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Musaicum Books presents to you this carefully created volume of "The Complete Short Stories of Washington Irving (Illustrated Edition)". This ebook has been designed and formatted to the highest digital standards and adjusted for readability on all devices. Washington Irving (1783-1859) was an American author, essayist, biographer, historian, and diplomat of the early 19th century. He is best known for his short stories "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" both of which appear in his book The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. Contents: INTRODUCTION SPEECH: NEW YORK, FEBRUARY 18, 1842 by Charles Dickens THE SKETCH BOOK OF GEOFFREY CRAYON, GENT. The Voyage Roscoe The Wife Rip van Winkle English Writers on America Rural Life in England The Broken Heart The Art of Book-making A Royal Poet The Country Church The Widow and Her Son A Sunday in London The Boar's Head Tavern, Eastcheap The Mutability of Literature Rural Funerals The Inn Kitchen The Spectre Bridegroom Westminster Abbey Christmas The Stage Coach Christmas Eve Christmas Day The Christmas Dinner London Antiques Little Britain Stratford-on-Avon Traits of Indian Character Philip of Pokanoket John Bull The Pride of The Village The Angler The Legend of Sleepy Hollow L'Envoy BRACEBRIDGE HALL The Hall The Busy Man Family Servants The Widow The Lovers Family Reliques An Old Soldier The Widow's Retinue Ready-Money Jack Bachelors A Literary Antiquary The Farmhouse Horsemanship Love Symptoms Falconry Hawking Fortune-Telling Love-Charms A Bachelor's Confessions Gipsies Village Worthies The Schoolmaster The School A Village Politician The Rookery May-Day The Culprit Lover's Troubles The Wedding The Stout Gentleman The Student of Salamanca Annette Delarbre Dolph Heyliger TALES OF A TRAVELLER Strange Stories by a Nervous Gentleman Buckthorne and His Friends The Italian Banditti The Money Diggers WOLFERT'S ROOST AND MISCELLANIES ...
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At a dinner presided over by Washington Irving, when nearly eight hundred of the most distinguished citizens of New York were present, “Charles Dickens, the Literary Guest of the Nation,” having been “proferred as a sentiment” by the Chairman, Mr. Dickens rose, and spoke as follows:
Gentlemen, - I don’t know how to thank you - I really don’t know how. You would naturally suppose that my former experience would have given me this power, and that the difficulties in my way would have been diminished; but I assure you the fact is exactly the reverse, and I have completely baulked the ancient proverb that “a rolling stone gathers no moss;” and in my progress to this city I have collected such a weight of obligations and acknowledgment - I have picked up such an enormous mass of fresh moss at every point, and was so struck by the brilliant scenes of Monday night, that I thought I could never by any possibility grow any bigger. I have made, continually, new accumulations to such an extent that I am compelled to stand still, and can roll no more!
Gentlemen, we learn from the authorities, that, when fairy stories, or balls, or rolls of thread, stopped of their own accord - as I do not - it presaged some great catastrophe near at hand. The precedent holds good in this case. When I have remembered the short time I have before me to spend in this land of mighty interests, and the poor opportunity I can at best have of acquiring a knowledge of, and forming an acquaintance with it, I have felt it almost a duty to decline the honours you so generously heap upon me, and pass more quietly among you. For Argus himself, though he had but one mouth for his hundred eyes, would have found the reception of a public entertainment once a-week too much for his greatest activity; and, as I would lose no scrap of the rich instruction and the delightful knowledge which meet me on every hand, (and already I have gleaned a great deal from your hospitals and common jails), - I have resolved to take up my staff, and go my way rejoicing, and for the future to shake hands with America, not at parties but at home; and, therefore, gentlemen, I say tonight, with a full heart, and an honest purpose, and grateful feelings, that I bear, and shall ever bear, a deep sense of your kind, your affectionate and your noble greeting, which it is utterly impossible to convey in words. No European sky without, and no cheerful home or well-warmed room within shall ever shut out this land from my vision. I shall often hear your words of welcome in my quiet room, and oftenest when most quiet; and shall see your faces in the blazing fire. If I should live to grow old, the scenes of this and other evenings will shine as brightly to my dull eyes fifty years hence as now; and the honours you bestow upon me shall be well remembered and paid back in my undying love, and honest endeavours for the good of my race.
