Home  »  Volume XVII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II  »  § 19. John Foster Kirk

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XV. Later Historians

§ 19. John Foster Kirk

Kirk was the efficient literary secretary of William H. Prescott during the latter part of the career of this nearly blind historian, travelling with him on both sides of the Atlantic and meeting many of the leading men of the day. During this period he began to write for The North American Review and other magazines. Prescott and his friends encouraged his efforts, and after the death of his employer in 1859 he embarked definitely on the sea of authorship. It was natural for him to select a subject in Prescott’s field. He chose the career of Charles the Bold, founder of the Burgundian power and great-grandfather of Charles V. It was a subject worthy of a brilliant pen, and his book The Life of Charles the Bold (3 vols., 1863) met all expectations. While it rested on secondary authorities and has been rendered obsolete by later investigations, it was worthy to rank with the books by Robertson, Prescott, and Motley which had already made the Burgundian-Austrian cycle a famous period in historiography. Vividness and colour were its notable qualities. The great expectations it raised were doomed to disappointment; for although the author lived forty-one years after its publication, his Charles the Bold remains his one important book. From 1870 to 1886 he edited Lippincott’s Magazine, and for five years later was engaged in preparing a supplement to Allibone’s Dictionary. The remainder of his life was given to a new dictionary which the Lippincott’s proposed to publish. This submergence of literary talents by hack work brought regret to many who knew Kirk’s talents. When Edward A. Freemen was introduced to him he exclaimed: “Why did you stop? I looked for more books on European history from you and have been much disappointed.”