Washington Irving, an American author, born in New York, April 3, 1783, died at Sun-nyside, near Tarrytown, N. Y., Nov. 28, 1859. He was the youngest son of William Irving, who was descended from an ancient family in the Orkneys; his mother was English. Washington Irving left school in his 16th year, and began the study of law. But his passion was for literature, and in 1802 he commenced in the "Morning Chronicle" a series of papers on dramatic and social subjects and local occurrences, under the signature of "Jonathan Old-style." In 1804, being threatened with consumption, he visited Europe, spending several months in the south of France and Italy. At Rome in 1805 he became intimate with Washington Allston, and under his tuition made a serious attempt to become a painter, but was satisfied at the end of three days that his talent was not for art. He next visited Switzerland, the Netherlands, Paris, and London, and returned home in March, 1806, to resume his law studies; but he never practised. With his brother William and James K. Paulding he started a serial entitled "Salmagundi, or the Whim-Whams and Opinions of Launcelot Langstaff, Esq., and others," which appeared at irregular intervals in small 18mo, published by an eccentric bookseller named David Longworth. The first number was issued on Jan. 24, 1807. Its local allusions, personal hits, and constant vein of humor gave it immediate success, and it reached the 20th number.
It is understood that the poetical epistles were contributed by William Irving, and the prose papers about equally by himself and his two associates. "Salmagundi" found favor also on the other side of the Atlantic. In 1809 appeared " A History of New York, from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, etc, by Diedrich Knickerbocker." This was begun by Peter and Washington Irving as a burlesque on a hand-book of the city of New York which had just been published; but Peter soon sailed for Europe, and Washington elaborated the work and extended it to two volumes. Previous to its appearance an advertisement was inserted in the "Evening Post" inquiring for "a small elderly gentleman dressed in an old black coat and cocked hat, by the name of Knickerbocker," who was said to have disappeared from the Columbian hotel in Mulberry street, and left behind "a very curious kind of a written book." The work was accepted by many respectable but somewhat stupid readers as a veritable history, and Goller, a German editor, gravely cites it in illustration of a historical passage. Some of the descendants of the old Dutch families were seriously offended by its burlesque of their ancestors, and Irving finally found it necessary to insert an apologetic preface.
In 1810 he wrote a sketch of Thomas Campbell for a Philadelphia edition of his poems, and in 1813-'14 edited the " Analectic Magazine" in Philadelphia, to which he contributed several biographies of American naval commanders. In 1814 he became aide-de-camp and military secretary to Gov. Tompkins, and in 1815 sailed for Europe, having meanwhile become a silent partner in the mercantile business of two of his brothers. In London he was intimate with many of the literary men of the day, especially Procter and Campbell, and by the latter was introduced to Scott at Abbotsford. Irving's house soon became bankrupt, and he was compelled to write for a living. His rambles about England and Scotland had given him much of the material for the " Sketch Book," which was sent home in fragments and published in pamphlet numbers during 1818.| Several of the sketches were copied in the London "Literary Gazette," and Irving offered the work for republication to Murray and Constable, by each of whom it was declined in spite of Scott's warm recommendation. He then put the first volume to press at his own expense (1820), but the failure of the publisher stopped its issue.
In this crisis Scott arrived in London and prevailed upon Murray to purchase the manuscript for £200, which price he doubled when the book proved successful. The "Sketch Book" contained " Rip Van Winkle " and the " Legend of Sleepy Hollow," which are perhaps the most widely celebrated, and are certainly the most strikingly original, of all his creations./ He spent the winter of 1820 in Paris, and in 1821 wrote "Bracebridge Hall, or the Humorists" (2 vols., London, 1822), producing 120 pages of it in ten days. Murray paid 1,000 guineas for the copyright, without seeing the manuscript. Irving passed the next winter in Dresden, returned to Paris in 1823, and in 1824 published his "Tales of a Traveller" (2 vols., London), for which Murray paid £1,500. This work met with severe criticism on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1826 Alexander H. Everett, United States minister to Spain, commissioned Irving to translate the documents relative to Columbus which had just been collected by Navarrete. With this material at command he wrote his " History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus" (4 vols., London, 1828), for which he received 3,000 guineas from the publisher and one of the 50-guinea gold medals offered by George IV. for historical composition.
