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Washington Irving



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cotch and English blood flowed in Washing

ton Irving's veins. His father, William Irving (whose ancestry has been traced by genealogical enthusiasts to De Irwyn, armor-bearer to Robert Bruce), was a native of Shapinsha, one of the Orkney Islands; his mother, Sarah (Sanders) Irving, came from Falmouth.

At the time of his marriage William Irving was a petty officer on an armed packet-ship plying between Falmouth and New York. Two years later (1763) he gave up seafaring, settled in New York, and started a mercantile business. He enjoyed a competency, but like other patriotic citizens suffered from the demoralization of trade during the

[E. A. Duyckinck]: Irvingiana, a Memorial of Washington Irving, 1860.

W. C. Bryant: A Discourse on the Life, Character, and Genius of Washington Irving, 1860.

Pierre M. Irving: The Life and Letters of Washington Irving, 1862-64. C. D. Warner: The Work of Washington Irving, 1893.

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Revolution. His character suggested that of the old Scotch covenanter. Though not without tenderness, he was in the main strict and puritanical.

Washington Irving was born in New York on April 3, 1783. He was the youngest of a family of eleven, five of whom died in childhood. Irving could perfectly remember the great patriot for whom he was named. He was much indebted to the good old Scotchwoman, his nurse, who, seeing Washington enter a shop on Broadway, darted in after him and presented her small charge with * Please your Excellency, here's a bairn that's 'called after ye!' General Washington,' said Irving, recounting the incident in after years, then turned his benevolent face full upon me, smiled, ‘laid his hand on my head, and gave me his bless‘ing. I was but five years old, yet I can feel that hand upon my head even now.' (

. Up to the age of fifteen Irving attended such schools as New York afforded. He was not precocious. He came home from school one day (he was then about eight) and remarked to his mother : • The madame says I am a dunce; is n't it a pity?'

Two of his brothers had been sent to Columbia College ; that he was not, may be attributed partly to ill health, partly to an indolent waywardness of disposition and to the indulgence so often granted the youngest member of a large family. Always an inveterate reader, he contrived in time to educate himself by methods unapproved of


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pedagogical science. He decided on a legal career and entered the office of a well-known practitioner, Henry Masterton. During the two years he was there he acquired some law and attained considerable proficiency in belles-lettres.' He studied for a time with Brockholst Livingston (afterwards judge of the Supreme Court), and later with Josiah Ogden Hoffman.

As a boy Irving had always 'scribbled' more or less, and in 1802 he scribbled to some purpose, contributing the ` Jonathan Oldstyle’ letters to the Morning Chronicle,' a paper founded and edited by his brother Peter Irving. His ambitions seemed likely to be frustrated by poor health, and a trip abroad was advised. He went to the Mediterranean, visited Italy, and spent a little time in France and England. The journey was not without adventures. He saw Nelson's fleet on its way to Trafalgar ; his boat was overhauled by pirates near Elba; and in Rome he met Madame de Staël, who almost overpowered him by her amazing volubility and the pertinacity of her questioning.

On his return home Irving passed his examinations (November, 1806), and was admitted to the bar with but slender legal outfit, as he frankly confessed. He was enrolled among the counsel for the defence at the trial of Aaron Burr at Richmond. There was no thought of taxing his untried legal skill; he was to be useful to the cause as a writer in case his services were needed.

Law gave place to literature. Irving and J. K. Paulding projected a paper, Salmagundi, to be 'mainly characterized by a spirit of fun and sar'castic drollery. William T. Irving joined in the venture. The first number appeared on January 24, 1807. The editors issued it when they were so minded, and after publishing twenty numbers, brought it to an almost unceremonious close.

The following year Peter and Washington Irving began writing a burlesque account of their native town, a parody on Mitchill's A Picture of New York. Peter was called to Liverpool to take charge of the English interests of Irving and Smith, and it fell to Washington to recast the chapters already written and complete the narrative. The book outgrew the design (as is the tendency of parodies), and was published on December 6, 1809, as A History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker. It was received by the New York Historical Society, to whom it was dedicated, with astonishment, and by the old Dutch families with mingled emotions, among which that of exuberant delight was not in every case the most prominent.

For two years Irving conducted the 'Analectic ‘Magazine,' published in Philadelphia. During the exciting months which followed the British attack on Washington (August, 1814), he was military secretary to the

of New York. Being of adventurous spirit, he welcomed with joy the pros


pect of accompanying his friend Stephen Decatur on the expedition to Algiers. Disappointed in this and unable to get the fever of travel out of his blood, he sailed for England (May, 1815), intending nothing more than a visit to his brother in Liverpool and to a married sister in Birmingham.

Peter Irving had been ill, and in consequence his affairs had fallen into disorder. Washington undertook to disentangle them. He was unsuccessful. To the intense mortification of the brothers they were compelled to go into bankruptcy (1818), and Washington began casting about for a way to supplement his slender income. He refused an advantageous offer at home, and determined to remain in England. A literary project had taken shape in his mind, and he proceeded to carry it out.

In May, 1819, Irving published the first part of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, containing five papers, one of which, ‘Rip Van Winkle,' is a little masterpiece. The attitude of the public towards this venture convinced Irving that he might live by the profession of letters. The Sketch Book was followed by Bracebridge Hall, or the Humorists (1822), and by the Tales of a Traveller (1824). This last date marks a period in Irving's literary life.

The years which Irving spent abroad had their anxieties, their depressions, their dull days, their long periods of drudgery. It is a temptation to

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