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Pole said :

" Although I am not accustomed to give an explanation
of my conduct to gentlemen, yet, being insulted in my own
house by by Mr. Hoggins, I must appeal to the brother
of my old friend rny very oldest friend. Is this article
a lady's petticoat, or a bird's cage ? "

She held it up as she made this solemn inquiry. Mr.
Hoggins seized the moment to leave the room, in shame, as
I supposed, but, in reality, to fetch his wife's fashion-book ;


and, before I Lad completed the narration of the story of
my unlucky commission, he returned, and, holding the
fashion-plate open by the side of the extended article,
demonstrated the identity of the two.

But Mr. Peter had always a smooth way of turning off
anger, by either his fun or a compliment. " It is a cage,"
said he, bowing to Miss Pole; "but it is a cage for an
angel, instead of a bird ! Come along, Hoggins, I want to
speak to you ! "

And, with an apology, he took the offending and victo-
rious surgeon out of Miss Pole's presence. For a good
while we said nothing ; and we were now rather shy of
little Fanny's superior wisdom when she brought up tea.
But towards night our spirits revived, and we were quite
ourselves again, when Miss Pole proposed that we should
cut up the pieces of steel or whalebone which, to do them
justice, were very elastic and make ourselves two good
comfortable English calashes out of thorn with the aid of a
piece of dyed silk which Miss Pole had by her.



YOU knew who knew not r AstropheL
(That I should live to say I knew,
And have not in possession still !)
Things known permit me to renew :
Of him you know his merit such,
I cannot say you hear too much.

Within these woods of Arcady,

He chief delight and pleasure took ;
And on the mountain Partheny,
Upon the crystal liquid brook,
The Muses met him every day,
That taught him song to write and say.

When he descended from the mount,

His personage seemed most divine ;
A thousand graces one might count
Upon his lovely cheerful eyne.

To hear him speak and sweetly smile,
You were in Paradise the while.

A sweet attractive kind of grace,

A full assurance given by looks ;
Continual comfort in a face,

The lineaments of Gospel books :


I trow that countenance cannot lie,
Whose thoughts are legible in th' eye.

Above all others, this is he,

Which erst approved in his song
That love and honor might agree,

And that pure love will do no wrong.
Sweet saints, it is no sin or blame
To love a man of virtuous name.

Did never love so sweetly breathe

In any mortal breast before :
Did never Mu?e inspire beneath
A poet's brain with finer store.

He wrote of love with high conceit.
And beauty rear'd above her height.



"VY^HEX the Ferdinand and Isabella" was published,
T ? in the winter of 18378, its author was nearly
forty-two years old. His character, some of whose traits
had been prominent from childhood, while others had been
slowly developed, was fully formed. His habits were set-
tled for life. He had a perfectly well-defined individuality,
as everybody knew who knew anything about his occupa-
tions and ways.

Much of what went to constitute this individuality was
the result of his infirmity of sight, and of the unceasing
struggle he had made to overcome the difficulties it entailed
upon him. For, as we shall see hereafter, the thought of
this infirmity, and of the embarrassments it brought with it,
was ever before him. It colored, and in many respects it
controlled, his whole life.

The violent inflammation that resulted from the fierce
attack of rheumatism in the early months of 1815 first start-
led him, I think, with the apprehension that he might pos-
sibly be deprived of sight altogether, and that thus his future
years would be left in * total eclipse, without all hope of
day." But from this dreary apprehension, his recovery,
slow, and partial as it was, and the buoyant spirits that en-
tered so largely into his constitution, at last relieved him.
He even, from time to time, as the disease fluctuated to ind
fro, had hopes of an entire restoration of his sight.


