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“Starn all !” cried Tom by a sort of instinct, when the blow was struck; and catching up the musket of the fallen marine, he dealt out terrible and fatal blows with its butt on all who approached him, utterly disregarding the use of the bayonet on its muzzle. The unfortunate commander of the Alacrity brandished his sword with frantic gestures, while his eyes rolled in horrid wildness, when he writhed for an instant in his passing agonies, and then, as his head dropped lifeless upon his gored breast, he hung against the spar, a spectacle of dismay to his crew. A few of the Englishmen stood chained to the spot in silent horror at the sight, but most of them fled to their lower deck, or hastened to conceal themselves in the secret parts of the vessel, leaving to the Americans the undisputed possession of the Alacrity.
[ The Pilot, a Tale of the Sea, 1823, chapter 18.]
WILLIAM HICKLING PRESCOTT
[William Hickling Prescott was born in Salem, May 4, 1796, and died in Boston, Jan. 28, 1859. His life was quiet and uneventful. He was a student and a man of letters, and he was also greatly confined by the results of an accident to one of his eyes. His historical work was carried on against tremendous difficulties: he could hardly read at all and wrote only on a noctograph. In spite of all these obstacles he published Ferdinand and Isabella, in 1838; The Conquest of Nlexico, in 1843 ; The Conquest of Peru, in 1847; and Philip the Second, in 1855-58, as well as a volume of essays. His works were eagerly read; they also gave him a very high reputation among scholars. He was elected corresponding member of the French Institute and of the Royal Society of Berlin, and received the honorary degree of D.C.L. from Oxford. A Life of Prescott (1864) was written by his friend George Ticknor.]
The chief merits of Prescott as a historian are breadth and accuracy of information and impartiality of judgment. writer he has qualities which harmonize well with such characteristics : he has the classic excellencies of style. He is not so very suggestive, animated, sympathetic : his virtues are strength, outline, form.
And these excellencies Prescott has to a very considerable degree. He was passionate for knowledge of his subject, for power. Sparks had already shown American students the necessity of exhaustive material. History was no longer a matter for any honest gentleman who felt impelled to write, as Gibbon remarked, and had the needful paper and ink. Bancroft, Prescott, Motley, Parkman, were, first and foremost, investigators. They not only accumulated in their libraries everything in print which bore on their subjects, but they had their copyists at work in the archives of all Europe. They wrote from contemporary authorities, when they could get them, and always wrote as original students. Prescott was the great champion of footnotes. Almost one-third of his good-sized volumes was made up of titles and quotations, which, as they were in Spanish, were entirely unintelligible to the greater number of those who admired his romance and his style.
Prescott was master of his voluminous material. But not only that, he had also in mind a very definite conception of what form that material was to take. He was no Barante, to write as his own authorities would have written. Nor did he imagine, like Carlyle, that he was part and parcel of that which he was describing. He saw how things had gone, even if sometimes from a considerable distance, and his idea was to put them as he saw them, with a firm, clear outline, which would bring them rightly to the mind of one who had not had his opportunities. But not only did he see everything clearly, he saw everything in relation; he conceived his subjects as wholes, saw each part as a part, not for itself. He had not only a sense of outline, but a sense of form.
It is true that in presenting the conception as it took shape in his mind, Prescott was not, we think, very happy. He lived toward the beginning of an effort in the writing of English prose which he may not have understood, may not have appreciated, for he continued the traditions to which he had been accustomed. Thus he calmly uses the most general word, and shuns anything that might possibly be striking, and so interfere with a becoming dignity. Had he really had an original sense of style, he would have expressed himself with some originality. As it was, he continued to write as it had been the habit of historians to write, and he achieved a very striking success.
