W. H. Prescott's eyesight was so diminished that he was almost completely blind most of his life. As he himself often said the state of his eyes was so bad that he 'was obliged to use a writing case for the blind and that', he added, 'did not permit the writer to see his manuscript'. He apologised therefore for any mistakes he might have made and which might have been overlooked.
Yet it was in a state of virtual blindness that Prescott wrote The History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella; The History of the Conquest of Mexico; The History of the Conquest of Peru, and miscellaneous literary essays and criticisms, and almost completed The History of Philip the Second, King of Spain. Prescott's literary essays are today either forgotten or remembered only as the literary curiosities of a great historian. His histories of Spain and of Spain's conquests in America are still read, all over the world.
William Prescott was born, the son of a wealthy and successful lawyer at Salem, New England, on 4 May 1796. His mother, according to his friend and biographer, George Ticknor, was 'a woman of great energy who seemed born to do good'. As an infant Prescott attended the school run by Miss Higginson, 'a true gentlewoman', and from there he went to a private academy owned and directed by Jacob Newman Knapp, known as Master Knapp. Master Knapp remembered Prescott as a 'bright boy with an inquisitive mind, quick perceptions, and ready retentive memory'. When the family moved to Boston in 1808 Prescott, then a boy of twelve, was put under the tuition of Dr. Gardiner an English clergyman. In 1811 he entered Harvard. It was there, during his first term as law student, that he lost the sight of his left eye.
Some sort of a rumpus or riot had erupted in the students' common-room and as Prescott was hurrying to get away from the turmoil a crust of hard …