William Hickling Prescott, 1796-1859

Biographical note

Historian, born at Salem, Massachusetts, the son of an eminent lawyer, was educated at Harvard, where he graduated in 1814. While there he met with an accident to one of his eyes which seriously affected his sight for the remainder of his life. He made an extended tour in Europe, and on his return to America he married, and abandoning the idea of a legal career, resolved to devote himself to literature. After ten years of study, he published in 1837 his History of Ferdinand and Isabella, which at once gained for him a high place among historians. It was followed in 1843 by the History of the Conquest of Mexico, and in 1847 by the Conquest of Peru. His last work was the History of Philip II., of which the third vol. appeared in 1858, and which was left unfinished. In that year he had an apoplectic shock, and another in 1859 was the cause of his death, which took place on January 28 in the last-named year. In all his works he displayed great research, impartiality, and an admirable narrative power. The great disadvantage at which, owing to his very imperfect vision, he worked, makes the first of these qualities specially remarkable, for his authorities in a foreign tongue were read to him, while he had to write on a frame for the blind. P. was a man of amiable and benevolent character, and enjoyed the friendship of many of the most distinguished men in Europe as well as in America.

[From A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature by John W. Cousin, 1910]

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