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stir and some talk, and was a successful introduction to a literary
Two years later he made his position sure by the “History of New York, by Diedrich Knickerbocker.” 1 This book had an immediate success, and gave Irving a position as the first humorous writer in the country.
In spite of such a beginning, in spite also of the fact that he could not make anything of the law, Irving had no desire at this time to embrace literature as a profession. His brothers Peter and Ebenezer were about forming a partnership for business between England and America, and Washington was admitted to one-fifth interest. It was not a part of the plan that he should devote himself to commerce. But some years after the making of the partnership, namely in 1815, he took the opportunity of a journey abroad and, finding his brother Peter out of health, assumed charge of the English side of the business. Affairs were gloomy; the recent war with England had seriously embarrassed the firm, and, although Washington worked earnestly for two years, it was impossible to get free of difficulty. In 1818 the brothers Peter and Washington became bankrupt. His commercial duties having come to an unfortunate end, Irving turned his thoughts seriously to literature.
In 1819 he sent home four essays, to be published under the title of “The Sketch Book.” These were followed by others and published, first in seven separate numbers of three or four essays each, and afterwards (1820) in the form which we know. also republished in England. “The Sketch Book” was as successKnickerbocker"
," had been. It further secured Irving's position in America and extended his reputation in England. Irving now saw that he could readily support himself by his pen.” Feeling comfortable as to his future, he remained in England and France, publishing in 1822 “Bracebridge Hall,” and in 1824 “ Tales of a Traveller,” works of the same general character as “The Sketch Book.” In 1826 he went to Spain, and was at once fascinated by the character and the romantic history of the country. He plunged into studies on the life of Columbus and the conquest
1 For the details see p. 16.
almost $50,000, while the royalties on the 2 To anticipate a little, the English copy- American editions must have amounted to rights of the works written during the twelve a very handsome sum. years that he remained abroad brought him
of Granada. His friends often asked if he were never going to return to America; but much as he loved his country, he felt that there was so much to be done in Spain that he could not return at
He published his “Life and Voyages of Columbus” in 1828, his “Conquest of Granada” in 1829, his “Voyages of the Companions of Columbus” in 1831, and “The Alhambra" in 1832.
Of these works “The Alhambra” is a collection of pieces inspired by the ancient Moorish palace which gives the book its name; it has been called a “Spanish Sketch Book.” The others, however, were more serious works of history. “Knickerbocker” had been merely a jest. Irving turned now to history, or rather to biography, with a view of reviving the past by the power of the imagination. In this he succeeded. He is not regarded as a great historian, but his biographies have to a very high degree the power of giving life and color to what may so easily be a mere collection of dry fact.
In 1832 he returned to America, where his reputation had continually increased. He had been absent seventeen years. The country had changed much, and he looked about him a little before settling down. What seized most strongly upon his imagination was the great Western country now more and more being settled and explored. He made a Tour of the Prairies himself, and gave that title to an account of the journey published in 1835. In 1836 he published “Astoria,” an account of the exploits of the fur companies, which, under the direction of John Jacob Astor, had crossed the Rocky Mountains and made settlements on the Pacific slope. In 1837 he wrote an account of “The Adventures of Captain Bonneville,” an enterprising explorer of the same wild territory.
In 1836 he built “The Roost," as is told elsewhere (page 17), and by the end of the year he and his brother Peter were comfortably installed. He continued his literary work: he had already published in “Crayon Miscellany” sketches of “Abbotsford lits Master,” and “Newstead Abbey,” as well as “Legends of the Conquest of Spain.” He looked forward to writing the life of Washington, but in 1842, just as he had brought himself to a beginning, he was named Minister to Spain. The appointment
1 Sir Walter Scott had been a close friend to Irving.
was an honorable one, and he passed four years in the country to which he was so much attached.
He returned to America again in 1846, and from this time lived pleasantly at Sunnyside until his death, November 28, 1859. He began at once upon his “ Life of Washington,” but could not confine his attention to it. He busied himself in 1848 with a revised edition of his works; in 1849 he wrote his well-known “Life of Goldsmith "; in 1850, his “Mahomet and his Successors." In 1855 he collected a number of minor essays under the title “Wolfert's Roost.” Finally, in 1855, appeared the first volume of the “Life of Washington.” The second and third followed at short intervals, and the fourth in 1857. The fifth and last volume was produced with difficulty. Irving was in bad health and in a somewhat depressed state of mind. The last volume was published, and the work finished in May, 1859—only six months before his death.
