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Title: Washington Irving
Author: Warner, Charles Dudley
Language: English
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By Charles Dudley Warner



WASHINGTON IRVING, the first biography published in the American Men
of Letters Series, came out in December, 1881. It was an expansion of a
biographical and critical sketch prefixed to the first volume of a new
edition of Irving’s works which began to appear in 1880. It was entitled
the Geoffrey Crayon edition, and was in twenty-seven volumes, which
were brought out, in most cases, in successive months. The first volume
appeared in April. The essay was subsequently published during the same
year in a volume entitled “Studies of Irving,” which contained also
Bryant’s oration and George P. Putnam’s personal reminiscences.

“The Work of Washington Irving” was published early in August, 1893.
Originally it was delivered as a lecture to the Brooklyn Institute
of Arts and Sciences on April 3, 1893, the one hundred and tenth
anniversary of Irving’s birth.

T. R. L.



It is over twenty years since the death of Washington Irving removed
that personal presence which is always a powerful, and sometimes the
sole, stimulus to the sale of an author’s books, and which strongly
affects the contemporary judgment of their merits. It is nearly a
century since his birth, which was almost coeval with that of the
Republic, for it took place the year the British troops evacuated
the city of New York, and only a few months before General Washington
marched in at the head of the Continental army and took possession
of the metropolis. For fifty years Irving charmed and instructed the
American people, and was the author who held, on the whole, the
first place in their affections. As he was the first to lift American
literature into the popular respect of Europe, so for a long time he was
the chief representative of the American name in the world of letters.
During this period probably no citizen of the Republic, except the
Father of his Country, had so wide a reputation as his namesake,
Washington Irving.

It is time to inquire what basis this great reputation had in
enduring qualities, what portion of it was due to local and favoring
circumstances, and to make an impartial study of the author’s literary
rank and achievement.

The tenure of a literary reputation is the most uncertain and
fluctuating of all. The popularity of an author seems to depend quite as
much upon fashion or whim as upon a change in taste or in literary
form. Not only is contemporary judgment often at fault, but posterity
is perpetually revising its opinion. We are accustomed to say that the
final rank of an author is settled by the slow consensus of mankind in
disregard of the critics; but the rank is after all determined by the
few best minds of any given age, and the popular judgment has very
little to do with it. Immediate popularity, or currency, is a nearly
valueless criterion of merit. The settling of high rank even in the
popular mind does not necessarily give currency; the so-called best
authors are not those most widely read at any given time. Some who
attain the position of classics are subject to variations in popular
and even in scholarly favor or neglect. It happens to the princes of
literature to encounter periods of varying duration when their names
are revered and their books are not read. The growth, not to say the
fluctuation, of Shakespeare’s popularity is one of the curiosities of
literary history. Worshiped by his contemporaries, apostrophized by
Milton only fourteen pears after his death as the “dear son of memory,
great heir to fame”,

    “So sepulchred in such pomp dost lie,
     That kings, for such a tomb, would wish to die,”

he was neglected by the succeeding age, the subject of violent extremes
of opinion in the eighteenth century, and so lightly esteemed by some
that Hume could doubt if he were a poet “capable of furnishing a proper
entertainment to a refined and intelligent audience,” and attribute to
the rudeness of his “disproportioned and misshapen” genius the “reproach
of barbarism” which the English nation had suffered from all its
neighbors. Only recently has the study of him by English scholars--I do
not refer to the verbal squabbles over the text--been proportioned to
his preeminence, and his fame is still slowly asserting itself among
foreign peoples.

There are already signs that we are not to accept as the final judgment
upon the English contemporaries of Irving the currency their writings
have now. In the case of Walter Scott, although there is already visible
a reaction against a reaction, he is not, at least in America, read by
this generation as he was by the last. This faint reaction is no doubt
a sign of a deeper change impending in philosophic and metaphysical
speculation. An age is apt to take a lurch in a body one way or another,
and those most active in it do not always perceive how largely its
direction is determined by what are called mere systems of philosophy.
The novelist may not know whether he is steered by Kant, or Hegel,
or Schopenhauer. The humanitarian novel, the fictions of passion, of
realism, of doubt, the poetry and the essays addressed to the mood of
unrest, of questioning, to the scientific spirit and to the shifting
attitudes of social change and reform, claim the attention of an age
that is completely adrift in regard to the relations of the supernatural
and the material, the ideal and the real. It would be natural if in such
a time of confusion the calm tones of unexaggerated literary art should
be not so much heeded as the more strident voices. Yet when the passing
fashion of this day is succeeded by the fashion of another, that which
is most acceptable to the thought and feeling of the present may be
without an audience; and it may happen that few recent authors will be
read as Scott and the writers of the early part of this century will be
read. It may, however, be safely predicted that those writers of fiction
worthy to be called literary artists will best retain their hold who
have faithfully painted the manners of their own time.

Irving has shared the neglect of the writers of his generation. It would
be strange, even in America, if this were not so. The development of
American literature (using the term in its broadest sense) in the past
forty years is greater than could have been expected in a nation which
had its ground to clear, its wealth to win, and its new governmental
experiment to adjust; if we confine our view to the last twenty years,
the national production is vast in amount and encouraging in quality.
It suffices to say of it here, in a general way, that the most vigorous
activity has been in the departments of history, of applied science, and
the discussion of social and economic problems. Although pure literature
has made considerable gains, the main achievement has been in other
directions. The audience of the literary artist has been less than
that of the reporter of affairs and discoveries and the special
correspondent. The age is too busy, too harassed, to have time for
literature; and enjoyment of writings like those of Irving depends upon
leisure of mind. The mass of readers have cared less for form than for
novelty and news and the satisfying of a recently awakened curiosity.
This was inevitable in an era of journalism, one marked by the marvelous
results attained in the fields of religion, science, and art, by
the adoption of the comparative method. Perhaps there is no better
illustration of the vigor and intellectual activity of the age than a
living English writer, who has traversed and illuminated almost every
province of modern thought, controversy, and scholarship; but who
supposes that Mr. Gladstone has added anything to permanent literature?
He has been an immense force in his own time, and his influence the
next generation will still feel and acknowledge, while it reads, not
the writings of Mr. Gladstone, but, maybe, those of the author of “Henry
Esmond” and the biographer of “Rab and His Friends.” De Quincey divides
literature into two sorts, the literature of power and the literature
of knowledge. The latter is of necessity for to-day only, and must be
revised to-morrow. The definition has scarcely De Quincey’s usual verbal
felicity, but we can apprehend the distinction he intended to make.

It is to be noted also, and not with regard to Irving only, that the
attention of young and old readers has been so occupied and distracted
by the flood of new books, written with the single purpose of satisfying
the wants of the day, produced and distributed with marvelous cheapness
and facility, that the standard works of approved literature remain for
the most part unread upon the shelves. Thirty years ago Irving was much
read in America by young people, and his clear style helped to form
a good taste and correct literary habits. It is not so now. The
manufacturers of books, periodicals, and newspapers for the young keep
the rising generation fully occupied, with a result to its taste and
mental fiber which, to say the least of it, must be regarded with some
apprehension. The “plant,” in the way of money and writing industry
invested in the production of juvenile literature, is so large and is
so permanent an interest, that it requires more discriminating
consideration than can be given to it in a passing paragraph.

Besides this, and with respect to Irving in particular, there has been
in America a criticism--sometimes called the destructive, sometimes the
Donnybrook Fair--that found “earnestness” the only amusing thing in the
world, that brought to literary art the test of utility, and disparaged
what is called the “Knickerbocker School” (assuming Irving to be the
head of it) as wanting in purpose and virility, a merely romantic
development of the post-Revolutionary period. And it has been to some
extent the fashion to damn with faint admiration the pioneer if not the
creator of American literature as the “genial” Irving.

Before I pass to an outline of the career of this representative
American author, it is necessary to refer for a moment to certain
periods, more or less marked, in our literature. I do not include in
it the works of writers either born in England or completely English in
training, method, and tradition, showing nothing distinctively American
in their writings except the incidental subject. The first authors whom
we may regard as characteristic of the new country--leaving out the
productions of speculative theology--devoted their genius to politics.
It is in the political writings immediately preceding and following the
Revolution--such as those of Hamilton, Madison, Jay, Franklin, Jefferson
that the new birth of a nation of original force and ideas is declared.
It has been said, and I think the statement can be maintained, that for
any parallel to those treatises on the nature of government, in
respect to originality and vigor, we must go back to classic times.
But literature, that is, literature which is an end in itself and not
a means to something else, did not exist in America before Irving.
Some foreshadowings (the autobiographical fragment of Franklin was not
published till 1817) of its coming may be traced, but there can be
no question that his writings were the first that bore the national
literary stamp, that he first made the nation conscious of its gift and
opportunity, and that he first announced to trans-Atlantic readers the
entrance of America upon the literary field. For some time he was our
only man of letters who had a reputation beyond seas.

Irving was not, however, the first American who made literature a
profession and attempted to live on its fruits. This distinction belongs
to Charles Brockden Brown, who was born in Philadelphia, January 27,
1771, and, before the appearance in a newspaper of Irving’s juvenile
essays in 1802, had published several romances, which were hailed
as original and striking productions by his contemporaries, and even
attracted attention in England. As late as 1820 a prominent British
review gives Mr. Brown the first rank in our literature as an original
writer and characteristically American. The reader of to-day who has the
curiosity to inquire into the correctness of this opinion will, if he
is familiar with the romances of the eighteenth century, find little
originality in Brown’s stories, and nothing distinctively American. The
figures who are moved in them seem to be transported from the pages of
foreign fiction to the New World, not as it was, but as it existed in
the minds of European sentimentalists.

Mr. Brown received a fair education in a classical school in his native
city, and studied law, which he abandoned on the threshold of practice,
as Irving did, and for the same reason. He had the genuine literary
impulse, which he obeyed against all the arguments and entreaties of his
friends. Unfortunately, with a delicate physical constitution he had a
mind of romantic sensibility, and in the comparative inaction imposed by
his frail health he indulged in visionary speculation, and in solitary
wanderings which developed the habit of sentimental musing. It was
natural that such reveries should produce morbid romances. The tone
of them is that of the unwholesome fiction of his time, in which the
“seducer” is a prominent and recognized character in social life, and
female virtue is the frail sport of opportunity. Brown’s own life was
fastidiously correct, but it is a curious commentary upon his estimate
of the natural power of resistance to vice in his time, that he regarded
his feeble health as good fortune, since it protected him from the
temptations of youth and virility.

While he was reading law he constantly exercised his pen in the
composition of essays, some of which were published under the title of
the “Rhapsodist;” but it was not until 1797 that his career as an
author began, by the publication of “Alcuin: a Dialogue on the Rights
of Women.” This and the romances which followed it show the powerful
influence upon him of the school of fiction of William Godwin, and the
movement of emancipation of which Mary Wollstonecraft was the leader.
The period of social and political ferment during which “Alcuin” was put
forth was not unlike that which may be said to have reached its height
in extravagance and millennial expectation in 1847-48. In “Alcuin” are
anticipated most of the subsequent discussions on the right of women
to property and to self-control, and the desirability of revising the
marriage relation. The injustice of any more enduring union than that
founded upon the inclination of the hour is as ingeniously urged in
“Alcuin” as it has been in our own day.

Mr. Brown’s reputation rests upon six romances: “Wieland,” “Ormond,”
 “Arthur Mervyn,” “Edgar Huntly,” “Clara Howard,” and “Jane Talbot.” The
first five were published in the interval between the spring of 1798
and the summer of 1801, in which he completed his thirtieth year.
“Jane Talbot” appeared somewhat later. In scenery and character,
these romances are entirely unreal. There is in them an affectation of
psychological purpose which is not very well sustained, and a somewhat
clumsy introduction of supernatural machinery. Yet they have a power of
engaging the attention in the rapid succession of startling and
uncanny incidents and in adventures in which the horrible is sometimes
dangerously near the ludicrous. Brown had not a particle of humor. Of
literary art there is little, of invention considerable; and while the
style is to a certain extent unformed and immature, it is neither feeble
nor obscure, and admirably serves the author’s purpose of creating what
the children call a “crawly” impression. There is undeniable power in
many of his scenes, notably in the descriptions of the yellow fever
in Philadelphia, found in the romance of “Arthur Mervyn.” There is,
however, over all of them a false and pallid light; his characters are
seen in a spectral atmosphere. If a romance is to be judged, not by
literary rules, but by its power of making an impression upon the mind,
such power as a ghastly story has, told by the chimney-corner on a
tempestuous night, then Mr. Brown’s romances cannot be dismissed without
a certain recognition. But they never represented anything distinctively
American, and their influence upon American literature is scarcely

Subsequently Mr. Brown became interested in political subjects, and
wrote upon them with vigor and sagacity. He was the editor of two
short-lived literary periodicals which were nevertheless useful in their
day: “The Monthly Magazine and American Review,” begun in New York in
the spring of 1798, and ending in the autumn of 1800; and “The Literary
Magazine and American Register,” which was established in Philadelphia
in 1803--It was for this periodical that Mr. Brown, who visited Irving
in that year, sought in vain to enlist the service of the latter, who,
then a youth of nineteen, had a little reputation as the author of some
humorous essays in the “Morning Chronicle” newspaper.

Charles Brockden Brown died, the victim of a lingering consumption,
in 1810, at the age of thirty-nine. In pausing for a moment upon his
incomplete and promising career, we should not forget to recall the
strong impression he made upon his contemporaries as a man of genius,
the testimony to the charm of his conversation and the goodness of
his heart, nor the pioneer service he rendered to letters before the
provincial fetters were at all loosened.

The advent of Cooper, Bryant, and Halleck was some twenty years after
the recognition of Irving; but thereafter the stars thicken in our
literary sky, and when in 1832 Irving returned from his long sojourn in
Europe, he found an immense advance in fiction, poetry, and historical
composition. American literature was not only born,--it was able to go
alone. We are not likely to overestimate the stimulus to this movement
given by Irving’s example, and by his success abroad. His leadership
is recognized in the respectful attitude towards him of all his
contemporaries in America. And the cordiality with which he gave help
whenever it was asked, and his eagerness to acknowledge merit in others,
secured him the affection of all the literary class, which is popularly
supposed to have a rare appreciation of the defects of fellow craftsmen.

The period from 1830 to 1860 was that of our greatest purely literary
achievement, and, indeed, most of the greater names of to-day were
familiar before 1850. Conspicuous exceptions are Motley and Parkman and
a few belles-lettres writers, whose novels and stories mark a distinct
literary transition since the War of the Rebellion. In the period from
1845 to 1860, there was a singular development of sentimentalism; it had
been, growing before, it did not altogether disappear at the time
named, and it was so conspicuous that this may properly be called the
sentimental era in our literature. The causes of it, and its relation to
our changing national character, are worthy the study of the historian.
In politics, the discussion of constitutional questions, of tariffs and
finance, had given way to moral agitations. Every political movement was
determined by its relation to slavery. Eccentricities of all sorts were
developed. It was the era of “transcendentalism” in New England, of
“come-outers” there and elsewhere, of communistic experiments, of reform
notions about marriage, about woman’s dress, about diet; through the
open door of abolitionism women appeared upon its platform, demanding
a various emancipation; the agitation for total abstinence from
intoxicating drinks got under full headway, urged on moral rather than
on the statistical and scientific grounds of to-day; reformed drunkards
went about from town to town depicting to applauding audiences the
horrors of delirium tremens,--one of these peripatetics led about with
him a goat, perhaps as a scapegoat and sin-offering; tobacco was as
odious as rum; and I remember that George Thompson, the eloquent apostle
of emancipation, during his tour in this country, when on one occasion
he was the cynosure of a protracted anti-slavery meeting at Peterboro,
the home of Gerrit Smith, deeply offended some of his co-workers, and
lost the admiration of many of his admirers, the maiden devotees of
green tea, by his use of snuff. To “lift up the voice” and wear long
hair were signs of devotion to a purpose.

In that seething time, the lighter literature took a sentimental tone,
and either spread itself in manufactured fine writing, or lapsed into a
reminiscent and melting mood. In a pretty affectation, we were asked to
meditate upon the old garret, the deserted hearth, the old letters, the
old well-sweep, the dead baby, the little shoes; we were put into a mood
in which we were defenseless against the lukewarm flood of the Tupperean
Philosophy. Even the newspapers caught the bathetic tone. Every “local”
 editor breathed his woe over the incidents of the police court, the
falling leaf, the tragedies of the boardinghouse, in the most lachrymose
periods he could command, and let us never lack fine writing, whatever
might be the dearth of news. I need not say how suddenly and completely
this affectation was laughed out of sight by the coming of the
“humorous” writer, whose existence is justified by the excellent service
he performed in clearing the tearful atmosphere. His keen and mocking
method, which is quite distinct from the humor of Goldsmith and Irving,
and differs, in degree at least, from the comic-almanac exaggeration and
coarseness which preceded it, puts its foot on every bud of sentiment,
holds few things sacred, and refuses to regard anything in life
seriously. But it has no mercy for any sham.

I refer to this sentimental era--remembering that its literary
manifestation was only a surface disease, and recognizing fully
the value of the great moral movement in purifying the national
life--because many regard its literary weakness as a legitimate
outgrowth of the Knickerbocker School, and hold Irving in a manner
responsible for it. But I find nothing in the manly sentiment and true
tenderness of Irving to warrant the sentimental gush of his followers,
who missed his corrective humor as completely as they failed to
catch his literary art. Whatever note of localism there was in the
Knickerbocker School, however dilettante and unfruitful it was, it was
not the legitimate heir of the broad and eclectic genius of Irving. The
nature of that genius we shall see in his life.


Washington Irving was born in the city of New York, April 3, 1783. He
was the eighth son of William and Sarah Irving, and the youngest of
eleven children, three of whom died in infancy. His parents, though of
good origin, began life in humble circumstances. His father was born
on the island of Shapinska. His family, one of the most respectable in
Scotland, traced its descent from William De Irwyn, the secretary and
armorbearer of Robert Bruce; but at the time of the birth of William
Irving its fortunes had gradually decayed, and the lad sought his
livelihood, according to the habit of the adventurous Orkney Islanders,
on the sea.

It was during the French War, and while he was serving as a petty
officer in an armed packet plying between Falmouth and New York, that he
met Sarah Sanders, a beautiful girl, the only daughter of John and
Anna Sanders, who had the distinction of being the granddaughter of an
English curate. The youthful pair were married in 1761, and two years
after embarked for New York, where they landed July 18, 1763. Upon
settling in New York William Irving quit the sea and took to trade,
in which he was successful until his business was broken up by the
Revolutionary War. In this contest he was a stanch Whig, and suffered
for his opinions at the hands of the British occupants of the city, and
both he and his wife did much to alleviate the misery of the American
prisoners. In this charitable ministry his wife, who possessed a rarely
generous and sympathetic nature, was especially zealous, supplying the
prisoners with food from her own table, visiting those who were ill, and
furnishing them with clothing and other necessaries.

Washington was born in a house on William Street, about half-way between
Fulton and John; the following year the family moved across the way
into one of the quaint structures of the time, its gable end with attic
window towards the street; the fashion of which, and very likely the
bricks, came from Holland. In this homestead the lad grew up, and it was
not pulled down till 1849, ten years before his death. The patriot army
occupied the city. “Washington’s work is ended,” said the mother, “and
the child shall be named after him.” When the first President was again
in New York, the first seat of the new government, a Scotch maid-servant
of the family, catching the popular enthusiasm, one day followed the
hero into a shop and presented the lad to him. “Please, your honor,”
 said Lizzie, all aglow, “here’s a bairn was named after you.” And the
grave Virginian placed his hand on the boy’s head and gave him his
blessing. The touch could not have been more efficacious, though it
might have lingered longer, if he had known he was propitiating his
future biographer.

New York at the time of our author’s birth was a rural city of about
twenty-three thousand inhabitants, clustered about the Battery. It did
not extend northward to the site of the present City Hall Park; and
beyond, then and for several years afterwards, were only country
residences, orchards, and corn-fields. The city was half burned down
during the war, and had emerged from it in a dilapidated condition.
There was still a marked separation between the Dutch and the English
residents, though the Irvings seem to have been on terms of intimacy
with the best of both nationalities. The habits of living were
primitive; the manners were agreeably free; conviviality at the table
was the fashion, and strong expletives had not gone out of use in
conversation. Society was the reverse of intellectual: the aristocracy
were the merchants and traders; what literary culture found expression
was formed on English models, dignified and plentifully garnished
with Latin and Greek allusions; the commercial spirit ruled, and the
relaxations and amusements partook of its hurry and excitement. In their
gay, hospitable, and mercurial character, the inhabitants were true
progenitors of the present metropolis. A newspaper had been established
in 1732, and a theater had existed since 1750. Although the town had a
rural aspect, with its quaint dormer-window houses, its straggling lanes
and roads, and the water-pumps in the middle of the streets, it had the
aspirations of a city, and already much of the metropolitan air.

These were the surroundings in which the boy’s literary talent was to
develop. His father was a deacon in the Presbyterian church, a sedate,
God-fearing man, with the strict severity of the Scotch Covenanter,
serious in his intercourse with his family, without sympathy in the
amusements of his children; he was not without tenderness in his nature,
but the exhibition of it was repressed on principle,--a man of high
character and probity, greatly esteemed by his associates. He endeavored
to bring up his children in sound religious principles, and to leave no
room in their lives for triviality. One of the two weekly half-holidays
was required for the catechism, and the only relaxation from the three
church services on Sunday was the reading of “Pilgrim’s Progress.” This
cold and severe discipline at home would have been intolerable but for
the more lovingly demonstrative and impulsive character of the mother,
whose gentle nature and fine intellect won the tender veneration of
her children. Of the father they stood in awe; his conscientious piety
failed to waken any religious sensibility in them, and they revolted
from a teaching which seemed to regard everything that was pleasant
as wicked. The mother, brought up an Episcopalian, conformed to the
religious forms and worship of her husband, but she was never in
sympathy with his rigid views. The children were repelled from the creed
of their father, and subsequently all of them except one became attached
to the Episcopal Church. Washington, in order to make sure of his
escape, and feel safe while he was still constrained to attend his
father’s church, went stealthily to Trinity Church at an early age,
and received the rite of confirmation. The boy was full of vivacity,
drollery, and innocent mischief. His sportiveness and disinclination to
religious seriousness gave his mother some anxiety, and she would
look at him, says his biographer, with a half-mournful admiration, and
exclaim, “O Washington! if you were only good!” He had a love of
music, which became later in life a passion, and great fondness for the
theater. The stolen delight of the theater he first tasted in company
with a boy who was somewhat his senior, but destined to be his literary
comrade,--James K. Paulding, whose sister was the wife of Irving’s
brother William. Whenever he could afford this indulgence, he stole
away early to the theater in John Street, remained until it was time to
return to the family prayers at nine, after which he would retire to
his room, slip through his window and down the roof to a back alley, and
return to enjoy the after-piece.

Young Irving’s school education was desultory, pursued under several
more or less incompetent masters, and was over at the age of sixteen.
The teaching does not seem to have had much discipline or solidity;
he studied Latin a few months, but made no other incursion into the
classics. The handsome, tender-hearted, truthful, susceptible boy was no
doubt a dawdler in routine studies, but he assimilated what suited him.
He found his food in such pieces of English literature as were floating
about, in “Robinson Crusoe” and “Sindbad;” at ten he was inspired by
a translation of “Orlando Furioso;” he devoured books of voyages and
travel; he could turn a neat verse, and his scribbling propensities were
exercised in the composition of childish plays. The fact seems to be
that the boy was a dreamer and saunterer; he himself says that he
used to wander about the pier heads in fine weather, watch the ships
departing on long voyages, and dream of going to the ends of the earth.
His brothers Peter and John had been sent to Columbia College, and it is
probable that Washington would have had the same advantage if he had
not shown a disinclination to methodical study. At the age of sixteen he
entered a law office, but he was a heedless student, and never acquired
either a taste for the profession or much knowledge of law. While he sat
in the law office, he read literature, and made considerable progress
in his self-culture; but he liked rambling and society quite as well
as books. In 1798 we find him passing a summer holiday in Westchester
County, and exploring with his gun the Sleepy Hollow region which he
was afterwards to make an enchanted realm; and in 1800 he made his
first voyage up the Hudson, the beauties of which he was the first
to celebrate, on a visit to a married sister who lived in the Mohawk
Valley. In 1802 he became a law clerk in the office of Josiah Ogden
Hoffman, and began that enduring intimacy with the refined and charming
Hoffman family which was so deeply to influence all his life. His health
had always been delicate, and his friends were now alarmed by symptoms
of pulmonary weakness. This physical disability no doubt had much to do
with his disinclination to severe study. For the next two or three years
much time was consumed in excursions up the Hudson and the Mohawk,
and in adventurous journeys as far as the wilds of Ogdensburg and to
Montreal, to the great improvement of his physical condition, and in
the enjoyment of the gay society of Albany, Schenectady, Ballston, and
Saratoga Springs. These explorations and visits gave him material for
future use, and exercised his pen in agreeable correspondence; but his
tendency at this time, and for several years afterwards, was to the idle
life of a man of society. Whether the literary impulse which was born
in him would have ever insisted upon any but an occasional and fitful
expression, except for the necessities of his subsequent condition, is

Irving’s first literary publication was a series of letters, signed
Jonathan Oldstyle, contributed in 1802 to the “Morning Chronicle,” a
newspaper then recently established by his brother Peter. The attention
that these audacious satires of the theater, the actors, and their
audience attracted is evidence of the literary poverty of the period.
The letters are open imitations of the “Spectator” and the “Tatler,”
 and, although sharp upon local follies, are of no consequence at present
except as foreshadowing the sensibility and quiet humor of the future
author, and his chivalrous devotion to woman. What is worthy of note
is that a boy of nineteen should turn aside from his caustic satire
to protest against the cruel and unmanly habit of jesting at ancient
maidens. It was enough for him that they are women, and possess the
strongest claim upon our admiration, tenderness, and protection.


Irving’s health, always delicate, continued so much impaired when he
came of age, in 1804., that his brothers determined to send him to
Europe. On the 19th of May he took passage for Bordeaux in a sailing
vessel, which reached the mouth of the Garonne on the 25th of June. His
consumptive appearance when he went on board caused the captain to say
to himself, “There’s a chap who will go overboard before we get across;”
 but his condition was much improved by the voyage.

He stayed six weeks at Bordeaux to improve himself in the language, and
then set out for the Mediterranean. In the diligence he had some merry
companions, and the party amused itself on the way. It was their habit
to stroll about the towns in which they stopped, and talk with whomever
they met. Among his companions was a young French officer and an
eccentric, garrulous doctor from America. At Tonneins, on the Garonne,
they entered a house where a number of girls were quilting. The girls
gave Irving a needle and set him to work. He could not understand their
patois, and they could not comprehend his bad French, and they got on
very merrily. At last the little doctor told them that the interesting
young man was an English prisoner whom the French officer had in
custody. Their merriment at once gave place to pity. “Ah! le pauvre
garcon!” said one to another; “he is merry, however, in all his
trouble.” “And what will they do with him?” asked a young woman. “Oh,
nothing of consequence,” replied the doctor; “perhaps shoot him, or cut
off his head.” The good souls were much distressed; they brought him
wine, loaded his pockets with fruit, and bade him good-by with a hundred
benedictions. Over forty years after, Irving made a detour, on his way
from Madrid to Paris, to visit Tonneins, drawn thither solely by the
recollection of this incident, vaguely hoping perhaps to apologize to
the tender-hearted villagers for the imposition. His conscience had
always pricked him for it. “It was a shame,” he said, “to leave them
with such painful impressions.” The quilting party had dispersed by that
time. “I believe I recognized the house,” he says; “and I saw two or
three old women who might once have formed part of the merry group
of girls; but I doubt whether they recognized, in the stout elderly
gentleman, thus rattling in his carriage through their streets, the pale
young English prisoner of forty years since.”

Bonaparte was emperor. The whole country was full of suspicion. The
police suspected the traveler, notwithstanding his passport, of being
an Englishman and a spy, and dogged him at every step. He arrived at
Avignon, full of enthusiasm at the thought of seeing the tomb of
Laura. “Judge of my surprise,” he writes, “my disappointment, and my
indignation, when I was told that the church, tomb, and all were utterly
demolished in the time of the Revolution. Never did the Revolution,
its authors and its consequences, receive a more hearty and sincere
execration than at that moment. Throughout the whole of my journey I
had found reason to exclaim against it for depriving me of some
valuable curiosity or celebrated monument, but this was the severest
disappointment it had yet occasioned.” This view of the Revolution is
very characteristic of Irving, and perhaps the first that would occur
to a man of letters. The journey was altogether disagreeable, even to
a traveler used to the rough jaunts in an American wilderness: the inns
were miserable; dirt, noise, and insolence reigned without control. But
it never was our author’s habit to stroke the world the wrong way: “When
I cannot get a dinner to suit my taste, I endeavor to get a taste to
suit my dinner.” And he adds: “There is nothing I dread more 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.’”

The traveler was detained at Marseilles, and five weeks at Nice, on one
or another frivolous pretext of the police, and did not reach Genoa till
the 20th of October. At Genoa there was a delightful society, and
Irving seems to have been more attracted by that than by the historical
curiosities. His health was restored, and his spirits recovered
elasticity in the genial hospitality; he was surrounded by friends to
whom he became so much attached that it was with pain he parted from
them. The gayety of city life, the levees of the Doge, and the balls,
were not unattractive to the handsome young man; but what made Genoa
seem like home to him was his intimacy with a few charming families,
among whom he mentions those of Mrs. Bird, Madame Gabriac, and Lady
Shaftesbury. From the latter he experienced the most cordial and
unreserved friendship; she greatly interested herself in his future, and
furnished him with letters from herself and the nobility to persons of
the first distinction in Florence, Rome, and Naples.

Late in December Irving sailed for Sicily in a Genoese packet. Off the
island of Planoca it was overpowered and captured by a little picaroon,
with lateen sails and a couple of guns, and a most villainous crew, in
poverty-stricken garments, rusty cutlasses in their hands and stilettos
and pistols stuck in their waistbands. The pirates thoroughly ransacked
the vessel, opened all the trunks and portmanteaus, but found little
that they wanted except brandy and provisions. In releasing the vessel,
the ragamuffins seem to have had a touch of humor, for they gave the
captain a “receipt” for what they had taken, and an order on the British
consul at Messina to pay for the same. This old-time courtesy was hardly
appreciated at the moment.

Irving passed a couple of months in Sicily, exploring with some
thoroughness the ruins, and making several perilous inland trips, for
the country was infested by banditti. One journey from Syracuse through
the center of the island revealed more wretchedness than Irving supposed
existed in the world. The half-starved peasants lived in wretched cabins
and often in caverns, amid filth and vermin. “God knows my mind never
suffered so much as on this journey,” he writes, “when I saw such
scenes of want and misery continually before me, without the power of
effectually relieving them.” His stay in the ports was made agreeable by
the officers of American ships cruising in those waters. Every ship
was a home, and every officer a friend. He had a boundless capacity for
good-fellowship. At Messina he chronicles the brilliant spectacle of
Lord Nelson’s fleet passing through the straits in search of the French
fleet that had lately got out of Toulon. In less than a year Nelson’s
young admirer was one of the thousands that pressed to see the remains
of the great admiral as they lay in state at Greenwich, wrapped in the
flag that had floated at the masthead of the Victory.

From Sicily he passed over to Naples in a fruit boat which dodged the
cruisers, and reached Rome the last of March. Here he remained several
weeks, absorbed by the multitudinous attractions. In Italy the worlds of
music and painting were for the first time opened to him. Here he
made the acquaintance of Washington Allston, and the influence of this
friendship came near changing the whole course of his life. To return
home to the dry study of the law was not a pleasing prospect; the
masterpieces of art, the serenity of the sky, the nameless charm which
hangs about an Italian landscape, and Allston’s enthusiasm as an artist,
nearly decided him to remain in Rome and adopt the profession of a
painter. But after indulging in this dream, it occurred to him that it
was not so much a natural aptitude for the art as the lovely scenery and
Allston’s companionship that had attracted him to it. He saw something
of Roman society; Torlonia the banker was especially assiduous in his
attentions. It turned out when Irving came to make his adieus that
Torlonia had all along supposed him a relative of General Washington.
This mistake is offset by another that occurred later, after Irving had
attained some celebrity in England. An English lady passing through an
Italian gallery with her daughter stopped before a bust of Washington.
The daughter said, “Mother, who was Washington?” “Why, my dear, don’t
you know?” was the astonished reply. “He wrote the ‘Sketch-Book.’” It
was at the house of Baron von Humboldt, the Prussian minister, that
Irving first met Madame de Stael, who was then enjoying the celebrity
of “Delphine.” He was impressed with her strength of mind, and somewhat
astounded at the amazing flow of her conversation, and the question upon
question with which she plied him.

In May the wanderer was in Paris, and remained there four months,
studying French and frequenting the theaters with exemplary regularity.
Of his life in Paris there are only the meagerest reports, and he
records no observations upon political affairs. The town fascinated
him more than any other in Europe; he notes that the city is rapidly
beautifying under the emperor, that the people seem gay and happy, and
‘Vive la bagatelle!’ is again the burden of their song. His excuse for
remissness in correspondence was, “I am a young man and in Paris.”

By way of the Netherlands he reached London in October, and remained in
England till January. The attraction in London seems to have been the
theater, where he saw John Kemble, Cooke, and Mrs. Siddons. Kemble’s
acting seemed to him too studied and over-labored; he had the
disadvantage of a voice lacking rich bass tones. Whatever he did was
judiciously conceived and perfectly executed; it satisfied the head, but
rarely touched the heart. Only in the part of Zanga was the young critic
completely overpowered by his acting,--Kemble seemed to have forgotten
himself. Cooke, who had less range than Kemble, completely satisfied
Irving as Iago. Of Mrs. Siddons, who was then old, he scarcely dares to
give his impressions lest he should be thought extravagant. “Her looks,”
 he says, “her voice; her gestures, delighted me. She penetrated in a
moment to my heart. She froze and melted it by turns; a glance of her
eye, a start, an exclamation, thrilled through my whole frame. The more
I see her, the more I admire her. I hardly breathe while she is on the
stage. She works up my feelings till I am like a mere child.” Some years
later, after the publication of the “Sketch-Book,” in a London assembly
Irving was presented to the tragedy queen, who had left the stage, but
had not laid aside its stately manner. She looked at him a moment, and
then in a deep-toned voice slowly enunciated, “You’ve made me weep.”
 The author was so disconcerted that he said not a word, and retreated
in confusion. After the publication of “Bracebridge Hall” he met her
in company again, and was persuaded to go through the ordeal of another
presentation. The stately woman fixed her eyes on him as before, and
slowly said, “You ‘ve made me weep again.” This time the bashful author
acquitted himself with more honor.

This first sojourn abroad was not immediately fruitful in a literary
way, and need not further detain us. It was the irresolute pilgrimage of
a man who had not yet received his vocation. Everywhere he was received
in the best society, and the charm of his manner and his ingenuous
nature made him everywhere a favorite. He carried that indefinable
passport which society recognizes and which needs no ‘visee.’ He saw
the people who were famous, the women whose recognition is a social
reputation; he made many valuable friends; he frequented the theater,
he indulged his passion for the opera; he learned how to dine, and
to appreciate the delights of a brilliant salon; he was picking up
languages; he was observing nature and men, and especially women. That
he profited by his loitering experience is plain enough afterward, but
thus far there is little to prophesy that Irving would be anything more
in life than a charming ‘flaneur.’


