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CHAPTER VI

PERIOD OF THE EARLY NINETEENTH CENTURY

1800-1850

WASHINGTON IRVING

The publication of the early numbers of “The Sketch Book," in 1819, marks an epoch in American prose, distinct and important as that for American poetry marked by the appearance of “Thanatopsis two years earlier. That is, it marks the point of time when a thoroughly standard work appears from the pen of an American author. It is not that Irving shows no traces of the influence of the masters of English Literature. On the contrary, we inevitably think of Addison, Steele, and Goldsmith when we read Irving. But the matter of consequence is that Irving is praised, not because he resembles these authorsif, indeed, it can be said with strict truth that he does resemble them — but for the qualities of style which are his own. One may as justly inquire whether Goldsmith is like Irving as whether Irving is like Goldsmith. In other words, Irving is a

a classic author; one who sets the standard for other writers. It is not necessary to maintain that he is one of the greatest of writers; nor even that he is in a strict sense of the word great. But it is safe to say

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that he is, without reference to comparative estimates, good. Here, in Irving's work, is gold coin of standard fineness, money of ultimate redemption in the currency of the world's Literature.

On account of this peculiarly important place in our Literature, and because he illustrates in his works four distinct types of prose composition, namely, fiction, history, biography, and the essay, a complete chapter is given to the study of his writings. Washington Irving was born in New York in the Washington

Irving, born year 1783 His father was a successful business

in New York, man, and was able to afford his son all needed 1783; died,

1859. opportunities for education. Delicate health and consequent indecision as to his professional career, however, prevented his taking the usual course of study. One incident growing out of this delicacy of physical constitution seems in itself unimportant; but doubtless had an important bearing on his lit

It was a long voyage on the Hudson River. That would be a commonplace matter now, in a steamboat which traverses the whole length of the river in a day. But, as Irving took it, in a sailing vessel, which leisurely crossed and recrossed, and penetrated bays and creeks along the shore, the voyage was an experience to be remembered; and is reflected in many charming pages of his books. The same delicacy of health called for a season of European travel, which added another important element of culture to the preparation for his literary career. Of even greater consequence was an experience too sacred for careless mention, which yet should always

erary work.

be borne in mind in considering Irving's life and work. It was the great sorrow which befell him in the death of the lady whom he had chosen for his wife. How deep that sorrow was may be partly inferred from the fact that, so far as the public knows, he never thought of love or marriage again. And it was doubtless out of that trouble that some of the most

precious elements of his beautiful style were drawn. “Salma- This early period of Irving's life produced a series gundi,” 1807. of works quite clearly distinguished in subject and in

mode of treatment from most of the writings that came later.

In 1807 a literary partnership was formed with his older brother William and with James K. Paulding, for the purpose of issuing a series of papers somewhat on the plan of “The Spectator." The name “Salmagundi” which was given to the papers means a Dutch dish, composed of chopped onions, salt fish, pickles, and some other ingredients. The design was to have a spicy, pungent, partly humorous paper, which should have a solid foundation, corresponding to the salt fish, of substantial sense. “Salmagundi" was very popular, especially the papers of which Washington Irving was the author. We notice that this, like Cooper's first work, was essentially an imitation of a British model. Like Cooper, Irving made a much more important essay in Literature and achieved a much

more substantial success when he ceased to imitate, “Knicker

and brought out a thoroughly American production. History of This he did in “Knickerbocker's History of New New York," 1809.

York,” which he published in 1809. It is a piece of

bocker's

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