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Title: Washington Irving
Author: Boynton, Henry Walcott, 1869-1947
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Washington Irving" ***

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                  The Riverside Biographical Series

                              NUMBER 11

                  [Illustration: Washington Irving]

                          WASHINGTON IRVING


                           HENRY W. BOYNTON

                         BOSTON AND NEW YORK


                    The Riverside Press, Cambridge


                 COPYRIGHT, 1901, BY HENRY W. BOYNTON

       *       *       *       *       *


CHAP.                                    PAGE


 II.  MAN ABOUT TOWN                      16



  V.  A PUBLIC CHARACTER                  81

 VI.  THE MAN HIMSELF                    105

       *       *       *       *       *




Irving's name stands as the first landmark in American letters. No
other American writer has won the same sort of recognition abroad or
esteem at home as became his early in life. And he has lost very
little ground, so far as we can judge by the appeal to figures. The
copyright on his works ran out long since, and a great many editions
of Irving, cheap and costly, complete and incomplete, have been issued
from many sources. Yet his original publishers are now selling, year
by year, more of his books than ever before. There is little doubt
that his work is still widely read, and read not because it is
prescribed, but because it gives pleasure; not as the product of a
"standard author," but as the expression of a rich and engaging
personality, which has written itself like an indorsement across the
face of a young nation's literature. It is that of a man so sensitive
that the scornful finger of a child might have left him sleepless; so
kindly that nobody ever applied to him in vain for sympathy; so modest
that the smallest praise embarrassed him. His manner and tastes were
simple and unassuming. He had no great passions; the brother was
stronger in him than the lover. To these qualities, which might by
themselves belong to ineffectiveness, he added courage, firmness,
magnanimity. It was because he was such a man, and because what he was
shines on every page he wrote, that the world still warms to him.

Not that so elusive a thing as personal charm can be neatly plotted by
the card. We love certain people because we love them; and since that
is so, everything they do is interesting to us. A great writer lives
in his books, to be sure, but we want to know what he actually did in
the flesh. Did he walk, eat, sleep, like other men? Was he as strong,
as human, as lovable as one would think? What sort of boy was he? Did
he marry a wife, and was she good enough for him? The world will never
believe that such questions are impertinent.

There are, of course, more formal matters to be considered,--his debt
to circumstance, his place in the practical world, his influence on
the moral or intellectual or national life of his day. Some of these
themes may be touched on, even within the narrow limits of the present
sketch; not categorically, but rather by way of such suggestion and
indirection as may be consistent with a compact narrative.

       *       *       *       *       *

One of those apparent chances which are the commonplaces of history
led William Irving from his far home in the Orkneys, married him to
Sarah Sanders, and made him the father of Washington Irving. The
Irvings--a branch of the well-known Scotch Irvines--had been for
generations the leading family on the Island of Shapinsha. Finally
they had gone threadbare, and with a fortune to seek, William Irving
chose the natural ordeal for an islander, the trial by sea. Toward the
close of the French War he had become petty officer on an armed
English packet. In New York he met Mistress Sanders, who was also
English-born, and in 1761 they were married. He must have saved money,
for at the end of the war he left the sea, and entered trade in New

William Irving and his wife were very different in up-bringing and in
temperament. He was a stern man, a strict Presbyterian, with the cold
fire of Calvin in his bones. She had been bred an Episcopalian, and
was genial and sympathetic by nature. The husband was the
master-spirit, and the children grew up under the rigid exactions of
his sect. Sunday was a long day of penance, and one of their two
half-holidays was consecrated to the cheerful uses of the catechism.
To New England ears it all has a familiar sound. When the children
grew old enough they promptly left the fold and resigned themselves
to her of Babylon and England. There were eleven of them, and
Washington was the youngest, born in New York, April 3, 1783. As a
very little child he had the honor of a pat on the head from his great
namesake, for whom he was to do an important service many years later.

He was a perfectly normal, healthy boy. Fortunately there are no
brilliant sayings to record; he did not lisp in periods. Genius was
not written upon his brow, nor tied upon his sleeve. He had none of
the pale fervor of precocity, or the shyness of premature conceit. He
was absorbed in childish things, loved play, shirked his studies,
dreamed of a life on the ocean wave, and regarded "Robinson Crusoe"
and "Sinbad the Sailor" as the end of all literary things. The
savagery of boyhood he lacked. He was fond of playing battle, but
could not bear to see his schoolfellows publicly thrashed, according
to the amiable custom of that day. Otherwise he was all that a mother
might deplore or an uncle delight in.

Altogether the most interesting story of his schooldays has a
dramatic setting. Addison's "Cato" was to be spouted in public by the
schoolchildren. Irving, in the part of Juba, was called a little
sooner than he expected, and came on the boards with his mouth full of
honey-cake. Speech was out of the question--_vox haesit_--there was a
momentary deadlock in his throat. The audience began to laugh, but the
prince was not to be counted out. With a skillful rotary finger he
removed the viand, and brought down the house by calmly taking up his
lines as if nothing had happened. He was then ten years old, and deep
in love with the leading lady. A year or two later he had decided to
follow the sea; but a short experiment of sleeping on the floor and
eating salt pork was too much for his enthusiasm, and at fourteen he
gave up the ship. By this time he had begun to fancy that he could
write, but there is nothing preserved which shows the least promise.

"When I was young," he said long afterward, "I was led to think that
somehow or other everything that was pleasant was wicked." The
theatre was one of the forbidden sweets, and he naturally seized every
chance to taste it. Family prayers at nine were something of an
interruption, but he had managed a private exit by way of the roof
which got him back to the theatre in time for the after-piece. This
early liking for the stage he never outgrew. In the meantime he was
going through with the ordinary schooling of the New York boy of that
period. He learned a little Latin; he hated mathematics, and had very
little love for dull books of any sort. At sixteen his formal
education was over. Two of his elder brothers had studied at Columbia
College, and no doubt Irving might have done the same. He was too
lazy, or, to put it more gracefully, too little interested in set
tasks. Later he expressed regret for the lost chance, but the loss
cannot have been very great for him or for us. If we could imagine
that he might have gained any sort of scholarship, its effect upon his
writing would still be more than doubtful. His order of genius gains
little from bookishness. Addison was supposed to be a classical
scholar, but the "De Coverley Papers" are not a product of
scholarship, and we could better spare anything else that he wrote.

At sixteen Irving entered a law office, and for the next five years
was understood to be studying law. He had no real aptitude for such
study, to be sure, and must have known it; certainly he learned very
little law. He had other things to be interested in. He was an eager
reader in his own way, and a handsome, well-mannered boy, already fond
of society. And I doubt if very much was expected of him in the way of
steady application, for during this whole period his health was
uncertain. More than once he had to give up study entirely, and go to
this watering-place or that for weeks or months. His family and
friends were afraid of consumption, and it was against all forecasts
that he held his own till manhood.

In 1800 he made his first voyage up the Hudson. "A voyage to Albany
then," he wrote in 1851, "was equal to a voyage to Europe at present,
and took almost as much time." The journey was made in a sloop manned
by slaves, and commanded by a native of Albany, who spoke nothing but

Two years later his brother Peter became proprietor and editor of the
New York "Morning Chronicle," for which Irving presently wrote a
series of satirical letters signed "Jonathan Oldstyle." In these
letters, his earliest work of any significance, he touches the
Addisonian string upon which his critics have harped so insistently
ever since. They are decidedly clever for a boy of nineteen, but not
cleverer than the best college work of to-day, and perhaps more
consciously imitative. The fact that they were greatly praised and
gained some vogue through copying in other journals, is rather an
indication of the unfruitfulness of the period than of their merit.
One of their greatest admirers was Charles Brockden Browne, the only
American before Irving to make a profession of writing.

In 1804 the young amateur came of age. He was still threatened with
consumption, and his family determined to send him abroad. Nobody felt
very sanguine about his returning. As he was helped on board, the
captain eyed him dubiously and said in an undertone, "There's a chap
who will go overboard before we get across." If it had been in him to
die just then, the captain gave him plenty of time; it was six weeks
later when they landed at Bordeaux. But though the voyage had been not
over-comfortable, it did him much good. Before the end of it he was
scrambling about the vessel, and describes himself as "quite expert at
climbing to the masthead, and going out on the maintopsail yard."
Irving's body was never to be altogether tractable, but we shall hear
nothing further of the consumptive tendency.

His early letters from abroad are full of life and spirits. He jaunted
about through France and Italy, picked up acquaintances everywhere,
and was evidently much more interested in the people he met than in
the "doing" of buildings or galleries. Evidently he was growing
stronger all the time. In the company of a little Pennsylvania doctor,
whom he had picked up in a diligence, he played several boyish pranks
in France; he kicked out an insolent porter at Montpellier, and fell
foul of a police spy at Avignon. In the main, however, he was inclined
to take things as they came. "There is nothing I dread more," he wrote
from Marseilles, "than to be taken for one of the Smellfungi of this
world. I therefore endeavor to be pleased with everything about me,
and with the masters, mistresses, and servants of the inns,
particularly when I perceive they have 'all the dispositions in the
world' to serve me; as Sterne says, 'It is enough for Heaven, and
ought to be enough for me.'"

At that day the European traveler was not hedged in from adventure. On
the way from Genoa to Messina Irving's vessel was boarded by a
piratical picaroon. The consequences were not dreadful, but the _mise
en scène_ was all that could have been desired. The pirates had
"fierce black eyes scowling under enormous bushy eyebrows.... They
seemed to regard us with the most malignant looks, and I thought I
could perceive a sinister smile upon their countenances, as if
triumphing over us, who had fallen so easily into their hands."
Nothing could have been more satisfactory. At Termini he had a
romantic adventure with a masked Turk. At Genoa he was captivated by
the beauty of a young Italian lady. Instead of trying to make her
acquaintance, as he might easily have done, he contented himself with
stealing a handkerchief which she had dropped. Some time later it was
stolen from him. Thereupon he wrote an account of the affair to a
friend whom he had left in Genoa. The lady heard of it, as ladies
will, and sent him a lock of her hair, with a friendly hint that she
might be better admired at closer quarters. By a natural paradox of
boyish sentiment he did not return to Genoa, but had the hair put into
a locket, which he wore for years. It was later unearthed by a friend
from a pair of breeches borrowed from Irving, and made the subject of
some badinage between them.

Both his brothers and his biographer have made the aimlessness of this
first European experience an occasion for something like reproach. His
plans were of the vaguest. Such as they were, he was willing to
sacrifice any of them for the sake of congenial companionship. After a
few weeks he left Rome hurriedly because he could not bear to be
parted from a friend who was going to Paris. He was anxious, he told
his brothers quaintly, to study various arts and sciences there. In
Paris he kept a journal for about three weeks; it records attendance
upon a single lecture in botany and seventeen theatrical performances.
Naturally his brothers could only see that he was an amiable, idle
young fellow, who had drifted into a dilettante attitude toward life,
and showed little promise of usefulness. But idling as well as
industry has to be judged by its fruits. He was in a real sense seeing
life, as he personally needed to see it, not in its passion and
mystery, but in its lighter moods of humor and sentiment. Paris
frankly seemed to him at this time the most profitable place in the
world. Two months after his arrival, he wrote airily, "You will excuse
the shortness and hastiness of this letter, for which I can only plead
as an excuse that I am a young man and in Paris." He had momentary
fancies as to a possible direction for his talents. A sudden intimacy
at Rome with Washington Allston made him think for a time of turning
painter. He was something of a dandy, and puts on record a Paris
costume of "gray coat, white embroidered vest, and colored
small-clothes." Presently he left Paris for London, where Kemble and
Mrs. Siddons seem to have pleased him more than anything else English.
Three months later he set sail for New York, and arrived in March,
1826, after an absence of nearly two years.