On Irving’s return to America in February, 1806, with reestablished
health, life did not at first take on a more serious purpose. He was
admitted to the bar, but he still halted.--[Irving once illustrated
his legal acquirements at this time by the relation of the following
anecdote to his nephew: Josiah Ogden Hoffman and Martin Wilkins, an
effective and witty advocate, had been appointed to examine students for
admission. One student acquitted himself very lamely, and at the supper
which it was the custom for the candidates to give to the examiners,
when they passed upon their several merits, Hoffman paused in coming to
this one, and turning to Wilkins said, as if in hesitation, “though
all the while intending to admit him, Martin, I think he knows a little
law.”--“Make it stronger, Jo,” was the reply; “d----d little.”]--Society
more than ever attracted him and devoured his time. He willingly
accepted the office of “champion at the tea-parties;” he was one of
a knot of young fellows of literary tastes and convivial habits, who
delighted to be known as “The Nine Worthies,” or “Lads of Kilkenny.” In
his letters of this period I detect a kind of callowness and affectation
which is not discernible in his foreign letters and journal.

These social worthies had jolly suppers at the humble taverns of the
city, and wilder revelries in an old country house on the Passaic,
which is celebrated in the “Salmagundi” papers as Cockloft Hall. We are
reminded of the change of manners by a letter of Mr. Paulding, one of
his comrades, written twenty years after, who recalls to mind the keeper
of a porter house, “who whilom wore a long coat, in the pockets whereof
he jingled two bushels of sixpenny pieces, and whose daughter played
the piano to the accompaniment of broiled oysters.” There was some
affectation of roistering in all this; but it was a time of social
good-fellowship, and easy freedom of manners in both sexes. At the
dinners there was much sentimental and bacchanalian singing; it was
scarcely good manners not to get a little tipsy; and to be laid under
the table by the compulsory bumper was not to the discredit of a guest.
Irving used to like to repeat an anecdote of one of his early friends,
Henry Ogden, who had been at one of these festive meetings. He told
Irving the next day that in going home he had fallen through a grating
which had been carelessly left open, into a vault beneath. The solitude,
he said, was rather dismal at first, but several other of the guests
fell in, in the course of the evening, and they had, on the whole, a
pleasant night of it.

These young gentlemen liked to be thought “sad dogs.” That they were
less abandoned than they pretended to be the sequel of their lives
shows among Irving’s associates at this time who attained honorable
consideration were John and Gouverneur Kemble, Henry Brevoort, Henry
Ogden, James K. Paulding, and Peter Irving. The saving influence for all
of them was the refined households they frequented and the association
of women who were high-spirited without prudery, and who united purity
and simplicity with wit, vivacity, and charm of manner. There is some
pleasant correspondence between Irving and Miss Mary Fairlie, a belle of
the time, who married the tragedian, Thomas A. Cooper; the “fascinating
Fairlie,” as Irving calls her, and the Sophie Sparkle of the
“Salmagundi.” Irving’s susceptibility to the charms and graces of
women--a susceptibility which continued always fresh--was tempered and
ennobled by the most chivalrous admiration for the sex as a whole.
He placed them on an almost romantic pinnacle, and his actions always
conformed to his romantic ideal, although in his writings he sometimes
adopts the conventional satire which was more common fifty years ago
than now. In a letter to Miss Fairlie, written from Richmond, where he
was attending the trial of Aaron Burr, he expresses his exalted opinion
of the sex. It was said in accounting for the open sympathy of the
ladies with the prisoner that Burr had always been a favorite with them;
“but I am not inclined,” he writes, “to account for it in so illiberal
a manner; it results from that merciful, that heavenly disposition,
implanted in the female bosom, which ever inclines in favor of the
accused and the unfortunate. You will smile at the high strain in which
I have indulged; believe me, it is because I feel it; and I love your
sex ten times better than ever.”--[An amusing story in connection
with this Richmond visit illustrates the romantic phase of Irving’s
character. Cooper, who was playing at the theater, needed small-clothes
for one of his parts; Irving lent him a pair,--knee breeches being still
worn,--and the actor carried them off to Baltimore. From that city he
wrote that he had found in the pocket an emblem of love, a mysterious
locket of hair in the shape of a heart. The history of it is curious:
when Irving sojourned at Genoa, he was much taken with the beauty of a
young Italian lady, the wife of a Frenchman. He had never spoken with
her, but one evening before his departure he picked up from the floor
her handkerchief which she had dropped, and with more gallantry than
honesty carried it off to Sicily. His pocket was picked of the precious
relic while he was attending a religious function in Catania, and he
wrote to his friend Storm, the consul at Genoa, deploring his loss. The
consul communicated the sad misfortune to the lovely Bianca, for that
was the lady’s name, who thereupon sent him a lock of her hair, with the
request that he would come to see her on his return. He never saw her
again, but the lock of hair was inclosed in a locket and worn about
his neck, in memory of a radiant vision that had crossed his path and

Personally, Irving must have awakened a reciprocal admiration. A drawing
by Vanderlyn, made in Paris in 1805, and a portrait by Jarvis in 1809,
present him to us in the fresh bloom of manly beauty. The face has an
air of distinction and gentle breeding; the refined lines, the poetic
chin, the sensitive mouth, the shapely nose, the large dreamy eyes, the
intellectual forehead, and the clustering brown locks are our ideal
of the author of the “Sketch-Book” and the pilgrim in Spain. His
biographer, Mr. Pierre M. Irving, has given no description of his
appearance; but a relative, who saw much of our author in his latter
years, writes to me: “He had dark gray eyes; a handsome straight nose,
which might perhaps be called large; a broad, high, full forehead, and
a small mouth. I should call him of medium height, about five feet eight
and a half to nine inches, and inclined to be a trifle stout. There
was no peculiarity about his voice; but it was pleasant and had a good
intonation. His smile was exceedingly genial, lighting up his whole
face and rendering it very attractive; while, if he were about to say
anything humorous, it would beam forth from his eyes even before the
words were spoken. As a young man his face was exceedingly handsome,
and his head was well covered with dark hair; but from my earliest
recollection of him he wore neither whiskers nor moustache, but a
dark brown wig, which, although it made him look younger, concealed a
beautifully shaped head.” We can understand why he was a favorite in the
society of Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia, and Albany, as well
as of New York, and why he liked to linger here and there, sipping the
social sweets, like a man born to leisure and seemingly idle observation
of life.

It was in the midst of these social successes, and just after his
admission to the bar, that Irving gave the first decided evidence of the
choice of a career. This was his association with his eldest brother,
William, and Paulding in the production of “Salmagundi,” a semimonthly
periodical, in small duodecimo sheets, which ran with tolerable
regularity through twenty numbers, and stopped in full tide of success,
with the whimsical indifference to the public which had characterized
its every issue. Its declared purpose was “simply to instruct the young,
reform the old, correct the town, and castigate the age.” In manner and
purpose it was an imitation of the “Spectator” and the “Citizen of the
World,” and it must share the fate of all imitations; but its wit
was not borrowed, and its humor was to some extent original; and so
perfectly was it adapted to local conditions that it may be profitably
read to-day as a not untrue reflection of the manners and spirit of
the time and city. Its amusing audacity and complacent superiority, the
mystery hanging about its writers, its affectation of indifference to
praise or profit, its fearless criticism, lively wit, and irresponsible
humor, piqued, puzzled, and delighted the town. From the first it was
an immense success; it had a circulation in other cities, and many
imitations of it sprung up. Notwithstanding many affectations and
puerilities it is still readable to Americans. Of course, if it were
offered now to the complex and sophisticated society of New York, it
would fail to attract anything like the attention it received in the
days of simplicity and literary dearth; but the same wit, insight,
and literary art, informed with the modern spirit and turned upon the
follies and “whim-whams” of the metropolis, would doubtless have a great
measure of success. In Irving’s contributions to it may be traced the
germs of nearly everything that he did afterwards; in it he tried the
various stops of his genius; he discovered his own power; his career was
determined; thereafter it was only a question of energy or necessity.

In the summer of 1808 there were printed at Ballston-Spa--then the
resort of fashion and the arena of flirtation--seven numbers of a
duodecimo bagatelle in prose and verse, entitled “The Literary Picture
Gallery and Admonitory Epistles to the Visitors of Ballston-Spa, by
Simeon Senex, Esquire.” This piece of summer nonsense is not referred to
by any writer who has concerned himself about Irving’s life, but
there is reason to believe that he was a contributor to it, if not
the editor.--[For these stray reminders of the old-time gayety of
Ballston-Spa, I am indebted to J. Carson Brevoort, Esq., whose father
was Irving’s most intimate friend, and who told him that Irving had a
hand in them.]

In these yellow pages is a melancholy reflection of the gayety and
gallantry of the Sans Souci Hotel seventy years ago. In this “Picture
Gallery,” under the thin disguise of initials, are the portraits of
well-known belles of New York whose charms of person and graces of mind
would make the present reader regret his tardy advent into this world,
did not the “Admonitory Epistles,” addressed to the same sex, remind
him that the manners of seventy years ago left much to be desired. In
respect of the habit of swearing, “Simeon” advises “Myra” that if ladies
were to confine themselves to a single round oath, it would be quite
sufficient; and he objects, when he is at the public table, to the
conduct of his neighbor who carelessly took up “Simeon’s” fork and used
it as a toothpick. All this, no doubt, passed for wit in the beginning
of the century. Punning, broad satire, exaggerated compliment, verse
which has love for its theme and the “sweet bird of Venus” for its
object, an affectation of gallantry and of ennui, with anecdotes
of distinguished visitors, out of which the screaming fun has quite
evaporated, make up the staple of these faded mementos of an ancient
watering-place. Yet how much superior is our comedy of to-day? The
beauty and the charms of the women of two generations ago exist only
in tradition; perhaps we should give to the wit of that time equal
admiration if none of it had been preserved.

Irving, notwithstanding the success of “Salmagundi,” did not immediately
devote himself to literature, nor seem to regard his achievements in
it as anything more than aids to social distinction. He was then, as
always, greatly influenced by his surroundings. These were unfavorable
to literary pursuits. Politics was the attractive field for preferment
and distinction; and it is more than probable that, even after the
success of the Knickerbocker history, he would have drifted through
life; half lawyer and half placeman, if the associations and stimulus of
an old civilization, in his second European residence, had not fired his
ambition. Like most young lawyers with little law and less clients, he
began to dabble in local politics. The experiment was not much to his
taste, and the association and work demanded, at that time, of a ward
politician soon disgusted him. “We have toiled through the purgatory
of an election,” he writes to the fair Republican, Miss Fairlie, who
rejoiced in the defeat he and the Federals had sustained.

“What makes me the more outrageous is, that I got fairly drawn into the
vortex, and before the third day was expired, I was as deep in mud and
politics as ever a moderate gentleman would wish to be; and I drank beer
with the multitude; and I talked hand-bill fashion with the demagogues;
and I shook hands with the mob, whom my heart abhorreth. ‘T is true, for
the first two days I maintained my coolness and indifference. The first
day I merely hunted for whim, character, and absurdity, according to my
usual custom; the second day being rainy, I sat in the bar-room at the
Seventh Ward, and read a volume of ‘Galatea,’ which I found on a shelf;
but before I had got through a hundred pages, I had three or four good
Feds sprawling round me on the floor, and another with his eyes half
shut, leaning on my shoulder in the most affectionate manner, and
spelling a page of the book as if it had been an electioneering
hand-bill. But the third day--ah! then came the tug of war. My
patriotism then blazed forth, and I determined to save my country!

“Oh, my friend, I have been in such holes and corners; such filthy
nooks and filthy corners; sweep offices and oyster cellars! I have sworn
brother to a leash of drawers, and can drink with any tinker in his own
language during my life,--faugh! I shall not be able to bear the smell
of small beer and tobacco for a month to come.... 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.”

He unsuccessfully solicited some civil appointment at Albany, a very
modest solicitation, which was never renewed, and which did not last
long, for he was no sooner there than he was “disgusted by the
servility and duplicity and rascality witnessed among the swarm of scrub
politicians.” There was a promising young artist at that time in Albany,
and Irving wishes he were a man of wealth, to give him a helping hand;
a few acts of munificence of this kind by rich nabobs, he breaks out,
“would be more pleasing in the sight of Heaven, and more to the glory
and advantage of their country, than building a dozen shingle church
steeples, or buying a thousand venal votes at an election.” This was in
the “good old times!”

Although a Federalist, and, as he described himself, “an admirer of
General Hamilton, and a partisan with him in politics,” he accepted
a retainer from Burr’s friends in 1807, and attended his trial in
Richmond, but more in the capacity of an observer of the scene than a
lawyer. He did not share the prevalent opinion of Burr’s treason, and
regarded him as a man so fallen as to be shorn of the power to injure
the country, one for whom he could feel nothing but compassion. That
compassion, however, he received only from the ladies of the city, and
the traits of female goodness manifested then sunk deep into Irving’s
heart. Without pretending, he says, to decide on Burr’s innocence
or guilt, “his situation is such as should appeal eloquently to the
feelings of every generous bosom. Sorry am I to say the reverse has been
the fact: fallen, proscribed, prejudged, the cup of bitterness has
been administered to him with an unsparing hand. It has almost been
considered as culpable to evince toward him the least sympathy or
support; and many a hollow-hearted caitiff have I seen, who basked in
the sunshine of his bounty while in power, who now skulked from his
side, and even mingled among the most clamorous of his enemies.... I bid
him farewell with a heavy heart, and he expressed with peculiar warmth
and feeling his sense of the interest I had taken in his fate. I never
felt in a more melancholy mood than when I rode from his solitary
prison.” This is a good illustration of Irving’s tender-heartedness; but
considering Burr’s whole character, it is altogether a womanish case of
misplaced sympathy with the cool slayer of Alexander Hamilton.


Not long after the discontinuance of “Salmagundi,” Irving, in connection
with his brother Peter, projected the work that was to make him famous.
At first nothing more was intended than a satire upon the “Picture of
New York,” by Dr. Samuel Mitchell, just then published. It was begun
as a mere burlesque upon pedantry and erudition, and was well advanced,
when Peter was called by his business to Europe, and its completion was
fortunately left to Washington. In his mind the idea expanded into a
different conception. He condensed the mass of affected learning, which
was their joint work, into five introductory chapters,--subsequently he
said it would have been improved if it had been reduced to one, and
it seems to me it would have been better if that one had been thrown
away,--and finished “A History of New York, by Diedrich Knickerbocker,”
 substantially as we now have it. This was in 1809, when Irving was
twenty-six years old.

But before this humorous creation was completed, the author endured the
terrible bereavement which was to color all his life. He had formed
a deep and tender passion for Matilda Hoffman, the second daughter of
Josiah Ogden Hoffman, in whose family he had long been on a footing of
the most perfect intimacy, and his ardent love was fully reciprocated.
He was restlessly casting about for some assured means of livelihood
which would enable him to marry, and perhaps his distrust of a literary
career was connected with this desire, when after a short illness
Miss Hoffman died, in the eighteenth year of her age. Without being a
dazzling beauty, she was lovely in person and mind, with most engaging
manners, a refined sensibility, and a delicate and playful humor. The
loss was a crushing blow to Irving, from the effects of which he never
recovered, although time softened the bitterness of his grief into a
tender and sacred memory. He could never bear to hear her name spoken
even by his most intimate friends, or any allusion to her. Thirty years
after her death, it happened one evening at the house of Mr. Hoffman,
her father, that a granddaughter was playing for Mr. Irving, and in
taking her music from the drawer, a faded piece of embroidery was
brought forth. “Washington,” said Mr. Hoffman, picking it up, “this is
a piece of poor Matilda’s workmanship.” The effect was electric. He had
been talking in the sprightliest mood before, but he sunk at once into
utter silence, and in a few moments got up and left the house.

After his death, in a private repository of which he always kept the
key, was found a lovely miniature, a braid of fair hair, and a slip of
paper, on which was written in his own hand, “Matilda Hoffman;” and with
these treasures were several pages of a memorandum in ink long since
faded. He kept through life her Bible and Prayer Book; they were placed
nightly under his pillow in the first days of anguish that followed her
loss, and ever after they were the inseparable companions of all
his wanderings. In this memorandum--which was written many years
afterwards--we read the simple story of his love:

     “We saw each other every day, and I became excessively attached to
     her. Her shyness wore off by degrees. The more I saw of her the
     more I had reason to admire her. Her mind seemed to unfold leaf by
     leaf, and every time to discover new sweetness. Nobody knew her so
     well as I, for she was generally timid and silent; but I in a manner
     studied her excellence. Never did I meet with more intuitive
     rectitude of mind, more native delicacy, more exquisite propriety in
     word, thought, and action, than in this young creature. I am not
     exaggerating; what I say was acknowledged by all who knew her.
     Her brilliant little sister used to say that people began by
     admiring her, but ended by loving Matilda. For my part, I idolized
     her. I felt at times rebuked by her superior delicacy and purity,
     and as if I was a coarse, unworthy being in comparison.”

At this time Irving was much perplexed about his career. He had “a fatal
propensity to belles-lettres;” his repugnance to the law was such that
his mind would not take hold of the study; he anticipated nothing from
legal pursuits or political employment; he was secretly writing the
humorous history, but was altogether in a low-spirited and disheartened
state. I quote again from the memorandum:

     “In the mean time I saw Matilda every day, and that helped to
     distract me. In the midst of this struggle and anxiety she was
     taken ill with a cold. Nothing was thought of it at first; but she
     grew rapidly worse, and fell into a consumption. I cannot tell you
     what I suffered. The ills that I have undergone in this life have
     been dealt out to me drop by drop, and I have tasted all their
     bitterness. I saw her fade rapidly away; beautiful, and more
     beautiful, and more angelical to the last. I was often by her
     bedside; and in her wandering state of mind she would talk to me
     with a sweet, natural, and affecting eloquence, that was
     overpowering. I saw more of the beauty of her mind in that
     delirious state than I had ever known before. Her malady was rapid
     in its career, and hurried her off in two months. Her dying
     struggles were painful and protracted. For three days and nights I
     did not leave the house, and scarcely slept. I was by her when she
     died; all the family were assembled round her, some praying, others
     weeping, for she was adored by them all. I was the last one she
     looked upon. I have told you as briefly as I could what, if I were
     to tell with all the incidents and feelings that accompanied it,
     would fill volumes. She was but about seventeen years old when she

     “I cannot tell you what a horrid state of mind I was in for a long
     time. I seemed to care for nothing; the world was a blank to me.
     I abandoned all thoughts of the law. I went into the country, but
     could not bear solitude, yet could not endure society. There was a
     dismal horror continually in my mind, that made me fear to be alone.
     I had often to get up in the night, and seek the bedroom of my
     brother, as if the having a human being by me would relieve me from
     the frightful gloom of my own thoughts.

     “Months elapsed before my mind would resume any tone; but the
     despondency I had suffered for a long time in the course of this
     attachment, and the anguish that attended its catastrophe, seemed to
     give a turn to my whole character, and throw some clouds into my
     disposition, which have ever since hung about it. When I became
     more calm and collected, I applied myself, by way of occupation,
     to the finishing of my work. I brought it to a close, as well as I
     could, and published it; but the time and circumstances in which it
     was produced rendered me always unable to look upon it with
     satisfaction. Still it took with the public, and gave me celebrity,
     as an original work was something remarkable and uncommon in
     America. I was noticed, caressed, and, for a time, elevated by the
     popularity I had gained. I found myself uncomfortable in my
     feelings in New York, and traveled about a little. Wherever I went,
     I was overwhelmed with attentions; I was full of youth and
     animation, far different from the being I now am, and I was quite
     flushed with this early taste of public favor. Still, however, the
     career of gayety and notoriety soon palled on me. I seemed to drift
     about without aim or object, at the mercy of every breeze; my heart
     wanted anchorage. I was naturally susceptible, and tried to form
     other attachments, but my heart would not hold on; it would
     continually recur to what it had lost; and whenever there was a
     pause in the hurry of novelty and excitement, I would sink into
     dismal dejection. For years I could not talk on the subject of this
     hopeless regret; I could not even mention her name; but her image
     was continually before me, and I dreamt of her incessantly.”

This memorandum, it subsequently appeared, was a letter, or a transcript
of it, addressed to a married lady, Mrs. Foster, in which the story of
his early love was related, in reply to her question why he had never
married. It was in the year 1823, the year after the publication of
“Bracebridge Hall,” while he sojourned in Dresden, that he became
intimate with an English family residing there, named Foster, and
conceived for the daughter, Miss Emily Foster, a warm friendship and
perhaps a deep attachment. The letter itself, which for the first time
broke the guarded seclusion of Irving’s heart, is evidence of the tender
confidence that existed between him and this family. That this intimacy
would have resulted in marriage, or an offer of marriage, if the lady’s
affections had not been preoccupied, the Fosters seem to have believed.
In an unauthorized addition to the “Life and Letters,” inserted in the
English edition without the knowledge of the American editor, with
some such headings as, “History of his First Love brought to us, and
returned,” and “Irving’s Second Attachment,” the Fosters tell the
interesting story of Irving’s life in Dresden, and give many of his
letters, and an account of his intimacy with the family. From this
account I quote:

     “Soon after this, Mr. Irving, who had again for long felt ‘the
     tenderest interest warm his bosom, and finally enthrall his whole
     soul,’ made one vigorous and valiant effort to free himself from a
     hopeless and consuming attachment. My mother counseled him, I
     believe, for the best, and he left Dresden on an expedition of
     several weeks into a country he had long wished to see; though, in
     the main, it disappointed him; and he started with young Colbourne
     (son of general Colbourne) as his companion. Some of his letters on
     this journey are before the public; and in the agitation and
     eagerness he there described, on receiving and opening letters from
     us, and the tenderness in his replies,--the longing to be once more
     in the little Pavilion, to which we had moved in the beginning of
     the summer,--the letters (though carefully guarded by the delicacy
     of her who intrusted them to the editor, and alone retained among
     many more calculated to lay bare his true feelings, even fragmentary
     as they are), point out the truth.

     “Here is the key to the journey to Silesia, the return to Dresden,
     and, finally, to the journey from Dresden to Rotterdam in our
     company, first planned so as to part at Cassel, where Mr. Irving had
     intended to leave us and go down the Rhine, but subsequently could
     not find in his heart to part. Hence, after a night of pale and
     speechless melancholy, the gay, animated, happy countenance with
     which he sprang to our coach-box to take his old seat on it, and
     accompany us to Rotterdam. There even could he not part, but joined
     us in the steamboat; and, after bearing us company as far as a boat
     could follow us, at last tore himself away, to bury himself in
     Paris, and try to work....

     “It was fortunate, perhaps, that this affection was returned by the
     warmest friendship only, since it was destined that the
     accomplishment of his wishes was impossible, for many obstacles
     which lay in his way; and it is with pleasure I can truly say that
     in time he schooled himself to view, also with friendship only, one
     who for some time past has been the wife of another.”

Upon the delicacy of this revelation the biographer does not comment,
but he says that the idea that Irving thought of marriage at that time
is utterly disproved by the following passage from the very manuscript
which he submitted to Mrs. Foster:

     “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 already had a family to think and provide for.”

Upon the question of attachment and depression, Mr. Pierre Irving says:

     “While the editor does not question Mr. Irving’s great enjoyment of
     his intercourse with the Fosters, or his deep regret at parting from
     them, he is too familiar with his occasional fits of depression to
     have drawn from their recurrence on his return to Paris any such
     inference as that to which the lady alludes. Indeed, his memorandum
     book and letters show him to have had, at this time, sources of
     anxiety of quite a different nature. The allusion to his having to
     put once more to sea evidently refers to his anxiety on returning to
     his literary pursuits, after a season of entire idleness.”

It is not for us to question the judgment of the biographer, with his
full knowledge of the circumstances and his long intimacy with his
uncle; yet it is evident that Irving was seriously impressed at Dresden,
and that he was very much unsettled until he drove away the impression
by hard work with his pen; and it would be nothing new in human nature
and experience if he had for a time yielded to the attractions of
loveliness and a most congenial companionship, and had returned again to
an exclusive devotion to the image of the early loved and lost.

That Irving intended never to marry is an inference I cannot draw either
from his fondness for the society of women, from his interest in the
matrimonial projects of his friends and the gossip which has feminine
attractions for its food, or from his letters to those who had his
confidence. In a letter written from Birmingham, England, March 15,
1816, to his dear friend Henry Brevoort, who was permitted more than
perhaps any other person to see his secret heart, he alludes, with
gratification, to the report of the engagement of James Paulding, and
then says:

     “It is what we must all come to at last. I see you are hankering
     after it, and I confess I have done so for a long time past.
     We are, however, past that period [Irving was thirty-two] when a man
     marries suddenly and inconsiderately. We may be longer making a
     choice, and consulting the convenience and concurrence of easy
     circumstances, but we shall both come to it sooner or later.
     I therefore recommend you to marry without delay. You have
     sufficient means, connected with your knowledge and habits of
     business, to support a genteel establishment, and I am certain that
     as soon as you are married you will experience a change in your
     ideas. All those vagabond, roving propensities will cease. They
     are the offspring of idleness of mind and a want of something to fix
     the feelings. You are like a bark without an anchor, that drifts
     about at the mercy of every vagrant breeze or trifling eddy. Get a
     wife, and she’ll anchor you. But don’t marry a fool because she his
     a pretty face, and don’t seek after a great belle. Get such a girl
     as Mary----, or get her if you can; though I am afraid she has
     still an unlucky kindness for poor-----, which will stand in the
     way of her fortunes. I wish to God they were rich, and married, and

The business reverses which befell the Irving brothers, and which
drove Washington to the toil of the pen, and cast upon him heavy family
responsibilities, defeated his plans of domestic happiness in marriage.
It was in this same year, 1816, when the fortunes of the firm were daily
becoming more dismal, that he wrote to Brevoort, upon the report that
the latter was likely to remain a bachelor: “We are all selfish beings.
Fortune by her tardy favors and capricious freaks seems to discourage
all my matrimonial resolves, and if I am doomed to live an old bachelor,
I am anxious to have good company. I cannot bear that all my old
companions should launch away into the married state, and leave me alone
to tread this desolate and sterile shore.” And, in view of a possible
life of scant fortune, he exclaims: “Thank Heaven, I was brought up in
simple and inexpensive habits, and I have satisfied myself that, if need
be, I can resume them without repining or inconvenience. Though I am
willing, therefore, that Fortune should shower her blessings upon me,
and think I can enjoy them as well as most men, yet I shall not make
myself unhappy if she chooses to be scanty, and shall take the position
allotted me with a cheerful and contented mind.”

When Irving passed the winter of 1823 in the charming society of the
Fosters at Dresden, the success of the “Sketch-Book” and “Bracebridge
Hall” had given him assurance of his ability to live comfortably by the
use of his pen.

To resume. The preliminary announcement of the History was a humorous
and skillful piece of advertising. Notices appeared in the newspapers
of the disappearance from his lodging of “a small, elderly gentleman,
dressed in an old black coat and cocked hat, by the name of
Knickerbocker.” Paragraphs from week to week, purporting to be the
result of inquiry, elicited the facts that such an old gentleman
had been seen traveling north in the Albany stage; that his name was
Diedrich Knickerbocker; that he went away owing his landlord; and that
he left behind a very curious kind of a written book, which would be
sold to pay his bills if he did not return. So skillfully was this
managed that one of the city officials was on the point of offering a
reward for the discovery of the missing Diedrich. This little man in
knee breeches and cocked hat was the germ of the whole “Knickerbocker
legend,” a fantastic creation, which in a manner took the place of
history, and stamped upon the commercial metropolis of the New World the
indelible Knickerbocker name and character; and even now in the city
it is an undefined patent of nobility to trace descent from “an old
Knickerbocker family.”

The volume, which was first printed in Philadelphia, was put forth as a
grave history of the manners and government under the Dutch rulers, and
so far was the covert humor carried that it was dedicated to the
New York Historical Society. Its success was far beyond Irving’s
expectation. It met with almost universal acclaim. It is true that some
of the old Dutch inhabitants who sat down to its perusal, expecting
to read a veritable account of the exploits of their ancestors, were
puzzled by the indirection of its commendation; and several excellent
old ladies of New York and Albany were in blazing indignation at the
ridicule put upon the old Dutch people, and minded to ostracize the
irreverent author from all social recognition. As late as 1818, in an
address before the Historical Society, Mr. Gulian C. Verplanck, Irving’s
friend, showed the deep irritation the book had caused, by severe
strictures on it as a “coarse caricature.” But the author’s winning
ways soon dissipated the social cloud, and even the Dutch critics were
erelong disarmed by the absence of all malice in the gigantic humor of
the composition. One of the first foreigners to recognize the power
and humor of the book was Walter Scott. “I have never,” he wrote, “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. S. 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 power of a different
kind, and has some touches which remind me of Sterne.”

The book is indeed an original creation, and one of the few masterpieces
of humor. In spontaneity, freshness, breadth of conception, and joyous
vigor, it belongs to the springtime of literature. It has entered into
the popular mind as no other American book ever has, and it may be said
to have created a social realm which, with all its whimsical conceit,
has almost historical solidity. The Knickerbocker pantheon is almost
as real as that of Olympus. The introductory chapters are of that
elephantine facetiousness which pleased our great-grandfathers, but
which is exceedingly tedious to modern taste; and the humor of the
book occasionally has a breadth that is indelicate to our apprehension,
though it perhaps did not shock our great-grandmothers. But,
notwithstanding these blemishes, I think the work has more enduring
qualities than even the generation which it first delighted gave it
credit for. The world, however, it must be owned, has scarcely yet
the courage of its humor, and dullness still thinks it necessary to
apologize for anything amusing. There is little doubt that Irving
himself supposed that his serious work was of more consequence to the

It seems strange that after this success Irving should have hesitated to
adopt literature as his profession. But for two years, and with leisure,
he did nothing. He had again some hope of political employment in a
small way; and at length he entered into a mercantile partnership with
his brothers, which was to involve little work for him, and a share of
the profits that should assure his support, and leave him free to follow
his fitful literary inclinations. Yet he seems to have been mainly
intent upon society and the amusements of the passing hour, and, without
the spur of necessity to his literary capacity, he yielded to the
temptations of indolence, and settled into the unpromising position of
a “man about town.” Occasionally, the business of his firm and that of
other importing merchants being imperiled by some threatened action of
Congress, Irving was sent to Washington to look after their interests.
The leisurely progress he always made to the capital through the
seductive society of Philadelphia and Baltimore did not promise much
business dispatch. At the seat of government he was certain to be
involved in a whirl of gayety. His letters from Washington are more
occupied with the odd characters he met than with the measures of
legislation. These visits greatly extended his acquaintance with the
leading men of the country; his political leanings did not prevent an
intimacy with the President’s family, and Mrs. Madison and he were sworn

It was of the evening of his first arrival in Washington that he writes:
“I emerged from dirt and darkness into the blazing splendor of Mrs.
Madison’s drawing-room. Here I was most graciously received; found
a crowded collection of great and little men, of ugly old women and
beautiful young ones, and in ten minutes was hand and glove with half
the people in the assemblage. Mrs. Madison is a fine, portly, buxom
dame, who has a smile and a pleasant word for everybody. Her sisters,
Mrs. Cutts and Mrs. Washington, are like two merry wives of Windsor; but
as to Jemmy Madison,--oh, poor Jemmy!--he is but a withered little apple

Odd characters congregated then in Washington as now. One honest fellow,
who, by faithful fagging at the heels of Congress, had obtained a
profitable post under government, shook Irving heartily by the hand, and
professed himself always happy to see anybody that came from New York;
“somehow or another, it was natteral to him,” being the place where he
was first born. Another fellow-townsman was “endeavoring to obtain a
deposit in the Mechanics’ Bank, in case the United States Bank does
not obtain a charter. He is as deep as usual; shakes his head and winks
through his spectacles at everybody he meets. He swore to me the other
day that he had not told anybody what his opinion was, whether the
bank ought to have a charter or not. Nobody in Washington knew what
his opinion was--not one--nobody; he defied any one to say what it
was--anybody--damn the one! No, sir, nobody knows;’ and if he had added
nobody cares, I believe honest would have been exactly in the right.
Then there’s his brother George: ‘Damn that fellow,--knows eight or nine
languages; yes, sir, nine languages,--Arabic, Spanish, Greek, Ital---And
there’s his wife, now,--she and Mrs. Madison are always together. Mrs.
Madison has taken a great fancy to her little daughter. Only think, sir,
that child is only six years old, and talks the Italian like a book,
by---; little devil learnt it from an Italian servant,--damned clever
fellow; lived with my brother George ten years. George says he would not
part with him for all Tripoli,’” etc.

It was always difficult for Irving, in those days, to escape from the
genial blandishments of Baltimore and Philadelphia. Writing to Brevoort
from Philadelphia, March 16, 1811, he says: “The people of Baltimore are
exceedingly social and hospitable to strangers, and I saw that if I once
let myself get into the stream, I should not be able to get out under a
fortnight at least; so, being resolved to push home as expeditiously as
was honorably possible, I resisted the world, the flesh, and the devil
at Baltimore; and after three days’ and nights’ stout carousal, and
a fourth’s sickness, sorrow, and repentance, I hurried off from that
sensual city.”

Jarvis, the artist, was at that time the eccentric and elegant lion of
society in Baltimore. “Jack Randolph” had recently sat to him for his
portrait. “By the bye [the letter continues] that little ‘hydra and
chimera dire,’ Jarvis, is in prodigious circulation at Baltimore. The
gentlemen have all voted him a rare wag and most brilliant wit; and the
ladies pronounce him one of the queerest, ugliest, most agreeable
little creatures in the world. The consequence is there is not a ball,
tea-party, concert, supper, or other private regale but that Jarvis is
the most conspicuous personage; and as to a dinner, they can no more do
without him than they could without Friar John at the roystering revels
of the renowned Pantagruel.” Irving gives one of his bon mots which was
industriously repeated at all the dinner tables, a profane sally,
which seemed to tickle the Baltimoreans exceedingly. Being very much
importuned to go to church, he resolutely refused, observing that it was
the same thing whether he went or stayed at home. “If I don’t go,” said
he, “the minister says I ‘ll be d---d, and I ‘ll be d---d if I do go.”

This same letter contains a pretty picture, and the expression of
Irving’s habitual kindly regard for his fellow-men:

     “I was out visiting with Ann yesterday, and met that little
     assemblage of smiles and fascinations, Mary Jackson. She was
     bounding with youth, health, and innocence, and good humor. She had
     a pretty straw hat, tied under her chin with a pink ribbon, and
     looked like some little woodland nymph, just turned out by spring
     and fine weather. God bless her light heart, and grant it may never
     know care or sorrow! It’s enough to cure spleen and melancholy only
     to look at her.

     “Your familiar pictures of home made me extremely desirous again to
     be there.... I shall once more return to sober life,
     satisfied with having secured three months of sunshine in this
     valley of shadows and darkness. In this space of time I have seen
     considerable of the world, but I am sadly afraid I have not grown
     wiser thereby, inasmuch as it has generally been asserted by the
     sages of every age that wisdom consists in a knowledge of the
     wickedness of mankind, and the wiser a man grows the more
     discontented he becomes with those around him. Whereas, woe is me,
     I return in infinitely better humor with the world than I ever was
     before, and with a most melancholy good opinion and good will for
     the great mass of my fellow-creatures!”

Free intercourse with men of all parties, he thought, tends to divest a
man’s mind of party bigotry.

     “One day [he writes] I am dining with a knot of honest, furious
     Federalists, who are damning all their opponents as a set of
     consummate scoundrels, panders of Bonaparte, etc. The next day I
     dine, perhaps, with some of the very men I have heard thus
     anathematized, and find them equally honest, warm, and indignant;
     and if I take their word for it, I had been dining the day before
     with some of the greatest knaves in the nation, men absolutely paid
     and suborned by the British government.”

His friends at this time attempted to get him appointed secretary of
legation to the French mission, under Joel Barlow, then minister, but
he made no effort to secure the place. Perhaps he was deterred by the
knowledge that the author of “The Columbiad” suspected him, though
unjustly, of some strictures on his great epic. He had in mind a book
of travel in his own country, in which he should sketch manners and
characters; but nothing came of it. The peril to trade involved in the
War of 1812 gave him some forebodings, and aroused him to exertion.
He accepted the editorship of a periodical called “Select Reviews,”
 afterwards changed to the “Analectic Magazine,” for which he wrote
sketches, some of which were afterwards put into the “Sketch-Book,”
 and several reviews and naval biographies. A brief biography of Thomas
Campbell was also written about this time, as introductory to an edition
of “Gertrude of Wyoming.” But the slight editorial care required by the
magazine was irksome to a man who had an unconquerable repugnance to all
periodical labor.

