William Hickling Prescott

By C. Harvey Gardiner | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

A genuinely comprehensive and searching biography of William Hickling Prescott is long overdue. Fortunately, the task of filling the gap has fallen to an author with special scholarly preparation, critical insight, and the ability to appraise the great New England historian against the cultural background of the early republic. He is equally well qualified to assess his achievements in the bold line of romantic historians running down from Prescott, Motley, Bancroft, and Parkman to the appearance of Henry Adams and a more sober, thoughtful, and analytical school of writers upon the New World. Prescott has received fuller study, to be sure, than his fellow historian John Lothrop Motley, but this is only because Motley's long foreign residence, together with the marriage of his daughter—who held his papers—to an Englishman of distinguished and active family, sequestered many of his letters and other essential papers and impeded the use of household memories and Bostonian traditions. Then too, the study of Prescott's career suffered from the relatively early appearance of a half-dozen inferior biographies, the products of prentice hands, which obscured the need for a really thorough and incisive examination of his lustrous activities and attainments, so representative of some of the best elements in early American thought and intellectual activity.

One volume alone proved worthy of the varied, robust, and distinguished theme offered by Prescott's writings. He will be well remembered as one of the more illustrious American historians and as author of an enduring classic of the English language, The Conquest of Mexico, which has never been out of print or unobtainable in any leading Western country since its publication in 1843, and which grows in interest and cosmopolitan appeal as the development of both

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