Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Washington Irving

Washington Irving

Overview
Washington Irving was an American author, essayist, biographer
Biography
A biography is a detailed description or account of someone's life. More than a list of basic facts , biography also portrays the subject's experience of those events...

 and historian
History
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

 of the early 19th century. He was best known for his short stories
Short story
A short story is a work of fiction that is usually written in prose, often in narrative format. This format tends to be more pointed than longer works of fiction, such as novellas and novels. Short story definitions based on length differ somewhat, even among professional writers, in part because...

 "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is a short story by Washington Irving contained in his collection The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., written while he was living in Birmingham, England, and first published in 1820...

" and "Rip Van Winkle
Rip Van Winkle
"Rip Van Winkle" is a short story by the American author Washington Irving published in 1819, as well as the name of the story's fictional protagonist. Written while Irving was living in Birmingham, England, it was part of a collection entitled The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon...

", both of which appear in his book The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. His historical works include biographies of George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

, Oliver Goldsmith
Oliver Goldsmith
Oliver Goldsmith was an Irish writer, poet and physician known for his novel The Vicar of Wakefield , his pastoral poem The Deserted Village , and his plays The Good-Natur'd Man and She Stoops to Conquer...

 and Muhammad
Muhammad
Muhammad |ligature]] at U+FDF4 ;Arabic pronunciation varies regionally; the first vowel ranges from ~~; the second and the last vowel: ~~~. There are dialects which have no stress. In Egypt, it is pronounced not in religious contexts...

, and several histories of 15th-century Spain dealing with subjects such as Christopher Columbus
Christopher Columbus
Christopher Columbus was an explorer, colonizer, and navigator, born in the Republic of Genoa, in northwestern Italy. Under the auspices of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, he completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean that led to general European awareness of the American continents in the...

, the Moors, and the Alhambra
Alhambra
The Alhambra , the complete form of which was Calat Alhambra , is a palace and fortress complex located in the Granada, Andalusia, Spain...

. Irving also served as the U.S. minister to Spain
United States Ambassador to Spain
-Ambassadors:*John Jay**Appointed: September 29, 1779**Title: Minister Plenipotentiary**Presented credentials:**Terminated mission: ~May 20, 1782*William Carmichael**Appointed: April 20, 1790**Title: Chargé d'Affaires...

 from 1842 to 1846.

He made his literary debut in 1802 with a series of observational letters to the Morning Chronicle, written under the pseudonym
Pseudonym
A pseudonym is a name that a person assumes for a particular purpose and that differs from his or her original orthonym...

 Jonathan Oldstyle
Letters of Jonathan Oldstyle
The Letters of Jonathan Oldstyle, Gent. is a collection of nine observational letters written by American writer Washington Irving under the pseudonym Jonathan Oldstyle. The letters first appeared in the November 15, 1802, edition of the New York Morning Chronicle, a political-leaning newspaper...

.
Discussion
Ask a question about 'Washington Irving'
Start a new discussion about 'Washington Irving'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Unanswered Questions
Quotations

There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse! As I have often found in travelling in a stagecoach, that it is often a comfort to shift one’s position, and be bruised in a new place.

Tales of a Traveler (1824).

There is an eloquence in true enthusiasm that is not to be doubted.

"The Adventure Of The German Student".

How convenient it would be to many of our great men and great families of doubtful origin, could they have the privilege of the heroes of yore, who, whenever their origin was involved in obscurity, modestly announced themselves descended from a god.

Book II, ch. 3.

His wife "ruled the roost," and in governing the governor, governed the province, which might thus be said to be under petticoat government.

Book IV, ch. 4.

They claim to be the first inventors of those recondite beverages, cocktail, stonefence, and sherry cobbler.

Book IV, ch. 241.

There is in every true woman's heart a spark of heavenly fire, which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity; but which kindles up, and beams, and blazes in the dark hour of adversity.

"The Wife".
Encyclopedia
Washington Irving was an American author, essayist, biographer
Biography
A biography is a detailed description or account of someone's life. More than a list of basic facts , biography also portrays the subject's experience of those events...

 and historian
History
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

 of the early 19th century. He was best known for his short stories
Short story
A short story is a work of fiction that is usually written in prose, often in narrative format. This format tends to be more pointed than longer works of fiction, such as novellas and novels. Short story definitions based on length differ somewhat, even among professional writers, in part because...

 "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is a short story by Washington Irving contained in his collection The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., written while he was living in Birmingham, England, and first published in 1820...

" and "Rip Van Winkle
Rip Van Winkle
"Rip Van Winkle" is a short story by the American author Washington Irving published in 1819, as well as the name of the story's fictional protagonist. Written while Irving was living in Birmingham, England, it was part of a collection entitled The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon...

", both of which appear in his book The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. His historical works include biographies of George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

, Oliver Goldsmith
Oliver Goldsmith
Oliver Goldsmith was an Irish writer, poet and physician known for his novel The Vicar of Wakefield , his pastoral poem The Deserted Village , and his plays The Good-Natur'd Man and She Stoops to Conquer...

 and Muhammad
Muhammad
Muhammad |ligature]] at U+FDF4 ;Arabic pronunciation varies regionally; the first vowel ranges from ~~; the second and the last vowel: ~~~. There are dialects which have no stress. In Egypt, it is pronounced not in religious contexts...

, and several histories of 15th-century Spain dealing with subjects such as Christopher Columbus
Christopher Columbus
Christopher Columbus was an explorer, colonizer, and navigator, born in the Republic of Genoa, in northwestern Italy. Under the auspices of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, he completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean that led to general European awareness of the American continents in the...

, the Moors, and the Alhambra
Alhambra
The Alhambra , the complete form of which was Calat Alhambra , is a palace and fortress complex located in the Granada, Andalusia, Spain...

. Irving also served as the U.S. minister to Spain
United States Ambassador to Spain
-Ambassadors:*John Jay**Appointed: September 29, 1779**Title: Minister Plenipotentiary**Presented credentials:**Terminated mission: ~May 20, 1782*William Carmichael**Appointed: April 20, 1790**Title: Chargé d'Affaires...

 from 1842 to 1846.

He made his literary debut in 1802 with a series of observational letters to the Morning Chronicle, written under the pseudonym
Pseudonym
A pseudonym is a name that a person assumes for a particular purpose and that differs from his or her original orthonym...

 Jonathan Oldstyle
Letters of Jonathan Oldstyle
The Letters of Jonathan Oldstyle, Gent. is a collection of nine observational letters written by American writer Washington Irving under the pseudonym Jonathan Oldstyle. The letters first appeared in the November 15, 1802, edition of the New York Morning Chronicle, a political-leaning newspaper...

. After moving to England for the family business in 1815, he achieved international fame with the publication of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. in 1819. He continued to publish regularly—and almost always successfully—throughout his life, and completed a five-volume biography of George Washington just eight months before his death, at age 76, in Tarrytown, New York
Tarrytown, New York
Tarrytown is a village in the town of Greenburgh in Westchester County, New York, United States. It is located on the eastern bank of the Hudson River, about north of midtown Manhattan in New York City, and is served by a stop on the Metro-North Hudson Line...

.

Irving, along with James Fenimore Cooper
James Fenimore Cooper
James Fenimore Cooper was a prolific and popular American writer of the early 19th century. He is best remembered as a novelist who wrote numerous sea-stories and the historical novels known as the Leatherstocking Tales, featuring frontiersman Natty Bumppo...

, was among the first American writers to earn acclaim in Europe, and Irving encouraged American authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne was an American novelist and short story writer.Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in 1804 in the city of Salem, Massachusetts to Nathaniel Hathorne and the former Elizabeth Clarke Manning. His ancestors include John Hathorne, a judge during the Salem Witch Trials...

, Herman Melville
Herman Melville
Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. He is best known for his novel Moby-Dick and the posthumous novella Billy Budd....

, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was an American poet and educator whose works include "Paul Revere's Ride", The Song of Hiawatha, and Evangeline...

, and Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe was an American author, poet, editor and literary critic, considered part of the American Romantic Movement. Best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, Poe was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story and is considered the inventor of the detective...

. Irving was also admired by some European writers, including Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron, Thomas Campbell, Francis Jeffrey
Francis Jeffrey
Francis Jeffrey, Lord Jeffrey was a Scottish judge and literary critic.He was born in Edinburgh, the son of a clerk in the Court of Session. After attending the Royal High School for six years, he studied at the University of Glasgow from 1787 to May 1789, and at Queen's College, Oxford, from...

, and Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens
Charles John Huffam Dickens was an English novelist, generally considered the greatest of the Victorian period. Dickens enjoyed a wider popularity and fame than had any previous author during his lifetime, and he remains popular, having been responsible for some of English literature's most iconic...

. As America's first genuine internationally best-selling author, Irving advocated for writing as a legitimate profession, and argued for stronger laws to protect American writers from copyright infringement
Copyright infringement
Copyright infringement is the unauthorized or prohibited use of works under copyright, infringing the copyright holder's exclusive rights, such as the right to reproduce or perform the copyrighted work, or to make derivative works.- "Piracy" :...

.

Early years


Washington Irving's parents were William Irving, Sr., originally of Quholm
Quholm
Quholm is a hamlet in the northeast of Shapinsay, in the islands of Orkney, Scotland. William Irving, the father of Washington Irving, noted American author, was born in Quholm. Innsker Beach is situated very close by at the northwest edge of Quholm...

, Shapinsay
Shapinsay
Shapinsay is one of the Orkney Islands off the north coast of mainland Scotland. There is one village on the island, Balfour, from which roll-on/roll-off car ferries sail to Kirkwall on the Orkney Mainland...

, Orkney and Sarah (née Sanders), Scottish-English immigrants. They married in 1761 while William was serving as a petty officer in the British Navy. They had eleven children, eight of whom survived to adulthood. Their first two sons, each named William, died in infancy, as did their fourth child, John. Their surviving children were: William, Jr. (1766), Ann (1770), Peter (1772), Catherine (1774), Ebenezer (1776), John Treat (1778), Sarah (1780), and Washington.

The Irving family was settled in Manhattan
Manhattan
Manhattan is the oldest and the most densely populated of the five boroughs of New York City. Located primarily on the island of Manhattan at the mouth of the Hudson River, the boundaries of the borough are identical to those of New York County, an original county of the state of New York...

, New York City as part of the city's small, vibrant merchant class when Washington Irving was born on April 3, 1783, the same week city residents learned of the British ceasefire that ended the American Revolution
American Revolution
The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America...

; Irving’s mother named him after the hero of the revolution, George Washington. At age six, with the help of a nanny, Irving met his namesake, who was then living in New York after his inauguration as president in 1789. The president blessed young Irving, an encounter Irving later commemorated in a small watercolor painting, which still hangs in his home today. Several of Washington Irving's older brothers became active New York merchants, and they encouraged their younger brother's literary aspirations, often supporting him financially as he pursued his writing career.

An uninterested student, Irving preferred adventure stories and drama and, by age fourteen, was regularly sneaking out of class in the evenings to attend the theater. The 1798 outbreak of yellow fever
Yellow fever
Yellow fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic disease. The virus is a 40 to 50 nm enveloped RNA virus with positive sense of the Flaviviridae family....

 in Manhattan prompted his family to send him to healthier climes upriver, and Irving was dispatched to stay with his friend James Kirke Paulding
James Kirke Paulding
James Kirke Paulding was an American writer and, for a time, the United States Secretary of the Navy.-Biography:...

 in Tarrytown, New York
Tarrytown, New York
Tarrytown is a village in the town of Greenburgh in Westchester County, New York, United States. It is located on the eastern bank of the Hudson River, about north of midtown Manhattan in New York City, and is served by a stop on the Metro-North Hudson Line...

. It was in Tarrytown that Irving became familiar with the nearby town of Sleepy Hollow
Sleepy Hollow
-Fiction:* The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, an 1819 short story by Washington Irving* Sleepy Hollow , a 1998 adaptation of Washington Irving's short story* Sleepy Hollow , a 1999 movie by Tim Burton...

, with its quaint Dutch customs and local ghost stories. Irving made several other trips up the Hudson as a teenager, including an extended visit to Johnstown, New York
Johnstown (city), New York
Johnstown is a city and the county seat of Fulton County in the U.S. state of New York. As of the 2000 Census, the city had population of 8,511. Recent estimates put the figure closer to 8,100. The city was named by its founder, Sir William Johnson after his son John Johnson...

, where he passed through the Catskill mountain
Catskill Mountains
The Catskill Mountains, an area in New York State northwest of New York City and southwest of Albany, are a mature dissected plateau, an uplifted region that was subsequently eroded into sharp relief. They are an eastward continuation, and the highest representation, of the Allegheny Plateau...

 region, the setting for "Rip Van Winkle
Rip Van Winkle
"Rip Van Winkle" is a short story by the American author Washington Irving published in 1819, as well as the name of the story's fictional protagonist. Written while Irving was living in Birmingham, England, it was part of a collection entitled The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon...

". "[O]f all the scenery of the Hudson", Irving wrote later, "the Kaatskill Mountains had the most witching effect on my boyish imagination".

The 19-year old Irving began writing letters to the New York
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 Morning Chronicle in 1802, submitting commentaries on the city's social and theater scene under the name of Jonathan Oldstyle
Letters of Jonathan Oldstyle
The Letters of Jonathan Oldstyle, Gent. is a collection of nine observational letters written by American writer Washington Irving under the pseudonym Jonathan Oldstyle. The letters first appeared in the November 15, 1802, edition of the New York Morning Chronicle, a political-leaning newspaper...

. The name, which purposely evoked the writer's Federalist
Federalist Party (United States)
The Federalist Party was the first American political party, from the early 1790s to 1816, the era of the First Party System, with remnants lasting into the 1820s. The Federalists controlled the federal government until 1801...

 leanings, was the first of many pseudonyms Irving would employ throughout his career. The letters brought Irving some early fame and moderate notoriety. Aaron Burr
Aaron Burr
Aaron Burr, Jr. was an important political figure in the early history of the United States of America. After serving as a Continental Army officer in the Revolutionary War, Burr became a successful lawyer and politician...

, a co-publisher of the Chronicle, was impressed enough to send clippings of the Oldstyle pieces to his daughter, Theodosia
Theodosia Burr Alston
Theodosia Burr Alston was the daughter of Theodosia Bartow Prevost and the controversial U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr.-Early life:...

, while writer Charles Brockden Brown
Charles Brockden Brown
Charles Brockden Brown , an American novelist, historian, and editor of the Early National period, is generally regarded by scholars as the most ambitious and accomplished US novelist before James Fenimore Cooper...

 made a trip to New York to recruit Oldstyle for a literary magazine he was editing in Philadelphia.

Concerned for his health, Irving's brothers financed an extended tour of Europe from 1804 to 1806. Irving bypassed most of the sites and locations considered essential for the development of an upwardly-mobile young man, to the dismay of his brother William. William wrote that, though he was pleased his brother's health was improving, he did not like the choice to "gallop through Italy... leaving Florence on your left and Venice on your right". Instead, Irving honed the social and conversational skills that would later make him one of the world's most in-demand guests. "I endeavor to take things as they come with cheerfulness", Irving wrote, "and when I cannot get a dinner to suit my taste, I endeavor to get a taste to suit my dinner". While visiting Rome in 1805, Irving struck up a friendship with the American painter Washington Allston
Washington Allston
Washington Allston was an American painter and poet, born in Waccamaw Parish, South Carolina. Allston pioneered America's Romantic movement of landscape painting...