In 1813 Francis Jeffrey made a visit to the United States. Henry
Brevoort, who was then in London, wrote an anxious letter to Irving to
impress him with the necessity of making much of Mr. Jeffrey. “It is
essential,” he says,--“that Jeffrey may imbibe a just estimate of the
United States and its inhabitants; he goes out strongly biased in our
favor, and the influence of his good opinion upon his return to this
country will go far to efface the calumnies and the absurdities that
have been laid to our charge by ignorant travelers. Persuade him to
visit Washington, and by all means to see the Falls of Niagara.” The
impression seems to have prevailed that if Englishmen could be made to
take a just view of the Falls of Niagara, the misunderstandings between
the two countries would be reduced. Peter Irving, who was then in
Edinburgh, was impressed with the brilliant talent of the editor of the
“Review,” disguised as it was by affectation, but he said he “would not
give the Minstrel for a wilderness of Jeffreys.”

The years from 1811 to 1815, when he went abroad for the second time,
were passed by Irving in a sort of humble waiting on Providence.
His letters to Brevoort during this period are full of the ennui of
irresolute youth. He idled away weeks and months in indolent enjoyment
in the country; he indulged his passion for the theater when opportunity
offered; and he began to be weary of a society which offered little
stimulus to his mind. His was the temperament of the artist, and America
at that time had little to evoke or to satisfy the artistic feeling.
There were few pictures and no galleries; there was no music, except the
amateur torture of strings which led the country dance, or the martial
inflammation of fife and drum, or the sentimental dawdling here and
there over the ancient harpsichord, with the songs of love, and the
broad or pathetic staves and choruses of the convivial table; and there
was no literary atmosphere.

After three months of indolent enjoyment in the winter and spring of
1811, Irving is complaining to Brevoort in June of the enervation of his
social life: “I do want most deplorably to apply my mind to something
that will arouse and animate it; for at present it is very indolent and
relaxed, and I find it very difficult to shake off the lethargy that
enthralls it. This makes me restless and dissatisfied with myself, and I
am convinced I shall not feel comfortable and contented until my mind
is fully employed. Pleasure is but a transient stimulus, and leaves
the mind more enfeebled than before. Give me rugged toils, fierce
disputation, wrangling controversy, harassing research,--give me
anything that calls forth the energies of the mind; but for Heaven’s
sake shield me from those calms, those tranquil slumberings, those
enervating triflings, those siren blandishments, that I have for some
time indulged in, which lull the mind into complete inaction, which
benumb its powers, and cost it such painful and humiliating struggles to
regain its activity and independence!”

Irving at this time of life seemed always waiting by the pool for some
angel to come and trouble the waters. To his correspondent, who was
in the wilds of Michilimackinac, he continues to lament his morbid
inability. The business in which his thriving brothers were engaged was
the importation and sale of hardware and cutlery, and that spring his
services were required at the “store.” “By all the martyrs of Grub
Street [he exclaims], I ‘d sooner live in a garret, and starve into the
bargain, than follow so sordid, dusty, and soul-killing a way of life,
though certain it would make me as rich as old Croesus, or John Jacob
Astor himself!” The sparkle of society was no more agreeable to him than
the rattle of cutlery. “I have scarcely [he writes] seen anything
of the ------s since your departure; business and an amazing want of
inclination have kept me from their threshold. Jim, that sly poacher,
however, prowls about there, and vitrifies his heart by the furnace of
their charms. I accompanied him there on Sunday evening last, and found
the Lads and Miss Knox with them. S----was in great spirits, and played
the sparkler with such great success as to silence the whole of us
excepting Jim, who was the agreeable rattle of the evening. God defend
me from such vivacity as hers, in future,--such smart speeches without
meaning, such bubble and squeak nonsense! I ‘d as lieve stand by a
frying-pan for an hour and listen to the cooking of apple fritters.
After two hours’ dead silence and suffering on my part I made out to
drag him off, and did not stop running until I was a mile from the
house.” Irving gives his correspondent graphic pictures of the
social warfare in which he was engaged, the “host of rascally little
tea-parties” in which he was entangled; and some of his portraits of the
“divinities,” the “blossoms,” and the beauties of that day would make
the subjects of them flutter with surprise in the churchyards where they
lie. The writer was sated with the “tedious commonplace of fashionable
society,” and languishing to return to his books and his pen.

In March, 18122, in the shadow of the war and the depression of
business, Irving was getting out a new edition of the “Knickerbocker,”
 which Inskeep was to publish, agreeing to pay $1200 at six months for an
edition of fifteen hundred. The modern publisher had not then arisen
and acquired a proprietary right in the brains of the country, and the
author made his bargains like an independent being who owned himself.

Irving’s letters of this period are full of the gossip of the town and
the matrimonial fate of his acquaintances. The fascinating Mary Fairlie
is at length married to Cooper, the tragedian, with the opposition
of her parents, after a dismal courtship and a cloudy prospect of
happiness. Goodhue is engaged to Miss Clarkson, the sister to the pretty
one. The engagement suddenly took place as they walked from church on
Christmas Day, and report says “the action was shorter than any of our
naval victories, for the lady struck on the first broadside.” The war
colored all social life and conversation. “This war [the letter is to
Brevoort, who is in Europe] has completely changed the face of things
here. You would scarcely recognize our old peaceful city. Nothing is
talked of but armies, navies, battles, etc.” The same phenomenon was
witnessed then that was observed in the war for the Union: “Men who had
loitered about, the hangers-on and encumbrances of society, have all at
once risen to importance, and been the only useful men of the day.” The
exploits of our young navy kept up the spirits of the country. There was
great rejoicing when the captured frigate Macedonian was brought into
New York, and was visited by the curious as she lay wind-bound above
Hell Gate. “A superb dinner was given to the naval heroes, at which
all the great eaters and drinkers of the city were present. It was the
noblest entertainment of the kind I ever witnessed. On New Year’s Eve a
grand ball was likewise given, where there was a vast display of great
and little people. The Livingstons were there in all their glory. Little
Rule Britannia made a gallant appearance at the head of a train of
beauties, among whom were the divine H----, who looked very inviting,
and the little Taylor, who looked still more so. Britannia was
gorgeously dressed in a queer kind of hat of stiff purple and silver
stuff, that had marvelously the appearance of copper, and made us
suppose that she had procured the real Mambrino helmet. Her dress was
trimmed with what we simply mistook for scalps, and supposed it was in
honor of the nation; but we blushed at our ignorance on discovering
that it was a gorgeous trimming of marten tips. Would that some eminent
furrier had been there to wonder and admire!”

With a little business and a good deal of loitering, waiting upon the
whim of his pen, Irving passed the weary months of the war. As late as
August, 1814, he is still giving Brevoort, who has returned, and is
at Rockaway Beach, the light gossip of the town. It was reported that
Brevoort and Dennis had kept a journal of their foreign travel, “which
is so exquisitely humorous that Mrs. Cooper, on only looking at the
first word, fell into a fit of laughing that lasted half an hour.”
 Irving is glad that he cannot find Brevoort’s flute, which the latter
requested should be sent to him: “I do not think it would be an innocent
amusement for you, as no one has a right to entertain himself at the
expense of others.” In such dallying and badinage the months went
on, affairs every day becoming more serious. Appended to a letter of
September 9, 1814, is a list of twenty well-known mercantile houses that
had failed within the preceding three weeks. Irving himself, shortly
after this, enlisted in the war, and his letters thereafter breathe
patriotic indignation at the insulting proposals of the British and
their rumored attack on New York, and all his similes, even those having
love for their subject, are martial and bellicose. Item: “The gallant
Sam has fairly changed front, and, instead of laying siege to Douglas
castle, has charged sword in hand, and carried little Cooper’s’

As a Federalist and an admirer of England, Irving had deplored the war,
but his sympathies were not doubtful after it began, and the burning
of the national Capitol by General Ross aroused him to an active
participation in the struggle. He was descending the Hudson in a
steamboat when the tidings first reached him. It was night, and the
passengers had gone into the cabin, when a man came on board with the
news, and in the darkness related the particulars: the burning of the
President’s house and government offices, and the destruction of the
Capitol, with the library and public archives. In the momentary silence
that followed, somebody raised his voice, and in a tone of complacent
derision “wondered what Jimmy Madison would say now.” “Sir,” cried Mr.
Irving, in a burst of indignation that overcame his habitual shyness,
“do you seize upon such a disaster only for a sneer? Let me tell you,
sir, it is not now a question about Jimmy Madison or Jimmy Armstrong.
The pride and honor of the nation are wounded; the country is insulted
and disgraced by this barbarous success, and every loyal citizen would
feel the ignominy and be earnest to avenge it.” There was an outburst
of applause, and the sneerer was silenced. “I could not see the fellow,”
 said Mr. Irving, in relating the anecdote, “but I let fly at him in the

The next day he offered his services to Governor Tompkins, and was
made the governor’s aid and military secretary, with the right to be
addressed as Colonel Washington Irving. He served only four months in
this capacity, when Governor Tompkins was called to the session of the
legislature at Albany. Irving intended to go to Washington and apply for
a commission in the regular army, but he was detained at Philadelphia by
the affairs of his magazine, until news came in February, 1815, of the
close of the war. In May of that year he embarked for England to
visit his brother, intending only a short sojourn. He remained abroad
seventeen years.


When Irving sailed from New York, it was with lively anticipations of
witnessing the stirring events to follow the return of Bonaparte from
Elba. When he reached Liverpool, the curtain had fallen in Bonaparte’s
theater. The first spectacle that met the traveler’s eye was the mail
coaches, darting through the streets, decked with laurel and bringing
the news of Waterloo. As usual, Irving’s sympathies were with the
unfortunate. “I think,” he says, writing of the exile of St. Helena,
“the cabinet has acted with littleness toward him. In spite of all
his misdeeds he is a noble fellow [pace Madame de Remusat], and I
am confident will eclipse, in the eyes of posterity, all the crowned
wiseacres that have crushed him by their overwhelming confederacy. If
anything could place the Prince Regent in a more ridiculous light, it is
Bonaparte suing for his magnanimous protection. Every compliment paid to
this bloated sensualist, this inflation of sack and sugar, turns to the
keenest sarcasm.”

After staying a week with his brother Peter, who was recovering from
an indisposition, Irving went to Birmingham, the residence of his
brother-in-law, Henry Van Wart, who had married his youngest sister,
Sarah; and from thence to Sydenham, to visit Campbell. The poet was not
at home. To Mrs. Campbell Irving expressed his regret that her husband
did not attempt something on a grand scale.

     “‘It is unfortunate for Campbell,’ said she, ‘that he lives in the
     same age with Scott and Byron.’ I asked why. ‘Oh,’ said she, ‘they
     write so much and so rapidly. Mr. Campbell writes slowly, and it
     takes him some time to get under way; and just as he has fairly
     begun out comes one of their poems, that sets the world agog, and
     quite daunts him, so that he throws by his pen in despair.’
     I pointed out the essential difference in their kinds of poetry, and
     the qualities which insured perpetuity to that of her husband. ‘You
     can’t persuade Campbell of that,’ said she. ‘He is apt to
     undervalue his own works, and to consider his own little lights put
     out, whenever they come blazing out with their great torches.’

     “I repeated the conversation to Scott some time afterward, and it
     drew forth a characteristic comment. ‘Pooh!’ said he, good
     humoredly; ‘how can Campbell mistake the matter so much? Poetry
     goes by quality, not by bulk. My poems are mere Cairngorms, wrought
     up, perhaps, with a cunning hand, and may pass well in the market as
     long as Cairngorms are the fashion; but they are mere Scotch
     pebbles, after all. Now, Tom Campbell’s are real diamonds, and
     diamonds of the first water.’”

Returning to Birmingham, Irving made excursions to Kenilworth, Warwick,
and Stratford-on-Avon, and a tour through Wales with James Renwick, a
young American of great promise, who at the age of nineteen had for a
time filled the chair of natural philosophy in Columbia College. He was
a son of Mrs. Jane Renwick, a charming woman and a lifelong friend of
Irving, the daughter of the Rev. Andrew Jeffrey, of Lochmaben, Scotland,
and famous in literature as “The Blue-Eyed Lassie” of Burns. From
another song, “When first I saw my Face,” which does not appear in the
poet’s collected works, the biographer quotes:

       “But, sair, I doubt some happier swain
       Has gained my Jeanie’s favor;
       If sae, may every bliss be hers,
       Tho’ I can never have her.

       “But gang she east, or gang she west,
       ‘Twixt Nith and Tweed all over,
       While men have eyes, or ears, or taste,
       She’ll always find a lover.”

During Irving’s protracted stay in England he did not by any means lose
his interest in his beloved New York and the little society that was
always dear to him. He relied upon his friend Brevoort to give him the
news of the town, and in return he wrote long letters,--longer and more
elaborate and formal than this generation has leisure to write or to
read; letters in which the writer laid himself out to be entertaining,
and detailed his emotions and state of mind as faithfully as his travels
and outward experiences.

No sooner was our war with England over than our navy began to make a
reputation for itself in the Mediterranean. In his letter of August,
1815, Irving dwells with pride on Decatur’s triumph over the Algerine
pirates. He had just received a letter from “that--worthy little
tar, Jack Nicholson,” dated on board the Flambeau, off Algiers. In it
Nicholson says that “they fell in with and captured the admiral’s ship,
and killed him.” Upon which Irving remarks: “As this is all that Jack’s
brevity will allow him to say on the subject, I should be at a loss to
know whether they killed the admiral before or after his capture. The
well-known humanity of our tars, however, induces me to the former
conclusion.” Nicholson, who has the honor of being alluded to in “The
Croakers,” was always a great favorite with Irving. His gallantry on
shore was equal to his bravery at sea, but unfortunately his diffidence
was greater than his gallantry; and while his susceptibility to female
charms made him an easy and a frequent victim, he could never muster
the courage to declare his passion. Upon one occasion, when he was
desperately enamored of a lady whom he wished to marry, he got Irving to
write for him a love-letter, containing an offer of his heart and hand.
The enthralled but bashful sailor carried the letter in his pocket
till it was worn out, without ever being able to summon pluck enough to
deliver it.

While Irving was in Wales the Wiggins family and Madame Bonaparte
passed through Birmingham, on their way to Cheltenham. Madame was still
determined to assert her rights as a Bonaparte. Irving cannot help
expressing sympathy for Wiggins: “The poor man has his hands full, with
such a bevy of beautiful women under his charge, and all doubtless bent
on pleasure and admiration.” He hears, however, nothing further of her,
except the newspapers mention her being at Cheltenham. “There are so
many stars and comets thrown out of their orbits, and whirling about the
world at present, that a little star like Madame Bonaparte attracts but
slight attention, even though she draw after her so sparkling a tail as
the Wiggins family.” In another letter he exclaims: “The world is surely
topsy-turvy, and its inhabitants shaken out of place: emperors and
kings, statesmen and philosophers, Bonaparte, Alexander, Johnson, and
the Wigginses, all strolling about the face of the earth.”

The business of the Irving brothers soon absorbed all Washington’s
time and attention. Peter was an invalid, and the whole weight of the
perplexing affairs of the failing firm fell upon the one who detested
business, and counted every hour lost that he gave to it. His letters
for two years are burdened with harassments in uncongenial details and
unsuccessful struggles. Liverpool, where he was compelled to pass most
of his time, had few attractions for him, and his low spirits did not
permit him to avail himself of such social advantages as were offered.
It seems that our enterprising countrymen flocked abroad, on the
conclusion of peace. “This place [writes Irving] swarms with Americans.
You never saw a more motley race of beings. Some seem as if just from
the woods, and yet stalk about the streets and public places with all
the easy nonchalance that they would about their own villages. Nothing
can surpass the dauntless independence of all form, ceremony, fashion,
or reputation of a downright, unsophisticated American. Since the war,
too, particularly, our lads seem to think they are ‘the salt of the
earth’ and the legitimate lords of creation. It would delight you to
see some of them playing Indian when surrounded by the wonders and
improvements of the Old World. It is impossible to match these fellows
by anything this side the water. Let an Englishman talk of the battle of
Waterloo, and they will immediately bring up New Orleans and Plattsburg.

“A thoroughbred, thoroughly appointed soldier is nothing to a Kentucky
rifleman,” etc., etc. In contrast to this sort of American was Charles
King, who was then abroad: “Charles is exactly what an American should
be abroad: frank, manly, and unaffected in his habits and manners,
liberal and independent in his opinions, generous and unprejudiced in
his sentiments towards other nations, but most loyally attached to his
own.” There was a provincial narrowness at that date and long after
in America, which deprecated the open-minded patriotism of King and of
Irving as it did the clear-sighted loyalty of Fenimore Cooper.

The most anxious time of Irving’s life was the winter of 1815-16. The
business worry increased. He was too jaded with the din of pounds,
shillings, and pence to permit his pen to invent facts or to adorn
realities. Nevertheless, he occasionally escapes from the treadmill. In
December he is in London, and entranced with the acting of Miss O’Neil.
He thinks that Brevoort, if he saw her, would infallibly fall in love
with this “divine perfection of a woman.” He writes: “She is, to my
eyes, the most soul-subduing actress I ever saw; I do not mean from her
personal charms, which are great, but from the truth, force, and pathos
of her acting. I have never been so completely melted, moved, and
overcome at a theatre as by her performances.... Kean, the prodigy,
is to me insufferable. He is vulgar, full of trick, and a complete
mannerist. This is merely my opinion. He is cried up as a second
Garrick, as a reformer of the stage, etc. It may be so. He may be right,
and all the other actors wrong. This is certain: he is either very good
or very bad. I think decidedly the latter; and I find no medium opinions
concerning him. I am delighted with Young, who acts with great judgment,
discrimination, and feeling. I think him much the best actor at present
on the English stage.... In certain characters, such as may be classed
with Macbeth, I do not think that Cooper has his equal in England. Young
is the only actor I have seen who can compare with him.” Later, Irving
somewhat modified his opinion of Kean. He wrote to Brevoort: “Kean is
a strange compound of merits and defects. His excellence consists
in sudden and brilliant touches, in vivid exhibitions of passion and
emotion. I do not think him a discriminating actor, or critical either
at understanding or delineating character; but he produces effects which
no other actor does.”

In the summer of 1816, on his way from Liverpool to visit his sister’s
family at Birmingham, Irving tarried for a few days at a country place
near Shrewsbury on the border of Wales, and while there encountered
a character whose portrait is cleverly painted. It is interesting to
compare this first sketch with the elaboration of it in the essay on
“The Angler” in the “Sketch-Book.”

     “In one of our morning strolls [he writes, July 15] along the banks
     of the Aleen, a beautiful little pastoral stream that rises among
     the Welsh mountains and throws itself into the Dee, we encountered a
     veteran angler of old Isaac Walton’s school. He was an old
     Greenwich outdoor pensioner, had lost one leg in the battle of
     Camperdown, had been in America in his youth, and indeed had been
     quite a rover, but for many years past had settled himself down in
     his native village, not far distant, where he lived very
     independently on his pension and some other small annual sums,
     amounting in all to about L 40. His great hobby, and indeed the
     business of his life, was to angle. I found he had read Isaac
     Walton very attentively; he seemed to have imbibed all his
     simplicity of heart, contentment of mind, and fluency of tongue.
     We kept company with him almost the whole day, wandering along the
     beautiful banks of the river, admiring the ease and elegant
     dexterity with which the old fellow managed his angle, throwing the
     fly with unerring certainty at a great distance and among
     overhanging bushes, and waving it gracefully in the air, to keep it
     from entangling, as he stumped with his staff and wooden leg from
     one bend of the river to another. He kept up a continual flow of
     cheerful and entertaining talk, and what I particularly liked him
     for was, that though we tried every way to entrap him into some
     abuse of America and its inhabitants, there was no getting him to
     utter an ill-natured word concerning us. His whole conversation and
     deportment illustrated old Isaac’s maxims as to the benign influence
     of angling over the human heart.... I ought to mention that
     he had two companions--one, a ragged, picturesque varlet, that had
     all the air of a veteran poacher, and I warrant would find any
     fish-pond in the neighborhood in the darkest night; the other was a
     disciple of the old philosopher, studying the art under him, and was
     son and heir apparent to the landlady of the village tavern.”

A contrast to this pleasing picture is afforded by some character
sketches at the little watering-place of Buxton, which our kindly
observer visited the same year.

     “At the hotel where we put up [he writes] we had a most singular and
     whimsical assemblage of beings. I don’t know whether you were ever
     at an English watering-place, but if you have not been, you have
     missed the best opportunity of studying English oddities, both moral
     and physical. I no longer wonder at the English being such
     excellent caricaturists, they have such an inexhaustible number and
     variety of subjects to study from. The only care should be not to
     follow fact too closely, for I ‘ll swear I have met with characters
     and figures that would be condemned as extravagant, if faithfully
     delineated by pen or pencil. At a watering-place like Buxton, where
     people really resort for health, you see the great tendency of the
     English to run into excrescences and bloat out into grotesque
     deformities. As to noses, I say nothing of them, though we had
     every variety: some snubbed and turned up, with distended nostrils,
     like a dormer window on the roof of a house; others convex and
     twisted like a buck-handled knife; and others magnificently
     efflorescent, like a full-blown cauliflower. But as to the persons
     that were attached to these noses, fancy any distortion,
     protuberance, and fungous embellishment that can be produced in the
     human form by high and gross feeding, by the bloating operations of
     malt liquors, and by the rheumy influence of a damp, foggy, vaporous
     climate. One old fellow was an exception to this, for instead of
     acquiring that expansion and sponginess to which old people are
     prone in this country, from the long course of internal and external
     soakage they experience, he had grown dry and stiff in the process
     of years. The skin of his face had so shrunk away that he could not
     close eyes or mouth--the latter, therefore, stood on a perpetual
     ghastly grin, and the former on an incessant stare. He had but one
     serviceable joint in his body, which was at the bottom of the
     backbone, and that creaked and grated whenever he bent. He could
     not raise his feet from the ground, but skated along the
     drawing-room carpet whenever he wished to ring the bell. The only
     sign of moisture in his whole body was a pellucid drop that I
     occasionally noticed on the end of along, dry nose. He used
     generally to shuffle about in company with a little fellow that was
     fat on one side and lean on the other. That is to say, he was
     warped on one side as if he had been scorched before the fire; he
     had a wry neck, which made his head lean on one shoulder; his hair
     was smugly powdered, and he had a round, smirking, smiling, apple
     face, with a bloom on it like that of a frostbitten leaf in autumn.
     We had an old, fat general by the name of Trotter, who had, I
     suspect, been promoted to his high rank to get him out of the way
     of more able and active officers, being an instance that a man may
     occasionally rise in the world through absolute lack of merit. I
     could not help watching the movements of this redoubtable old Hero,
     who, I’ll warrant, has been the champion and safeguard of half the
     garrison towns in England, and fancying to myself how Bonaparte
     would have delighted in having such toast-and-butter generals to
     deal with. This old cad is doubtless a sample of those generals
     that flourished in the old military school, when armies would
     manoeuvre and watch each other for months; now and then have a
     desperate skirmish, and, after marching and countermarching about
     the ‘Low Countries’ through a glorious campaign, retire on the
     first pinch of cold weather into snug winter quarters in some fat
     Flemish town, and eat and drink and fiddle through the winter.
     Boney must have sadly disconcerted the comfortable system of these
     old warriors by the harrowing, restless, cut-and-slash mode of
     warfare that he introduced. He has put an end to all the old carte
     and tierce system in which the cavaliers of the old school fought
     so decorously, as it were with a small sword in one hand and a
     chapeau bras in the other. During his career there has been a sad
     laying on the shelf of old generals who could not keep up with the
     hurry, the fierceness and dashing of the new system; and among the
     number I presume has been my worthy house-mate, old Trotter. The
     old gentleman, in spite of his warlike title, had a most pacific
     appearance. He was large and fat, with a broad, hazy, muffin face,
     a sleepy eye, and a full double chin. He had a deep ravine from
     each corner of his mouth, not occasioned by any irascible
     contraction of the muscles, but apparently the deep-worn channels
     of two rivulets of gravy that oozed out from the huge mouthfuls
     that he masticated. But I forbear to dwell on the odd beings that
     were congregated together in one hotel. I have been thus prolix
     about the old general because you desired me in one of your letters
     to give you ample details whenever I happened to be in company with
     the ‘great and glorious,’ and old Trotter is more deserving of the
     epithet than any of the personages I have lately encountered.”

It was at the same resort of fashion and disease that Irving observed
a phenomenon upon which Brevoort had commented as beginning to be
noticeable in America.

     “Your account [he writes of the brevity of the old lady’s nether
     garments] distresses me.... I cannot help observing that this
     fashion of short skirts must have been invented by the French ladies
     as a complete trick upon John Bull’s ‘woman-folk.’ It was
     introduced just at the time the English flocked in such crowds to
     Paris. The French women, you know, are remarkable for pretty feet
     and ankles, and can display them in perfect security. The English
     are remarkable for the contrary. Seeing the proneness of the
     English women to follow French fashions, they therefore led them
     into this disastrous one, and sent them home with their petticoats
     up to their knees, exhibiting such a variety of sturdy little legs
     as would have afforded Hogarth an ample choice to match one of his
     assemblages of queer heads. It is really a great source of
     curiosity and amusement on the promenade of a watering-place to
     observe the little sturdy English women, trudging about in their
     stout leather shoes, and to study the various ‘understandings’
     betrayed to view by this mischievous fashion.”

The years passed rather wearily in England. Peter continued to be an
invalid, and Washington himself, never robust, felt the pressure more
and more of the irksome and unprosperous business affairs. Of his own
want of health, however, he never complains; he maintains a patient
spirit in the ill turns of fortune, and his impatience in the business
complications is that of a man hindered from his proper career. The
times were depressing.

     “In America [he writes to Brevoort] you have financial difficulties,
     the embarrassments of trade, the distress of merchants, but here you
     have what is far worse, the distress of the poor--not merely mental
     sufferings, but the absolute miseries of nature: hunger, nakedness,
     wretchedness of all kinds that the laboring people in this country
     are liable to. In the best of times they do but subsist, but in
     adverse times they starve. How the country is to extricate itself
     from its present embarrassment, how it is to escape from the poverty
     that seems to be overwhelming it, and how the government is to quiet
     the multitudes that are already turbulent and clamorous, and are yet
     but in the beginning of their real miseries, I cannot conceive.”

The embarrassments of the agricultural and laboring classes and of the
government were as serious in 1816 as they have again become in 1881.

During 1817 Irving was mostly in the depths of gloom, a prey to the
monotony of life and torpidity of intellect. Rays of sunlight pierce the
clouds occasionally. The Van Wart household at Birmingham was a frequent
refuge for him, and we have pretty pictures of the domestic life there;
glimpses of Old Parr, whose reputation as a gourmand was only second
to his fame as a Grecian, and of that delightful genius, the Rev. Rann
Kennedy, who might have been famous if he had ever committed to paper
the long poems that he carried about in his head, and the engaging sight
of Irving playing the flute for the little Van Warts to dance. During
the holidays Irving paid another visit to the haunts of Isaac Walton,
and his description of the adventures and mishaps of a pleasure party on
the banks of the Dove suggest that the incorrigible bachelor was still
sensitive to the allurements of life; and liable to wander over the
“dead-line” of matrimonial danger. He confesses that he was all day in
Elysium. “When we had descended from the last precipice,” he says,
“and come to where the Dove flowed musically through a verdant
meadow--then--fancy me, oh, thou ‘sweetest of poets,’ wandering by
the course of this romantic stream--a lovely girl hanging on my arm,
pointing out the beauties of the surrounding scenery, and repeating
in the most dulcet voice tracts of heaven-born poetry. If a strawberry
smothered in cream has any consciousness of its delicious situation, it
must feel as I felt at that moment.” Indeed, the letters of this doleful
year are enlivened by so many references to the graces and attractions
of lovely women, seen and remembered, that insensibility cannot be
attributed to the author of the “Sketch-Book.”

The death of Irving’s mother in the spring of 1817 determined him to
remain another year abroad. Business did not improve. His brother-in-law
Van Wart called a meeting of his creditors, the Irving brothers
floundered on into greater depths of embarrassment, and Washington, who
could not think of returning home to face poverty in New York, began to
revolve a plan that would give him a scanty but sufficient support.
The idea of the “Sketch-Book” was in his mind. He had as yet made few
literary acquaintances in England. It is an illustration of the warping
effect of friendship upon the critical faculty that his opinion of Moore
at this time was totally changed by subsequent intimacy. At a later date
the two authors became warm friends and mutual admirers of each other’s
productions. In June, 1817, “Lalla Rookh” was just from the press, and
Irving writes to Brevoort: “Moore’s new poem is just out. I have not
sent it to you, for it is dear and worthless. It is written in the most
effeminate taste, and fit only to delight boarding-school girls and lads
of nineteen just in their first loves. Moore should have kept to songs
and epigrammatic conceits. His stream of intellect is too small to
bear expansion--it spreads into mere surface.” Too much cream for the

Notwithstanding business harassments in the summer and fall of 1817 he
found time for some wandering about the island; he was occasionally in
London, dining at Murray’s, where he made the acquaintance of the elder
D’Israeli and other men of letters (one of his notes of a dinner at
Murray’s is this: “Lord Byron told Murray that he was much happier after
breaking with Lady Byron--he hated this still, quiet life”); he was
publishing a new edition of the “Knickerbocker,” illustrated by Leslie
and Allston; and we find him at home in the friendly and brilliant
society of Edinburgh; both the magazine publishers, Constable and
Blackwood, were very civil to him, and Mr. Jeffrey (Mrs. Renwick was his
sister) was very attentive; and he passed some days with Walter Scott,
whose home life he so agreeably describes in his sketch of “Abbotsford.”
 He looked back longingly to the happy hours there (he writes to his
brother): “Scott reading, occasionally, from ‘Prince Arthur;’ telling
border stories or characteristic ancedotes; Sophy Scott singing with
charming ‘naivete’ a little border song; the rest of the family disposed
in listening groups, while greyhounds, spaniels, and cats bask in
unbounded indulgence before the fire. Everything about Scott is perfect
character and picture.”

In the beginning of 1818 the business affairs of the brothers became
so irretrievably involved that Peter and Washington went through
the humiliating experience of taking the bankrupt act. Washington’s
connection with the concern was little more than nominal, and he felt
small anxiety for himself, and was eager to escape from an occupation
which had taken all the elasticity out of his mind. But on account of
his brothers, in this dismal wreck of a family connection, his soul was
steeped in bitterness. Pending the proceedings of the commissioners, he
shut himself up day and night to the study of German, and while waiting
for the examination used to walk up and down the room, conning over the
German verbs.

In August he went up to London and cast himself irrevocably upon the
fortune of his pen. He had accumulated some materials, and upon these he
set to work. Efforts were made at home to procure for him the position
of Secretary of Legation in London, which drew from him the remark,
when they came to his knowledge, that he did not like to have his name
hackneyed about among the office-seekers in Washington. Subsequently his
brother William wrote him that Commodore Decatur was keeping open
for him the office of Chief Clerk in the Navy Department. To the
mortification and chagrin of his brothers, Washington declined the
position. He was resolved to enter upon no duties that would interfere
with his literary pursuits.

This resolution, which exhibited a modest confidence in his own powers,
and the energy with which he threw himself into his career, showed the
fiber of the man. Suddenly, by the reverse of fortune, he who had been
regarded as merely the ornamental genius of the family became its stay
and support. If he had accepted the aid of his brothers, during the
experimental period of his life, in the loving spirit of confidence in
which it was given, he was not less ready to reverse the relations when
the time came; the delicacy with which his assistance was rendered, the
scrupulous care taken to convey the feeling that his brothers were
doing him a continued favor in sharing his good fortune, and their
own unjealous acceptance of what they would as freely have given if
circumstances had been different, form one of the pleasantest instances
of brotherly concord and self-abnegation. I know nothing more admirable
than the lifelong relations of this talented and sincere family.

Before the “Sketch-Book” was launched, and while Irving was casting
about for the means of livelihood, Walter Scott urged him to take the
editorship of an anti-Jacobin periodical in Edinburgh. This he declined
because he had no taste for politics, and because he was averse to
stated, routine literary work. Subsequently Mr. Murray offered him a
salary of a thousand guineas to edit a periodical to be published by
himself. This was declined, as also was another offer to contribute to
the “London Quarterly” with the liberal pay of one hundred guineas an
article. For the “Quarterly” he would not write, because, he says, “it
has always been so hostile to my country, I cannot draw a pen in its
service.” This is worthy of note in view of a charge made afterwards,
when he was attacked for his English sympathies, that he was a frequent
contributor to this anti-American review. His sole contributions to
it were a gratuitous review of the book of an American author, and an
explanatory article, written at the desire of his publisher, on the
“Conquest of Granada.” It is not necessary to dwell upon the small
scandal about Irving’s un-American’ feeling. If there was ever a man
who loved his country and was proud of it; whose broad, deep, and strong
patriotism did not need the saliency of ignorant partisanship, it was
Washington Irving. He was, like his namesake, an American, and with the
same pure loyalty and unpartisan candor.

The first number of the “Sketch-Book” was published in America in May,
1819. Irving was then thirty-six years old. The series was not completed
till September, 1820. The first installment was carried mainly by two
papers, “The Wife” and “Rip Van Winkle:” the one full of tender
pathos that touched all hearts, because it was recognized as a genuine
expression of the author’s nature; and the other a happy effort of
imaginative humor, one of those strokes of genius that re-create the
world and clothe it with the unfading hues of romance; the theme was
an old-world echo, transformed by genius into a primal story that will
endure as long as the Hudson flows through its mountains to the sea. A
great artist can paint a great picture on a small canvas.

The “Sketch-Book” created a sensation in America, and the echo of it
was not long in reaching England. The general chorus of approval and the
rapid sale surprised Irving, and sent his spirits up, but success had
the effect on him that it always has on a fine nature. He writes to
Leslie: “Now you suppose I am all on the alert, and full of spirit and
excitement. No such thing. I am just as good for nothing as ever I was;
and, indeed, have been flurried and put out of my way by these pufflngs.
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.”

It was with much misgiving that Irving made this venture. “I feel great
diffidence,” he writes Brevoort, March 3, 1819, “about this reappearance
in literature. I am conscious of my imperfections, and my mind has been
for a long time past so pressed upon and agitated by various cares and
anxieties, that I fear it has lost much of its cheerfulness and some of
its activity. 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
feelings and fancy of the reader more than to his judgment. My writings
may appear, therefore, 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 Frenchhorn.” This diffidence was not assumed.
All through his career, a breath of criticism ever so slight acted
temporarily like a boar-frost upon his productive power. He always saw
reasons to take sides with his critic. Speaking of “vanity” in a letter
of March, 1820, when Scott and Lockhart and all the Reviews were in a
full chorus of acclaim, he says: “I wish I did possess more of it, but
it seems my curse at present to have anything but confidence in myself
or pleasure in anything I have written.”

