beautiful landscape, closed by the Cheviots. 
In coming home, which we all did at a gallop, we found lunch ready for 
us, at half-past two o'clock. This, too, is an informal meal, but it is a 
substantial one at Alnwick. After lunch we again took care of ourselves 
as we liked till dinner. In shooting-time the park affords a noble range 


for the sportsman, and plenty of trout are caught in the streams. Those of 
less murderous intent frequent the library, a large room stored with some 
thousands of volumes, some of them old enough, and hung round 
with family portraits. In this pleasant room I have passed some agree 
able hours, with persons who seemed to take the greatest pleasure in hunt 
ing up things for me most worthy of notice. English country-life brings 
out all the best qualities of the Englishman. 

At seven o'clock again came the dinner, for which we dress as much as 
in town. One day we all dined the men at a public dinner of all 
the great tenant farmers in the county. The building was of boards and 
sail-cloth, and lighted with hundreds of gas-lights. There were about a 
thousand persons, and the Duke and his guests sat at a long table, raised 
above the others, and, as it ran crosswise also to these, it commanded the 
whole hall. It was an animated sight, especially as the galleries were 
filled with the ladies of the Castle and the County. I luckily had laid in 
a good lunch ; for as to eating iu such a scramble, it is hopeless. There 
was a good deal of speaking, and, among others, Lawrence did credit to 
himself and his country. I bargained with the Duke that I should not be 
called upon. Without this I would not have gone. But I did not get 
oft' without sonic startling allusions, which made my hair stand on end, 
for fear I should be obliged to answer them. But they told me it was not 
intended. The Duke himself spoke half a dozen times, as president of 
the feast. He always spoke well, and the enthusiasm was immense ; 
cheering, hip hurrahs, till my head ached. Our Minister's speech was 
most heartily received, showing a good-will towards Yankees which was 
very gratifying. It was an animating sight, the overflow of soul and 
sound. But I had rather have eaten my cheese-cakes alone in a corner, 
like Sancho Panza. 

On returning to the castle we found an informal dinner prepared for 
us, and in another room a superb desert of cakes, ices, and confectionery. 
The tables, both at breakfast and lunch, are ornamented with large vases 
of flowers of the most brilliant colors, with clusters of white and purple 
grapes of mammoth size, pine-apples, peaches, &c. Talking of flowers, 
it is the habit now to surround the houses in the country with beds of 
flowers, arranged in the most artificial forms, diamonds, circles, &c. The 
flowers are disposed after some fanciful pattern, so as to produce the effect 
of brilliant carpeting, and this forms quite a study for the English dames. 
And such flowers ! If they had our autumnal woods, they would un 
doubtedly dispose the trees so as to produce the best effects of their gaudy 

Another day we went in to see the peasantry of the great tenants dine, 
some sixteen hundred in number, or rather we saw them for half an hour 
after dinner. The Duke and the Duchess took the head of the hall ; and 
I thought the people, dressed in their best, to whom the dinner was given, 
as they drank off healths to their noble hosts, would have gone mad with 
enthusiasm. I nearly did so from the noise. The Duke, on allusion to 
his wife, brought her forward ; and she bowed to the multitude. It was 
altogether a pretty sight. Persons in their condition in England are 
obliged to be early accustomed to take part in these spectacles, and none 
do it better than our excellent host and hostess. They are extremely be- 


loved by their large tenantry, who are spread all over the County of 

The Duke has shown the greatest desire to promote the education and 
comfort of his peasantry. " He wants us all to be comfortable," one of 
them said to me; and the consequence is he is universally beloved by 
them. Both he and his wife visit the poor cottages constantly ; and she 
has a large school of her own, in which she assists in teaching the chil 
dren. One of the prettiest sights was the assembly of these children in 
one of the Castle courts, making their processions in the order of their 
schools ; that of the Duchess being distinguished by green jackets. The 
Duke and Duchess stood on the steps, and the little children, as they 
passed, all made their bows and courtesies, a band playing all the while. 
Afterwards came the feasting. It was a happy day for the little urchins, 
a visit to the Castle ; and I am told there was no such thing as getting 
any study out of them for days previous; and I will answer for it there 
will be none for days to come. As they all joined in the beautiful an 
them, " God save the Queen," the melody of the little voices rose up so 
clear and simple in the open court-yard, that everybody was touched. 
Though I had nothing to do with the anthem, some of my opera tears, 
dear Lizzie, came into my eyes, and did me great credit with some of the 
John and Jeannie Bulls by whom I was surrounded. 

Edinburgh, August llth. Here I am in the Scottish capital, dear Liz 
zie, xvhere we have met Mr. Kirk, on his Northern pilgrimage, and to 
save time I am dictating this letter to him. But I must leave Edinburgh 
till another time, and wind up now with Alnwick. When it was known 
I was going, I had a quantity of invitations all along my route, and 
memoranda given me to show how I could best get to the different places. 
I took them all kindly, as they were meant, but can go to none. One of 

them, Lord and Lady O , would have given me an interesting place, 

for it is the only one which still preserves the famous breed of Chilling- 
ham cattle, snow-white and still as untamed as zebras. The estate is 

really that of Lord O 's father, a blind old peer, whose wife told me 

in London .that she had read my histories aloud to him. So he might 
have known me without his eyes. My friendly hosts remonstrated on my 
departure, as they had requested me to make them a loug 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. 
They urged me next time to bring your mother. I rather think I shall ! 
They invited me also to their place at Stanwick ; a pretty spot, which 
they like better than Alnwick, living there in less state, which, as I learn 
from others, he keeps up no more than is absolutely necessary. He goes 
from Alnwick to Keilder, where he and the Duchess pass a couple of 
months with never more than two friends, the house being so small that 
the dinner-room is also the sitting-room. We can do better than this at 
the Uigldands ; Heaven bless the place dearer to me than Highlands or 
Lowlands in any other quarter of the globe ! 

Yesterday we went to Abhotsford, Mclrose Abbey, and Dryburgh. 
Shade of Scott ! 1 had a note from Lockhart, which instructed the 
housekeeper to let me and my friends take our fill of the hallowed pre- 


cincts. As I looked through the iron grating of Dryburgh, and saw tha 
stone sarcophagus of the great minstrel, it seemed as if I was looking 
with you, dear, through the iron bars that fence in the marble sarcophagus 
of our great and good Washington. But I must finish. To-morrow tor 
the North, Loch Katrine, Loch Lomond, Inverary Castle, where I 
shall halt for a few days. I have told William he ought to write to you, 
but he says the family have given up writing to him, so he leaves it all to 
me. How do you like that? I am glad you take so much comfort in 

; I knew you would. Pray remember me to the dear girl, and to 

, and to , when you write her. I mean to write to her soon. 

But you see what long letters I send to Fitful Head. Kiss your mother 
for me. I know you are a comfort to her ; you cannot be otherwise. 
With much love to your grandmother and Aunt Dexter, I remain, 
Your affectionate father, 


His more general but still very familiar views of English 
society may perhaps be better gathered from a letter written 
after he had crossed into Scotland, than from those written on 
the other side of the Tweed. 


EDINBURGH, Aug. 16, 1850. 

As I could not send you a letter from Alnwick Castle by my regular 
amanuensis, I have deferred sending it till I came here, and have taken the 
liberty to carry off one of the Ahrwick note-papers, to give you a more 
vivid idea of my late whereabouts. I was much pleased with my short 
residence there, liking my noble host and his Duchess very much. They 
are in truth excellent people, taking an active interest in the welfare of 
their large tenantry. The Duke is doing much to improve the condition 
of his estates. His farmers and tenants appear, from the glance I had at 
them, that was at feeding hours, to be a thriving, contented people, 
and overflowing with loyalty to the noble house of Percy. But I have 
written particulars of my visit to Lizzie, in a letter, which, if you feel 
curious, I dare say she will show you, as I wish all my letters to be read 
by you and Anna, if you desire it. I passed also some days with Mr. 

A , a great landed proprietor in Warwickshire ; quite an amiable, 

cultivated person, who has taken an active interest in colonial affairs in 
Parliament. We had some agreeable people in the house, and I saw a 

good deal of the neighboring country, in the society of our friend T , 

through whom I became acquainted with Mr. A . Mr. A 's wife 

is T 's cousin. But for my adventures here, I shall refer you also to 

family letters. I am now at Edinburgh en route for the North, and pro 
pose to be at Inverary Castle at the end of three days, taking the way of 
Stirling, Loch Katrine, &c. 


I have been now long enough in London society, I believe, to under 
stand something of it, and something also of English country life, far 
the noblest phase. Yet neither one nor the other, as they are conducted 
in the great houses, would be wholly to my taste. There is an ewbarras 
de richesses ; one would want more repose. I am told the higher English 
themselves discover something of this taste, and that there is less of pro 
fuse hospitality than of yore. This is somewhat attributed to the rail 
roads, which fetch and carry people with the utmost facility from the most 
distant quarters. It was a great aftair formerly to make journeys of two 
or three hundred miles ; arrangements were made long beforehand, and 
the guests stayed long after they got there. But now-a-days they slip in 
and off without ceremony, and the only place where the old state of things 
perfectly exists is in a county like Cornwall, too rough for railways, at 
least for many. Your railroad is the great leveller after all. Some of 

the old grandees make a most whimsical lament about it. Mrs. 'B 

father, who is a large proprietor, used to drive up to London with his 
family, to attend Parliament, with three coaches and four. But now-a- 
days he is tumbled in with the unwashed, in the first class, it is true, no 
better than ours, however, of the railway carriages ; and then tumbled 
out again into a common cab with my Lady and all her little ones, like 
any of the common pottery. 

There are a good many other signs of the times to be seen in the 
present condition of the aristocracy. The growing importance of man 
ufactures and moneyed capitalists is a wound, not only to the landed 
proprietors, but to the peers, who, it is true, are usually the greatest landed 
proprietors in the country. The last man raised to the peerage was a 
banker, a man of sense, whom I have met several times. Another peer, 

Lord C , or some such name, I may not have got it right, whose 

brother, a well-known baronet, I forget his name (I have a glorious 
memory for forgetting, and they say that is an excellent kind of memory), 
was raised to the House of Lords not many years since, actually, I 

mean, the first nominative, Lord C , applied to the Queen the other 

day to dis-peer him. After a grave consideration of the matter with the 
Privy Council, it was decided that it was not in the power of the Crown 
to do so, and the poor man was obliged to pocket his coronet, and make 
the best of it. Sir Robert Peel showed his estimate of titles by his curi 
ous injunction on his family; as indeed he had shown it through his 
whole life. A person who, I believe, is well acquainted with the matter, 
told me that the Queen urged the title of Earl on Sir Robert when he 
went out of office ; but he steadily declined it, requesting only that her 
Majesty and the Prince would honor him by sitting for their portraits for 
him. Two indifferent full-lengths were accordingly painted for him by 
Winterhalter, the Flemish artist, and form one of the principal ornaments, 
as the guide-book would say, of Sir Robert's house. Peel, it is well 
known, was a good deal snubbed in his earlier life, when he first became 
a Cabinet Minister, by the aristocracy ; so that he may have felt satisfac 
tion in showing that he preferred to hold the rank of the Great Commoner 
of England to any that titles could give him. Yet it seems almost an 
affectation to prevent their descending to his posterity, though it is true it 
was only as far as they were meant as the reward of his own services. 


He had too much pride, it seems, to digest this. As to the inferior aris 
tocracy of baronets, knights, &c., there is many an old that 
would refuse it, with contempt. You know our friend Hallam's decision 
in regard to a baronetcy, though he did not express himself like one of 

the old family of T , who, when he was told that it was intended to 

make him a baronet, begged that it might be commuted to a knighthood, 
that the disgrace might not descend to his posterity. I had the story from 
one of the aristocracy myself. You won't understand from all this that I 
think titles have not their full value, real and imaginary, in England. I 
only mention it as a sign of the times, that they have not altogether the 
prestige which they once had, and the toe of the commoner galls some 
what the heel of the courtier. 

You know Sir Robert left to Lord Mahon and Mr. Cardwell the care 
of his papers. The materials will all be easily at hand if they biogra 
phize. Peel told Mr. A , whose estate lies near to Tamworth, that he 

preserved all his correspondence, except invitations to dinner ; and on one 
occasion, wanting an important letter in a great hurry in the House of 
Commons, he was able to point out the file in which it was kept so ex 
actly, that his friend Lord L went to Tamworth and got it for him iu 

the course of a few hours. His death seems to have broken the knot 
which held together rather an anomalous party. Many speculations there 
arc about them, as about a hive of bees ready to swarm, of which one 
cannot tell where it will settle. The persons most important in the pariy 
are Sir James Graham and Gladstone, two of the best speakers, indeed, 
if not the very best, in the House of Commons. They are pledged, how 
ever, to the Corn-Law movement, and into whatever scale the Peelitea 
may throw themselves, there seems to be a general impression that there 
can be no decidedly retrograde movement in regard to the Corn-Laws, at 
least at present. The experiment must be tried ; and the diversity of 
opinion about it among the landholders themselves seems to show that it 
is far from having been tried yet. 

Before I left town, almost all your friends had flown, the Lyells, 
Hallam, the excellent Milmans, Lord Mahon, T. Phillips, all but good 
Kenyon, whom, by the by, I saw but twice, and that was at his hospitable 
table, though we both made various efforts to the contrary, and poor Mr. 
Rogers, who, far from flying, will probably never walk again, all are 
gone, and chiefly to the Continent. Ford has gone to Turkey, Stirling 
to Russia; Lockhart remains to hatch new Quarterlies. He is a fascinat 
ing sort of person, whom I should fear to have meddle with me, whether 
in the way of praise or blame. I suspect he laughs in his sleeve at more 
than one of the articles which come out with his imprimatur, and at their 
authors too. I had two or three merry meetings, in which he, Stirling, 
and Ford were met in decent conviviality. 

But I must conclude the longest, and probably the last, epistle I shall 
ever send you from the Old World, and I hope you will never send me 
one from that same world yourself. Pray remember me most lovingly to 
Anna and Anika, with kind remembrance, moreover, to Gray, and Hil- 
lard, and Everett, when you see them. No American Minister has left a 
more enviable reputation here. Lawrence, with very different qualities, is 
making himself also equally acceptable to the English. Addio, inio euro. 


With many thanks for your most interesting letter on our Yankee poli 
tics, more interesting to me here even than at home, I remain 
Affectionately yours, 


He hastened from Edinburgh, and pushed on to Inverary 
Castle, the Duke of Argyll's, picking up on the way Sir 
Roderick Murchison and Professor Sedgwick, who were bound 
to the same hospitable port. There he remained for a few 
days, but days of great enjoyment, and then turned his face 
southward, feeling, at the same time, that he had the happiness 
of turning it towards his home. But great pleasures and great 
festivities still awaited him on the hospitable soil of Old Eng 
land. Of these, the most ample and agreeable accounts will 
be found in the following letters. 


CASTLE HOWARD, August 24th, 1850. 

Here we arc at Castle Howard, hy far the most magnificent place I 
have yet seen. But I will begin where I left off. After bidding adieu to 
the Duke and his charming wife at Inverary Castle, we sailed down Loch 
Coyle and up the Clyde with Lady Ellesmere, and reached Glasgow at 
eight. I posted at once to Alison's, and was cordially received by him 
and Madame. He lives in an excellent house, surrounded by a handsome 
park. I found a company of ladies and gentlemen, and passed the hours 
pleasantly till midnight, when I returned to Glasgow. Alison has a noble 
library, and in the centre of it is a great billiard-table, which, when he 
wrote, he covered with his authorities. Droll enough ! He showed me a 
handsome tribute he had paid to me in the last edition of his History. 
He liad a cheerful fire in my bedroom, expecting me to stay. But it was 
impossible. The next morning we left for Naworth Castle, where I was 
to meet Lord Carlisle. 

This is a fine old place, of the feudal times, indeed. In the afternoon 
we arrived, and saw the towers with the banners of the Howards and 
Dacres flying from the battlements, tolling us that its lord was there. He 
came out to greet us, dressed in his travelling garb, for he had just 
arrived, with his Scotch shawl twisted round his body. Was it not 
kind in him to come this distance a hundred and fifty miles solely to 
show me the place, and that when he was over head and ears in prepara 
tions for the Queen ? What a superb piece of antiquity, looking still as 
when Lord Surrey's minstrel 

" Forsook, for Naworth's iron towers, 
Windsor's sweet groves and courtly bowers." 

It was partially injured by fire ; but Lord Carlisle has nearly restored it. 


and in the best taste, by copying the antique. Fortunately the walls of 
the building, with its charming old ivy and eglantines, are unscathed, and 
a good deal of the interior. It stands proudly over a deep ravine, bristled 
with pines, with a running brook brawling below ; a wild scene, fit for a 
great border fortress. The hall is a hundred feet long and thirty high, 
hung round with armorial quarterings of the family. Before dinner we 
visited the rich old ruins of Lanercost Abbey, which stand on Lord C.'s 
grounds ; walking miles through the wildest mountain scenery to get at 
it. Every one we met showed a respect for the lord of the domain, 
which seemed to be mingled with warmer feelings, as he spoke kindly to 
each one, asking them about "their families, &c. Indeed, it is very grati 
fying to see the great deference shown to Lord Carlisle all along the 
route, on my way to Castle Howard. Every one seemed to know him, 

and uncover themselves before him. Lady E told me what I have 

often heard that he was more generally beloved than any man in the 

We found on our return a game dinner smoking for us, for which we 
were indebted to Mr. Charles Howard, a younger brother, and Baron 
Parke, 1 his father-in-law, who had been slaughtering grouse and black 
cock on the moors. Our table was laid on the dais, the upper part of the 
long hall, with a great screen to keep off the cold, and a fire such as 
belted Will Howard himself never saw, for it was of coal, of which 
Lord C. has some mines in the neighborhood. The chimney, which has 
a grate to correspond, is full twelve feet in breadth ; a fine old baronial 
chimney, at which they roasted whole oxen I suppose. We all soon felt 
as if we could have snapped our fingers at " Belted Will," if he had 
come to claim his own again. There are some fine old portraits in the 
hall ; among them one of this hero and his wife, who brought the estate 
into the Howard family. She was a Dacre. The embrasures of the 
drawing-room windows of this old castle are about ten feet thick. I have 

got some drawings of the place which Lady gave me, and which 

will give you a better idea of it. Next morning we took up our march 
for Castle Howard, seventeen miles from York. You can follow me on 
the map. 

We arrived about six ; found Lady Mary Howard in a pony phaeton 
with a pair of pretty cream-colored steeds, waiting for us at the station, 
three miles distant. There was a nimble, so that all the party were accom 
modated. The scenery was of a different character from that of Naworth. 
Wide-spreading lawns, large and long avenues of beech and oak, beautiful 
pieces of water, on which white swans were proudly sailing, an extensive 
park, with any quantity of deer, several of them perfectly white, grazing 
under the trees, all made up a brilliant picture of the softer scenery of 
England. We passed under several ornamented stone arches by a lofty 
obelisk of yellow stone, and at length came in full view of the princely 
palace of the Howards. 

