Washington Irving

WASHINGTON IRVING was born in the city of New York, April 3, 1783, in which place his father, William Irving, had been settled as a merchant some twenty years. After receiving an ordinary school education, at the age of sixteen, he commenced the study of the law. Three years later he contributed, under the signature of Jonathan Oldstyle, a series of letters to the Morning Chronicle,' a newspaper of which his brother, Peter Irving, was editor. These juvenile essays attracted much notice at the time, were extensively copied by other journals, and in 1823 or 1824 were collected and published without the sanction of the author. In 1804, in consequence of ill health, he sailed for Bordeaux on a visit to Europe, and traveled through the south of France to Nice, where he took a felucca to Genoa, in which city he remained some two months. He then went by sea to Sicily, made the tour of the island, crossed from Palermo to Naples, passed through Italy, meeting Allston at Rome, who strongly recommended his devoting himself to art, thence over the St. Gothard, through Switzer land to Paris, where he remained several months. He then went to Holland, whence he embarked for England, where he spent part of the autumn, and returned to New York in March, 1806, completely restored to health. He again resumed the study of the law, and was admitted to the bar in November of that year, but never practiced. Shortly after he took the chief part in Salmagundi,' the first number of which appeared in January, 1807, and the last in January, 1808. In December the following year, he published his Knickerbocker's History of New York.' In 1810, two of his brothers, who were engaged in commercial business, one being at the head of the establishment in New York, and the other in Liverpool, gave him an interest in the concern, with the understanding that he was not to enter into the duties and details of the business, but pursue his literary avocations. During the war with Great Britain, in 1813-14, he edited the Analectic Magazine,' and in the fall of the latter year, joined the military staff of the governor of the state of New York, as aid-de-camp, and military secretary, with the title of colonel. On the close of the war, May, 1815, he embarked for Liverpool, with the intention of making a second tour of Europe, but was prevented by the sudden and great reverses which followed the return of peace, overwhelming, after a struggle of two or three years, in which Mr. Irving took an active part to avert the catastrophe, the house in which his brothers had given him an interest, and involving him in its ruin. In 1818, he determined to try his pen as a means of support, and commenced the papers of the SketchBook,' which were transmitted piecemeal from London, where be resided, to New York for publication. Three or four numbers were thus published, when, finding that they attracted notice in England, he had them published in a volume, February, 1820, by Mr. John Miller; but he failing shortly after, the work was transferred to Mr. Murray, with a second volume, published in July of that year. Mr. Murray had bought the copyright for L200, but its success far surpassing his expectations, he sent Mr. Irving, of his own accord, first L100, and the sale still increasing, an additional L100. After a residence of five years in England, Mr. Irving removed to Paris in August, 1820, and remained there till July of the following year, when he returned to England and published his Bracebridge in London and New York in May, 1822. The following winter he passed in Dresden, returned to Paris in 1823, and crossed to London in May, 1824, to publish his Tales of a Traveler,' which appeared in August of that year in two volumes, and in four parts in New York. In August, he returned to Paris, and in the autumn of 1825, visited the south of France, spending part of the winter in Bordeaux. In February, 1826, he left that city for Madrid, where he remained two years. Here he wrote the life of Columbus,' which appeared in 1828. In the spring of 1828, he left Madrid on a tour to the south of Spain, visiting Granada and the main points mentioned in the Chronicles of the Conquest of Granada, by Fray Agapida,' of which he had made a rough sketch. This he prepared for the press at Seville, and transmitted to London and New York for publication; it appeared in 1829. In the spring of this year he again visited Granada, and resided some three months in the Alhambra, where he collected materials for the work published under that name in 1832. In July he went to England, being appointed secretary of legation to the American embassy in London, which office he held until the return of Mr. M'Lane in 1831, when, after remaining a few months as charge, he resigned, on the arrival of Mr. Van Buren. While in England, in 1830, Mr. Irving received one of the fifty-guinea gold-medals, provided by George IV, for eminence in historical composition; the other was awarded to Mr. Hallam, the historian. In 1831, the university of Oxford conferred on Mr. Irving the degree of LL.D. In the spring of 1832, he returned to New York, after an absence of seventeen years. His return was greeted on all hands with the warmest enthusiasm; a public dinner was given to him, at which Chancellor Kent presided; and similar testimonials were offered in other cities, but which he declined. In the summer of this year he accompanied Mr. Ellsworth, one of the commissioners for removing the Indian tribes west of the Mississippi, and whom he had met on a tour to the west, on his expedition. The most interesting portion of this journey has appeared in the Tour on the Prairies,' published in 1835.