In a similar strain he had written, in September, 1819, on the news of
the cordial reception of the “Sketch-Book” in America:

     “The manner in which the work has been received, and the eulogiums
     that have been passed upon it in the American papers and periodical
     works, have completely overwhelmed me. They go far, far beyond my
     most sanguine expectations, and indeed are expressed with such
     peculiar warmth and kindness as to affect me in the tenderest
     manner. The receipt of your letter, and the reading of some of the
     criticisms this morning, have rendered me nervous for the whole day.
     I feel almost appalled by such success, and fearful that it cannot
     be real, or that it is not fully merited, or that I shall not act up
     to the expectations that may be formed. We are whimsically
     constituted beings. I had got out of conceit of all that I had
     written, and considered it very questionable stuff; and now that it
     is so extravagantly be praised, I begin to feel afraid that I shall
     not do as well again. However, we shall see as we get on. As yet I
     am extremely irregular and precarious in my fits of composition.
     The least thing puts me out of the vein, and even applause flurries
     me and prevents my writing, though of course it will ultimately be a

     “I have been somewhat touched by the manner in which my writings
     have been noticed in the ‘Evening Post.’ I had considered Coleman
     as cherishing an ill-will toward me, and, to tell the truth, have
     not always been the most courteous in my opinions concerning him.
     It is a painful thing either to dislike others or to fancy they
     dislike us, and I have felt both pleasure and self-reproach at
     finding myself so mistaken with respect to Mr. Coleman. I like to
     out with a good feeling as soon as it rises, and so I have dropt
     Coleman a line on the subject.

     “I hope you will not attribute all this sensibility to the kind
     reception I have met to an author’s vanity. I am sure it proceeds
     from very different sources. Vanity could not bring the tears into
     my eyes as they have been brought by the kindness of my countrymen.
     I have felt cast down, blighted, and broken-spirited, and these
     sudden rays of sunshine agitate me more than they revive me. I
     hope--I hope I may yet do something more worthy of the appreciation
     lavished on me.”

Irving had not contemplated publishing in England, but the papers began
to be reprinted, and he was obliged to protect himself. He offered the
sketches to Murray, the princely publisher, who afterwards dealt so
liberally with him, but the venture was declined in a civil note,
written in that charming phraseology with which authors are familiar,
but which they would in vain seek to imitate. Irving afterwards greatly
prized this letter. He undertook the risks of the publication himself,
and the book sold well, although “written by an author the public knew
nothing of, and published by a bookseller who was going to ruin.” In a
few months Murray, who was thereafter proud to be Irving’s publisher,
undertook the publication of the two volumes of the “Sketch-Book,” and
also of the “Knickerbocker” history, which Mr. Lockhart had just been
warmly praising in “Blackwood’s.” Indeed, he bought the copyright of
the “Sketch-Book” for two hundred pounds. The time for the publisher’s
complaisance had arrived sooner even than Scott predicted in one of his
kindly letters to Irving, “when

      “‘Your name is up and may go
       From Toledo to Madrid.’”

Irving passed five years in England. Once recognized by the literary
world, whatever was best in the society of letters and of fashion was
open to him. He was a welcome guest in the best London houses, where he
met the foremost literary personages of the time, and established
most cordial relations with many of them; not to speak of statesmen,
soldiers, and men and women of fashion, there were the elder D’Israeli,
Southey, Campbell, Hallam, Gifford, Milman, Foscolo, Rogers, Scott, and
Belzoni fresh from his Egyptian explorations. In Irving’s letters
this old society passes in review: Murray’s drawing-rooms; the amusing
blue-stocking coteries of fashion of which Lady Caroline Lamb was a
promoter; the Countess of Besborough’s, at whose house the Duke could
be seen; the Wimbledon country seat of Lord and Lady Spence; Belzoni, a
giant of six feet five, the center of a group of eager auditors of
the Egyptian marvels; Hallam, affable and unpretending, and a copious
talker; Gifford, a small, shriveled, deformed man of sixty, with
something of a humped back, eyes that diverge, and a large mouth,
reclining on a sofa, propped up by cushions, with none of the petulance
that you would expect from his Review, but a mild, simple, unassuming
man,--he it is who prunes the contributions and takes the sting out of
them (one would like to have seen them before the sting was taken out);
and Scott, the right honest-hearted, entering into the passing scene
with the hearty enjoyment of a child, to whom literature seems a sport
rather than a labor or ambition, an author void of all the petulance,
egotism, and peculiarities of the craft. We have Moore’s authority for
saying that the literary dinner described in the “Tales of a Traveller,”
 whimsical as it seems and pervaded by the conventional notion of the
relations of publishers and authors, had a personal foundation. Irving’s
satire of both has always the old-time Grub Street flavor, or at least
the reminiscent tone, which is, by the way, quite characteristic of
nearly everything that he wrote about England. He was always a little
in the past tense. Buckthorne’s advice to his friend is, never to be
eloquent to an author except in praise of his own works, or, what
is nearly as acceptable, in disparagement of the work of his
contemporaries. “If ever he speaks favorably of the productions of a
particular friend, dissent boldly from him; pronounce his friend to be
a blockhead; never fear his being vexed. Much as people speak of the
irritability of authors, I never found one to take offense at such
contradictions. No, no, sir, authors are particularly candid in
admitting the faults of their friends.” At the dinner Buckthorne
explains the geographical boundaries in the land of literature: you
may judge tolerably well of an author’s popularity by the wine his
bookseller gives him. “An author crosses the port line about the third
edition, and gets into claret; and when he has reached the sixth or
seventh, he may revel in champagne and burgundy.” The two ends of the
table were occupied by the two partners, one of whom laughed at
the clever things said by the poet, while the other maintained his
sedateness and kept on carving. “His gravity was explained to us by my
friend Buckthorne. He informed me that the concerns of the house were
admirably distributed among the partners. Thus, for instance, said he,
the grave gentleman is the carving partner, who attends to the joints;
and the other is the laughing partner, who attends to the jokes.” If any
of the jokes from the lower end of the table reached the upper end, they
seldom produced much effect. “Even the laughing partner did not think
it necessary to honor them with a smile; which my neighbor Buckthorne
accounted for by informing me that there was a certain degree of
popularity to be obtained before a book seller could afford to laugh at
an author’s jokes.”

In August, 1820, we find Irving in Paris, where his reputation secured
him a hearty welcome: he was often at the Cannings’ and at Lord
Holland’s; Talma, then the king of the stage, became his friend, and
there he made the acquaintance of Thomas Moore, which ripened into a
familiar and lasting friendship. The two men were drawn to each other;
Irving greatly admired the “noble hearted, manly, spirited little
fellow, with a mind as generous as his fancy is brilliant.” Talma was
playing “Hamlet” to overflowing houses, which hung on his actions with
breathless attention, or broke into ungovernable applause; ladies were
carried fainting from the boxes. The actor is described as short in
stature, rather inclined to fat, with a large face and a thick neck; his
eyes are bluish, and have a peculiar cast in them at times. He said to
Irving that he thought the French character much changed--graver; the
day of the classic drama, mere declamation and fine language, had
gone by; the Revolution had taught them to demand real life, incident,
passion, character. Irving’s life in Paris was gay enough, and seriously
interfered with his literary projects. He had the fortunes of his
brother Peter on his mind also, and invested his earnings, then and
for some years after, in enterprises for his benefit that ended in

The “Sketch-Book” was making a great fame for him in England. Jeffrey,
in the “Edinburgh Review,” paid it a most flattering tribute, and even
the savage “Quarterly” praised it. A rumor attributed it to Scott, who
was always masquerading; at least, it was said, he might have revised
it, and should have the credit of its exquisite style. This led to a
sprightly correspondence between Lady Littleton, the daughter of Earl
Spencer, one of the most accomplished and lovely women of England, and
Benjamin Rush, Minister to the Court of St. James, in the course of
which Mr. Rush suggested the propriety of giving out under his official
seal that Irving was the author of “Waverley.” “Geoffrey Crayon is the
most fashionable fellow of the day,” wrote the painter Leslie. Lord
Byron, in a letter to Murray, underscored his admiration of the author,
and subsequently said to an American, “His Crayon,--I know it by heart;
at least, there is not a passage that I cannot refer to immediately.”
 And afterwards he wrote to Moore, “His writings are my delight.” There
seemed to be, as some one wrote, “a kind of conspiracy to hoist him over
the heads of his contemporaries.” Perhaps the most satisfactory evidence
of his popularity was his publisher’s enthusiasm. The publisher is an
infallible contemporary barometer.

It is worthy of note that an American should have captivated public
attention at the moment when Scott and Byron were the idols of the
English-reading world.

In the following year Irving was again in England, visiting his sister
in Birmingham, and tasting moderately the delights of London. He was,
indeed, something of an invalid. An eruptive malady,--the revenge
of nature, perhaps, for defeat in her earlier attack on his
lungs,-appearing in his ankles, incapacitated him for walking, tormented
him at intervals so that literary composition was impossible, sent
him on pilgrimages to curative springs, and on journeys undertaken for
distraction and amusement, in which all work except that of seeing and
absorbing material had to be postponed. He was subject to this recurring
invalidism all his life, and we must regard a good part of the work he
did as a pure triumph of determination over physical discouragement.
This year the fruits of his interrupted labor appeared in “Bracebridge
Hall,” a volume that was well received, but did not add much to his
reputation, though it contained “Dolph Heyliger,” one of his most
characteristic Dutch stories, and the “Stout Gentleman,” one of his
daintiest and most artistic bits of restrained humor.--[‘I was once’
says his biographer reading aloud in his presence a very flattering
review of his works, which, had been sent him by the critic in 1848, and
smiled as I came to this sentence: ‘His most comical pieces have always
a serious end in view.’--‘You laugh,’ said he, but it is true. I have
kept that to myself hitherto, but that man has found me out. He has
detected the moral of the Stout Gentleman with that air of whimsical
significance so natural to him.’]

Irving sought relief from his malady by an extended tour in Germany. He
sojourned some time in Dresden, whither his reputation had preceded
him, and where he was cordially and familiarly received, not only by the
foreign residents, but at the prim and antiquated little court of King
Frederick Augustus and Queen Amalia. Of Irving at this time Mrs. Emily
Fuller (nee Foster), whose relations with him have been referred to,
wrote in 1860:

     “He was thoroughly a gentleman, not merely in external manners
     and look, but to the innermost fibres and core of his heart;
     sweet-tempered, gentle, fastidious, sensitive, and gifted with the
     warmest affections; the most delightful and invariably interesting
     companion; gay and full of humor, even in spite of occasional fits
     of melancholy, which he was, however, seldom subject to when with
     those he liked; a gift of conversation that flowed like a full
     river in sunshine,--bright, easy, and abundant.”

Those were pleasant days at Dresden, filled up with the society of
bright and warm-hearted people, varied by royal boar hunts, stiff
ceremonies at the little court, tableaux, and private theatricals, yet
tinged with a certain melancholy, partly constitutional, that appears in
most of his letters. His mind was too unsettled for much composition.
He had little self-confidence, and was easily put out by a breath of
adverse criticism. At intervals he would come to the Fosters to read a
manuscript of his own.

     “On these occasions strict orders were given that no visitor should
     be admitted till the last word had been read, and the whole praised
     or criticised, as the case may be. Of criticism, however, we were
     very spare, as a slight word would put him out of conceit of a whole
     work. One of the best things he has published was thrown aside,
     unfinished, for years, because the friend to whom he read it,
     happening, unfortunately, not to be well, and sleepy, did not seem
     to take the interest in it he expected. Too easily discouraged, it
     was not till the latter part of his career that he ever appreciated
     himself as an author. One condemning whisper sounded louder in his
     ear than the plaudits of thousands.”

This from Miss Emily Foster, who elsewhere notes his kindliness in
observing life:

     “Some persons, in looking upon life, view it as they would view a
     picture, with a stern and criticising eye. He also looks upon life
     as a picture, but to catch its beauties, its lights,--not its
     defects and shadows. On the former he loves to dwell. He has a
     wonderful knack at shutting his eyes to the sinister side of
     anything. Never beat a more kindly heart than his; alive to the
     sorrows, but not to the faults, of his friends, but doubly alive to
     their virtues and goodness. Indeed, people seemed to grow more good
     with one so unselfish and so gentle.”

In London, some years later:

     “He was still the same; time changed him very little. His
     conversation was as interesting as ever [he was always an excellent
     relater]; his dark gray eyes still full of varying feeling; his smile
     ‘half playful, half melancholy, but ever kind. All that was mean,
     or envious, or harsh, he seemed to turn from so completely that,
     when with him, it seemed that such things were not. All gentle and
     tender affections, Nature in her sweetest or grandest moods,
     pervaded his whole imagination, and left no place for low or evil
     thoughts; and when in good spirits, his humor, his droll
     descriptions, and his fun would make the gravest or the saddest

As to Irving’s “state of mind” in Dresden, it is pertinent to quote a
passage from what we gather to be a journal kept by Miss Flora Foster:

     “He has written. He has confessed to my mother, as to a true and
     dear 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. Yet he
     cannot bear to give up our friendship,--an intercourse become so
     dear to him, and so necessary to his daily happiness. Poor Irving!”

It is well for our peace of mind that we do not know what is going down
concerning us in “journals.” On his way to the Herrnhuthers, Mr. Irving
wrote to Mrs. Foster:

     “When I consider how I have trifled with my time, suffered painful
     vicissitudes of feeling, which for a time damaged both mind and
     body,--when I consider all this, I reproach myself that I did not
     listen to the first impulse of my mind, and abandon Dresden long
     since. And yet I think of returning! Why should I come back to
     Dresden? The very inclination that dooms me thither should furnish
     reasons for my staying away.”

In this mood, the Herrnhuthers, in their right-angled, whitewashed
world, were little attractive.

     “If the Herrnhuthers were right in their notions, the world would
     have been laid out in squares and angles and right lines, and
     everything would have been white and black and snuff-color, as they
     have been clipped by these merciless retrenchers of beauty and
     enjoyment. And then their dormitories! Think of between one and
     two hundred of these simple gentlemen cooped up at night in one
     great chamber! What a concert of barrel-organs in this great
     resounding saloon! And then their plan of marriage! The very birds
     of the air choose their mates from preference and inclination; but
     this detestable system of lot! The sentiment of love may be, and
     is, in a great measure, a fostered growth of poetry and romance, and
     balder-dashed with false sentiment; but with all its vitiations, it
     is the beauty and the charm, the flavor and the fragrance, of all
     intercourse between man and woman; it is the rosy cloud in the
     morning of life; and if it does too often resolve itself into the
     shower, yet, to my mind, it only makes our nature more fruitful in
     what is excellent and amiable.”

Better suited him Prague, which is certainly a part of the “naughty
world” that Irving preferred:

     “Old Prague still keeps up its warrior look, and swaggers about with
     its rusty corselet and helm, though both sadly battered. There
     seems to me to be an air of style and fashion about the first people
     of Prague, and a good deal of beauty in the fashionable circle.
     This, perhaps, is owing to my contemplating it from a distance, and
     my imagination lending it tints occasionally. Both actors and
     audience, contemplated from the pit of a theatre, look better than
     when seen in the boxes and behind the scenes. I like to contemplate
     society in this way occasionally, and to dress it up by the help of
     fancy, to my own taste. When I get in the midst of it, it is too
     apt to lose its charm, and then there is the trouble and ennui of
     being obliged to take an active part in the farce; but to be a mere
     spectator is amusing. I am glad, therefore, that I brought no
     letters to Prague. I shall leave it with a favorable idea of its
     society and manners, from knowing nothing accurate of either; and
     with a firm belief that every pretty woman I have seen is an angel,
     as I am apt to think every pretty woman, until I have found her

In July, 1823, Irving returned to Paris, to the society of the Moores
and the fascinations of the gay town, and to fitful literary work. Our
author wrote with great facility and rapidity when the inspiration was
on him, and produced an astonishing amount of manuscript in a short
period; but he often waited and fretted through barren weeks and months
for the movement of his fitful genius. His mind was teeming constantly
with new projects, and nothing could exceed his industry when once he
had taken a work in hand; but he never acquired the exact methodical
habits which enable some literary men to calculate their power and
quantity of production as accurately as that of a cotton mill.

The political changes in France during the period of Irving’s long
sojourn in Paris do not seem to have taken much of his attention. In a
letter dated October 5, 1826, he says: “We have had much bustle in Paris
of late, between the death of one king and the succession of another.
I have become a little callous to public sights, but have,
notwithstanding, been to see the funeral of the late king, and the
entrance into Paris of the present one. Charles X. begins his reign in
a very conciliating manner, and is really popular. The Bourbons have
gained great accession of power within a few years.”

The succession of Charles X. was also observed by another foreigner, who
was making agreeable personal notes at that time in Paris, but who is
not referred to by Irving, who, for some unexplained reason, failed to
meet the genial Scotsman at breakfast. Perhaps it is to his failure to
do so that he owes the semi-respectful reference to himself in Carlyle’s
“Reminiscences.” Lacking the stimulus to his vocabulary of personal
acquaintance, Carlyle simply wrote: “Washington Irving was said to be in
Paris, a kind of lion at that time, whose books I somewhat esteemed.
One day the Emerson-Tennant people bragged that they had engaged him to
breakfast with us at a certain cafe next morning. We all attended duly,
Strackey among the rest, but no Washington came. ‘Could n’t rightly
come,’ said Malcolm to me in a judicious aside, as we cheerfully
breakfasted without him. I never saw Washington at all, but still have
a mild esteem of the good man.” This ought to be accepted as evidence of
Carlyle’s disinclination to say ill-natured things of those he did not

The “Tales of a Traveller” appeared in 1826. In the author’s opinion,
with which the best critics agreed, it contained some of his best
writing. He himself said in a letter to Brevoort, “There was more of an
artistic touch about it, though this is not a thing to be appreciated
by the many.” It was rapidly written. The movement has a delightful
spontaneity, and it is wanting in none of the charms of his style,
unless, perhaps, the style is over-refined; but it was not a novelty,
and the public began to criticise and demand a new note. This may have
been one reason why he turned to a fresh field and to graver themes.
For a time he busied himself on some American essays of a semi-political
nature, which were never finished, and he seriously contemplated a Life
of Washington; but all these projects were thrown aside for one that
kindled his imagination,--the Life of Columbus; and in February,
1826, he was domiciled at Madrid, and settled down to a long period of
unremitting and intense labor.


Irving’s residence in Spain, which was prolonged till September,
1829, was the most fruitful period in his life, and of considerable
consequence to literature. It is not easy to overestimate the debt of
Americans to the man who first opened to them the fascinating domain of
early Spanish history and romance. We can conceive of it by reflecting
upon the blank that would exist without “The Alhambra,” “The Conquest
of Granada,” “The Legends of the Conquest of Spain,” and I may add the
popular loss if we had not “The Lives of Columbus and his Companions.”
 Irving had the creative touch, or at least the magic of the pen, to give
a definite, universal, and romantic interest to whatever he described.
We cannot deny him that. A few lines about the inn of the Red Horse
at Stratford-on-Avon created a new object of pilgrimage right in the
presence of the house and tomb of the poet. And how much of the romantic
interest of all the English-reading world in the Alhambra is due to
him; the name invariably recalls his own, and every visitor there is
conscious of his presence. He has again and again been criticised almost
out of court, and written down to the rank of the mere idle humorist;
but as often as I take up “The Conquest of Granada” or “The Alhambra”
 I am aware of something that has eluded the critical analysis, and I
conclude that if one cannot write for the few, it may be worth while to
write for the many.

It was Irving’s intention, when he went to Madrid, merely to make a
translation of some historical documents which were then appearing,
edited by M. Navarrete, from the papers of Bishop Las Casas and the
journals of Columbus, entitled “The Voyages of Columbus.” But when
he found that this publication, although it contained many documents,
hitherto unknown, that threw much light on the discovery of the New
World, was rather a rich mass of materials for a history than a history
itself, and that he had access in Madrid libraries to great collections
of Spanish colonial history, he changed his plan, and determined to
write a Life of Columbus. His studies for this led him deep into the old
chronicles and legends of Spain, and out of these, with his own travel
and observation, came those books of mingled fables, sentiment,
fact, and humor which are, after all, the most enduring fruits of his
residence in Spain.

Notwithstanding his absorption in literary pursuits, Irving was not
denied the charm of domestic society, which was all his life his
chief delight. The house he most frequented in Madrid was that of Mr.
D’Oubril, the Russian Minister. In his charming household were Madame
D’Oubril and her niece, Mademoiselle Antoinette Bollviller, and Prince
Dolgorouki, a young attache of the legation. His letters to Prince
Dolgorouki and to Mademoiselle Antoinette give a most lively and
entertaining picture of his residence and travels in Spain. In one of
them to the prince, who was temporarily absent from the city, we have
glimpses of the happy hours, the happiest of all hours, passed in this
refined family circle. Here is one that exhibits the still fresh romance
in the heart of forty-four years:

     “Last evening, at your house, we had one of the most lovely tableaux
     I ever beheld. It was the conception of Murillo, represented by
     Madame A----. Mademoiselle Antoinette arranged the tableau with her
     usual good taste, and the effect was enchanting. It was more like a
     vision of something spiritual and celestial than a representation of
     anything merely mortal; or rather it was woman as in my romantic
     days I have been apt to imagine her, approaching to the angelic
     nature. I have frequently admired Madame A----as a mere beautiful
     woman, when I have seen her dressed up in the fantastic attire of
     the mode; but here I beheld her elevated into a representative of
     the divine purity and grace, exceeding even the beau ideal of the
     painter, for she even surpassed in beauty the picture of Murillo.
     I felt as if I could have knelt down and worshiped her. Heavens!
     what power women would have over us, if they knew how to sustain the
     attractions which nature has bestowed upon them, and which we are so
     ready to assist by our imaginations! For my part, I am
     superstitious in my admiration of them, and like to walk in a
     perpetual delusion, decking them out as divinities. I thank no one
     to undeceive me, and to prove that they are mere mortals.”

And he continues in another strain:

     “How full of interest is everything connected with the old times in
     Spain! I am more and more delighted with the old literature of the
     country, its chronicles, plays, and romances. It has the wild vigor
     and luxuriance of the forests of my native country, which, however
     savage and entangled, are more captivating to my imagination than
     the finest parks and cultivated woodlands.

     “As I live in the neighborhood of the library of the Jesuits’
     College of St. Isidoro, I pass most of my mornings there.
     You cannot think what a delight I feel in passing through its
     galleries, filled with old parchment-bound books. It is a perfect
     wilderness of curiosity to me. What a deep-felt, quiet luxury there
     is in delving into the rich ore of these old, neglected volumes!
     How these hours of uninterrupted intellectual enjoyment, so tranquil
     and independent, repay one for the ennui and disappointment too
     often experienced in the intercourse of society! How they serve to
     bring back the feelings into a harmonious tone, after being jarred
     and put out of tune by the collisions with the world!”

With the romantic period of Spanish history Irving was in ardent
sympathy. The story of the Saracens entranced his mind; his imagination
disclosed its oriental quality while he pored over the romance and the
ruin of that land of fierce contrasts, of arid wastes beaten by the
burning sun, valleys blooming with intoxicating beauty, cities of
architectural splendor and picturesque squalor. It is matter of regret
that he, who seemed to need the southern sun to ripen his genius, never
made a pilgrimage into the East, and gave to the world pictures of the
lands that he would have touched with the charm of their own color and
the witchery of their own romance.

I will quote again from the letters, for they reveal the man quite as
well as the more formal and better known writings. His first sight of
the Alhambra is given in a letter to Mademoiselle Bollviller:

     “Our journey through La Mancha was cold and uninteresting, excepting
     when we passed through the scenes of some of the exploits of Don
     Quixote. We were repaid, however, by a night amidst the scenery of
     the Sierra Morena, seen by the light of the full moon. I do not
     know how this scenery would appear in the daytime, but by moonlight
     it is wonderfully wild and romantic, especially after passing the
     summit of the Sierra. As the day dawned we entered the stern and
     savage defiles of the Despena Perros, which equals the wild
     landscapes of Salvator Rosa. For some time we continued winding
     along the brinks of precipices, overhung with cragged and fantastic
     rocks; and after a succession of such rude and sterile scenes we
     swept down to Carolina, and found ourselves in another climate.
     The orange-trees, the aloes, and myrtle began to make their
     appearance; we felt the warm temperature of the sweet South, and
     began to breathe the balmy air of Andalusia. At Andujar we were
     delighted with the neatness and cleanliness of the houses, the
     patios planted with orange and citron trees, and refreshed by
     fountains. We passed a charming evening on the banks of the famous
     Guadalquivir, enjoying the mild, balmy air of a southern evening,
     and rejoicing in the certainty that we were at length in this land
     of promise....

     “But Granada, bellissima Granada! Think what must have been our
     delight when, after passing the famous bridge of Pinos, the scene of
     many a bloody encounter between Moor and Christian, and remarkable
     for having been the place where Columbus was overtaken by the
     messenger of Isabella, when about to abandon Spain in despair, we
     turned a promontory of the arid mountains of Elvira, and Granada,
     with its towers, its Alhambra, and its snowy mountains, burst upon
     our sight! The evening sun shone gloriously upon its red towers as
     we approached it, and gave a mellow tone to the rich scenery of the
     vega. It was like the magic glow which poetry and romance have shed
     over this enchanting place...

     “The more I contemplate these places, the more my admiration is
     awakened for the elegant habits and delicate taste of the Moorish
     monarchs. The delicately ornamented walls; the aromatic groves,
     mingling with the freshness and the enlivening sounds of fountains
     and rivers of water; the retired baths, bespeaking purity and
     refinement; the balconies and galleries; open to the fresh mountain
     breeze, and overlooking the loveliest scenery of the valley of the
     Darro and the magnificent expanse of the vega,--it is impossible to
     contemplate this delicious abode and not feel an admiration of the
     genius and the poetical spirit of those who first devised this
     earthly paradise. There is an intoxication of heart and soul in
     looking over such scenery at this genial season. All nature is just
     teeming with new life, and putting on the first delicate verdure and
     bloom of spring. The almond-trees are in blossom; the fig-trees are
     beginning to sprout; everything is in the tender bud, the young
     leaf, or the half-open flower. The beauty of the season is but half
     developed, so that while there is enough to yield present delight,
     there is the flattering promise of still further enjoyment. Good
     heavens! after passing two years amidst the sunburnt wastes of
     Castile, to be let loose to rove at large over this fragrant and
     lovely land!”

It was not easy, however, even in the Alhambra, perfectly to call up the

     “The verity of the present checks and chills the imagination in its
     picturings of the past. I have been trying to conjure up images of
     Boabdil passing in regal splendor through these courts; of his
     beautiful queen; of the Abencerrages, the Gomares, and the other
     Moorish cavaliers, who once filled these halls with the glitter of
     arms and the splendor of Oriental luxury; but I am continually
     awakened from my reveries by the jargon of an Andalusian peasant who
     is setting out rose-bushes, and the song of a pretty Andalusian girl
     who shows the Alhambra, and who is chanting a little romance that
     has probably been handed down from generation to generation since
     the time of the Moors.”

In another letter, written from Seville, he returns to the subject of
the Moors. He is describing an excursion to Alcala de la Guadayra:

     “Nothing can be more charming than the windings of the little river
     among banks hanging with gardens and orchards of all kinds of
     delicate southern fruits, and tufted with flowers and aromatic
     plants. The nightingales throng this lovely little valley as
     numerously as they do the gardens of Aranjuez. Every bend of the
     river presents a new landscape, for it is beset by old Moorish mills
     of the most picturesque forms, each mill having an embattled tower,
     a memento of the valiant tenure by which those gallant fellows, the
     Moors, held this earthly paradise, having to be ready at all times
     for war, and as it were to work with one hand and fight with the
     other. It is impossible to travel about Andalusia and not imbibe a
     kind feeling for those Moors. They deserved this beautiful country.
     They won it bravely; they enjoyed it generously and kindly.
     No lover ever delighted more to cherish and adorn a mistress, to
     heighten and illustrate her charms, and to vindicate and defend her
     against all the world than did the Moors to embellish, enrich,
     elevate, and defend their beloved Spain. Everywhere I meet traces
     of their sagacity, courage, urbanity, high poetical feeling, and
     elegant taste. The noblest institutions in this part of Spain, the
     best inventions for comfortable and agreeable living, and all those
     habitudes and customs which throw a peculiar and Oriental charm over
     the Andalusian mode of living may be traced to the Moors. Whenever
     I enter these beautiful marble patios, set out with shrubs and
     flowers, refreshed by fountains, sheltered with awnings from the
     sun; where the air is cool at noonday, the ear delighted in sultry
     summer by the sound of falling water; where, in a word, a little
     paradise is shut up within the walls of home, I think on the poor
     Moors, the inventors of all these delights. I am at times almost
     ready to join in sentiment with a worthy friend and countryman of
     mine whom I met in Malaga, who swears the Moors are the only people
     that ever deserved the country, and prays to Heaven that they may
     come over from Africa and conquer it again.”

In a following paragraph we get a glimpse of a world, however, that the
author loves still more:

     “Tell me everything about the children. I suppose the discreet
     princess will soon consider it an indignity to be ranked among the
     number. I am told she is growing with might and main, and is
     determined not to stop until she is a woman outright. I would give
     all the money in my pocket to be with those dear little women at the
     round table in the saloon, or on the grass-plot in the garden, to
     tell them some marvelous tales.”

And again:

     “Give my love to all my dear little friends of the round table, from
     the discreet princess down to the little blue-eyed boy. Tell la
     petite Marie that I still remain true to her, though surrounded by
     all the beauties of Seville; and that I swear (but this she must
     keep between ourselves) that there is not a little woman to compare
     with her in all Andalusia.”

The publication of “The Life of Columbus,” which had been delayed by
Irving’s anxiety to secure historical accuracy in every detail, did not
take place till February, 1828. For the English copyright Mr. Murray
paid him L 3150. He wrote an abridgment of it, which he presented to
his generous publisher, and which was a very profitable book (the first
edition of ten thousand copies sold immediately). This was followed by
the “Companions,” and by “The Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada,” for
which he received two thousand guineas. “The Alhambra” was not published
till just before Irving’s return to America, in 1832, and was brought
out by Mr. Bentley, who bought it for one thousand guineas.

“The Conquest of Granada,” which I am told Irving in his latter years
regarded as the best of all his works, was declared by Coleridge “a
chef-d’oeuvre of its kind.” I think it bears rereading as well as any
of the Spanish books. Of the reception of the “Columbus” the author was
very doubtful. Before it was finished he wrote:

     “I have lost confidence in the favorable disposition of my
     countrymen, and look forward to cold scrutiny and stern criticism,
     and this is a line of writing in which I have not hitherto
     ascertained my own powers. Could I afford it, I should like to
     write, and to lay my writings aside when finished. There is an
     independent delight in study and in the creative exercise of the
     pen; we live in a world of dreams, but publication lets in the noisy
     rabble of the world, and there is an end of our dreaming.”

In a letter to Brevoort, February 23, 1828, he fears that he can never

     “that delightful confidence which I once enjoyed of not the good
     opinion, but the good will, of my countrymen. To me it is always
     ten times more gratifying to be liked than to be admired; and I
     confess to you, though I am a little too proud to confess it to the
     world, the idea that the kindness of my countrymen toward me was
     withering caused me for a long time the most weary depression of
     spirits, and disheartened me from making any literary exertions.”

It has been a popular notion that Irving’s career was uniformly one of
ease. In this same letter he exclaims: “With all my exertions, I seem
always to keep about up to my chin in troubled water, while the world, I
suppose, thinks I am sailing smoothly, with wind and tide in my favor.”

In a subsequent letter to Brevoort, dated at Seville, December 26, 1828,
occurs almost the only piece of impatience and sarcasm that this long
correspondence affords. “Columbus” had succeeded beyond his expectation,
and its popularity was so great that some enterprising American had
projected an abridgment, which it seems would not be protected by the
copyright of the original. Irving writes:

     “I have just sent to my brother an abridgment of ‘Columbus’ to be
     published immediately, as I find some paltry fellow is pirating an
     abridgment. Thus every line of life has its depredation. ‘There be
     land rats and water rats, land pirates and water pirates,--I mean
     thieves,’ as old Shylock says. I feel vexed at this shabby attempt
     to purloin this work from me, it having really cost me more toil and
     trouble than all my other productions, and being one that I trusted
     would keep me current with my countrymen; but we are making rapid
     advances in literature in America, and have already attained many of
     the literary vices and diseases of the old countries of Europe.
     We swarm with reviewers, though we have scarce original works
     sufficient for them to alight and prey upon, and we closely imitate
     all the worst tricks of the trade and of the craft in England.
     Our literature, before long, will be like some of those premature
     and aspiring whipsters, who become old men before they are young
     ones, and fancy they prove their manhood by their profligacy and
     their diseases.”

But the work had an immediate, continued, and deserved success. It was
critically contrasted with Robertson’s account of Columbus, and it is
open to the charge of too much rhetorical color here and there, and it
is at times too diffuse; but its substantial accuracy is not questioned,
and the glow of the narrative springs legitimately from the romance
of the theme. Irving understood, what our later historians have fully
appreciated, the advantage of vivid individual portraiture in historical
narrative. His conception of the character and mission of Columbus is
largely outlined, but firmly and most carefully executed, and is one
of the noblest in literature. I cannot think it idealized, though
it required a poetic sensibility to enter into sympathy with the
magnificent dreamer, who was regarded by his own generation as the
fool of an idea. A more prosaic treatment would have utterly failed to
represent that mind, which existed from boyhood in an ideal world, and,
amid frustrated hopes, shattered plans, and ignoble returns for his
sacrifices, could always rebuild its glowing projects and conquer
obloquy and death itself with immortal anticipations.

Towards the close of his residence in Spain, Irving received
unexpectedly the appointment of Secretary of Legation to the Court of
St. James, at which Louis McLane was American Minister; and after some
hesitation, and upon the urgency of his friends, he accepted it. He was
in the thick of literary projects. One of these was the History of the
Conquest of Mexico, which he afterwards surrendered to Mr. Prescott, and
another was the “Life of Washington,” which was to wait many years for
fulfillment. His natural diffidence and his reluctance to a routine life
made him shrink from the diplomatic appointment; but once engaged in
it, and launched again in London society, he was reconciled to the
situation. Of honors there was no lack, nor of the adulation of social
and literary circles. In April, 1830, the Royal Society of Literature
awarded him one of the two annual gold medals placed at the disposal of
the society by George IV., to be given to authors of literary works of
eminent merit, the other being voted to the historian Hallam; and this
distinction was followed by the degree of D. C. L. from the University
of Oxford,--a title which the modest author never used.


In 1831 Mr. Irving was thrown, by his diplomatic position, into the
thick of the political and social tumult, when the Reform Bill was
pending and war was expected in Europe. It is interesting to note that
for a time he laid aside his attitude of the dispassionate observer, and
caught the general excitement. He writes in March, expecting that the
fate of the cabinet will be determined in a week, looking daily for
decisive news from Paris, and fearing dismal tidings from Poland.
“However,” he goes on to say in a vague way, “the great cause of all the
world will go on. What a stirring moment it is to live in! I never took
such intense interest in newspapers. It seems to me as if life were
breaking out anew with me, or that I were entering upon quite a new and
almost unknown career of existence, and I rejoice to find sensibilities,
which were waning as to many objects of past interest, reviving with all
their freshness and vivacity at the scenes and prospects opening around
me.” He expects the breaking of the thraldom of falsehood woven over
the human mind; and, more definitely, hopes that the Reform Bill will
prevail. Yet he is oppressed by the gloom hanging over the booksellers’
trade, which he thinks will continue until reform and cholera have
passed away.

During the last months of his residence in England, the author renewed
his impressions of Stratford (the grateful landlady of the Red Horse Inn
showed him a poker which was locked up among the treasures of her house,
on which she had caused to be engraved “Geoffrey Crayon’s Sceptre”);
spent some time at Newstead Abbey; and had the sorrowful pleasure in
London of seeing Scott once more, and for the last time. The great
novelist, in the sad eclipse of his powers, was staying in the city, on
his way to Italy, and Mr. Lockhart asked Irving to dine with him. It was
but a melancholy repast. “Ah,” said Scott, as Irving gave him his arm,
after dinner, “the times are changed, my good fellow, since we went over
the Eildon Hills together. It is all nonsense to tell a man that his
mind is not affected when his body is in this state.”

Irving retired from the legation in September, 1831, to return home, the
longing to see his native land having become intense; but his arrival in
New York was delayed till May, 1832.