It is of clear yellow stone, richly ornamented with statues aud every 
kind of decoration. It makes three sides of a square, and you will form 
some idea of its extent, when I tell you that a suite of rooms continues 

i Now Lord Weiisleydale (1862). 


round the house six hundred feet in length. I have seen doors open 
through the whole front of the building, three hundred feet, as long as 
Park Street, a vista indeed. The great hall, rising to the top of the 
house, is gorgeous with decoration, and of immense size. The apart 
ments and the interminable corridors are filled with master-pieces of art, 
painting and sculpture. In every room you are surrounded with the 
most beautiful objects of virtu, tables of porphyry and Oriental alabas 
ter, vases of the most elegant and capricious forms, &c. The rooms are 
generally not large, but very lofty and richly gilt and carved, and many 
of them hung with old Gobelins tapestry. Critics find much fault with 
the building itself, as overloaded with ornament. It was built by Van 
brugh, who built Blenheim, both in the same ornamental style. 

Nothing could be more cordial than the reception I met with. Lady 
Carlisle reminds me so of mother ; so full of kindness. If you could 
see the, not attention, but affection, which all the family show me, it 
would go to your heart. I spoke yesterday of writing to my late charm 
ing hostess, the Duchess of Argyll, and the kind old lady insisted on 
being my secretary instead of William. So I went into her dressing-room, 
and we concocted half a dozen pages, which she wrote off, at my dicta 
tion, as rapidly, and with as pretty a hand, as her granddaughter. We 
found only some of the family here ; Lady Dover, the widow of Lord 
Dover and sister of Lord Carlisle, and her two daughters. Last evening 
we had another arrival, the splendid Duchess of Sutherland among 
others, and William's friend, young Lord Dufi'crin. I drove over with 
Lady Mary in the pony phaeton to the station. Some went on horseback, 
and two showy barouches, with four horses each, one of bays, the other 
grays, with young postilions in burnished liveries. It was a brilliant show 
as we all came merrily over the park, and at full gallop through the villa 
ges in the neighborhood. 

All now is bustle and preparation for the royal visit, which is to come 
off on Tuesday, the 27th, to take up two days. The Queen and 
Prince, with four children, and 1 five and twenty in their suite, chiefly 
domestics. Lord Carlisle's family, brothers and sisters, and sons and 
daughters, will muster over twenty. So that he has really not asked 
another, besides Will and myself, except those in attendance on the 
Queen. He has put off having my portrait engraved till after these festivi 
ties, and has actually had it brought down here, where lie has hung it up 
beside the Prince's and the Queen's, for her Majesty to look at. This is 
a sample of all the rest, and I suppose you won't think me a ninny for 
telling you of it. 

The dining-room will be such as the Queen cannot boast of in Buck 
ingham Palace. It is to be the centre of the famous Picture Gallery one 
hundred and fifty feet long. This centre is an octagon of great height, 
and a table has been made, of hexagon shape, twenty feet across each 
way. It is to hold thirty-six, the number of guests and residents of 
the Castle. On one of the days a lunch for double the number will be 
spread, and people invited, when two long ends are to be added to the 
table, running up the gallery. You may imagine the show in this splen 
did apartment, one side of which is ornamented with statues, and with 
the costliest pictures of the Orleans Collection ; the other, with a noble 


library in rich bindings ; the windows opening on a velvet lawn and a 
silver sheet of water. But this will not be seen at the dinner hour of 
eight. The centre of the table will be occupied with candelabra, pyramids 
of lights and flowers, and we shall all be able to see the way in which 
her gracious Majesty deports herself. But I believe I must wind up my 
yarn, and spin some for somebody else. 

I must tell you of one of my accomplishments. Last nicrht we played 
billiards ; the game of pool, a number of gentlemen and ladies. Each 
person has three lives. All had lost their lives but Lord Duffcrin and 
myself. He had three and I had only one. The pool of sixpences would 
go to the victor. There was a great sensation, as he, being a capital 
player, had deprived many of their lives; that is, pocketed their balls. I 
struck him into a pocket, which cost him one life, a general shout, 
the whole house was there. He missed his stroke and pocketed himself; 
thus he lost two lives and we were equal. The stir was great, alt shout 
ing, as I played, " Hit him there, you can't fail ! kill him ! " &c., &c. We 
fought round and round the table and lie took off his coat. So did not I, 
but buttoned up mine. As he missed a hazard and left his ball exposed, 
the silence was breathless. I struck him into the pocket amidst a shout 
that made the castle ring again. It was just twelve o'clock when I 
retired with my laurels and sixpences. Will, who is an excellent player, 
missed fire on this occasion, and I, who am a poor one, had all his luck. 

I have taken my passage, and paid for it, on board the Niagara, the 
same vessel I came out in, for September 14th, a week later than I 
intended. But I found I should be too mucli hurried by the 7th. This 
will give me three weeks in old Peppcrell. But it will take me via New 
York. I shall write to you once more. Love to mother and Lizzie. I 
shall write E. Dexter by this. Don't forget me also to the Ticknors and 
other old friends, and believe me, dearest wife, 

Your ever-loving husband, 

W. H. P. 

August 26th. Having nothing else to do, as there is just now a 
general lull in the breeze and I have some leisure, I will go on with my 
domestic chat. I left off, let me sec, Sunday. In the evening we 
had little games, &c., of conversation, as at Pepperell. But the chief 
business was lighting up the splendid pictures so as to see the best effect ; 
arranging the lights, &c. Beautiful pictures by any light. Before retiring 
we heard prayers in the noble hall ; all the household, including a large 
troop of domestics. The effect in this gorgeous room, as large and as 
richly ornamented as an Italian church, was very fine. Yesterday, the 
weather fair, we drove over the park. First 1 went with Lady Mary, 
who whipped me along in her pony-carriage. After lunch I and Will 
went with Lady Caroline Lascelles and Captain Howard in a barouche and 
four, postilions and outriders all in gay liveries, spotless white leather 
pantaloons, and blue and silver coats and hats. We dashed along over 
the green sod, always in the park, startling the deer, and driving often 
into the heart of the woods, which are numerous in this fine park. We 
all prayed for as fine a day for the morrow for the royal advent. The 
house looks magnificently in the sunshine, as you drive up to it ! 


Alas ! it is always so in this country, the morrow has come, and a 
drenching rain, mortifying to all loyal subjects, and a great pity. A great 
awning has been raised for the Queen over the steps of the principal 
sntrance. It is now five o'clock. In an hour the royal cortege will be 
here. There has been such a fuss all day. Everybody has been running 
about arranging and deranging, some carrying chairs, some flower-pqts, 
some pictures, some vases, &c., &c. Such a scampering ! I help on with 
a kind word, and encourage the others, and especially comfort my kind 
host with assurances of the weather changing ! Gas has been conducted 
into the great dome over the hall, and " God save the Queen " blazes out 
in fiery characters that illuminate the whole building. 

Such a quantity of fine things, beautiful flowers and fruits, have arrived 
to-day from the Duchess of Sutherland's place at Trentham, and from 
the Duke of Devonshire's at Chatsworth ! The Duke is brother to Lady 
Carlisle. A large band will play during dinner at one end of the long 
gallery, and the Duke of Devonshire has sent his band for music in the 
evening. We had our partners and places at table assigned us this morn 
ing. There will be eight or ten more men than women, thirty-six in all. 
I go in with Lady Caroline Lascelles, and sit next to Sir George Grey, 
the Cabinet Minister, who accompanies the Queen, next the Duchess 
of Sutherland, and next Lord Carlisle and the Queen. So you see I shall 
be very near her Majesty, and, as the table is circular, I could not be 
better placed, another instance of the kindness with wliich I have been 

A quantity of policemen have arrived on the ground before the house, 
as the royal train will be greeted by all the loyal people in the neighbor 
hood, and a body of military are encamped near the house to keep order. 
There is such a turn-out of coaches and four, with gay liveries and all. 
Plague on the weather! But it only drizzles now. The landscape, 
however, looks dull, and wants the lights to give it effect. 

August 28th, Wednesday. I have a little time to write before 
luncheon, and must send off the letter then to London to be copied. 
Received yours this morning, complaining I had not written by the last. 
You have got the explanation of it since. To resume. The Queen, &c., 
arrived yesterday in a pelting rain, with an escort of cavalry, a pretty 
sight to those under cover. Crowds of loyal subjects were in the park in 
front of the house to greet her. They must have come miles in the rain. 
She came into the hall in a plain travelling-dress, bowing very gracefully 
to all there, and then to her apartments, which occupy the front of the 
building. 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 
be-iutiful 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 hand 
some 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. Dinner went off very well, except that we had no 
music ; a tribute to Louis-Philippe at the Queen's request, too bad ! * 
We drank the royal healths with prodigious enthusiasm. 

After the ladies retired, the Prince and the other gentlemen remained 
half an hour, as usual. In the evening we listened to some fine music, 
and the Queen examined the pictures. Odd enough the etiquette. Lady 
Carlisle, who did the honors 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 honor 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, &c. ; but I contrived to make it up by a 
respectful " Your Royal Highness," " Your Majesty," &c. 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. 

The house is filled with officials, domestics, &c. Over two hundred 
slept here last night. The grounds all round the house, as I write, are 
thronged with thousands of men and women, dressed in their best, from 
the adjacent parts of the country. You cannot stir out without seeing a 
line of heads through the iron railing or before the court-yard. I was 
walking in the garden this morning (did I tell you that it is a glorious 
day, luckily?) with the Marchioness of Douro, who was dressed in full 
mourning as a lady in waiting, when the crowd set up such a shout ! as 
they took her for the Queen. But I must close. God bless you, dear ! 



LONDON, Sept. 6, 1850. 

1 send you a few lines, my last from England, to bring up my history 
to as late a date as possible. I told you of the royal festivities at Castle 
Howard, and you will get still more particulars from the account in the 
"Illustrated News," which I hope you have pi'ovided yourself with. The 
Queen went off in royal state. In the evening after came off" the ball, at 

2 Louis-Philippe died at Clermont, Monday, August 26th, 1850, and, as the 
Queen was on her way the next day to Castle Howard, the train was stopped, 
when passing near Clermont, long enough for Prince Albert to make a visit 
of condolence to the ex-Queen. With all this fresh in their recollection, it 
was, I suppose, regarded as a considerate and graceful tribute to the affliction 
of the French family to request that festive music might be omitted at the 


which I danced three quadrilles and two country-dances, the last two 
with the Duchess of Sutherland, and it was four in the morning, when 
we wound up with the brave old dance of Sir Roger de Coverley. I spent 
a day longer at Castle Howard, driving about with Lady Mary Howard 
in her pony phaeton over the park to see her village pensioners. When I 
left early the next day, we had an affectionate leave-taking enough ; I 
mean all of us together, and as I know it will please you to see how much 
heart the family have shown to me, I will enclose a note I received at 
Trenthain from old Lady Carlisle, and another from her granddaughter, 
the Duchess of Argyll. We all parted at the railway station, and I shall 
never sec them more ! 

From Castle Howard we proceeded to Trcntham in Staffordshire, the 
Duchess of Sutherland's favorite seat, and a splendid place it is. We 
met her at Derby, she having set out the day before us. We both arrived 
too late for the train. So she put post-horses to her barouche, and she 
and Lady Constance, a blooming English girl looking quite like Lizzie, 
and Will and I, posted it for thirty-six miles, reaching Trentham at ten 
in the evening, an open barouche and cool enough. But we took it 
merrily, as indeed we should not have got on at all that night, if we had 
not had the good luck to fall in with her Grace. 

Trentham is a beautiful place ; the grounds laid out in the Italian style 
for an immense extent; the gardens with plots of flowers so curiously 
arranged that it looks like a fine painting, with a little lake studded witn 
islands at the end, and this enclosed by hills dark with forest-trees. 
Besides these noble gardens, through which the Trent .flows in a smooth 
current, there is an extensive park, and the deer came under my windows 
in the morning as tame as pet lambs. The Duchess spent the former 
part of the afternoon in taking us round herself to all the different places, 
walking and sometimes boating it on the Trent ; for they extend over a 
great space. The green-houses, &c. are superb, and filled with exquisite 
flowers and fruit: and the drawing-rooms, of which there is a suite of ten 
or twelve, very large, open on a magnificent conservatory, with marble 
floors, fountains, and a roof of glass, about five times as big as Mrs. 
R.'s, tell E. The rooms are filled with the choicest and most delicate 
works of art, painting, sculpture, bijouterie of all kinds. It is the temple 
of Taste, and its charming mistress created it all. As I was coining 
away, she asked me to walk with her into the garden, and led me to a 
spot where several men were at work having a great hole prepared. A 
large evergreen tree was held up by the gardener, and 1 was requested to 
help set it in the place and to throw some shovelfuls of earth on it. In 
fact, I was to leave an evergreen memorial, " which," said she, " my 
children shall see hereafter, and know by whom it was planted." She 
chose to accompany us to the station, and by the way took us to the great 
porcelain manufactory of Stoke, where she gave Will a statuette of the 
Prince of Wales, very pretty, and me an exquisite little vase, which you 
will be so happy as to take care of under a glass cover. Her own rooms 
contain some beautiful specimens of them. Is she not a Duchess 1 She 
is, every inch of her ; and what is better, a most warm-hearted, affection 
ate person, like all the rest of the generous race of Howard. They 
always seem employed on something. The Duchess of Argyll, I remcuv 


ber, was never unemployed, reading, or working, or drawing, which 
she does uncommonly well. The tenderness of the mother and daughter 
for each other is pleasing enough. We came to be present at the christen 
ing of the hope of the family, Lord Stafford's first-born son. It took 
place in the church, which is attached to a wing of the mansion. The 
family occupied a gallery at the end of the chapel, and the ceremony was 
witnessed by all the village. 

I had intended to go to Lord Ellesmere's, agreeably to a general invita 
tion, but found that Lord and Lady Ellesmere were in Ireland, called there 
by the illness of a daughter. So we went to Chatsworth, the famous seat 
of the Duke of Devonshire. He is absent, but had written to the house 
keeper to show us all the place, to have the fountains play, one of 
which springs up two hundred feet or more, and to prepare lunch for 
me. I found the servants prepared to receive us, and we passed several 
hours at his magnificent place, and fared as well as if its noble proprietor 
had been on the spot to welcome us. I shall, after a day here, go to 
Lady Theresa Lewis, at Lord Clarendon's place, then to Baron Parke's, 
Ampthill, for a day or two ; then to the Marquis of Lansdowne's, 3 and 
then huzza for home! Pray for the good steamer Niagara; a good 
steamer, and a good captain, and I trust a good voyage. 

Sept. 9th. Just received yours and E.'s charming letters ; alas ! by 
my blunder (the last 1) I was startled by mother's illness. Thank God 
all is right again. I could not afford to have anything happen to her 
while I am away. 

Your affectionate husband, 


And so ended, in unbroken enjoyment, the most brilliant 
visit ever made to England by an American citizen not clothed 
with the prestige of official station. 4 That Mr. Prescott deeply 

8 The visit to Lord Lansdowne's failed; but before he reached London he 
made a most agreeable one at. Baron Parke's, now Lord Wensleydale. 

* A whimsical proof that Mr. Prescott was a lion in London during his visit 
there may be found in the following note of the venerable Miss Berry, 
Horace Walpole's Miss Berry, with whom Dean Milman had invited Mr. 
Prescott and himself to dine, but, owing to Mr. P.'s engagements, he had 
been obliged to offer their visit above a fortnight ahead of the time when he 
proposed it. 


June 20, 1850. 

Having insured my life at more than one of the most respectable insur 
ance-companies, I venture to accept of your most agreeable proposal for next 
Saturday fortnight! and shall rejoice to see you and Mrs. Milman accom 
panied by one whose works I have long admired, and to whose pen I am 
indebted for some of the liveliest interests and the most agreeable hours that 
can exist for an octogenarian, like your obliged and attached friend, 



felt the kindness he received especially that of the Lyells, 
the Milmuns, and " all the blood of all the Howards " is 
plain from his letters, written in the confidence and simplicity 
of family affection. How much of this kindness is to be at 
tributed to his personal character rather than to his reputation 
as an author, it is not easy to tell. But, whatever portion of 
it resulted from the intercourse and contact of society ; what 
ever was won by his sunny smile and cordial, unconstrained 
ways. he seemed to recognize without accurately measuring 
it, and by the finer instincts of his nature to appreciate it as 
something more to be valued and desired, than any tribute of 
admiration which might have become due to him from his 
works before he was personally known. 

After he returned home, when the crowded life he had led 
for three or four months, with its pleasures and excitements, 
was seen from a tranquil distance, he summed up the results of 
his visit in the following passage, carefully recorded among his 
Memoranda at the end of October, 1850. 

On the whole, what I have seen raises my preconceived estimate of the 
English character. It is full of generous, true, and manly qualities ; and 
I doubt if there ever was so high a standard of morality in an aristocracy 
which has such means for self-indulgence at its command, and which occu 
pies a position that secures it so much deference. In general, they do not 
seem to abuse their great advantages. The respect for religion at least 
for the forms of it is universal, and there are few, I imagine, of the 
great proprietors who are not more or less occupied with improving their 
estates, and witli providing for the comfort of their tenantry, while many 
take a leading part in the great political movements of the time. There 
never was an aristocracy which combined so much practical knowledge 
and industry with the advantages of exalted rank. 

The Englishman is seen to most advantage in his country home. For 
he is constitutionally both domestic and rural in his habits. His fireside 
and his farm, these are the places in which one sees his simple and 
warm-hearted nature most freely unfolded. There is a shyness in an 
Englishman, a natural reserve, which makes him cold to strangers, 
and difficult of approach. But once corner him in his own house, a frank 
and full expansion will be given to his feelings, that we should look for in 
vain in the colder Yankee, and a depth not to be found in the light and 
superficial Frenchman, speaking of nationalities, not individualities. 

The Englishman is the most truly rural in his tastes and habits of any 
people in the world. I am speaking of the higher classes. The aristoc 
racy of other countries affect the camp and the city. But the English 
love their old castles and country seats with a patriotic love. They are 
fond of country sports. Every man shoots or hunts. No man >s too old 


to be in the saddle some part of the day, and men of seventy years and 
more follow the hounds and take a five-barred gate at a leap. The 
women are good whips, arc fond of horses and dogs, and other animals. 
Duchesses have their cows, their poultry, their pigs, all watched over 
and provided with accommodations of Dutch-like neatness. All this is 
characteristic of the people. It may be thought to detract something 
from the feminine graces which in other lauds make a woman so amiably 
dependent as to be nearly imbecile. But it produces a healthy and 
blooming race of women to match the hardy Englishmen, the finest 
development of the physical and moral nature which the world has wit 
nessed. For we are not to look on the English gentleman as a mere 
Nimrod. With all his relish for field sports and country usages, he has 
his house filled with collections of art and with extensive libraries. The 
tables of the drawing-rooms are covered with the latest works sent down 
by the London publisher. Every guest is provided with an apparatus for 
writing, and often a little library of books for his own amusement. The 
English country-gentleman of the present day is anything but a Squire 
Western, though he does retain all his relish for field sports. 