, and nearly allowed himself to be persuaded into following Allston into a career as a painter. "My lot in life, however", Irving said later, "was differently cast".

First major writings


Irving returned from Europe to study law with his legal mentor, Judge Josiah Ogden Hoffman, in New York City. By his own admission, he was not a good student, and barely passed the bar
Bar examination
A bar examination is an examination conducted at regular intervals to determine whether a candidate is qualified to practice law in a given jurisdiction.-Brazil:...

 in 1806. Irving began actively socializing with a group of literate young men he dubbed "The Lads of Kilkenny
Kilkenny
Kilkenny is a city and is the county town of the eponymous County Kilkenny in Ireland. It is situated on both banks of the River Nore in the province of Leinster, in the south-east of Ireland...

". Collaborating with his brother William and fellow Lad James Kirke Paulding, Irving created the literary magazine Salmagundi
Salmagundi (periodical)
Salmagundi; or The Whim-whams and Opinions of Launcelot Langstaff, Esq. & Others, commonly referred to as Salmagundi, was a 19th century satirical periodical created and written by American writer Washington Irving...

in January 1807. Writing under various pseudonyms, such as William Wizard and Launcelot Langstaff, Irving lampooned New York culture and politics in a manner similar to today's Mad
Mad (magazine)
Mad is an American humor magazine founded by editor Harvey Kurtzman and publisher William Gaines in 1952. Launched as a comic book before it became a magazine, it was widely imitated and influential, impacting not only satirical media but the entire cultural landscape of the 20th century.The last...

 magazine. Salmagundi was a moderate success, spreading Irving's name and reputation beyond New York. In its seventeenth issue, dated November 11, 1807, Irving affixed the nickname "Gotham"—an Anglo-Saxon word meaning "Goat's Town"—to New York City.



In late 1809, while mourning the death of his seventeen year old fiancée Matilda Hoffman, Irving completed work on his first major book, A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker (1809), a satire on self-important local history and contemporary politics. Prior to its publication, Irving started a hoax
Hoax
A hoax is a deliberately fabricated falsehood made to masquerade as truth. It is distinguishable from errors in observation or judgment, or rumors, urban legends, pseudosciences or April Fools' Day events that are passed along in good faith by believers or as jokes.-Definition:The British...

 akin to today's viral marketing
Viral marketing
Viral marketing, viral advertising, or marketing buzz are buzzwords referring to marketing techniques that use pre-existing social networks to produce increases in brand awareness or to achieve other marketing objectives through self-replicating viral processes, analogous to the spread of viruses...

 campaigns; he placed a series of missing person adverts in New York newspapers seeking information on Diedrich Knickerbocker, a crusty Dutch historian who had allegedly gone missing from his hotel in New York City. As part of the ruse, Irving placed a notice—allegedly from the hotel's proprietor—informing readers that if Mr. Knickerbocker failed to return to the hotel to pay his bill, he would publish a manuscript Knickerbocker had left behind.

Unsuspecting readers followed the story of Knickerbocker and his manuscript with interest, and some New York city officials were concerned enough about the missing historian that they considered offering a reward for his safe return. Riding the wave of public interest he had created with his hoax, Irving—adopting the pseudonym of his Dutch historian—published A History of New York on December 6, 1809, to immediate critical and popular success. "It took with the public", Irving remarked, "and gave me celebrity, as an original work was something remarkable and uncommon in America". Today, the surname of Diedrich Knickerbocker
Knickerbocker
Knickerbocker, also spelled Knikkerbakker, Knickerbakker, Knickerbacker, is a surname that dates back to the early Dutch colonists in New York. In 1809, Washington Irving published his satirical A History of New York under the pseudonym "Diedrich Knickerbocker", and since that time "Knickerbocker"...

, the fictional narrator of this and other Irving works, has become a nickname for Manhattan residents in general.

After the success of A History of New York, Irving searched for a job and eventually became an editor of Analectic magazine, where he wrote biographies of naval heroes like James Lawrence
James Lawrence
James Lawrence was an American naval officer. During the War of 1812, he commanded the USS Chesapeake in a single-ship action against HMS Shannon...

 and Oliver Perry. He was also among the first magazine editors to reprint Francis Scott Key
Francis Scott Key
Francis Scott Key was an American lawyer, author, and amateur poet, from Georgetown, who wrote the lyrics to the United States' national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner".-Life:...

's poem "Defense of Fort McHenry
Fort McHenry
Fort McHenry, in Baltimore, Maryland, is a star-shaped fort best known for its role in the War of 1812, when it successfully defended Baltimore Harbor from an attack by the British navy in Chesapeake Bay...

", which would later be immortalized as "The Star-Spangled Banner
The Star-Spangled Banner
"The Star-Spangled Banner" is the national anthem of the United States of America. The lyrics come from "Defence of Fort McHenry", a poem written in 1814 by the 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet, Francis Scott Key, after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British Royal Navy ships...

", the national anthem of the United States.

Like many merchants and New Yorkers, Irving originally opposed the War of 1812
War of 1812
The War of 1812 was a military conflict fought between the forces of the United States of America and those of the British Empire. The Americans declared war in 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions because of Britain's ongoing war with France, impressment of American merchant...

, but the British attack on Washington, D.C.
Burning of Washington
The Burning of Washington was an armed conflict during the War of 1812 between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the United States of America. On August 24, 1814, led by General Robert Ross, a British force occupied Washington, D.C. and set fire to many public buildings following...

 in 1814 convinced him to enlist. He served on the staff of Daniel Tompkins, governor of New York and commander of the New York State Militia. Apart from a reconnaissance mission in the Great Lakes region
Great Lakes region (North America)
The Great Lakes region of North America, occasionally known as the Third Coast or the Fresh Coast , includes the eight U.S. states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin as well as the Canadian province of Ontario...

, he saw no real action. The war was disastrous for many American merchants, including Irving's family, and in mid-1815 he left for England to attempt to salvage the family trading company. He remained in Europe for the next seventeen years.

The Sketch Book


Irving spent the next two years trying to bail out the family firm financially but was eventually forced to declare bankruptcy
Bankruptcy
Bankruptcy is a legal status of an insolvent person or an organisation, that is, one that cannot repay the debts owed to creditors. In most jurisdictions bankruptcy is imposed by a court order, often initiated by the debtor....

. With no job prospects, Irving continued writing throughout 1817 and 1818. In the summer of 1817, he visited the home of novelist Walter Scott
Walter Scott
Sir Walter Scott, 1st Baronet was a Scottish historical novelist, playwright, and poet, popular throughout much of the world during his time....

, marking the beginning of a lifelong personal and professional friendship for both men. Irving continued writing prolifically—the short story "Rip Van Winkle
Rip Van Winkle
"Rip Van Winkle" is a short story by the American author Washington Irving published in 1819, as well as the name of the story's fictional protagonist. Written while Irving was living in Birmingham, England, it was part of a collection entitled The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon...

" was written overnight while staying with his sister Sarah and her husband, Henry van Wart
Henry van Wart
Henry van Wart , an American who became British by special act of Parliament, founded the Birmingham Stock Exchange and served as one of Birmingham's first Aldermen and a director of the Birmingham Banking Company....

 in Birmingham
Birmingham
Birmingham is a city and metropolitan borough in the West Midlands of England. It is the most populous British city outside the capital London, with a population of 1,036,900 , and lies at the heart of the West Midlands conurbation, the second most populous urban area in the United Kingdom with a...

, England, a place that also inspired some of his other works. In October 1818, Irving's brother William secured for Irving a post as chief clerk to the United States Navy, and urged him to return home. Irving, however, turned the offer down, opting to stay in England to pursue a writing career.