II. IRVING'S PRESENTATION OF DUTCH CHARACTER.
We are apt to think of Irving as much for his presentation of Dutch life and character in America as for anything else. Diedrich Knickerbocker, Rip Van Winkle, Sleepy Hollow—these are more familiar names to us than Geoffrey Crayon, Captain Bonneville, or even the Alhambra. And yet it cannot be said that Irving has given us a good conception of the Dutch character. Even on the appearance of Knickerbocker's “New York,” there were not a few who were vexed at the character of the Dutch that was there presented, although it was all in fun.' Irving himself always regarded it as no more than a joke.
The fact is that Irving knew nothing of the true character of the Dutch. When he wrote “Knickerbocker” he had in mind a conventionally humorous conception of the Dutchman as a stout, stolid, slow, stupid creature who smoked a great deal of tobacco and wore several pair of loose trousers, whose wife had a passion for cleanliness and housekeeping and wore a great many petti
1 Mr. Gulian Verplanck, a distinguished is to this paper that Irving alludes in the reman of letters of his day, commented se- marks at the end of his introduction to “Rip verely on Irving's picture in a paper read Van Winkle," written soon after (p. 86). before the New York Historical Society. It
coats. He did not trouble himself to think whether the picture were correct or not; in fact, he had not the means of gaining the true conception. He used the common notion as a means for making good-humored fun. And almost any one would admit that, although the Dutch character is presented to us by Irving as nothing very great or splendid, yet it is surrounded with an atmosphere of joviality and good feeling which brings it very near to us.
Still Irving wholly neglected the fine side of the Dutch character of that day. At the time of the Dutch rule in New York, the United Provinces (the name of Holland at that time) were one of the distinguished nations of Europe. They had just vindicated their right to national existence in a terrible war for independence against Spain, the greatest power in Europe. They were using their newly acquired independence to become themselves the chief naval and commercial power of Europe, as will be seer later (page 12). Nor were they a nation of traders and sailors only. During the seventeenth century they had one of the worlá’s great painters, Rembrandt ; one of the world's great philosophers, Spinoza; one of the greatest jurists of modern times, Flugo Grotius; the greatest scholar of his day, Salmasius; one of the greatest scientists, Huygens; one of the great kings of history, William of Orange, afterwards William III. of England, besides a perfect host of lesser distinguished men. In patriotism, in statesmanship, in learning, in art, in commerce, in war, and in all these directions at once, the Dutch of the seventeenth century will stand a comparison with any nation of Europe of their time. It is idle to imagine that such men were merely fat, pipe - smoking, schnapps-drinking creatures, more stolid than oxen,
and more stupid than asses.'
It is true that the Dutch of the New Netherlands were not wholly representative of the mother country. The Dutch did not throw their whole spirit into the colonization of New York. It is
i The teacher who desires to know a lit- Dutch, vol. i., pp. 216–228, and elsewhere in tle more of the Dutch will do well to read his book. But Mr. Campbell is not a very Taine : “ Art in the Netherlands," chap. iii. accurate writer. He says that Irving acDouglas Campbell : “The Puritan in Hol- knowledged Knickerbocker to be a land, England, and America ” speaks of caricature." I think this is an error : the Irving's characterization, p. xliv. Mr. expression was used by Verplanck in the Campbell draws a brilliant picture of the address mentioned above.
true that New Amsterdam was at first but a trading station, and that it never really presented the full power of Dutch character. Yet we must not imagine that the Dutch element in American life
merely sunk below the sur-
alive existence, such
unwise commercial regu-
not allowed self
government; they suffered Stony Pt.
from incompetent directors
sent out from Holland by Sing Sing
a company which at first
was far too intent on gain.
The Dutch in New York
development which the New
Englanders enjoyed. But
did have, their national
power shows forth to some
degree at least, and the
great State which they
Let us remember, then,
that what Irving says of Flatbush
Dutch character is largely
made up out of his own head. When he wrote “Knickerbocker” he was a young man writing for his own amusement and that of the public. He had no idea that he was writing anything that would endure and be criticised a hundred years after he had written it.
And, after all, the chief charm of Irving's pictures of the old
Visi and sd.