But beftre long, he began to judge things more exactly
as they were, and saw plainly that anything like a full re-
covery of his sight was improbable, if not impossible. He
turned his thoughts, therefore, to the resources that would
still remain to him. The prospect was by no means a pleas-
ant one, but he looked at it steadily and calmly All
thought of the profession which had long been so tempting
to him he gave up. He saw that he could never fulfil its
duties. But intellectual occupation he could not give up.
It was a gratification and resource which his nature de-
manded, and would not be refused.. The difficulty was to
find out how it could be obtained. During the three months
of his confinement in total darkness at St. Michael's, he first
began to discipline his thoughts to such orderly composition
in his memory as he might have written down on paper, if
his sight had permitted it. " I have cheated," he says, in a
letter to his family written at the end of that discouraging
period, "I have cheated many a moment of tedium by
compositions which were soon banished from my mind for
want of an amanuensis."

Among these compositions was a Latin ode to his friend
Gardiner, which was prepared wholly without books, but
which, though now lost, like the rest of his Latin verses, he
repeated years afterwards to his Club, who did not fail to
think it good. It is evident, however, that, for a consider-
able time, he resorted to such mental occupations and exer-
cises rather as an amusement than as anything more serious.
Nor did he at first go far with them even as a light and tran-
sient relief from idleness ; for, though he never gave them
up altogether, and though they at last became a very impor-
tant element in his success as an author, he soon found an
agreeable substitute for them, at least so far as his imme-
diate, every-day wants were concerned.

The substitute to which I refer, but which itself implied
much previous reflection and thought upon what he should


commit to paper, was an apparatus to enable the blind to
write. He heard of it in London during his first residence
there in the summer of 1816. A lady, at whose house he
visited frequently, and who became interested in his misfor-
tune, " told him," as he says in a letter to his mother, " of a
newly invented machine by which blind people are enabled
to write. I have," he adds, " before been indebted to Mrs.
Dclafield for an ingenious candle-screen. If this machine
can be procured, you will be sure to feel the effects of it."

He obtained it at once ; but he did not use it until nearly
a month afterwards, when, on the 24th of August, at Paris,
he wrote home his first letter with it, saying, " It is a very
happy invention for me." And such it certainly proved to
be, for he never ceased to use it from that day ; nor does it
now seem possible that, without the facilities it afforded him,
he ever would have ventured to undertake any of the works
which have made his name what it is.

The machine if machine it can properly be called is
an apparatus invented by one of the well-known Wedgewood
family, and is very simple both in its structure and use. It
looks, as it lies folded up on the table, like a clumsy
portfolio, bound in morocco, and measures about ten inches
by nine when unopened. Sixteen stout parallel brass wires
fastened on the right-hand side into a frame of the same size
with the cover, much like the frame of a school-boy's slate,
and crossing it from side to side, mark the number of lines
that can be written on a page, and guide the hand in its
blind motions. This framework of wires is folded down upon
a sheet of paper thoroughly impregnated with a black sub-
stance, especially on its under surface, beneath which lies
the sheet of common paper that is to receive the writing.
There are thus, when it is in use, three layers on the
right-hand side of the opened apparatus ; viz. the wires, the
blackened sheet of paper, and the white sheet, all lying
successively in contact with each other, the two that are


underneath being held firmly in their places by the frame-
work of wires which is uppermost. The whole apparatus
is called a noctograpk.

When it has been adjusted, as above described, the person
using it writes with an ivory style, or with a style made of
some harder substance, like agate, on the upper surface of
the blackened paper, which, wherever the style presses on
it, transfers the coloring matter of its under surface to the
white paper beneath it, the writing thus produced looking
much like that done with a common black-lead pencil.

The chief difficulty in the use of such an apparatus
is obvious. The person employing it never looks upon
his work ; never sees one of the marks he is making. He
trusts wholly to the wires for the direction of his hand. He
makes his letters and words only from mechanical habit.
He must, therefore, write straight forward, without any op-
portunity for correction, however gross may be the mistakes
he has made, or however sure he may be that he has made
them ; for, if he were to go back in order to correct an error,
he would only make his page still more confused, and prob-
ably render it quite illegible. When, therefore, he has
made a mistake, great or small, all he can do is to go for-
ward, and rewrite further on the word or phrase he first in-
tended to write, rarely attempting to strike out what was
wrong, or to insert, in its proper place, anything that may
have been omitted. It is plain, therefore, that the person
who resorts to this apparatus as a substitute for sight ought
previously to prepare and settle in his memory what he
wishes to write, so as to make as few mistakes as possible.