In the spring of 1819, Irving sent to his brother Ebenezer in New York a set of essays that he asked be published as The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.
The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon
The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., commonly referred to as The Sketch Book, is a collection of 34 essays and short stories written by American author Washington Irving. It was published serially throughout 1819 and 1820...

The first installment, containing "Rip Van Winkle", was an enormous success, and the rest of the work would be equally successful: it was published over the course of 1819-1820 in seven installments in New York and in two volumes in London ("The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is a short story by Washington Irving contained in his collection The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., written while he was living in Birmingham, England, and first published in 1820...

" would appear in the sixth issue of the New York edition and the second volume of the London edition).

Like many successful authors of this era, Irving struggled against literary bootleggers. In England, some of his sketches were reprinted in periodicals without his permission, an entirely legal practice as there was no international copyright law at the time. To prevent further piracy in Britain, Irving paid to have the first four American installments published as a single volume by John Miller in London. Irving appealed to Walter Scott for help procuring a more reputable publisher for the remainder of the book. Scott referred Irving to his own publisher, London powerhouse John Murray
John Murray (1778-1843)
John Murray was a Scottish publisher and member of the famous John Murray publishing house.The publishing house was founded by Murray's father, who died when Murray was only fifteen years old. During his youth, a partner, Samuel Highley, ran the business, but in 1803 the partnership was dissolved...

, who agreed to take on The Sketch Book. From then on, Irving would publish concurrently in the United States and England to protect his copyright, with Murray being his English publisher of choice.

Irving's reputation soared, and for the next two years, he led an active social life in Paris and England, where he was often feted as an anomaly of literature: an upstart American who dared to write English well.

Bracebridge Hall and Tales of a Traveller


With both Irving and publisher John Murray eager to follow up on the success of The Sketch Book, Irving spent much of 1821 travelling in Europe in search of new material, reading widely in Dutch and German folk tales. Hampered by writer's block—and depressed by the death of his brother William—Irving worked slowly, finally delivering a completed manuscript to Murray in March 1822. The book, Bracebridge Hall, or The Humorists, A Medley
Bracebridge Hall
Bracebridge Hall, or The Humorists, A Medley was written by Washington Irving in 1821, while he lived in England, and published in 1822. This episodic novel was originally published under his pseudonym Geoffrey Crayon.-Plot introduction:...

 (the location was based loosely on Aston Hall
Aston Hall
Aston Hall is a municipally owned Jacobean-style mansion in Aston, Birmingham, England. Washington Irving used it as the model for Bracebridge Hall in his stories in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon.-History:...

, occupied by members of the Bracebridge family, near his sister's home in Birmingham) was published in June 1822.

The format of Bracebridge was similar to that of The Sketch Book, with Irving, as Crayon, narrating a series of more than fifty loosely connected short stories and essays. While some reviewers thought Bracebridge to be a lesser imitation of The Sketch Book, the book was well-received by readers and critics. "We have received so much pleasure from this book," wrote critic Francis Jeffrey
Francis Jeffrey
Francis Jeffrey, Lord Jeffrey was a Scottish judge and literary critic.He was born in Edinburgh, the son of a clerk in the Court of Session. After attending the Royal High School for six years, he studied at the University of Glasgow from 1787 to May 1789, and at Queen's College, Oxford, from...

 in the Edinburgh Review
Edinburgh Review
The Edinburgh Review, founded in 1802, was one of the most influential British magazines of the 19th century. It ceased publication in 1929. The magazine took its Latin motto judex damnatur ubi nocens absolvitur from Publilius Syrus.In 1984, the Scottish cultural magazine New Edinburgh Review,...

, "that we think ourselves bound in gratitude . . . to make a public acknowledgement of it." Irving was relieved at its reception, which did much to cement his reputation with European readers.

Still struggling with writer's block, Irving traveled to Germany, settling in Dresden in the winter of 1822. Here he dazzled the royal family and attached himself to Mrs. Amelia Foster, an American living in Dresden with her five children. Irving was particularly attracted to Mrs. Foster's 18-year-old daughter Emily, and vied in frustration for her hand. Emily finally refused his offer of marriage in the spring of 1823.

He returned to Paris and began collaborating with playwright John Howard Payne
John Howard Payne
John Howard Payne was an American actor, poet, playwright, and author who had most of his theatrical career and success in London. He is today most remembered as the creator of "Home! Sweet Home!", a song he wrote in 1822 that became widely popular in the United States, Great Britain, and the...

 on translations of French plays for the English stage, with little success. He also learned through Payne that the novelist Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley was a British novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer, best known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus . She also edited and promoted the works of her husband, the Romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley...

 was romantically interested in him, though Irving never pursued the relationship.

In August 1824, Irving published the collection of essays Tales of a Traveller
Tales of a Traveller
Tales of a Traveller, by Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. is a collection of essays and short stories written by Washington Irving. It was written while Irving was living in Europe, primarily in Germany and Paris, and was published under his Geoffrey Crayon pseudonym.-Contents:Following the introductory "To...

—including the short story "The Devil and Tom Walker
The Devil and Tom Walker
"The Devil and Tom Walker" a short story by Washington Irving that first appeared in his 1824 collection of stories titled Tales of a Traveller. It was part of the "Money-Diggers" portion....

"—under his Geoffrey Crayon persona.
"I think there are in it some of the best things I have ever written," Irving told his sister. But while the book sold respectably, Traveller largely bombed with critics, who panned both Traveller and its author. "The public have been led to expect better things," wrote the United States Literary Gazette, while the New-York Mirror pronounced Irving "overrated." Hurt and depressed by the book's reception, Irving retreated to Paris where he spent the next year worrying about finances and scribbling down ideas for projects that never materialized.

Spanish books


While in Paris, Irving received a letter from Alexander Hill Everett
Alexander Hill Everett
Alexander Hill Everett was a noted American diplomatist, politician, and Boston man of letters. His brother was Edward Everett....

 on January 30, 1826. Everett, recently the American Minister to Spain, urged Irving to join him in Madrid, noting that a number of manuscripts dealing with the Spanish conquest of the Americas had recently been made public. Irving left for Madrid and enthusiastically began scouring the Spanish archives for colorful material.

With full access to the American consul's massive library of Spanish history, Irving began working on several books at once. The first offspring of this hard work, The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus
The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus
A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus is a four volume biographical account of Christopher Columbus written by Washington Irving in 1828...

, was published in January 1828. The book was popular in the United States and in Europe and would have 175 editions published before the end of the century. It was also the first project of Irving's to be published with his own name, instead of a pseudonym, on the title page. The Chronicles of the Conquest of Granada was published a year later, followed by Voyages and Discoveries of the Companions of Columbus in 1831.

Irving's writings on Columbus are a mixture of history and fiction, a genre now called romantic history/historical fiction. Irving based them on extensive research in the Spanish archives, but also added imaginative elements aimed at sharpening the story. The first of these works is the source of the durable myth that medieval Europeans believed the Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

 was flat. (See Myth of the Flat Earth
Myth of the Flat Earth
The myth of the Flat Earth is the modern misconception that the prevailing cosmological view during the Middle Ages saw the Earth as flat, instead of spherical....

.)

In 1829, Irving moved into Granada's ancient palace Alhambra
Alhambra
The Alhambra , the complete form of which was Calat Alhambra , is a palace and fortress complex located in the Granada, Andalusia, Spain...

, "determined to linger here", he said, "until I get some writings under way connected with the place". Before he could get any significant writing underway, however, he was notified of his appointment as Secretary to the American Legation in London. Worried he would disappoint friends and family if he refused the position, Irving left Spain for England in July 1829.

Secretary to the American legation in London


Arriving in London, Irving joined the staff of American Minister Louis McLane
Louis McLane
Louis McLane was an American lawyer and politician from Wilmington, in New Castle County, Delaware, and Baltimore, Maryland. He was a veteran of the War of 1812 and a member of the Federalist Party and later the Democratic Party. He served as the U.S. Representative from Delaware, U.S. Senator...

