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I. BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF IRVING.
IF one were to search for a biographer for Oliver Goldsmith, no fitter person could be found than Washington Irving. Irving's wandering nature, his relish for humor and for satire, his kindliness of heart and loneliness of life, his love for children, his sympathy for the unfortunate, - all render him capable of entering into the life of the homeless man whose character he so feelingly delineates.
Washington Irving, the real pioneer of American literature, was born of strict Scotch and English ancestry, in New York, April 3, 1783. As a little child, he was led by his nurse to General Washington, whose name he bore and whose life he was destined to write. His schooling was meagre, not from the lack of opportunity, but because study was irksome and repugnant to his tastes. He seems even to have refused the proffered college education of which his brothers availed themselves. Fond of the drama, be often neglected studies and sleep to delight himself in the pleasures of the stage, and he read much, books of travel being his favorites.
At the age of sixteen he entered on the study of law; but while he succeeded in passing all requirements, the work was never congenial to him. The friendship he formed, however, with the family of Josiah Hoffman, an eminent attorney
in whose office he remained some time, was of a deep and life-long character. He was formally admitted to the bar after his return from a European tour ; but he seems never seriously to have entered on the practice of his profession,
though knowledge of law was of service to him in his subsequent diplomatic life.
When seventeen years of age, he made his first voyage up the Hudson. The country, then new and wild, had a witching effect on his imagination, which bore fruit in later years in the charming stories he has left of the enchanting Hudson River region. But he was frail and inclined toward pulmonary troubles ; so in 1804, when he was in his nineteenth year, his relatives decided to send him abroad for his health. He visited France, Italy, Sicily, and England, forming valuable acquaintances and filling his mind with the romance of Continental places. After two years spent in travel, with restored health he returned to New York to begin the career of a man of letters.
Irving had written a series of essays for his brother Peter's paper, “The Morni
“ The Morning Chronicle," before going abroad; but his literary life may be said to begin with the publication, in connection with his brother and James K. Paulding, of a satirical periodical which they called “Salmagundi.” It was modelled after the “Spectator," and was at once popular and successful. After running through twenty numbers, it was discontinued because of a misunderstanding with the publishers.
Then followed a period of indecision, clouded by an event that influenced his whole subsequent career. Miss Matilda Hoffman, the daughter of his law associate and the intended sharer of his life, died. He says, “ This affliction tended to throw some clouds into my disposition which have ever since hung about it.” He remained always true to this youthful ideal; and though he was fond of the society of good women, and though his home was shared by many of his female relatives, he never married.
His first important book, "Knickerbocker's History of New York," appeared in 1809. It was a kindly burlesque on the Dutch settlers of New York; and though some of their descendants were inclined to take offence at this fun-pro
voking, though in the main accurate, history, it became at once popular and raised Irving to the rank of literary men. For a few years, however, his industry was desultory. Though inclined toward literary work, he yielded to the allurements of society. He contributed to magazines and finally became the editor of the “Analectic Magazine.” The War of 1812, just at its close, drew him into political life. Joining the staff of Governor Tompkins, he went through northern New York, enjoying the travel more than the military experience into which he was thrown. The war closed four months after he entered the service.
In 1815 a sudden opportunity to travel was offered him. The following seventeen years were spent in England, France, and Spain. He made valuable acquaintances with such men as Byron, Scott, Campbell, Moore, Lamb, and Disraeli. He enjoyed the social life of the Old World, to which his growing literary reputation introduced him. And above all, he decided to devote his life uninterruptedly to literature. The “Sketch Book” was written in London and sent home, where it was published in 1819 and 1820. In 1829 he was made secretary of the American legation in London, and held the position for two years. This period of his life was fruitful in the storing of material for many delightful sketches and for some of his fascinating Spanish stories and histories.
On returning to New York in 1832, he found himself the idol of the people. He was fêted and was sought for all social and literary gatherings ; but he wearied of all this and longed for retirement and a home. Before settling down, however, he took another trip up the Hudson, then a journey into the broad West, making his travels memorable by his “ Tour on the Prairies.”
The romantic and beautiful section on the Hudson, a few miles above New York, had always been fascinating to him, and there, near “ Sleepy Hollow,” he bought, in 1835, an old Dutch stone cottage, which he transformed, with love and care, into a beautiful home-like place, at first called “Wolfert's Roost," afterward “Sunnyside,” by which name it has ever since been known.
In 1842 he was appointed minister to Spain. At Madrid he was busied in diplomatic work, often meeting royalty, and taking part with profound interest in the tragic scenes through which Spain was then passing. His pen was idle, though he travelled over the Continent whenever his health, which was very poor at the time, would allow. In the latter part of 1845 he resigned his official position and returned to his beloved Sunnyside. There he dwelt until the close of his life, surrounded by relatives and engaged in a revision of his complete works. His “Life of Washington was finished a short time before his death, which occurred November 28, 1859. During nine of these last years, he received in royalties on his revised works more than $85,000.
The closing years of Irving's life were serene and happy. In the midst of devoted relatives, honored as a man and as a writer, he enjoyed a well-earned peace. The man and his writings were one. He was genial, modest in the estimate of his powers, generous, pure, and lovable. Political life sought him, and almost any career would have opened to him. Yet he was not a politician but a literary man, not local in his interests but cosmopolitan ; he lived and wrote, not for his age alone, but for all admirers of what is best in literature.
II. IRVING'S GOLDSMITH. THE Life of Goldsmith was written when Irving was nearly seventy years of age. It bears the stamp of his finished style and mature judgment. It was the enlargement of a sketch made twenty-five years earlier. Various lives of Goldsmith had been written, but with the new and abundant material placed in his hands, Irving produced the one which has been most widely read.