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

§ 5. Ferdinand and Isabella

The actual composition of Ferdinand and Isabella began in 1829, after eight years of preliminary reading, both general and special, at large and with the goal in mind. When it came to the literary form of the narrative, Prescott followed Mably as a guide, having read his Étude de l’histoire ten times. He would think out a chapter on the same structural plan as for a romance or a drama, letting the events develop towards some obvious point or conclusion. Count d’Haussonville thinks this tendency to group transactions artistically a defect in historical narration, but other critics are more lenient, finding the result very readable. For six years the author worked on. Everything pertinent to his subject, and accessible at that time, that could be taken out of Spain, was imported in original or in transcript and digested very slowly. Prescott worked his direct quotations into his text, as a rule, instead of giving excerpts thrown or jerked into the narrative. At the same time, his references are precise and accurate. When the three volumes were concluded, the author again reaped an advantage from his full purse. No typewriting was available to break the fall from handwriting to the pitiless printed page, and to read handwriting was forbidden to Prescott. Feeling the need of meeting his copy face to face, he had four copies printed in large type on one side of the page. Then he was able to go over the whole, little by little, with his own sight.