. McLane immediately assigned the daily secretary work to another man and tapped Irving to fill the role of aide-de-camp. The two worked over the next year to negotiate a trade agreement between the United States and the British West Indies
British West Indies
The British West Indies was a term used to describe the islands in and around the Caribbean that were part of the British Empire The term was sometimes used to include British Honduras and British Guiana, even though these territories are not geographically part of the Caribbean...

, finally reaching a deal in August 1830. That same year, Irving was awarded a medal by the Royal Society of Literature, followed by an honorary doctorate of civil law from Oxford
University of Oxford
The University of Oxford is a university located in Oxford, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest surviving university in the world and the oldest in the English-speaking world. Although its exact date of foundation is unclear, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096...

 in 1831.

Following McLane's recall to the United States in 1831 to serve as Secretary of Treasury, Irving stayed on as the legation's chargé d'affaires until the arrival of Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren was the eighth President of the United States . Before his presidency, he was the eighth Vice President and the tenth Secretary of State, under Andrew Jackson ....

, President Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson was the seventh President of the United States . Based in frontier Tennessee, Jackson was a politician and army general who defeated the Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend , and the British at the Battle of New Orleans...

's nominee for British Minister. With Van Buren in place, Irving resigned his post to concentrate on writing, eventually completing Tales of the Alhambra
Tales of the Alhambra
Tales of the Alhambra is a collection of essays, verbal sketches, and stories by Washington Irving.-Background:Shortly after completing a biography of Christopher Columbus in 1828, Washington Irving traveled from Madrid, where he had been staying, to Granada, Spain...

, which would be published concurrently in the United States and England in 1832.

Irving was still in London when Van Buren received word that the United States Senate had refused to confirm him as the new Minister. Consoling Van Buren, Irving predicted that the Senate's partisan move would backfire. "I should not be surprised", Irving said, "if this vote of the Senate goes far toward elevating him to the presidential chair".

Return to America


Washington Irving arrived in New York, after seventeen years abroad on May 21, 1832. That September, he accompanied the U.S. Commissioner on Indian Affairs, Henry Leavitt Ellsworth
Henry Leavitt Ellsworth
Henry Leavitt Ellsworth was a Yale-educated attorney who became the first Commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office, where he encouraged innovation by inventors Samuel F.B. Morse and Samuel Colt...

, along with companions Charles La Trobe
Charles La Trobe
Charles Joseph La Trobe was the first lieutenant-governor of the colony of Victoria .-Early life:La Trobe was born in London, the son of Christian Ignatius Latrobe, a family of Huguenot origin...

 and Count Albert-Alexandre de Pourtales, on a surveying mission deep in Indian Territory
Indian Territory
The Indian Territory, also known as the Indian Territories and the Indian Country, was land set aside within the United States for the settlement of American Indians...

. At the completion of his western tour, Irving traveled through Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, where he became acquainted with the politician and novelist John Pendleton Kennedy.

Frustrated by bad investments, Irving turned to writing to generate additional income, beginning with A Tour on the Prairies, a work which related his recent travels on the frontier
Frontier
A frontier is a political and geographical term referring to areas near or beyond a boundary. 'Frontier' was absorbed into English from French in the 15th century, with the meaning "borderland"--the region of a country that fronts on another country .The use of "frontier" to mean "a region at the...

. The book was another popular success and also the first book written and published by Irving in the United States since A History of New York in 1809. In 1834, he was approached by fur magnate John Jacob Astor
John Jacob Astor
John Jacob Astor , born Johann Jakob Astor, was a German-American business magnate and investor who was the first prominent member of the Astor family and the first multi-millionaire in the United States...

, who convinced Irving to write a history of his fur trading
Fur trade
The fur trade is a worldwide industry dealing in the acquisition and sale of animal fur. Since the establishment of world market for in the early modern period furs of boreal, polar and cold temperate mammalian animals have been the most valued...

 colony in the American Northwest, now known as Astoria, Oregon
Astoria, Oregon
Astoria is the county seat of Clatsop County, Oregon, United States. Situated near the mouth of the Columbia River, the city was named after the American investor John Jacob Astor. His American Fur Company founded Fort Astoria at the site in 1811...

. Irving made quick work of Astor's project, shipping the fawning biographical account titled Astoria
Astoria (book)
Astoria is a novel published in 1836 by Washington Irving, at the behest of John Jacob Astor, about the American West....

in February 1836.

During an extended stay at Astor's, Irving met the explorer Benjamin Bonneville
Benjamin Bonneville
Benjamin Louis Eulalie de Bonneville was a French-born officer in the United States Army, fur trapper, and explorer in the American West...

, who intrigued Irving with his maps and stories of the territories beyond the Rocky Mountains
Rocky Mountains
The Rocky Mountains are a major mountain range in western North America. The Rocky Mountains stretch more than from the northernmost part of British Columbia, in western Canada, to New Mexico, in the southwestern United States...

. When the two met in Washington, D.C. several months later, Bonneville opted to sell his maps and rough notes to Irving for $1,000. Irving used these materials as the basis for his 1837 book The Adventures of Captain Bonneville.

These three works made up Irving's "western" series of books and were written partly as a response to criticism that his time in England and Spain had made him more European than American. In the minds of some critics, especially James Fenimore Cooper and Philip Freneau, Irving had turned his back on his American heritage in favor of English aristocracy. Irving's western books, particularly A Tour on the Prairies, were well-received in the United States, though British critics accused Irving of "book-making".


In 1835, Irving purchased a "neglected cottage" and its surrounding riverfront property in Tarrytown, New York. The house, which Irving named Sunnyside
Sunnyside (Tarrytown, New York)
Sunnyside is a historic house on 10 acres of grounds alongside the Hudson River in Tarrytown, New York. It was formerly the home of noted early American author Washington Irving, best known for his short stories "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle", and is a National Historic...

 in 1841, would require constant repair and renovation over the next twenty years. With costs of Sunnyside escalating, Irving reluctantly agreed in 1839 to become a regular contributor to Knickerbocker magazine
The Knickerbocker
The Knickerbocker, or New-York Monthly Magazine, was a literary magazine of New York City, founded by Charles Fenno Hoffman in 1833, and published until 1865 under various titles, including:...

, writing new essays and short stories under the Knickerbocker and Crayon pseudonyms.

Irving was regularly approached by aspiring young authors for advice or endorsement, including Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe was an American author, poet, editor and literary critic, considered part of the American Romantic Movement. Best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, Poe was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story and is considered the inventor of the detective...

, who sought Irving's comments on "William Wilson
William Wilson (short story)
"William Wilson" is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in 1839, with a setting inspired by Poe's formative years outside of London. The tale follows the theme of the doppelgänger and is written in a style based on rationality...

" and "The Fall of the House of Usher
The Fall of the House of Usher
"The Fall of the House of Usher" is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in September 1839 in Burton's Gentleman's Magazine. It was slightly revised in 1840 for the collection Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque...

". Irving also championed America's maturing literature, advocating for stronger copyright laws to protect writers from the kind of piracy that had initially plagued The Sketch Book. Writing in the January 1840 issue of Knickerbocker, he openly endorsed copyright legislation pending in the U.S. Congress. "We have a young literature", Irving wrote, "springing up and daily unfolding itself with wonderful energy and luxuriance, which... deserves all its fostering care". The legislation did not pass.

Irving at this time also began a friendly correspondence with the English writer Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens
Charles John Huffam Dickens was an English novelist, generally considered the greatest of the Victorian period. Dickens enjoyed a wider popularity and fame than had any previous author during his lifetime, and he remains popular, having been responsible for some of English literature's most iconic...

, and hosted the author and his wife at Sunnyside during Dickens's American tour in 1842.