Irving was now twenty-three years old. All that he had done so far was
haphazard enough. He had trifled with his schooling, loitered over his
law, read a great deal at random, seen many theatres, and made many
friends. He had escaped from the valley of the shadow, and was now
free to go on in the primrose way of much society, little literature,
and less law. For the next ten or twelve years he was to be little
more than a petted man about town.



At that time New York was hardly more than a big village, such as
Boston continued to be for a half-century later. Everybody (who was
anybody) knew everybody else in the friendly and informal way which
nowadays belongs to a "set." Conviviality--this dignified name of the
thing best suggests the way in which it was looked at then--was as
much a part of fashionable life in New York as in Edinburgh or London.
Into this society Irving entered with zest, flirting, dancing,
tippling with other young swaggerers according to the mode. He went
back nominally to his legal studies, but was really very little
concerned with law or gospel. Of this kind of life, "Salmagundi," the
first number of which, appeared in January, 1807, was the legitimate
outcome. It was made up of short satirical sketches of the
"Spectator" type. Irving and J. K. Paulding were the principal
contributors, but they had some assistance from William Irving and a
few others. In the course of a year twenty numbers were published at
irregular intervals, when they suddenly ceased to appear. The authors,
who wrote under fictitious names, affected from the start complete
indifference to fame or profit. Their purpose, they said with
whimsical assurance, was simply "to instruct the young, reform the
old, correct the town, and castigate the age." The audacity of the
thing caught the town; it was a decided success, and very
profitable--for the publisher. There is a mildly sophomoric flavor
about the "Salmagundi" papers, as there is about Irving's letters of
the same period. But they are full of amusing things, and worth
reading, too, for the odd side-lights they throw upon the foibles of
that old New York.

As he grew older, Irving came to feel the shallowness of fashionable
society, but in the Salmagundi days he appears to have asked for
nothing better. He had good looks, good humor, and good manners,
showed a proper susceptibility, and knew how to turn a compliment or
write a graceful letter. No wonder he found himself welcome wherever
he went. After a visit to Philadelphia one of the ladies to whom he
had made himself agreeable wrote, "Half the people exist but in the
idea that _you_ will one day return."

Early in the following year he had a little experience of the
practical working of ward politics, which he described in a letter to
a certain charming Mary Fairlie: "Truly, this saving one's country is
a nauseous piece of business, and if patriotism is such a dirty
virtue,--prythee, no more of it.... Such haranguing and puffing and
strutting among the little great men of the day. Such shoals of
unfledged heroes from the lower wards, who had broke away from their
mammas, and run to electioneer with a slice of bread and butter in
their hands." Irving's patriotism was not found wanting when the time
came, but he had a life-long contempt for the petty trickery of party
politics. That year he made another of his leisurely jaunts,
nominally on business, this time to Virginia. His letters record the
usual round of social gallantries, and some graver matter. Burr's
trial was on in Richmond. Irving made his acquaintance, and was
retained in some ornamental sense among his counsel. One or two
letters from Richmond show a sentimental sympathy for his client of
which the less said the better. A characteristic weakness of Irving's
was always an unreasoning fondness for the under dog. In the autumn of
1807 his father died, one of the most sincere among the "unco guid," a
man whom few people loved and everybody respected.

Not long after the discontinuance of the Salmagundi papers a new idea
suggested itself to Irving and his brother Peter, which in its
original form does not look especially promising. It was to develop
into a really remarkable work, and to place Irving's name in a secure
place among living humorists. The "Knickerbocker History of New York"
really laid the foundation of his fame. The first plan was for a mere
burlesque of an absurd book just published, a Dr. Samuel Mitchill's
"Picture of New York." Mitchill began with the aborigines: the Irvings
began with the creation of the world. Fortunately Peter was soon
called away to Europe, and Irving was left to his own devices, which
presently took a different and more original turn. He threw out most
of the pompous erudition which belonged to the work as a burlesque,
and condensed what remained. Everything after the five introductory
chapters is his own.

At this time he had begun to do commission business for certain New
York houses, with a genuine impulse toward steadiness and industry
which it is easy to account for. He was deep in love with the second
daughter of Mr. Hoffman, in whose office he had originally idled. He
had been for years very intimate with the family, and had ended by
making a remarkable discovery about one of them. As he was evidently
not in a position to marry, he was now setting to work with real
energy to improve his means.

Matilda Hoffman was a girl of seventeen, pretty, amiable, and clever.
She died of quick consumption in April, 1809. It is certain that they
loved each other very much, and that Irving never forgot her. The
claim put forth by his nephew and biographer that he gave up marriage
for her sake, and was romantically scrupulous in his faithfulness to
her memory, seems hardly borne out by the facts. He was crushed for
the moment, but not heartbroken. The truth is Irving's nature was
sentimental rather than passionate. His love for Miss Hoffman appears
to have been the deepest feeling of his life, but it did not absorb
his whole nature. The first effect of her loss was to fill him with a
sort of horror--the rebellion of a young and sensitive health against
the tyranny of death. It was enough to show that the mourner was by no
means in desperate case, for extreme grief is not afraid. In after
life he never mentioned her name, and wrote of her only once. At the
same time pretty faces and the charm of womanly companionship
continued to attract him; indeed, a few years later he openly
expressed his expectation of some time marrying. That he did not was
clearly due to temper and circumstance rather than to romantic
fidelity or abnegation. In the end his susceptibility became purely
impersonal; his satisfaction in the exercise of a gentle old-school
gallantry did much to take the sting from his life-long bachelorhood.
Plainly, Irving was the sort of man who finds a grace in every
feminine presence.

It is encouraging to find him in a few months at work again upon the
Knickerbocker history. Its appearance was cleverly heralded by a
series of preliminary advertisements, announcing the disappearance of
one Diedrich Knickerbocker, and the finding of a manuscript history by
his hand. The book was published in December, 1809, and made a
remarkable impression, in England as well as in America. Henry
Brevoort, a close friend of Irving's, in 1813 sent a copy of the
second edition to Walter Scott, who wrote at once: "I beg you to
accept my best thanks for the uncommon degree of entertainment which
I have received from the most excellently jocose History of New
York.... I have never read anything so closely resembling the style of
Dean Swift as the annals of Diedrich Knickerbocker. I have been
employed these few evenings in reading them aloud to Mrs. Scott and
two ladies who are our guests, and our sides have been absolutely sore
with laughing. I think, too, there are passages which indicate that
the author possesses powers of a different kind, and has some touches
which remind me much of Sterne."

The work in its completed form is a history of the three Dutch
governors of New York, whom Irving uses as a stalking-horse for
purposes of satire. Everybody laughed at it except a few descendants
of the old Dutch worthies with whose names and characters he had made
free. As late as the year 1818, G. C. Verplanck, a personal friend of
Irving's, called him to account in an address before the New York
Historical Society, to which the first edition of Knickerbocker was
gravely dedicated, for "wasting the riches of his fancy on an
ungrateful theme, and his exuberant humor in a coarse caricature." One
of his brothers wrote to Irving, deprecating the attack. Irving
replied: "I have seen what Verplanck said of my work. He did me more
than justice in what he said of my mental qualifications; and he said
nothing of my work that I have not long thought of it myself.... I am
sure he wishes me well, and his own talents and acquirements are too
great to suffer him to entertain jealousy; but were I his bitterest
enemy, such an opinion have I of his integrity of mind, that I would
refer any one to him for an honest account of me, sooner than to
almost any one else."

Soon after Knickerbocker came out, Irving went to Albany in the
fruitless pursuit of a minor court appointment. There he found his
name come not altogether pleasantly before him. "I have somehow or
another formed acquaintance with some of the good people," he wrote,
"and several of the little Yffrouws, and have even made my way and
intrenched myself strongly in the parlors of several genuine Dutch
families, who had declared utter hostility to me." One lady had said
that if she were a man she would horsewhip him; but an hour with
Irving, who had made a point of meeting her, left her resigned to be a

Irving had now scored his first great literary success. He had proved
himself master of a fluent humorous style which might have been
applied indefinitely to the treatment of similar themes. He was
twenty-seven years old, and there was no reason why the next ten years
should not be a most fruitful period. Unfortunately, during most of
that time life was made too easy for him. He knew now that he could
write, but he had no desire to write for a living. Probably he felt
that such a course would be in some way not quite suitable for a man
of fashion. At all events, ten years passed, and middle age was at
hand before the promising author began to fulfill his promise. Not
till 1819 appeared his next literary venture, conceived in a more
serious spirit, and launched with many misgivings as the first
performance of the professional man of letters.

He had by this time pretty much given up any notion he may have had of
living by the law. His attempts to gain civil appointments were not
successful. The brilliant younger brother must be provided for;
presently Peter and Ebenezer, who were proprietors of a fairly
prosperous hardware business, offered him a partnership, with nominal
duties and one fifth of the profits. His connection with the firm was
at first a sinecure. Later, and when the business had come to the
brink of failure, the burden fell upon him, and absorbed his whole
time and energies for nearly two years. His literary idling cannot be
said to have been due to this entanglement. In his view writing was
apparently little more than an agreeable indulgence which had brought
him some half-deserved praise, and a pleasant social recognition in
desirable quarters. One of the first results of his new connection was
a visit to Washington, ostensibly in the interests of the business.
The character of his services may be surmised from the fact that his
journey from New York to Washington, _via_ Philadelphia and
Baltimore, consumed nineteen days; and that was when the affairs of
the firm were in some straits, and supposed to be particularly in need
of representation at Washington.

In 1812 he accepted the editorship of a periodical called "Select
Reviews," to which during the next two years he contributed various
critical and biographical articles. He found little to his liking in
the editorial and still less in the critical part of his work. "I do
not profess," he wrote, "the art and mystery of reviewing, and am not
ambitious of being wise or facetious at the expense of others." He was
never a good critic, for he was too soft-hearted, and too little in
conceit with his own judgment to give an unfavorable opinion. And this
was in the period of "slashing" criticism, when it was the proper
thing, unless an author could show good reason for being declared the
greatest man of the age, to hang, draw, and quarter him on the spot.
At about this time, Jeffrey of the "Edinburgh Review," a critic who
made the most of his prerogative, visited America. His coming was
heralded by Irving's friend Brevoort in a letter whose ludicrous
climax is worth quoting: "It is essential that Jeffrey may imbibe a
just estimate of the United States and its inhabitants.... Persuade
him to visit Washington _and by all means to see the falls of
Niagara_." Apparently Irving received the great Jeffrey with courtesy
and composure; as an equal, and not in the least as an idol to be
propitiated with gewgaws.

It was an anxious time, the year 1813. The struggle with England had
assumed a more serious form. At last the British succeeded in entering
Washington, and destroyed most of the public buildings. Irving's
attitude had been uncompromisingly American from the outset. This act
of vandalism aroused his indignation; he promptly offered his services
to Governor Tompkins of New York, and was made an aide on his staff,
with the brevet rank of colonel. This position he held for four
months, when Governor Tompkins retired from the command. During that
time Irving showed much military zeal, and enough capacity to be
ordered to the front at Sackett's Harbor, at an important moment, with
powers of which he made creditable use.

In the spring of 1815 he narrowly escaped sailing with Decatur on the
expedition to Algiers. It was largely by his advice that Decatur
decided to accept the command. Irving's trunks had been taken on board
the commodore's frigate when orders came from Washington delaying the
expedition. Irving was afraid that his presence might in some way
embarrass the commander, and left the ship at once. He was not to be
balked of Europe, however; he was ready to sail and the affairs of the
firm seemed to promise an easy competence. On May 25 he embarked for
Liverpool, with no very distinct plans, but with no expectation of
being long abroad. It was seventeen years before he saw America again.

