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“WASHINGTON's work is ended and the child shall be named after him," so said the mother of Washington Irving at his birth in New York, April 3, 1783. When, six years later, all New York was enthusiastically greeting the first President of the United States, a Scotch servant in the Irving family followed the President into a shop with the youngest son of the family and approaching him said, “Please, your honor, here's a bairn was named for you.” Washington, putting his hand upon the boy's head, gave him his blessing. It seems eminently fitting that this boy, who became known as the Father of American Letters, should write the biography of the man whose name he bore, and whom we know as the Father of his Country
New York was then the capital of the country, a city of about twenty-five thousand inhabitants, small enough so that it was an easy matter for the city boy to get into the country. New York itself retained many traces of its Dutch origin, and upon its streets could be seen men from all parts of the world. Here the boy grew up happy, seeing many sides of American life, both in the city and in the country. He was fun-loving and social, and could hardly be called a student. He greatly preferred "Robinson Crusoe" and “Sinbad” to the construing of Latin. Best of all, he liked to go exploring down to the water front to see the tall ships setting sail for the other side of the world, or, as he grew older, up the Hudson and into the Catskills, or to that very Sleepy Hollow which lives for us now because of him. Irving liked people, and had many warm friends.
These three tastes—for people, for books, and for travel-his life was destined to gratify. His health being delicate, he was sent abroad at twenty-one, and the captain of the ship he sailed in, noting his fragile appearance, said, “There's one who'll go overboard before we get across,” but he happily proved a mistaken prophet. Irving not only survived the voyage, but spent two years traveling in Italy, France, Sicily, and the Netherlands. The romantic spirit strong within him eagerly absorbed mediæval history and tradition. “My native country was full of youthful promise; Europe was rich in the accumulated treasures of age.”
Upon his return home, Irving was admitted to the bar, but he never seriously turned his attention to law. In 1809 he published “A History of New York by Diedrich Knickerbocker.” It was a humorous history of New Amsterdam, a delicious mingling of sense and nonsense, over which Walter Scott said his “sides were absolutely sore with laughing." While writing this history a great sorrow touched his life—the death of a young girl to whom he was deeply attached.
Ten years later, upon his second visit to Europe, Irving published "The Sketch Book.” It rapidly won favor both in England and America. Byron said of it: “I know it by heart; at least there is not a passage that I cannot refer to immediately.” This second visit to Europe was to be a short business trip, but as it chanced, it lasted seventeen years. The first five years were spent in England. Later he went to Spain, and as a result of this visit, we have a series of books dealing with Spanish history and tradition—“The Alhambra,” “The Conquest of Granada” and “The Life of Columbus.” During all these years and in all these places, he met and won the regard of hosts of interesting people. Everyone praised his books, and everyone liked the likable American, with his distinguished face and gentle manners.
In 1832 Irving was gladly welcomed back to America, for many had feared that his long absence might mean permanent residence abroad. The next ten years were spent in his beautiful home, Sunnyside, at Tarrytown-on-the-Hudson. Daniel Webster, Secretary of
State, could find no person more gratifying to the Spanish people, than the author of the “Life of Columbus” and, in 1842, persuaded Irving to represent us at the Spanish court. After four years, he returned to America and passed his time almost exclusively in writing. The work which he finished just before his death, in November, 1859, was the “Life of Washington.” He was buried on a hill overlooking the river and a portion of the Sleepy Hollow Valley.
Because of the ease and smoothness of his style, and his delicate sense of form, Irving delighted his own and succeeding generations of both his countrymen and his British cousins. All his work is pervaded by the strong and winning personal quality that brought him the love and admiration of all. Charles Dudley Warner says of him: “The author loved good women and little children and a pure life; he had faith in his fellow-men, a kindly sympathy with the lowest, without any subservience to the highest. His books are wholesome, full of sweetness and charm, of humor without any sting, of amusement without any stain; and their more solid qualities are marred by neither pedantry nor pretension."