If he had any doubts of the sentiments of his countrymen toward him, his
reception in New York dissipated them. America greeted her most famous
literary man with a spontaneous outburst of love and admiration. The
public banquet in New York, that was long remembered for its brilliancy,
was followed by the tender of the same tribute in other cities, an honor
which his unconquerable shrinking from this kind of publicity compelled
him to decline.

The “Dutch Herodotus, Diedrich Knickerbocker,” to use the phrase of a
toast, having come out of one such encounter with fair credit, did not
care to tempt Providence further. The thought of making a dinner-table
speech threw him into a sort of whimsical panic,--a noble infirmity,
which characterized also Hawthorne and Thackeray.

The enthusiasm manifested for the homesick author was equaled by his own
for the land and the people he supremely loved. Nor was his surprise at
the progress made during seventeen years less than his delight in it.
His native place had become a city of two hundred thousand inhabitants;
the accumulation of wealth and the activity of trade astonished him, and
the literary stir was scarcely less unexpected. The steamboat had come
to be used, so that he seemed to be transported from place to place
by magic; and on a near view the politics of America seemed not less
interesting than those of Europe. The nullification battle was set;
the currency conflict still raged; it was a time of inflation and land
speculation; the West, every day more explored and opened, was the land
of promise for capital and energy. Fortunes were made in a day by buying
lots in “paper towns.” Into some of these speculations Irving put his
savings; the investments were as permanent as they were unremunerative.

Irving’s first desire, however, on his recovery from the state of
astonishment into which these changes plunged him, was to make himself
thoroughly acquainted with the entire country and its development. To
this end he made an extended tour in the South and West, which passed
beyond the bounds of frontier settlement. The fruit of his excursion
into the Pawnee country, on the waters of the Arkansas, a region
untraversed by white men, except solitary trappers, was “A Tour on the
Prairies,” a sort of romance of reality, which remains to-day as good a
description as we have of hunting adventure on the plains. It led also
to the composition of other books on the West, which were more or less
mere pieces of book-making for the market.

Our author was far from idle. Indeed, he could not afford to be.
Although he had received considerable sums from his books, and perhaps
enough for his own simple wants, the responsibility of the support of
his two brothers, Peter and Ebenezer, and several nieces, devolved upon
him. And, besides, he had a longing to make himself a home, where he
could pursue his calling undisturbed, and indulge the sweets of domestic
and rural life, which of all things lay nearest his heart. And these two
undertakings compelled him to be diligent with his pen to the end of his
life. The spot he chose for his “Roost” was a little farm on the bank of
the river at Tarrytown, close to his old Sleepy Hollow haunt, one of
the loveliest, if not the most picturesque, situations on the Hudson.
At first he intended nothing more than a summer retreat, inexpensive
and simply furnished. But his experience was that of all who buy, and
renovate, and build. The farm had on it a small stone Dutch cottage,
built about a century before, and inhabited by one of the Van Tassels.
This was enlarged, still preserving the quaint Dutch characteristics; it
acquired a tower and a whimsical weather-cock, the delight of the owner
(“it was brought from Holland by Gill Davis, the King of Coney Island,
who says he got it from a windmill which they were demolishing at
the gate of Rotterdam, which windmill has been mentioned in
‘Knickerbocker’”), and became one of the most snug and picturesque
residences on the river. When the slip of Melrose ivy, which was brought
over from Scotland by Mrs. Renwick and given to the author, had grown
and well overrun it, the house, in the midst of sheltering groves and
secluded walks, was as pretty a retreat as a poet could desire. But
the little nook proved to have an insatiable capacity for swallowing up
money, as the necessities of the author’s establishment increased: there
was always something to be done to the grounds; some alterations in the
house; a greenhouse, a stable, a gardener’s cottage, to be built,--and
to the very end the outlay continued. The cottage necessitated economy
in other personal expenses, and incessant employment of his pen. But
Sunnyside, as the place was named, became the dearest spot on earth to
him; it was his residence, from which he tore himself with reluctance,
and to which he returned with eager longing; and here, surround by
relatives whom he loved, he passed nearly all the remainder of his
years, in as happy conditions, I think, as a bachelor ever enjoyed. His
intellectual activity was unremitting, he had no lack of friends, there
was only now and then a discordant note in the general estimation of his
literary work, and he was the object of the most tender care from his
nieces. Already, he writes, in October, 1838, “my little cottage is well
stocked. I have Ebenezer’s five girls, and himself also, whenever he
can be spared from town; sister Catherine and her daughter; Mr. Davis
occasionally, with casual visits from all the rest of our family
connection. The cottage, therefore, is never lonely.” I like to dwell
in thought upon this happy home, a real haven of rest after many
wanderings; a seclusion broken only now and then by enforced absence,
like that in Madrid as minister, but enlivened by many welcome guests.
Perhaps the most notorious of these was a young Frenchman, a “somewhat
quiet guest,” who, after several months’ imprisonment on board a French
man-of-war, was set on shore at Norfolk, and spent a couple of months in
New York and its vicinity, in 1837. This visit was vividly recalled
by Irving in a letter to his sister, Mrs. Storrow, who was in Paris in
1853, and had just been presented at court:

     “Louis Napoleon and Eugenie Montijo, Emperor and Empress of France!
     one of whom I have had a guest at my cottage on the Hudson; the
     other, 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. I have repeatedly thought that
     each grand coup de theatre would be the last that would occur in my
     time; but each has been succeeded by another equally striking; and
     what will be the next, who can conjecture?

     “The last time I saw Eugenie Montijo she was one of the reigning
     belles of Madrid; and she and her giddy circle had swept away my
     charming young friend, the beautiful and accomplished--------,
     into their career of fashionable dissipation. Now Eugenie is upon a
     throne, and a voluntary recluse in a convent of one of the most
     rigorous orders! Poor----! Perhaps, however, her fate may
     ultimately be the happiest of the two. ‘The storm’ with her ‘is
     o’er, and she’s at rest;’ but the other is launched upon a
     returnless shore, on a dangerous sea, infamous for its tremendous
     shipwrecks. Am I to live to see the catastrophe of her career, and
     the end of this suddenly conjured-up empire, which seems to ‘be of
     such stuff as dreams are made of’?”

As we have seen, the large sums Irving earned by his pen were not spent
in selfish indulgence. His habits and tastes were simple, and little
would have sufficed for his individual needs. He cared not much for
money, and seemed to want it only to increase the happiness of those who
were confided to his care. A man less warm-hearted and more selfish, in
his circumstances, would have settled down to a life of more ease and
less responsibility.

To go back to the period of his return to America. He was now past
middle life, having returned to New York in his fiftieth year. But he
was in the full flow of literary productiveness. I have noted the dates
of his achievements, because his development was somewhat tardy compared
that of many of his contemporaries; but he had the “staying” qualities.
The first crop of his mind was of course the most original; time and
experience had toned down his exuberant humor; but the spring of his
fancy was as free, his vigor was not abated, and his art was more
refined. Some of his best work was yet to be done.

And it is worthy of passing mention, in regard to his later productions,
that his admirable sense of literary proportion, which is wanting in
many good writers, characterized his work to the end.

High as his position as a man of letters was at this time, the
consideration in which he was held was much broader than that,--it was
that of one of the first citizens of the Republic. His friends, readers,
and admirers were not merely the literary class and the general public,
but included nearly all the prominent statesmen of the time. Almost any
career in public life would have been open to him if he had lent an ear
to their solicitations. But political life was not to his taste, and it
would have been fatal to his sensitive spirit. It did not require much
self-denial, perhaps, to decline the candidacy for mayor of New York,
or the honor of standing for Congress; but he put aside also the
distinction of a seat in Mr. Van Buren’s cabinet as Secretary of the
Navy. His main reason for declining it, aside from a diffidence in
his own judgment in public matters, was his dislike of the turmoil of
political life in Washington, and his sensitiveness to personal attacks
which beset the occupants of high offices. But also he had come to a
political divergence with Mr. Van Buren. He liked the man,--he liked
almost everybody,--and esteemed him as a friend, but he apprehended
trouble from the new direction of the party in power. Irving was almost
devoid of party prejudice, and he never seemed to have strongly marked
political opinions. Perhaps his nearest confession to a creed
is contained in a letter he wrote to a member of the House of
Representatives, Gouverneur Kemble, a little time before the offer of
a position in the cabinet, in which he said that he did not relish some
points of Van Buren’s policy, nor believe in the honesty of some of his
elbow counselors. I quote a passage from it:

     “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.... 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.... 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.”

During the ten years preceding his mission to Spain, Irving kept fagging
away at the pen, doing a good deal of miscellaneous and ephemeral work.
Among his other engagements was that of regular contributor to the
“Knickerbocker Magazine,” for a salary of two thousand dollars. He wrote
the editor that he had observed that man, as he advances in life, is
subject to a plethora of the mind, occasioned by an accumulation of
wisdom upon the brain, and that he becomes fond of telling long stories
and doling out advice, to the annoyance of his friends. To avoid
becoming the bore of the domestic circle, he proposed to ease off this
surcharge of the intellect by inflicting his tediousness on the public
through the pages of the periodical. The arrangement brought reputation
to the magazine (which was published in the days when the honor of being
in print was supposed by the publisher to be ample compensation to
the scribe), but little profit to Mr. Irving. During this period
he interested himself in an international copyright, as a means of
fostering our young literature. He found that a work of merit, written
by an American who had not established a commanding name in the market,
met very cavalier treatment from our publishers, who frankly said that
they need not trouble themselves about native works, when they could
pick up every day successful books from the British press, for which
they had to pay no copyright. Irving’s advocacy of the proposed law was
entirely unselfish, for his own market was secure.

His chief works in these ten years were, “A Tour on the Prairies,”
 “Recollections of Abbotsford and Newstead Abbey,” “The Legends of the
Conquest of Spain,” “Astoria” (the heavy part of the work of it was done
by his nephew Pierre), “Captain Bonneville,” and a number of graceful
occasional papers, collected afterwards under the title of “Wolfert’s
Roost.” Two other books may properly be mentioned here, although they
did not appear until after his return from his absence of four years and
a half at the court of Madrid; these are the “Biography of Goldsmith”
 and “Mahomet and his Successors.” At the age of sixty-six he laid aside
the “Life of Washington,” on which he was engaged, and rapidly threw off
these two books. The “Goldsmith” was enlarged from a sketch he had made
twenty-five years before. It is an exquisite, sympathetic piece of work,
without pretension or any subtle verbal analysis, but on the whole an
excellent interpretation of the character. Author and subject had much
in common: Irving had at least a kindly sympathy for the vagabondish
inclinations of his predecessor, and with his humorous and cheerful
regard of the world; perhaps it is significant of a deeper unity in
character that both, at times, fancied they could please an intolerant
world by attempting to play the flute. The “Mahomet” is a popular
narrative, which throws no new light on the subject; it is pervaded by
the author’s charm of style and equity of judgment, but it lacks the
virility of Gibbon’s masterly picture of the Arabian prophet and the
Saracenic onset.

We need not dwell longer upon this period. One incident of it, however,
cannot be passed in silence--that was the abandonment of his lifelong
project of writing the History of the Conquest of Mexico to Mr.
William H. Prescott. It had been a scheme of his boyhood; he had made
collections of materials for it during his first residence in Spain; and
he was actually and absorbedly engaged in the composition of the first
chapters, when he was sounded by Mr. Cogswell, of the Astor Library, in
behalf of Mr. Prescott. Some conversation showed that Mr. Prescott was
contemplating the subject upon which Mr. Irving was engaged, and the
latter instantly authorized Mr. Cogswell to say that he abandoned it.
Although our author was somewhat far advanced, and Mr. Prescott had not
yet collected his materials, Irving renounced the glorious theme in such
a manner that Prescott never suspected the pain and loss it cost him,
nor the full extent of his own obligation. Some years afterwards Irving
wrote to his nephew that in giving it up he in a manner gave up his
bread, as he had no other subject to supply its place: “I was,” he
wrote, “dismounted from my cheval de bataille, and have never been
completely mounted since.” But he added that he was not sorry for the
warm impulse that induced him to abandon the subject, and that
Mr. Prescott’s treatment of it had justified his opinion of him.
Notwithstanding Prescott’s very brilliant work, we cannot but feel some
regret that Irving did not write a Conquest of Mexico. His method, as
he outlined it, would have been the natural one. Instead of partially
satisfying the reader’s curiosity in a preliminary essay, in which the
Aztec civilization was exposed, Irving would have begun with the entry
of the conquerors, and carried his reader step by step onward, letting
him share all the excitement and surprise of discovery which the
invaders experienced, and learn of the wonders of the country in the
manner most likely to impress both the imagination and the memory; and
with his artistic sense of the value of the picturesque he would have
brought into strong relief the dramatis personae of the story.

In 1842 Irving was tendered the honor of the mission to Madrid. It was
an entire surprise to himself and to his friends. He came to look upon
this as the “crowning honor of his life,” and yet when the news first
reached him, he paced up and down his room, excited and astonished,
revolving in his mind the separation from home and friends, and
was heard murmuring, half to himself and half to his nephew: “It is
hard,--very hard; yet I must try to bear it. God tempers the wind to the
shorn lamb.” His acceptance of the position was doubtless influenced by
the intended honor to his profession, by the gratifying manner in which
it came to him, by his desire to please his friends, and the belief,
which was a delusion, that diplomatic life in Madrid would offer no
serious interruption to his “Life of Washington,” in which he had
just become engaged. The nomination, the suggestion of Daniel Webster,
Tyler’s Secretary of State, was cordially approved by the President and
cabinet, and confirmed almost by acclamation in the Senate. “Ah,” said
Mr. Clay, who was opposing nearly all the President’s appointments,
“this is a nomination everybody will concur in!” “If a person of more
merit and higher qualification,” wrote Mr. Webster in his official
notification, “had presented himself, great as is my personal regard for
you, I should have yielded it to higher considerations.”

No other appointment could have been made so complimentary to Spain, and
it remains to this day one of the most honorable to his own country.

In reading Irving’s letters written during his third visit abroad, you
are conscious that the glamour of life is gone for him, though not his
kindliness towards the world, and that he is subject to few illusions;
the show and pageantry no longer enchant,--they only weary. The novelty
was gone, and he was no longer curious to see great sights and great
people. He had declined a public dinner in New York, and he put aside
the same hospitality offered by Liverpool and by Glasgow. In London he
attended the Queen’s grand fancy ball, which surpassed anything he had
seen in splendor and picturesque effect. “The personage,” he writes,
“who appeared least to enjoy the scene seemed to me to be the little
Queen herself. She was flushed and heated, and evidently fatigued and
oppressed with the state she had to keep up and the regal robes in which
she was arrayed, and especially by a crown of gold, which weighed heavy
on her brow, and to which she was continually raising her hand to
move it slightly when it pressed. I hope and trust her real crown sits
easier.” The bearing of Prince Albert he found prepossessing, and
he adds, “He speaks English very well;” as if that were a useful
accomplishment for an English Prince Consort. His reception at court
and by the ministers and diplomatic corps was very kind, and he greatly
enjoyed meeting his old friends, Leslie, Rogers, and Moore. At Paris,
in an informal presentation to the royal family, he experienced a very
cordial welcome from the King and Queen and Madame Adelaide, each of
whom took occasion to say something complimentary about his writings;
but he escaped as soon as possible from social engagements. “Amidst all
the splendors of London and Paris, I find my imagination refuses to
take fire, and my heart still yearns after dear little Sunnyside.” Of an
anxious friend in Paris, who thought Irving was ruining his prospects
by neglecting to leave his card with this or that duchess who had sought
his acquaintance, he writes: “He attributes all this to very excessive
modesty, not dreaming that the empty intercourse of saloons with people
of rank and fashion could be a bore to one who has run the rounds of
society for the greater part of half a century, and who likes to consult
his own humor and pursuits.”

When Irving reached Madrid, the affairs of the kingdom had assumed a
powerful dramatic interest, wanting in none of the romantic elements
that characterize the whole history of the peninsula. “The future career
[he writes of this gallant soldier, Espartero, whose merits and services
have placed him at the head of the government, and the future fortunes
of these isolated little princesses, the Queen and her sister], have an
uncertainty hanging about them worthy of the fifth act in a melodrama.”
 The drama continued, with constant shifting of scene, as long as Irving
remained in Spain, and gave to his diplomatic life intense interest, and
at times perilous excitement. His letters are full of animated pictures
of the changing progress of the play; and although they belong rather
to the gossip of history than to literary biography, they cannot be
altogether omitted. The duties which the minister had to perform were
unusual, delicate, and difficult; but I believe he acquitted himself of
them with the skill of a born diplomatist. When he went to Spain before,
in 1826, Ferdinand VII. was, by aid of French troops, on the throne, the
liberties of the kingdom were crushed, and her most enlightened men were
in exile. While he still resided there, in 1829, Ferdinand married,
for his fourth wife, Maria Christina, sister of the King of Naples, and
niece of the Queen of Louis Philippe. By her he had two daughters, his
only children. In order that his own progeny might succeed him, he set
aside the Salique law (which had been imposed by France) just before
his death, in 1833, and revived the old Spanish law of succession. His
eldest daughter, then three years old, was proclaimed Queen by the name
of Isabella II, and her mother guardian during her minority, which
would end at the age of fourteen. Don Carlos, the king’s eldest
brother, immediately set up the standard of rebellion, supported by the
absolutist aristocracy, the monks, and a great part of the clergy. The
liberals rallied to the Queen. The Queen Regent did not, however, act
in good faith with the popular party she resisted all salutary reform,
would not restore the Constitution of 1812 until compelled to by a
popular uprising, and disgraced herself by a scandalous connection with
one Munos, one of the royal bodyguards. She enriched this favorite and
amassed a vast fortune for herself, which she sent out of the country.
In 1839, when Don Carlos was driven out of the country by the patriot
soldier Espartero, she endeavored to gain him over to her side, but
failed. Espartero became Regent, and Maria Christina repaired to Paris,
where she was received with great distinction by Louis Philippe,
and Paris became the focus of all sorts of machinations against the
constitutional government of Spain, and of plots for its overthrow. One
of these had just been defeated at the time of Irving’s arrival. It was
a desperate attempt of a band of soldiers of the rebel army to carry
off the little Queen and her sister, which was frustrated only by
the gallant resistance of the halberdiers in the palace. The little
princesses had scarcely recovered from the horror of this night attack
when our minister presented his credentials to the Queen through the
Regent, thus breaking a diplomatic deadlock, in which he was followed by
all the other embassies except the French. I take some passages from the
author’s description of his first audience at the royal palace:

“We passed through the spacious court, up the noble staircase, and
through the long suites of apartments of this splendid edifice, most of
them silent and vacant, the casements closed to keep out the heat,
so that a twilight reigned throughout the mighty pile, not a little
emblematical of the dubious fortunes of its inmates. It seemed more like
traversing a convent than a palace. I ought to have mentioned that in
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 firearms echoing and reverberating through the vaulted halls and
spacious courts of this immense edifice, and dubious whether their own
lives were not the object of the assault!

“After passing through various chambers of the palace, now silent
and sombre, but which I had traversed in former days, on grand court
occasions in the time of Ferdinand VII, when they were glittering
with all the splendor of a court, we paused in a great saloon, with
high-vaulted ceiling incrusted with florid devices in porcelain, and
hung with silken tapestry, but all in dim twilight, like the rest of
the palace. At one end of the saloon the door opened to an almost
interminable range of other chambers, through which, at a distance, we
had a glimpse of some indistinct figures in black. They glided into the
saloon slowly, and with noiseless steps. It was the little Queen, with
her governess, Madame Mina, widow of the general of that name, and her
guardian, the excellent Arguelles, all in deep mourning for the Duke of
Orleans. The little Queen advanced some steps within the saloon and then
paused. Madame Mina took her station a little distance behind her. The
Count Almodovar then introduced me to the Queen in my official capacity,
and she received me with a grave and quiet welcome, expressed in a very
low voice. She is nearly twelve years of age, and is sufficiently well
grown for her years. She had a somewhat fair complexion, quite pale,
with bluish or light gray eyes; a grave demeanor, but a graceful
deportment. I could not but regard her with deep interest, knowing what
important concerns depended upon the life of this fragile little being,
and to what a stormy and precarious career she might be destined. Her
solitary position, also, separated from all her kindred except her
little sister, a mere effigy of royalty in the hands of statesmen, and
surrounded by the formalities and ceremonials of state, which spread
sterility around the occupant of a throne.”

I have quoted this passage, not more on account of its intrinsic
interest, than as a specimen of the author’s consummate art of conveying
an impression by what I may call the tone of his style; and this appears
in all his correspondence relating to this picturesque and eventful
period. During the four years of his residence the country was in a
constant state of excitement and often of panic. Armies were marching
over the kingdom. Madrid was in a state of siege, expecting an assault
at one time; confusion reigned amid the changing adherents about the
person of the child-queen. The duties of a minister were perplexing
enough, when the Spanish government was changing its character and its
personnel with the rapidity of shifting scenes in a pantomime. “This
consumption of ministers,” wrote Irving to Mr. Webster, “is appalling.
To carry on a negotiation with such transient functionaries is like
bargaining at the window of a railroad-car: before you can get a reply
to a proposition the other party is out of sight.”

Apart from politics, Irving’s residence was full of half-melancholy
recollections and associations. In a letter to his old comrade, Prince
Polgorouki, then Russian Minister at Naples, he recalls the days of
their delightful intercourse at the D’Oubrils’:

     “Time dispels charms and illusions. You remember how much I was
     struck with a beautiful young woman (I will not mention names) who
     appeared in a tableau as Murillo’s Virgin of the Assumption? She
     was young, recently married, fresh and unhackneyed in society, and
     my imagination decked her out with everything that was pure, lovely,
     innocent, and angelic in womanhood. She was pointed out to me in
     the theatre shortly after my arrival in Madrid. I turned with
     eagerness to the original of the picture that had ever remained hung
     up in sanctity in my mind. I found her still handsome, though
     somewhat matronly in appearance, seated, with her daughters, in the
     box of a fashionable nobleman, younger than herself, rich in purse
     but poor in intellect, and who was openly and notoriously her
     cavalier servante. The charm was broken, the picture fell from the
     wall. She may have the customs of a depraved country and licentious
     state of society to excuse her; but I can never think of her again
     in the halo of feminine purity and loveliness that surrounded the
     Virgin of Murillo.”

During Irving’s ministry he was twice absent, briefly in Paris and
London, and was called to the latter place for consultation in regard
to the Oregon boundary dispute, in the settlement of which he rendered
valuable service. Space is not given me for further quotations from
Irving’s brilliant descriptions of court, characters, and society in
that revolutionary time, nor of his half-melancholy pilgrimage to the
southern scenes of his former reveries. But I will take a page from a
letter to his sister, Mrs. Paris, describing his voyage from Barcelona
to Marseilles, which exhibits the lively susceptibility of the author
and diplomat who was then in his sixty-first year:

     “While I am writing at a table in the cabin, I am sensible of the
     power of a pair of splendid Spanish eyes which are occasionally
     flashing upon me, and which almost seem to throw a light upon the
     paper. Since I cannot break the spell, I will describe the owner of
     them. She is a young married lady, about four or five and twenty,
     middle sized, finely modeled, a Grecian outline of face, a
     complexion sallow yet healthful, raven black hair, eyes dark, large,
     and beaming, softened by long eyelashes, lips full and rosy red, yet
     finely chiseled, and teeth of dazzling whiteness. She is dressed in
     black, as if in mourning; on one hand is a black glove; the other
     hand, ungloved, is small, exquisitely formed, with taper fingers and
     blue veins. She has just put it up to adjust her clustering black
     locks. I never saw female hand more exquisite. Really, if I were a
     young man, I should not be able to draw the portrait of this
     beautiful creature so calmly.

     “I was interrupted in my letter writing, by an observation of the
     lady whom I was describing. She had caught my eye occasionally, as
     it glanced from my letter toward her. ‘Really, Senor,’ said she, at
     length, with a smile, I one would think you were a painter taking my
     likeness.’ I could not resist the impulse. ‘Indeed,’ said I, ‘I am
     taking it; I am writing to a friend the other side of the world,
     discussing things that are passing before me, and I could not help
     noting down one of the best specimens of the country that I had met
     with: A little bantering took place between the young lady, her
     husband, and myself, which ended in my reading off, as well as I
     could into Spanish, the description I had just written down.
     It occasioned a world of merriment, and was taken in excellent part.
     The lady’s cheek, for once, mantled with the rose. She laughed,
     shook her head, and said I was a very fanciful portrait painter;
     and the husband declared that, if I would stop at St. Filian, all
     the ladies in the place would crowd to have their portraits taken,
     --my pictures were so flattering. I have just parted with them. The
     steamship stopped in the open sea, just in front of the little bay
     of St. Filian; boats came off from shore for the party. I helped
     the beautiful original of the portrait into the boat, and promised
     her and her husband if ever I should come to St. Filian I would pay
     them a visit. The last I noticed of her was a Spanish farewell wave
     of her beautiful white hand, and the gleam of her dazzling teeth as
     she smiled adieu. So there ‘s a very tolerable touch of romance for
     a gentleman of my years.”

When Irving announced his recall from the court of Madrid, the young
Queen said to him in reply: “You may take with you into private life the
intimate conviction that your frank and loyal conduct has contributed to
draw closer the amicable relations which exist between North America
and the Spanish nation, and that your distinguished personal merits have
gained in my heart the appreciation which you merit by more than one
title.” The author was anxious to return. From the midst of court life
in April, 1845, he had written: “I long to be once more back at dear
little Sunnyside, while I have yet strength and good spirits to enjoy
the simple pleasures of the country, and to rally a happy family group
once more about me. I grudge every year of absence that rolls by.
To-morrow is my birthday. I shall then be sixty-two years old. The
evening of life is fast drawing over me; still I hope to get back among
my friends while there is a little sunshine left.”

It was the 19th of September, 1846, says his biographer, “when the
impatient longing of his heart was gratified, and he found himself
restored to his home for the thirteen years of happy life still
remaining to him.”


The “Knickerbocker’s History of New York” and the “Sketch-Book” never
would have won for Irving the gold medal of the Royal Society of
Literature, or the degree of D. C. L. from Oxford.

However much the world would have liked frankly to honor the writer for
that which it most enjoyed and was under most obligations for, it would
have been a violent shock to the constitution of things to have given
such honor to the mere humorist and the writer of short sketches. The
conventional literary proprieties must be observed. Only some laborious,
solid, and improving work of the pen could sanction such distinction,--a
book of research or an historical composition. It need not necessarily
be dull, but it must be grave in tone and serious in intention, in order
to give the author high recognition.

Irving himself shared this opinion. He hoped, in the composition of his
“Columbus” and his “Washington,” to produce works which should justify
the good opinion his countrymen had formed of him, should reasonably
satisfy the expectations excited by his lighter books, and should lay
for him the basis of enduring reputation. All that he had done before
was the play of careless genius, the exercise of frolicsome fancy, which
might amuse and perhaps win an affectionate regard for the author,
but could not justify a high respect or secure a permanent place in
literature. For this, some work of scholarship and industry was needed.

And yet everybody would probably have admitted that there was but one
man then living who could have created and peopled the vast and humorous
world of the Knickerbockers; that all the learning of Oxford and
Cambridge together would not enable a man to draw the whimsical portrait
of Ichabod Crane, or to outline the fascinating legend of Rip Van
Winkle; while Europe was full of scholars of more learning than Irving,
and writers of equal skill in narrative, who might have told the
story of Columbus as well as he told it and perhaps better. The
under-graduates of Oxford who hooted their admiration of the shy author
when he appeared in the theater to receive his complimentary degree
perhaps understood this, and expressed it in their shouts of “Diedrich
Knickerbocker,” “Ichabod Crane,” “Rip Van Winkle.”

Irving’s “gift” was humor; and allied to this was sentiment. These
qualities modified and restrained each other; and it was by these that
he touched the heart. He acquired other powers which he himself may have
valued more highly, and which brought him more substantial honors; but
the historical compositions, which he and his contemporaries regarded as
a solid basis of fame, could be spared without serious loss, while
the works of humor, the first fruits of his genius, are possessions in
English literature the loss of which would be irreparable. The world may
never openly allow to humor a position “above the salt,” but it clings
to its fresh and original productions, generation after generation,
finding room for them in its accumulating literary baggage, while more
“important” tomes of scholarship and industry strew the line of its

I feel that this study of Irving as a man of letters would be
incomplete, especially for the young readers of this generation, if it
did not contain some more extended citations from those works upon which
we have formed our estimate of his quality. We will take first a few
passages from the--“History of New York”.

It has been said that Irving lacked imagination. That, while he had
humor and feeling and fancy, he was wanting in the higher quality,
which is the last test of genius. We have come to attach to the word
“imagination” a larger meaning than the mere reproduction in the mind of
certain absent objects of sense that have been perceived; there must be
a suggestion of something beyond these, and an ennobling suggestion, if
not a combination, that amounts to a new creation. Now, it seems to me
that the transmutation of the crude and heretofore unpoetical materials
which he found in the New World into what is as absolute a creation
as exists in literature, was a distinct work of the imagination. Its
humorous quality does not interfere with its largeness of outline, nor
with its essential poetic coloring. For, whimsical and comical as is the
Knickerbocker creation, it is enlarged to the proportion of a realm,
and over that new country of the imagination is always the rosy light of

This largeness of modified conception cannot be made apparent in such
brief extracts as we can make, but they will show its quality and the
author’s humor. The Low-Dutch settlers of the Nieuw Nederlandts are
supposed to have sailed from Amsterdam in a ship called the Goede Vrouw,
built by the carpenters of that city, who always model their ships on
the fair forms of their countrywomen. This vessel, whose beauteous model
was declared to be the greatest belle in Amsterdam, had one hundred feet
in the beam, one hundred feet in the keel, and one hundred feet from the
bottom of the stern-post to the taffrail. Those illustrious adventurers
who sailed in her landed on the Jersey flats, preferring a marshy
ground, where they could drive piles and construct dykes. They made a
settlement at the Indian village of Communipaw, the egg from which was
hatched the mighty city of New York. In the author’s time this place had
lost its importance:

     “Communipaw is at present but a small village, pleasantly situated,
     among rural scenery, on that beauteous part of the Jersey shore
     which was known in ancient legends by the name of Pavonia,
     --[Pavonia, in the ancient maps, is given to a tract of country
     extending from about Hoboken to Amboy]--and commands a grand
     prospect of the superb bay of New York. It is within but half an
     hour’s sail of the latter place, provided you have a fair wind, and
     may be distinctly seen from the city. Nay, it is a well known fact,
     which I can testify from my own experience, that on a clear still
     summer evening, you may hear, from the Battery of New York, the
     obstreperous peals of broad-mouthed laughter of the Dutch negroes at
     Communipaw, who, like most other negroes, are famous for their
     risible powers. This is peculiarly the case on Sunday evenings,
     when, it is remarked by an ingenious and observant philosopher, who
     has made great discoveries in the neighborhood of this city, that
     they always laugh loudest, which he attributes to the circumstance
     of their having their holiday clothes on.

     “These negroes, in fact, like the monks of the dark ages, engross
     all the knowledge of the place, and being infinitely more
     adventurous and more knowing than their masters, carry on all the
     foreign trade; making frequent voyages to town in canoes loaded with
     oysters, buttermilk, and cabbages. They are great astrologers,
     predicting the different changes of weather almost as accurately as
     an almanac; they are moreover exquisite performers on three-stringed
     fiddles; in whistling they almost boast the far-famed powers of
     Orpheus’s lyre, for not a horse or an ox in the place, when at the
     plough or before the wagon, will budge a foot until he hears the
     well-known whistle of his black driver and companion. And from
     their amazing skill at casting up accounts upon their fingers, they
     are regarded with as much veneration as were the disciples of
     Pythagoras of yore, when initiated into the sacred quaternary of

     “As to the honest burghers of Communipaw, like wise men and sound
     philosophers, they never look beyond their pipes, nor trouble their
     heads about any affairs out of their immediate neighborhood; so that
     they live in profound and enviable ignorance of all the troubles,
     anxieties, and revolutions of this distracted planet. I am even
     told that many among them do verily believe that Holland, of which
     they have heard so much from tradition, is situated somewhere on
     Long Island,--that Spiking-devil and the Narrows are the two ends of
     the world,--that the country is still under the dominion of their
     High Mightinesses,--and that the city of New York still goes by the
     name of Nieuw Amsterdam. They meet every Saturday afternoon at the
     only tavern in the place, which bears as a sign a square-headed
     likeness of the Prince of Orange, where they smoke a silent pipe,
     by way of promoting social conviviality, and invariably drink a mug
     of cider to the success of Admiral Van Tromp, who they imagine is
     still sweeping the British channel with a broom at his mast-head.

     “Communipaw, in short, is one of the numerous little villages in the
     vicinity of this most beautiful of cities, which are so many
     strongholds and fastnesses, whither the primitive manners of our
     Dutch forefathers have retreated, and where they are cherished with
     devout and scrupulous strictness. The dress of the original
     settlers is handed down inviolate, from father to son: the identical
     broad-brimmed hat, broad-skirted coat, and broad-bottomed breeches,
     continue from generation to generation; and several gigantic
     knee-buckles of massy silver are still in wear, that made gallant
     display in the days of the patriarchs of Communipaw. The language
     likewise continues unadulterated by barbarous innovations; and so
     critically correct is the village schoolmaster in his dialect, that
     his reading of a Low-Dutch psalm has much the same effect on the
     nerves as the filing of a handsaw.”

The early prosperity of this settlement is dwelt on with satisfaction by
the author:

     “The neighboring Indians in a short time became accustomed to the
     uncouth sound of the Dutch language, and an intercourse gradually
     took place between them and the new-comers. The Indians were much
     given to long talks, and the Dutch to long silence;--in this
     particular, therefore, they accommodated each other completely.
     The chiefs would make long speeches about the big bull, the Wabash,
     and the Great Spirit, to which the others would listen very
     attentively, smoke their pipes, and grunt ‘yah, mynher’, whereat the
     poor savages were wondrously delighted. They instructed the new
     settlers in the best art of curing and smoking tobacco, while the
     latter, in return, made them drunk with true Hollands--and then
     taught them the art of making bargains.

     “A brisk trade for furs was soon opened; the Dutch traders were
     scrupulously honest in their dealings and purchased by weight,
     establishing it as an invariable table of avoirdupois, that the hand
     of a Dutchman weighed one pound, and his foot two pounds. It is
     true, the simple Indians were often puzzled by the great
     disproportion between bulk and weight, for let them place a bundle
     of furs, never so large, in one scale, and a Dutchman put his hand
     or foot in the other, the bundle was sure to kick the beam;--never
     was a package of furs known to weigh more than two pounds in the
     market of Communipaw!

     “This is a singular fact,--but I have it direct from my
     great-great-grandfather, who had risen to considerable importance
     in the colony, being promoted to the office of weigh-master, on
     account of the uncommon heaviness of his foot.

     “The Dutch possessions in this part of the globe began now to assume
     a very thriving appearance, and were comprehended under the general
     title of Nieuw Nederlandts, on account, as the Sage Vander Donck
     observes, of their great resemblance to the Dutch Netherlands,
     --which indeed was truly remarkable, excepting that the former were
     rugged and mountainous, and the latter level and marshy. About this
     time the tranquillity of the Dutch colonists was doomed to suffer a
     temporary interruption. In 1614, Captain Sir Samuel Argal, sailing
     under a commission from Dale, governor of Virginia, visited the
     Dutch settlements on Hudson River, and demanded their submission to
     the English crown and Virginian dominion. To this arrogant demand,
     as they were in no condition to resist it, they submitted for the
     time, like discreet and reasonable men.