He reached Liverpool at a dramatic moment. Napoleon had fallen, and
the mail coaches were rushing through England with the news of
Waterloo. It was the sort of pageant which always roused Irving's
fancy. He was absorbed in the situation.

His letters show that however he may have shrunk from concerning
himself with practical politics, he viewed the great _coups_ of
statecraft with the greatest interest. His sympathies are with
Bonaparte; the English were perhaps too recent enemies to be treated
quite charitably. "I have made a short visit to London," he wrote to
one of his brothers in July. "The spirits of this nation, as you may
suppose, are wonderfully elated by their successes on the Continent,
and English pride is inflated to its full distention by the idea of
having Paris at the mercy of Wellington and his army. The only thing
that annoys the honest mob is that old Louis will not cut throats and
lop off heads, and that Wellington will not blow up bridges and
monuments, and plunder palaces and galleries. As to Bonaparte, they
have disposed of him in a thousand ways; every fat-sided John Bull has
him dished up in a way to please his own palate, excepting that as yet
they have not observed the first direction in the famous receipt to
cook a turbot,--'First catchy our turbot.'" Then comes a postscript:
"The bells are ringing, and this moment news is brought that poor
Boney is a prisoner at Plymouth. _John has caught the turbot!_"

Peter Irving was in charge of the firm's English office at Liverpool.
He was a bachelor, and Irving had to go to Birmingham, to the house of
his brother-in-law, Henry van Wart, to find an American home in
England. But he did not make his permanent escape from Liverpool so
easily. Not many months had passed before Peter fell ill, had to leave
Liverpool, and Irving was left in charge. For over eight months the
entire management of an ill-ordered establishment fell into his hands.
He seems to have made a thorough attempt to examine and arrange the
confusions of the office. He studied bookkeeping, so that he might get
some knowledge of the accounts, and otherwise busied himself in a
methodical way foreign to his habit. At last, in 1818, the best thing
possible under the circumstances happened,--the business collapsed,
and the brothers found a road out of their difficulties by way of the
bankruptcy court. It was a great relief. "For upwards of two years,"
he wrote to Brevoort, "I have been bowed down in spirit, and harassed
by the most sordid cares. As yet, I trust, my mind has not lost its
elasticity, and I hope to recover some cheerful standing in the world.
Indeed, I feel very little solicitude about my own prospects. I trust
something will turn up to procure me subsistence, and am convinced,
however scanty and precarious may be my lot, I can bring myself to be
content. But I feel harassed in mind at times on behalf of my
brothers. It is a dismal thing to look round on the wrecks of such a
family connection. This is what, in spite of every exertion, will
sometimes steep my soul in bitterness."

Irving had now fairly arrived at maturity. The experience of the last
few years had done much to sober him. He was still fond of society,
and still of a cheerful temper; but the absorbing sophomoric joy in
cakes and ale was now past and not to return. The pinch of necessity
had come at last: the world no longer offered him the life of an
elegant dawdler. He had a serious business before him,--to gain a
competency for himself and his brother. The unpractical younger
brother was to be after this the mainstay of the family fortunes. And
what especially makes this the finest moment of his life is the sudden
and clear perception that to gain this end he must depend upon the
steady and fruitful exercise of his gift for writing. It was not to be
taken up as a last resort, but as a matter of deliberate choice.
Presently he received the offer of a good position on the Navy Board
at Washington, with a salary of $2400. A few years earlier he would
have snatched at it. "Flattering as the prospect undoubtedly is which
your letters hold out," he wrote to his brother Ebenezer, "I have
concluded to decline it for various reasons.... The principal one is,
that I do not wish to undertake any situation that must involve me in
such a routine of duties as to prevent my attending to literary
pursuits." His determination was sturdy enough, but he was not then
nor afterward the master of his moods. "I have heard him say," notes
Pierre Irving, "that he was so disturbed by the responsibility he had
taken in refusing such an offer and trusting to the uncertain chances
of literary success, that for two months he could scarcely write a
line." His elder brothers were heartily disappointed by the decision.
They could not suppose that he would prove greatly more busy or
fruitful in the future than he had in the past, and up to this time,
he had done little enough. The youthful "Salmagundi" sketches, the
broad satire of the Knickerbocker History were not much for a man of
leisure to boast of at thirty-five. But they did not reckon justly
with the new seriousness which had come into his purposes. Washington
Irving was always fitful in his manner of working, often uncertain of
himself and of his work. But from this time on he had no doubt of his
calling; he had ceased to be a man about town, and become a man of



The appearance of the "Sketch Book," in 1819, marks the beginning of
Irving's professional life as a literary man. It was, moreover, the
first original literary work of moment by an American. Two years later
Bryant's first volume of poems was published, and Cooper's novels had
begun to appear; at this time Irving had the field to himself. Firm as
his determination was to depend upon writing for support, he was by no
means satisfied with what he was able to do. Even after the complete
"Sketch Book" had appeared, and had been met with hearty applause in
England and America, he continued to be doubtful of its merits, and
embarrassed by its reception. In sending the manuscript of the first
number to America, he wrote to his brother Ebenezer: "I have sent the
first number of a work which I hope to continue from time to time. I
send it more for the purpose of showing you what I am about, as I find
my declining the situation at Washington has given you chagrin. The
fact is, that situation would have given me barely a genteel
subsistence. It would have led to no higher situations, for I am quite
unfitted for political life. My talents are merely literary, and all
my habits of thinking, reading, etc., have been in a different
direction from that required by the active politician. It is a mistake
also to suppose I would fill an office there, and devote myself at the
same time to literature. I require much leisure, and a mind entirely
abstracted from other cares and occupations, if I would write much or
write well.... If I ever get any solid credit with the public, it must
be in the quiet and assiduous operations of my pen, under the mere
guidance of fancy or feeling.... I feel myself completely committed in
literary reputation by what I have already written; and I feel by no
means satisfied to rest my reputation on my preceding writings. I have
suffered several precious years of youth and lively imagination to
pass by unimproved, and it behooves me to make the most of what is
left. If I indeed have the means within me of establishing a
legitimate literary reputation, this is the very period of life most
auspicious for it, and I am resolved to devote a few years exclusively
to the attempt.... In fact, I consider myself at present as making a
literary experiment, in the course of which I only care to be kept in
bread and cheese. Should it not succeed--should my writings not
acquire critical applause, I am content to throw up the pen and take
to any commonplace employment. But if they should succeed, it would
repay me for a world of care and privation to be placed among the
established authors of my country, and to win the affections of my
countrymen.... Do not, I beseech you, impute my lingering in Europe to
any indifference to my own country or my friends.... I am determined
not to return home until I have sent some writings before me that
shall, if they have merit, make me return to the smiles, rather than
skulk back to the pity, of my friends."

To Brevoort he wrote at the same time: "I have attempted no lofty
theme, nor sought to look wise and learned, which appears to be very
much the fashion among our American writers, at present. I have
preferred addressing myself to the feeling and fancy of the reader,
more than to his judgment. My writings, therefore, may appear light
and trifling in our country of philosophers and politicians; but if
they possess merit in the class of literature to which they belong, it
is all to which I aspire in the work. I seek only to blow a flute
accompaniment in the national concert, and leave others to play the
fiddle and French horn."

The favorable reception of the "Sketch Book" not only failed to remove
his diffidence, but left him oppressed by a new sense of obligation to
the public which had lauded his work. This feeling is expressed in a
letter to Leslie, the painter, with whom he had become very intimate:
"I am glad to find the second number pleases more than the first. The
sale is very rapid, and, altogether, the success exceeds my most
sanguine expectation. Now you suppose I am all on the alert, full of
spirit and excitement. No such thing. I am just as good for nothing as
ever I was; and indeed I have been flurried and put out of my way by
these puffings. I feel something as I suppose you did when your
picture met with success--anxious to do something better, and at a
loss what to do."

Murray, who a little later was eager to publish anything from Irving's
hand, declined to undertake the first English edition of the "Sketch
Book." Irving was afraid of some incomplete pirated edition, and
finally published the first number entirely at his own expense. Murray
was glad enough to change his mind and bring out the later numbers.
Among the many friends whom the young American had made in England was
Walter Scott. A few days spent by Irving at Abbotsford had been enough
to attach them strongly to each other. Scott had by no means outgrown
his interest in the author of the "Knickerbocker History," and Irving
found nothing that was not delightful in the great romancer's
character and way of life. "As to Scott," he wrote, "I cannot express
my delight at his character and manners. He is a sterling,
golden-hearted old worthy, full of the joyousness of youth, with an
imagination continually furnishing forth pictures, and a charming
simplicity of manner that puts you at ease with him in a moment. It
has been a constant source of pleasure to me to remark his deportment
towards his family, his neighbors, his domestics, his very dogs and
cats; everything that comes within his influence seems to catch a beam
of that sunshine that plays round his heart." Now, while the prospects
of the "Sketch Book" were still dubious, Scott offered him the
editorship of an Anti-Jacobin magazine. Irving declined it, first on
the ground of his dislike for politics, and second on account of his
irregular habits of mind. "My whole course of life has been desultory,
and I am unfitted for any periodically recurring task, or any
stipulated labor of body or mind. I have no command of my talents
such as they are, and have to watch the varyings of my mind as I would
a weathercock. Practice and training may bring me more into rule; but
at present I am as useless for regular service as one of my own
country Indians or a Don Cossack."

In August of this year, Irving and his brother Peter left England for
the Continent. They had got no farther than Havre when their fancy was
taken with an apparent business opening for Peter, who had been idle
since the failure of the firm. A steamboat had just been put upon the
Seine, to run between Havre and Rouen. Peter should be a chief
stockholder and director; he and Washington would each put in $5000,
and between Havre and Rouen the river would presently run gold for
them. To be sure the money was yet to be found, but there were
brothers William and Ebenezer, who would no doubt be glad to help set
that little golden river flowing. Unfortunately brothers William and
Ebenezer did not approve of the scheme at all. They flatly refused to
lend brother Peter $5000, or to honor brother Washington's drafts for
the same amount. More unfortunately still, Irving had already
committed himself. All of his literary property had to be disposed of,
to provide the pledged amount, which was forthwith placed in the
little steamboat on the Seine, and never heard of more. Peter was
associated with the management, and kept busy, at least, for several
years. This was the first of a long series of business ventures which
made Irving's life uneasy. He would no sooner turn a few thousand by
writing than he must sink it in this or that absolutely safe and
immensely profitable enterprise. It was not for many years that he
learned how certainly he might count upon disastrous results from such

After the settlement of this affair, Irving took lodgings in Paris.
Here he met Tom Moore, and in his house more than anywhere else he
became intimate. Moore's diary makes frequent mention of him; one of
the most interesting entries records that Irving at this time wrote
in ten days one hundred and thirty pages of the "Sketch Book" size.
This was undoubtedly material for "Bracebridge Hall," the suggestion
of which had come from Moore. In the meantime the "Sketch Book" had
continued to gain ground in England. Byron admired it greatly, and its
popularity with the general public may be judged from the fact that it
was commonly attributed to Scott. Irving described himself in a letter
to Murray as leading "a 'miscellaneous' kind of life at Paris....
Anacreon Moore is living here, and has made me a gayer fellow than I
could have wished; but I found it impossible to resist the charm of
his society."