With the best care his manuscript will not be very leg-
ible. Without it, he may be sure it can hardly be deci-
phered at all.

That Mr. Prescott, under his disheartening infirmities,
I refer not only to his imperfect sight, but to the rheumatism
from which he was seldom wholly free, should, at the age


of five-and-twenty or thirty, with no help but this simple ap-
paratus, have aspired to the character of a historian dealing
with events that happened in times and countries far distant
from his own, and that are recorded chiefly in foreign lan-
guages and by authors whose conflicting testimony was often
to be reconciled by laborious comparison, is a remarkable
fact in literary history. It is a problem the solution of
which was, I believe, never before undertaken ; certainly
never before accomplished. Nor do I conceive that he him-
self could have accomplished it, unless to his uncommon in-
tellectual gifts had been added great animal spirits, a strong,
persistent will, and a moral courage which was to be daunt-
ed by no obstacle that he might deem it possible to remove
by almost any amount of effort.*

That he was not insensible to the difficulties of his under-
taking, we have partly seen, as we have witnessed how his
hopes fluctuated while he was struggling through the ar-
rangements for beginning to" write his " Ferdinand and Isa-
bella," and, in fact, during the whole period of its compo-
sition. But he showed the same character, the same fer-
tility of resource, every day of his life, and provided, both
by forecast and self-sacrifice, against the embarrassments of
his condition as they successively presented themselves.

The first thing to be done, and the thing always to be re-
peated day by day, was to strengthen, as much as possible,
what remained of his sight, and at any rate, to do nothing

* The case of Thierry the nearest known to me was differ-
ent. His great work, " Histoire de la Conquete de 1' Angletcrre par
les Normands," was written before he became blind. "What he pub-
lished afterward was ' dictated, wonderful, indeed, all of it, but
especially all that relates to what he did for the commission of the
government concerning the Tiers jfctat, to be found in that grand
collection of "Documents ine'dits sur 1'Histoire de France," begun
under the auspices and influence of M. Guizot, when he was ministei
of Louis-Philippe.


ehat should tend to exhaust its impaired powers. In 1321,
when he was still not without some hope of its recovery, he
made this memorandum. " I will make it my principal pur-
pose to restore my eye to its primitive vigor, and will do
nothing habitually that can seriously injure it." To this end
he regulated his life with an exactness that I have never
known equalled. Especially in whatever related to the
daily distribution of his time, whether in regard to his intel-
lectual labors, to his social enjoyments, or to the care of his
physical powers, including his diet, he was severely exact,
managing himself, indeed, in this last respect, under the
general directions of his wise medical adviser, Dr. Jackson,
but carrying out these directions with an ingenuity and
fidelity all his own.

He was an early riser, although it was a great effort for
him to be such. From boyhood it seemed to be contrary
to his nature to get up betimes in the morning. He was,
therefore, always awaked, and after silently, and sometimes
slowly and with reluctance, counting twenty, so a -s fairly to
arouse himself, he resolutely sprang out of bed ; or, if he
failed, he paid a forfeit, as a memento of his weakness, to
the servant who had knocked at his chamber-door.* His
failures, however, were rare. When he was called, he was
told the state of the weather and of the thermometer. This
was important, as he was compelled by his rheumatism
almost always present, and, when not so, always appre-
hended to regulate his dress with care; and, finding it
difficult to do so in any other way, he caused each of its
heavier external portions to be marked by his tailor with

* When he was a bachelor, the servant, after waiting a certain
number of minutes at the door without receiving an answer, went in
and took away the bed-clothes. This was, at that period, the office
of faithful Nathan Webster, who was remembered kindly in Mr. Pres-
cott's will, and who was for nearly thirty years in the family, a true
and valued friend of all its members.


the number of ounces it weighed, and then put them on
according to the temperature, sure that their weight would
indicate the measure of warmth and protection they would