Minister to Spain


In 1842, after an endorsement from Secretary of State Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster was a leading American statesman and senator from Massachusetts during the period leading up to the Civil War. He first rose to regional prominence through his defense of New England shipping interests...

, President John Tyler
John Tyler
John Tyler was the tenth President of the United States . A native of Virginia, Tyler served as a state legislator, governor, U.S. representative, and U.S. senator before being elected Vice President . He was the first to succeed to the office of President following the death of a predecessor...

 appointed Irving as Minister to Spain. Irving was surprised and honored, writing, "It will be a severe trial to absent myself for a time from my dear little Sunnyside, but I shall return to it better enabled to carry it on comfortably".

While Irving hoped his position as Minister would allow him plenty of time to write, Spain was in a state of perpetual political upheaval during most of his tenure, with a number of warring factions vying for control of the twelve-year-old Queen Isabella II. Irving maintained good relations with the various generals and politicians, as control of Spain rotated through Espartero, Bravo, then Narvaez
Ramón María Narváez y Campos, 1st Duke of Valencia
Don Ramón María de Narváez y Campos, 1st Duke of Valencia was a Spanish soldier and statesman.-Biography:...

. However, the politics and warfare were exhausting, and Irving—homesick and suffering from a crippling skin condition—grew quickly disheartened:
With the political situation in Spain relatively settled, Irving continued to closely monitor the development of the new government and the fate of Isabella. His official duties as Spanish Minister also involved negotiating American trade interests with Cuba and following the Spanish parliament's debates over slave trade. He was also pressed into service by the American Minister to the Court of St. James's
Court of St. James's
The Court of St James's is the royal court of the United Kingdom. It previously had the same function in the Kingdom of England and in the Kingdom of Great Britain .-Overview:...

 in London, Louis McLane
Louis McLane
Louis McLane was an American lawyer and politician from Wilmington, in New Castle County, Delaware, and Baltimore, Maryland. He was a veteran of the War of 1812 and a member of the Federalist Party and later the Democratic Party. He served as the U.S. Representative from Delaware, U.S. Senator...

, to assist in negotiating the Anglo-American disagreement over the Oregon border that newly-elected president James K. Polk
James K. Polk
James Knox Polk was the 11th President of the United States . Polk was born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. He later lived in and represented Tennessee. A Democrat, Polk served as the 17th Speaker of the House of Representatives and the 12th Governor of Tennessee...

 had vowed to resolve.

Final years and death



Returning from Spain in 1846, Irving took up permanent residence at Sunnyside and began work on an "Author's Revised Edition" of his works for publisher George Palmer Putnam
George Palmer Putnam
George Palmer Putnam was an important American book publisher.-Biography:Putnam was born in Brunswick, Maine. On moving to New York City, Putnam was given his first job by Jonathan Leavitt, who subsequently published Putnam's first book...

. For its publication, Irving had made a deal that guaranteed him 12 percent of the retail price of all copies sold. Such an agreement was unprecedented at that time. On the death of John Jacob Astor in 1848, Irving was hired as an executor of Astor's estate and appointed, by Astor's will, as first chairman of the Astor library, a forerunner to the New York Public Library
New York Public Library
The New York Public Library is the largest public library in North America and is one of the United States' most significant research libraries...

.

As he revised his older works for Putnam, Irving continued to write regularly, publishing biographies of the writer and poet Oliver Goldsmith
Oliver Goldsmith
Oliver Goldsmith was an Irish writer, poet and physician known for his novel The Vicar of Wakefield , his pastoral poem The Deserted Village , and his plays The Good-Natur'd Man and She Stoops to Conquer...

 in 1849 and the 1850 work about the Islamic prophet Muhammad
Muhammad
Muhammad |ligature]] at U+FDF4 ;Arabic pronunciation varies regionally; the first vowel ranges from ~~; the second and the last vowel: ~~~. There are dialects which have no stress. In Egypt, it is pronounced not in religious contexts...

. In 1855, he produced Wolfert's Roost, a collection of stories and essays he had originally written for Knickerbocker and other publications, and began publishing at intervals a biography of his namesake, George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

, a work which he expected to be his masterpiece. Five volumes of the biography were published between 1855 and 1859. Irving traveled regularly to Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon
The name Mount Vernon is a dedication to the English Vice-Admiral Edward Vernon. It was first applied to Mount Vernon, the Virginia estate of George Washington, the first President of the United States...

 and Washington, D.C. for his research, and struck up friendships with Presidents Millard Fillmore
Millard Fillmore
Millard Fillmore was the 13th President of the United States and the last member of the Whig Party to hold the office of president...

 and Franklin Pierce
Franklin Pierce
Franklin Pierce was the 14th President of the United States and is the only President from New Hampshire. Pierce was a Democrat and a "doughface" who served in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. Pierce took part in the Mexican-American War and became a brigadier general in the Army...

.

He continued to socialize and keep up with his correspondence well into his seventies, and his fame and popularity continued to soar. "I don’t believe that any man, in any country, has ever had a more affectionate admiration for him than that given to you in America", wrote Senator William C. Preston
William C. Preston
William Campbell Preston was a senator from the United States and a member of the Nullifier, and later Whig Parties...

 in a letter to Irving. "I believe that we have had but one man who is so much in the popular heart". By 1859, author Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. was an American physician, professor, lecturer, and author. Regarded by his peers as one of the best writers of the 19th century, he is considered a member of the Fireside Poets. His most famous prose works are the "Breakfast-Table" series, which began with The Autocrat...

 noted that Sunnyside had become "next to Mount Vernon, the best known and most cherished of all the dwellings in our land".

On the evening of November 28, 1859, only eight months after completing the final volume of his Washington biography, Washington Irving died of a heart attack in his bedroom at Sunnyside at the age of 76. Legend has it that his last words were: "Well, I must arrange my pillows for another night. When will this end?" He was buried under a simple headstone at Sleepy Hollow cemetery on December 1, 1859.

Irving and his grave were commemorated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was an American poet and educator whose works include "Paul Revere's Ride", The Song of Hiawatha, and Evangeline...

 in his 1876 poem, "In The Churchyard at Tarrytown", which concludes with:

How sweet a life was his; how sweet a death!

Living, to wing with mirth the weary hours,

Or with romantic tales the heart to cheer;

Dying, to leave a memory like the breath

Of summers full of sunshine and of showers,

A grief and gladness in the atmosphere.

Literary reputation



Irving is largely credited as the first American Man of Letters, and the first to earn his living solely by his pen. Eulogizing Irving before the Massachusetts Historical Society
Massachusetts Historical Society
The Massachusetts Historical Society is a major historical archive specializing in early American, Massachusetts, and New England history...

 in December 1859, his friend, the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was an American poet and educator whose works include "Paul Revere's Ride", The Song of Hiawatha, and Evangeline...

, acknowledged Irving's role in promoting American literature: "We feel a just pride in his renown as an author, not forgetting that, to his other claims upon our gratitude, he adds also that of having been the first to win for our country an honourable name and position in the History of Letters".

Irving perfected the American short story, and was the first American writer to place his stories firmly in the United States, even as he poached from German or Dutch folklore. He is also generally credited as one of the first to write both in the vernacular, and without an obligation to the moral or didactic in his short stories, writing stories simply to entertain rather than to enlighten. Irving also encouraged would-be writers. As George William Curtis
George William Curtis
George William Curtis was an American writer and public speaker, born in Providence, Rhode Island, of old New England stock.-Biography:...

 noted, there "is not a young literary aspirant in the country, who, if he ever personally met Irving, did not hear from him the kindest words of sympathy, regard, and encouragement."