In July (1821) he returned to London, in poor physical condition. He
had now been tormented at intervals for several years by an eruptive
complaint which kept him from exercise, and brought on other troubles.
After his return he was bedridden for four or five months, most of
which he passed at his sister's house in Birmingham. He grew very fond
of his little nephews and nieces--particularly an urchin named
George, of whom his letters record such items as: "George has made his
appearance in a new pair of Grimaldi breeches, with pockets full as
deep as the former. To balance his ball and marbles, he has the
opposite pocket filled with a peg-top and a quantity of dry peas, so
that he can only lie comfortably on his back or belly." He was by no
means idle at this time. In January of the following year he sent the
manuscript of "Bracebridge Hall" to his brother Ebenezer with the
remark, "My health is still unrestored. This work has kept me from
getting well, and my indisposition on the other hand has retarded the
work. I have now been about five weeks in London, and have only once
been out of doors, about a month since, and that made me worse." That
single escape from the sick-room, his biographer says, was made for
the sake of persuading Murray to publish Cooper's "Spy," which had
already appeared in America. Irving's own experience was duplicated:
Murray refused to take "The Spy," but was glad to publish Cooper's
later work. He now gave Irving a thousand guineas for the English
rights in "Bracebridge Hall." It was less than he might have given,
but Irving could never be persuaded to haggle over prices. He seems to
have agreed with Peter, who wrote cheerfully, "A thousand guineas has
a golden sound." It was the amount which had been sunk in poor Peter's
steamboat, which was still making its unprofitable trips up and down
the Seine; and two hundred guineas of this thousand soon passed into
his pocket, where no doubt he found their melody even pleasanter.

"Bracebridge Hall" was well received; and confirmed its author's
reputation, especially in England. He had only to be passive to find
himself overwhelmed with social engagements. A more liberal diet and
plenty of exercise had improved his condition, and for a month or so
after getting rid of "Bracebridge Hall," he gave himself up to the
engagements of a London season. But his ankles soon began to trouble
him again, and in July, 1822, he set out for Aix-la-Chapelle, where
he hoped to get permanent relief from his distressing complaint. He
found nothing to keep him long at Aix. The baths and waters were well
enough, but he was too dependent upon cheerful companionship to endure
life among a company of invalids. He began a leisurely round of the
Continental watering-places, staying a few weeks here and a few days
there, and gradually improving in condition. Toward the close of the
year he brought up at Dresden.

The only touch of mystery which belongs to the story of Irving is
connected with this six months' stay at Dresden. He made many friends
there, and grew especially intimate with an English family named
Foster, a mother and two daughters. It is said--and denied--that he
would have liked to marry the youngest daughter, Emily. His biographer
insists that there was nothing in the affair but friendship. To Mrs.
Foster he wrote the only account he ever gave of his early love and
loss; and his nephew quotes the closing passage as proof that he had
no thought of marrying Emily Foster, however fond of her he may have
been: "You wonder why I am not married. I have shown you why I was not
long since. When I had sufficiently recovered from that loss, I became
involved in ruin. It was not for a man broken down in the world, to
drag down any woman to his paltry circumstances. I was too proud to
tolerate the idea of ever mending my circumstances by matrimony. My
time has now gone by; and I have growing claims upon my thoughts and
upon my means, slender and precarious as they are. I feel as if I had
already a family to think and provide for."

But this might be the modest speech of a middle-aged lover. Years
later the written reminiscences of the two daughters unmistakably
impute the attentions of the brilliant American to something more than
friendliness. It is certain that he had a very warm feeling for
somebody or something in Dresden, which led to a temporary return of
his youthful delight in society. For his time was by no means given up
to the Fosters. He was received into the life of the little German
court, and evidently derived such pleasure as is proper to a
Republican from dancing with princesses, and acting in private
theatricals with Highnesses and Excellencies. On the whole it seems to
have been a peaceful, idle, rather trivial time of sojourn among
congenial people. He danced, he strolled, he wrote verses to little
Miss Emily; in short, he enjoyed himself as a youngish man may,
whether the muse is waiting for him, or some less high-flown customer.
"I wish I could give you a good account of my literary labors," he
wrote his sister after several months in Dresden, "but I have nothing
to report. I am merely seeing, and hearing, and my mind seems in too
crowded and confused a state to produce anything. I am getting very
familiar with the German language; and there is a lady here who is so
kind as to give me lessons every day in Italian [Mrs. Foster], which
language I have nearly forgotten, but which I am fast regaining.
Another lady is superintending my French [Miss Emily Foster], so that
if I am not acquiring ideas, I am at least acquiring a variety of
modes of expressing them when they do come." Very likely the confusion
of his mind was not lessened by the frequency of those French lessons.
There really seems to be no reason for doubting the testimony of the
elder sister's journal; "He has written. He has confessed to my
mother, as to a dear and true friend, his love for E----, and his
conviction of its utter hopelessness. He feels himself unable to
combat it. He thinks he must try, by absence, to bring more peace to
his mind.... He has almost resolved to make a tour in Silesia, which
will keep him absent for a few weeks." The tour in Silesia was
certainly made; and during the brief absence Irving wrote sundry
sentimental letters to Mrs. Foster. There are occasions when he seems
to imagine a pretty daughter looking over the admirable mother's
shoulder, and being much affected by the famous author's tenderness
for Dresden. Presently he comes back to be their escort, for they are
going home to England; and at Rotterdam the good-bys are said. They
met afterward in England, but the old intimacy was gone.

More than thirty years after, Irving had a letter from a Mrs. Emily
Fuller, whose name he did not know. Pleasantly and discreetly it
recalled those happy Emily Foster days in Dresden. "She addresses him
because she hopes that her eldest boy Henry may have the happiness and
advantage of meeting him." Poor Irving! Her eldest boy Henry.... Well,
the sting was all gone by that time, fortunately. His reply is all
that it ought to be, and nothing more.

Those first days in Paris were not cheerful ones for Irving. His
pleasant dream was over, and he had forgotten what to do with waking
moments. His memorandum-book records that he felt oppressed by "a
strange horror on his mind--a dread of future evil--of failure in
future literary attempts--a dismal foreboding that he could not drive
off by any effort of reason." "When I once get going again with my
pen," he wrote to Peter, "I mean to keep on steadily, until I can
scrape together enough to produce a regular income, however moderate.
We shall then be independent of the world and its chances." But he
could not manage to get going. For some time he could write nothing at
all. Fortunately, after an unprofitable month or two, he fell in with
John Howard Payne, now remembered only for his "Home, Sweet Home," but
then esteemed as an actor and dramatist. Irving had met him several
years before, and now became associated with him in some dramatic
translating and adapting. The results were nearly worthless from a
literary point of view, but served to keep him busy, and to put him
once more in the writing vein.

For some time Murray had been pressing him hard for copy, and in the
spring of 1824 the "Tales of a Traveler" were completed and sent to
press. After the task of proof-reading came a reaction of high spirits
which expressed itself in the most amusing letter Irving ever wrote:--

"BRIGHTON, August 14, 1824.

    "My boat is on the shore,
    And my bark is on the sea.

"I forget how the song ends, but here I am at Brighton just on the
point of embarking for France. I have dragged myself out of London,
as a horse drags himself out of the slough, or a fly out of a
honey-pot, almost leaving a limb behind him at every tug. Not that I
have been immersed in pleasure and surrounded by sweets, but rather up
to the ears in ink and harassed by printers' devils.

"I never have had such fagging in altering, adding, and correcting;
and I have been detained beyond all patience by the delays of the
press. Yesterday I absolutely broke away, without waiting for the last
sheets. They are to be sent after me here by mail, to be corrected
this morning, or else they must take their chance. From the time I
first started pen in hand on this work, it has been nothing but hard
driving with me.

"I have not been able to get to Tunbridge to see the Donegals, which I
really and greatly regret. Indeed I have seen nobody except a friend
or two who had the kindness to hunt me out. Among these was Mr. Story,
and I ate a dinner there that it took me a week to digest, having been
obliged to swallow so much hard-favored nonsense from a loud-talking
baronet whose name, thank God, I forget, but who maintained Byron was
not a man of courage, and therefore his poetry was not readable. I was
really afraid he would bring John Story to the same way of thinking.

"I went a few evenings since to see Kenney's new piece, the Alcaid. It
went off lamely, and the Alcaid is rather a bore, and comes near to be
generally thought so. Poor Kenney came to my room next evening, and I
could not believe that one night could have ruined a man so
completely. I swear to you I thought at first it was a flimsy suit of
clothes had left some bedside and walked into my room without waiting
for the owner to get up; or that it was one of those frames on which
clothiers stretch coats at their shop doors; until I perceived a thin
face sticking edgeways out of the collar of the coat like the axe in a
bundle of fasces. He was so thin, and pale, and nervous, and
exhausted--he made a dozen difficulties in getting over a spot in the
carpet, and never would have accomplished it if he had not lifted
himself over by the points in his shirt-collar.

"I saw Rogers just as I was leaving town. I had not time to ask him
any particulars about you, and indeed he is not exactly the man from
whom I would ask news about my friends. I dined tête-à-tête with him
some time ago, and he served up his friends as he served up his fish,
with a squeeze of lemon over each. It was very piquant, but it rather
set my teeth on edge....

"Farewell, my dear Moore. Let me hear from you, if but a line;
particularly if my work pleases you, but don't say a word against it.
I am easily put out of humor with what I do."

Surely no more delicious bit of nonsense was ever written than the
description of poor Kenney. Moore read it to a group of friends in the
presence of the victim--a situation which would have been too
"piquant" for Irving's taste.

Moore had only the desired praise for the "Tales of a Traveler," but
elsewhere it did not fare so well. Irving considered it on the whole
his best work; but though it had a large sale, its reception in
England was not quite what he had hoped for; and in America it was
received by the press with something like hostility. Unfortunately
some busybody in America made it his concern to forward to Irving all
the ill-natured flings which could be gleaned from American notices of
the new book. The incident--with all its unpleasantness--was trifling
enough, but to Irving's raw sensitiveness it was torture. He was
overwhelmed with an almost ludicrous melancholy, could not write,
could not sleep, could not bear to be alone. This petty outburst of
critical spleen, backed as it evidently was by personal antagonism on
the part of a few obscure journalists, actually left him dumb for more
than a year.

Of course the public was right in its general estimate of the "Tales
of a Traveler": they are not as good as the "Sketch Book." In kind
they are similar--that in itself would be enough to excite prejudice
against new work from an author who had been so long before the
public; but they are also undeniably inferior in quality. One or two
of the stories are distinctly morbid in tone, several give the
impression of being long drawn out. In some way the collection lacks
atmosphere; Italian scenery is painted with accuracy, but not Italian
life or character. Irving could draw the early Dutch in America, or
the mediæval Moors in Spain, or the Englishman in England or Italy:
the modern Italian on his own soil he did not know except in his
melodramatic exterior.

Irving had now given his brother Peter a place in his little ménage.
The steamboat scheme had failed utterly, and he had from this time on
no sort of regular employment. Irving set himself cheerfully to
provide for both. His goal at this time was less fame than
fortune--"by every exertion to attain sufficient to make us both
independent for the rest of our lives." Not for many years did he come
to perceive that a life of leisure was not only impossible, but
undesirable for him, and to express it as his fondest wish that he
might "die in harness." The profits of the "Tales of a Traveler" went
the way of most of his earnings--this time to help develop a Bolivia
copper mine.

He had been studying Spanish for a year or two, and had an increased
desire to see Spain. As a mere aid in traveling, he asked for the
nominal post of attaché to the American legation at Madrid. Alexander
H. Everett, then minister to Spain, at once granted the request, and
in replying suggested a possible literary task--the translation of a
new Spanish work, Navarrete's "Voyages of Columbus," which was shortly
to make its appearance. Murray, who was then in some difficulties, did
not think favorably of the project.

Irving went to Madrid, and by good fortune got lodgings with the
American consul Rich, who had made an extensive private collection of
documents dealing with early American history. Presently Navarrete's
work was published, and found to be "rather a mass of rich materials
for history than a history itself." This was in February, 1826. Irving
at once began to take notes and sift materials for an original history
of Columbus. For six months he worked incessantly. "Sometimes," says
his biographer, "he would write all day and until twelve at night; in
one instance his note-book shows him to have written from five in the
morning until eight at night, stopping only for meals."



