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Society of Danish Antiquaries, under whose patronage he has been enabled to bring it before the public, in so handsome a style of typography. It is one of the most valuable contributions ever made to the study of the history and geography of our continent. We trust that some zealous student of these subjects will be immediately found, who will put the Icelandic authorities into an English dress, and prepare them, with a proper literary apparatus, for the perusal of the general reader.
Art. X. - History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella,
the Catholic. By WILLIAM H. PRESCOTT, In Three Volumes. Boston ; American Stationers' Company. John B. Russell.
The reign of Ferdinand and Isabella has been diu desideratum in English, indeed we may say, European literature. Saving the invidiousness of national distinctions in Anglo-Saxon literature, we might add American ;– for it seems now to be fairly admitted, that some faint gleams of a literary dawning in the West, have at last, reversing Nature's order, become distinctly visible to foreign optics. It is certainly astonishing that the most brilliant page of modern European history (for such we esteem this era of Spain,) should have been left unwritten for three centuries. Equally astonishing it may be abroad, that it should have been first written on this speculating side of the Atlantic, and in this monetary age, (a vile invention,) by a scholar heretofore unheard of in the world of letters.
We have said, unwritten. In our own language this is literally true ; and almost equally so in any language of Europe, unless we go back to the old contemporary chroniclers, — mere malleable materials, -or to the Spanish historiographers of the sixteenth century, who wrote not even in their mother tongue, but in the universal language of the learned in that day; a dead language then, vainly attempted to be revived, since buried, and in great danger, alas! of being absolutely forgotten. Within human memory, two petty works only have appeared upon the transatlantic continent, professing to be histories of this reign ; one in French, and one in German. Our author, the first point, of course, to be settled, is authenticity. that we are to look for absolute and certain truth; read me not history,” said Lord Orford, “for that I kno be false ; - but we desire to find at least an approxi probability, sufficient to satisfy all but the hyper-critical s tic; and to this end, after seeing that the book is not p facie a hasty and superficial performance, but bears the i of profound elaboration, our next duty is to unkenne materials, and dig up the author's means of information. this, in the present case, is gentle work enough ; for it is m done to our hands in copious notes and references, more equal in bulk to half of the main body of the text. Then appears, that the writer has had access to extensive store information, close at hand, and has possessed himself, bes at great labor and expense, of every foreign valuable, v they did not offer, for the illustration of this reign. The li of 'Harvard University, enriched by the celebrated Eb and Warden collections, in addition to its own gradual a mulations, gives, as we know, liberal access to almost thing published concerning Spanish America, and much concerns. Spain proper. But, alas ! all its treasures w have done little, after all, towards the elucidation of this tory. In the department of Spanish literature, the pr library in Boston of one of its late professors, Mr. Ge Ticknor, to whom the author acknowledges obligations, richer. Collected by himself, during long residence in and other parts of Europe, with ample means to acquire, extensive knowledge to choose, directed to a particular this scholar has succeeded in bringing together an uncomp choice and complete library of Spanish literature, conta many a gem which Bouterwek would have given a i apiece for. That learned author deeply laments the penu his materials for the history of early Castilian literature, and vainly sought, through the most celebrated public collec of Europe, for several rare antiques, which this little pr Boston library happens to afford. But it is, after all, to author's own library that we must look for the rarest and original sources from which he draws, except perhaps on subjects of American affairs and the early Castilian litera In this connexion he has immortalized the unpoetical nan Obadiah Rich, - a gentleman not wholly unknown to before, for great attainments as a learned bibliographer.
curious collector of the old and the rare, it seems, has been mousing for our author to some purpose through the Spanish cemeteries of learning. Our former American minister, too, at that court, Mr. A. H. Everett, so distinguished for bis extensive literary acquirements, together with the then secretary of the American legation, as it seems from the acknowledgment, interested theinselves to procure what might have been difficult of access without such official aids. By these means, and unwearied pains, this author seems to have brought into his own closet the best editions of those rare works relating to his subject, which are not to be found in general libraries, and many of which are not cited by any European writer, at least out of Spain. It must have been a lucky accident, after all, which could have enabled bim, for example, to obtain a complete collection of all the laws, ordinances, and pragmáticas published during this reign at different periods, - works of few copies, never very extensively circulated, long out of print, and, in fact, rendered entirely obsolete by compilations and revisions, incorporating into new codes from time to time, often with essential changes, all that continued to be the law of the land. They must have been valueless as law books ever since the “ Nueva Recopilacion ” of Philip the Second's reign, at least ; and it is surprising they should have been preserved, excepting in libraries from which price could not move them.