Some critics, however—including Edgar Allan Poe—felt that while Irving should be given credit for being an innovator, the writing itself was often unsophisticated. "Irving is much over-rated", Poe wrote in 1838, "and a nice distinction might be drawn between his just and his surreptitious and adventitious reputation—between what is due to the pioneer solely, and what to the writer". A critic for the New-York Mirror wrote: "No man in the Republic of Letters has been more overrated than Mr. Washington Irving." Some critics noted especially that Irving, despite being an American, catered to British sensibilities and, as one critic noted, wrote "of and for England, rather than his own country".
Other critics were inclined to be more forgiving of Irving's style. William Makepeace Thackeray
William Makepeace Thackeray
William Makepeace Thackeray was an English novelist of the 19th century. He was famous for his satirical works, particularly Vanity Fair, a panoramic portrait of English society.-Biography:...

 was the first to refer to Irving as the "ambassador whom the New World of Letters sent to the Old", a banner picked up by writers and critics throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. "He is the first of the American humorists, as he is almost the first of the American writers", wrote critic H.R. Hawless in 1881, "yet belonging to the New World, there is a quaint Old World flavor about him".

Early critics often had difficulty separating Irving the man from Irving the writer—"The life of Washington Irving was one of the brightest ever led by an author", wrote Richard Henry Stoddard
Richard Henry Stoddard
Richard Henry Stoddard was an American critic and poet.-Biography:Richard Henry Stoddard was born on July 2, 1825, in Hingham, Massachusetts. His father, a sea-captain, was wrecked and lost on one of his voyages while Richard was a child, and the lad went in 1835 to New York City with his mother,...

, an early Irving biographer—but as years passed and Irving's celebrity personality faded into the background, critics often began to review his writings as all style, no substance. "The man had no message", said critic Barrett Wendell. Yet, critics conceded that despite Irving's lack of sophisticated themes—Irving biographer Stanley T. Williams could be scathing in his assessment of Irving's work—most agreed he wrote elegantly.

Impact on American culture


Irving popularized the nickname "Gotham" for New York City, later used in Batman
Batman
Batman is a fictional character created by the artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger. A comic book superhero, Batman first appeared in Detective Comics #27 , and since then has appeared primarily in publications by DC Comics...

 comics and movies, and is credited with inventing the expression "the almighty dollar
Almighty dollar
Almighty dollar is an idiom often used to satirize an obsession for material wealth .The beginning of the realisation that wealth can engender quasi-religious respect has been attributed to British writer Ben Johnson, who wrote in 1616:The "dollar" version of the phrase is commonly attributed to...

".

The surname of his Dutch historian, Diedrich Knickerbocker, is generally associated with New York and New Yorkers, and can still be seen across the jerseys of New York's professional basketball team, albeit in its more familiar, abbreviated form, reading simply Knicks
New York Knicks
The New York Knickerbockers, prominently known as the Knicks, are a professional basketball team based in New York City. They are part of the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference in the National Basketball Association...

. In Bushwick, Brooklyn
Bushwick, Brooklyn
Bushwick is a neighborhood in the northern part of the New York City borough of Brooklyn. The neighborhood, formerly Brooklyn's 18th Ward, is now part of Brooklyn Community Board 4...

, a neighborhood of New York City, there are two parallel streets named Irving Avenue and Knickerbocker Avenue; the latter forms the core of the neighborhood's shopping district.

One of Irving's most lasting contributions to American culture is in the way Americans perceive and celebrate Christmas
Christmas
Christmas or Christmas Day is an annual holiday generally celebrated on December 25 by billions of people around the world. It is a Christian feast that commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, liturgically closing the Advent season and initiating the season of Christmastide, which lasts twelve days...

. In his 1812 revisions to A History of New York, Irving inserted a dream sequence featuring St. Nicholas soaring over treetops in a flying wagon—a creation others would later dress up as Santa Claus
Santa Claus
Santa Claus is a folklore figure in various cultures who distributes gifts to children, normally on Christmas Eve. Each name is a variation of Saint Nicholas, but refers to Santa Claus...

. In his five Christmas stories in The Sketch Book, Irving portrayed an idealized celebration of old-fashioned Christmas customs at a quaint English manor, that depicted harmonious warm-hearted English Christmas festivities he experienced while staying in Aston Hall
Aston Hall
Aston Hall is a municipally owned Jacobean-style mansion in Aston, Birmingham, England. Washington Irving used it as the model for Bracebridge Hall in his stories in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon.-History:...

, Birmingham, England, that had largely been abandoned. He used text from The Vindication of Christmas (London 1652) of old English Christmas traditions, he had transcribed into his journal as a format for his stories. The book contributed to the revival and reinterpretation of the Christmas holiday in the United States. Charles Dickens later credited Irving as an influence on his own Christmas writings, including the classic A Christmas Carol
A Christmas Carol
A Christmas Carol is a novella by English author Charles Dickens first published by Chapman & Hall on 17 December 1843. The story tells of sour and stingy Ebenezer Scrooge's ideological, ethical, and emotional transformation after the supernatural visits of Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of...

.

The Community Area
Community areas of Chicago
Community areas in Chicago refers to the work of the Social Science Research Committee at University of Chicago which has unofficially divided the City of Chicago into 77 community areas. These areas are well-defined and static...

 of Irving Park
Irving Park, Chicago
Irving Park is one of 77 officially designated Chicago community area located on the Northwest Side. It is bounded by the Chicago River on the east, the Milwaukee Road railroad tracks on the west, Addison Street on the south and Montrose Avenue on the north, west of Pulaski Road stretching to...

 in Chicago was named in Irving's honor. The Irving Trust
Irving Trust
Irving Trust was a bank headquartered in New York City, and the principal subsidiary of the Irving Bank Corporation. Between 1913 and 1931, its headquarters was in the Woolworth Building; after 1931, until it was acquired by Bank of New York, its headquarters was located at One Wall Street, at...

 Corporation (now the Bank of New York Mellon Corporation) was named after him. Since there was not yet a federal currency in 1851, each bank issued its own paper and those institutions with the most appealing names found their certificates more widely accepted. His portrait appeared on the bank's notes and contributed to their wide appeal.

In his biography of Christopher Columbus, Irving introduced the erroneous idea that Europeans believed the world to be flat prior to the discovery of the New World. Borrowed from Irving, the flat-Earth myth
Flat Earth
The Flat Earth model is a belief that the Earth's shape is a plane or disk. Most ancient cultures have had conceptions of a flat Earth, including Greece until the classical period, the Bronze Age and Iron Age civilizations of the Near East until the Hellenistic period, India until the Gupta period ...

 has been taught in schools as fact to many generations of Americans.

Memorials



Washington Irving's home, Sunnyside
Sunnyside (Tarrytown, New York)
Sunnyside is a historic house on 10 acres of grounds alongside the Hudson River in Tarrytown, New York. It was formerly the home of noted early American author Washington Irving, best known for his short stories "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle", and is a National Historic...

, is still standing, just south of the Tappan Zee Bridge
Tappan Zee Bridge
The Governor Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge, usually referred to as Tappan Zee Bridge, is a cantilever bridge in New York over the Hudson River at one of its widest points; the Tappan Zee is named for an American Indian tribe from the area called "Tappan"; and zee being the Dutch word for "sea"....

 in Tarrytown, New York
Tarrytown, New York
Tarrytown is a village in the town of Greenburgh in Westchester County, New York, United States. It is located on the eastern bank of the Hudson River, about north of midtown Manhattan in New York City, and is served by a stop on the Metro-North Hudson Line...

. The original house and the surrounding property were once owned by 18th-century colonialist Wolfert Acker
Wolfert Acker
Wolfert Acker was a colonial-period American who is featured in Washington Irving's short story collection Wolfert's Roost. His name was recorded in all combinations of Wolfert or Wolvert as given name, and Acker, Echert, or Ecker as surname. He was born in Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York and died at...