There is something interesting, and in a sense pathetic, in this
sudden steady diligence from the man of desultory habits, who had
never written but by whim, whose finger had always been lifted to
catch the lightest literary airs. Here, at last, was the firm trade
wind, and the satisfaction of steady and methodical progress. The
qualified success of the "Tales of a Traveler" had led him to feel
that his vein was running out. The prospect of producing a solid work
gave him keen pleasure. One cannot be always building castles in the
air; why not try a pyramid, if only a little one? Since the world is
perfectly delighted with our pretty things, very well, let us show
that we can do a sublime thing. As for history--"Whatever may be the
use of this sort of composition in itself and abstractedly," says
Walter Bagehot, "it is certainly of great use relatively and to
literary men. Consider the position of a man of that species. He sits
beside a library fire, with nice white paper, a good pen, a capital
style--every means of saying everything, but nothing to say. Of course
he is an able man; of course he has an active intellect, besides
wonderful culture: but still, one cannot always have original ideas.
Every day cannot be an era; a train of new speculation very often will
not be found: and how dull it is to make it your business to write, to
stay by yourself in a room to write, and then to have nothing to say!
It is dreary work mending seven pens, and waiting for a theory to
'turn up.' What a gain if something would happen! then one could
describe it. Something has happened, and that something is history."

There is no doubt that Irving's early delicate sallies in literature
represent his best. In a single department of belles-lettres he had
shown mastery. During the remainder of his life he continued to work
at intervals in that field with similar felicity; and, for the rest,
to write amiably and respectably upon many topics foreign to his
natural bent. But his greatest work was done in odd moments and at a
heat; all the method in the world could not increase his real stature
by a cubit.

A word may perhaps be said here of Irving as an historian and
biographer. Of course he could not write dully; his histories are just
as readable as Goldsmith's, and rather more veracious. But he plainly
had not the scholar's training and methods which we now demand of the
historian; nor had he the larger view of men and events in their
perspective. Generalization was beyond him. Fortunately to generalize
is only a part of the business of the historian. To catch some dim
historic figure, and give it life and color,--this power he had. And
it was evidently this which gave him the praise of such men as
Prescott and Bancroft and Motley. Washington had begun to loom vaguely
and impersonally in the mind, a mere great man, when Irving with a
touch turned him from cold bronze into flesh and blood again.

During the years of Irving's stay abroad other American writers had
come into notice. Bryant's poetry had become well known. Cooper had
produced "The Spy," "The Pilot," "The Pioneers," and "The Last of the
Mohicans." In 1827 appeared the first volume of poems by Edgar Allan
Poe. In this year, too, Irving's diary records a meeting with
Longfellow, who was then twenty-one, and came abroad to prepare
himself for his professorship at Bowdoin. Longfellow's recollection of
the incident is worth quoting: "I had the pleasure of meeting Mr.
Irving in Spain, and found the author, whom I had loved, repeated in
the man. The same playful humor; the same touches of sentiment; the
same poetic atmosphere; and, what I admired still more, the entire
absence of all literary jealousy, of all that mean avarice of fame,
which counts what is given to another as so much taken from one's

    "'And trembling, hears in every breeze
    The laurels of Miltiades.'"

In the following summer the "History of Columbus" was finished, and
sold to Murray. It won high praise from the reviewers, especially from
Alexander H. Everett, his former diplomatic chief, and at this time
editor of the "North American Review."

Early in the following year he made his first visit to Andalusian
Spain. In the course of his grubbing among the Columbus archives, he
had found a good deal of interesting material about the Moorish
occupancy. The beauty of the country and the grandeur of its Moorish
relics took strong hold upon him. In April, 1828, he settled in
Seville, and there the "Chronicles of the Conquest of Granada" were
written. By this time the market price of his wares had gone up very
much. There is no doubt that his historical work had increased his
temporary reputation. Murray gave him 2000 guineas for the "Conquest
of Granada;" he further offered him £1000 a year to edit a new
literary and scientific magazine, as well as £100 an article for any
contribution he might choose to make to the "London Quarterly." He
refused the first offer on the ground that he did not care to be tied
in England, the second because the "Quarterly" had always been hostile
to America. He continued to take an interest in affairs at home.
Impatient as he was of political methods, he had opinions of his own
as to candidates and measures. The election of Jackson called forth
the following comment in a letter to Mr. Everett: "I was rather sorry
when Mr. Adams was first raised to the presidency, but I am much more
so at his being displaced; for he has made a far better president than
I expected, and I am loth to see a man superseded who has filled his
station worthily. These frequent changes in our administration are
prejudicial to the country; we ought to be wary of using our power of
changing our chief magistrate when the welfare of the country does not
require it. In the present election there has, doubtless, been much
honest, warm, grateful feeling toward Jackson, but I fear much pique,
passion, and caprice as it respects Mr. Adams.

"Since the old general was to be the man, however, I am well pleased
upon the whole that he has a great majority, as it will, for the
reasons you mention, produce a political calm in the country, and lull
those angry passions which have been exasperated during the Adams
administration, by the close contest of nearly balanced parties. As to
the old general, with all his _hickory_ characteristics, I suspect he
has good stuff in him, and will make a sagacious, independent, and
high-spirited president; and I doubt his making so high-handed a one
as many imagine."

The "Chronicles of the Conquest of Granada" were well treated by
critics, but never very popular. The humor of the mythical Fray
Antonio's narrative was too sly and covert; the public was mystified,
and had half a notion it was being made game of. But Irving was not
yet done with Granada. Presently he went back, and in the course of a
solitary two months in the Alhambra, got together the materials for
the most characteristic work he had published since the "Tales of a
Traveler" and the strongest since the "Sketch Book." His idyllic stay
in the Alhambra was one of the pleasantest episodes of his life. When
it was cut short by his appointment as secretary of legation at
London, he made up his mind to leave the quiet breathing-spot with
real regret. One cannot help seeing from the tone of his letter to
Peter that the years have given him as much as they have taken away:
"My only horror is the bustle and turmoil of the world: how shall I
stand it after the delicious quiet and repose of the Alhambra? I had
intended, however, to quit this place before long, and, indeed, was
almost reproaching myself for protracting my sojourn, having little
better than sheer self-indulgence to plead for it; for the effect of
the climate, the air, the serenity and sweetness of the place, is
almost as seductive as that of the Castle of Indolence, and I feel at
times an impossibility of working, or of doing anything but yielding
to a mere voluptuousness of sensation."

At London he found himself associated with congenial men, but tied so
closely to the legation that he could not even get away to visit his
sister at Birmingham. The constraint chafed him at first, but before
long his letters show him reconciled, and even interested in the
practical business of diplomacy. They complain, however, of his
growing stout. This, indeed, he had a perfect right to do. He was now
forty-seven years old, and a man of solid reputation; weighty honors
were being heaped upon him. Before leaving Spain he had been made a
member of the Spanish Royal Academy of History; and in England he had
just received a medal from the Royal Society of Literature, and the
degree of LL. D. from Oxford. His leisure for literary work was not
great in London, but he was making some progress with the Alhambra
stories, and had begun to think seriously of the "Life of Washington,"
which was to hold the main place in his thoughts for the rest of his

At this time England was suffering under the double discomfort of
cholera and the Reform Bill. A letter from Irving to his brother
shows that even in the midst of his successes the popular author was
subject to moods of mental gloom, and even to business difficulties:
"The restlessness and uncertainty in which I have been kept have
disordered my mind and feelings too much for imaginative writing, and
I now doubt whether I could get the Alhambra ready in time for
Christmas.... The present state of things here completely discourages
the idea of publication of any kind. There is no knowing who among the
booksellers is safe. Those who have published most are worst off, for
in this time of public excitement nobody reads books or buys them."

In 1831, Van Buren was nominated as Minister to the Court of St.
James, and at once took charge of his diplomatic duties. His
nomination was rejected by the Senate, however; and Irving determined
to take advantage of the incident to make his own escape from the
service, and return at last to America.

In May, 1831, he arrived in New York. He had been a young man when he
left America; he was now leaning toward the farther verge of his
prime. In character he had refined and sobered greatly; and he had
more than fulfilled his promise of literary excellence. He had still
twenty-six years to live, and was to do much useful service in life
and letters; but he could do nothing in that time to alter his
reputation; he could merely confirm it. Irving had grown immensely,
too, in the favor of his countrymen. He was welcomed back with
extravagant effusion by his old friends and by the country at large.
He had in fact come to be regarded as one of the chief glories of
America; for he had been the first to make her a world-power in

During those seventeen years New York had changed almost beyond
recognition in size, in appearance, in the tone of its life; but
Irving was delighted with everything and everybody. All that he had to
regret was the ordeal of a great public dinner in his honor, at which,
after a great deal of preliminary nervousness, he made the one speech
of his life. It was a good speech, but he could never be prevailed
upon to repeat the experiment. He was always at his worst in a large
company. The sight of a great number of unknown or half-known faces
confused his thoughts and clogged his tongue. His intimates knew him
for a brilliant and ready talker, full of easy fun and unaffected

Not long after his return, the "Tales of the Alhambra" were published.
In the somewhat florid concert of critical praises which greeted the
book, a simple theme is dominant. Everybody felt that in these stories
Irving had come back to his own. The material was very different from
that of the "Sketch Book," yet it yielded to similar treatment. The
grace, romance, humor, of this "beautiful Spanish Sketch Book," as the
historian Prescott called it, appealed at once to an audience which
had listened somewhat coldly to the less spontaneous "Tales of a
Traveler," and had given a formal approbation to the "History of
Columbus," without finding very much Irving in it.

A visit to Washington to clear up various odds and ends of his
diplomatic experience resulted in an interview with President Jackson,
which he reported in a letter to Peter Irving, now living alone in
Paris: "I have been most kindly received by the old general, with whom
I am much pleased as well as amused. As his admirers say, he is truly
an _old Roman_--to which I could add, _with a little dash of the
Greek_; for I suspect he is as _knowing_ as I believe he is _honest_.
I took care to put myself promptly on a fair and independent footing
with him; for, in expressing warmly and sincerely how much I had been
gratified by the unsought but most seasonable mark of confidence he
had shown me, when he hinted something about a disposition to place me
elsewhere, I let him know emphatically that I wished for nothing
more--that my whole desire was to live among my countrymen, and to
follow my usual pursuits. In fact, I am persuaded that my true course
is to be master of myself and of my time. Official station cannot add
to my happiness or respectability, and certainly would stand in the
way of my literary career." This disinclination to take office he
never got over, although he was frequently approached with offers of
place. In 1834, he was offered a nomination for Congress by the
Jackson party; in 1838, he was offered the Tammany nomination as mayor
of New York, and the secretaryship of the navy by Van Buren. And when
three years later he was given a still more important post, it was
only the evident spontaneity of the choice, and the feeling that in
taking the office he should be representing country rather than party,
which led him to accept it.

