Prescott, William Hickling

Prescott, William Hickling,

1796–1859, American historian, b. Salem, Mass. He entered his father's law office, but was compelled by a serious eye injury to abandon law. He received medical attention on a European trip and finally, resolving to devote himself to historical writing, began a thorough preparation for the task. His first important historical work, The History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella (1837), achieved an immediate success. He wrote critical and historical essays while engaged in writing a History of the Conquest of Mexico (1843). The Conquest of Peru (1847), his next major effort, enjoyed a success comparable to his earlier efforts, and though his sight was practically gone he started a monumental work, The History of Philip II (unfinished; Vol. I and II, 1855; Vol. III, 1858). Though Prescott's work is now outdated because of subsequent research, it lives as literature. He is considered to be one of the greatest of American historians. His strength lay not in philosophical insight or deep analysis but in the excellent style and presentation of material that made his facts and his narrative alive, colorful, and vivid. His Biographical and Critical Miscellanies appeared in 1859. His works were edited by W. H. Munro (22 vol., 1904, repr. 1968). His correspondence was edited by Roger Wolcott (1925) and his literary memoranda by C. Harvey Gardiner (1961). A volume of Representative Selections (ed. by William Charvot and Michael Kraus) appeared in 1943.


See William Hickling Prescott: A Memorial (ed. by H. F. Cline et al., 1959); biographies by H. T. Peck (1905, repr. 1969) and C. H. Gardiner (1969).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Prescott, William Hickling


Born May 4, 1796, in Salem, Mass.; died Jan. 28, 1859, in Boston, Mass. American historian and literary scholar.

Prescott’s first field of research was Western European literary history. He then studied Spanish history of the 15th and 16th centuries and the Spanish colonial conquests in America. His histories were written from a bourgeois liberal point of view. In his works Conquest of Mexico (1843; abridged Russian translation, vols. 1–2, 1885) and Conquest of Peru (1847; abridged Russian translation, 1886), Prescott drew on an abundance of original sources. Although he idealized certain conquistadors, he exposed the greed and cruelty of the Spanish colonizers. Prescott was a member or corresponding member of several academies and scientific societies in Western Europe and the USA.


The Works, vols. 1–22. Philadelphia-London, 1904.
The Correspondence: 1833–1847. Boston-New York, 1925.
The Literary Memoranda, vols. 1–2. Norman, 1961.
The Papers. Urbana, 1964.
In Russian translation:
Istoriia tsarstvovaniia Filippa II, parts 1–2. St. Petersburg, 1858.


Gardiner, C. H. W. H. Prescott. Washington, 1958. (Contains a bibliography.)
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
Full browser ?