The character of an Englishman, under this its most refined aspect, 
has some disagreeable points which jar unpleasantly on the foreigner not 
accustomed to them. The consciousness of national superiority, com 
bined with natural feelings of independence, gives him an air of arro 
gance, though it must be owned that this is never betrayed in his own 
house, I may almost say, in his own country. But abroad, where he 
seems to institute a comparison between himself and the people he is 
thrown with, it becomes so obvious that he is the most unpopular, not to 
say odious, person in the world. Even the open hand with which he dis 
penses his bounty will not atone for the violence he offers to national 

There are other defects which are visible even in his most favored cir 
cumstances. Such is his bigotry, surpassing everything, in a quiet passive 
form, that has been witnessed since the more active bigotry of the times 
of the Spanish Philips. Such, too, is the exclusive, limited range of his 
knowledge and conceptions of all political and social topics and relations. 
The Englishman, the cultivated Englishman, has no standard of excel 
lence borrowed from mankind. His speculation never travels beyond his 
own little great-little island. That is the world to him. True, he 
travels, shoots lions among the Hottentots, chases the grizzly bear over 
the Rocky Mountains, kills elephants in India and salmon on the coast of 
Labrador, comes home, and very likely makes a book. But the scope 
of his ideas does not seem to be enlarged by all this. The body travels, 
not the mind. And, however he may abuse his own land, he returns 
home as hearty a John Bull, with all his prejudices and national tastes as 
rooted as before. The English the men of fortune all travel. Yet 
how little sympathy they show for other people or institutions, and how 
slight is the interest they take in them ! They are islanders, cut off from 
the great world. But their island is, indeed, a world of its own. With 
all their faults, never has the sun shone if one may use- the expression 
in reference to England on a more noble race, or one that has dona 
more for the great interests of humanity. 




ON the 14th of September, Mr. Prescott embarked at 
Liverpool, to return home, on board the Niagara, the 
same good ship on which he had embarked for Europe nearly 
four months earlier at New York, and in which he now 
reached that metropolis again, after a fortunate passage of 
thirteen days. At Liverpool he stopped, as he did on his 
arrival there, at the hospitable house of his old friend Smith ; 
and the last letter he wrote before he went on board the 
steamer, and the first he despatched back to England, after 
he was again fairly at home, were to Lady Lyell, with whom 
and Sir Charles he had probably spent more hours in London 
than with anybody else, and to botli of whom he owed unnum 
bered acts of kindness. 


LIVERPOOL, September 13, 1850. 

I am now at Liverpool, or rather in the suburbs, at my friend's house. 
It is after midnight, but I cannot go to sleep without bidding you and 
your husband one more adieu. I reached here about five o'clock, and 
find there are seventy passengers ; several ladies, or persons that I hope 
are so, for they are not men. But I look for little comfort on the restless 
deep. I hope, however, for a fair offing. You will think of me some 
times during the next fortnight, and how often shall I think of you, and 
your constant kindness to me ! You see I am never tired of asking for 
it, as I sent you the troublesome commission of. paying my debts before 1 
left, and, I believe, did not send quite money enough. Heaven bless you 
With kind remembrances to Sir Charles, believe me, my dear friend, 
Most affectionately yours, 

Can you make out my hieroglyphics ? 1 

i This letter was written with his noctograph. 

14* tr 



BOSTON, September 30, 1850. 

I write you a line to tell you of my safe arrival on the other side of the 
great pond I beg pardon lake. We had a fair passage, considering 
the season, some thumping and tumbling about and constant head-winds, 
but no very heavy gales, such as fall due at the equinox. I was lucky 
encugh to find a lady on board who was not sick, and who was willing to 
read aloud ; so the ennui of the voyage was wonderfully lightened by " Van 
ity Fair " and Mr. Cumming's lion-stories. I had the good fortune to find 
all well on returning, and the atmosphere was lighted up with a sunny light, 
such as I never saw on the other side of the water, at least during my 
present journey. I do not believe it will be as good for my eyes as the 
comfortable neutral tints of England, merry England, not from its cli 
mate, however, but from the warm hearts of its people. God bless them ! 
I have no time to think over matters now, busy in the midst of trunks and 
portmanteaus, some emptying, some filling, for our speedy flight to Pep- 
pcrell. But once in its welcome shades, I shall have much to think over, 
of dear friends beyond the water. Yesterday, who should pop in upon 
me but Dr. Holland, fresh from Lake Superior. It seemed like an appa 
rition from Brook Street, so soon and sudden. He and Everett and 
Ticknor will dine with me to-day, and we shall have a comfortable talk 
of things most agreeable to us all. Dr. H. sails in the " Canada " to 
morrow. The grass does not grow under his feet. I sent Anna Ticknor 
yesterday the beautiful present, all in good order. She went down in the 
afternoon to her sea-nest, and her husband comes up to-day. Possibly 
she may come and dine with us too. She was right glad to see me, and 
had a thousand questions to ask; so I hope she will come and get answers 
to some of them to-day. To-morrow we flit, and a party of young people 
go along with us. So we shall not be melancholy. Adieu, my dear 
friend. Pray remember me most kindly to your husband and your family. 
My wife joins in loving remembrances to you, and desires to thank you 
for your kind note. 

Believe me, my dear Lady Lyell, here and everywhere, 
Affectionately yours, 


Give my love to the Milmans, when they return. I shall write them 
from Pepperell. 

Very soon he wrote to Dean Milman. 

PKPPKRELL, Mass., October 10, 1850. 

I have at length reached my native land, and am again in my country 
quarters, wandering over my old familiar hills, and watching flie brilliant 
changes of the leaf in the forests of October, the finest of the American 
months. This rural quiet is very favorable for calling up the past, and 
many a friendly face on the other side of the water comes up before me, 
and none more frequently than yours and that of your dear wife. 


Since I parted from you, I have been tolerably industrious. I first 
passed a week in Belgium, to get some acquaintance with the topography 
of the country I am to describe. It is a wonderful country certainly, 
rich in its present abundance as well as in its beautiful monuments of art 
and its historic recollections. On my return to England, I went at once 
into the country, and spent six weeks at different places, where I saw 
English life under a totally new aspect. The country is certainly the 
true place in which to see the Englishman. It is there that his peculiar 
character seems to have the best field for its expansion ; a life which calls 
out his energies physical as well as mental, the one almost as remarkable 
as the other. 

The country life affords the opportunity for intimacy, which it is very 
difficult to have in London. There is a depth in the English character, 
and at the same time a constitutional reserve, sometimes amounting to 
shyness, which it requires some degree of intimacy to penetrate. As to 
the hospitality, it is quite equal to what we read of in semi-civilized 
countries, where the presence of a stranger is a boon instead of a burden. 
I could have continued to live in this agreeable way of life till the next 
meeting of Parliament, if I could have settled it with my conscience to do 
so. As to the houses, I think I saw some of the best places in England, 
in the North and in the South, with a very interesting dip into the High 
lands, and I trust I have left some friends there that will not let the memory 
of me pass away like a summer cloud. In particular, I have learned tc 
comprehend what is meant by "the blood of the Howards," a family in 
all its extent, as far as I have seen it, as noble in nature as in birth 

I had a pretty good passage on my return, considering that it was the 
season of equinoctial tempests. I was fortunate in finding that no trouble 
or sorrow had come into the domestic circle since my departure, and mj 
friends were pleased to find that I had brought home substantial proofs of 
English hospitality in the addition of some ten pounds' weight to my 
mortal part. By the by, Lord Carlisle told the Queen that I said, " In 
stead of John Bull, the Englishman should be called John Mutton, for 
he ate beef only one day in the week, and mutton the other six " ; at 
which her Majesty, who, strange to say, never eats mutton herself, was 
pleased to laugh most graciously. 

The day after I reached Boston I was surprised by the apparition of my 
old neighbor, Dr. Holland, just returned from an excursion to Lake Supe 
rior. It was as if a piece of Brook Street had parted from its moorings, 
and crossed the water. We were in a transition state, just flitting to the 
country, but I managed to have him, Everett, and Ticknor dine with me. 
So we had a pleasant partie airr&e to talk over our friends, on the other 
side of the salt lake. What would I not give to have you and Mrs. Mil- 
man on this side of it. Perhaps you may have leisure and curiosity some 
day, when the passage is reduced to a week, as it will be, to see the way 
of life of the American aborigines. If you do not, you will still be here 
in the heart of one who can never forget the kindness and love he has 
experienced from you in a distant land. 

Pray remember me most affectionately to Mrs. Milman, to whom I 
shall soon write, and believe me, my dear friend, 
Very sincerely yours, 



He found it somewhat difficult to settle down into regular 
habits of industry after his return home. But he did it. His 
first weeks were spent at Pepperell, where I recollect that I 
passed two or three merry days with him, when our common 
friend, Mr. Edward Twisleton, who had been very kind to him 
in England, made him a visit, and when the country was in all 
the gorgeous livery of a New England autumn. 

The subsequent winter, 1850-51, was spent as usual, in 
Boston. But his eyes were in a bad state, and his interrup 
tions so frequent, that he found it impossible to secure as many 
hours every day for work as he desired. He therefore was 
not satisfied with the results he obtained, and complained, as 
he often did, somewhat unreasonably, of the ill effects of a 
town life. Indeed, it was not until he made his vitteggiatura 
at Pepperell, in the autumn of 1851, that he was content with 
himself and with what he was doing. 

But from this time he worked in earnest. He made good 
resolutions and kept them with more exactness than he had 
commonly done ; so that, by the middle of April, 1852, he had 
completed the first volume of his " Philip the Second," and was 
plunging with spirit into the second. I remember very well 
how heartily he enjoyed this period of uncommon activity. 

It was at this time, and I think partly from the effect of his 
visit to England, that he changed his purpose concerning the 
character he should give to his " History of Philip the Sec 
ond." When he left home he was quite decided that the work 
should be Memoirs. Soon after his return he began to talk to 
me doubtfully about it. His health was better, his courage 
higher. But he was always slow in making up his mind. He 
therefore went on some months longer, still really undeter 
mined, and writing rather memoirs than history. At last, 
when he was finishing the first volume, and came to confront 
the great subject of the Rebellion of the Netherlands, he per 
ceived clearly that the gravest form of history ought to be 

" For some time after I had finished the ' Peru,' " he says, " I hesi 
tated whether I should grapple with the whole subject of Philip inextenso, 
and when I had made up my mind to serve up the whole barbecue, instead 
of particular parts of it, I had so little confidence in the strength of my 


own vision, that I thought of calling the work ' Memoirs ' and treating 
the subject in a more desultory and superficial manner than belongs to 
regular history. I did not go to work in a business-like style until I 
broke ground on the troubles of the Netherlands. Perhaps my critics 
may find this out." 

I think they did not. Indeed, there was less occasion for 
it than the author himself supposed. The earlier portions of 
the history, relating as they do to the abdication of Charles V. 
and the marriage of Philip with Mary of England, fell natu 
rally into the tone of memoirs, and thus they make a more 
graceful vestibule to the grand and grave events that were 
to follow than could otherwise have been arranged for them, 
while, at the same time, as he advanced into the body of his 
work and was called on to account for the war with France, 
and describe the battles of St. Quentin and Gravelines, he, as 
it were, inevitably fell into the more serious tone of history, 
which had been so long familiar to him. The transition, there 
fore, was easy, and was besides so appropriate, that I think a 
change of purpose was hardly detected. One effect of it, how 
ever, was soon perceptible to himself. He liked his work 
better, and carried it on with the sort of interest which he 
always felt was important, not only to his happiness, but to his 

From this time forward that is, from the period of his 
return home his correspondence becomes more abundant. 
This was natural, and indeed inevitable. He had made ac 
quaintances and friendships in England, which led to such 
intercourse, and the letters that followed from it show the 
remainder of his life in a light clearer and more agreeable 
than it can be shown in any other way. Little remains, 
therefore, but to arrange them in their proper sequence. 


PEPPERELL, Mass., U. S., Octooer 12, 1850. 

Here I am, my dear Ford, safe and sound in my old country quarters, with 
leisure to speak a word or two to a friend on the other side of the Atlantic. 
I had a voyage of thirteen days, and pretty good weather for the most 
part, considering it was the month when I had a right to expect to be 
tumbled about rudely by the equinoctial gales. We fuid some rough 
gales, and my own company were too much damaged to do much for me. 


But angel woman, God bless her ! always comes when she is wanted, 
and sometimes when she is not, and I found one in a pretty little Yan 
kee lady, who had the twofold qualifications of being salt-water-proof, and 
of being a good reader. So, thanks to her, I travelled through " Vanity 
Fair " for the second time, and through Cumming's African exploits, 
quite new to me. And so killing his lions helped me to kill my time ; 
the worst enemy of the two. It was with a light heart, however, that I 
descried the gray rocks of my native land again. 

I am now about forty miles from town, on my old family acres, which 
do not go back to the time of the Norman conquest, though they do to 
that of the Aborigines, which is antiquity for a country where there are 
no entails and the son seldom sits under the shadow of the trees that his 
father planted. It is a plain New England farm, but I am attached to it, 
for it is connected with the earliest recollections of my childhood, and the 
mountains that hem it round look at me with old familiar faces. I have 
had too many friends to greet me here to have as much time as I could 
wish to myself, but as I wander through my old haunts, I think of the 
past summer, and many a friendly countenance on the other side of the 
water comes before me. Then I think of the pleasant hours I have had 
with you, my dear Ford, and of your many kindnesses, not to be forgot 
ten ; of our merry Whitebait feed with John Murray, at Royal Green 
wich, which you are to immortalize one day, you know, in the " Quar 

" So savage and tartarly." 

And that calls to mind that prince of good fellows, Stirling, and the last 
agreeable little dinner we three had together at Lockhart's. Pray remem 
ber me most kindly to the great Aristarch and to Stirling. That was not 
my final parting with the latter worthy, for he did me the favor to smoke 
me into the little hours the morning before I left London for my country 
campaign. And I had the pleasure of a parting breakfast with you, too, 
in Brook Street, as you may recall, on my return. God bless you both ! 
Some day or other I shall expect to sec you twain on this side of the 
great salt lake, if it is only to hunt the grizzly bear, of which amiable 
sport John Bull will, no doubt, become very fond when Cumming has 
killed all the lions and camelopards of the Hottentot country. 

In about a fortnight I shall leave my naked woods for the town, and 
then for the Cdsas de Espana. And when I am fairly in harness, I do 
not mean to think of anything else ; not even of my cockney friends iu 
the great-little isle. If there is any way in which I can possibly be of use 
to you in the New World, you will not fail .to tell me of it with all frank 
ness. Pray remember me most kindly to your daughters. 

Y mande siempre su amigo quien le quiere de todo corazon 
Y. S. M. B. 




BOSTON, November 12, 1860. 

I have the pleasure of sending you Allston's Sketches, of which I spoke 
to you. They are the first draughts of some of his best pictures ; among 
them the " Uriel," which the Duchess of Sutherland has at Trentham. 
Generally, however, they have remained mere sketches which the artist 
never worked up into regular pictures. They have been much esteemed 
by the critics here as fine studies, and the execution of this work was in 
trusted to two of our best engravers. One of them is excellent with 
crayons ; 2 quite equal to Richmond in the portraits of women 

I now and then get a reminder of the land of roast mutton by the 
sight of some one or other of your countrymen who emerges from the 
steamers that arrive here every fortnight. We are, indeed, one family. 
Did I ever repeat to you Allston's beautiful lines, one stanza of the three 
which he wrote on the subject 1 Les voila ! 

" While the manners, while the arts, 
That mould a nation's soul, 

Still cling around our hearts, 

Between let ocean roll, 

Our joint communion breaking with the sun, 
Yet still from either beach 
The voice of blood shall reach, 
More audible than speech: 
' We are one.' " 

Is it not good ?...-.. 

Farewell, my dear friend. I think of you mixed up with Castle How 
ard and brave old Naworth, and many a pleasant recollection. 
Once more, mio can, addio. 

Always thine, 




Your basket of canvas-backs arrived here a day after your note, and 
the contents thereof proved to be in quite as good condition as they could 
have been if shot three days before in Leicestershire. I may say I had 
never before tasted the dainty, and that I think it entirely merits its repu 
tation ; but on this last head, I presume the ipse dixit of Master Ford is 
"a voice double as any duke's." 

Very many thanks for your kind recollections. I had had very pleasing 
accounts of you and other friends from Holland on his return from his 
rapid expedition. He declares that, except the friends, he found every 
thing so changed, that your country seemed to call for a visit once in five 
years, and gallant is he in his resolution to invade you again in 1855. I 

2 Cheney. 


wish I could muster leisure or pluck, or both, for such an adventure. Let 
me hope meanwhile that long ere '55 we may again see you and Everett 
and Ticknor here, where surely you must all feel very tolerably at home. 
Believe me always very sincerely yours, 


December 27, 1850. 


BOSTON, January 14, 1851. 

i have the pleasure of sending you by this steamer a work of which I 
happen to have two copies, containing the portraits of some dozen Yankee 
notabilities, which may perhaps interest you. The likenesses, taken from 
daguerrotypes, are sometimes frightfully, odiously like. But some of the 
heads, as those of Taylor, our present President, besides being true, are 
not unpleasing likenesses. The biographical sketches are written for the 
most part, as you will see, in the Ercles vein. My effigy was taken in 
New York, about an hour before I sailed for England, when I had rather 
a rueful and lackadaisical aspect. The biographical notice of me is better 
done than most of them, in point of literary execution, being written by 
our friend Ticknor. 

Pray thank your brother Charles for his kindness in sending me out the 
reports of your Lectures. I, as well as the rest of your friends here, and 
many more that know you not, have read them with great pleasure, and, 
I trust, edification. The dissertation on your travels has been reprinted 
all over the country, and, as far as I know, with entire commendation. 
Indeed, it would be churlish enough to take exception at the very liberal 
and charitable tone of criticism which pervades it. If you are not blind 
to our defects, it gives much higher value to your approbation, and you 
are no niggard of that, certainly. Even your reflections on the black 
plague will not be taken amiss by the South, since they are of that abstract 
kind which can hardly be contested, while you do not pass judgment on 
the peculiar difficulties of our position, which considerably disturbs the 
general question. Your remarks on me went to my heart. They were 
just what I would wish you to have said, aud, as 1 know they came from 
your heart, I will not thank you for them. On the whole, you have set 
an excellent example, which, I trust, will be followed by others of your 
order. But few will have it in their power to do good as widely as you 
have done, since there are very few whose remarks will be read as exten 
sively, and with the same avidity, on both sides of the water. 


