THE GENERAL LITERARY DEVELOPMENT OF THE UNITED STATESI. The Historians.II. Orators and Statesmen.III. The Writers of Pennsylvania and New York.IV.
Novelists and Humorists.V. Poetry South and North.VI. Scholars and Essayists.
THE period in our literary history which produced our most distinguished writers in prose and verse has
not yet been fully described. Contemporary with these -- the popular classics of our literature -- there
were many authors of lesser rank whose names belong in the record of our literary development. Some
of these may be designated as the minor essayists, novelists, and poets of their generation, while some
are our foremost representatives in other fields of literary effort as yet not touched upon.
First in this enumeration are the historical writers -- who constitute an important group among the authors
of the century. The most brilliant of the number were Prescott, Motley, and Parkman. These three men
were thoroughly representative of the traditional New England aristocracy of culture. They were all residents
of Boston and graduates of Harvard College. A peculiar coincidence is found in the fact that both Prescott
and Parkman suffered from the affliction of partial blindness, and that it was only in spite of extraordinary
difficulty, by the exercise of consummate patience, that each was successful in his achievement.
William Hickling Prescott was born in Salem; but his parents removed to Boston when the boy was twelve
years of age, and placed their son in Harvard College as a Sophomore, in 1811. It was in his junior
year that the accident occurred which caused his loss of vision. A crust of bread thrown in the dining-
hall by a fellow student struck his eyeball, and the sight of the left eye was destroyed. Intervals of complete
blindness fell upon him, and the fear of losing his sight altogether never left him.
Prescott's literary career was the result of a youthful ambition. "I had early conceived," he says, "a passion
for historical writing, to which, perhaps, the reading of Gibbon's Autobiography contributed not a little. I
proposed to make myself an historian in the best sense of the word." It was, however, after long deliberation
that he settled upon a romantic period in Spanish history as his theme. Happily Prescott's means were
ample; the physical difficulties in his situation could hardly have been overcome otherwise.
The story of this effort is heroical enough. When oculists assured him that the sight of the remaining
eye would be impaired if not destroyed by literary labor, he refused to retreat. Calmly he determined
that even should sight fail, while hearing remained his literary ambition should be realized. Dictation he
found impossible. He invented a mechanical device for guiding his pencil over the paper, and employed
readers to copy the manuscript he wished to consult. There were long interruptions in the work. We
read in his journal entries like these: "The last fortnight I have not read or written, in all, five minutes." "If
I could only have some use of my eyes!" "I use my eyes ten minutes at a time, for an hour a day. So I
snail it along."
For ten years, Prescott labored over his first volume, The History of Ferdinand and Isabella, conscientiously
examining all accessible sources. The work, which was published in 1837, met with immediate success
in this country and abroad. It was at once translated into five European languages, and its author was
welcomed to the fellowship of the distinguished historians in England, Germany, and France. The Conquest
of Mexico followed in 1843, The Conquest of Peru in 1847. A history of the reign of Philip II was undertaken,