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of an author. It will hardly bear a minute criticism, founded on general principles of taste, but must be judged with reference to the character of the speaker and the object of his speech. The tone of his diction is pitched on too high a key for written composition. The same splendid oration which thrilled a popular assembly, or influenced the verdict of a jury, would lose a very important portion of its charm when subjected to the calm, cold judgment of the reader. Besides, it must be admitted that Mr. Choate's immense wealth of language, and opulence of fancy, urge him into redundance of expression, and sometimes overload his style with shining words. This is principally seen in his use of adjectives. He will pour out in one breath five or six of them, sometimes because he has not time to choose the most expressive one, sometimes from the desire to point out all the qualities of the thing defined. It has been said of him, that he “ drives a substantive and six.” He is often exceedingly felicitous in this accumulation of epithets, and really condenses where he seems to expand. Thus he once spoke of the Greek mind, as “subtle, mysterious, plastic, apprehensive, comprehensive, available" page of disquisition in one short sentence. monly, we think, it tends to weaken his diction, especially when it is disconnected from his peculiar manner of speaking. It is the vice of a fertile intellect, always in haste, and rusting to its own wealth to supply at the moment the words which are wanted. Perhaps this peculiarity has been unconsciously caught from a study of the later writings of Burke, especially those on the French Revolution. Burke often “ drives a substantive and six,” but he has his reins upon them all, and each performs a service to which all the others would be in
adequate. His epithets do not clog his style, however they may modify the rapidity of its movement. They are selected by his mind; Mr. Choate's seem to occur to his mind.
We cannot conclude these hurried observations on some of the characteristics of Mr. Choate, without expressing the hope that his large, fertile, and available intellect, so rich in experience and scholarship, may be directed, at some period, to the production of a work, in which his genius and acquirements may be fairly expressed. Everything which he has performed, heretofore, has been done on the spur of the occasion, and to serve some particular object connected with his party or his profession. He is capable of producing a work which will give his name that literary prominence to which his great powers seem to point. In the prime of life, and in the vigor of his genius, having achieved early the highest political and professional objects of a manly ambition, we trust that his splendid intellect will not pass away, without leaving behind something which shall embody its energies, and reflect honor upon the literature of his country.
The publication of Mr. Prescott's “Peru” affords us an opportunity for which we have long waited, to attempt an estimate of his powers as a historian, and to give some account of his works. To him belongs the rare distinction of uniting solid merit with extensive popularity. He has been exalted to the first class of historians, both by the popular voice and the suffrages of the learned. By avoiding all tricks of flippancy or profundity to court any class of readers, he has pleased all. His last history is devoured with as much avidity as the last novel ; while, at the same time, it occupies the first place in the pages of the reviews. His fame, also, is not merely local, or even national. It is as great at London, Paris, and Berlin, as at Boston or New York. His works have been translated into Spanish, German, French, and Italian; and into whatever region they have penetrated, they have met a cordial welcome, and done much to raise the character of American letters and scholarship. In England his success has probably been beyond that of any
other American author. The tone of the English press towards our publications has too often been either patronizing or insolent. But Mr. Prescott's histories have been spared both the impertinence of condescension and the impertinence of abuse, and judged according to their intrinsic merits. The best evidence, perhaps, of his transatlantic reputation is to be found in his membership of numerous literary associations abroad. We perceive that since the publication of The Conquest of Peru, he has been chosen a member of the Royal Society of Literature, and also of the Society of Antiquaries. The last honor he shares with but one other American.
* Methodist Quarterly Review, January, 1848.
It is needless to say that a reputation so extensive could only result from sterling excellences. Some of Mr. Prescott's popularity may, doubtless, be attributed to the peculiar disadvantages under which he has prosecuted his historical researches. That a man nearly blind should collect a large mass of rare chronicles and MSS., and attempt the composition of histories requiring the utmost industry, sagacity, and toil, is of itself sufficient to awaken attention, and almost to confer fame. But Mr. Prescott's works require no apology founded on the obstacles he has surmounted. They can stand the tests we apply to similar compositions without any call upon the charity of reader or reviewer. Indeed, though the historian cannot dispense with the use of his eyes without being subjected to numberless annoyances which might well discourage the most patient and energetic of men, the value of his history must come, after all, from his own mind and character. It is not the channel through which facts and authorities pass into the head, but the shape in which they come out of the head, which is of the most importance. The real difficulties which Mr. Prescott has surmounted are intellectual, and inherent in his subjects and materials. These difficulties can hardly be appreciated by a superficial reader of his histories. They are not perceived until we consider out of what obstinate materials he has drawn his consistent, animated, and picturesque narrative, and reflect upon
that peculiar combination of qualities by which he has been enabled to perform it with such splendid success.
The distinguishing merit of Mr. Prescott is his power of vividly representing characters and events in their just relations, and applying to them their proper principles. He thus presents a true exhibition of the period of time he has chosen for his subject, enabling the reader to comprehend its peculiar character, to realize its passions and prejudices, and at once to observe it with the
eye contemporary, and judge it with the calmness of a philosopher. To succeed in this difficult object of historical art, requires not only mental powers of a high order, but a general healthiness of moral and intellectual constitution, which is uncommon, even among historians who evince no lack of forcible thought and intense conception. History is false, not only when the historian wilfully lies, but also when facts, true in themselves, are forced out of their proper relations through the unconscious operation of the historian's feelings, prejudices, or modes of thought. He thus represents, not his subject, but his subject as modified by his own character. Certain facts and persons are exaggerated into undue importance, while others are unduly depressed, in order that they may more readily fall within the range of his generalizations, or harmonize with his preconceived opinions. He may have a system so fixed in his mind, or a passion so lodged in his heart, as to see facts in relation to it, instead of seeing them in relation to each other. An honest sectarian or partisan, an admirable moralist or philanthropist, might make his history a tissue of fallacies and falsehoods, without being justly chargeable with intentional untruth. This is done by confounding individual impressions with objective facts and principles.