, about whom Irving wrote his sketch Wolfert's Roost (the name of the house). The house is now owned and operated as a historic site by Historic Hudson Valley
Historic Hudson Valley
Historic Hudson Valley is a not-for-profit educational and historic preservation organization headquartered in Tarrytown, New York, in Westchester County...

 and is open to the public for tours. The Washington Irving Memorial
Washington Irving Memorial
The Washington Irving Memorial is located at Broadway and West Sunnyside Lane in Irvington, New York, United States. It features a bust of Irving and sculptures of two of his better-known characters by Daniel Chester French, set in a small stone plaza at the street corner designed by Charles A....

 by Daniel Chester French
Daniel Chester French
Daniel Chester French was an American sculptor. His best-known work is the sculpture of a seated Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.-Life and career:...

 stands near the entrance to Sunnyside in the village of Irvington
Irvington, New York
Irvington, sometimes known as Irvington-on-Hudson, is an affluent suburban village in the town of Greenburgh in Westchester County, New York, United States. It is located on the eastern bank of the Hudson River, north of midtown Manhattan in New York City, and is served by a station stop on the...

, which renamed itself from Dearman in his memory, and visitors to Christ Episcopal Church in nearby Tarrytown
Tarrytown, New York
Tarrytown is a village in the town of Greenburgh in Westchester County, New York, United States. It is located on the eastern bank of the Hudson River, about north of midtown Manhattan in New York City, and is served by a stop on the Metro-North Hudson Line...

, where he served as a vestry
Vestry
A vestry is a room in or attached to a church or synagogue in which the vestments, vessels, records, etc., are kept , and in which the clergy and choir robe or don their vestments for divine service....

man in the last years of his life, can see his pew
Pew
A pew is a long bench seat or enclosed box used for seating members of a congregation or choir in a church, or sometimes in a courtroom.-Overview:Churches were not commonly furnished with permanent pews before the Protestant Reformation...

. West, over the Catskills
Catskill Mountains
The Catskill Mountains, an area in New York State northwest of New York City and southwest of Albany, are a mature dissected plateau, an uplifted region that was subsequently eroded into sharp relief. They are an eastward continuation, and the highest representation, of the Allegheny Plateau...

 and in the Finger Lakes
Finger Lakes
The Finger Lakes are a pattern of lakes in the west-central section of Upstate New York in the United States. They are a popular tourist destination. The lakes are long and thin , each oriented roughly on a north-south axis. The two longest, Cayuga Lake and Seneca Lake, are among the deepest in...

, Cornell University
Cornell University
Cornell University is an Ivy League university located in Ithaca, New York, United States. It is a private land-grant university, receiving annual funding from the State of New York for certain educational missions...

's oldest continuous student-run organization, The Irving Literary Society
The Irving Literary Society (Cornell University)
Cornell literary societies were a group of 19th century student organizations at Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York, formed for the purpose of promoting language skills and oratory. The U.S...

, is named for Washington Irving. His name is also frequently mentioned in Joseph Heller's
Joseph Heller
Joseph Heller was a US satirical novelist, short story writer, and playwright. His best known work is Catch-22, a novel about US servicemen during World War II...

 novel Catch-22
Catch-22
Catch-22 is a satirical, historical novel by the American author Joseph Heller. He began writing it in 1953, and the novel was first published in 1961. It is set during World War II in 1943 and is frequently cited as one of the great literary works of the twentieth century...

in a recurring theme where his name is signed by other people to documents which triggers several military investigations as to who Washington Irving is. Throughout the United States, there are many schools named after Irving or after places in his fictional works. A Washington Irving Memorial Park and Arboretum
Washington Irving Memorial Park and Arboretum
Washington Irving Memorial Park and Arboretum is a public park and arboretum located just north of the Arkansas River Bridge at 13700 S. Memorial Drive, Bixby, Oklahoma. The park is named in honor of American writer Washington Irving, who camped in the area in October 1832 while participating in a...

 exists in Oklahoma.

The city of Irving, Texas
Irving, Texas
Irving is a city located in the U.S. state of Texas within Dallas County. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the city population was 216,290. Irving is within the Dallas–Plano–Irving metropolitan division of the Dallas–Fort Worth–Arlington metropolitan area, designated...

 gives credit to Washington Irving for the town's name. It is believed by local historians that Irving co-founders Otis Brown and J.O. Schulze decided in 1902 to name the city after the favorite author of Otis Brown's wife, Netta Barcus Brown. Schulze, a graduate engineer from the University of Iowa
University of Iowa
The University of Iowa is a public state-supported research university located in Iowa City, Iowa, United States. It is the oldest public university in the state. The university is organized into eleven colleges granting undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees...

 and member of the Washington Irving Literary Society, also was partial to the name Irving. The Irving City Council officially adopted author Washington Irving as the city's namesake in 1998.

List of works

Salmagundi
Salmagundi (periodical)
Salmagundi; or The Whim-whams and Opinions of Launcelot Langstaff, Esq. & Others, commonly referred to as Salmagundi, was a 19th century satirical periodical created and written by American writer Washington Irving...

Letters of Jonathan Oldstyle
Letters of Jonathan Oldstyle
The Letters of Jonathan Oldstyle, Gent. is a collection of nine observational letters written by American writer Washington Irving under the pseudonym Jonathan Oldstyle. The letters first appeared in the November 15, 1802, edition of the New York Morning Chronicle, a political-leaning newspaper...

1802 Jonathan Oldstyle Observational Letters
1807–1808 Launcelot Langstaff, Will Wizard Satire
A History of New York 1809 Diedrich Knickerbocker Satire
The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.
The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon
The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., commonly referred to as The Sketch Book, is a collection of 34 essays and short stories written by American author Washington Irving. It was published serially throughout 1819 and 1820...

1819–1820 Geoffrey Crayon Short stories/Essays
Bracebridge Hall
Bracebridge Hall
Bracebridge Hall, or The Humorists, A Medley was written by Washington Irving in 1821, while he lived in England, and published in 1822. This episodic novel was originally published under his pseudonym Geoffrey Crayon.-Plot introduction:...

1822 Geoffrey Crayon Short stories/Essays
Tales of a Traveller
Tales of a Traveller
Tales of a Traveller, by Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. is a collection of essays and short stories written by Washington Irving. It was written while Irving was living in Europe, primarily in Germany and Paris, and was published under his Geoffrey Crayon pseudonym.-Contents:Following the introductory "To...

1824 Geoffrey Crayon Short stories/Essays
The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus
The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus
A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus is a four volume biographical account of Christopher Columbus written by Washington Irving in 1828...

1828 Washington Irving Biography/History
The Chronicles of the Conquest of Granada 1829 Fray Antonio Agapida Romantic history
Voyages and Discoveries
of the Companions of Columbus
1831 Washington Irving Biography/History
Tales of the Alhambra
Tales of the Alhambra
Tales of the Alhambra is a collection of essays, verbal sketches, and stories by Washington Irving.-Background:Shortly after completing a biography of Christopher Columbus in 1828, Washington Irving traveled from Madrid, where he had been staying, to Granada, Spain...

1832 "The Author of the Sketch Book" Short stories/Travel
The Crayon Miscellany 1835 Geoffrey Crayon Short stories
Astoria
Astoria (book)
Astoria is a novel published in 1836 by Washington Irving, at the behest of John Jacob Astor, about the American West....

1836 Washington Irving Biography/History
The Adventures of Captain Bonneville 1837 Washington Irving Biography/Romantic History
The Life of Oliver Goldsmith 1840
(revised 1849)
Washington Irving Biography
Biography and Poetical Remains
of the Late Margaret Miller Davidson
1841 Washington Irving Biography
Mahomet and His Successors 1850 Washington Irving Biography
Wolfert's Roost 1855 Geoffrey Crayon
Diedrich Knickerbocker
Washington Irving
Biography
The Life of George Washington (5 volumes) 1855–1859 Washington Irving Biography

External links