BOSTON, U. S., January 27, 1851. 

I wrote you from the country that, when I returned to town, I should 
lose no time in endeavoring to look up a good painting of the Falls of 
Niagara. I have not neglected this ; but, though I found it easy enough 


to get paintings uf the grand cataract, I have not till lately been able to 
meet with what I wanted. I will tell you how this came about. When 
Bulwer, your Minister, was here, I asked him, as he has a good taste in 
the arts, to see if he could meet with any good picture of Niagara while 
he was in New York. Some time after, he wrote me that he had met 
with " a very beautiful picture of the Falls, by a Frenchman." It so 
happened, that I had seen this same picture much commended in the New 
York papers, and I found that the artist's name was Lebron, a person of 
whom I happened to know something, as a letter from the Viscount San- 
tarem, in Paris, commended him to me as a " very distinguished artist," 
but the note arriving last summer, while I was absent, I had never seen 

Mr. Lebron. I requested my friend, Mr. , of New York, on whose 

judgment I place more reliance than on that of any other connoisseur 
whom I know, and who has himself a very pretty collection of pictures, to 
write me his opinion of the work. He fully confirmed Bulwer's report ; 
and I accordingly bought the picture, which is now in my own house. 

It is about five feet by three and a half, and exhibits, which is the most 
difficult thing, an entire view of the Falls, both on the Canada and Amer 
ican side. The great difficulty to overcome is the milky shallowness of 
the waters, where the foam diminishes so much the apparent height of the 
cataract. I think you will agree that the artist has managed this very 
well. In the distance a black thunder-storm is bursting over Goat Island 
and the American Falls. A steamboat, " The Maid of the Mist," which 
has been plying for some years on the river below, forms an object by 
which the eye can measure, in some degree, the stupendous proportions 
of the cataract. On the edge of the Horseshoe Fall is the fragment of a 
ferry-boat which, more than a year since, was washed down to the brink 
of the precipice, and has been there detained until within a week, when, I 
see by the papers, it has been carried over into the abyss. I mention these 
little incidents that you may understand them, being something different 
from what you saw when you were at Niagara ; and perhaps you may 
recognize some change in the form of the Table- Rock itself, some tons of 
which, carrying away a carriage and horses standing on it at the time, 
slipped into the gulf a year or more since. 

I shall send the painting out by the " Canada," February 12th, -being 
the first steamer which leaves this port for Liverpool, and, as I have been 
rather unlucky in some of my consignments, I think it will be as safe to 
address the box at once to you, and it will await your order at Liverpool, 
where it will probably arrive the latter part of February. 

I shall be much disappointed if it does not please you well enough to 
hang upon your walls as a faithful representation of the great cataract ; 
and I trust you will gratify me by accepting it as a souvenir of your friend 
across the water. I assure you it pleases me much to think there is any 
thing I can send you from this quarter of the world which will give you 

Pray remember me most affectionately to your mother and sister, who, 
I suppose, are now in town with you. 

And believe me, dearest Carlisle, 

Ever faithfully yours, 




BOSTON, May 29, 1861. 

I am off in a couple of days for the great cataract. I like to refresn 
my recollections ot* it every few years by a visit in person ; and I have a 
pleasant party to accompany me. I wish you were one of them. How I 
should like to stroll through the woods of Goat Island with you, my dear 
Carlisle, and talk over the pleasant past, made so pleasant the last year by 
vou and yours. By the by, the Duke of Argyll sent me an address which 
he made some time since at Glasgow, in which he made the kindest men 
tion of me. It was a very sensible discourse, and I think it would be well 
for the country if more of the aristocracy were to follow the example, 
which you and he have set, of addressing the people on other topics besides 
those of a political or agricultural nature, the two great hobbies of 
John Bull. 

So you perceive Sumner is elected after twenty ballotings. His posi 
tion will be a difficult one. He represents a coalition of the Democratic 
and Free-Soil parties, who have little relation to one another. And in 
the Senate the particular doctrine which he avows finds no favor. I 
believe it will prove a bed filled more with thorns than with roses. I had 
a long talk with him yesterday, and I think he feels it himself. It is to 
liis credit that he has not committed himself by any concessions to secure 
his election. The difficulty with Sumner as a statesman is, that he aims 
at the greatest abstract good instead of the greatest good practicable. By 
such a policy he misses even this lower mark ; not a low one either for a 
philanthropist and a patriot. 

You and your friends still continue to manage the ship notwithstanding 
the rough seas you have had to encounter. I should think it must be a 
perplexing office until your parties assume some more determinate charac 
ter, so as to throw a decided support into the government scale. 

Pray remember me most affectionately to your mother and to Lady 
Mary, and to the Duchess of Sutherland, whom I suppose you see often, 
and believe me, my dear Carlisle, 

Always most affectionately your friend, 



BOSTON, February 16, 1852. 

How kind it was in you, my dear Mrs. Milman, to write me such a 
good letter, and I am afraid you will think little deserved by me. But if 
I have not written, it is not that I have not thought often of the happy 
4ays I have passed in your society and in that of my good friend the 
Dean, God bless you both ! You congratulated me on the engagement 
of my daughter. 3 It is a satisfactory circumstance for us every way ; and 

8 HLs only daughter to Mr. James Lawrence, eldest son of Mr. Abbott 
Lawrence, who was then Minister of the United States in London. 


the character of thejiancf is such, I believe, as to promise as much hap 
piness to the union as one could expect. Yet it is a hard thing to part 
with a daughter, an only daughter, the light of one's home and one's 
heart. The boys go off, as a thing of course ; for man is a migratory 
animal. But a woman seems part of the household fixtures. Yet a little 
reflection makes us feel that a good connection is far better than single 
blessedness, especially in our country, where matrimony is the destiny of 
so nearly all, that the few exceptions to it are iu rather a lonely and 
anomalous position. 

What a delightful tour you must have had in Italy ! It reminds me of 
wandering over the same sunny land, five and thirty years ago, a pro 
digious reminiscence. It is one of the charms of your situation that you 
have but to cross a narrow strait of some twenty miles to find yourself 
transported to a region as unlike your own as the moon, and, to say 
truth, a good deal more unlike. This last coup d'etat shows, as Scriblerus 

" None but themselves can be their parallel." 

I am very glad to learn from your letter that the Dean is making good 
progress in the continuation of his noble work. I have always thought it 
very creditable to the government that it has bestowed its church dignities 
on one so liberal and tolerant as your husband. I do not think that the 
royal patrouage always dares to honor those in the Church, whom the 
world most honors. 

Have you seen Macaulay of late ? He told me that he should not 
probably make his bow to the public again before 1853. It seems that his 
conjecture was not wrong, the false newspapers notwithstanding. But one 
learns not to believe a thing, for the reason that it is affirmed iu the news 
papers. Our former Minister, Bancroft, has a volume in the press, a con 
tinuation of his American history, which will serve as a counterpart to 
Lord Mahon's, exhibiting the other side of the tapestry. 

I hope history is in possession of all the feuds that will ever take place 
between the two kindred nations. In how amiable a way the correspond 
ence about the Prometheus has been conducted by Lord Granville ! John 
Bull can afford to make apology when he is in the wrong. The present 
state of things in Europe should rather tend to draw the only two great 
nations where constitutional liberty exists more closely together. 

I am very glad that our friend Mr. Hallam is to have the satisfaction 
of seeing his daughter so well married. He has had many hard blows, 
and this ray of sunshine will, I hope, light up his domestic hearth for the 
evening of life. Pray present my congratulations most sincerely to him 
and Miss Hallam. 

We are now beginning to be busy with preparations for my daughter's 
approaching nuptials, which will take place, probably, in about a month, 
if some Paris toggery, furniture. &c., as indispensable as a bridegroom or 
a priest, it seems, come in due time. The affair makes a merry stir in 
our circle, in the way of festive parties, balls, and dinners. But in truth 
there is a little weight lies at the bottom of my heart when I think that 


the seat at her own board is to be forever vacant. Yet it is but a migra 
tion to the next street. How can parents consent to a match that places 
an ocean betwixt them and their children 1 

But I must bring my prosy talk to a close. I feel, now that I have my 
pen in hand, that I am by your side, with your husband and your family, 
and our friends the Lyclls; or perhaps rambling over the grounds of royal 
Windsor, or through dark passages in the Tower, or the pleasant haunts 
of Richmond Hill ; at the genial table of the charming lady " who came 
o.ut in Queen Anne's day," or many other places with which your memory 
and your husband's, your kindly countenances and delightful talk, are all 
associated. When I lay my head on my pillow, the forms of the dear 
friends gather round me, and sometimes I have the good luck to see them 
in midnight visions, and I wake up and find it all a dream. 

Pray remember me most kindly to the Dean and your sons, and to 
Lady Lyell, whom, I suppose, you often see, and believe me, my dear 
Mrs. Milman, 

Always most affectionately yours, 



BOSTON, April 7, 1852. 

Lawrence wrote me a little while since that yon remarked you could 
now say for once that I was in your debt. It may be so ; but I wonder 
if I have not given you two to one, or some such odds. But no matter ; 
in friendship, as in love, an exact tally is not to be demanded. 

Since I had last the pleasure of hearing from you, there has been a 
great revolution in your affairs, and the ins have become outs. Is it not 
an awkward thing to be obliged to face about, and take just the opposite 
tacks ; to be always on the attack instead of the defence ! What a 
change ! First to break with your Minister of Foreign Affairs, who was 
in so much glory, fighting the battle so stoutly when I was in London ! 
And then to break up altogether, and surrender the field to the Protec 
tionists ! We are most of us protectionists, more or less, in my part of 
the country, with which doctrines I found very little sympathy when I 
was in England. I wonder if that policy can possibly get the upper hand 
again with you. The revocare gradam is always a difficult step, more dif 
ficult than any two forward. Can the present Cabinet possibly stand on 
one leg, and that the lame one of protection t We at the North have 
long been trying to get the scale of duties raised, but in vain; Nil re- 
trorsum. What hot work you will have in the coming election ! It would 
be almost worth a voyage to see. Yet I doubt if any candidate will 
spend a hundred thousand upon it, as was the case, I believe, in your own 
county not many years ago. 

Sumner has not been anxious to make a display in Congress. In this 
he has judged well. The session has been a tame one, so far. He made 
a short speech on the Kossuth business, and a very good one ; since 
that, a more elaborate effort on the distribution of our wild lands, so as to 


favor the new, unsettled States. According to our way of thinking, he 
was not so successful here. I suppose he provides you with his parlia 
mentary eloquence. We are expecting Kossuth here before long. I am 
glad he takes us last. I should be sorry that we should get into a scrape 
by any ill-advised enthusiasm. He has been preaching up doctrines of 
intervention (called by him non-intervention) by no means suited to our 
policy, which, as our position affords us the means of keeping aloof, 
should be to wash our hands of all the troubles of the Old World. 

What troubles you are having now, in Prance especially. But revolu 
tion is the condition of a Frenchman's existence apparently. Can that 
country long endure the present state of things, the days of Augustus 
Cajsar over again ? 

Have you seen Bancroft's new volume ? I think this volume, which 
has his characteristic merits and defects, showy, sketchy, and full of bold 
speculations, will have interest for you. Lord Mahon is on the same 
field, surveying it from an opposite point of view. So we are likely to 
have the American Revolution well dissected by able writers on opposite 
sides at the same time. The result will probably be doubt upon every 

In the newspaper of to-day is a letter, to be followed by two others, 
addressed to Bryant, the poet-editor of the New York " Evening Post," 
from Sparks, himself the editor of Washington's papers. I think you 
must have known Sparks here. He is now the President of Harvard Uni 
versity, the post occupied by Everett after his return. Sparks has been 
sharply handled for the corruption of the original text of Washington, as 
appeared by comparisons of some of the originals with his printed copy. 
Lord Mahou, among others, has some severe strictures on him in his last 
volume. Sparks's letters are in vindication of himself, on the ground that 
the alterations are merely verbal, to correct bad grammar and obvious 
blunders, which Washington would have corrected himself, had he pre 
pared his correspondence for the press. He makes out a fair case for 
himself, and any one who knows the integrity of Sparks will give him 
credit for what he states. As he has some reflections upon Lord Mahon's 
rash criticism, as he terms it, I doubt not he will send him a copy, or I 
would do it, as I think he would like to see the explanation. 

I suppose you breakfast sometimes with Macaulay, and that he dines 
sometimes with you. I wish I could be with you at both. I suppose lie 
is busy on his new volume. When will the new brace be bagged 1 I 
remember he prophesied to me not before 1853, and I was very glad to 
hear from him, that his great success did not make him hurry over that 
historic ground. A year or two extra is well spent on a work destined to 
live forever. 

And now, my dear friend, I do not know that there is anything here 
that I can tell you of that will much interest you. I am poddering over 
my book ; still Philippizing. But " it is a far cry to Loch Awe " ; which 
place, far as it is, by the by, I saw on my last visit to Europe under such 
delightful auspices, with the Lord of the Campbells and his lovely lady, 
God preserve them ! I have been quite industrious, for me, this winter, 
in spite of hymeneal merry-making, and am now on my second volume. 
But it is a terrible subject, so large and diffuse, the story of Europe. 


I told Bcntley to send Lady Mary a copy of my " Miscellanies " two 
months since, which contains an engraved portrr'*' of me from a picture 
by Phillips, painted when in London for Mr. Stirlrng. The engraviug is 
a good one ; better, I suspect, than the likeness 

You will think, by the length of my yarn, that I really think you are 
returned to private life again, and have nothing in the world to do. But 
a host of pleasant recollections gather round me while I converse with yon 
across the waters, and I do not like to break the spell. But it is time. 
I must not close without thanking you for the kind congratulations which 
you sent me some weeks since on my daughter's approaching nuptials. 
It is all over now, and I am childless, and yet fortunate, if it must be so. 
Does not your sister the Duchess part with her last unmarried daughter 
very soon 1 The man is fortunate, indeed, who is to have such a bride. 
Pray say all that is kind for me to the Duchess, whose kindness to me is 
among the most cherished of my recollections in my pleasant visit to merry 

Farewell, dear Carlisle. Believe me always 

Affectionately yours, 



BOSTON, April 18, 1852. 

Since I last wrote, we have had another wedding in my family, as yoti 
have no doubt heard. Indeed, you prove how well you are posted up 
about us, and the kind part you take in our happiness, by the little souvenir 
which you sent to Lizzy at the time of the marriage. 4 We like to have 
the sympathy of those who are dear to us in our joys and our sorrows. 
I am sure we shall always have yours in both, though I hope it will be 
long before we have to draw on it for the latter. Yet when did the sun 
shine long without a cloud, lucky, if without a tempest. We have had 
one cloud in our domestic circle the last fortnight, in the state of my 
mother's health. She was confined to the house this spring by an injury, 
in itself not important, to her leg. But the inaction, to which she is so little 
accustomed, has been followed by loss of strength, and she does not rally as 
I wish she did. Should summer ever bless us, of which I have my doubts, 
I trust she will regain the ground she has lost. But I guess and fear ! 
Eighty-five is a heavy load ; hard to rise under. It is like the old man in 
the Arabian Nights, that poor Sinbad could not shake oft' from his shoulders. 
Elizabeth's marriage has given occasion to a good deal of merry-making, 
and our little society has been quite astir in spite of Lent. Indeed, the 
only Fast-day which the wicked Unitarians keep is that appointed by the 
Governor as the " day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer." It comes 
always in April. We keep it so appropriately, that I could not help re 
marking the other day, that it would be a pity to have it abolished, as we 
have so few fete days in our country. 

4 The marriage of his only daughter to Mr. Lawrence, already mentioned. 




OF Mr. Prescott's political opinions there is little to be said. 
That he was sincerely and faithfully attached to his coun 
try to his whole country nobody ever doubted who heard 
him speak on the subject. His letters when he was in Eng 
land, flattered as few men have been by English hospitality, 
are as explicit on this point as was the expression of his every 
day feelings and thoughts at home. But, with all his patriotic 
loyalty, he took little interest in the passing quarrels of the 
political parties that, at different times, divided and agitated 
the country. They were a disturbing element in the quiet, 
earnest pursuit of his studies ; and such elements, whatever 
they might be, or whencesoever they might corne, he always 
rejected with a peculiar sensitiveness ; anxious, under all cir 
cumstances, to maintain the even, happy state of mind to 
which his nature seemed to entitle him, and which he found 
important to continuous work. He was wont to say, that he 
dealt with political discussions only when they related to events 
and persons at least two centuries old. 

Of friends who were eminent in political affairs he had not 
a few ; but his regard for them did not rest on political grounds. 
With Mr. Everett, whom he knew early during his college life, 
and who, as Secretary of State, represented the old Whig par 
ty, he had always the most kindly intercourse, and received 
from him, as we have seen, while that gentleman was residing 
in Italy in 1840 and 1841, and subsequently while he so ably 
represented the United States as our Minister in London, effi 
cient assistance in collecting materials for the " History of 
Philip the Second." With Mr. Bancroft, who had an inherited 
claim on his regard, and whom he knew much from 1822, he 


stood in relations somewhat more intimate and familiar, and 
always maintained them, though he never sympathized with 
his friend in the decidedly democratical tendencies that have 
marked his brilliant career as a statesman. With Mr. Sumner 
his personal acquaintance began later, not till the return of 
that gentleman from Europe in 1840 ; but from the first, it 
was cordial, and in the last two or three years of his life he 
took much interest in the questions that arose about Kansas, 
and voted for Mr. Fremont as President in preference to either 
of the other candidates. During his whole life, however, he 
belonged essentially, both in his political feelings and in his 
political opinions, as his father always did, to the conservative, 
school of Washington and Hamilton, as its doctrines are re 
corded and developed in the " Federalist." 

With the three eminent men just referred to, whom all will 
recognize as marking with the lustre of their names the oppo 
site corners of the equilateral triangle formed by the three 
great political parties that at different times during Mr. Pres- 
cott's life preponderated in the country, he had a correspond 
ence, sometimes interrupted by the changing circumstances of 
their respective positions, but always kindly and interesting. 
The political questions of the day appeared in it, of course, 
occasionally. But whenever this occurred, it was rather by 
accident than otherwise. The friendship of the parties had 
been built on other foundations, and always rested on them 

The earliest letters to Mr. Bancroft that I have seen are 
two or three between 1824 and 1828 ; but they are unimpor 
tant for any purposes of biography. The next one is of 1831, 
and is addressed to Northampton, Massachusetts, where Mr. 
Bancroft then lived. 


BOSTON, April 30, 1831. 