     “It does not appear that the valiant Argal molested the settlement
     of Communipaw; on the contrary, I am told that when his vessel first
     hove in sight, the worthy burghers were seized with such a panic,
     that they fell to smoking their pipes with astonishing vehemence;
     insomuch that they quickly raised a cloud, which, combining with the
     surrounding woods and marshes, completely enveloped and concealed
     their beloved village, and overhung the fair regions of Pavoniaso
     that the terrible Captain Argal passed on totally unsuspicious that
     a sturdy little Dutch settlement lay snugly couched in the mud,
     under cover of all this pestilent vapor. In commemoration of this
     fortunate escape, the worthy inhabitants have continue, to smoke,
     almost without intermission, unto this very day; which is said to be
     the cause of the remarkable fog which often hangs over Communipaw of
     a clear afternoon.”

The golden age of New York was under the reign of Walter Van Twiller,
the first governor of the province, and the best it ever had. In his
sketch of this excellent magistrate Irving has embodied the abundance
and tranquillity of those halcyon days:

     “The renowned Wouter (or Walter Van Twiller) was descended from a
     long line of Dutch burgomasters, who had successively dozed away
     their lives, and grown fat upon the bench of magistracy in
     Rotterdam; and who had comported themselves with such singular
     wisdom and propriety that they were never either heard or talked of
     --which, next to being universally applauded, should be the object
     of ambition of all magistrates and rulers. There are two opposite
     ways by which some men make a figure in the world: one, by talking
     faster than they think, and the other, by holding their tongues and
     not thinking at all. By the first, many a smatterer acquires the
     reputation of a man of quick parts; by the other, many a dunderpate,
     like the owl, the stupidest of birds, comes to be considered the
     very type of wisdom. This, by the way, is a casual remark, which I
     would not, for the universe, have it thought I apply to Governor Van
     Twiller. It is true he was a man shut up within himself, like an
     oyster, and rarely spoke, except in monosyllables; but then it was
     allowed he seldom said a foolish thing. So invincible was his
     gravity that he was never known to laugh or even to smile through
     the whole course of along and prosperous life. Nay, if a joke were
     uttered in his presence, that set light-minded hearers in a roar, it
     was observed to throw him into a state of perplexity. Sometimes he
     would deign to inquire into the matter, and when, after much
     explanation, the joke was made as plain as a pikestaff, he would
     continue to smoke his pipe in silence, and at length, knocking out
     the ashes, would exclaim, ‘Well! I see nothing in all that to laugh

     “With all his reflective habits, he never made up his mind on a
     subject. His adherents accounted for this by the astonishing
     magnitude of his ideas. He conceived every subject on so grand a
     scale that he had not room in his head to turn it over and examine
     both sides of it. Certain it is, that, if any matter were
     propounded to him on which ordinary mortals would rashly determine
     at first glance, he would put on a vague, mysterious look, shake his
     capacious head, smoke some time in profound silence, and at length
     observe, that ‘he had his doubts about the matter;’ which gained him
     the reputation of a man slow of belief and not easily imposed upon.
     What is more, it has gained him a lasting name; for to this habit of
     the mind has been attributed his surname of Twiller; which is said
     to be a corruption of the original Twijfler, or, in plain English,

     “The person of this illustrious old gentleman was formed and
     proportioned, as though it had been moulded by the hands of some
     cunning Dutch statuary, as a model of majesty and lordly grandeur.
     He was exactly five feet six inches in height, and six feet five
     inches in circumference. His head was a perfect sphere, and of such
     stupendous dimensions, that dame Nature, with all her sex’s
     ingenuity, would have been puzzled to construct a neck capable of
     supporting it; wherefore she wisely declined the attempt, and
     settled it firmly on the top of his backbone, just between the
     shoulders. His body was oblong and particularly capacious at
     bottom; which was wisely ordered by Providence, seeing that he was a
     man of sedentary habits, and very averse to the idle labor of
     walking. His legs were short, but sturdy in proportion to the
     weight they had to sustain; so that when erect he had not a little
     the appearance of a beer-barrel on skids. His face, that infallible
     index of the mind, presented a vast expanse, unfurrowed by any of
     those lines and angles which disfigure the human countenance with
     what is termed expression. Two small gray eyes twinkled feebly in
     the midst, like two stars of lesser magnitude in a hazy firmament,
     and his full-fed cheeks, which seemed to have taken toll of
     everything that went into his mouth, were curiously mottled and
     streaked with dusky red, like a spitzenberg apple.

     “His habits were as regular as his person. He daily took his four
     stated meals, appropriating exactly an hour to each; he smoked and
     doubted eight hours, and he slept the remaining twelve of the
     four-and-twenty. Such was the renowned Wouter Van Twiller,--a true
     philosopher, for his mind was either elevated above, or tranquilly
     settled below, the cares and perplexities of this world. He had
     lived in it for years, without feeling the least curiosity to know
     whether the sun revolved round it, or it round the sun; and he had
     watched, for at least half a century, the smoke curling from his
     pipe to the ceiling, without once troubling his head with any of
     those numerous theories by which a philosopher would have perplexed
     his brain, in accounting for its rising above the surrounding

     “In his council he presided with great state and solemnity. He sat
     in a huge chair of solid oak, hewn in the celebrated forest of the
     Hague, fabricated by an experienced timmerman of Amsterdam, and
     curiously carved about the arms and feet into exact imitations of
     gigantic eagle’s claws. Instead of a sceptre, he swayed a long
     Turkish pipe, wrought with jasmine and amber, which had been
     presented to a stadtholder of Holland at the conclusion of a treaty
     with one of the petty Barbary powers. In this stately chair would
     he sit, and this magnificent pipe would he smoke, shaking his right
     knee with a constant motion, and fixing his eye for hours together
     upon a little print of Amsterdam, which hung in a black frame
     against the opposite wall of the council-chamber. Nay, it has even
     been said, that when any deliberation of extraordinary length and
     intricacy was on the carpet, the renowned Wouter would shut his eyes
     for full two hours at a time, that he might not be disturbed by
     external objects; and at such times the internal commotion of his
     mind was evinced by certain regular guttural sounds, which his
     admirers declared were merely the noise of conflict, made by his
     contending doubts and opinions....

     “I have been the more anxious to delineate fully the person and
     habits of Wouter Van Twiller, from the consideration that he was not
     only the first but also the best governor that ever presided over
     this ancient and respectable province; and so tranquil and
     benevolent was his reign, that I do not find throughout the whole of
     it a single instance of any offender being brought to punishment,
     --a most indubitable sign of a merciful governor, and a case
     unparalleled, excepting in the reign of the illustrious King Log,
     from whom, it is hinted, the renowned Van Twiller was a lineal

     “The very outset of the career of this excellent magistrate was
     distinguished by an example of legal acumen that gave flattering
     presage of a wise and equitable administration. The morning after
     he had been installed in office, and at the moment that he was
     making his breakfast from a prodigious earthen dish, filled with
     milk and Indian pudding, he was interrupted by the appearance of
     Wandle Schoonhoven, a very important old burgher of New Amsterdam,
     who complained bitterly of one Barent Bleecker, inasmuch as he
     refused to come to a settlement of accounts, seeing that there was a
     heavy balance in favor of the said Wandle. Governor Van Twiller, as
     I have already observed, was a man of few words; he was likewise a
     mortal enemy to multiplying writings--or being disturbed at his
     breakfast. Having listened attentively to the statement of Wandle
     Schoonhoven, giving an occasional grunt, as he shoveled a spoonful
     of Indian pudding into his mouth,--either as a sign that he relished
     the dish, or comprehended the story,--he called unto him his
     constable, and pulling out of his breeches-pocket a huge jackknife,
     dispatched it after the defendant as a summons, accompanied by his
     tobacco-box as a warrant.

     “This summary process was as effectual in those simple days as was
     the seal-ring of the great Haroun Alraschid among the true
     believers. The two parties being confronted before him, each
     produced a book of accounts, written in a language and character
     that would have puzzled any but a High-Dutch commentator, or a
     learned decipherer of Egyptian obelisks. The sage Wouter took them
     one after the other, and having poised them in his hands, and
     attentively counted over the number of leaves, fell straightway into
     a very great doubt, and smoked for half an hour without saying a
     word; at length, laying his finger beside his nose, and shutting his
     eyes for a moment, with the air of a man who has just caught a
     subtle idea by the tail, he slowly took his pipe from his mouth,
     puffed forth a column of tobacco-smoke, and with marvelous gravity
     and solemnity pronounced that, having carefully counted over the
     leaves and weighed the books, it was found that one was just as
     thick and as heavy as the other: therefore, it was the final opinion
     of the court that the accounts were equally balanced: therefore,
     Wandle should give Barent a receipt, and Barent should give Wandle
     a receipt, and the constable should pay the costs. This decision,
     being straightway made known, diffused general joy throughout New
     Amsterdam, for the people immediately perceived that they had a very
     wise and equitable magistrate to rule over them. But its happiest
     effect was, that not another lawsuit took place throughout the whole
     of his administration; and the office of constable fell into such
     decay that there was not one of those losel scouts known in the
     province for many years. I am the more particular in dwelling on
     this transaction, not only because I deem it one of the most sage
     and righteous judgments on record, and well worthy the attention of
     modern magistrates, but because it was a miraculous event in the
     history of the renowned Wouter--being the only time he was ever
     known to come to a decision in the whole course of his life.”

This peaceful age ended with the accession of William the Testy, and the
advent of the enterprising Yankees. During the reigns of William Kieft
and Peter Stuyvesant, between the Yankees of the Connecticut and the
Swedes of the Delaware, the Dutch community knew no repose, and
the “History” is little more than a series of exhausting sieges and
desperate battles, which would have been as heroic as any in history if
they had been attended with loss of life. The forces that were gathered
by Peter Stuyvesant for the expedition to avenge upon the Swedes the
defeat at Fort Casimir, and their appearance on the march, give some
notion of the military prowess of the Dutch. Their appearance, when they
were encamped on the Bowling Green, recalls the Homeric age:

     “In the centre, then, was pitched the tent of the men of battle of
     the Manhattoes, who, being the inmates of the metropolis, composed
     the lifeguards of the governor. These were commanded by the valiant
     Stoffel Brinkerhoof, who whilom had acquired such immortal fame at
     Oyster Bay; they displayed as a standard a beaver rampant on a field
     of orange, being the arms of the province, and denoting the
     persevering industry and the amphibious origin of the Nederlands.

     “On their right hand might be seen the vassals of that renowned
     Mynheer, Michael Paw, who lorded it over the fair regions of ancient
     Pavonia, and the lands away south even unto the Navesink Mountains,
     and was, moreover, patroon of Gibbet Island. His standard was borne
     by his trusty squire, Cornelius Van Vorst; consisting of a huge
     oyster recumbent upon a sea-green field; being the armorial bearings
     of his favorite metropolis, Communipaw. He brought to the camp a
     stout force of warriors, heavily armed, being each clad in ten pair
     of linsey-woolsey breeches, and overshadowed by broad-brimmed
     beavers, with short pipes twisted in their hatbands. These were the
     men who vegetated in the mud along the shores of Pavonia, being of
     the race of genuine copperheads, and were fabled to have sprung from

     “At a little distance was encamped the tribe of warriors who came
     from the neighborhood of Hell-gate. These were commanded by the Suy
     Dams, and the Van Dams,--incontinent hard swearers, as their names
     betoken. They were terrible looking fellows, clad in broad-skirted
     gaberdines, of that curious colored cloth called thunder and
     lightning, and bore as a standard three devil’s darning-needles,
     volant, in a flame-colored field.

     “Hard by was the tent of the men of battle from the marshy borders
     of the Waale-Boght and the country thereabouts. These were of a
     sour aspect, by reason that they lived on crabs, which abound in
     these parts. They were the first institutors of that honorable
     order of knighthood called Fly-market shirks, and, if tradition
     speak true, did likewise introduce the far-famed step in dancing
     called ‘double trouble.’ They were commanded by the fearless
     Jacobus Varra Vanger,--and had, moreover, a jolly band of Breuckelen
     ferry-men, who performed a brave concerto on conch shells.

     “But I refrain from pursuing this minute description, which goes on
     to describe the warriors of Bloemen-dael, and Weehawk, and Hoboken,
     and sundry other places, well known in history and song; for now do
     the notes of martial music alarm the people of New Amsterdam,
     sounding afar from beyond the walls of the city. But this alarm was
     in a little while relieved, for lo! from the midst of a vast cloud
     of dust, they recognized the brimstone-colored breeches and splendid
     silver leg of Peter Stuyvesant, glaring in the sunbeams; and beheld
     him approaching at the head of a formidable army, which he had
     mustered along the banks of the Hudson. And here the excellent but
     anonymous writer of the Stuyvesant manuscript breaks out into a
     brave and glorious description of the forces, as they defiled
     through the principal gate of the city, that stood by the head of
     Wall Street.

     “First of all came the Van Bummels, who inhabit the pleasant borders
     of the Bronx: these were short fat men, wearing exceeding large
     trunk-breeches, and were renowned for feats of the trencher. They
     were the first inventors of suppawn, or mush and milk.--Close in
     their rear marched the Van Vlotens, of Kaatskill, horrible quaffers
     of new cider, and arrant braggarts in their liquor.--After them
     came the Van Pelts of Groodt Esopus, dexterous horsemen, mounted
     upon goodly switch-tailed steeds of the Esopus breed. These were
     mighty hunters of minks and musk-rats, whence came the word Peltry.
     --Then the Van Nests of Kinderhoeck, valiant robbers of
     birds’-nests, as their name denotes. To these, if report may be
     believed, are we indebted for the invention of slap-jacks, or
     buckwheat-cakes.--Then the Van Higginbottoms, of Wapping’s creek.
     These came armed with ferules and birchen rods, being a race of
     schoolmasters, who first discovered the marvelous sympathy between
     the seat of honor and the seat of intellect,--and that the shortest
     way to get knowledge into the head was to hammer it into the
     bottom.--Then the Van Grolls, of Antony’s Nose, who carried their
     liquor in fair, round little pottles, by reason they could not
     house it out of their canteens, having such rare long noses. Then
     the Gardeniers, of Hudson and thereabouts, distinguished by many
     triumphant feats, such as robbing watermelon patches, smoking
     rabbits out of their holes, and the like, and by being great lovers
     of roasted pigs’ tails. These were the ancestors of the renowned
     congressman of that name.---Then the Van Hoesens, of Sing-Sing,
     great choristers and players upon the jew’s-harp. These marched
     two and two, singing the great song of St. Nicholas. Then the
     Couenhovens, of Sleepy Hollow. These gave birth to a jolly race of
     publicans, who first discovered the magic artifice of conjuring a
     quart of wine into a pint bottle.--Then the Van Kortlandts, who
     lived on the wild banks of the Croton, and were great killers of
     wild ducks, being much spoken of for their skill in shooting with
     the long bow.--Then the Van Bunschotens, of Nyack and Kakiat, who
     were the first that did ever kick with the left foot. They were
     gallant bushwhackers and hunters of raccoons by moonlight.--Then
     the Van Winkles, of Haerlem, potent suckers of eggs, and noted for
     running of horses, and running up of scores at taverns. They were
     the first that ever winked with both eyes at once.--Lastly came the
     KNICKERBOCKERS, of the great town of Scaghtikoke, where the folk
     lay stones upon the houses in windy weather, lest they should be
     blown away. These derive their name, as some say, from Knicker, to
     shake, and Beker, a goblet, indicating thereby that they were
     sturdy tosspots of yore; but, in truth, it was derived from
     Knicker, to nod, and Boeken, books: plainly meaning that they were
     great nodders or dozers over books. From them did descend the
     writer of this history.”

In the midst of Irving’s mock-heroics, he always preserves a substratum
of good sense. An instance of this is the address of the redoubtable
wooden-legged governor, on his departure at the head of his warriors to
chastise the Swedes:

     “Certain it is, not an old woman in New Amsterdam but considered
     Peter Stuyvesant as a tower of strength, and rested satisfied that
     the public welfare was secure so long as he was in the city. It is
     not surprising, then, that they looked upon his departure as a sore
     affliction. With heavy hearts they draggled at the heels of his
     troop, as they marched down to the river-side to embark. The
     governor, from the stern of his schooner, gave a short but truly
     patriarchal address to his citizens, wherein he recommended them to
     comport like loyal and peaceable subjects,--to go to church
     regularly on Sundays, and to mind their business all the week
     besides. That the women should be dutiful and affectionate to their
     husbands,--looking after nobody’s concerns but their own,--eschewing
     all gossipings and morning gaddings,--and carrying short tongues and
     long petticoats. That the men should abstain from intermeddling in
     public concerns, intrusting the cares of government to the officers
     appointed to support them, staying at home, like good citizens,
     making money for themselves, and getting children for the benefit of
     their country. That the burgomasters should look well to the public
     interest,--not oppressing the poor nor indulging the rich,--not
     tasking their ingenuity to devise new laws, but faithfully enforcing
     those which were already made, rather bending their attention to
     prevent evil than to punish it; ever recollecting that civil
     magistrates should consider themselves more as guardians of public
     morals than rat-catchers employed to entrap public delinquents.
     Finally, he exhorted them, one and all, high and low, rich and poor,
     to conduct themselves as well as they could, assuring them that if
     they faithfully and conscientiously complied with this golden rule,
     there was no danger but that they would all conduct themselves well
     enough. This done, he gave them a paternal benediction, the sturdy
     Antony sounded a most loving farewell with his trumpet, the jolly
     crews put up a shout of triumph, and the invincible armada swept off
     proudly down the bay.”

The account of an expedition against Fort Christina deserves to be
quoted in full, for it is an example of what war might be, full of
excitement, and exercise, and heroism, without danger to life. We take
up the narrative at the moment when the Dutch host,

     “Brimful of wrath and cabbage,”

and excited by the eloquence of the mighty Peter, lighted their pipes,
and charged upon the fort:

     “The Swedish garrison, ordered by the cunning Risingh not to fire
     until they could distinguish the whites of their assailants’ eyes,
     stood in horrid silence on the covert-way, until the eager Dutchmen
     had ascended the glacis. Then did they pour into them such a
     tremendous volley, that the very hills quaked around, and were
     terrified even unto an incontinence of water, insomuch that certain
     springs burst forth from their sides, which continue to run unto the
     present day. Not a Dutchman but would have bitten the dust beneath
     that dreadful fire, had not the protecting Minerva kindly taken care
     that the Swedes should, one and all, observe their usual custom of
     shutting their eyes and turning away their heads at the moment of

     “The Swedes followed up their fire by leaping the counterscarp, and
     falling tooth and nail upon the foe with curious outcries. And now
     might be seen prodigies of valor, unmatched in history or song.
     Here was the sturdy Stoffel Brinkerhoff brandishing his
     quarter-staff, like the giant Blanderon his oak-tree (for he
     scorned to carry any other weapon), and drumming a horrific tune
     upon the hard heads of the Swedish soldiery. There were the Van
     Kortlandts, posted at a distance, like the Locrian archers of yore,
     and plying it most potently with the long-bow, for which they were
     so justly renowned. On a rising knoll were gathered the valiant
     men of Sing-Sing, assisting marvelously in the fight by chanting
     the great song of St. Nicholas; but as to the Gardeniers of
     Hudson, they were absent on a marauding party, laying waste the
     neighboring water-melon patches.

     “In a different part of the field were the Van Grolls of Antony’s
     Nose, struggling to get to the thickest of the fight, but horribly
     perplexed in a defile between two hills, by reason of the length of
     their noses. So also the Van Bunschotens of Nyack and Kakiat, so
     renowned for kicking with the left foot, were brought to a stand for
     want of wind, in consequence of the hearty dinner they had eaten,
     and would have been put to utter rout but for the arrival of a
     gallant corps of voltigeurs, composed of the Hoppers, who advanced
     nimbly to their assistance on one foot. Nor must I omit to mention
     the valiant achievements of Antony Van Corlear, who, for a good
     quarter of an hour, waged stubborn fight with a little pursy Swedish
     drummer, whose hide he drummed most magnificently, and whom he would
     infallibly have annihilated on the spot, but that he had come into
     the battle with no other weapon but his trumpet.

     “But now the combat thickened. On came the mighty Jacobus Varra
     Vanger and the fighting-men of the Wallabout; after them thundered
     the Van Pelts of Esopus, together with the Van Rippers and the Van
     Brunts, bearing down all before them; then the Suy Dams, and the Van
     Dams, pressing forward with many a blustering oath, at the head of
     the warriors of Hell-gate, clad in their thunder-and-lightning
     gaberdines; and lastly, the standard-bearers and body-guard of Peter
     Stuyvesant, bearing the great beaver of the Manhattoes.

     “And now commenced the horrid din, the desperate struggle, the
     maddening ferocity, the frantic desperation, the confusion and
     self-abandonment of war. Dutchman and Swede commingled, tugged,
     panted, and blowed. The heavens were darkened with a tempest of
     missives. Bang! went the guns; whack! went the broad-swords; thump
     went the cudgels; crash! went the musket-stocks; blows, kicks,
     cuffs; scratches, black eyes and bloody noses swelling the horrors
     of the scene! Thick thwack, cut and hack, helter-skelter,
     higgledy-piggledy, hurly-burly, head-over-heels, rough-and-tumble!
     Dunder and blixum! swore the Dutchmen; splitter and splutter! cried
     the Swedes. Storm the works! shouted Hardkoppig Peter. Fire the
     mine roared stout Risingh. Tanta-rar-ra-ra! twanged the trumpet
     of Antony Van Corlear;--until all voice and sound became
     unintelligible,--grunts of pain, yells of fury, and shouts of
     triumph mingling in one hideous clamor. The earth shook as if
     struck with a paralytic stroke; trees shrunk aghast, and withered
     at the sight; rocks burrowed in the ground like rabbits; and even
     Christina Creek turned from its course and ran up a hill in
     breathless terror.

     “Long hung the contest doubtful; for though a heavy shower of rain,
     sent by the ‘cloud-compelling Jove,’ in some measure cooled their
     ardor, as doth a bucket of water thrown on a group of fighting
     mastiffs, yet did they but pause for a moment, to return with
     tenfold fury to the charge. Just at this juncture a vast and dense
     column of smoke was seen slowly rolling toward the scene of battle.
     The combatants paused for a moment, gazing in mute astonishment,
     until the wind, dispelling the murky cloud, revealed the flaunting
     banner of Michael Paw, the Patroon of Communipaw. That valiant
     chieftain came fearlessly on at the head of a phalanx of oyster-fed
     Pavonians and a corps de reserve of the Van Arsdales and Van
     Bummels, who had remained behind to digest the enormous dinner they
     had eaten. These now trudged manfully forward, smoking their pipes
     with outrageous vigor, so as to raise the awful cloud that has been
     mentioned, but marching exceedingly slow, being short of leg, and of
     great rotundity in the belt.

     “And now the deities who watched over the fortunes of the
     Nederlanders having unthinkingly left the field, and stepped into a
     neighboring tavern to refresh themselves with a pot of beer, a
     direful catastrophe had well-nigh ensued. Scarce had the myrmidons
     of Michael Paw attained the front of battle, when the Swedes,
     instructed by the cunning Risingh, leveled a shower of blows full at
     their tobacco-pipes. Astounded at this assault, and dismayed at the
     havoc of their pipes, these ponderous warriors gave way, and like a
     drove of frightened elephants broke through the ranks of their own
     army. The little Hoppers were borne down in the surge; the sacred
     banner emblazoned with the gigantic oyster of Communipaw was
     trampled in the dirt; on blundered and thundered the heavy-sterned
     fugitives, the Swedes pressing on their rear and applying their feet
     a parte poste of the Van Arsdales and the Van Bummels with a vigor
     that prodigiously accelerated their movements; nor did the renowned
     Michael Paw himself fail to receive divers grievous and dishonorable
     visitations of shoe-leather.

     “But what, oh Muse! was the rage of Peter Stuyvesant, when from afar
     he saw his army giving way! In the transports of his wrath he sent
     forth a roar, enough to shake the very hills. The men of the
     Manhattoes plucked up new courage at the sound, or, rather, they
     rallied at the voice of their leader, of whom they stood more in awe
     than of all the Swedes in Christendom. Without waiting for their
     aid, the daring Peter dashed, sword in hand, into the thickest of
     the foe. Then might be seen achievements worthy of the days of the
     giants. Wherever he went the enemy shrank before him; the Swedes
     fled to right and left, or were driven, like dogs, into their own
     ditch; but as he pushed forward, singly with headlong courage, the
     foe closed behind and hung upon his rear. One aimed a blow full at
     his heart; but the protecting power which watches over the great and
     good turned aside the hostile blade and directed it to a
     side-pocket, where reposed an enormous iron tobacco-box, endowed,
     like the shield of Achilles, with supernatural powers, doubtless
     from bearing the portrait of the blessed St. Nicholas. Peter
     Stuyvesant turned like an angry bear upon the foe, and seizing him,
     as he fled, by an immeasurable queue, ‘Ah, whoreson caterpillar,’
     roared he, ‘here’s what shall make worms’ meat of thee!’ so saying
     he whirled his sword and dealt a blow that would have decapitated
     the varlet, but that the pitying steel struck short and shaved the
     queue forever from his crown. At this moment an arquebusier
     leveled his piece from a neighboring mound, with deadly aim; but
     the watchful Minerva, who had just stopped to tie up her garter,
     seeing the peril of her favorite hero, sent old Boreas with his
     bellows, who, as the match descended to the pan, gave a blast that
     blew the priming from the touch-hole.

     “Thus waged the fight, when the stout Risingh, surveying the field
     from the top of a little ravelin, perceived his troops banged,
     beaten, and kicked by the invincible Peter. Drawing his falchion,
     and uttering a thousand anathemas, he strode down to the scene of
     combat with some such thundering strides as Jupiter is said by
     Hesiod to have taken when he strode down the spheres to hurl his
     thunder-bolts at the Titans.

     “When the rival heroes came face to face, each made a prodigious
     start in the style of a veteran stage-champion. Then did they
     regard each other for a moment with the bitter aspect of two furious
     ram-cats on the point of a clapper-clawing. Then did they throw
     themselves into one attitude, then into another, striking their
     swords on the ground, first on the right side, then on the left: at
     last at it they went with incredible ferocity. Words cannot tell
     the prodigies of strength and valor displayed in this direful
     encounter,--an encounter compared to which the far-famed battles of
     Ajax with Hector, of AEneas with Turnus, Orlando with Rodomont, Guy
     of Warwick with Colbrand the Dane, or of that renowned Welsh knight,
     Sir Owen of the Mountains, with the giant Guylon, were all gentle
     sports and holiday recreations. At length the valiant Peter,
     watching his opportunity, aimed a blow enough to cleave his
     adversary to the very chine; but Risingh, nimbly raising his sword,
     warded it off so narrowly, that, glancing on one side, it shaved
     away a huge canteen in which he carried his liquor,--thence pursuing
     its trenchant course, it severed off a deep coat-pocket, stored with
     bread and cheese,--which provant, rolling among the armies,
     occasioned a fearful scrambling between the Swedes and Dutchmen, and
     made the general battle to wax more furious than ever.

     “Enraged to see his military stores laid waste, the stout Risingh,
     collecting all his forces, aimed a mighty blow full at the hero’s
     crest. In vain did his fierce little cocked hat oppose its course.
     The biting steel clove through the stubborn ram beaver, and would
     have cracked the crown of any one not endowed with supernatural
     hardness of head; but the brittle weapon shivered in pieces on the
     skull of Hardkoppig Piet, shedding a thousand sparks, like beams of
     glory, round his grizzly visage.

     “The good Peter reeled with the blow, and turning up his eyes beheld
     a thousand suns, besides moons and stars, dancing about the
     firmament; at length, missing his footing, by reason of his wooden
     leg, down he came on his seat of honor with a crash which shook the
     surrounding hills, and might have wrecked his frame, had he not been
     received into a cushion softer than velvet, which Providence, or
     Minerva, or St. Nicholas, or some cow, had benevolently prepared for
     his reception.

     “The furious Risingh, in despite of the maxim, cherished by all true
     knights, that ‘fair play is a jewel,’ hastened to take advantage of
     the hero’s fall; but, as he stooped to give a fatal blow, Peter
     Stuyvesant dealt him a thwack over the sconce with his wooden leg,
     which set a chime of bells ringing triple bob-majors in his
     cerebellum. The bewildered Swede staggered with the blow, and the
     wary Peter seizing a pocket-pistol, which lay hard by, discharged it
     full at the head of the reeling Risingh. Let not my reader mistake;
     it was not a murderous weapon loaded with powder and ball, but a
     little sturdy stone pottle charged to the muzzle with a double dram
     of true Dutch courage, which the knowing Antony Van Corlear carried
     about him by way of replenishing his valor, and which had dropped
     from his wallet during his furious encounter with the drummer. The
     hideous weapon sang through the air, and true to its course as was
     the fragment of a rock discharged at Hector by bully Ajax,
     encountered the head of the gigantic Swede with matchless violence.

     “This heaven-directed blow decided the battle. The ponderous
     pericranium of General Jan Risingh sank upon his breast; his knees
     tottered under him; a deathlike torpor seized upon his frame, and he
     tumbled to the earth with such violence that old Pluto started with
     affright, lest he should have broken through the roof of his
     infernal palace.

     “His fall was the signal of defeat and victory: the Swedes gave way,
     the Dutch pressed forward; the former took to their heels, the
     latter hotly pursued. Some entered with them, pell-mell, through
     the sally-port; others stormed the bastion, and others scrambled
     over the curtain. Thus in a little while the fortress of Fort
     Christina, which, like another Troy, had stood a siege of full ten
     hours, was carried by assault, without the loss of a single man on
     either side. Victory, in the likeness of a gigantic ox-fly, sat
     perched upon the cocked hat of the gallant Stuyvesant; and it was
     declared by all the writers whom he hired to write the history of
     his expedition that on this memorable day he gained a sufficient
     quantity of glory to immortalize a dozen of the greatest heroes in

In the “Sketch-Book,” Irving set a kind of fashion in narrative essays,
in brief stories of mingled humor and pathos, which was followed for
half a century. He himself worked the same vein in “Bracebridge Hall”
 and “Tales of a Traveller.” And there is no doubt that some of the most
fascinating of the minor sketches of Charles Dickens, such as the story
of the Bagman’s Uncle, are lineal descendants of, if they were not
suggested by, Irving’s “Adventure of My Uncle,” and the “Bold Dragoon.”

The taste for the leisurely description and reminiscent essay of the
“Sketch-Book” does not characterize the readers of this generation, and
we have discovered that the pathos of its elaborated scenes is somewhat
“literary.” The sketches of “Little Britain,” and “Westminster Abbey,”
 and, indeed, that of “Stratford-on-Avon,” will for a long time retain
their place in selections of “good reading;” but the “Sketch-Book” is
only floated, as an original work, by two papers, the “Rip Van Winkle”
 and the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow;” that is to say by the use of the
Dutch material, and the elaboration of the “Knickerbocker Legend,”
 which was the great achievement of Irving’s life. This was broadened and
deepened and illustrated by the several stories of the “Money
Diggers,” of “Wolfert Webber” and “Kidd the Pirate,” in the “Tales of
a Traveller,” and by “Dolph Heyliger” in “Bracebridge Hall.” Irving was
never more successful than in painting the Dutch manners and habits of
the early time, and he returned again and again to the task until he not
only made the shores of the Hudson and the islands of New York harbor
and the East River classic ground, but until his conception of Dutch
life in the New World had assumed historical solidity and become a
tradition of the highest poetic value. If in the multiplicity of books
and the change of taste the bulk of Irving’s works shall go out of
print, a volume made up of his Knickerbocker history and the legends
relating to the region of New York and the Hudson would survive as long
as anything that has been produced in this country.

The philosophical student of the origin of New World society may
find food for reflection in the “materiality” of the basis of the
civilization of New York. The picture of abundance and of enjoyment of
animal life is perhaps not overdrawn in Irving’s sketch of the home of
the Van Tassels, in the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” It is all the extract
we can make room for from that careful study.

     “Among the musical disciples who assembled, one evening in each
     week, to receive his instructions in psalmody, was Katrina Van
     Tassel, the daughter and only child of a substantial Dutch farmer.
     She was a blooming lass of fresh eighteen; plump as a partridge;
     ripe and melting and rosy-checked as one of her father’s peaches,
     and universally famed, not merely for her beauty, but her vast
     expectations. She was, withal, a little of a coquette, as might be
     perceived even in her dress, which was a mixture of ancient and
     modern fashions, as most suited to set off her charms. She wore the
     ornaments of pure yellow gold which her great-great-grandmother had
     brought over from Saardam; the tempting stomacher of the olden time;
     and withal a provokingly short petticoat, to display the prettiest
     foot and ankle in the country round.

     “Ichabod Crane had a soft and foolish heart towards the sex; and it
     is not to be wondered at that so tempting a morsel soon found favor
     in his eyes, more especially after he had visited her in her
     paternal mansion. Old Baltus Van Tassel was a perfect picture of a
     thriving, contented, liberal-hearted farmer. He seldom, it is true,
     sent either his eyes or his thoughts beyond the boundaries of his
     own farm; but within those everything was snug, happy, and
     well-conditioned. He was satisfied with his wealth, but not proud
     of it; and piqued himself upon the hearty abundance rather than the
     style in which he lived. His stronghold was situated on the banks
     of the Hudson, in one of those green, sheltered, fertile nooks in
     which the Dutch farmers are so fond of nestling. A great elm-tree
     spread its broad branches over it, at the foot of which bubbled up
     a spring, of the softest and sweetest water, in a little well,
     formed of a barrel, and then stole sparkling away through the grass
     to a neighboring brook, that bubbled along among alders and dwarf
     willows. Hard by the farm-house was a vast barn, that might have
     served for a church, every window and crevice of which seemed
     bursting forth with the treasures of the farm. The flail was
     busily resounding within it from morning till night; swallows and
     martins skimmed twittering about the eaves; and rows of pigeons,
     some with one eye turned up, as if watching the weather, some with
     their heads under their wings, or buried in their bosoms, and
     others swelling and cooing and bowing about their dames, were
     enjoying the sunshine on the roof. Sleek, unwieldy porkers were
     grunting in the repose and abundance of their pens, whence sallied
     forth, now and then, troops of sucking pigs, as if to snuff the
     air. A stately squadron of snowy geese were riding in an adjoining
     pond, convoying whole fleets of ducks; regiments of turkeys were
     gobbling through the farm-yard, and guinea fowls fretting about it,
     like ill-tempered housewives, with their peevish, discontented cry.
     Before the barn door strutted the gallant cock, that pattern of a
     husband, a warrior, and a fine gentleman, clapping his burnished
     wings, and crowing in the pride and gladness of his heart
     --sometimes tearing up the earth with his feet, and then generously
     calling his ever-hungry family of wives and children to enjoy the
     rich morsel which he had discovered.

     “The pedagogue’s mouth watered as he looked upon this sumptuous
     promise of luxurious winter fare. In his devouring mind’s eye he
     pictured to himself every roasting-pig running about with a pudding
     in his belly, and an apple in his mouth; the pigeons were snugly put
     to bed in a comfortable pie, and tucked in with a coverlet of crust;
     the geese were swimming in their own gravy, and the ducks pairing
     cosily in dishes, like snug married couples, with a decent
     competency of onion-sauce. In the porkers he saw carved out the
     future sleek side of bacon, and juicy, relishing ham; not a turkey
     but he beheld daintily trussed up, with its gizzard under its wing,
     and, peradventure, a necklace-of savory sausages; and even bright
     chanticleer himself lay sprawling on his back, in a side-dish, with
     uplifted claws, as if craving that quarter which his chivalrous
     spirit disdained to ask while living.

     “As the enraptured Ichabod fancied all this, and as he rolled his
     great green eyes over the fat meadow-lands, the rich fields of
     wheat, of rye, of buckwheat, and Indian corn, and the orchard
     burdened with ruddy fruit, which surrounded the warm tenement of Van
     Tassel, his heart yearned after the damsel who was to inherit these
     domains, and his imagination expanded with the idea how they might
     be readily turned into cash, and the money invested in immense
     tracts of wild land and shingle palaces in the wilderness. Nay, his
     busy fancy already realized his hopes, and presented to him the
     blooming Katrina, with a whole family of children, mounted on the
     top of a wagon loaded with household trumpery, with pots and kettles
     dangling beneath; and he beheld himself bestriding a pacing mare,
     with a colt at her heels, setting out for Kentucky, Tennessee, or
     the Lord knows where.