Impatient as he was of political methods, he had opinions of his own
on specific questions, and a broad political platform which he once
stated in a letter to his old friend Kemble:--

"As far as I know my own mind, I am thoroughly a republican, and
attached, from complete conviction, to the institutions of my country;
but I am a republican without gall, and have no bitterness in my
creed. I have no relish for puritans either in religion or politics,
who are for pushing principles to an extreme, and for overturning
everything that stands in the way of their own zealous career. I have,
therefore, felt a strong distaste for some of those loco-foco
luminaries who of late have been urging strong and sweeping measures,
subversive of the interests of great classes of the community. Their
doctrines may be excellent in theory, but, if enforced in violent and
uncompromising opposition to all our habitudes, may produce the most
distressing effects. The best of remedies must be cautiously applied,
and suited to the state and constitution of the patient; otherwise,
what is intended to cure, may produce convulsion. The late elections
have shown that the measures proposed by Government are repugnant to
the feelings and habitudes or disastrous to the interests of great
portions of our fellow citizens. They should not, then, be forced home
with rigor. Ours is a government of compromise. We have several great
and distinct interests bound up together, which, if not separately
consulted and severally accommodated, may harass and impair each
other. A stern, inflexible, and uniform policy may do for a small
compact republic, like one of those of ancient Greece, where there is
a unity of character, habits, and interests; but a more accommodating,
discriminating, and variable policy must be observed in a vast
republic like ours, formed of a variety of states widely differing in
habits, pursuits, characters, and climes, and banded together by a few
general ties.

"I always distrust the soundness of political councils that are
accompanied by acrimonious and disparaging attacks upon any great
class of our fellow citizens. Such are those urged to the disadvantage
of the great trading and financial classes of our country. You
yourself know, from education and experience, how important these
classes are to the prosperous conduct of the complicated affairs of
this immense empire. You yourself know, in spite of all the
commonplace cant and obloquy that has been cast upon them by political
spouters and scribblers, what general good faith and fair dealing
prevails throughout these classes."

At this time he was studying with increasing interest the shifting
spectacle of American life. The openings of the West especially caught
his imagination, and when the chance came to travel on what was then
the frontier, the trans-Mississippi territories, he was quick to
accept it. As guest of one of the members of a commission appointed to
treat with several Indian tribes, he went as far as Fort Gibson on the
Arkansas. The literary fruits of this journey were "A Tour on the
Prairies," and "The Adventures of Captain Bonneville."

In April, 1833, he bought the little estate of Sunnyside, near the
Sleepy Hollow which he had made famous. His first name for it was "The
Roost" (Dutch for "Rest"), which he changed for reasons which are not
recorded; possibly the little nieces who became regular inmates may
have thought the old name not dignified enough. This he regarded as
his home for the rest of his life. He set to work at once to enlarge
the old Dutch stone cottage which stood upon the place; and from this
time on he is continually "puttering" about the estate, building a
poultry-yard here, planting trees there, with the full zeal of the
rural landlord. His family letters are given to accounts of little
country doings: "The goose war is happily terminated: Mr. Jones'
squadron has left my waters, and my feathered navy now plows the
Tappan Sea in triumph. I cannot but attribute this great victory to
the valor and good conduct of the enterprising little duck, who seems
to enjoy great power and popularity among both geese and ganders, and
absolutely to be the master of the fleet.... I am happy to inform you
that, among the many other blessings brought to the cottage by the
good Mr. Lawrence is a pig of first-rate stock and lineage. It has
been duly put in possession of the palace in the rear of the barn,
where it is shown to every visitor with as much pride as if it was the
youngest child of a family. As it is of the fair sex, and in the
opinion of the best judges a pig of peerless beauty, I have named it
'Fanny.' I know it is a name which with Kate and you has a romantic
charm, and about the cottage everything, as old Mrs. Marthing says,
must be romance." This was during the vogue of Fanny Kemble.

In this quiet retreat the next five uneventful years were passed, with
occasional excursions to New York or farther, which only served to
make the seclusion of the country home more inviting. Peter Irving
spent his last days at the Roost; and Ebenezer Irving and his family
gave up their New York house to make their home with the now famous
brother. While this arrangement greatly increased Irving's
satisfaction in life, it made heavy demands upon his purse. One cannot
be a country gentleman for nothing. The cottage had to be enlarged
repeatedly, the grounds cared for; and the mere running expenses were
a considerable matter for a man without dependable income. Irving had
by this time received a great deal of money for his books, but an
unfortunate "knack of hoping" had locked up most of it in unprofitable
land speculations.

In 1835 the three volumes of the "Crayon Miscellanies," were
published. The "Tour on the Prairies" was especially palatable to
Americans. Edward Everett said of it, in the highly colored style of
the period: "We are proud of Mr. Irving's sketches of English life,
proud of the gorgeous canvas upon which he has gathered in so much of
the glowing imagery of Moorish times. We behold with delight his easy
and triumphant march over these beaten fields; but we glow with
rapture as we see him coming back, laden with the poetical treasures
of the primitive wilderness, rich with spoil from the uninhabited

The second volume, containing "Abbotsford" and "Newstead Abbey,"
naturally gained special praise in England; the third, "Legends of the
Conquest of Spain," had comparatively little success.

Of "Astoria" (1836) it is hard to know what to say; on the whole, it
seems the most doubtful of his works in motive and quality. John Jacob
Astor, now an old man, was anxious to perpetuate the fame of his
commercial exploits, and was lucky enough to subsidize for this
purpose the most prominent American writer of the day. The adventures
of the various expeditions sent out to found an American trading
company on the Pacific coast are interesting; but one puts down
Irving's account of them with the feeling that it reflects rather more
credit on Mr. Astor than on the writer. The truth is, Irving, like
many less successful literary men, was constantly in need of money;
and he had begun to be in some difficulty for subjects upon which to
exercise his craft. The "Adventures of Captain Bonneville" (1837) was
also a piece of skillful book-making rather than an original creative
work; and after that nearly two years passed without his writing

At last, toward the close of 1838, he hit upon a subject which
attracted him greatly--a "History of the Conquest of Mexico." He began
at once upon preliminary studies, and had made considerable progress
when he learned by chance that Prescott, who had recently made a name
for himself by his "Ferdinand and Isabella," was at work upon the
same subject. Irving immediately retired from the field, and conveyed
a courteous assurance to Prescott of his satisfaction in leaving the
theme to such hands. He felt this sacrifice keenly, however; the
project had appealed to him peculiarly, and he had no other in mind to
take its place. For lack of other literary work, therefore, he
presently engaged to write a monthly article for the New York
"Knickerbocker," at a salary of $2000 a year. The arrangement was just
not too irksome to continue for two years.

It is easy to see, then, that at fifty-five Irving was pretty well
written out. In the twenty years that remained to him he produced
nothing of account except the "Life of Washington," which, like his
other works in biography and history, may be regarded as a _tour de
force_ rather than a spontaneous outcome of his genius.



The data of Irving's literary achievements have been brought near a
conclusion; what remains to be said may now deal less with what he
wrote, and more with what he did and was. It is luckily unnecessary to
try for a sharply drawn distinction between his popularity as a writer
and as a man. In his home, in society, and in literature the single
charm of his personality had made him beloved in the same way. And he
had become, in the best sense of the term, a public character. For
many years his name had been better known abroad than that of any
other living American; and his reception at home after an absence of
seventeen years showed in what regard his countrymen had come to hold
him. Their pride in his success and gratitude for the new fame he had
given a country which was still felt to be on probation, can hardly
account for it; only the confidence of affection could have excused so
prolonged an absenteeism.

His peculiar hold upon popular affection cannot be better suggested
than by the tone of a letter written by the only Englishman who during
Irving's life could pretend to rival him in his peculiar field. In
1841, Irving wrote to Dickens, expressing pleasure in his work.
Dickens replied: "There is no man in the world who could have given me
the heartfelt pleasure you have, by your kind note of the 13th of last
month. There is no living writer, and there are very few among the
dead, whose approbation I should feel so proud to earn. And with
everything you have written upon my shelves, and in my thoughts, and
in my heart of hearts, I may honestly and truly say so.... I wish I
could find in your welcome letter some hint of an intention to visit
England. I can't. I have held it at arm's length, and taken a bird's
eye view of it, after reading it a great many times, but there is no
greater encouragement in it this way than on a microscopic
inspection. I should love to go with you--as I have gone, God knows
how often--into Little Britain, and Eastcheap, and Green Arbor Court,
and Westminster Abbey. I should like to travel with you, outside the
last of the coaches, down to Bracebridge Hall. It would make my heart
glad to compare notes with you about that shabby gentleman in the
oilcloth hat and red nose, who sat in the nine-cornered back parlor of
the Masons' Arms; and about Robert Preston, and the tallow chandler's
widow, whose sitting-room is second nature to me; and about all those
delightful places and people that I used to walk about and dream of in
the daytime, when a very small and not over-particularly-taken-care-of
boy. I have a good deal to say, too, about that dashing Alonzo de
Ojeda, that you can't help being fonder of than you ought to be; and
much to hear concerning Moorish legend and poor, unhappy Boabdil.
Diedrich Knickerbocker I have worn to death in my pocket, and yet I
should show you his mutilated carcass with a joy past all

Not long afterward Dickens visited America. Irving and he saw much of
each other, though they did not meet many times. Irving presided at a
great dinner given to Boz in New York, broke down in his introductory
speech, and otherwise endeared himself to his brother author. When
presently Dickens went back, he wrote, "I did not come to see you, for
I really have not the heart to say 'good-by' again, and felt more than
I can tell you when we shook hands last Wednesday."

Pretty soon Irving himself was leaving America. In February, 1842, he
was startled from the home quiet of Sunnyside by a summons which he
could not disregard. Daniel Webster, then Secretary of State, had
secured his appointment as Minister to Spain. The Senate confirmed it
almost by acclamation, and letters came from various quarters urging
him to accept it. He could not doubt that the wish was general. But it
was very hard for him to leave home and America again. For some time
after accepting the post he was plunged into a dejection which seemed
laughable to himself. "The crowning honor of his life," he admitted,
had come to him, and he could only groan under it.

"'It is hard, very hard,' he half murmured to himself, half to me; yet
he added whimsically enough, being struck with the seeming absurdity
of such a view, 'I must try to bear it. God tempers the wind to the
shorn lamb'" (P. M. Irving).

In April he sailed from New York, and made a leisurely journey by way
of England and France, not reaching Madrid till the end of July.
Europe had lost its old charm. Many places reminded him painfully of
the favorite brother Peter who had shared his first impressions of
them, and whose loss was one of the keenest griefs of his life. "My
visit to Europe has by no means the charm of former visits," he wrote
from Paris; "scenes and objects have no longer the effect of novelty
with me. I am no longer curious to see great sights or great people,
and have been so long accustomed to a life of quiet, that I find the
turmoil of the world becomes irksome to me. Then I have a house of my
own, a little domestic world, created in a manner by my own hand,
which I have left behind, and which is continually haunting my
thoughts, and coming in contrast with the noisy, tumultuous, heartless
world in which I am called to mingle. However, I am somewhat of a
philosopher, and can accommodate myself to changes, so I shall
endeavor to resign myself to the splendor of courts and the
conversation of courtiers, comforting myself with the thought that the
time will come when I shall once more return to sweet little
Sunnyside, and be able to sit on a stone fence, and talk about
politics and rural affairs with Neighbor Forkel and Uncle Brom."

At Madrid he very soon found himself too much occupied for the
literary work he had counted on. He had accepted the place under the
impression that his duties would not greatly interfere with the
writing of the "Life of Washington," on which he was then fairly
launched. But from the beginning he found the situation in Spain
unexpectedly absorbing. It was the usual Spanish situation, to be
sure: a designing pretender, a child monarch, a court honeycombed with
intrigue, and a people ready for anything spectacular. When Irving was
presented to the young queen, she was closely guarded. "On ascending
the grand staircase, we found the portal at the head of it, opening
into the royal suite of apartments, still bearing the marks of the
midnight attack upon the palace in October last, when an attempt was
made to get possession of the persons of the little queen and her
sister, to carry them off.... The marble casements of the doors had
been shattered in several places, and the double doors themselves
pierced all over with bullet-holes, from the musketry that played upon
them from the staircase during that eventful night. What must have
been the feelings of those poor children, on listening from their
apartment to the horrid tumult, the outcries of a furious multitude,
and the reports of fire-arms, echoing and reverberating through the
vaulted halls and spacious courts of the immense edifice, and dubious
whether their own lives were not the object of the assault!" Such an
appeal to Irving's sympathy and chivalry was enough to deprive the
situation of its quality of opéra-bouffe.