We jog on in much the same way here, and, as we are none of us 
J,acksonists, care little for the upsetting of cabinets, or any other mad 
pranks, which doubtless keep you awake at Northampton, for I perceive 


you are doing as many a misguided man has done before you, quitting 
the sweets of letters for the thorny path of politics. I must say I had 
rather drill Greek and Latin into little boys all my life, than take up with 

this trade in our country. However, so does not think Mr. , nor 

Mr. , nor Mr. &c., &<:., &c., who are much better qualified to carry 

off all the prizes in literature than I can be. Your article on the Bank 
of the United States produced quite a sensation, and a considerable con 
trariety of opinion. 1 Where will you break out next ? I did not think 
to see you turn out a financier in your old age ! I have just recovered 
from a fit of sickness, which has confined me to my bed for a fortnight. 
I think the weather will confine me to the house another fortnight. Do 
you mean to make a flying trip to our latitudes this vacation ? We 
should be glad to see you. In the mean time I must beg you to commend 
ine to your wife, and believe me, 

Most affectionately your friend, 



PEPPERELL, October 4, 1887. 

Since we returned here, I have run through your second volume with 
nuch pleasure. 2 I had some misgivings that the success of the first, 3 and 
still more that your political hobbyism, might have made you, if not 
careless, at least less elaborate. But I see no symptoms of it. On the 
contrary, you have devoted apparently ample investigation to all the great 
topics of interest. The part you have descanted on less copiously than I 
had anticipated perhaps from what I had heard you say yourself was 
the character and habits of the Aborigines ; but I don't know that you 
have not given as ample space to them considering, after all, they are 
but incidental to the main subject as your canvas would allow. 4 You 
certainly have contrived to keep the reader wide awake, which, consider 
ing that the summary nature of the work necessarily excluded the interest 
derived from a regular and circumstantial narrative, is a great thing. As 
you have succeeded so well in this respect, in the comparatively barren 
parts of the subject, you cannot fail as you draw nearer our own times. 

I see you are figuring on the Van Buren Committee for concocting a 
public address. Why do you coquet with such a troublesome termagant 
as politics, when the glorious Muse of History opens her arms to receive 
you ? I can't say I comprehend the fascination of such a mistress ; for 
which, I suppose, you will commiserate me. 

Well, I am just ready to fly from my perch, in the form, of three pon- 

1 An article in the " North American Review," by Mr. Bancroft. 

2 Then just published. 
8 Published in 1834. 

* The sketch of the Indians was reserved for Mr. Bancroft's third volume, 
and was, in fact, made with a great deal of care. 

15 V 


derous oetavos. Don't you think there will l>e a great eagerness to pay 
seven dollars and a half for an auld warld's tale of the fifteenth century, 
in these rub-and-go times 1 6 You are more fortunate than I, for all who 
have bought your first, will necessarily buy the second volume ; as sub 
scribers to a railroad are obliged to go on deeper and deeper with the 
creation of new stock, in order to make the old of any value, as I have 
found by precious experience. Nevertheless, I shall take the field in De 
cember, Deo volente, all being in readiness now for striking off, except the 

With the sincere hope that your family continue in health, and that you 
may be blessed yourself with good health and restored spirits, I am 
Ever truly yours, 



Saturday P. M. (indorsed* May 5, 1838.) 

I return the review with my hearty thanks. 8 I think it is one of the 
most delightful tributes ever paid by friendship to authorship. And I 
think it is written in your very happiest manner. I do not l>clicve, in es 
timating it so, I am misled by the subject, or the writer, for I have not 
been very easy to please on the score of puffs, of which I have had full 
measure, you know, from my good-natured friends. But the style of the 
piece is gorgeous, without being over-loaded, and the tone of sentiment 
most original, without the least approach to extravagance or obscurity. 
Indeed, the originality of the thoughts and the topics touched on consti 
tute its great charm, and make the article, even at this eleventh hour, 
when so much has been said on the subject, have all the freshness of nov 
elty. In this I confess, considering how long it had been kept on the 
shelf, I am most agreeably disappointed. As to the length, it is, taken 
in connection with the sort of critique, just the thing. It will terrify none 
from venturing on it, and I am sure a man must be without relish for the 
beautiful, who can lay it down without finishing. 
Faithfully yours, 


P. S. There is one thing which I had like to have forgotten, but 
which I shall not forgive. You have the effrontery to speak of my hav 
ing passed the prime of life, some dozen years ago. Why, my youthful 
friend, do you know what the prime of life is ? Moliere shall tell you : 
" He bien ! qu'est ce que cela, soixante ans ? C'cst la fleur de 1'age cela." 
Prime of life, indeed ! People will think the author is turned of seventy. 
He was a more discreet critic that called me " young and modest " I 

6 There were heavy financial troubles in the winter of 1837 - 8. 
The article in the " Democratic Review," by Mr. Bancroft, on the " Fer 
dinand and Isabella." It has been noticed ante, p. 104. 



Thursday morning, November 1, 1838. 

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. I think he has proceeded on a wrong principle altogether. 
The French Revolution is a most lamentable comedy (as Nick Bottom 
says) of itself, and requires nothing but the simplest statement of facts to 
freeze one's blood. To attempt to color so highly what nature has al 
ready overcolored is, it appears to me, in very bad taste, and produces a 
grotesque and ludicrous effect, the very opposite of the sublime or beauti 
ful. Then such ridiculous affectations of new-fangled words ! Carlyle is 
even a bungler at his own business ; for his creations, or rather combina 
tions, in this way, 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 original views. This forms no part of 
his plan. His views certainly, as far as I can estimate them, are trite 
enough. And, in short, the whole thing, in my humble opinion, both as 
to forme and to fond, is perfectly contemptible. Two or three of his arti 
cles in the Reviews are written in a much better manner, and with eleva 
tion of thought, if not with originality. But affectation, 

" The trail of the serpent is over them all." 

Mercy on us, you will say, what have I done to bring such a shower of 
twaddle about my ears ? Indeed, it is a poor return for your kindness in, 
lending me the work, and will discourage you in future, no doubt. But 
to say truth, I have an idle hour ; my books are putting up. 7 

Thierry I will keep longer, with your leave. He says " he has made 
friends with darkness." There are we brothers. 

Faithfully yours, 



BOSTON, April 18, 1839. 

Our friend Hillard 9 read to me, yesterday, some extracts from a recent 
letter of yours, in which you speak of your interviews with Mr. Ford, 10 

1 For moving to town. 

8 Mr. Sumner was then in Europe, and Mr. Prescott was not yet person 
ally acquainted with him. 

9 George S. Hillard, Esq., author of the charming book, " Six Months in 
Italy," first printed in 1853 in Boston, and subsequently in London, by Mur 
ray, since which it has become a sort of manual for travellers who visit 
Florence and Rome. 

10 Already noticed for his review in the " London Quarterly " of " Ferdi 
nand and Isabella," and for his subsequent personal friendship with Mr. 


who is to wield the scalping-knife over my bantling in the " Quarterly." 
I cannot refrain from thanking you for your very efficient kindness to 
wards me in this instance, as well as for the very friendly manner in which 
you have enabled me to become acquainted with the state of opinion on 
the literary merits of my History in London. It is, indeed, a rare piece 
of good fortune to be thus put in possession of the critical judgments of 
the most cultivated society, who speak our native language. Such infor 
mation cannot be gathered from Reviews and Magazines, which put on a 
sort of show dress for the public, and which are very often, too, executed 
by inferior hands. Through my friend Ticknor, first, and subsequently 
through you, I have had all the light I could desire ; and I can have no 
doubt, that to the good-natured offices of both of you I am indebted for 
those prestiges in my favor, which go a good way towards ultimate success. 
I may truly say, that this success has not been half so grateful to my feel 
ings as the kind sympathy and good-will which the publication has drawn 
forth from my countrymen, both at home and abroad. 

Touching the " Quarterly," I had half a mind, when I learned 

from your letters that it was to take up " Ferdinand and Isabella," to 
send out the last American edition, for the use of the reviewer (who, to 
judge from his papers in the " Quarterly," has a quick scent for blemishes, 
and a very good knowledge of the Spanish ground), as it contains more 
than a hundred corrections of inadvertencies and blunders, chiefly verbal, 
in the first edition. It would be hard, indeed, to be damned for sins 
repented of; but, on the whole, I could not make up my mind to do it, 
as it looked something like a sop to Cerberus ; and so I determined to 
leave their Catholic Highnesses to their fate. Thanks to your friendly 
interposition, I have no doubt, this will be better than they deserve ; and, 
should it be otherwise, I shall feel equally indebted to you. Any one who 
has ever had a hand in concocting an article for a periodical knows quan 
tum valet. But the ol TroXXot know nothing about it, and of all journals 
the "Edinburgh" and the " Quarterly" have the most weight with the 
American, as with the English public. 

You are now, I understand, on your way to Italy, after a campaign 
more brilliant, I suspect, than was ever achieved by any of your country 
men before. You have, indeed, read a page of social life such as few 
anywhere have access to ; for your hours have been passed with the great, 
not merely with those born to greatness, but those who have earned it for 

" Colla penna e colla spada." 

In your progress through Italy, it is probable you may meet with a 
Florentine nobleman, the Marquis Capponi. 11 Mr. Ellis, 12 in a letter 
from Rome, informed me, that he was disposed to translate " Ferdinand 
and Isabella " into the Italian ; and at his suggestion I had a copy for 
warded to him from England, and have also sent a Yankee one, as more 
free from inaccuracies. I only fear he may think it presumptuous. He 

11 The Marquis Gino Capponi. See ante, p. 175, note. 

12 Rev. Dr. George E. Ellis, of Charlestown, Mass. 


had never seen the book, and I can easily divme fifty reasons why he 
would not choose to plague himself with the job of translating when he 
has seen it. He is a man of great consideration, and probably fully occu 
pied in other ways. But after the intimation which was given me, I did 
not choose to be deficient on my part ; and I only hope he may under 
stand, that I do not flatter myself with the belief that he will do anything 
more than take that sort of interest in the work which, as one of the lead 
ing savans in Italy, I should wish him to feel for it. I am sincerely 
desirous to have the work known to Continental scholars who take an 
interest in historical inquiries. I shall be obliged to you if you will say 
this much to him, should you fall in with him. 

I shall be further obliged to you, should you return to London, if you 
will, before leaving it for the last time, ascertain from Bentley whether he 
is making arrangements for another edition, and in what style. I should 
be sorry to have the work brought out in an inferior dress, for the sake of 
the todier. Above all, he must get a rich portrait, coute que coule, of my 
heroine. I have written him to this effect, and he has promised it, but 
" it is a far cry to Loch Awe," and, when a man's publisher is three thou 
sand miles off", he will go his own gait. I believe, however, he is disposed 
to do very fairly by me. Thus you see my gratitude for the past answers 
the Frenchman's definition of it, a lively sense of favors to come. I 
shall trust, however, without hesitation, to the same friendly spirit which 
you have hitherto shown for my excuse in your eyes. 

Adieu, my dear sir. With sincere Avishes that the remainder of your 
pilgrimage may prove as pleasant and profitable to you as the past must 
have been, I am (if you will allow me to subscribe myself) 
Very truly your obliged friend and servant, 



BOSTON, May 21, 1840. 

I enclose a note to Mr. Grahame, 14 who is now residing at Nantes for 
the benefit of his daughter's health, who, as Mr. Ellis informs me, is 
married to a son of Sir John Herschel. 

Touching the kind offices I wish from you in Paris, it is simply to 
ascertain if the Archives (the Foreign Archives, I think they are called) 
under the care of Mignet contain documents relating to Spanish history 
during the reign of Philip the Second. A Mr. Turnbull, 15 who, I see, is 
now publishing his observations on this country and the West Indies, 
assured me last year, that the French government under Bonaparte caused 
the papers, or many of them, relating to this period, to be transferred 
from Simancas to the office in Paris. Mr. Turnbull has spent some time 
both in Madrid and Paris, and ought to know. If they are there, I should 
like to know if I can obtain copies of such as I should have occasion for, 

18 Mr. Everett was then about embarking for Europe. 

n J. Gruhame, Esq., author of the History of the United States. 

w D. Turnbull, Esq., who published a book on Cuba, &c., in 1840. 


and I shall be obliged by your advising me how this can best be done. I 
shall not attempt to make a collection, which will require similar opera 
tions in the principal capitals of Europe, till I have learnt whether I can 
succeed in getting what is now in Spain, which must be, after all, the 
principal depot. My success in the Mexican collection affords a good 
augury, but I fear the disordered condition of the Spanish archives will 
make it very difficult. In the Mexican affair, the collec.tions had been all 
made by their own scholars, and I obtained access to them through the 
Academy. For the " Philip the Second " I must deal with the govern 
ment. There is no hurry, you know, so that I beg you will take your 
own time and convenience for ascertaining the state of the case. 

I return you the Lecture on Peru, in which you have filled up the out 
lines of your first. Both have been read by me with much pleasure and 
profit ; though it must be some years before I shall work in those mines 
myself, as I must win the capital of Montezuma first. 

I pray you to offer my wife's and my own best wishes to Mrs. Everett, 
and with the sincere hope that you may have nothing but sunny skies and 
hours during your pilgrimage, believe me, my dear Mr. Everett, 
Most truly and faithfully yours, 



PARIS, July 27, 1840. 

I have lost no time in instituting inquiries as to the documents which 
may be accessible in Paris, on the subject of Philip the Second. My first 
recourse was to M. Mignet. He is the keeper of the Archives in the De 
partment of Foreign Affairs. From him I learned that his department 
contains nothing older than the seventeenth century. I learned, however, 
from him, that Napoleon, as Mr. Turnbull informed you, caused not only 
a part, but the whole, of the archives of Simancas to be transferred to 
Paris. On the downfall of the Empire, everything was sent back to 
Spain, excepting the documents relating to the History of France, which, 
somehow or other, remained. These documents are deposited in the 
Archives du Royaume, Hotel Soubise. Among them is the correspondence 
of the successive Ministers of Spain in France with their government at 
Madrid. These papers are often the originals ; they are not bound, nor 
indexed, but tied up in liasses, and M. Mignet represented the labor of 
examining them as very great. He showed me some of the bundles, 
which he had been permitted to borrow from the Archives du Royaume, but 
I did not perceive wherein the peculiar difficulty of examining them con 
sisted. He has examined and made extracts from a great mass of these 
documents for the History of the Reformation which he is writing. Ho 
showed me a large number of manuscript volumes, containing these 
extracts, which he had caused to be made by four copyists. He had also 
similar collections from Brussels, Cassel, and Dresden, obtained through 
the agency of the French Ministers at those places. I have made an 
arrangement to go to the Archives da Royaume next week, and see these 


documents. I ;hink M. Mignet told me there were nearly three hundred 
bundles, and, if I mistake not, all consisting of the correspondence of 
the Ministers of Spain in France. 

My next inquiry was at the Bibliotfieque Royale. The manuscripts 
there are under the care of an excellent old friend of mine, Professor Hase, 
who, in the single visit I have as yet made to the library, did everything 
in his power to facilitate my inquiry. In this superb collection will, I 
think, l>e found materials of equal importance to those contained in the 
Arcliircs da Royaume. A very considerable part of the correspondence of 
the French Ministers at Madrid and Brussels, for the period of your 
inquiry, is preserved, perhaps all ; and there are several miscellaneous 
pieces of great interest if I may judge by the titles. 


PARIS, August 22, 1840. 

Since my former letter to you, I have made some further researches, 
on the subject of materials for the History of Philip the Second. I passed 
a morning at the Archives du Royaume, in the ancient Hotel Soubise, 
inquiring into the subject of the archives of Simancas ; and in an inter 
view with M. Mignet, he was good enough to place in my hands a report 
made to him, by some one employed by him, to examine minutely into 
the character and amount of these precious documents. They consist of 
two hundred and eighty-four bundles, as I informed you in my former 
letter, and some of these bundles contain above a couple of hundred pieces. 
They are tied up and numl>ered, according to some system of Spanish 
arrangement, the key of which (if there ever was any) is lost. They do not 
appear to follow any order, either chronological, alphabetical, or that of 
subjects ; and an ill-written, but pretty minute catalogue of some of the 
first bundles in the series is the only guide to their contents. M. Mignet's 
amanuensis went through the whole mass, and looked at each separate 
paper ; and this, I think, is the only way in which a perfectly satisfactory 
knowledge of the contents of the collection can be obtained. I had time 
only to look at two bundles. I took them at a venture, being Liasses A 
55 and A 56 ; selecting them, because I saw in the above-named catalogue 
that they contained papers which fell within the period of the reign of 
Philip the Second. I soon discovered that these documents were far from 
being confined to the correspondence of the Spanish Ministers in France. 
On the contrary, I believe, not a paper of that description was contained 
in the bundles I looked at. There were, however, a great number of 
original letters of Philip himself to his foreign Ministers. They appeared 
in some cases to be original draughts, sometimes corrected in his own 
handwriting. Sometimes they were evidently the official copies, originally 
made for the purpose of being preserved in the archives of the Spanish 
government. In one case, a despatch, apparently prepared for transmis 
sion, and signed by Philip, but for some reason not sent, was preserved 

w Now the Bibliotheque Imperiale. 


with the official copy. In some cases there were letters in several differ 
ent states, from a first draught, through one or two corrected forms, till 
the letter was reduced to a satisfactory condition. This was strikingly the 
case with the Latin letter to Elizabeth of England, of 23d August, 1581, 
warmly expostulating against the reception of Portuguese fugitives, and 
particularly Don Antonio, and threatening war if his wishes were not 
complied with. Further reflection, perhaps, convinced Philip, that this 
kind of logic was not the best adapted to persuade Queen Elizabeth, and a 
draught of another letter, minus the threat, is found in the bundle. Of 
some of the letters of Philip I could not form a satisfactory idea whether 
they were originals or copies, and if the latter, in what stage prepared. 
Those of this class had an indorsement, purporting that they were " in 
cipher," in whole or in part. Whether they were deciphered copies of 
originals in cipher, or whether the indorsement alluded to was a direction 
to have them put in cipher, I could not tell. It is, in fact, a point of no 
great importance, though of some curiosity in the literary history of the 

Besides letters of Philip, there are official documents and reports of 
almost every description ; and I should think, from what I saw of the 
contents of the collection, that they consist of the official papers emanating 
from and entering the private cabinet of the king, and filed away, the first 
in an authentic copy, the last in the original, from day to day. The let 
ters of Philip, though not in his handwriting, were evidently written 
under his dictation ; and I confess, the cursory inspection I was able to 
give them somewhat changed my notion of his character. I supposed ho 
left the mechanical details of government to his Ministers, but these papers 
exhibit ample proof that he himself read and answered the letters of his 
ambassadors. Whether, however, this was the regular official correspond 
ence with the foreign Ministers, or a private correspondence kept up by 
the King, of which his Secretaries of State were uninformed, I do not 
know ; but from indications, which I will not take up your time in 
detailing, I should think the former. Among the papers is a holograph 
letter of Francis the First to the wife of Charles the Fifth, after the 
treaty of Madrid, by which he recovered his liberty. They told me, at 
the Archives, that no obstacles existed to copying these documents, and 
that it would be easy to find persons competent to examine and transcribe 


NAHANT, September 1, 1840. 

