Prescott, William H.
Prescott, William H. (Hickling)(1796–1859) historian; born in Salem, Mass. Descended from a prominent and wealthy New England family, he was blinded in the left eye (when hit by a crust of bread thrown by a fellow student) at Harvard College and his right eye was then weakened by inflammation. After touring Europe (1815–17), he was determined to pursue a career of research and writing; he utilized assistants who read to him and a noctograph that guided his hand while he took notes. His History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella the Catholic (1837; 1838 on title page) was followed by his History of the Conquest of Mexico (three vols. 1843), and his History of the Conquest of Peru (1847) gained him an international public for his dramatic narratives; on a visit to England in 1850 he was treated like a celebrity. He died having published only three out of his projected ten-volume work on the reign of King Philip the Second of Spain. Although historians since his day have inevitably come up with much new data, his general themes and insights have generally held up.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.