This history gained immediate popularity, and was highly praised by the reviewers, more than restoring the favor which its author seemed to have lost by his preceding work. After a tour in the south of Spain he published his " Chronicles of the Conquest of Granada" (2 vols., London, 1829), for which Murray paid £2,000, losing money by it. The "Voyages of the Companions of Columbus" appeared in 1831, and in 1832 the "Alham-bra " (2 vols., London), a portion of which was written in the old Moorish palace, where Irving spent three months. In July, 1829, he had returned to London, having been appointed secretary of the American legation there. In 1831 the university of Oxford conferred upon him the degree of LL. D. The recall of the minister deprived him of his office, and in May, 1832, he returned to New York, where a public dinner, at which Chancellor Kent presided, was given in his honor. In the summer of the same year he accompanied Commissioner Ellsworth in the removal of the Indian tribes across the Mississippi, and the result was his "Tour on the Prairies" (1835), which, together with "Abbotsford and Newstead Abbey" (1835) and "Legends of the Conquest of Spain " (1835), forms the " Crayon Miscellany." "Astoria" (2 vols., Philadelphia, 1836), which professes to give the early history of the fur station of that name in Oregon, was written from the author's remembrance of visits in his youth to the station of the northwest fur company at Montreal, and from documents furnished by John Jacob Astor. The "Adventures of Captain Bonneville, U. S. A., in the Rocky Mountains and the Far West," was published in 1837 (2 vols., Philadelphia), and in 1839-41 Irving contributed to the "Knickerbocker Magazine" a series of articles which with others were collected in a volume entitled " Wolfert's Roost" (New York, 1855). In 1841 he wrote a life of Margaret Miller Davidson, to accompany her posthumous works.
He was United States minister to Spain from 1842 to 1846, and on his return prepared for publication in separate form his biography of Oliver Goldsmith (New York, 1849), which was originally prefixed to a Paris edition of Goldsmith's works, and also published "Mahomet and his Successors" (2 vols., New York, 1850), composed partly from materials collected in Madrid. In 1848-'50, at the suggestion of Mr. G. P. Putnam, he revised his entire works, which were issued by that publisher in 15 uniform volumes, and met with a large sale. Irving's last, longest, and most elaborate work, "The Life of George Washington" (5 vols., New York, 1855-9), occupied the remainder of his life, the final volume appearing only three months before his death.-From the time when the " Sketch Book" was published Irving had a wide circle of appreciative readers, which has never diminished. In the department of pure literature he was the earliest classic writer of America, and in the opinion of many he remains the first. The remarkable clearness and purity of his English, the freshness of many of his themes, and the genial spirit in which he handles all, seem to have secured for his works a permanent active circulation.
During his lifetime 600,000 volumes were sold in America, and since his death the sale has averaged more than 30,000 a year. On account of the early death of a young lady to whom he was attached, Matilda Hoffman, he never married. For several years before his death he resided on the east bank of the Hudson, near Tarry-town, in an old Dutch mansion which he christened "Sunnyside." This place is the scene of the "Legend of Sleepy Hollow," and Irving's house was the original of the castle of Baltus van Tassel. In private life Irving was very even-tempered, hospitable, genial, and generous, with an almost feminine delicacy of manners and conversation. He was a communicant of the Episcopal church. He died suddenly from disease of the heart, and was buried in the graveyard at Tarrytown, the funeral procession passing through the famous "Sleepy Hollow." His "Life and Letters" (5 vols., New York, 1861-7) was edited by his nephew Pierre M. Irving, who also collected and edited his "Spanish Papers, and other Miscellanies" (3 vols., 1866).