I have received your letter of the 27th of July, and it was certainly 
very kind of you to be willing to bury yourself in a musty heap of parch 
ments so soon after your arrival in the most brilliant and captivating of 
European capitals. I should have asked it from no one, and should have 
been surprised at it in almost any other person. Your memoranda show 
that, as I had anticipated, a large store of original materials for Philip tha 


Second's reign \s in the public libraries there ; possibly enough to author 
ize me to undertake the history without other resources, though still I can 
not but suppose that the Spanish archives must contain much of para 
mount importance not existing elsewhere. I have received from Middle- 
ton this very week a letter, informing me that he and Dr. Lembke, my 
agent in Madrid, have been promised the support of several members of 
government and influential persons in making the investigations there. 
By a paper, however, which he sends me from the arcliivero of Simaneas, I 
fear, from the multitude and disorderly state of the papers, there will be 
great embarrassment in accomplishing my purpose. I wrote some months 
since to Dr. Lembke, who is a German scholar, very respectable, and 
a member of the Spanish Academy, and who has selected my documents 
for the " Conquest of Mexico," that, if I could get access to the Madrid 
libraries for the " Philip the Second " documents, I should wish to com 
plete the collection by the manuscripts from Paris, and should like to have 
him take charge of it. It so happens, as I find by the letter received 
from Middlcton, that Lembke is now in Paris, and is making researches 
relating to Philip the Second's reign. This is an odd circumstance. 
Lembke tells him (Middleton) he has found many, and has selected some 
to be copied, and that he thinks he shall "be able to obtain Mignet's per 
mission to have such documents as are useful to me copied from his great 


BOSTON, February 1, 1841. 

I must thank you for your obliging letter of November 27th, in which 
you gave me some account of your disasters by the floods, and, worse, 
from illness of your children. I trust the last is dissmated entirely under 
the sunny skies of Florence. How the very thought of that fair city calls 
up the past, and brushes away the mists of a quarter of a century ! For 
nearly that time has elapsed since I wandered a boy on the banks of the 

Here all is sleet and " slosh," and in-doors talk of changes, political 
not meteorological, when the ins are to turn outs. There is some perplex 
ity about a Senator to Congress, much increased by your absence and J. 
Q. Adams's presence. Abbott Lawrence, who was a prominent candidate, 
has now withdrawn. It seems more fitting, indeed, that he should repre 
sent us in the House than the Senate. Both Choate " and Dexter 18 have 
been applied to, and declined. But it is now understood that Mr. C. will 
consent to go. The sacrifice is great for one who gives up the best prac 
tice, perhaps, in the Commonwealth. 

If you remain abroad, I trust, for the credit of the country, it will be 
in some official station, which is so often given away to unworthy par 
tisans. There is no part of our arrangements, probably, which lowers us 

IT The Hon. Rufus Choate. 

18 The Hon. Franklin Dexter, Mr. Prescott's brother-in-law. 


so much in foreign estimation, as the incompetence, in one way or another, 
of our representatives abroad. 

I have received the books from the Marquis Capponi of which he spok 
to you, and also a very kind letter informing me of the arrangements for 
the translation of the Catholic Kings into the beautiful tongue of Petrarch 
and Dante. I see, from the Prospectus which he sends me, that I am 
much honored by the company of the translated. The whole scheme is a 
magnificent one, and, if it can be carried through, cannot fail to have a 
great influence on the Italians, by introducing them to modes of thinking 
very different from their own. I suppose, however, the censorship still 
holds its shears. It looks as if the change so long desired in the copy 
right laws was to be brought about, or the Associates could hardly expect 
indemnification for their great expenses. Signer Capponi is, I believe, a 
person of high accomplishments, and social as well as literary eminence. 
In my reply to him, I have expressed my satisfaction that he should have 
seen you, and taken the liberty to notice the position you have occupied in 
your own country ; though it may seem ridiculous, or at least superfluous, 
from me, as it is probable he knows it from many other sources. 

I am much obliged by your communication respecting the " Relazioni 
degli Ambasciatori Veneti." It is a most important work, and I have a 
copy, sent me by Mariotti. The subsequent volumes (only three are now 
published) will cover the reign of Philip the Second and supply most 
authentic materials for his history, and I must take care to provide myself 
with them. 19 When you visit Rome, if you have any leisure, I shall be 
obliged by your ascertaining if there are documents in the Vatican ger 
mane to this subject. Philip was so good a son of the Church, that I 
think there must be. Should you visit Naples, and meet with an old gen 
tleman there, Count Camaldoli, pray present my sincere respects to him. 
He has done me many kind offices, and is now interesting himself in get 
ting some documents from the archives of the Duke of Monte Leone, the 
representative of Corte's, who lives, or vegetates, in Sicily. 

Lembke is now m Paris, and at work for me. Sparks is also there, as 
you know, I suppose. He has found out some rich deposits of manu 
scripts relating to Philip, in the British Museum. The difficulty will be, 
I fear, in the embarras de riclifsses. The politics of Spain in that reign 
were mixed up with those of every court in Europe. Isabel's were for 
tunately confined to Italy and the Peninsula. 

I pray you to remember us all kindly to your wife, and to believe me, 
my dear Mr. Everett, 

Most truly your obliged friend, 


19 The " Relazioni degli Ambasciatori Veneti," published by Professor 
Eugenic Alberi, of Florence, a scholar whose learning fits him singularly 
for the task. The first volume was published in 1839, and I think the fif 
teenth and last has recently appeared. Meantime Signer Alberi has edited, 
with excellent skill, the works of Galileo, in sixteen volumes, 1842-1856. 
He assisted Mr. Prescott in other ways. 



FLORENCE, September 21, 1841. 

I duly received your favor of the 30th of April. I delayed answering 
it till I should have executed your commissions, which, upon the whole, I 
have done to my satisfaction. I immediately addressed a note to the 
Marquis Gino Capponi, embodying the substance of what you say on the 
subject of his oft'er to furnish you with copies of his " Venetian Rela 
tions." He was then absent on a journey to Munich, which I did not 
know at the time. He has since returned, but I have not seen him. 
Since the loss of his sight, he leads a very secluded life, and is, I think, 
rarely seen but at M. Vieusseux's Thursday-evening Conversaziones ; which, 
as I have been in the country all summer, I have not attended. I infer 
from not hearing from him, that he thinks the " Relazioni " will be pub 
lished within five years, and that consequently it will not be worth while 
to have them transcribed. But I shall endeavor to see him before my de 
parture. The Count Pietro Guicciardini readily placed in my hands the 
manuscripts mentioned by you in yours of the 30th of April, which I 
have had copied at a moderate rate of compensation. They form two hun 
dred pages of the common-sized foolscap paper, with a broad margin, but 
otherwise economically written, the lines near each other, and the hand 
quite close, though very legible. I accidentally fell upon copies of two 
autograph letters of Philip the Second, the one to the Pope, the other 
to the Queen of Portugal, on the subject of the imprisonment of Don 
Carlos, while I was in search of something else in the Magliabecchian. 
They are not intrinsically very interesting. But, considering the author 
and the subject, as they are short, each two pages, I had them copied. I 
experienced considerable difficulty in getting the document in the " Ar- 
chivio Mediceo " copied. For causes which I could not satisfactorily trace, 
the most wearisome delays were interposed at every step, and I despaired 
for some time of success. The Grand Duke, to whom I applied in per 
son, referred the matter, with reason, to the Minister. The Minister was 
desirous of obliging me, but felt it necessary to take the opinion of the 
Official Superintendent of the department, who happens to be the Attor 
ney-General, who is always busy with other matters. He referred it to 
the Chief Archivist, and he to the Chief Clerk. Fortunately the Archivio 
is quite near my usual places of resort ; and, by putting them in mind of 
the matter frequently, I got it, after six weeks, into a form in which the 
Minister, Prince Corsini, felt warranted in giving a peremptory order in 
my favor. 


LONDON, April 30, 1842. 

I have to thank you for your letter of the 27th March, which I have 
just received, and 1 am afraid that of the 29th December, which you sent 


me by Mr. Gayangos, is also still to be acknowledged. After playing 
bo-peep with that gentleman all winter, I requested him to give me the 
favor of his company at breakfast to-day. I had Mr. Hallain and Lord 
Maliou, who has been in Spain, with other friends, to meet him, and 
found him an exceedingly pleasant, intelligent person. I hope to see 
more of him during the summer, which he passes here. 

Mr. Rich sent me the other day a copy of the third edition of your 
book, for which I am truly obliged to you. I find your History wherever 
I go, and there is no American topic which is oftcner alluded to in all the 
circles which I frequent, whether literary or fashionable. It is a matter 
of general regret that you are understood to pass over the reign of Charles 
the Fifth in your plans for the future. Mr. Denison expressed himself 
very strongly to that effect the other day, and, though everybody does 
justice to the motive as a feeling on your part, I must say that I have not 
conversed with a single person who thinks you ought to consider the 
ground as preoccupied by Robertson. He was avowedly ignorant of all 
the German sources, had but partial access to the Spanish authorities, and 
wrote history in a manner which does not satisfy the requirements of the 
present day. 

I am glad you are not disappointed in the manuscripts I procured you 
at Florence. The account of the Tuscan Minister at Madrid is of course 
to be read with some allowance for the strong disposition he would have 
to see everything in the most favorable light, in consequence of his 
master's desire to conciliate the favor of Philip the Second. The con 
tents of the Archives of Simancas, which M. de Gayangos will get you 
at Paris, whatever they may do for the moral character of Philip, will 
throw new light on his prodigious capacity for business. The conduct 
of the affairs of his mighty empire seems to have centred in his own 

Pray remember my wife and myself most kindly to your parents and 
Mi's. Prescott, and believe me ever most faithfully yours, 



PEPPERELL, September 11, 1842. 

Many thanks for your kind proposition, my dear Sumner. My wife's 
veto is not the only one to be deprecated in the matter. 20 You forgot the 
Conquistador, Cortes, a much more inexorable personage. He will not 
grant me a furlough for a single day. In truth, ague, company, and the 
terrible transition week 21 a word of horror -?- have so eaten into my 
time of late, that I must buckle on harness now in good earnest. I 
don't know anything that would please me better than the trip to New 
York with you, except, indeed, to shake hands once more with Morpeth. 
But that pleasure I must forego. I shall trouble you, however, with a 

20 To visit New York with Mr. Sumner, in order to take leave of Lord 
Morpeth, then about to embark for England. 

21 Moving from Pepperell to Boston, always annoying to him. 


note to him, and will send it to you by the 20th. If you should leave 
before that, let me know, as I will not fail to write to him. He must be 
quite aboriginal by this time. 22 Pray get all the particulars of his tour 
out of him. 

Here I am in the midst of green fields and misty mountains, absolutely 
revelling in the luxury of rustic solitude and study. Long may it be 
before I shall be driven back to the sumum strepitutnque Romce. 23 

Remember me kindly to Liebcr and Hillard, and believe me, 
Ever faithfully yours, 



PEPPERELL, October 4, 1842. 

I am truly obliged to you, my dear Sumner, for giving me the carte du 
pays of the last week so faithfully. Why, what a week you had of it ! You 
celebrated our noble friend's departure 2< in as jolly a style as any High 
lander or son of green Erin ever did that of his friend's to the world of 
spirits, a perpetual wake, wake, indeed, for you don't seem to have 
closed your eyes night or day. Dinners, breakfasts, suppers, " each hue," 
as Byron says, " still lovelier than the last." I am glad he went oft' 
under such good auspices, New York hospitality, and you to share it 
with him. Well, peace to his manes ! I never expect to see another peer or 

commoner from the vater-land whom I shall cotton to, as Madam B 

says, half so much. 

I am pegging away at the Aztecs, and should win the mural crown in 
three months, were I to stay in these rural solitudes, where the only break 
is the plague of letter-writing. But Boston ; the word comprehends more 
impediments, more friends, more enemies, alas ! how alike, than one 
could tell on his fingers. Addio ! love to Hillard, and, when you write, 
to Longfellow, whom I hope Lord M. will see, and believe me 
Very affectionately yours, 



BOSTON, November 29, 1843. 

It was very kind in you to write to me by the last steamer, when yoa 
were suffering under the heavy affliction with which Providence has seen 
fit to visit you. 23 I believe there can scarcely be an affliction greater than 

22 Lord Morpeth had visited some of our North American Indians. 

23 This quotation, comparing Boston with Rome in its days of glory, 
reminds one irresistibly of the words of Virgil's shepherd: 

" Uvbem quara dicunt Romam, Meliboee putavi, 
Stultus ego, huic nostree similem." 

24 Lord Morpeth's embarkation for England. 

25 The death of his eldest daughter, singularly fitted to gratify affection 
and to excite a just pride in her parents. 


that caused by such a domestic loss as yours ; so many dear ties broken, 
BO many fond hopes crushed. There is something in the relation of a 
daughter with a mind so ripe and a soul so spotless as yours, which is 
peculiarly touching, and more so perhaps to a father's heart than to any 
other. There is something in a female character that awakens a more 
tender sympathy than we can feel for those of our own sex, at least I 
have so felt it in this relation. I once was called to endure a similar mis 
fortune. But the daughter whom I lost was taken away in the dawn of 
life, when only four years old. Do you remember those exquisite Hues of 

" Ere sin could blight, or sorrow fade, 

Death came with timely care, 
The opening bud to heaven conveyed, 
And bade it blossom there." 

I think I can never know a sorrow greater than I then experienced. 

And yet, if such was the blow to me, what must this be to you, where 
promise has ripened into so beautiful a reality. You have, indeed, all the 
consolation that can be afforded by the recollection of so delightful a char 
acter, and of a life that seems to have been spent in preparation for a 
glorious future. Now that she is gone, all who knew her and there are 
many here bear testimony to her remarkable endowments, and the sur 
passing loveliness of her disposition. If any argument were needed, the 
existence and extinction here of such a being would of itself be enough 
to establish the immortality of the soul. It would seem as reasonable to 
suppose, that the blossom, with its curious organization and its tendencies 
to a fuller development, should be designed to perish in jhis immature 
state, as that such a soul, with the germ of such celestial excellence within 
it, should not be destined for a further and more noble expansion. It is 
the conviction of this immortality which makes the present life dwindle to 
a point, and makes one feel that death, come when it will, separates us but 
a short space from the dear friend who has gone before us. Were it not 
for this conviction of immortality, life, short as it is, would be much 
too long. But I am poorly qualified to give consolation to you. Would 
tliat I could do it ! 

You will be gratified to know that my father, of whose illness I gave 
you some account in my last, has continued to improve, and, as he con 
tinues to get as much exercise as the weather of the season will permit, 
there is little doubt his health will be re-established. 

Before this, you will have received a copy of the " Conquest of Mexico" 
from Rich, I trust. When you have leisure and inclination to look into 
it, I hope it may have some interest for you. You say I need not fear 
the critical brotherhood. I have no great respect for them in the main, 
but especially none for the lighter craft, who, I suspect, shape their course 
much by the trade-winds. But the American public defer still too much 
to the leading journals. I say, too much, for any one who has done that 
sort of work understands its value. One can hardly imagine that one 
critic can look another soberly in the face. Yet their influence makes 
their award of some importance, not on the ultimate fate of a work, 
for I believe that, as none but the author can write himself up permanently, 


so none other can write him down. But for present success the opinion 
of the leading journals is of moment. 

My parents and wife join with me in the expression of the warmest 
sympathy for Mrs. Everett, with which believe me, my dear Mr. Everett, 
Most faithfully yours, 



FITFUL HEAD, August 21, 1844. 


I am delighted that you are turning a cold shoulder to ^Esculapius, 
Galen, and tutti quanti. 1 detest the whole brotherhood. I have always 
observed that the longer a man remains in their hands, and the more of 
their cursed stuff' he takes, the worse plight he is in. They are the bills 
I most grudge paying, except the bill of mortality, which is very often, 
indeed, sent in at the same time. 

I have been looking through Beau Brummell. His life was the triumph 
of impudence. His complete success shows that a fond mother should 
petition for her darling this one best gift, da, Jupiter, impudence ; and that 
includes all the rest, wit, honor, wealth, beauty, &c., or rather is worth 
them all. An indifferent commentary on English high life ! 

Did I tell you of a pretty present made to me the other day by an 
entire stranger to me ? It was an almond stick cut in the woods of the 
Alhambra at Granada, and surmounted by a gold castellano of the date of 
Ferdinand and Isabella, set in gold on the head of the stick, which was 
polished into a cane. The coin bears the effigies of Ferdinand and Isabella, 
with the titles, &c., all somewhat rudely stamped. Is it not a pretty con 
ceit, such a present ? 

My mother has been quite unwell the last two days, from a feverish 
attack, now subsided ; but we were alarmed about her for a short time. 
But we shall still " keep a parent from the sky," I trust. 

Pray take care of yourself, and believe me 

Always faithfully yours, 



BOSTON, May 15, 1845. 

I take the liberty to enclose a note, which you will oblige me by forward 
ing to Mr. Napier, the editor of the " Edinburgh Review." M If anything 
additional is necessary as to the address, will you have the goodness to 
set it right ? 

In the last number of his journal is a paper that you may have read, 
on the " History of the Conquest of Mexico," in a foot-note of which the 

26 To correct a mistake in the preceding number of the " Edinburgh Re 
view," about the d<jgi-ee of his blindness. See ante, p. 249. 


reviewer says that I have been blind some years. Now I have one eye that 
does some service to me, if not to the state, and I do not half like to be 
considered as stone-blind. The next thing I shall hear of a subscription 
for the poor blind author ! So I have written to the Scotch Aristarch 
just to say that, though I have at times been, and was, particularly during 
the composition of " Ferdinand and Isabella," deprived of all use of my 
eyes, yet they have so far mended, at least one of them, for the other is 
iii Launcelot Gobbo's state, or his father's, I believe, that I can do a 
fair share of work with it by daylight, though, it is true, I am obliged to 
use a secretary to decipher my hieroglyphics made by writing with a case 
used by the blind. I am entitled to some allowance on this score for 
clerical errors, some of which, occasionally, have been detected just in time 
to save me from the horrors of a comic blunder. I have no right, how 
ever, nor desire, to claim the merit of such obstacles vanquished, as are 
implied by total blindness. He will set it right, if he thinks it worth the 
trouble. But very likely he will think John Bull would not care a fig if 
I had one eye or a score in my cranium, and so let it go. 

I was much pleased with the article in the Edinburgh. It is written 
with spirit and elegance, and in a hearty tone of commendation, which I 
should be glad to merit, and which runs off much more freely, at any rate, 
than is usual in British journals. Could you do me the favor to inform 
me who was the author ? 

