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Washington Irving by Charles Dudley Warner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was with much misgiving that Irving made this venture. "I feel great
diffidence," he writes Brevoort, March 3, 1819," about this reappearance
in literature. I am conscious of my imperfections, and my mind has been
for a long time past so pressed upon and agitated by various cares and
anxieties, that I fear it has lost much of its cheerfulness and some of
its activity. I have attempted no lofty theme, nor sought to look wise
and learned, which appears to be very much the fashion among our American
writers at present. I have preferred addressing myself to the feelings
and fancy of the reader more than to his judgment. My writings may
appear, therefore, light and trifling in our country of philosophers and
politicians. But if they possess merit in the class of literature to
which they belong, it is all to which I aspire in the work. I seek only
to blow a flute accompaniment in the national concert, and leave others
to play the fiddle and Frenchhorn." This diffidence was not assumed.
All through his career, a breath of criticism ever so slight acted
temporarily like a boar-frost upon his productive power. He always saw
reasons to take sides with his critic. Speaking of "vanity" in a letter
of March, 1820, when Scott and Lockhart and all the Reviews were in a
full chorus of acclaim, he says: "I wish I did possess more of it, but it
seems my curse at present to have anything but confidence in myself or
pleasure in anything I have written."

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

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

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

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

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

"'Your name is up and may go
From Toledo to Madrid.'"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In London, some years later:

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

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

"He has written. He has confessed to my mother, as to a true and
dear friend, his love for E----, and his conviction of its utter
hopelessness. He feels himself unable to combat it. He thinks he
must try, by absence, to bring more peace to his mind. Yet he
cannot bear to give up our friendship,--an intercourse become so
dear to him, and so necessary to his daily happiness. Poor Irving!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

And he continues in another strain:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And again:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Louis Napoleon and Eugenie Montijo, Emperor and Empress of France!
one of whom I have had a guest at my cottage on the Hudson; the
other, whom, when a child, I have had on my knee at Granada. It
seems to cap the climax of the strange dramas of which Paris has
been the theatre during my lifetime. I have repeatedly thought that
each grand coup de theatre would be the last that would occur in my
time; but each has been succeeded by another equally striking; and
what will be the next, who can conjecture?

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

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

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

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

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

"As far as I know my own mind, I am thoroughly a republican, and
attached, from complete conviction, to the institutions of my
country; but I am a republican without gall, and have no bitterness
in my creed. I have no relish for Puritans, either in religion or
politics, who are for pushing principles to an extreme, and for
overturning everything that stands in the way of their own zealous
career . . . . Ours is a government of compromise. We have
several great and distinct interests bound up together, which, if
not separately consulted and severally accommodated, may harass and
impair each other . . . . I always distrust the soundness of
political councils that are accompanied by acrimonious and
disparaging attacks upon any great class of our fellow-citizens.
Such are those urged to the disadvantage of the great trading and
financial classes of our country."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We passed through the spacious court, up the noble staircase, and
through the long suites of apartments of this splendid edifice, most of
them silent and vacant, the casements closed to keep out the heat, so
that a twilight reigned throughout the mighty pile, not a little
emblematical of the dubious fortunes of its inmates. It seemed more like
traversing a convent than a palace. I ought to have mentioned that in
ascending the grand staircase we found the portal at the head of it,
opening into the royal suite of apartments, still bearing the marks of
the midnight attack upon the palace in October last, when an attempt was
made to get possession of the persons of the little Queen and her sister,
to carry them off . . . . The marble casements of the doors had been
shattered in several places, and the double doors themselves pierced all
over with bullet holes, from the musketry that played upon them from the
staircase during that eventful night. What must have been the feelings
of those poor children, on listening, from their apartment, to the horrid
tumult, the outcries of a furious multitude, and the reports of firearms
echoing and reverberating through the vaulted halls and spacious courts
of this immense edifice, and dubious whether their own lives were not the
object of the assault!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Brimful of wrath and cabbage,"

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

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