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I Washington Irving was born in New York, April 3, 1783, the youngest of eleven children. At 16 he was placed in a lawyer's office, but he was of delicate health, and in 1804 his brother sent him to France upon a sailing vessel. He returned two years later, and became something of a dandy in fashionable society. During the war of 1812 he was made colonel as aide upon the staff of Governor Tompkins. When peace was declared he sailed for Liverpool to join his brother Peter in managing the English branch of the business upon which the fortunes of his family depended. In 1818 the house became bankrupt, and he was obliged to turn to writing for a living. He per

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This portrait is from “Masterpieces of American Literature", and used by permission of Houghton, Mifflin & Co., publishers.

Literary Sucress


suaded the English publisher Murray to issue his "Sketch Book”, and soon found himself famous and prosperous. He received from Murray $2,000 for the "Sketch Book”, $5,000 for “ Bracebridge Hall", $15,000 for Columbus", and $10,000 for “Conquestof Granada”. In 1824 he went to Madrid, where he wrote four of his books of Spanish history. In 1832 he returned to the United States, and was welcomed with acclamation. From 1842–1846 he was ambassador to Spain, after which he returned to America, and died on Nov. 28, 1859. He never married.

II His gift of authorship showed itself at an early age. When 19 he wrote letters signed Jonathan Oldstyle” for the Morning Chronicle, which one of his brothers published. At 23 he joined another elder brother and James Kirk Paulding in issuing Salmagundi, a periodical, the first number of which appeared in Jan. 1807. At 26 he published his “Knickerbocker's History of New York”. At first this was not intended for a serious literary work, but for a satire upon a history of the city just published. Although the Encyclopædia Britannica considers this "Higtory of New York” the most genuinely national of all Irving's works in its quaintness and drollery, and manifesting his most original power, it was “ The Sketch Book”, published in parts in 1819, that first made Irving recognized as a literary power, and it is by the tales of this book that he is best known to the general reading public.


Other books of the same general character as the Sketch Book were “Bracebridge Hall” (1822), with stories English in subject, and “Tales of a Traveller” (1824). But most of his subsequent work was historical. His Spanish group included the “Life of Columbus”, “Companions of Columbus",

Conquest of Granada”, “The Alhambra" and “Lives of Mahomet and his Successors”. His American group contained besides his “Life of Washington ", his “Astoria", a history of the great merchant's fur-trading settlement in Oregon, and "Captain Bonneville", the memoirs of a veteran hunter. His “Life of Goldsmith ” was a sympathetic His Style as an Author 91 memoir of an author with whose style he had much in common.

IV Of his books the Encyclopaedia Britannica says (xiii. 373):

He has far more of the poet than any of the writers of the 18th century, and his moralizing, unlike theirs, is unconscious and indirect. The same poetical feeling is shown in his biographies ; his subject is invariably chosen for its picturesqueness, and whatever is unessential to portraiture is thrown

the background. The result is that his biographies however deficient in research, bear the stamp of genuine artistic intelligence, equally remote from compilation and disquisition: In execution they are almost faultless; the narrative is easy, the style pellucid, and the writer's judgment nearly always in accordance with the general verdict of history. They will not, therefore, be easily superseded, and indeed Irving's productions are in general impressed with that signet of classical finish which guarantees the permanency of literary work more surely than direct utility or even intellectual power.

Julian Hawthorne says of him :

Irving possessed the rare and valuable endowment of a thoroughly healthy nature; nothing bitter, morbid, or sensational ever came from him. He

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