Gentlemen, one other word with reference to this first person singular, and then I shall close. I came here in an open, honest, and confiding spirit, if ever man did, and because I felt a deep sympathy in your land; had I felt otherwise, I should have kept away. As I came here, and am here, without the least admixture of one-hundredth part of one grain of base alloy, without one feeling of unworthy reference to self in any respect, I claim, in regard to the past, for the last time, my right in reason, in truth, and in justice, to approach, as I have done on two former occasions, a question of literary interest. I claim that justice be done; and I prefer this claim as one who has a right to speak and be heard. I have only to add that I shall be as true to you as you have been to me. I recognize in your enthusiastic approval of the creatures of my fancy, your enlightened care for the happiness of the many, your tender regard for the afflicted, your sympathy for the downcast, your plans for correcting and improving the bad, and for encouraging the good; and to advance these great objects shall be, to the end of my life, my earnest endeavour, to the extent of my humble ability. Having said thus much with reference to myself, I shall have the pleasure of saying a few words with reference to somebody else.
There is in this city a gentleman who, at the reception of one of my books - I well remember it was the Old Curiosity Shop - wrote to me in England a letter so generous, so affectionate, and so manly, that if I had written the book under every circumstance of disappointment, of discouragement, and difficulty, instead of the reverse, I should have found in the receipt of that letter my best and most happy reward. I answered him, and he answered me, and so we kept shaking hands autographically, as if no ocean rolled between us. I came here to this city eager to see him, and [laying his hand it upon Irving’s shoulder] here he sits! I need not tell you how happy and delighted I am to see him here tonight in this capacity.
Washington Irving! Why, gentlemen, I don’t go upstairs to bed two nights out of the seven - as a very creditable witness near at hand can testify - I say I do not go to bed two nights out of the seven without taking Washington Irving under my arm; and, when I don’t take him, I take his own brother, Oliver Goldsmith. Washington Irving! Why, of whom but him was I thinking the other day when I came up by the Hog’s Back, the Frying Pan, Hell Gate, and all these places? Why, when, not long ago, I visited Shakespeare’s birthplace, and went beneath the roof where he first saw light, whose name but his was pointed out to me upon the wall? Washington Irving - Diedrich Knickerbocker - Geoffrey Crayon - why, where can you go that they have not been there before? Is there an English farm - is there an English stream, an English city, or an English country-seat, where they have not been? Is there no Bracebridge Hall in existence? Has it no ancient shades or quiet streets?
In bygone times, when Irving left that Hall, he left sitting in an old oak chair, in a small parlour of the Boar’s Head, a little man with a red nose, and an oilskin hat. When I came away he was sitting there still! - not a man like him, but the same man - with the nose of immortal redness and the hat of an undying glaze! Crayon, while there, was on terms of intimacy with a certain radical fellow, who used to go about, with a hatful of newspapers, wofully out at elbows, and with a coat of great antiquity. Why, gentlemen, I know that man - Tibbles the elder, and he has not changed a hair; and, when I came away, he charged me to give his best respects to Washington Irving!
Leaving the town and the rustic life of England - forgetting this man, if we can - putting out of mind the country churchyard and the broken heart - let us cross the water again, and ask who has associated himself most closely with the Italian peasantry and the bandits of the Pyrenees? When the traveller enters his little chamber beyond the Alps - listening to the dim echoes of the long passages and spacious corridors - damp, and gloomy, and cold - as he hears the tempest beating with fury against his window, and gazes at the curtains, dark, and heavy, and covered with mould - and when all the ghost-stories that ever were told come up before him - amid all his thick-coming fancies, whom does he think of? Washington Irving.
Go farther still: go to the Moorish Mountains, sparkling full in the moonlight - go among the water-carriers and the village gossips, living still as in days of old - and who has travelled among them before you, and peopled the Alhambra and made eloquent its shadows? Who awakes there a voice from every hill and in every cavern, and bids legends, which for centuries have slept a dreamless sleep, or watched unwinkingly, start up and pass before you in all their life and glory?
But leaving this again, who embarked with Columbus upon his gallant ship, traversed with him the dark and mighty ocean, leaped upon the land and planted there the flag of Spain, but this same man, now sitting by my side? And being here at home again, who is a more fit companion for money-diggers? and what pen but his has made Rip Van Winkle, playing at ninepins on that thundering afternoon, as much part and parcel of the Catskill Mountains as any tree or crag that they can boast?
But these are topics familiar from my boyhood, and which I am apt to pursue; and lest I should be tempted now to talk too long about them, I will, in conclusion, give you a sentiment, most appropriate, I am sure, in the presence of such writers as Bryant, Halleck, and - but I suppose I must not mention the ladies here -
THE LITERATURE OF AMERICA:
She well knows how to do honour to her own literature and to that of other lands, when she chooses Washington Irving for her representative in the country of Cervantes.
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 tomorrow. 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 transAtlantic 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 discernible.
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 halfway 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 cornfields. 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 afterpiece.
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 doubtful.
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.
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