The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

XVIII. Prescott and Motley

§ 11. Studies in Germany

Harvard was followed by two years of study at Göttingen and Berlin and of foreign travel. George Bancroft, then fresh from his own German experience, had been a teacher in Motley’s school at Northampton. Probably it was due to his influence that German was taught, as it was not a usual subject in the school curricula of the twenties. The young student was thus partially prepared for his plunge into Hanoverian university life and did not lose his first months in struggling over linguistic elements. Perhaps the most interesting contribution to his training given by the Göttingen episode was his acquaintance and intimate association with Count Bismarck, the foundations of a life-long friendship. The American had an exceptional opportunity to know a contemporary from an environment totally different from his own by heritage and tendency. Later, he had the still rarer chance of glimpses at the inside happenings or intentions of Prussian politics. He saw a master mind in the making and in the doing, as few of his generation could. The friendship has, moreover, permitted posterity some peeps at the Iron Chancellor in his moments of relaxation, a few of his intimate letters to the American having been published among those of Motley. Most delightful are the young student’s own letters home during his Wanderjahre. He worked hard, indeed, at law in both universities, but it was the glimpses of Europe and the human side of its life, both past and present, that were the really vital part of the educational results for the young American. Intellectual Germany was still palpitating with the influence of Goethe, whom he was just too late to see, and he was deeply impressed by the atmosphere. He met scholars, such as Tieck, then at work on his translation of Shakespeare, and he learned what minute research could be. At the same time Motley retained an impressionistic attitude towards history which was wholly un-German. He always saw the past instinct with life. He is constantly reconstructing. “If you will allow me to mount my hobby, as Tristram Shandy would say,” he writes from Rome in 1834, “and call fancy to the aid of history, the scene will be different, at least more lively.” Thus he and his imagination travelled together, congenial companions.