William Hickling Prescott

By C. Harvey Gardiner | Go to book overview
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VI
Twenty noctographs I can read for and ...

THE DISCIPLINE WHICH ENABLED Prescott to put the first word of his history on paper was related to many other intellectual problems then plaguing him. The process of his self-education as scholar and his lengthy and simultaneous search for truth and beauty—historical fact and literary style—reveal much of Prescott the man. As with literature, and life at large, William approached history with a desire to reduce it to rules. Mably helped greatly, but some regulations reflect his own physical nature and intellectual temperament. The state of his eyes, combined with desire to write unrestrainedly, inspired his dictum:

"Never take up my pen until I have travelled over the subject so often as to be able to write almost from memory, not from invention as I go along."
1

Another basic problem was his inordinate capacity for killing time. Beyond the fact that the servants opened the door to too many visitors, William was himself an accomplished daydreamer. To prod himself he gave this bond to English: either he would achieve a stated amount

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1
Gardiner, ed., Literary Memoranda, I: 135. For general background for the interval treated in this chapter, see ibid., 93, 135-195, 243-257. The quotations which follow immediately are in ibid., pp. 135-142 passim.

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