     “When he entered the house, the conquest of his heart was complete.
     It was one of those spacious farm-houses, with high-ridged, but
     lowly-sloping roofs, built in the style handed down from the first
     Dutch settlers; the low projecting eaves forming a piazza along the
     front, capable of being closed up in bad weather. Under this were
     hung flails, harness, various utensils of husbandry, and nets for
     fishing in the neighboring river. Benches were built along the
     sides for summer use; and a great spinning-wheel at one end, and a
     churn at the other, showed the various uses to which this important
     porch might be devoted. From this piazza the wondering Ichabod
     entered the hall, which formed the centre of the mansion and the
     place of usual residence. Here, rows of resplendent pewter, ranged
     on a long dresser, dazzled his eyes. In one corner stood a huge bag
     of wool ready to be spun; in another a quantity of linsey-woolsey
     just from the loom; ears of Indian corn, and strings of dried apples
     and peaches, hung in gay festoons along the walls, mingled with the
     gaud of red peppers; and a door left ajar gave him a peep into the
     best parlor, where the claw-footed chairs and dark mahogany tables
     shone like mirrors; and irons, with their accompanying shovel and
     tongs, glistened from their covert of asparagus tops; mock-oranges
     and conch-shells decorated the mantelpiece; strings of various
     colored birds’ eggs were suspended above it; a great ostrich egg was
     hung from the centre of the room, and a corner cupboard, knowingly
     left open, displayed immense treasures of old silver and well-mended

It is an abrupt transition from these homely scenes, which humor
commends to our liking, to the chivalrous pageant unrolled for us in the
“Conquest of Granada.” The former are more characteristic and the more
enduring of Irving’s writings, but as a literary artist his genius
lent itself just as readily to oriental and medieval romance as to the
Knickerbocker legend; and there is no doubt that the delicate perception
he had of chivalric achievements gave a refined tone to his mock
heroics, which greatly heightened their effect. It may almost be claimed
that Irving did for Granada and the Alhambra what he did, in a totally
different way, for New York and its vicinity.

The first passage I take from the “Conquest” is the description of the
advent at Cordova of the Lord Scales, Earl of Rivers, who was brother of
the queen of Henry VII, a soldier who had fought at Bosworth field, and
now volunteered to aid Ferdinand and Isabella in the extermination of
the Saracens. The description is put into the mouth of Fray Antonio
Agapidda, a fictitious chronicler invented by Irving, an unfortunate
intervention which gives to the whole book an air of unveracity:

     “‘This cavalier [he observes] was from the far island of England,
     and brought with him a train of his vassals; men who had been
     hardened in certain civil wars which raged in their country. They
     were a comely race of men, but too fair and fresh for warriors, not
     having the sunburnt, warlike hue of our old Castilian soldiery.
     They were huge feeders also, and deep carousers, and could not
     accommodate themselves to the sober diet of our troops, but must
     fain eat and drink after the manner of their own country. They were
     often noisy and unruly, also, in their wassail; and their quarter of
     the camp was prone to be a scene of loud revel and sudden brawl.
     They were, withal, of great pride, yet it was not like our
     inflammable Spanish pride: they stood not much upon the ‘pundonor,’
     the high punctilio, and rarely drew the stiletto in their disputes;
     but their pride was silent and contumelious. Though from a remote
     and somewhat barbarous island, they believed themselves the most
     perfect men upon earth, and magnified their chieftain, the Lord
     Scales, beyond the greatest of their grandees. With all this, it
     must be said of them that they were marvelous good men in the field,
     dexterous archers, and powerful with the battleaxe. In their great
     pride and self-will, they always sought to press in the advance and
     take the post of danger, trying to outvie our Spanish chivalry.
     They did not rush on fiercely to the fight, nor make a brilliant
     onset like the Moorish and Spanish troops, but they went into the
     fight deliberately, and persisted obstinately, and were slow to find
     out when they were beaten. Withal they were much esteemed yet
     little liked by our soldiery, who considered them staunch companions
     in the field, yet coveted but little fellowship with them in the

     “‘Their commander, the Lord Scales, was an accomplished cavalier, of
     gracious and noble presence and fair speech; it was a marvel to see
     so much courtesy in a knight brought up so far from our Castilian
     court. He was much honored by the king and queen, and found great
     favor with the fair dames about the court, who indeed are rather
     prone to be pleased with foreign cavaliers. He went always in
     costly state, attended by pages and esquires, and accompanied by
     noble young cavaliers of his country, who had enrolled themselves
     under his banner, to learn the gentle exercise of arms. In all
     pageants and festivals, the eyes of the populace were attracted by
     the singular bearing and rich array of the English earl and his
     train, who prided themselves in always appearing in the garb and
     manner of their country-and were indeed something very magnificent,
     delectable, and strange to behold.’

     “The worthy chronicler is no less elaborate in his description of
     the masters of Santiago, Calatrava, and Alcantara, and their valiant
     knights, armed at all points, and decorated with the badges of their
     orders. These, he affirms, were the flower of Christian chivalry;
     being constantly in service they became more steadfast and
     accomplished in discipline than the irregular and temporary levies
     of feudal nobles. Calm, solemn, and stately, they sat like towers
     upon their powerful chargers. On parades they manifested none of
     the show and ostentation of the other troops: neither, in battle,
     did they endeavor to signalize themselves by any fiery vivacity, or
     desperate and vainglorious exploit,--everything, with them, was
     measured and sedate; yet it was observed that none were more warlike
     in their appearance in the camp, or more terrible for their
     achievements in the field.

     “The gorgeous magnificence of the Spanish nobles found but little
     favor in the eyes of the sovereigns. They saw that it caused a
     competition in expense ruinous to cavaliers of moderate fortune; and
     they feared that a softness and effeminacy might thus be introduced,
     incompatible with the stern nature of the war. They signified their
     disapprobation to several of the principal noblemen, and recommended
     a more sober and soldier-like display while in actual service.

     “‘These are rare troops for a tourney, my lord [said Ferdinand to
     the Duke of Infantado, as he beheld his retainers glittering in gold
     and embroidery]; but gold, though gorgeous, is soft and yielding:
     iron is the metal for the field.’

     “‘Sire replied the duke, if my men parade in gold, your majesty will
     find they fight with steel.’ The king smiled, but shook his head,
     and the duke treasured up his speech in his heart.”

Our author excels in such descriptions as that of the progress of
Isabella to the camp of Ferdinand after the capture of Loxa, and of the
picturesque pageantry which imparted something of gayety to the brutal
pastime of war:

     “It was in the early part of June that the queen departed from
     Cordova, with the Princess Isabella and numerous ladies of her
     court. She had a glorious attendance of cavaliers and pages, with
     many guards and domestics. There were forty mules for the use of
     the queen, the princess, and their train.

     “As this courtly cavalcade approached the Rock of the Lovers, on the
     banks of the river Yeguas, they beheld a splendid train of knights
     advancing to meet them. It was headed by that accomplished cavalier
     the Marques Duke de Cadiz, accompanied by the adelantado of
     Andalusia. He had left the camp the day after the capture of
     Illora, and advanced thus far to receive the queen and escort her
     over the borders. The queen received the marques with distinguished
     honor, for he was esteemed the mirror of chivalry. His actions in
     this war had become the theme of every tongue, and many hesitated
     not to compare him in prowess with the immortal Cid.

     “Thus gallantly attended, the queen entered the vanquished frontier
     of Granada, journeying securely along the pleasant banks of the
     Xenel, so lately subject to the scourings of the Moors. She stopped
     at Loxa, where she administered aid and consolation to the wounded,
     distributing money among them for their support, according to their

     “The king, after the capture of Illora, had removed his camp before
     the fortress of Moclin, with an intention of besieging it. Thither
     the queen proceeded, still escorted through the mountain roads by
     the Marques of Cadiz. As Isabella drew near to the camp, the Duke
     del Infantado issued forth a league and a half to receive her,
     magnificently arrayed, and followed by all his chivalry in glorious
     attire. With him came the standard of Seville, borne by the
     men-at-arms of that renowned city, and the Prior of St. Juan, with
     his followers. They ranged themselves in order of battle, on the
     left of the road by which the queen was to pass.

     “The worthy Agapida is loyally minute in his description of the
     state and grandeur of the Catholic sovereigns. The queen rode a
     chestnut mule, seated in a magnificent saddle-chair, decorated with
     silver gilt. The housings of the mule were of fine crimson cloth;
     the borders embroidered with gold; the reins and head-piece were of
     satin, curiously embossed with needlework of silk, and wrought with
     golden letters. The queen wore a brial or regal skirt of velvet,
     under which were others of brocade; a scarlet mantle, ornamented in
     the Moresco fashion; and a black hat, embroidered round the crown
     and brim.

     “The infanta was likewise mounted on a chestnut mule, richly
     caparisoned. She wore a brial or skirt of black brocade, and a
     black mantle ornamented like that of the queen.

     “When the royal cavalcade passed by the chivalry of the Duke del
     Infantado, which was drawn out in battle array, the queen made a
     reverence to the standard of Seville, and ordered it to pass to the
     right hand. When she approached the camp, the multitude ran forth
     to meet her, with great demonstrations of joy; for she was
     universally beloved by her subjects. All the battalions sallied
     forth in military array, bearing the various standards and banners
     of the camp, which were lowered in salutation as she passed.

     “The king now came forth in royal state, mounted on a superb
     chestnut horse, and attended by many grandees of Castile. He wore a
     jubon or close vest of crimson cloth, with cuisses or short skirts
     of yellow satin, a loose cassock of brocade, a rich Moorish
     scimiter, and a hat with plumes. The grandees who attended him were
     arrayed with wonderful magnificence, each according to his taste and

     “These high and mighty princes [says Antonio Agapida] regarded each
     other with great deference, as allied sovereigns rather than with
     connubial familiarity, as mere husband and wife. When they
     approached each other, therefore, before embracing, they made three
     profound reverences, the queen taking off her hat, and remaining in
     a silk net or cawl, with her face uncovered. The king then
     approached and embraced her, and kissed her respectfully on the
     cheek. He also embraced his daughter the princess; and, making the
     sign of the cross, he blessed her, and kissed her on the lips.

     “The good Agapida seems scarcely to have been more struck with the
     appearance of the sovereigns than with that of the English earl. He
     followed [says he] immediately after the king, with great pomp, and,
     in an extraordinary manner, taking precedence of all the rest. He
     was mounted ‘a la guisa,’ or with long stirrups, on a superb
     chestnut horse, with trappings of azure silk which reached to the
     ground. The housings were of mulberry, powdered with stars of gold.
     He was armed in proof, and wore over his armor a short French mantle
     of black brocade; he had a white French hat with plumes, and carried
     on his left arm a small round buckler, banded with gold. Five pages
     attended him, appareled in silk and brocade, and mounted on horses
     sumptuously caparisoned; he had also a train of followers, bravely
     attired after the fashion of his country.

     “He advanced in a chivalrous and courteous manner, making his
     reverences first to the queen and infanta, and afterwards to the
     king. Queen Isabella received him graciously, complimenting him on
     his courageous conduct at Loxa, and condoling with him on the loss
     of his teeth. The earl, however, made light of his disfiguring
     wound, saying that your blessed Lord, who had built all that house,
     had opened a window there, that he might see more readily what
     passed within; whereupon the worthy Fray Antonio Agapida is more
     than ever astonished at the pregnant wit of this island cavalier.
     The earl continued some little distance by the side of the royal
     family, complimenting them all with courteous speeches, his horse
     curveting and caracoling, but being managed with great grace and
     dexterity, leaving the grandees and the people at large not more
     filled with admiration at the strangeness and magnificence of his
     state than at the excellence of his horsemanship.

     “To testify her sense of the gallantry and services of this noble
     English knight, who had come from so far to assist in their wars,
     the queen sent him the next day presents of twelve horses, with
     stately tents, fine linen, two beds with coverings of gold brocade,
     and many other articles of great value.”

The protracted siege of the city of Granada was the occasion of feats
of arms and hostile courtesies which rival in brilliancy any in the
romances of chivalry. Irving’s pen is never more congenially employed
than in describing these desperate but romantic encounters. One of the
most picturesque of these was known as “the queen’s skirmish.” The royal
encampment was situated so far from Granada that only the general aspect
of the city could be seen as it rose from the vega, covering the sides
of the hills with its palaces and towers. Queen Isabella expressed
a desire for a nearer view of the city, whose beauty was renowned
throughout the world, and the courteous Marques of Cadiz proposed to
give her this perilous gratification.

     “On the morning of June the 18th, a magnificent and powerful train
     issued from the Christian camp. The advanced guard was composed of
     legions of cavalry, heavily armed, looking like moving masses of
     polished steel. Then came the king and queen, with the prince and
     princesses, and the ladies of the court, surrounded by the royal
     bodyguard, sumptuously arrayed, composed of the sons of the most
     illustrious houses of Spain; after these was the rearguard, a
     powerful force of horse and foot; for the flower of the army sallied
     forth that day. The Moors gazed with fearful admiration at this
     glorious pageant, wherein the pomp of the court was mingled with the
     terrors of the camp. It moved along in radiant line, across the
     vega, to the melodious thunders of martial music, while banner and
     plume, and silken scarf, and rich brocade, gave a gay and gorgeous
     relief to the grim visage of iron war that lurked beneath.

     “The army moved towards the hamlet of Zubia, built on the skirts of
     the mountain to the left of Granada, and commanding a view of the
     Alhambra, and the most beautiful quarter of the city. As they
     approached the hamlet, the Marques of Villena, the Count Urena, and
     Don Alonzo de Aguilar filed off with their battalions, and were soon
     seen glittering along, the side of the mountain above the village.
     In the mean time the Marques of Cadiz, the Count de Tendilla, the
     Count de Cabra, and Don Alonzo Fernandez, senior of Alcaudrete and
     Montemayor, drew up their forges in battle array on the plain below
     the hamlet, presenting a living barrier of loyal chivalry between
     the sovereigns and the city.

     “Thus securely guarded, the royal party alighted, and, entering one
     of the houses of the hamlet, which had been prepared for their
     reception, enjoyed a full view which the city from its terraced
     roof. The ladies of the court gazed with delight at the red towers
     of the Alhambra, rising from amid shady groves, anticipating the
     time when the Catholic sovereigns should be enthroned within its
     walls, and its courts shine with the splendor of Spanish chivalry.
     ‘The reverend prelates and holy friars, who always surrounded the
     queen, looked with serene satisfaction,’ says Fray Antonio Agapida,
     at this modern Babylon, enjoying the triumph that awaited them, when
     those mosques and minarets should be converted into churches, and
     goodly priests and bishops should succeed to the infidel alfaquis.’

     “When the Moors beheld the Christians thus drawn forth in full array
     in the plain, they supposed it was to offer battle, and hesitated
     not to accept it. In a little while the queen beheld a body of
     Moorish cavalry pouring into the vega, the riders managing their
     fleet and fiery steeds with admirable address. They were richly
     armed, and clothed in the most brilliant colors, and the caparisons
     of their steeds flamed with gold and embroidery. This was the
     favorite squadron of Muza, composed of the flower of the youthful
     cavaliers of Granada. Others succeeded, some heavily armed, others
     a la gineta, with lance and buckler; and lastly came the legions of
     foot-soldiers, with arquebus and crossbow, and spear and scimiter.

     “When the queen saw this army issuing from the city, she sent to the
     Marques of Cadiz, and forbade any attack upon the enemy, or the
     acceptance of any challenge to a skirmish; for she was loth that her
     curiosity should cost the life of a single human being.

     “The marques promised to obey, though sorely against his will; and
     it grieved the spirit of the Spanish cavaliers to be obliged to
     remain with sheathed swords while bearded by the foe. The Moors
     could not comprehend the meaning of this inaction of the Christians,
     after having apparently invited a battle. They sallied several
     times from their ranks, and approached near enough to discharge
     their arrows; but the Christians were immovable. Many of the
     Moorish horsemen galloped close to the Christian ranks, brandishing
     their lances and scimiters, and defying various cavaliers to single
     combat; but Ferdinand had rigorously prohibited all duels of this
     kind, and they dared not transgress his orders under his very eye.

     “Here, however, the worthy Fray Antonio Agapida, in his enthusiasm
     for the triumphs of the faith, records the following incident, which
     we fear is not sustained by any grave chronicler of the times, but
     rests merely on tradition, or the authority of certain poets and
     dramatic writers, who have perpetuated the tradition in their works.
     While this grim and reluctant tranquillity prevailed along the
     Christian line, says Agapida, there rose a mingled shout and sound
     of laughter near the gate of the city. A Moorish horseman, armed at
     all points, issued forth, followed by a rabble, who drew back as he
     approached the scene of danger. The Moor was more robust and brawny
     than was common with his countrymen. His visor was closed; he bore
     a huge buckler and a ponderous lance; his scimiter was of a Damascus
     blade, and his richly ornamented dagger was wrought by an artificer
     of Fez. He was known by his device to be Tarfe, the most insolent,
     yet valiant, of the Moslem warriors--the same who had hurled into
     the royal camp his lance, inscribed to the queen. As he rode slowly
     along in front of the army, his very steed, prancing with fiery eye
     and distended nostril, seemed to breathe defiance to the Christians.

     “But what were the feelings of the Spanish cavaliers when they
     beheld, tied to the tail of his steed, and dragged in the dust, the
     very inscription, ‘AVE MARIA,’ which Hernan Perez del Pulgar had
     affixed to the door of the mosque! A burst of horror and
     indignation broke forth from the army. Hernan was not at hand, to
     maintain his previous achievement; but one of his young companions
     in arms, Garcilasso de la Vega by name, putting spurs to his horse,
     galloped to the hamlet of Zubia, threw himself on his knees before
     the king, and besought permission to accept the defiance of this
     insolent infidel, and to revenge the insult offered to our Blessed
     Lady. The request was too pious to be refused. Garcilasso
     remounted his steed, closed his helmet, graced by four sable plumes,
     grasped his buckler of Flemish workmanship, and his lance of
     matchless temper, and defied the haughty Moor in the midst of his
     career. A combat took place in view of the two armies and of the
     Castilian court. The Moor was powerful in wielding his weapons, and
     dexterous in managing his steed. He was of larger frame than
     Garcilasso, and more completely aimed, and the Christians trembled
     for their champion. The shock of their encounter was dreadful;
     their lances were shivered, and sent up splinters in the air.
     Garcilasso was thrown back in his saddle--his horse made a wide
     career before he could recover, gather up the reins, and return to
     the conflict. They now encountered each other with swords. The
     Moor circled round his opponent, as a hawk circles when about to
     make a swoop; his steed obeyed his rider with matchless quickness;
     at every attack of the infidel, it seemed as if the Christian knight
     must sink beneath his flashing scimiter. But if Garcilasso was
     inferior to him in power, he was superior in agility; many of his
     blows he parried; others he received upon his Flemish shield, which
     was proof against the Damascus blade. The blood streamed from
     numerous wounds received by either warrior. The Moor, seeing his
     antagonist exhausted, availed himself of his superior force, and,
     grappling, endeavored to wrest him from his saddle. They both fell
     to earth; the Moor placed his knee upon the breast of his victim,
     and, brandishing his dagger, aimed a blow at his throat. A cry of
     despair was uttered by the Christian warriors, when suddenly they
     beheld the Moor rolling lifeless in the dust. Garcilasso had
     shortened his sword, and, as his adversary raised his arm to strike,
     had pierced him to the heart. It was a singular and miraculous
     victory,’ says Fray Antonio Agapida; ‘but the Christian knight was
     armed by the sacred nature of his cause, and the Holy Virgin gave
     him strength, like another David, to slay this gigantic champion of
     the Gentiles.’

     “The laws of chivalry were observed throughout the combat--no one
     interfered on either side. Garcilasso now despoiled his adversary;
     then, rescuing the holy inscription of ‘AVE MARIA’ from its
     degrading situation, he elevated it on the point of his sword, and
     bore it off as a signal of triumph, amidst the rapturous shouts of
     the Christian army.

     “The sun had now reached the meridian, and the hot blood of the
     Moors was inflamed by its rays, and by the sight of the defeat of
     their champion. Muza ordered two pieces of ordnance to open a fire
     upon the Christians. A confusion was produced in one part of their
     ranks: Muza called to the chiefs of the army, ‘Let us waste no more
     time in empty challenges--let us charge upon the enemy: he who
     assaults has always an advantage in the combat.’ So saying, he
     rushed forward, followed by a large body of horse and foot, and
     charged so furiously upon the advance guard of the Christians, that
     he drove it in upon the battalion of the Marques of Cadiz.

     “The gallant marques now considered himself absolved from all
     further obedience to the queen’s commands. He gave the signal to
     attack. ‘Santiago!’ was shouted along the line; and he pressed
     forward to the encounter, with his battalion of twelve hundred
     lances. The other cavaliers followed his example, and the battle
     instantly became general.

     “When the king and queen beheld the armies thus rushing to the
     combat, they threw themselves on their knees, and implored the Holy
     Virgin to protect her faithful warriors. The prince and princess,
     the ladies of the court, and the prelates and friars who were
     present, did the same; and the effect of the prayers of these
     illustrious and saintly persons was immediately apparent. The
     fierceness with which the Moors had rushed to the attack was
     suddenly cooled; they were bold and adroit for a skirmish, but
     unequal to the veteran Spaniards in the open field. A panic seized
     upon the foot-soldiers--they turned and took to flight. Muza and
     his cavaliers in vain endeavored to rally them. Some took refuge in
     the mountains; but the greater part fled to the city, in such
     confusion that they overturned and trampled upon each other. The
     Christians pursued them to the very gates. Upwards of two thousand
     were either killed, wounded, or taken prisoners; and the two pieces
     of ordnance were brought off as trophies of the victory. Not a
     Christian lance but was bathed that day in the blood of an infidel.

     “Such was the brief but bloody action which was known among the
     Christian warriors by the name of ‘The Queen’s Skirmish;’ for when
     the Marques of Cadiz waited upon her majesty to apologize for
     breaking her commands, he attributed the victory entirely to her
     presence. The queen, however, insisted that it was all owing to her
     troops being led on by so valiant a commander. Her majesty had not
     yet recovered from her agitation at beholding so terrible a scene of
     bloodshed, though certain veterans present pronounced it as gay and
     gentle a skirmish as they had ever witnessed.”

The charm of the “Alhambra” is largely in the leisurely, loitering,
dreamy spirit in which the temporary American resident of the ancient
palace-fortress entered into its moldering beauties and romantic
associations, and in the artistic skill with which he wove the
commonplace daily life of his attendant: there into the more brilliant
woof of its past. The book abounds in delightful legends, and yet then
are all so touched with the author’s airy humor that our credulity
is never overtaxed; we imbibe all the romantic interest of the place
without for a moment losing our hold upon reality. The enchantment of
this Moorish paradise become part of our mental possessions, without the
least shock to our common sense. After a few days of residence in the
part of the Alhambra occupied by Dame Tia Antonia and her family, of
which the handmaid Dolores was the most fascinating member, Irving
succeeded in establishing himself in a remote and vacant part of the
vast pile, in a suite of delicate and elegant chambers with secluded
gardens and fountains, that had once been occupied by the beautiful
Elizabeth of Farnese, daughter of the Duke of Parma, and more than four
centuries ago by a Moorish beauty named Lindaraxa, who flourished in the
court of Muhamed the Left-Handed. These solitary and ruined chambers had
their own terrors and enchantments, and for the first nights gave
the author little but sinister suggestions and grotesque food for his
imagination. But familiarity dispersed the gloom and the superstitious

     “In the course of a few evenings a thorough change took place in the
     scene and its associations. The moon, which, when I took possession
     of my new apartments, was invisible, gradually gained each evening
     upon the darkness of the night, and at length rolled in full
     splendor above the towers, pouring a flood of tempered light into
     every court and hall. The garden beneath my window, before wrapped
     in gloom, was gently lighted up; the orange and citron trees were
     tipped with silver; the fountain sparkled in the moonbeams, and even
     the blush of the rose was faintly visible.

     “I now felt the poetic merit of the Arabic inscription on the walls:
     ‘How beauteous is this garden; where the flowers of the earth vie
     with the stars of heaven. What can compare with the vase of yon
     alabaster fountain filled with crystal water? nothing but the moon
     in her fullness, shining in the midst of an unclouded sky!’

     “On such heavenly nights I would sit for hours at my window inhaling
     the sweetness of the garden, and musing on the checkered fortunes of
     those whose history was dimly shadowed out in the elegant memorials
     around. Sometimes, when all was quiet, and the clock from the
     distant cathedral of Granada struck the midnight hour, I have
     sallied out on another tour and wandered over the whole building;
     but how different from my first tour! No longer dark and
     mysterious; no longer peopled with shadowy foes; no longer recalling
     scenes of violence and murder; all was open, spacious, beautiful;
     everything called up pleasing and romantic fancies; Lindaraxa once
     more walked in her garden; the gay chivalry of Moslem Granada once
     more glittered about the Court of Lions! Who can do justice to a
     moonlight night in such a climate and such a place? The temperature
     of a summer midnight in Andalusia is perfectly ethereal. We seem
     lifted up into a purer atmosphere; we feel a serenity of soul, a
     buoyancy of spirits, an elasticity of frame, which render mere
     existence happiness. But when moonlight is added to all this, the
     effect is like enchantment. Under its plastic sway the Alhambra
     seems to regain its pristine glories. Every rent and chasm of time,
     every mouldering tint and weather-stain, is gone; the marble resumes
     its original whiteness; the long colonnades brighten in the
     moonbeams; the halls are illuminated with a softened radiance,
     we tread the enchanted palace of an Arabian tale.

     “What a delight, at such a time, to ascend to the little airy
     pavilion of the queen’s toilet (el tocador de la reyna), which, like
     a bird-cage, overhangs the valley of the Darro, and gaze from its
     light arcades upon the moonlight prospect! To the right, the
     swelling mountains of the Sierra Nevada, robbed of their ruggedness
     and softened into a fairy land, with their snowy summits gleaming
     like silver clouds against the deep blue sky. And then to lean over
     the parapet of the Tocador and gaze down upon Granada and the
     Albaycin spread out like a map below; all buried in deep repose; the
     white palaces and convents sleeping in the moonshine, and beyond all
     these the vapory vega fading away like a dreamland in the distance.

     “Sometimes the faint click of castanets rises from the Alameda,
     where some gay Andalusians are dancing away the summer night.
     Sometimes the dubious tones of a guitar and the notes of an amorous
     voice, tell perchance the whereabout of some moonstruck lover
     serenading his lady’s window.

     “Such is a faint picture of the moonlight nights I have passed
     loitering about the courts and halls and balconies of this most
     suggestive pile; ‘feeding my fancy with sugared suppositions,’ and
     enjoying that mixture of reverie and sensation which steals away
     existence in a southern climate; so that it has been almost morning
     before I have retired to bed, and been lulled to sleep by the
     falling waters of the fountain of Lindaraxa.”

One of the writer’s vantage points of observation was a balcony of
the central window of the Hall of Ambassadors, from which he had a
magnificent prospect of mountain, valley, and vega, and could look down
upon a busy scene of human life in an alameda, or public walk, at the
foot of the hill, and the suburb of the city, filling the narrow gorge
below. Here the author used to sit for hours, weaving histories out of
the casual incidents passing under his eye, and the occupations of
the busy mortals below. The following passage exhibits his power in
transmuting the commonplace life of the present into material perfectly
in keeping with the romantic associations of the place:

     “There was scarce a pretty face or a striking figure that I daily
     saw, about which I had not thus gradually framed a dramatic story,
     though some of my characters would occasionally act in direct
     opposition to the part assigned them, and disconcert the whole
     drama. Reconnoitring one day with my glass the streets of the
     Albaycin, I beheld the procession of a novice about to take the
     veil; and remarked several circumstances which excited the strongest
     sympathy in the fate of the youthful being thus about to be
     consigned to a living tomb. I ascertained to my satisfaction that
     she was beautiful, and, from the paleness of her cheek, that she was
     a victim rather than a votary. She was arrayed in bridal garments,
     and decked with a chaplet of white flowers, but her heart evidently
     revolted at this mockery of a spiritual union, and yearned after its
     earthly loves. A tall, stern-looking man walked near her in the
     procession: it was, of course, the tyrannical father, who, from some
     bigoted or sordid motive, had compelled this sacrifice. Amid the
     crowd was a dark, handsome youth, in Andalusian garb, who seemed to
     fix on her an eye of agony. It was doubtless the secret lover from
     whom she was forever to be separated. My indignation rose as I
     noted the malignant expression painted on the countenances of the
     attendant monks and friars. The procession arrived at the chapel of
     the convent; the sun gleamed for the last time upon the chaplet of
     the poor novice, as she crossed the fatal threshold and disappeared
     within the building. The throng poured in with cowl, and cross, and
     minstrelsy; the lover paused for a moment at the door. I could
     divine the tumult of his feelings; but he mastered them, and
     entered. There was a long interval. I pictured to myself the scene
     passing within: the poor novice despoiled of her transient finery,
     and clothed in the conventual garb; the bridal chaplet taken from
     her brow, and her beautiful head shorn of its long silken tresses.
     I heard her murmur the irrevocable vow. I saw her extended on a
     bier; the death-pall spread over her; the funeral service performed
     that proclaimed her dead to the world; her sighs were drowned in the
     deep tones of the organ, and the plaintive requiem of the nuns; the
     father looked on, unmoved, without a tear; the lover--no my
     imagination refused to portray the anguish of the lover--there the
     picture remained a blank.

     “After a time the throng again poured forth and dispersed various
     ways, to enjoy the light of the sun and mingle with the stirring
     scenes of life; but the victim, with her bridal chaplet, was no
     longer there. The door of the convent closed that severed her from
     the world forever. I saw the father and the lover issue forth; they
     were in earnest conversation. The latter was vehement in his
     gesticulations; I expected some violent termination to my drama; but
     an angle of a building interfered and closed the scene. My eye
     afterwards was frequently turned to that convent with painful
     interest. I remarked late at night a solitary light twinkling from
     a remote lattice of one of its towers. ‘There,’ said I, the unhappy
     nun sits weeping in her cell, while perhaps her lover paces the
     street below in unavailing anguish.’...

     “The officious Mateo interrupted my meditations and destroyed in an
     instant the cobweb tissue of my fancy. With his usual zeal he had
     gathered facts concerning the scene, which put my fictions all to
     flight. The heroine of my romance was neither young nor handsome;
     she had no lover; she had entered the convent of her own free will,
     as a respectable asylum, and was one of the most cheerful residents
     within its walls.

     “It was some little while before I could forgive the wrong done me
     by the nun in being thus happy in her cell, in contradiction to all
     the rules of romance; I diverted my spleen, however, by watching,
     for a day or two, the pretty coquetries of a dark-eyed brunette,
     who, from the covert of a balcony shrouded with flowering shrubs and
     a silken awning, was carrying on a mysterious correspondence with a
     handsome, dark, well-whiskered cavalier, who lurked frequently in
     the street beneath her window. Sometimes I saw him at an early
     hour, stealing forth wrapped to the eyes in a mantle. Sometimes he
     loitered at a corner, in various disguises, apparently waiting for a
     private signal to slip into the house. Then there was the tinkling
     of a guitar at night, and a lantern shifted from place to place in
     the balcony. I imagined another intrigue like that of Almaviva, but
     was again disconcerted in all my suppositions. The supposed lover
     turned out to be the husband of the lady, and a noted
     contrabandista; and all his mysterious signs and movements had
     doubtless some smuggling scheme in view....

     “I occasionally amused myself with noting from this balcony the
     gradual changes of the scenes below, according to the different
     stages of the day.

     “Scarce has the gray dawn streaked the sky, and the earliest cock
     crowed from the cottages of the hill-side, when the suburbs give
     sign of reviving animation; for the fresh hours of dawning are
     precious in the summer season in a sultry climate. All are anxious
     to get the start of the sun, in the business of the day. The
     muleteer drives forth his loaded train for the journey; the traveler
     slings his carbine behind his saddle, and mounts his steed at the
     gate of the hostel; the brown peasant from the country urges forward
     his loitering beasts, laden with panniers of sunny fruit and fresh
     dewy vegetables, for already the thrifty housewives are hastening to
     the market.

     “The sun is up and sparkles along the valley, tipping the
     transparent foliage of the groves. The matin bells resound
     melodiously through the pure bright air, announcing the hour of
     devotion. The muleteer halts his burdened animals before the
     chapel, thrusts his staff through his belt behind, and enters with
     hat in hand, smoothing his coal-black hair, to hear a mass, and to
     put up a prayer for a prosperous wayfaring across the sierra. And
     now steals forth on fairy foot the gentle Senora, in trim basquina,
     with restless fan in hand, and dark eye flashing from beneath the
     gracefully folded mantilla; she seeks some well-frequented church to
     offer up her morning orisons; but the nicely adjusted dress, the
     dainty shoe and cobweb stocking, the raven tresses exquisitely
     braided, the fresh-plucked rose, gleaming among them like a gem,
     show that earth divides with Heaven the empire of her thoughts.
     Keep an eye upon her, careful mother, or virgin aunt, or vigilant
     duenna, whichever you may be, that walk behind!

     “As the morning advances, the din of labor augments on every side;
     the streets are thronged with man, and steed, and beast of burden,
     and there is a hum and murmur, like the surges of the ocean. As the
     sun ascends to his meridian, the hum and bustle gradually decline;
     at the height of noon there is a pause. The panting city sinks into
     lassitude, and for several hours there is a general repose. The
     windows are closed, the curtains drawn, the inhabitants retired into
     the coolest recesses of their mansions; the full-fed monk snores in
     his dormitory; the brawny porter lies stretched on the pavement
     beside his burden; the peasant and the laborer sleep beneath the
     trees of the Alameda, lulled by the sultry chirping of the locust.
     The streets are deserted, except by the water-carrier, who refreshes
     the ear by proclaiming the merits of his sparkling beverage, ‘colder
     than the mountain snow (mas fria que la nieve).’

     “As the sun declines, there is again a gradual reviving, and when
     the vesper bell rings out his sinking knell, all nature seems to
     rejoice that the tyrant of the day has fallen. Now begins the
     bustle of enjoyment, when the citizens pour forth to breathe the
     evening air, and revel away the brief twilight in the walks and
     gardens of the Darro and Xenil.

     “As night closes, the capricious scene assumes new features. Light
     after light gradually twinkles forth; here a taper from a balconied
     window; there a votive lamp before the image of a saint. Thus, by
     degrees, the city emerges the banners of the haughty chiefs of
     Spain, and flaunted in triumph through these Moslem halls. I
     picture to myself Columbus, the future discoverer of a world, taking
     his modest stand in a remote corner, the humble and neglected
     spectator of the pageant. I see in imagination the Catholic
     sovereigns prostrating themselves before the altar, and pouring
     forth thanks for their victory; while the vaults resound with sacred
     minstrelsy and the deep-toned Te Deum.

     “The transient illusion is over,--the pageant melts from the fancy,
     --monarch, priest, and warrior return into oblivion with the poor
     Moslems over whom they exulted. The hall of their triumph is waste
     and desolate. The bat flits about its twilight vault, and the owl
     hoots from the neighboring tower of Comares.”

It is a Moslem tradition that the court and army of Boabdil the
Unfortunate, the last Moorish king of Granada, are shut up in the
mountain by a powerful enchantment, and that it is written in the book
of fate that when the enchantment is broken, Boabdil will descend from
the mountain at the head of his army, resume his throne in the Alhambra,
and, gathering together the enchanted warriors from all parts of Spain,
reconquer the peninsula. Nothing in this volume is more amusing and at
the same time more poetic and romantic than the story of “Governor Manco
and the Soldier,” in which this legend is used to cover the exploit of
a dare-devil contrabandista. But it is too long to quote. I take,
therefore, another story, which has something of the same elements,
that of a merry mendicant student of Salamanca, Don Vicente by name, who
wandered from village to village, and picked up a living by playing the
guitar for the peasants, among whom he was sure of a hearty welcome.
In the course of his wandering he had found a seal-ring, having for its
device the cabalistic sign invented by King Solomon the Wise, and of
mighty power in all cases of enchantment.