As soon as he was dressed, he took his early exercise in
the open air. This, for many years, was done on horse-
back, and, as he loved a spirited horse and was often think-
ing more of his intellectual pursuits than of anything else
while he was riding, he sometimes caught a fall. But he
was a good rider, and was sorry to give up this form of
exercise and resort to walking or driving, as he did, by
ord(.T of his physician, in the last dozen years of his life.
No weather, except a severe storm, prevented him at any
period from thus, as he called it, ." winding himself up."
Even in the coldest of our very cold winter morning?, it
was his habit, so long as he could ride, to see the sun rise on
a particular spot three or four miles from town. In a letter
to Mrs. Ticknor, who was then in Germany, dated March,
1836, at the end of a winter memorable for its extreme se-
verity, he says, " You will give me credit for some spunk
when I tell you that I have not been frightened by the
zold a single morning from a ride on horseback to Jamaica
Plain and back again before breakfast. My mark has been
to see the sun rise by Mr. Greene's school, if you remember
where that is." When the rides here referred to were
taken, the thermometer was often below zero of Fahrenheit.

On his return home, after adjusting his dress anew, with
reference to the temperature within doors, he sat down,
almost always in a very gay humor, to a moderate and even
spare breakfast, a meal he much liked, because, as he said,

* As in the case of the use of wine, hereafter to be noticed, he
made, from year to year, the most minute memoranda about the use
of clothes, finding it necessary to be exact on account of the rheuma-
tism which, besides almost constantly infesting his limbs, always af-
fected his sight when it became severe.


he could then have his family with him in a quiet way, and
so begin the day happily. From the breakfast-table he
went at once to his study. There, while busied with what
remained of his toilet, or with the needful arrangements for
his regular occupations, Mrs. Prescott read to him, generally
from the morning papers, but sometimes from the current
literature of the day. At a fixed hour seldom later than
ten liis reader, or secretary, came. In this, as in every-
thing, he required punctuality ; but he noted tardiness only
by looking significantly at his watch ; for it is the testimony
of all his surviving secretaries, that he never spoke a severe
word to either of them in the many years of their familiar

When they had met in the study, there was no thought
but of active work for about three hours.* His infirmities,
however, were always present to warn him how cautiously it
must be done, and he was extremely ingenious in the means
he devised for doing it without increasing them. The
shades and shutters for regulating the exact amount of light
which should be admitted ; his own position relatively to
its direct rays, and to those that were reflected from sur-
rounding objects ; the adaptation of his dress and of the
temperature of the room to his rheumatic affections ; and
the different contrivances for taking notes from the books
that were read to him, and for impressing on his memory,
with the least possible use of his sight, such portions of

* I speak here of the time during which he was busy with his
Histories. In the intervals between them, as, for instance, between
the "Ferdinand and Isabella" and the "Mexico," between the
" Mexico " and " Pern," &c., his habits were very different. At
these periods he indulged, sometimes for many months, in a great
deal of light, miscellaneous reading, which he used to call " literary
loafing." This he thought not only agreeable, but refreshing and
useful; though sometimes he complained bitterly of himself for car-
rying his indulgences of this sort too far.


each as were needful for his immediate purpose. were all
of them the result of painstaking experiments, skilfully and
patiently made. But their ingenuity and adaptation were
less remarkable than the conscientious consistency with
which they were employed from day to day for forty

In relation to all such arrangements, two circumstances
should be noted.

The first is, that the resources of his eye were always
very small and uncertain, except for a few years, beginning
in 1840, when, from his long-continued prudence or from
some inscrutable cause, there seemed to be either an increa-e
of strength in the organ, or else such a diminution of its
sensibility as enabled him to use it more, though its strength
might really be diminished.