RIP VAN WINKLE
A POSTHUMOUS WRITING OF DIEDRICH KNICKERBOCKER
FROM "THE SKETCH BOOK," BY WASHINGTON IRVING
By Woden, God of Saxons,
THE following tale was found among the papers of the late Diedrich Knickerbocker, an old gentleman of New York, who was very curious in tho Dutch history of the province, and the manners of the descend
ants from its primitive settlers. His historical researches, however, did not lie so much among books as among men; for the former are lamentably scanty on his favorite topics; whereas he found the old burghers, and still more their wives, rich in that legendary lore so invaluable to true history. Whenever, therefore, he happened upon a genuine Dutch family, snugly shut up in its low-roofed farmhouse under a spreading sycamore, he looked upon it as a little clasped volume of black-letter, and studied it with the zeal of a book worm.
The result of all these researches was a history of the province during the reign of the Dutch governors, which he published some years since. There have been various opinions as to the literary character of his work, and, to tell the truth, it is not a whit better than it should be. Its chief nierit is its scrupulous accuracy, which indeed was a little questioned on its first appearance, but has since been completely established; and it is now admitted into all historical collections, as a book of unquestionable authority.
The old gentleman died shortly after the publication of his work, and now that he is dead and gone, it cannot do much harm to his memory to say that his time might have been much better employed in weightier labors. He, however, was apt to ride his hobby his own way; and though it did now and then kick up the dust a little in the eyes of his neighbors, and grieve the spirit of some friends, for whom he felt the truest deference and affection; yet his errors and follies are remembered “more in sorrow than in anger,'' and it begins to be suspected that he never intended to injure or offend. But however his memory may be appreciated by critics, it is still held dear by many folk, whose good opinion is worth'having; particularly by certain biscuit-bakers, who have gone so far as to imprint his likeness on their new-year cakes; and have thus given him a chance for immortality, almost equal to the being stamped on a Waterloo Medal, or a Queen Anne's Farthing.
WHOEVER has made a voyage up the Hudson must remember the Kaatskill Mountains. They are a dismembered branch of the great Appalachian family, and are seen away to the west of
the river, swelling up to a noble height, and lording it over the 5 surrounding country. Every change of season, every change of
weather, indeed, every hour of the day, produces some change in the magical hues and shapes of these mountains, and they are regarded by all the good wives, far and near, as perfect barometers. When the weather is fair and settled, they are
clothed in blue and purple, and print their bold outlines on the clear evening sky; but sometimes when the rest of the landscape is cloudless they will gather a hood of gray vapors about
their summits, which, in the last rays of the setting sun, will 5 glow and light up like a crown of glory.
At the foot of these fairy mountains, the voyager may have descried the light smoke curling up from a village, whose shingleroofs gleam among the trees, just where the blue tints of the
upland melt away into the fresh green of the nearer landscape. 10 It is a little village of great antiquity, having been founded by
some of the Dutch colonists in the early time of the province, just about the beginning of the government of the good Peter Stuyvesant (may he rest in peace!), and there were some of
the houses of the original settlers standing within a few years, 15 built of small yellow bricks brought from Holland, having latticed windows and gable fronts, surmounted with weathercocks.
In that same village, and in one of these very houses (which, to tell the precise truth, was sadly time-worn and weather
beaten), there lived many years since, while the country was 20 yet a province of Great Britain, a simple, good-natured fellow,
of the name of Rip Van Winkle. He was a descendant of the Van Winkles who figured so gallantly in the chivalrous days of Peter Stuyvesant, and accompanied him to the siege of Fort
Christina. He inherited, however, but little of the martial 25 character of his ancestors. I have observed that he was a
simple, good-natured man; he was, moreover, a kind neighbor, and an obedient henpecked husband. Indeed, to the latter circumstance might be owing that meekness of spirit which gained
him such universal popularity; for those men are most apt to be 30 obsequious and conciliating abroad, who are under the discipline
of shrews at home. Their tempers, doubtless, are rendered pliant and malleable in the fiery furnace of domestic tribulation; and a curtain lecture is worth all the sermons in the world for teaching the virtues of patience and long-suffering. A terma