Hit in the eye by a thrown bread crust, William H. Prescott (1796-1859) was blinded during a food fight while an undergrad at Harvard University. He turned from law to history, learned Spanish, hired readers, acquired reference books, and began to write.

From his History of the Conquest of Peru, Book I, Chapter 4, on the critical link between writing and thinking:

It is impossible to contemplate without interest the struggles made by different nations, as they emerge from barbarism, to supply themselves with some visible symbol of thought --- that mysterious agency by which the mind of the individual may be put in communication with the minds of a whole community. The want of such a symbol is itself the greatest impediment to the progress of civilization. For what is it but to imprison the thought, which has the elements of immortality, within the bosom of its author, or of the small circle who come in contact with him, instead of sending it abroad to give light to thousands and to generations yet unborn! Not only is such a symbol an essential element of civilization, but it may be assumed as the very criterion of civilization; for the intellectual advancement of a people will keep pace pretty nearly with its facilities for intellectual communication.

See [1], Edward Gibbon's remark in Chapter 9 of History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:

The Germans, in the age of Tacitus, were unacquainted with the use of letters; and the use of letters is the principal circumstance that distinguishes a civilised people from a herd of savages incapable of knowledge or reflection. Without that artificial help, the human memory soon dissipates or corrupts the ideas intrusted to her charge; and the nobler faculties of the mind, no longer supplied with models or with materials, gradually forget their powers; the judgment becomes feeble and lethargic, the imagination languid or irregular.

Tuesday, January 30, 2001 at 08:24:26 (EST) = 2001-01-30

TopicLiterature - TopicThinking - TopicLanguage

(correlates: GibbonChapter9, PowerDistortion, WhatCounts, ...)