     “At length he arrived at the great object of his musical
     vagabondizing, the far-famed city of Granada, and hailed with wonder
     and delight its Moorish towers, its lovely vega, and its snowy
     mountains glistening through a summer atmosphere. It is needless to
     say with what eager curiosity he entered its gates and wandered
     through its streets, and gazed upon its Oriental monuments. Every
     female face peering through a window or beaming from a balcony was
     to him a Zorayda or a Zelinda, nor could he meet a stately dame on
     the Alameda but he was ready to fancy her a Moorish princess, and to
     spread his student’s robe beneath her feet.

     “His musical talent, his happy humor, his youth and his good looks,
     won him a universal welcome in spite of his ragged robes, and for
     several days he led a gay life in the old Moorish capital and its
     environs. One of his occasional haunts was the fountain of
     Avellanos, in the valley of Darro. It is one of the popular resorts
     of Granada, and has been so since the days of the Moors; and here
     the student had an opportunity of pursuing his studies of female
     beauty; a branch of study to which he was a little prone.

     “Here he would take his seat with his guitar, improvise love-ditties
     to admiring groups of majos and majas, or prompt with his music the
     ever-ready dance. He was thus engaged one evening when he beheld a
     padre of the church advancing, at whose approach every one touched
     the hat. He was evidently a man of consequence; he certainly was a
     mirror of good if not of holy living; robust and rosy-faced, and
     breathing at every pore with the warmth of the weather and the
     exercise of the walk. As he passed along he would every now and
     then draw a maravedi out of his pocket and bestow it on a beggar,
     with an air of signal beneficence. ‘Ah, the blessed father!’ would
     be the cry; long life to him, and may he soon be a bishop!’

     “To aid his steps in ascending the hill he leaned gently now and
     then on the arm of a handmaid, evidently the pet-lamb of this
     kindest of pastors. Ah, such a damsel! Andalus from head to foot;
     from the rose in her hair, to the fairy shoe and lacework stocking;
     Andalus in every movement; in every undulation of the body:--ripe,
     melting Andalus! But then so modest!--so shy!--ever, with downcast
     eyes, listening to the words of the padre; or, if by chance she let
     flash a side glance, it was suddenly checked and her eyes once more
     cast to the ground.

     “The good padre looked benignantly on the company about the
     fountain, and took his seat with some emphasis on a stone bench,
     while the handmaid hastened to bring him a glass of sparkling water.
     He sipped it deliberately and with a relish, tempering it with one
     of those spongy pieces of frosted eggs and sugar so dear to Spanish
     epicures, and on returning the glass to the hand of the damsel
     pinched her cheek with infinite loving-kindness.

     “‘Ah, the good pastor!’ whispered the student to himself; ‘what a
     happiness would it be to be gathered into his fold with such a
     pet-lamb for a companion!’

     “But no such good fare was likely to befall him. In vain he essayed
     those powers of pleasing which he had found so irresistible with
     country curates and country lasses. Never had he touched his guitar
     with such skill; never had he poured forth more soul-moving ditties,
     but he had no longer a country curate or country lass to deal with.
     The worthy priest evidently did not relish music, and the modest
     damsel never raised her eyes from the ground. They remained but a
     short time at the fountain; the good padre hastened their return to
     Granada. The damsel gave the student one shy glance in retiring;
     but it plucked the heart out of his bosom!

     “He inquired about them after they had gone. Padre Tomas was one of
     the saints of Granada, a model of regularity; punctual in his hour
     of rising; his hour of taking a paseo for an appetite; his hours of
     eating; his hour of taking his siesta; his hour of playing his game
     of tresillo, of an evening, with some of the dames of the cathedral
     circle; his hour of supping, and his hour of retiring to rest, to
     gather fresh strength for another day’s round of similar duties.
     He had an easy sleek mule for his riding; a matronly housekeeper
     skilled in preparing tidbits for his table; and the pet-lamb, to
     smooth his pillow at night and bring him his chocolate in the

     “Adieu now to the gay, thoughtless life of the student; the
     side-glance of a bright eye had been the undoing of him. Day and
     night he could not get the image of this most modest damsel out of
     his mind. He sought the mansion of the padre. Alas! it was above
     the class of houses accessible to a strolling student like himself.
     The worthy padre had no sympathy with him; he had never been
     Estudiante sopista, obliged to sing for his supper. He blockaded
     the house by day, catching a glance of the damsel now and then as
     she appeared at a casement; but these glances only fed his flame
     without encouraging his hope. He serenaded her balcony at night,
     and at one time was flattered by the appearance of something white
     at a window. Alas, it was only the nightcap of the padre.

     “Never was lover more devoted; never damsel more shy: the poor
     student was reduced to despair. At length arrived the eve of St.
     John, when the lower classes of Granada swarm into the country,
     dance away the afternoon, and pass midsummer’s night on the banks of
     the Darro and the Xenil. Happy are they who on this eventful night
     can wash their faces in those waters just as the cathedral bell
     tells midnight; for at that precise moment they have a beautifying
     power. The student, having nothing to do, suffered himself to be
     carried away by the holiday-seeking throng until he found himself in
     the narrow valley of the Darro, below the lofty hill and ruddy
     towers of the Alhambra. The dry bed of the river; the rocks which
     border it; the terraced gardens which overhang it, were alive with
     variegated groups, dancing under the vines and fig-trees to the
     sound of the guitar and castanets.

     “The student remained for some time in doleful dumps, leaning
     against one of the huge misshapen stone pomegranates which adorn the
     ends of the little bridge over the Darro. He cast a wistful glance
     upon the merry scene, where every cavalier had his dame; or, to
     speak more appropriately, every Jack his Jill; sighed at his own
     solitary state, a victim to the black eye of the most unapproachable
     of damsels, and repined at his ragged garb, which seemed to shut the
     gate of hope against him.

     “By degrees his attention was attracted to a neighbor equally
     solitary with himself. This was a tall soldier, of a stern aspect
     and grizzled beard, who seemed posted as a sentry at the opposite
     pomegranate. His face was bronzed by time; he was arrayed in
     ancient Spanish armor, with buckler and lance, and stood immovable
     as a statue. What surprised the student was, that though thus
     strangely equipped, he was totally unnoticed by the passing throng,
     albeit that many almost brushed against him.

     “‘This is a city of old time peculiarities,’ thought the student, I
     and doubtless this is one of them with which the inhabitants are too
     familiar to be surprised.’ His own curiosity, however, was
     awakened, and being of a social disposition, he accosted the

     “‘A rare old suit of armor that which you wear, comrade. May I ask
     what corps you belong to?’

     “The soldier gasped out a reply from a pair of jaws which seemed to
     have rusted on their hinges.

     “‘The royal guard of Ferdinand and Isabella.’

     “‘Santa Maria! Why, it is three centuries since that corps was in

     “‘And for three centuries have I been mounting guard. Now I trust
     my tour of duty draws to a close. Dost thou desire fortune?’

     “The student held up his tattered cloak in reply.

     “‘I understand thee. If thou hast faith and courage, follow me, and
     thy fortune is made.’

     “‘Softly, comrade; to follow thee would require small courage in one
     who has nothing to lose but life and an old guitar, neither of much
     value; but my faith is of a different matter, and not to be put in
     temptation. If it be any criminal act by which I am to mend my
     fortune, think not my ragged coat will make me undertake it.’

     “The soldier turned on him a look of high displeasure. ‘My sword,’
     said he, ‘has never been drawn but in the cause of the faith and the
     throne. I am a ‘Cristiano viejo;’ trust in me and fear no evil.’

     “The student followed him wondering. He observed that no one heeded
     their conversation, and that the soldier made his way through the
     various groups of idlers unnoticed, as if invisible.

     “Crossing the bridge, the soldier led the way by a narrow and steep
     path past a Moorish mill and aqueduct, and up the ravine which
     separates the domains of the Generalife from those of the Alhambra.
     The last ray of the sun shone upon the red battlements of the
     latter, which beetled far above; and the convent-bells were
     proclaiming the festival of the ensuing day. The ravine was
     overshadowed by fig-trees, vines, and myrtles, and the outer towers
     and walls of the fortress. It was dark and lonely, and the
     twilight-loving bats began to flit about. At length the soldier
     halted at a remote and ruined tower apparently intended to guard a
     Moorish aqueduct. He struck the foundation with the butt-end of his
     spear. A rumbling sound was heard, and the solid stones yawned
     apart, leaving an opening as wide as a door.

     “‘Enter in the name of the Holy Trinity,’ said the soldier, ‘and
     fear nothing.’ The student’s heart quaked, but he made the sign of
     the cross, muttered his Ave Maria, and followed his mysterious guide
     into a deep vault cut out of the solid rock under the tower, and
     covered with Arabic inscriptions. The soldier pointed to a stone
     seat hewn along one side of the vault. ‘Behold,’ said he, ‘my couch
     for three hundred years.’ The bewildered student tried to force a
     joke. ‘By the blessed St. Anthony,’ said he, ‘but you must have
     slept soundly, considering the hardness of your couch.’

     “‘On the contrary, sleep has been a stranger to these eyes;
     incessant watchfulness has been my doom. Listen to my lot. I was
     one of the royal guards of Ferdinand and Isabella; but was taken
     prisoner by the Moors in one of their sorties, and confined a
     captive in this tower. When preparations were made to surrender the
     fortress to the Christian sovereigns, I was prevailed upon by an
     alfaqui, a Moorish priest, to aid him in secreting some of the
     treasures of Boabdil in this vault. I was justly punished for my
     fault. The alfaqui was an African necromancer, and by his infernal
     arts cast a spell upon me--to guard his treasures. Something must
     have happened to him, for he never returned, and here have I
     remained ever since, buried alive. Years and years have rolled
     away; earthquakes have shaken this hill; I have heard stone by stone
     of the tower above tumbling to the ground, in the natural operation
     of time; but the spell-bound walls of this vault set both time and
     earthquakes at defiance.

     “‘Once every hundred years, on the festival of St. John, the
     enchantment ceases to have thorough sway; I am permitted to go forth
     and post myself upon the bridge of the Darro, where you met me,
     waiting until some one shall arrive who may have power to break this
     magic spell. I have hitherto mounted guard there in vain. I walk
     as in a cloud, concealed from mortal sight. You are the first to
     accost me for now three hundred years. I behold the reason. I see
     on your finger the seal-ring of Solomon the Wise, which is proof
     against all enchantment. With you it remains to deliver me from
     this awful dungeon, or to leave me to keep guard here for another
     hundred years.’

     “The student listened to this tale in mute wonderment. He had heard
     many tales of treasures shut up under strong enchantment in the
     vaults of the Alhambra, but had treated them as fables. He now felt
     the value of the seal-ring, which had, in a manner, been given to
     him by St. Cyprian. Still, though armed by so potent a talisman, it
     was an awful thing to find himself tete-a-tete in such a place with
     an enchanted soldier, who, according to the laws of nature, ought to
     have been quietly in his grave for nearly three centuries.

     “A personage of this kind, however, was quite out of the ordinary
     run, and not to be trifled with, and he assured him he might rely
     upon his friendship and good will to do everything in his power for
     his deliverance.

     “‘I trust to a motive more powerful than friendship,’ said the

     “He pointed to a ponderous iron coffer, secured by locks inscribed
     with Arabic characters. ‘That coffer,’ said he, ‘contains countless
     treasure in gold and jewels and precious stones. Break the magic
     spell by which I am enthralled, and one half of this treasure shall
     be thine.’

     “‘But how am I to do it?’

     “‘The aid of a Christian priest and a Christian maid is necessary.
     The priest to exorcise the powers of darkness; the damsel to touch
     this chest with the seal of Solomon. This must be done at night.
     But have a care. This is solemn work, and not to be effected by the
     carnal-minded. The priest must be a Cristiano viejo, a model of
     sanctity; and must mortify the flesh before he comes here, by a
     rigorous fast of four-and-twenty hours: and as to the maiden, she
     must be above reproach, and proof against temptation. Linger not in
     finding such aid. In three days my furlough is at an end; if not
     delivered before midnight of the third, I shall have to mount guard
     for another century.’

     “‘Fear not,’ said the student, ‘I have in my eye the very priest and
     damsel you describe; but how am I to regain admission to this tower?

     “‘The seal of Solomon will open the way for thee.’

     “The student issued forth from the tower much more gayly than he had
     entered. The wall closed behind him, and remained solid as before.

     “The next morning he repaired boldly to the mansion of the priest,
     no longer a poor strolling student, thrumming his way with a guitar;
     but an ambassador from the shadowy world, with enchanted treasures
     to bestow. No particulars are told of his negotiation, excepting
     that the zeal of the worthy priest was easily kindled at the idea of
     rescuing an old soldier of the faith and a strong-box of King Chico
     from the very clutches of Satan; and then what alms might be
     dispensed, what churches built, and how many poor relatives enriched
     with the Moorish treasure!

     “As to the immaculate handmaid, she was ready to lend her hand,
     which was all that was required, to the pious work; and if a shy
     glance now and then might be believed, the ambassador began to find
     favor in her modest eyes.

     “The greatest difficulty, however, was the fast to which the good
     padre had to subject himself. Twice he attempted it, and twice the
     flesh was too strong for the spirit. It was only on the third day
     that he was enabled to withstand the temptations of the cupboard;
     but it was still a question whether he would hold out until the
     spell was broken.

     “At a late hour of the night the party groped their way up the
     ravine by the light of a lantern, and bearing a basket with
     provisions for exorcising the demon of hunger so soon as the other
     demons should be laid in the Red Sea.

     “The seal of Solomon opened their way into the tower. They found
     the soldier seated on the enchanted strong-box, awaiting their
     arrival. The exorcism was performed in due style. The damsel
     advanced and touched the locks of the coffer with the seal of
     Solomon. The lid flew open; and such treasures of gold and jewels
     and precious stones as flashed upon the eye!

     “‘Here’s cut and come again!’ cried the student, exultingly, as he
     proceeded to cram his pockets.

     “‘Fairly and softly,’ exclaimed the soldier. ‘Let us get the coffer
     out entire, and then divide:

     “They accordingly went to work with might and main; but it was a
     difficult task; the chest was enormously heavy, and had been
     imbedded there for centuries. While they were thus employed the
     good dominie drew on one side and made a vigorous onslaught on the
     basket, by way of exorcising the demon of hunger which was raging in
     his entrails. In a little while a fat capon was devoured, and
     washed down by a deep potation of Val de penas; and, by way of grace
     after meat, he gave a kind-hearted kiss to the pet-lamb who waited
     on him. It was quietly done in a corner, but the tell-tale walls
     babbled it forth as if in triumph. Never was chaste salute more
     awful in its effects. At the sound the soldier gave a great cry of
     despair; the coffer, which was half raised, fell back in its place
     and was locked once more. Priest, student, and damsel found
     themselves outside of the tower, the wall of which closed with a
     thundering jar. Alas! the good padre had broken his fast too soon!

     “When recovered from his surprise, the student would have reentered
     the tower, but learnt to his dismay that the damsel, in her fright,
     had let fall the seal of Solomon; it remained within the vault.

     “In a word, the cathedral bell tolled midnight; the spell was
     renewed; the soldier was doomed to mount guard for another hundred
     years, and there he and the treasure remain to this day--and all
     because the kind-hearted padre kissed his handmaid. ‘Ah, father!
     father!’ said the student, shaking his head ruefully, as they
     returned down the ravine, ‘I fear there was less of the saint than
     the sinner in that kiss!’

     “Thus ends the legend as far as it has been authenticated. There is
     a tradition, however, that the student had brought off treasure
     enough in his pocket to set him up in the world; that he prospered
     in his affairs, that the worthy padre gave him the pet-lamb in
     marriage, by way of amends for the blunder in the vault; that the
     immaculate damsel proved a pattern for wives as she had been for
     handmaids, and bore her husband a numerous progeny; that the first
     was a wonder; it was born seven months after her marriage, and
     though a seven months’ boy, was the sturdiest of the flock. The
     rest were all born in the ordinary course of time.

     “The story of the enchanted soldier remains one of the popular
     traditions of Granada, though told in a variety of ways; the common
     people affirm that he still mounts guard on midsummer eve beside the
     gigantic stone pomegranate on the bridge of the Darro; but remains
     invisible excepting to such lucky mortal as may possess the seal of

These passages from the most characteristic of Irving’s books do not
by any means exhaust his variety, but they afford a fair measure of
his purely literary skill, upon which his reputation must rest. To
my apprehension this “charm” in literature is as necessary to the
amelioration and enjoyment of human life as the more solid achievements
of scholarship. That Irving should find it in the prosaic and
materialistic conditions of the New World as well as in the
tradition-laden atmosphere of the Old, is evidence that he possessed
genius of a refined and subtle quality, if not of the most robust order.


The last years of Irving’s life, although full of activity and
enjoyment,--abated only by the malady which had so long tormented
him,--offer little new in the development of his character, and need not
much longer detain us. The calls of friendship and of honor were many,
his correspondence was large, he made many excursions to scenes that
were filled with pleasant memories, going even as far south as Virginia,
and he labored assiduously at the “Life of Washington,”--attracted,
however, now and then, by some other tempting theme. But his delight
was in the domestic circle at Sunnyside. It was not possible that his
occasional melancholy vein should not be deepened by change and death
and the lengthening shade of old age. Yet I do not know the closing days
of any other author of note that were more cheerful, serene, and happy
than his. Of our author, in these latter days, Mr. George William Curtis
put recently into his “Easy Chair” papers an artistically touched little
portrait. “Irving was as quaint a figure,” he says, “as the Diedrich
Knickerbocker in the preliminary advertisement of the ‘History of New
York.’ Thirty years ago he might have been seen on an autumnal afternoon
tripping with an elastic step along Broadway, with ‘low-quartered’
shoes neatly tied, and a Talma cloak--a short garment that lung from
the shoulders like the cape of a coat. There was a chirping, cheery,
old-school air in his appearance which was undeniably Dutch, and most
harmonious with the associations of his writing. He seemed, indeed, to
have stepped out of his own books; and the cordial grace and humor
of his address, if he stopped for a passing chat, were delightfully
characteristic. He was then our most famous man of letters, but he was
simply free from all self-consciousness and assumption and dogmatism.”
 Congenial occupation was one secret of Irving’s cheerfulness and
contentment, no doubt. And he was called away as soon as his task was
done, very soon after the last volume of the “Washington” issued from
the press. Yet he lived long enough to receive the hearty approval of
it from the literary men whose familiarity with the Revolutionary period
made them the best judges of its merits.

He had time also to revise his works. It is perhaps worthy of note that
for several years, while he was at the height of his popularity, his
books had very little sale. From 1842 to 1848 they were out of print;
with the exception of some stray copies of a cheap Philadelphia edition,
and a Paris collection (a volume of this, at my hand, is one of a series
entitled a “Collection of Ancient and Modern British Authors”), they
were not to be found. The Philadelphia publishers did not think there
was sufficient demand to warrant a new edition. Mr. Irving and his
friends judged the market more wisely, and a young New York publisher
offered to assume the responsibility. This was Mr. George P. Putnam.
The event justified his sagacity and his liberal enterprise. From July,
1848, to November, 1859, the author received on his copyright over
eighty-eight thousand dollars. And it should be added that the relations
between author and publisher, both in prosperity and in times of
business disaster, reflect the highest credit upon both. If the like
relations always obtained, we should not have to say, “May the Lord pity
the authors in this world, and the publishers in the next.”

I have outlined the life of Washington Irving in vain, if we have not
already come to a tolerably clear conception of the character of the
man and of his books. If I were to follow his literary method exactly,
I should do nothing more. The idiosyncrasies of the man are the strength
and weakness of his works. I do not know any other author whose writings
so perfectly reproduce his character, or whose character may be
more certainly measured by his writings. His character is perfectly
transparent: his predominant traits were humor and sentiment; his
temperament was gay with a dash of melancholy; his inner life and his
mental operations were the reverse of complex, and his literary method
is simple. He felt his subject, and he expressed his conception not
so much by direct statement or description as by almost imperceptible
touches and shadings here and there, by a diffused tone and color, with
very little show of analysis. Perhaps it is a sufficient definition to
say that his method was the sympathetic. In the end the reader is put in
possession of the luminous and complete idea upon which the author
has been brooding, though he may not be able to say exactly how the
impression has been conveyed to him; and I doubt if the author could
have explained his sympathetic process. He certainly would have lacked
precision in any philosophical or metaphysical theme, and when, in
his letters, he touches upon politics, there is a little vagueness of
definition that indicates want of mental grip in that direction. But in
the region of feeling his genius is sufficient to his purpose; either
when that purpose is a highly creative one, as in the character and
achievements of his Dutch heroes, or merely that of portraiture, as in
the “Columbus” and the “Washington.” The analysis of a nature so simple
and a character so transparent as Irving’s, who lived in the sunlight
and had no envelope of mystery, has not the fascination that attaches to

Although the direction of his work as a man of letters was largely
determined by his early surroundings,--that is, by his birth in a land
void of traditions, and into a society without much literary life, so
that his intellectual food was of necessity a foreign literature that
was at the moment becoming a little antiquated in the land of its birth,
and his warm imagination was forced to revert to the past for that
nourishment which his crude environment did not offer,--yet he was
by nature a retrospective man. His face was set towards the past, not
towards the future. He never caught the restlessness of this century,
nor the prophetic light that shone in the faces of Coleridge, Shelley,
and Keats; if he apprehended the stir of the new spirit, he still, by
mental affiliation, belonged rather to the age of Addison than to that
of Macaulay. And his placid, retrospective, optimistic strain pleased
a public that were excited and harrowed by the mocking and lamenting
of Lord Byron, and, singularly enough, pleased even the great pessimist

His writings induce to reflection; to quiet musing, to tenderness
for tradition; they amuse, they entertain, they call a check to
the feverishness of modern life; but they are rarely stimulating or
suggestive. They are better adapted, it must be owned, to please the
many than the critical few, who demand more incisive treatment and a
deeper consideration of the problems of life. And it is very fortunate
that a writer who can reach the great public and entertain it can also
elevate and refine its tastes, set before it high ideas, instruct it
agreeably, and all this in a style that belongs to the best literature.
It is a safe model for young readers; and for young readers there is
very little in the overwhelming flood of to-day that is comparable to
Irving’s books, and especially, it seems to me, because they were not
written for children.

Irving’s position in American literature, or in that of the English
tongue, will be determined only by the slow settling of opinion, which
no critic can foretell, and the operation of which no criticism seems
able to explain. I venture to believe, however, that the verdict will
not be in accord with much of the present prevalent criticism. The
service that he rendered to American letters no critic disputes; nor is
there any question of our national indebtedness to him for investing a
crude and new land with the enduring charms of romance and tradition.
In this respect, our obligation to him is that of Scotland to Scott and
Burns; and it is an obligation due only, in all history, to here and
there a fortunate creator to whose genius opportunity is kind. The
Knickerbocker Legend and the romance with which Irving has invested the
Hudson are a priceless legacy; and this would remain an imperishable
possession in popular tradition if the literature creating it were
destroyed. This sort of creation is unique in modern times. New York
is the Knickerbocker city; its whole social life remains colored by
his fiction; and the romantic background it owes to him in some measure
supplies to it what great age has given to European cities. This
creation is sufficient to secure for him an immortality, a length of
earthly remembrance that all the rest of his writings together might not

Irving was always the literary man; he had the habits, the
idiosyncrasies, of his small genus. I mean that he regarded life not
from the philanthropic, the economic, the political, the philosophic,
the metaphysic, the scientific, or the theologic, but purely from the
literary point of view. He belongs to that small class of which Johnson
and Goldsmith are perhaps as good types as any, and to which America
has added very few. The literary point of view is taken by few in any
generation; it may seem to the world of very little consequence in the
pressure of all the complex interests of life, and it may even seem
trivial amid the tremendous energies applied to immediate affairs; but
it is the point of view that endures; if its creations do not mold human
life, like the Roman law, they remain to charm and civilize, like the
poems of Horace. You must not ask more of them than that. This attitude
toward life is defensible on the highest grounds. A man with Irving’s
gifts has the right to take the position of an observer and describer,
and not to be called on for a more active participation in affairs than
he chooses to take. He is doing the world the highest service of which
he is capable, and the most enduring it can receive from any man. It is
not a question whether the work of the literary man is higher than
that of the reformer or the statesman; it is a distinct work, and is
justified by the result, even when the work is that of the humorist
only. We recognize this in the case of the poet. Although Goethe has
been reproached for his lack of sympathy with the liberalizing movement
of his day (as if his novels were quieting social influences), it is
felt by this generation that the author of “Faust” needs no apology that
he did not spend his energies in the effervescing politics of the
German states. I mean, that while we may like or dislike the man for his
sympathy or want of sympathy, we concede to the author the right of his
attitude; if Goethe had not assumed freedom from moral responsibility,
I suppose that criticism of his aloofness would long ago have ceased.
Irving did not lack sympathy with humanity in the concrete; it colored
whatever he wrote. But he regarded the politics of his own country, the
revolutions in France, the long struggle in Spain, without heat; and
he held aloof from projects of agitation and reform, and maintained the
attitude of an observer, regarding the life about him from the point of
view of the literary artist, as he was justified in doing.

Irving had the defects of his peculiar genius, and these have no doubt
helped to fix upon him the complimentary disparagement of “genial.” He
was not aggressive; in his nature he was wholly unpartisan, and full
of lenient charity; and I suspect that his kindly regard of the world,
although returned with kindly liking, cost him something of that respect
for sturdiness and force which men feel for writers who flout them as
fools in the main. Like Scott, he belonged to the idealists, and not to
the realists, whom our generation affects. Both writers stimulate the
longing for something better. Their creed was short: “Love God and honor
the King.” It is a very good one for a literary man, and might do for a
Christian. The supernatural was still a reality in the age in which they
wrote. Irving’s faith in God and his love of humanity were very simple;
I do not suppose he was much disturbed by the deep problems that
have set us all adrift. In every age, whatever is astir, literature,
theology, all intellectual activity, takes one and the same drift, and
approximates in color. The bent of Irving’s spirit was fixed in his
youth, and he escaped the desperate realism of this generation, which
has no outcome, and is likely to produce little that is noble.

I do not know how to account, on principles of culture which we
recognize, for our author’s style. His education was exceedingly
defective, nor was his want of discipline supplied by subsequent
desultory application. He seems to have been born with a rare sense of
literary proportion and form; into this, as into a mold, were run
his apparently lazy and really acute observations of life. That he
thoroughly mastered such literature as he fancied there is abundant
evidence; that his style was influenced by the purest English models is
also apparent. But there remains a large margin for wonder how, with
his want of training, he could have elaborated a style which is
distinctively his own, and is as copious, felicitous in the choice of
words, flowing, spontaneous, flexible, engaging, clear, and as little
wearisome when read continuously in quantity as any in the English
tongue. This is saying a great deal, though it is not claiming for him
the compactness, nor the robust vigor, nor the depth of thought, of many
other masters in it. It is sometimes praised for its simplicity. It is
certainly lucid, but its simplicity is not that of Benjamin Franklin’s
style; it is often ornate, not seldom somewhat diffuse, and always
exceedingly melodious. It is noticeable for its metaphorical felicity.
But it was not in the sympathetic nature of the author, to which I just
referred, to come sharply to the point. It is much to have merited the
eulogy of Campbell that he had “added clarity to the English tongue.”
 This elegance and finish of style (which seems to have been as natural
to the man as his amiable manner) is sometimes made his reproach, as if
it were his sole merit, and as if he had concealed under this charming
form a want of substance. In literature form is vital. But his case does
not rest upon that. As an illustration his “Life of Washington” may be
put in evidence. Probably this work lost something in incisiveness and
brilliancy by being postponed till the writer’s old age. But whatever
this loss, it is impossible for any biography to be less pretentious in
style, or less ambitious in proclamation. The only pretension of matter
is in the early chapters, in which a more than doubtful genealogy is
elaborated, and in which it is thought necessary to Washington’s dignity
to give a fictitious importance to his family and his childhood, and
to accept the southern estimate of the hut in which he was born as a
“mansion.” In much of this false estimate Irving was doubtless misled by
the fables of Weems. But while he has given us a dignified portrait of
Washington, it is as far as possible removed from that of the smileless
prig which has begun to weary even the popular fancy. The man he paints
is flesh and blood, presented, I believe, with substantial faithfulness
to his character; with a recognition of the defects of his education and
the deliberation of his mental operations; with at least a hint of that
want of breadth of culture and knowledge of the past, the possession
of which characterized many of his great associates; and with no
concealment that he had a dower of passions and a temper which only
vigorous self-watchfulness kept under. But he portrays, with an
admiration not too highly colored, the magnificent patience, the
courage to bear misconstruction, the unfailing patriotism, the practical
sagacity, the level balance of judgment combined with the wisest
toleration, the dignity of mind, and the lofty moral nature which made
him the great man of his epoch. Irving’s grasp of this character; his
lucid marshaling of the scattered, often wearisome and uninteresting
details of our dragging, unpicturesque Revolutionary War; his just
judgment of men; his even, almost judicial, moderation of tone; and his
admirable proportion of space to events, render the discussion of style
in reference to this work superfluous. Another writer might have made
a more brilliant performance: descriptions sparkling with antitheses,
characters projected into startling attitudes by the use of epithets; a
work more exciting and more piquant, that would have started a thousand
controversies, and engaged the attention by daring conjectures and
attempts to make a dramatic spectacle; a book interesting and notable,
but false in philosophy, and untrue in fact.

When the “Sketch-Book” appeared, an English critic said it should have
been first published in England, for Irving was an English writer.
The idea has been more than once echoed here. The truth is, that while
Irving was intensely American in feeling, he was, first of all, a man of
letters, and in that capacity he was cosmopolitan; he certainly was not
insular. He had a rare accommodation of tone to his theme. Of England,
whose traditions kindled his susceptible fancy, he wrote as Englishmen
would like to write about it. In Spain he was saturated with the
romantic story of the people and the fascination of the clime; and he
was so true an interpreter of both as to earn from the Spaniards the
title of “the poet Irving.” I chanced once, in an inn at Frascati, to
take up “The Tales of a Traveller,” which I had not seen for many years.
I expected to revive the somewhat faded humor and fancy of the past
generation. But I found not only a sprightly humor and vivacity which
are modern, but a truth to Italian local color that is very rare in any
writer foreign to the soil. As to America, I do not know what can be
more characteristically American than the Knickerbocker, the Hudson
River tales, the sketches of life and adventure in the far West. But
underneath all this diversity there is one constant quality,--the flavor
of the author. Open by chance and read almost anywhere in his score of
books,--it may be the “Tour on the Prairies,” the familiar dream of
the Alhambra, or the narratives of the brilliant exploits of New World
explorers; surrender yourself to the flowing current of his transparent
style, and you are conscious of a beguilement which is the crowning
excellence of all lighter literature, for which we have no word but

The consensus of opinion about Irving in England and America for thirty
years was very remarkable. He had a universal popularity rarely enjoyed
by any writer. England returned him to America medaled by the king,
honored by the university which is chary of its favors, followed by
the applause of the whole English people. In English households, in
drawing-rooms of the metropolis, in political circles no less than
among the literary coteries, in the best reviews, and in the popular
newspapers the opinion of him was pretty much the same. And even in the
lapse of time and the change of literary fashion authors so unlike as
Byron and Dickens were equally warm in admiration of him. To the English
indorsement America added her own enthusiasm, which was as universal.
His readers were the million, and all his readers were admirers. Even
American statesmen, who feed their minds on food we know not of, read
Irving. It is true that the uncritical opinion of New York was never
exactly reechoed in the cool recesses of Boston culture; but the
magnates of the “North American Review” gave him their meed of cordial
praise. The country at large put him on a pinnacle. If you attempt to
account for the position he occupied by his character, which won the
love of all men, it must be remembered that the quality which won this,
whatever its value, pervades his books also.

And yet it must be said that the total impression left upon the mind by
the man and his works is not that of the greatest intellectual force.
I have no doubt that this was the impression he made upon his ablest
contemporaries. And this fact, when I consider the effect the man
produced, makes the study of him all the more interesting. As an
intellectual personality he makes no such impression, for instance, as
Carlyle, or a dozen other writers now living who could be named. The
incisive critical faculty was almost entirely wanting in him. He had
neither the power nor the disposition to cut his way transversely across
popular opinion and prejudice that Ruskin has, nor to draw around him
disciples equally well pleased to see him fiercely demolish to-day what
they had delighted to see him set up yesterday as eternal. He evoked
neither violent partisanship nor violent opposition. He was an extremely
sensitive man, and if he had been capable of creating a conflict, he
would only have been miserable in it. The play of his mind depended
upon the sunshine of approval. And all this shows a certain want of
intellectual virility.

A recent anonymous writer has said that most of the writing of our day
is characterized by an intellectual strain. I have no doubt that this
will appear to be the case to the next generation. It is a strain to say
something new even at the risk of paradox, or to say something in a new
way at the risk of obscurity. From this Irving was entirely free. There
is no visible straining to attract attention. His mood is calm and
unexaggerated. Even in some of his pathos, which is open to the
suspicion of being “literary,” there is no literary exaggeration. He
seems always writing from an internal calm, which is the necessary
condition of his production. If he wins at all by his style, by his
humor, by his portraiture of scenes or of character, it is by a gentle
force, like that of the sun in spring. There are many men now living, or
recently dead, intellectual prodigies, who have stimulated thought, or
upset opinions, created mental eras, to whom Irving stands hardly in
as fair a relation as Goldsmith to Johnson. What verdict the next
generation will put upon their achievements I do not know; but it is
safe to say that their position and that of Irving as well will depend
largely upon the affirmation or the reversal of their views of life and
their judgments of character. I think the calm work of Irving will stand
when much of the more startling and perhaps more brilliant intellectual
achievement of this age has passed away.

And this leads me to speak of Irving’s moral quality, which I cannot
bring myself to exclude from a literary estimate, even in the face of
the current gospel of art for art’s sake. There is something that made
Scott and Irving personally loved by the millions of their readers, who
had only the dimmest ideas of their personality. This was some quality
perceived in what they wrote. Each one can define it for himself;
there it is, and I do not see why it is not as integral a part of the
authors--an element in the estimate of their future position--as what
we term their intellect, their knowledge, their skill, or their art.
However you rate it, you cannot account for Irving’s influence in the
world without it. In his tender tribute to Irving, the great-hearted
Thackeray, who saw as clearly as anybody the place of mere literary
art in the sum total of life, quoted the dying words of Scott to
Lockhart,--“Be a good man, my dear.” We know well enough that the
great author of “The Newcomes” and the great author of “The Heart of
Midlothian” recognized the abiding value in literature of integrity,
sincerity, purity, charity, faith. These are beneficences; and
Irving’s literature, walk round it and measure it by whatever critical
instruments you will, is a beneficent literature. The author loved
good women and little children and a pure life; he had faith in his
fellow-men, a kindly sympathy with the lowest, without any subservience
to the highest; he retained a belief in the possibility of chivalrous
actions, and did not care to envelop them in a cynical suspicion; he was
an author still capable of an enthusiasm. His books are wholesome, full
of sweetness and charm, of humor without any sting, of amusement without
any stain; and their more solid qualities are marred by neither pedantry
nor pretension.

Washington Irving died on the 28th of November, 1859, at the close of
a lovely day of that Indian summer which is nowhere more full of a
melancholy charm than on the banks of the lower Hudson, and which was
in perfect accord with the ripe and peaceful close of his life. He was
buried on a little elevation overlooking Sleepy Hollow and the river he
loved, amidst the scenes which his magic pen has made classic and his
sepulcher hallows.

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