We are still permitted to be represented by you, though, as you perceive, 
more from a very natural diffidence on the part of any one to succeed yon. 
in that perilous post, than from any fault of Mr. Polk. I trust that the 
excitement produced by the vaunt of that eminent personage anent the 
Oregon matter has subsided in England. That it should have existed at 
all was not easily comprehended here, where we perfectly understood that 
our new chief could not distinguish betwixt a speech from the throne and 
one on the floor of Congress. He was only talking to Buncombe. There 
is a very general feeling here that you may be willing to subside, after 
your diplomatic, into a literary career, and take the vacant post in the 
neighborhood. 27 But I suppose you have heard more than enough on 
that matter. 

I pray you to remember me kindly to Mrs. Everett, and believe me, 
my dear sir, 

Yours with sincere regard, 



PEPPERELL, August 15, 1845. 


Thank you for your Discourse, which I have read notes and all 
with great pleasure and great instruction. 28 You have amassed a heap of 

2 ? The Presidency of Harvard College. 

28 " The True Grandeur of Nations," an Oration delivered before the city 
authorities of Boston, July 4th, 1845, maintaining the extreme doctrines of 
the Peace Society. 


valuable and often recondite illustration in support of a noble cause. And 
who can refuse sympathy with the spirit of philanthropy which has given 
rise to such a charming ideal ? but a little too unqualified. 

" There can be no war that, is not dishonorable." I can't go along with 
this ! No ! by all those who fell at Marathon ; by those who fought at 
Morgarten and Bannockburn ; by those who fought and bled at Bunker's 
Hill ; in the war of the Low Countries against Philip the Second, in 
all those wars which have had which are yet to have freedom for 
their object, I can't acquiesce in your sweeping denunciation, my good 

I admire your moral courage in delivering your sentiments so plainly 
in the face of that thick array of " well-padded and well-buttoned coats of 
blue, besmeared with gold," which must have surrounded the rostrum of 
the orator on this day. I may one day see you on a crusade to persuade 
the great Autocrat to disband his million of fighting-men, and little Queen 
Vic to lay up her steamships in lavender ! 

You have scattered right and left the seeds of a sound and ennobling 
morality, which may spring up in a bountiful harvest, I trust, in the 
Millennium, but I doubt. 

I shall be in town in a few days, when I shall hope to see you. Mean 
time remember me kindly to Hillard, and believe, dear Sumner, 
Most affectionately yours, 



HIGHLANDS, October 2, 1846. 

I thank you heartily for your Phi Beta Kappa Oration, which I re 
ceived a few days since. I was then up to the elbows in a bloody " bat 
tle-piece." M I thought it better to postpone the reading of it till I could 
go to it with clean hands, as befits your pure philosophy. 

I have read, or rather listened to it, notes and all, with the greatest in 
terest ; and when I say that my expectations have not been disappointed 
after having heard it cracked up so, I think you will think it praiso 
enough. The most happy conception has been carried out admirably, as 
if it were the most natural order of things, without the least constraint or 
violence. I don't know which of your sketches I like the best. I am in 
clined to think die Judge's. For there you are on your own heather, and 
it is the tribute of a favorite pupil to his well-beloved master, gushing 
warm from the heart. Yet they are all managed well, and the vivid 
touches of character and the richness of the illustration will repay the 
study, I should imagine, of any one familiar with the particular science 

29 An oration entitled "The Scholar, the Jurist, the Artist, the Philan 
thropist," delivered before the Phi Beta Kappa Society in Harvard College, 
1846. It is mainlj' devoted to a delineation of the characters of John Pick 
ering, Esq., Judge Story, Washington Allston, the artist, and the Rev. Dr. 
Charming. Mr. Prescott alludes here to one phrase in it, touching the artist; 
" No more battle-pieces." 


you discuss. Then your sentiments certainly cannot be charged with in- 
consistency. Last year you condemned wars in Mo, making no excep- 
tion even for the wars of freedom. 30 This year you condemn the represen 
tation of war, whether by the pencil or pen. Marathon, Salamis, Bunker 
Hill, the retreat from Moscow, Waterloo, great and small, speaking 
more forcibly than all the homilies of parson or philanthropist, arc all 
to be blotted from memory, equally with my own wild skirmishes of bar 
barians 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. And I dou't 
see, if you follow out your progress to perfection, but what you will one 
day turn out as stanch au Omar, or iconoclast, as any other of glorious 

I laugh ; but I fear you will make the judicious grieve. 

I puer, wl declamatio fias, as some satirist may say. 

But fare thee well, dear Sumner. Whether thou deportest thyself sand 
mente or mente insand, believe me 

Always truly yours, 



BOSTON, March 5, 1852. 

Uncle Isaac 31 sent me yesterday a copy of your new volume, and you 
may be sure it occupied me closely during a good part of the day. Of 
course I could only glance over its contents, reading with a relish some 
of the most striking pictures, at least, those that would catch the eye 
most readily on a rapid survey. I recognize the characteristic touches of 
your hand everywhere, bold, brilliant, and picturesque, with a good deal 
of the poetic and much more of philosophy. You have a great power of 
condensing an amount of study and meditation into a compact little sen 
tence, quite enviable. Your introduction, your description of the work 
ing of the Reformation in its Calvinistic aspect especially ; your remarks 
on the political tendencies of the Old World institutions and the New 
World ; your quiet rural pictures of New England and Acadian scenes 
and scenery ; stirring battle-pieces, Quebec in the foreground, and Brad- 
dock's fall, and Washington's rise, told very simply and effectively ; 
I have read these with care and much interest. Of course one should not 
pronounce on a work without reading it through, and this I shall do more 
leisurely. But I have no doubt the volume will prove a very attractive 
one, and to the English as well as the Yankee reader, though to the Eng 
lishman it opens a tale not the most flattering in the national annals. 

Why did you not mention your resources, so ample and authentic, in 
your Preface '{ Every author has a right to do this, and every reader has 
a right to ask it. Your references do not show the nature of them suf- 

80 See the last preceding letter, dated August 15, 1845. 

81 Isaac P. Davis, Esq., uncle to Mrs. Bancroft. 


ficiently, as I think. But I suppose you have your reasons. I am 
glad you have another volume in preparation, and I can only say, God 
speed ! 

With kind remembrances to your wife, believe me, my dear Bancroft, 
Faithfully yours, 



BOSTON, December 20, 1852. 

Thank you, dear Bancroft, for the second volume of the work immor 
tal. It gives me a mingled sensation of pleasure and pain to receive it ; 
pleasure to see what you have done, pain at the contrast with what I have 
done the last year or two. But it will operate as a spur to my enterprise, 
I hope. 

I have only glanced over the volume, and listened carefully to the first 
chapters. It is a volume not to be taken at a leap, or at a sitting, es 
pecially by an American. You have given a noble platform for the Revo 
lution by making the reader acquainted with the interior of English and 
Continental politics beyond any other work on the subject. I admire the 
courage as well as the sagacity you have shown in your chapter on the 
English institutions, &c. You have made John Bull of the nineteenth 
century sit for his portrait of the eighteenth, and rightly enough, as the 
islander changes little but in date. I do not know how he will like the 
free commentaries you have made on his social and political characteris 
tics. But if he is tolerably candid he may be content. But honest Bull, 
as you intimate, is rather insular in his notions, bounded by the narrow 
seas. There is more depth than breadth in his character. 

Now that your side has won the game, I wonder if you will be tempted 
away from the historic chair to make another diplomatic episode. 32 I 
shall be sorry, on the whole, if you are; for life is fleeting, though art be 
long, and you are now warm in harness, running your great race of glory 
well. I wonder if Mrs. B. does not agree with me ? Yet St. James's 
might offer a sore temptation to any one that could get it. 

Thackeray dines at least I have asked him with me on Thursday. 
I wish you could make one of a partie carree with him. 

With much love to your dear lady, believe me, dear Bancroft, 
Affectionately yours, 



BOSTON, January 8, 1856. 

It was very kind in you to take the trouble to read my volumes through 
so carefully, and to give me the results of your examination. ^ I am not 

82 The success of the Democratic party in the elections of 1852. 
38 The first two volumes of the " History of Philip the Second." 


a little pleased that these are so favorable to me. It is no flattery to say 
that your opinion, with the allowance of the grain perhaps a bushel 
of salt on the score of friendship, is of more value to me than almost any 
other person's in the community ; you are so familiar with the ground of 
the historian, and know from experience so well what difficulties lie in his 
path. The verbal inaccuracies you have pointed out I shall give heed to, 
as well as the two blunders of date and spelling. With respect to the 
French discourse at the abdication, 34 that is right. Flemish was the lan 
guage of the people, but French was more commonly used by the nobility. 
It was the language of the court, and historians expressly state that on 
this occasion Philip excused himself from addressing the States on the 
ground of his inability to speak French. Catcau-Cambresis is also right, 
being the modern French usage. It is so written by Sismondi, by the 
editor of the " Granvelle Papers," and in the latest geographical gazet 

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 thun 
dering along the track with his hundred horse-power. I am glad to hear 
you say that his Catholic Majesty is found in so many houses in New 
York. I have had some friendly notices from that great Babylon. Noth 
ing has pleased me more than a note which I received last week from 
Irving (to whom, by the by, I had omitted to send a copy), written in his 
genial, warm-hearted manner. My publishers, whose reader had got into 
rather a hot discussion with the " Tribune," I understand, had led me to 
expect a well-peppered notice from that journal. But on the contrary, an 
able article, from the pen, I believe, of Mr. liipley, who conducts the lit 
erary criticisms in its columns, dealt with me in the handsomest manner 
possible. Some fault was found, not so much as I deserve, mixed 
up with a good deal of generous approbation ; a sort of criticism more to 
my taste than wholesale panegyric. 

I cannot conclude this collection of letters to the three emi 
nent American statesmen, with whom Mr. Prescott most freely 
corresponded, better than with the following remarks on his 
conversation by his friend Mr. Parsons. " Never, perhaps," 
says Mr. Parsons, " did he suggest political, or rather party 
questions. He was himself no partisan and no extremist on 
any subject. He had valued friends in every party, and could 
appreciate excellence of mind or character in those who differed 
from him. But in this country, where all are free to be as prej 
udiced and violent as they choose, and most persons take 
great care that this right shall not be lost for want of use, it 
is seldom that political topics can be discussed with warmth, 

* Of Charles the Fifth. 


but without passion, or without the personal acerbity, which 
offended not only Ids good taste, but his good feelings. Per 
haps he never sought or originated political conversation ; but 
he would not decline contributing his share to it ; and the con 
tribution he made was always of good sense, of moderation, and 
of forbearance." 


1852 - 1854. 


BUT while Mr. Prescott, after his return from England, 
was making such spirited advances with his work on 
" Philip the Second," and taking avowed satisfaction in it, 
another of the calamities of life, for which foresight is no prep 
aration, came upon him. On Monday, the 17th of May, 1852, 
in the forenoon, a gentleman whom I met in the street stopped 
to tell me that Mrs. Prescott, the mother of my friend, was 
very ill. I had seen her only two evenings before, when she 
was in her own chamber, slightly indisposed, indeed, but still 
in her accustomed spirits, and seeming to enjoy life as much as 
she ever had. I was surprised, therefore, by the intelligence, 
and could hardly believe it. But I hastened to the house, and 
found it to be true. She had been ill only a few hours, and 
already the end was obviously near. How deeply that afflic 
tion was felt by her son I shall not forget ; nor shall I forget 
the conversation I had with him in the afternoon, when all was 
over. His suffering was great. He wept bitterly. But above 
every other feeling rose the sense of gratitude for what he had 
owed to his mother's love and energy. 

The impression of her loss remained long on his heart. In 
the subsequent July, when he went, as usual, to Nahant, he 
writes : 

July 4th, 1852. Nahant, where we came on the first, cold, dreary 
and desolate. I miss the accustomed faces. All around me how changed, 
yet not the scene. There all is as it always has been. The sea makes its 
accustomed music on the rocks below. But it sounds like a dirge to me. 
Yet I will not waste my time in idle lament. It will not bring back the 
dead, the dead who still live, and in a happier world than this. 

He did not, in fact, recover a tolerable measure of spirits 
until he reached Pepperell in the autumn. 


" Left Nahant," he says, " September 6th, and came to the Highlands 
.September 9th, full of good intent. Delicious solitudes; safe even from 
friends for a time ! Now for the Spanish battle-cry, ' St. Jago, and 
at them ! ' " 

But three months later he writes : 

December 4th. St. Jago has not done much for me after all. The 
gods won't help those that won't help themselves. I have dawdled away 
my summer, and have only to show for it Chapter XII., thirty-five pages 
of text and four pages of notes. Fie on it ! I am now well read up for 
Chapter XIII., and I mean to have a conscience and reform. We left 
Pepperell October 26th. 

In the winter of 1852 3 he made good progress again in 
his work ; at least such progress as encouraged him, if it was 
not very rapid. By the loth of May he had written the thir 
teenth and fourteenth chapters of the Second Book, and the 
first chapter of Book Third, making about ninety pages in 
print. October 3d he had gone on a hundred and sixty pages 
farther ; and, although he did not account it " railroad speed," 
he knew that it was an improvement on what he had done 
some months before. He was, therefore, better satisfied with 
himself than he had been, and more confident of success. 


BOSTON, January 11, 1853. 

You have no idea of the weather you left behind you here. 1 The ther 
mometer is at 50 at noon to-day, and the trees on the Common seem 
quite puzzled as to what to do about it. We took our cold, raw weather 
when you were here, at the bottom of Long Wharf, in Copp's Hill 
burying-ground, and the bleak Dorchester drive, to say nothing of the 
afternoon, when the great jet would not play for your entertainment. You 
have not forgotten these pleasant rambles, now that you are so far away. 
Thackeray has left us. His campaign was a successful one, and he said, 
" It rained dollars." He dined with me thrice, and was in good flow of 
spirits till a late hour generally. He went much to the Ticknors also. I 
do not think he made much impression as a critic. But the Thackeray 
vein is rich in what is better than cold criticism. 

1 Sir Charles and Lady Lyell had now made a second visit to the United 



BOSTON, March 1, 1858. 

At length I have the pleasure to send you the little nothings by 
Colonel Lawrence, viz. a miniature pencil-case, to be worn round the 
neck, for ornament more than use. Item, an ivory stylus, moi'e for use 
than ornament (the worse for wear, having been pared away, as it re 
quired sharpening an inch or more), with which I wrote all the " Conquest 
of Mexico." I gave to dear Mrs. Milman the stylus that indited " Peru." 
Anna Ticknor has the " Ferdinand and Isabella " one. My wife says she 
will not accept the one with which I am doing the Philippics. As that is 
agate-pointed, I think it will be able to run off as long a yarn as I shall 
care to spin. 


PEPPERELL, September 16, 1853. 

By the steamer which sailed this week I have done myself the pleasure 
to send you a couple of volumes, called, " Six Months in Italy." It is a 
book lately given to the world by a friend of mine, Mr. Hillard, an emi 
nent lawyer in Boston, but one who has found leisure enough to store his 
mind with rich and various knowledge, and whose naturally fine taste fits 
him for a work like the present. The subject has been worn out, it is 
true, by book-makers ; but Hillard has treated it in an original way, and 
as his style is full of animation and beauty, I think the volumes will be 
read with pleasure by you and by my good friend your husband. 

Since I last wrote to you the Lyells have made their Crystal Palace 
trip to the New World, and passed some days with me at the seaside ; 
and, as Lady Lyell has perhaps told you, I afterwards accompanied her to 
New York. It was a great pleasure to see them again, when we thought 
we had bid them a long, if not a last adieu. But that is a word that 
ought not to be in our vocabulary. They are to pass next winter, I 
believe, in the Canaries. They put a girdle round the earth in as little 
time almost as Puck. 

My travels are from town to seaside, and from seaside to country. And 
here I am now among the old trees of Pcpperell, dearer to me than any 
other spot I call my own. 

The Lyells have been with us here, too, and I believe Lady Lyell likes 
my Pepperell home the best. It is a plain old farm, recommended by a 
beautiful country, glistening with pretty streams of water, well covered 
with woods, and with a line of hills in the background that aspire to the 
dignity of mountains. But what endears it most to me is that it has been 
the habitation of my ancestors, and my own some part of every year from 
childhood. It is too simple a place, however, not to say rude, to take any 
but an intimate friend to. 


Pray remember me most kindly to your husband, and believe me, my 
dear Mrs. Milmau, now and always, 

Affectionately yours, 



BOSTON, December 25, 1853. 

A merry Christmas to you, dear Lady Lyell, and to Lyell too, and 
good orthodox mince-pies to celebrate it with. I wonder where you are 
keeping it. Not where you will find it kept in as genial a way as in Old 
England. How much your countrymen, by the by, are indebted to 
Washington Irving for showing the world what a beautiful thing Christ 
mas is, or used to be, in your brave little island. I was reading his 
account of it this morning, stuffed as full of racy old English rhymes as 
Christmas pudding is of plums. Irving has a soul, which is more than 
one can say for most writers. It is odd that a book like this, so finely 
and delicately executed, should come from the New World, where one 
expects to meet with hardly anything more than the raw material. 

I don't know anything that has been stirring here of late that would 
have interest for you, or for us either, for that matter. It has been a quiet 
winter, quiet in every sense, for the old graybeard has not ventured to 
shake his hoary locks at us yet, or at least he has shed none of them on 
the ground, which is as bare as November. This is quite uncommon and 
very agreeable. But winter is not likely to rot in the sky, and we shall 
soon see the feathers dancing about us. 


BOSTON, February 26, 1864. 

I dined with the Ticknors on Friday last, a snug little party, very 
pleasant. Anna has been in good health this winter, and in very 
good spirits. Good kind friends they are, and if you want to find it, be a 
little ill, or out of sorts yourself, and you will soon prove it. 

I have been tolerably industrious for me this winter, and I hope to be 

in condition to make a bow to the public by the end of the year 

You have heard that my publishers, the Harpers, were burnt out last 
December. They lost about a million ; one third perhaps insured. It is 
said they have as much more left. I should have made by the fire, as 
they had about half an edition of each of my books on hand, which they 
had paid me for. But I could not make money out of their losses, and I 
told them to strike off as many more copies, without charging them. 
Ticknor did the same. If all their authors would do as much by them, 
they would be better off by at least a couple of hundred thousand dollars 
than their report now shows. 



BOSTON, May 15, 1854. 

I am hard at work now on a very amiable chapter in the " History of 
Philip the Second," the affair of Don Carlos, for which I fortunately have 
a good body of materials from different quarters, espe:ially Spain. A 
romantic subject, Carlos and Isabella, is it not 1 Those who have read 
Schiller, and Alfieri, and Lord John Russell, who wrote a long tragedy on 
the matter, may think so. But truth is a sturdy plant, that bears too few 
of the beautiful flowers that belong to fiction, and the historian, who digs 
up the dry bones of antiquity, has a less cheering occupation than the 
poet, who creates and colors according to his own fancy. Some people, 
however, think history not much better than poetry, as far as fact is con 
cerned. Those are most apt to think so who are let behind the scenes. 