Presently an insurrection takes place in Barcelona. The regent hurries
off to quell it, and Irving's letters are full of the pomp and
circumstance of war. The regent is successful, and returns apparently
firmer than ever in power. But a few months later the trouble breaks
out again, more seriously; Madrid is placed in a state of siege, and
martial law declared. The life of the queen is thought to be in
danger, and the diplomatic corps, headed by Irving, offers its
services for her protection. Finally the regent is driven out of
power, and blows are once again succeeded by intrigue. Such, briefly,
was the character of the little drama in which the quiet American
author was to take a significant part, during his whole ministry. This
Spanish experience is fully recorded in his family letters. He was
always a voluminous letter-writer; during this period he is fairly
encyclopedic. A single letter to his sister fills thirteen closely
printed pages of his nephew's biography. His official dispatches, too,
were very full and thorough. Webster valued them particularly, and
remarked that he "always laid aside every other correspondence to read
a diplomatic dispatch from Mr. Irving." He had time, too, for many
charming chatty letters to the nieces at Sunnyside. Here is a
Thackerayish passage from one of them: "You seem to pity the poor
little queen, shut up with her sister like two princesses in a fairy
tale, in a great, grand, dreary palace, and wonder whether she would
not like to change her situation for a nice little cottage on the
Hudson? Perhaps she would, Kate, if she knew anything of the gayeties
of cottage life; if she had ever been with us at a picnic, or driven
out in the shandry-dan with the two roans, and James, in his slipshod
hat, for a coachman, or _yotted_ in the Dream, or sang in the
Tarrytown choir, or shopped at Tommy Dean's; but, poor thing! she
would not know how to set about enjoying herself. She would not think
of appearing at church without a whole train of the Miss ----s and the
Miss ----s, and the Miss ----s, as maids of honor, nor drive through
Sleepy Hollow except in a coach and six, with a cloud of dust, and a
troop of horsemen in glittering armor. So I think, Kate, we must be
content with pitying her, and leaving her in ignorance of the
comparative desolateness of her situation."

In 1842, Irving suffered another of those petty persecutions which he
was not thick-skinned enough to endure without suffering, nor
confident enough to ignore. The charges were of the most ordinary
sort, and advanced by men of little weight: he had appropriated
material without giving due credit for it, and he had puffed his own
work. Their only claim upon our notice lies in the fact that Irving
thought it worth while to confute them at length. He was perhaps
especially sensitive to critical attacks at this time. His income from
literary property had nearly ceased. Some of his books were out of
print, and the rest were having comparatively little sale. A wave of
indifference had overtaken his public. "Everything behind me seems to
have turned to chaff and stubble," he wrote. "And if I desire any
further profits from literature, it must be by the further exercise of
my pen." It is characteristic of his modesty that he was disposed to
accept this momentary neglect as final. He planned to revise all his
works, in the hope of finding a renewed market for them later, but
evidently expected little.

A letter to Brevoort from Bordeaux dated November, 1843, accounts for
the first break in his Madrid residence: "I am now on my way back to
my post, after between two and three months' absence. I set out in
pursuit of health, and thought a little traveling and a change of air
would 'make me my own man again'; but I was laid by the heels at Paris
by a recurrence of my malady, and have just escaped out of the
doctor's hands.... This indisposition has been a sad check upon all my
plans. I had hoped, by zealous employment of all the leisure afforded
me at Madrid, to accomplish one or two literary tasks which I have in
hand.... A year, however, has now been lost to me, and a precious
year, at my time of life. The 'Life of Washington,' and indeed all my
literary tasks, have remained suspended; and my pen has remained idle,
excepting now and then in writing a dispatch to Government, or
scrawling a letter to my family. In the mean time the income which I
used to derive from farming out my writings has died away, and my
moneyed investments yield scarce any interest.... However, thank God,
my health and with it my capacity for work are returning. I shall soon
again have pen in hand, and hope to get two or three good years of
literary labor out of myself."

After his return to Spain he was again laid by. He was disappointed,
but not discouraged, for the self-pity of the invalid never deprived
him of his strong man's humor. "When I drive out and notice the
opening of spring, I feel sometimes almost moved to tears at the
thought that in a little while I shall again have the use of my
limbs, and be able to ramble about and enjoy these green fields and
meadows. It seems almost too great a privilege. I am afraid when I
once more sally forth and walk the streets, I shall feel like a boy
with a new coat, who thinks everybody will turn around to look at him.
'Bless my soul, how that gentleman has the use of his legs!'" A few
days after this was written, he got word that one of his friends had
just undergone a successful surgical operation. "God bless these
surgeons and dentists!" he exclaims. "May their good deeds be returned
upon them a thousand fold! May they have the felicity, in the next
world, to have successful operations performed upon them to all

By this time he had come to take Spanish politics rather too
seriously. The insincerity and profligacy of the Spanish character,
the corruption of the court and state, fairly sicken him: "The last
ten or twelve years of my life," he writes, "have shown me so much of
the dark side of human nature, that I begin to have painful doubts of
my fellow men, and look back with regret to the confiding period of my
literary career, when, poor as a rat, but rich in dreams, I beheld the
world through the medium of my imagination, and was apt to believe men
as good as I wished them to be." His sense of responsibility for the
young queen oppressed him, and he looked forward impatiently to the
hour of his release.

A year later he had gained far better health and spirits. On his
sixty-second birthday--"I caught myself bounding upstairs three steps
at a time, to the astonishment of the porter, and checked myself,
recollecting that it was not the pace befitting a minister and a man
of my years." His mental life had, however, caught the sober tone of
age. "I am now at that time of life when the mind has a stock of
recollections on which to employ itself; and though these may
sometimes be of a melancholy nature, yet it is a 'sweet-souled
melancholy,' mellowed and softened by the operation of time, and has
no bitterness in it.... When I was young, my imagination was always
in the advance, picturing out the future, and building castles in the
air; now memory comes in the place of imagination, and I look back
over the region I have traveled. Thank God, the same plastic feeling,
which used to deck all the future with the hues of fairyland, throws a
soft coloring over the past, until the very roughest places, through
which I struggled with many a heartache, lose all their asperity in
the distance."

In July, 1846, his successor arrived, and Irving was free to leave
Europe for the last time. His services in Spain had brought nothing
but honor to himself and his country; he had earned a right to the
quiet years that followed in his favorite home nook at Sunnyside.

Soon after his return he began to busy himself with the revised
edition of his works which he had projected in Spain. It was
disheartening to find his old publishers dubious about undertaking the
republication, and for a time the work went hard. "I am growing a sad
laggard in literature," he wrote to his nephew, "and need some one to
bolster me up occasionally. I am too ready to do anything else rather
than write." For more than a year his time was largely devoted to
overseeing an enlargement of the cottage, and a renovation of the
grounds, at Sunnyside. At last he got it all into satisfactory order.
"My own place has never been so beautiful as at present. I have made
more openings by pruning and cutting down trees, so that from the
piazza I have several charming views of the Tappan Zee and the hills
beyond, all set, as it were, in verdant flames; and I am never tired
of sitting there in my old Voltaire chair of a long summer morning
with a book in my hand, sometimes reading, sometimes musing, and
sometimes dozing, and mixing all up in a pleasant dream." As for New
York, "For my part, I dread the noise and turmoil of it, and visit it
but now and then, preferring the quiet of my country retreat; which
shows that the bustling time of life is over with me, and that I am
settling down into a sober, quiet, good-for-nothing old gentleman."

This was all very well--for a mood. He spent the next winter in town,
moving freely in society, and "not missing a single performance" of
the opera. "One meets all one's acquaintances at the opera, and there
is much visiting from box to box, and pleasant conversation, between
the acts. The opera house is in fact the great feature of polite
society in New York, and I believe is the great attraction that keeps
me in town. Music is to me the great sweetener of existence, and I
never enjoyed it more abundantly than at present." Clearly, the old
social instinct was by no means dead in him, however he might express
himself in less buoyant moods.

Two years after his return from Spain the house of Putnam agreed to
publish the revised edition of his works on very liberal terms--a
twelve and a half per cent. royalty. The result of the enterprise was
a surprise to author and publisher, for during the ten remaining years
of his life the royalties amounted to more than $88,000. The
arrangement brought about an immediate accession of courage and power,
and he returned with fresh zeal to the "Life of Washington." "All I
fear," he said, "is to fail in health, and fail in completing this
work at the same time. If I can only live to finish it, I would be
willing to die the next moment. I think I can make it a most
interesting book. If I had only ten years more of life! I never felt
more able to write. I might not conceive as I did in earlier days,
when I had more romance of feeling, but I could execute with more
rapidity and freedom." The consciousness of approaching age grew
stronger in him, but without weakening his capacity for enjoyment or
his turn for humorous expression. Early in 1850, George Ticknor sent
him a copy of his "History of Spanish Literature." Irving dipped into
it, liked it, and "When I have once read it through," he wrote, "I
shall keep it by me, like a Stilton cheese, to give a dig into
whenever I want a relishing morsel. I began to fear it would never
see the light in my day, or that it might fare with you as with that
good lady who went thirteen years with child, and then brought forth a
little old man, who died in the course of a month of extreme old age.
But you have produced three strapping volumes, full of life and
freshness and vigor, that will live forever." This sounds well for
Ticknor; but it needs only a glance at Irving's recorded
correspondence to see that he was inclined to overestimate the work of
others. That kind heart must needs assume the functions of a head
which was very well able to take care of itself.

In larger matters his judgment was often colored, but seldom warped,
by feeling. The line between sentiment and common sense is clearly
drawn in his comment upon the Kossuth obsession which held New York in
1852. "I have heard and seen Kossuth both in public and private, and
he is really a noble fellow, quite the beau ideal of a poetic hero....
He is a kind of man that you would idolize. Yet, poor fellow, he has
come here under a great mistake, and is doomed to be disappointed in
the high-wrought expectations he had formed of coöperation on the part
of our government in the affairs of his unhappy country. Admiration
and sympathy he has in abundance from individuals; but there is no
romance in councils of state or deliberative assemblies. There, cool
judgment and cautious policy must restrain and regulate the warm
impulses of feeling. I trust we are never to be carried away, by the
fascinating eloquence of this second Peter the Hermit, into schemes of
foreign interference, that would rival the wild enterprises of the
Crusades." The letter concludes in a minor strain: "It is now
half-past twelve at night, and I am sitting here scribbling in my
study, long after the family are abed and asleep--a habit I have
fallen much into of late. Indeed, I never fagged more steadily with my
pen than I do at present. I have a long task in hand, which I am
anxious to finish, that I may have a little leisure in the brief
remnant of life that is left to me. However, I have a strong
presentiment that I shall die in harness; and I am content to do so,
provided I have the cheerful exercise of intellect to the last."

By this time some of his Western investments had begun to make
handsome returns. With an easy pocket, and a single congenial task for
his leisure, it seemed that Irving's last years were certain to be
peacefully rounded. Unfortunately his health did not hold; all his
former ailments came back upon him, and the "Life of Washington"
became an Old Man of the Sea, which one wishes heartily he might have
been rid of. A visit to Saratoga in the summer of 1852, and the
company of many pretty women, seemed for the moment to lift the years
from his shoulders. "No one seemed more unconscious of the celebrity
to which he had attained," wrote one of his Saratoga acquaintances,
long after. "In this there was not a particle of affectation. Nothing
he shrank from with greater earnestness and sincerity and (I may add)
pertinacity, than any attempt to lionize him." His name was used to
conjure with too often for his comfort. An "Irving Literary Union" had
been formed in New York. Irving's attitude toward it was amusing and
characteristic; he was always invited to attend the anniversary
meeting, always accepted, and always stayed away.