Thus, for instance, he was able to use his eye very little
in the preparation of the " Ferdinand and Isabella," not
looking into a book sometimes for weeks and even months
together, and yet occasionally he could read several hours
in a day if he carefully divided the whole into short portions,
so as to avoid fatigue. While engaged in the composition
of the " Conquest of Mexico." on the contrary, he was able
to read with considerable regularity, and so he was while
working on the " Conquest of Peru," though, on the whole,
with less.*

* How uncertain was the state of his eye, even when it was
strongest, may be seen from memoranda made at different times,
within less than two years of each other. The first is in January,
1829, when he was full of grateful feelings for an unexpected increase
of his powers of sight. " By the blessing of Heaven," he says, " I
have been enabled to have the free use of my eye in the daytime dur-
ing the last weeks, without the exception of a single day, although
deprived, for nearly a fortnight, of my accustomed exercise. I hope
I have not abused this great privilege." But this condition of thing?
did not last long. Great fluctuations followed. In August and Sep-
tember he was much discouraged by severe inflammations ; and in
October, 1830, when he had been slowly writing the "Ferdinand


Bat he hud, during nearly all this time, another difficulty
to encounter. There had come on prematurely that grad-
ual alteration of the eye which is the consequence of advanc-
ing years, and for which the common remedy is spectacles.
Even when he was using what remained to him of sight on
the " Conquest of Mexico " with a freedom which not a little
animated him in his pursuits, he perceived this discouraging
change. In July, 1841, he says: " My eye, for some days,
feels dim. * I guess and fear,' as Burns says." And in
June, 1842, when our families were spending together at
Lebanon Springs a few days which he has recorded as
otherwise very happy, he spoke to me more than once in a
tone of absolute grief, that he should never again enjoy the
magnificent spectacle of the starry heavens. To this sad
deprivation he, in fact, alludes himself in his Memoranda of
that period, where, in relation to his eyes, he says : " I find
a misty veil increasing over them, quite annoying when

reading. The other evening B said, ' How beautiful

the heavens are with so many stars ! ' I could hardly see
two. It made me sad/'

Spectacles, however, although they brought their appro-
priate relief, brought also an inevitable inconvenience.
They fatigued his eye. He could use it, therefore, less
and less, or if he used it at all, beyond a nicely adjusted
amount, the excess was followed by a sort of irritability,
weakness, and pain in the organ which he had not felt for
many years. This went on increasing with sad regularity.
But he knew that it was inevitable, and submitted to it pa-
tiently. In the latter part of his life he was able to use his
eye very little indeed for the purpose ot reading, in the
last year, hardly at all. Even in several of the years pre-

and Isabella " for about a year, his sight for a time became so much
impaired that he was brought I use his own words " seriously to
consider what steps he should take in relation to that work, if his
sight should fail him altogether."


ceding, he used it only thirty-five minutes in each day,
divided exactly by the watch into portions of five minutes
each, with at least half an hour between, and always stop-
ping the moment pain was felt, even if it were felt at the first
instant of opening the book. I doubt whether a more per-
sistent, conscientious care was ever taken of an impaired
physical power. Indeed, I do not see how it could have
been made more thorough. But all care was unavailing,
and he at last knew that it was so. The decay could not be
arrested. He spoke of it rarely, but when he perceived
that in the evening twilight he could no longer walk about
the streets that were familiar to him with his accustomed
assurance, he felt it deeply. Still he persevered, and was
as watchful of what remained of his sight as if his hopes of
its restoration had continued unchecked. Indeed, I think
he always trusted that he was saving something by his anx-
ious care ; he always believed that great prudence on one
day would enable him to do a little more work on the next
than he should be able to do without so much caution.

The other circumstance that should be noticed in relation
to the arrangements for his pursuits is, the continually in-
creased amount of light he was obliged to use, and which he
could use without apparent injury.

In Bedford Street, where he first began his experiments,
he could, from the extreme sensitiveness of his eye, bear
very little light. But, even before he left that quiet old
mansion, he cut out a new window in his working-room,
arranging it so that the light should fall more strongly and
more exclusively upon the book he might be using. This
did very well for a time. But when he removed to Beacon
Street, the room he built expressly for his own use contained

Online Libraryi00bostFavorite authors in prose and poetry → online text (page 54 of 66)