Prescott has been called a romantic historian, and so in a certain sense he was, though not, as we have seen, so far as style is concerned. His time was a romantic time, and historians felt romantic, as much as anybody else. Macaulay announced that the
truly great historian would reclaim those materials which the novelist had appropriated." Carlyle said that any one who read “the inscrutable Book of Nature as if it were a merchant's Ledger, is justly suspected of having never seen that Book." Thierry composed his Merovingians with occasional shouts of “ Pharamond, Pharamond, we have battled with the sword!” Barante, out of the Burgundian chronicles, wove eleven volumes of mediæval tapestry, and concealed himself behind it. In Germany the learned Niebuhr was dazzled by the fascination of his lays of ancient Rome. In America (or, more correctly, in Spain) Washington Irving could not write his Conquest of Granada without imagining a Fray Aga
pida, to whom it might be attributed. Prescott, too, felt the influence, although he was a different man from any of these, with aims different from theirs.
Prescott's ideal was not romantic : it was the more serene, more severe, classic ideal. Still there is no doubt that he liked to think of his subjects as being romantic in themselves; he thought of Spaniards and Moors, adelantados and conquerors, Aztecs and Peruvians, as being naturally romantic, as may be seen from the prefaces to Ferdinand and Isabella and The Conquest of Peru. So they doubtless were at that time; they were, in fact, a part of the undoubted possession of the romancer of Prescott's day. But with plenty of local color in his subjects, Prescott had not more than a general feeling for romantic quality. M. de Heredia's “ivres d'un rêve héroique et brutal” has a romantic idealism which cannot be found in the whole Conquest of Mexico. Kingsley's “Fat Carbajal charged our cannon like an elephant" has a romantic realism which cannot be found in all the Peru. A romantic mind loses much, but it is apt to get the play of real life. This Prescott generally missed : he was always viewing the matter as a whole, and rarely got down to particulars.
If, then, we turn to Prescott nowadays for romance, or if we study him for his technique, we shall find only what long since had its day. If we come to him from the post-Darwinian historians, we may think him superficial and inattentive to matters of importance. But even from these mistaken standpoints we shall hardly be able to read one of his histories without the feeling that he is a man of letters of distinguished power. He stood between great traditions and a great future; he certainly had some of the weaknesses of those who had gone before as well as some of their merits; and certainly, too, he missed some of the merits of those who were to come. On the other hand, he avoided the great faults of romanticism, and presents to us a singularly attractive combination of classic excellencies.
EDWARD EVERETT HALE, JR.
THE BATTLE OF OTUMBA
As the army was climbing the mountain steeps which shut in the valley of Otompan, the vedettes came in with the intelligence, that a powerful body was encamped on the other side, apparently awaiting their approach. The intelligence was soon confirmed by their own eyes, as they turned the crest of the sierra, and saw spread out, below, a mighty host, filling up the whole depth of the valley, and giving to it the appearance, from the white cotton mail of the warriors, of being covered with snow. It consisted of levies from the surrounding country, and especially the populous territory of Tezcuco, drawn together at the instance of Cuitlahua, Montezuma's successor, and now concentrated on this point to dispute the passage of the Spaniards. Every chief of note had taken the field with his whole array gathered under his standard, proudly displaying all the pomp and rude splendor of his military equipment. As far as the eye could reach, were to be seen shields and waving banners, fantastic helmets, forests of shining spears, the bright feather-mail of the chief, and the coarse cotton panoply of his followers, all mingled together in wild confusion, and tossing to and fro like the billows of a troubled ocean. It was a sight to fill the stoutest heart among the Christians with dismay, heightened by the previous expectation of soon reaching the friendly land which was to terminate their wearisome pilgrimage. Even Cortés, as he contrasted the tremendous array before him with his own diminished squadrons, wasted by disease and enfeebled by hunger and fatigue, could not escape the conviction that his last hour had arrived.
But his was not the heart to despond ; and he gathered strength from the very extremity of his situation. He had no room for hesitation ; for there was no alternative left to him. To escape was impossible. He could not retreat on the capital, from which he had been expelled. He must advance, - cut through the enemy, or perish. He hastily made his dispositions for the fight. He gave his force as broad a front as possible, protecting it on each flank by his little body of horse, now reduced to twenty. Fortunately, he had not allowed the invalids, for the last two days, to