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Chapter 18: Prescott and Motley

I. Prescott

To write, his first resolve; to select a topic, his second— herein lies a cardinal difference between William Hickling Prescott (1796-1859) and the typical research student who only at last commits the results of his labours to paper. Not that Prescott plunged into his task without preparation. His self-training was long and minute, but the methods were so exceptional as to be well worth noting in some detail.

Prescott's choice of a career was hampered at the outset by defective eyesight and fragile health. A seemingly trivial incident had left a permanent mark upon his life. When he was a junior at Harvard, a crust of bread thrown by one of a careless group of skylarking students hit Prescott in the very disk of the left eye, the blow being so sudden that the lid did not have time to protect its charge. The victim's whole system received a nervous shock. Later it was discovered that the one eye was destroyed and that the sight of the other could be preserved only by assiduous watchfulness. Prescott was able, however, to complete his college course, and maintained his standing so well that he received the appointment as Latin poet at Commencement and amidst applause delivered his hexameters Ad Spem. That was in August, 1814. He had all that a young Bostonian of a century ago could wish for, except health. He was handsome, with good and sound inheritance, cultivated surroundings, sympathetic and congenial parents and well-to-do family circumstances, and he was as well equipped for intellectual life as Harvard could make him. But

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