LYNN, July 24, 1854. 

I had the pleasure of receiving a few days since a copy of your " History 
of Latin Christianity," which you were so kind as to send me through 
Murray, and for which I am greatly obliged to you. As I glance over 
the rich bill of fare which the " Contents" hold out, I only regret that I 
have not the eyes to go into it at once in a more thorough manner than 
can be done with the ear. But a recent strain of the nerve just before I 
left town has so far disabled me, that for some weeks I have scarcely ven 
tured to look at the contents of a book. I have, however, listened to some 
portions of it, sufficient to give me an idea of the manner in which the 
work has been executed. I have been particularly struck with your ad 
mirable account of Beckot, and the formidable struggle which the proud 
priest, in the name of religion, carried on with the royalty of England. 
I had thought myself pretty well acquainted with the earlier portions of 
English history, but I have nowhere seen the motives and conduct of the 
parties in that remarkable struggle so clearly unveiled. As you come 
down to later times, the subject may have greater interest for the general 
reader ; but yet it can hardly exceed in interest those portions of the 
present volumes which discuss those great events and institutions the 
influence of which is still felt in the present condition of society. 

I am not sufficiently familiar with ecclesiastical history to make my 
opinion of any value, it is true. Yet there are some points in the exe 
cution of such a work which may be apprehended by readers not bred in 
any theological school ; and I am sure I cannot be mistaken when I ex 
press the firm conviction that these volumes will prove every way worthy 
of the enviable reputation which you now enjoy, both as a scholar and a 
friend of humanity. 

I have been bringing my loiig-protracted labors on the first two volumes 


of my "Philip the Second" to a close. I have made arrangements for 
their publication next spring in England and the United States, though I 
may be yet longer delayed by the crippled condition of my eyes. 


PEPPERELL, September 27, 1854. 

Here we are in old Pcpperell, after a week in which we have been in all 
the hubbub of the transition state. We have come much later than usual, 
for Lynn, with its green fields and dark blue waters, and the white sails 
glistening upon them under a bright September sun, was extremely 
lovely. Indeed, I think, if we were not so much attached to the old farm, 
we should hardly have thought it worth while to come here for a month, 
as we now do, and as we always shall do, I suppose. In fact, the topsy 
turvy life, and all the bustle of moving from seaside to town, and town to 
country, is something like travelling on a great scale, and forms a very 
good substitute for it, just as that mammoth water-lily, the Victoria Regia, 
which you and I saw at Sion House, and which had always depended on 
a running stream for its existence, did just as well by Paxton's clever in 
vention of keeping up a turmoil in a tank. The lily thought she was all 
the while in some bustling river, and expanded as gloriously as if she had 
been. I rather think the tank sort of turmoil is the only one that we shall 
have ; at all events, that my better half will, who I think will never see 
the vision even of New York before she dies. We have had a dismal 
drought all over the country, which lasted for more than two months. 
Luckily, the September rains have restored the vegetation, and the coun 
try looks everywhere as green as in the latter days of spring. Then there 
is an inexpressible charm in the repose, a sort of stillness which you al 
most hear, poetice, in the soft murmurs and buzzing sounds that come up 
from the fields and mingle with the sounds made by the winds playing 
among the trees. It makes quite an agreeable variety to the somewhat 
oppressive and eternal roar of the ocean. The wind as it sweeps through 
the forest makes a music that one never wearies of. But I did get tired 
of the monotonous beat of the ocean. I longed for another tune of 
Nature's, and now I have got it. 



DURING the year 1852-53, Mr. Prescott was much 
troubled with rheumatism, more than he had been for 
a long time, and was led seriously to consider whether his 
residence at Nahant, and his summer life on the edge of the 
ocean, must not be given up. He did not like the thought, 
but could not avoid its intrusion. Home was always a word 
of peculiar impoi't to him, and any interference with his old 
habits and associations in relation to it was unwelcome. 

Most of these associations had been settled for many years, 
and belonged especially to Boston. From 1808, when he was 
only twelve years old, his proper home, as we have seen, was 
always there, under the same roof with his father for thirty- 
six years, and with his mother for forty-four. 

The first house they occupied was on Tremont Street, at the 
head of Bumstead Place, and the next was in Summer Street, 
contiguous to Chauncy Place, both now pulled down to make 
room for the heavy brick and granite blocks demanded by 
commerce. Afterwards they lived, for a few years, at the 
corner of Otis Place, nearly opposite their last residence ; but 
in 1817, Mr. Prescott the elder purchased the fine old mansion 
in Bedford Street, where they all lived eight and twenty years. 
In 1845, the year following the death of the venerable head of 
the household, the remainder of the family removed to No. 55 
in Beacon Street, the last home of the historian and his moth 
er's last home on this side the grave. 

As long as his father lived, which was until Mr. Prescott 
himself was forty-eight years old, and until all his children had 
been born, there was a patriarchal simplicity in their way of 
life that was not to be mistaken. The very furniture of the 


goodly old house in Bedford Street belonged to an earlier 
period, or, at least, though rich and substantial, it gave token 
of times gone by. The hospitality, too, that was so freely 
exercised there, and which, to all who were privileged to enjoy 
it, was so attractive, had nothing of pretension about it, and 
very little of recent fashion. It was quiet, gentle, and warm 
hearted. Sometimes, but rarely, large parties were given, and 
always on Thanksgiving-day, our chief domestic festival in. 
New England, the whole of the family, in all its branches, 
was collected, and the evening spent, with a few very intimate 
friends, in merry games. Once, I remember, Sir Charles and 
Lady Lyell were added to the party, and shared heartily in its 
cordial gayety, romping with the rest of us, as if they had 
been to the manner born. 1 

The establishment in Beacon Street, where the historian 
spent the last thirteen winters of his life, was more modern 
and elegant. He had fitted it carefully to his peculiar wants 
and infirmities, and then added the comforts and luxuries of 
the time. But the hearty hospitality which had always been 
enjoyed under the old trees in Bedford Street was not want 
ing to his new home. He had inherited it from his grand 
father and his father, and it was, besides, a part of his own 
nature. There was always a welcome, and a welcome suited 
to each case, to the stranger who called from curiosity to 
see one whose name was familiar in both hemispheres, and to 
the friend who entered uninvited and unannounced. No house 
among us was more sought, none more enjoyed. 

But Mr. Prescott never spent the whole of any one year in 
Boston. In childhood, he was carried every summer, at least 
once, to visit his grandmother in the family homestead at Pep- 
perell. His father held such visits to be both a pleasure and 
a duty. The youthful son enjoyed them as happy seasons of 
holiday relaxation and freedom. Both of them naturally in 
creased there a sort of familiar affection and intimacy, which 

1 Since this was written, I have fallen on a letter of Lady Lyell to Mr. 
Prescott, dated January 7, 1857, in which she says: " Shall I ever forget the 
Thanksgiving in Bedford Street? Never, as long as I live. It is now more 
than fifteen years ago, hut still I see the rooms, the dinner-table, the blind- 
man's-buff, and the adjournment to your study to see Lord Kingsborough'j 
' Mexico.' " 


in the bustle of the town and amidst the engrossing cares of 
the father's professional life could not be so thoroughly rooted 
and cultivated. 

While the venerable grandmother lived, nothing could be 
more simple than the ways and manners in that old house, 
which was only one of the better sort of New England farm 
houses ; small for our times, but not so accounted when it was 
built. Its furniture was comfortable, but already old, and 
dating from a period when grace and taste in such things were 
little considered. Its fare was country fare, abundant, health 
ful, and keenly enjoyed with appetites earned by wandering 
about the large, fine farm, and breathing the pure mountain 
air of the region. None were gathered there, however, at this 
period, except the members of the little family, which, though 
of three generations, numbered as yet only six persons. In 
deed, there was hardly room for more, and, besides this, the 
aged head of the household could not well enjoy any society 
save that of the persons nearest to her, for she had long been 
infirm, and was now nearly blind. But it was good for them 
all to be there. The influences of the place were salutary and 

After the death of the much-loved grandmother in 1821, 
at the age of eighty-eight, a good deal of this was naturally 
changed. The essential characteristics of the quiet homestead 
were indeed preserved, and are to this day the same. But 
the two elder children of Mr. Prescott were already married, 
and room was to be found for them and for their families. A 
study was built for the future historian, that he might devote 
himself undisturbed to his books, and other additions were made 
for hospitality's sake. Everything, however, was done in the 
most unpretending way, and in keeping with the simplicity of 
the place and its associations. 

At this period it was that I first became acquainted with 
Pepperell, and began, with my family, still young, to visit there 
a few days or more every summer, when it was in our power 
to do so ; a practice which we continued as long as the elder 
Mr. Prescott lived, and afterwards until both our households 
had become so large that it was not always easy to accommo 
date them. But although, in one way or another, the old 


house at Pepperell was often full, and sometimes crowded, yet 
so happy were the guests, and so glad were the two or three 
families there to receive their many friends, that no incon 
venience was felt on either side. 

Mr. Prescott the elder was nowhere so completely himself 
as he was at Pepperell ; I mean, that his original character 
came out nowhere else so naturally and fully. He was about 
sixty years old when I first saw him there, after having long 
known him familiarly in Boston. He was very dignified, mild, 
and prepossessing in his general appearance everywhere ; a 
little bent, indeed, as he had long been, but with no other mark 
of infirmity, and not many indications of 'approaching age. But 
in Pepperell, where the cares of professional life were entirely 
thrown off, he seemed another man, younger and more vigor 
ous. His step on the soil that gave him birth was more elastic 
than it was elsewhere, and his smile, always kind and gentle, 
had there a peculiar sweetness. He loved to walk about the 
fields his father had cultivated, and to lounge under the trees 
his father had planted. Most of his forenoons were spent in 
the open air, superintending the agricultural improvements he 
understood so well, and watching the fine cattle with which 
he had stocked his farm, much to the benefit of the country 
about him. 

After dinner, he preferred to sit long at table, and few were 
so young or so gay that they did not enjoy the mild wisdom of 
his conversation, and the stirring recollections and traditions 
with which his memory was stored, and which went back to 
the period when the spot where we were then so happy was 
not safe from the Indian's tomahawk. Later in the afternoon 
we generally took long drives, sometimes long walks, and in 
the evening we read together some amusing book, commonly a 
novel, and oftener than any others, one of Sir Walter Scott's 
or Miss Edgeworth's. They were very happy days. 

The walks and drives about Pepperell and its neighborhood 
are pleasant and cheerful, but hardly more. It is a broken 
country, well watered and well cultivated, and the woodlands, 
now somewhat diminished by the encroachments of civilization, 
were, at the time of which I speak, abundant and rich, espe 
cially on the hills. How much the historian enjoyed this free 


and open nature, we have already had occasion often to notice, 
and shall find that it continued to the last. Everything at 
Pepperell was familiar and dear to him from the days of his 

There is a charming shady walk behind the house, looking 
towards the Monadnock mountain, and there many a chapter 
of his Histories was composed, or conned over and fitted for the 
noctograph. On the other side of the road is an old grove of 
oaks, which he used to call the " Fairy Grove," because under 
its spreading shades he had told his children stories about fairies, 
who danced there on moonlight nights and brushed away the 
gathering dews from the grass. In the " Fairy Grove " he 
walked before dinner, and, as he loved companionship at that 
time of the day, I have walked many a mile with him in the 
path his feet had worn deep in the sod. Farther on is a piece 
of his woodland, to which he had given the name of " Bloody 
Grove," because he had associated it with a wild tradition of 
the Indian times. There, but more rarely, we walked in the 
rich twilight of our summer evenings. It was too far off from 
the house to be much frequented. 

The drives were no less agreeable, and, like the walks, had 
their old associations and fancy names, in which we all de 
lighted. One was Jewett's Bridge, over the Nashua, between 
Pepperell and Groton, where, when his grandfather had gone 
to fight the battle of Bunker Hill, and had taken all the able- 
bodied men with him, the women, dressed in their husbands' 
clothes, mounted guard with muskets and pitchforks, and abso 
lutely arrested a man who was in the interest of the enemy, 
and took from his boots dangerous papers, which they sent to 
the Committee of Safety. 2 Another of the favorite drives was 
through rich meadows and woodlands, which in the declining 
light of the long afternoons were full of gentle beauty, and this 
he called the " Valley-Forge Drive," in memory of one of the 
darkest and most honorable periods of Washington's military 
life, although the association was provoked only by the cir 
cumstance that in one of the hollows which we used to pass 
there was a large blacksmith's-forge. And yet another, the 
longest drive of all, was to a bright valley, where in a hillside 
3 See Butler's " History of Groton," (Boston, 8vo, 1848,) p. 436. 


the farmer who lived hard by, mistaking pyrites for silver ore, 
had gradually wrought a long gallery in the solid rock, chiefly 
with his own hands, sure that he should find hidden treasure 
at last, but died without the sight. And this little, quiet valley 
was always called " Glen Withershins," in memory of Edie 
Ochiltree, who was a great favorite in the old homestead at 
Pepperell. 3 

But wherever the afternoon drives or walks led us, or what 
ever were the whimsical associations connected with them, they 
were always cheerful and happy hours that we thus passed 
together. The woods were often made merry with our shouts 
and laughter; for the parties after dinner were never small, 
and no cares or anxious thoughts oppressed any of us. We 
were young, or at least most of us were so, when these gay 
local associations were all settled, and, as we grew older, we 
enjoyed them the more for the happy memories that rested on 
them. Certainly we never wearied of them. 

After the death of the elder Mr. Prescott, his son preserved, 
as far as was possible, the accustomed tone and modes of life in 
his old rural home. Three generations could still be gathered 
there, and the house was enlarged and altered, but not much, 
to accommodate their increasing numbers. It was the son's 
delight, as it had been his father's, not only to have his own 
friends, but the friends of his children, share his cordial hospi 
tality ; and, if their number was often large enough to fill all 
the rooms quite as full as they should be, it was never so large 
as to crowd out the truest enjoyment. 4 

3 In the evenings of one of our visits, we read aloud the whole of " The 
Antiquary," and I well remember, not only how it was enjoyed throughout, 
but how particular parts of it were especially relished. Edie's patriotism, in 
the last chapter but one, where that delightful old beggar, with not a penny 
in the world, enumerates the many rich blessings he would fight for, if the 
French should invade Scotland, brought tears into the eyes of more than one 
of the party, including the elder Mr. Prescott. 

4 Sometimes, indeed not unfrequently, he fancied that he should like to 
live at Pepperell eight months in the year, or even longer. But the thought 
of the snow-drifts, and the restraints and seclusion which our rigorous winters 
imply under the circumstances of such a residence, soon drove these fancies 
from his mind. Their recurrence, however, shows how strong was his at 
tachment to Pepperell. Of this, indeed, there can be no doubt; but perhaps 
the most striking illustration of it is to be found in the fact, that, in whatever 
testamentary arrangements he at different times made, there was always 

16* x 


But, besides his houses in Boston and Pepperell, Mr. Pres- 
cott lived for many years a few weeks of every summer on the 
sea-coast. This habit was adopted originally less for his own 
sake than for that of his father, who, on the approach of old 
age, found the air of the ocean important to him during the hot 
season. As they had always lived together in town, so now 
they built their house together at Nahant, about fourteen miles 
from Boston ; a rocky peninsula which juts out so far into the 
ocean, that even our most parching southwest winds in July 

special and tender regard shown to this old farm, which his grandfather had 
rescued from the primeval forest, and which he himself held, as his father 
had done, by the original Indian title. The fact to which I refer is, that in 
successive wills he entailed the Pepperell estate in the strictest manner, 
although he perfectly well knew, at the time he did it, that any heir of his 
to whom it might descend could, by the very simple provisions of our statutes, 
break the entail, and convert the estate into an ordinary inheritance, as Tin- 
fettered by conditions as if he had bought it. This, however, made no dif 
ference to Mr. Prescott. " It was," as Mr. Gardiner, who drew the wills in 
question, truly says, "It was a matter of pure sentiment; for the estate 
is of very moderate value as a piece of salable property, not at all worthy, in 
that view, of unusual pains to preserve it for the benefit of remote descend 
ants. Nor had Mr. Prescott, in truth, the smallest desire to perpetuate wealth 
in connection with his name to a distant generation. Property in general he 
was content to leave, after the death of those who were personally dear to 
him, and for whom he made special provisions, to the common operation 
of the laws of the land, and the accidents of life. Wealth he regarded only 
for its uses, and valued no more than other men. But his little Pepperell 
farm, simple and unostentatious as it is, he was as fond and as proud of as any 
baron of England is of his old feudal castle, and for very similar reasons. 
Hence he had the strongest desire that these few acres of native soil, which 
had been long in the family, the home especially of the old hero of Bun 
ker Hill, the favorite resort of that hero's son, the learned lawyer and judge, 
and afterwards of his grandson, the historian, should always be held un 
divided by some one of the same name, blood, and lineage. He well under 
stood, indeed, that he had no power in law to prevent the heir in tail from 
defeating this purpose; but he hoped and trusted that nothing but a last 
necessity would induce an inheritor of his blood to part with such a patrimo 
nial possession for the little money it would produce. At any rate, he in 
tended, so far as was possible by his own act and will, to secure its perpetual 
family transmission; though he duly estimated the chances that this, in the 
course of human vicissitudes, might not hold out for many generations be 
yond those which he could himself see. 

" He attached similar feelings even to the old and valueless furniture of his 
grandsires, some relics of which remained in the Pepperell house; and, since 
he could not entail them, like the land, he takes care to bequeath all the 
movables of the house and farm to the first tenant in tail, who should come 
into possession of the estate, with a request that he would use means to 
transmit them to his successors." 

NAHANT. 371 

and August are much cooled by the waves before they reach 
it. The purchase of the land was made in 1828, the year Mr. 
Prescott the elder retired from the bar ; and their cottage of 
two stories built without the slightest architectural preten 
sions, but full of resources for comfort, and carefully fitted to its 
objects and position was occupied by them the next summer. 
In a hot day it is the coolest spot of the whole peninsula, and 
therefore among the coolest on the whole line of our coast. 
There, with the exception of the summer at Pepperell, follow 
ing his father's death, and that of 1850, which he passed in 
England, he spent eight or ten weeks of every season for five 
and twenty years. 

As he said in one of his letters, 

The house stands on a bold cliff overlooking the ocean, so near that 
in a storm the spray is thrown over the piazza, and as it stands on the 
extreme point of the peninsula, it is many miles out at sea. There is 
more than one printed account of Nahant, which is a remarkable watering- 
place, from the bolcl formation of the coast and its exposure to the ocean. 
It is not a bad place this sea-girt citadel for reverie and writing, with 
the music of the winds and waters incessantly beating on the rocks and 
broad beaches below. This place is called " Fitful Head," and Norna's 
was not wilder. 

He had, however, different minds about Nahant at different 
periods, and generally fel