Events abroad continued to interest him. His sister had sent an
account from Paris of the marriage of Louis Napoleon. "Louis Napoleon
and Eugénie Montijo, Emperor and Empress of France!" he wrote. "One of
whom I have had a guest at my cottage on the Hudson; the other of
whom, when a child, I have had on my knee at Granada! It seems to cap
the climax of the strange dramas of which Paris has been the theatre
during my lifetime."

In 1855, "Wolfert's Roost" was published. Most of its contents had
figured years before in the "Knickerbocker Magazine." It is one of the
best of his miscellaneous collections, and should be better known to
the modern reader of Irving. Thereafter, his work was over, except for
the "Life of Washington," which was to appear in parts during the next
three years. Its merits were perhaps exaggerated at the time; to the
modern critic they lie chiefly in its possession of the lucid
simplicity of method without which its author could not write, and in
the life which it infuses into a cold abstraction. If this is not
Washington, it is at least a living and breathing person, whose
interest for us lies not altogether in his career.

These closing years were sadly clouded by sleeplessness and depression
of spirits, from which at times he roused himself to bursts of his old
brilliancy and humor. A year before his death he said to one of the
innumerable inquiries about his health, "I have a streak of old age.
Pity, when we have grown old, we could not turn round and grow young
again, and die of cutting our teeth." A few months later, when he had
begun to be troubled with difficulty of breathing, he had a long and
prosy letter from a total stranger, who proposed a call. "Oh, if he
could only give me his long wind," gasped Irving, "he should be most

We need not follow here the rather pitiful struggle of those last
months. "I do not fear death," said he, "but I would like to go down
with all sail set." The thoughts of the gradual loss of his faculties
haunted him with curious insistency. He conceived a dislike for his
own room, could not bear to be alone, and hung with pathetic eagerness
to the companionship of the few whom he held dearest. His fear was
groundless. To the end his mind remained clear; and on the 29th of
November, 1859, he "went down with all sail set."



One is tempted to ask himself, in concluding a review of this man's
life and work, what it was that he peculiarly stood for; what new kind
of excellence he brought into being, and how far it survived him.
Oddly enough, the accident of his birthplace is made at once his chief
merit, and the subtle derogation of that merit; he is the first
distinguished name in American letters, and he is "the American
Addison." From the outset one who wishes to study his work is hampered
by the fact of place. One must be always considering solemnly,
"Although he was an American, he succeeded in doing this," or,
"Because he was an American, he might have done that," till one is
fairly inclined to wish that his English parents had not happened to
marry and settle in New York. As a matter of fact, there are few
writers against whom the point of nationality may be pushed with less

It is plain that earlier American writing interests us only in a local
and guarded sense. The critical microscope discovers certain merits;
but the least shifting of the eye-piece throws the object out of
field. We value what these men wrote because of what they did as
Americans, or stood for in American life. Of Irving and a few later
writers this is not true. And our regard for them may lead us to
suspect that from the literary point of view, it is better to be great
than American; or at least that there is no formula to express the
ratio between a writer's Americanism and his literary power. The
historian esteems a flavor of nationality in literature; to the lover
of pure letters, it is only a superior sort of local color. Irving's
distinction is that he was the first prophet of pure letters in
America. This is to speak thickly; and it will not help matters
greatly to say that the mark of pure letters is style. The application
of that foggy term to such a writer as Irving is likely to be
particularly unfair; it has not been spared him. He has had more
praise for his style than for anything else; indeed, it has been
commonly suggested that there is little else to praise him for. This
is, of course, a survival of the old notion that style is a sort of
achievement in decorative art; that fine feathers may do much for the
literary bird, at least. The style of a writer like Irving--a mere
loiterer in the field of letters--is at best a creditable product of
artifice. To him even so much credit has not been always allowed; the
clever imitator of Addison--or, as some sager say, of Goldsmith--has
not even invented a manner; he has borrowed one.

Fortunately, novelty of form is a very different thing from literary
excellence. Irving wrote like a well-bred Englishman, brought up in
the sound traditions of the days of good Queen Anne. Whatever local
merit his work may have, belongs to theme rather than to treatment.
Its delicate humor is as far as possible from what has come to be
known as American humor. His only conscious Americanism in motive--to
speak of him merely as an artist--was to show England that "an
American could write decent English." At that time, it seems,
Englishmen considered this to be a good thing for an American to do;
and the poet Campbell's remark was thought to be high praise: that
Washington Irving had "added clarity to the English tongue." This was
a service of which the language just then stood sadly in need. There
are always men ready enough to make English turbid, to wreak their
ingenuity upon oddities of phrase and diction. At that moment,
certainly, the anxious courtier of words was not so much needed as the
easy autocrat, whose style, however cavalier, should have grace and
firmness and clarity to commend it. When Irving began to express
himself, there was very little straightforward simple writing being
done, either in America or in England. The stuffed buckram of
Johnsonese had been succeeded by the mincing hifalutin of Mrs. Anne
Radcliffe and her like. It is at least to Irving's credit that his
taste led him back half a century to the comparative simplicity and
purity of the prim Augustan style. But it is odd that it should have
been for this acquired manner that the world thought it liked him
while he lived, and has chiefly praised him since he died.

But after all, as was said of Milton in a different connection, Irving
has worn "the garb, but not the clothes, of the ancients." His kinship
to them in temper of thought and feeling was closer than his
resemblance in manner. Like Addison and Goldsmith, he wins his
audience through sheer charm of personality. To open one of his books
is like meeting a congenial stranger. You like his looks at first
glance, you feel somehow that he likes yours; and while you may be
hesitating about advances, he is at your side, and there is nothing
more to be said. You do not care whether he is American or English,
you are not particular what he talks about, but you do not willingly
part with him.

The charm of creative genius is less the charm of mind than of
feeling. And it is to feeling refined and colored by temperament, that
the more delicate modes of belles-lettres owe their whole power. That
is, a writer in this sort is admirable as he subdues language and
subordinates thought to his own temper, not as he gives elegant
utterance to thought or feeling in their abstracted and general
estate. Through a surface artificiality of style, which is far more
marked in his earliest work, and from which at times he quite escapes,
Irving's personality shines clearly. He has so employed a conventional
medium as to make it serve his original purposes. He possessed, to be
sure, a faculty of strong vernacular speech, which is little suggested
in his to-be-published writing, or even in his private letters. The
Oregon embroilment had led certain British journals into gross speech
about America. Irving was much disturbed. What he wrote was, "A
rancorous prejudice against us has been diligently inculcated of late
years by the British press, and it is daily producing its fruits of
bitterness." What he said was: "Bulwer,"--then English minister to
Spain,--"I should deplore exceedingly a war with England, for depend
upon it, if we must come to blows, it will be serious work for both.
You might break our head at first, but by Heaven! we would break your
back in the end!"

But one need not write in the vernacular to be sincere and effective;
personality may utter itself through different media, whether in
different tongues or in distinct strata of the same tongue. Just now
we have a bent toward colloquialism on paper; it was not the bent of
Irving's day.

As far as the external features of his style are concerned, he has had
praise enough, and more than enough. Clearness, ease, a certain Gallic
grace it has; the ink flows readily, the thing says itself without
crabbedness or constraint. On the other hand this ready writer is
often conventional; a set phrase contents him, why should he labor to
escape the usual formula? He knew nothing of the struggle or the
reward of the artist in words, who wrestles for the exact _nuance_,
and will not let a sentence go till he has obtained its blessing.
Consequently he is never finicking in his phraseology, and seldom
final. The subtle artfulness of Stevenson is beyond him; but he has a
rarer quality--that subtler artlessness which has belonged in some
measure to all the greater writers of sentiment. It is a quality
independent of the mechanics of writing; whether the author echoes the
syntax of Addison or the diction of Goldsmith is an indifferent
question. All that we know is that, through his use of words or in
spite of it, a new melody has come into being, a golden _motif_ which
is to ring in the world's ears nobody knows how long.

It seems idle to say of such a man that because he does not concern
himself with "the mystery of existence," and "the solemn eternities,"
he has nothing to say. Surely the simple-souled artist may leave such
matters for the philosophers and theologians to deal with. Surely his
"message" is as significant as theirs. Irving is admirable not mainly
because he "wrote beautifully," but because he said something which
no one else could say: he uttered the most meaning of all
messages--himself. And if literature is really a criticism of life,
such a message from such a man has, it would seem, dignity enough.

Evidently Irving, like Goldsmith and Oliver Wendell Holmes, owed his
amazing influence largely to his cheerful and wholesome
this-worldliness. He was a sentimentalist, but obviously different in
spirit from the two great English writers of sentiment who were most
nearly his contemporaries. Thackeray is sophisticated; fortune's
buffets have left him still a tender interest in life, but pity rather
than hopefulness gives color to his mood. Dickens's sentiment seldom
rings perfectly true; too often it is sharped to flippancy, or flatted
to mawkishness. The tone of Irving, in sentiment or in humor, is the
clear and even utterance of a healthy nature. It was a period of
sickly sentimentalism in which he began to write; men drew tears
frequently and mechanically then, as they drew corks. The
sentimentalist passed easily from broad mirth to unwinking pathos.
Fortunately that weakest mood of sentiment without humor came seldom
to Irving; he wrote only one "History of Margaret Nicholson."

It was his nature to be achingly considerate of others, so that he was
a better friend than critic; and he was as careful of their good
opinion as of their comfort. Always doubtful what treatment his work
would meet, and even what it deserved, he would ask his friends to say
nothing about it, unless they liked it. "One condemning whisper," said
one of them, "sounded louder in his ear than the plaudits of
thousands." Socially, on the other hand, he never had the least doubt
of himself. The tastes and manner of a gentleman did not need to be
acquired; there was no question of his fitness for any society. During
his whole career, thrown as he was into the choicest company of two
continents, there was evidently not the least suspicion of
embarrassment or awkwardness in his quiet bearing.

He was in the largest sense of the word a generous man; and even in
the smaller sense his generosity has distinction and significance.
Addison we know to have been a little on the hither side of
open-handedness. Goldsmith was by his own satirical confession the
"good-natured man," to whom giving was a conscious indulgence. Irving
was simply not aware that he gave; to share his best was a natural
function. And it is our sense of this, of being admitted as a matter
of course to share in all that he is and has, which largely explains
his delightfulness as man and author.

Citizen of the world as he was in his literary character, in practical
life his Americanism was real and potent. He deplored the War of 1812
and the war with Mexico, but believed firmly that it was no man's duty
to go back of the government's decision. In the conduct of his mission
to Spain he showed the utmost steadiness, loyalty, and self-possession
in many trying situations. He was, in short, a valuable citizen, to
whom honors came unsought, and who, out of office, and not desirous of
political power, was trusted by all parties, and tempted by none. The
mere existence of such a figure, calm, simple, incorruptible, honored
wherever he was known, and known prominently throughout Europe, was a
valuable stay to the young republic in that purgatorial first half of
the nineteenth century.

One fact about him will perhaps bear emphasis; that with all his
gentlenesses he was strong and firm and full of spirit. He was
susceptible to advice, yet nobody ever forced him to do a thing that
was against his mind or conscience. That he was amiable, congenial,
companionable--we do not forget these traits of his; we should
remember, too, that he never faced an emergency to which he did not
prove himself equal. His personal hold upon his contemporaries was
plainly due to the fact that their confidence in him as a man was as
perfect as their delight in him as an artist. What he did was, after
all, only a little part of what he was.

       *       *       *       *       *

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