To many such rarities is added, a number of original and unpublished manuscripts of that age, invaluable for its illustration, and probably little known even to Castilian scholars. For instance, “ Las Quincuagenas de los generosos é ilustres é no menos famosos Reyes,"&c. of Oviedo, a contemporary of this reign, and known as an author by his published History of the Indies; though his “Quincuagenas” still lies in five manuscript folio volumes, containing, according to our author, “a very full, and indeed prolix notice, of the principal persons in Spain ; their lineage, revenues, and arıs; with an inexhaustible fund of private anecdote,” which this octogenarian gossip, by his long acquaintance with the court, had abundant opportunity to collect from the most authentic sources.
The “Reyes Catolicos” of Bernaldez, and the “ Anales del Rey Don Fernando el Catolico" of Carbajal, are large contemporary chronicles of the whole reign, by authors whose position gave them peculiar means of knowledge. Palencia's "Corolightly over the reign of Isabella, and might ruffle a little the old pride of Castile. Still it is all - sat bene" for five hundred small duodecimo pages of large German print ; and our reader has already spent on it quite as much time as it deserves.
But if France and Germany have done little, Great Britain has added nothing. There is no history of this reign in English. Dr. Robertson, in the first chapter of his “Charles the Fifth,” despatches Ferdinand and Isabella in about twenty pages, in which he has recorded at least half as many errors. The clever “ History of Spain and Portugal,” in five duodecimos, prepared for Lardner's “ Cabinet Cyclopædia,” doles out to the illustrious pair four and twenty pages in Castile, and five for Ferdinand alone in Aragon. There are a few other glimpses here and there in English literature of great things done in Spain in those days ; and there has always been a sort of vague tradition that Ferdinand and Isabella were a very remarkable brace of sovereigns. But wherein their greatness consisted, unless it were in the discovery of America by a duly authorized agent, has been left by the British writers mainly to conjecture, or at best to loose inference from sweeping assertions and obscure hints.
America, even before the publication of the history now under review, has done something more than this. Irving's lives of Columbus and the other Spanish voyagers of that age, gracefully and thoroughly illustrate these foreign adventures; and his Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada gives a glowing picture, something between history and romance, of one other brilliant achievement in the administration of the Catholic sovereigns. So several European writers of eminence, Hallam, Roscoe, Milman, Fléchier, Sismondi, have treated, in a popular historical form, particular topics involving at times partial views of Spanish affairs under this administration. It is from such incidental notices concerning Spain, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, that a few scattered rays of light have occasionally broken in upon the general reader, serving only to make the surrounding darkness visible and palpable. There has been no comprehensive history of that age and country. The succeeding reigns, from Ferdinand and Isabella downward, through the long lines of the House of Austria, and the House of Bourbon, have all been copiously narrated, with more or less of accuracy, and various degrees of literary merit, by Robertson, Watson, Thompson, Dunlap, and Coxe. Yet the great period of all has been singularly left behind. Nor has either one of these popular historians done any thing effective, towards illuminating the reader with a knowledge of the Spanish constitution, or of the great national features and characteristics, which, combined with peculiar civil and political institutions, and modified by the operation of external causes, carried this people at one time to such a pitch of glory and power as has seldom been equalled in the history of nations, and have since plunged them into a degree of abasement, almost equally unparalleled. Robertson's i Charles the Fifth” is a general history of Europe. It opens with an entire volume, devoted to the progress of European civilization, from the dark ages down to that period, exhibited, by the way, far more fully in each of the other leading nations than in Spain, of which the account is meagre and unsatisfactory, and after all not always accurate. His hero, although on the mother's side hereditary monarch of Spain and its dependencies, was also, through the father, heir to the kingdom of the Netherlands and the archduchy of Austria, whence he soon became elective emperor of Germany. Spain is swallowed up in these immense relations, and soon lost sight of. Charles himself looked upon this as a foreign principality, devolving upon him by a sort of lucky accident, and chiefly valuable as an aid to bis German and Flemish governments.
There was his whole soul ; in those his great schemes were unfolded ; and for them his brilliant part was played on the theatre of Europe. The historian participates in these feelings of the hero. His visits to Spain are short and far between ; and all we learn of the Spaniards is, that, under the conduct of a German emperor, their famous infantry was a terror to all parts of Europe. The historians of Philip the Second, and the Third, have trod in the footsteps of their illustrious predecessor. Their works might well be denominated, a history of the wars and persecutions of the Netherlands. With the exception of a chapter or two, embracing the insurrection and expulsion of the Moors, and the expeditions against the Turkish and Barbary powers, their three volumes are wholly devoted to the civil, political, and military affairs of the Low Countries, and the topics incidentally connected with them. These writers (Robertson, Watson, and Thompson) doubtless deserve respect; but not as historians of Spain. And when we have come down to