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

§ 6. Its Reception

Submitted to the criticism of various friends, the book excited only delighted approval and stimulating comment, encouraging the author to have 1250 copies printed at his own expense by the American Stationers’ Company (1836–37). Such a success America had never before seen or heard of. The edition was exhausted in five weeks. It was not surprising that the American reviews were favourable. There was no one capable of passing upon the sources. That the style was easy and the story illuminating was sufficient to make people gratefully acknowledge the introduction to Spanish history at a moment when Spanish eyes were turned anxiously towards the west. But in England there were at least two scholars who knew the subject and could pass a competent opinion on the American’s work: Don Pascal de Gayangos, Spaniard and archivist in London, and Richard Forest, author of a handbook on Spain. Both accepted the new book with some puzzled queries as to how it could emanate from America. Basil Hall and Mrs. Trollope had given forth their impressions of the United States, and their readers were not prepared for scholarly yet graceful and novel historical work.

Yet such was the rating of Ferdinand and Isabella pronounced by these competent specialists in Spanish lore. One sympathetic and appreciative review came from the hand of Count de Circourt, a man described by Lamartine as “a living chest of human knowledge,” which gave the unknown and modest American immense satisfaction. He was actually received at once into the international circle of authoritative scholarship. Hallam, Guizot, Milman, Sismondi, Thierry, were among those to give Prescott not condescending but cordial welcome as one of their own rank. Such an authority as C. P. Gooch states in 1913 that the work published in 1837 has not been superseded to this day. Research has brought, indeed, masses of documents to light that Prescott never heard of. Critics differ from him in conclusions—strange if they did not. Yet there is more serious difference of opinion between Vignaud and Harrisse, both writing on Columbus in the twentieth century, than between Prescott and Justin Winsor, in the first and second halves of the nineteenth.