Washington Irving (April 3, 1783 – November 28, 1859) was an American short-story writer, essayist, biographer, historian, and diplomat of the early 19th century. He is best known for his short stories "
Rip Van Winkle ''Rip Van Winkle'' statue in Irvington, New York (a town named for Washington Irving), not far from the Tarrytown, New York">Tarrytown Tarrytown is a administrative divisions of New York#Village, village in the administrative divisions of New ...
" (1819) and "
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is a gothic story by American author Washington Irving Washington Irving (April 3, 1783 – November 28, 1859) was an American short-story writer, essayist, biographer, historian, and diplomat of the early 19th ...
" (1820), both of which appear in his collection '' The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.'' His historical works include biographies of
Oliver Goldsmith Oliver Goldsmith (10 November 1728 – 4 April 1774) was an Anglo-Irish Anglo-Irish () is a term which was more commonly used in the 19th and early 20th centuries to identify an ethnic group An ethnic group or ethnicity is a grouping of p ...

Oliver Goldsmith
Muhammad Muhammad ibn AbdullahHe is referred to by many appellations, including Messenger of Allah, The Prophet Muhammad, Allah's Apostle, Last Prophet of Islam, and others; there are also many variant spellings of Muhammad, such as Mohamet, Mohammed, ...

George Washington George Washington (February 22, 1732, 1799) was an American soldier, statesman, and Founding Father The following list of national founding figures is a record, by country, of people who were credited with establishing a state. Natio ...

George Washington
, as well as several histories of 15th-century Spain that deal with subjects such as
Alhambra The Alhambra (, ; ar, الْحَمْرَاء, Al-Ḥamrāʾ, , ) is a palace and fortress complex located in Granada Granada ( , ,, DIN 31635, DIN: ; grc, Ἐλιβύργη, Elibýrgē; la, Illiberis or . ) is the capital city of the provi ...

Christopher Columbus Christopher Columbus * lij, Cristoffa C(or)ombo * es, Cristóbal Colón * pt, Cristóvão Colombo * ca, Cristòfor (or ) * la, Christophorus Columbus. (; born between 25 August and 31 October 1451, died 20 May 1506) was an Italian ...

Christopher Columbus
and the
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. Irving served as American ambassador to Spain in the 1840s. Born and raised in
Manhattan Manhattan (), known regionally as ''The City'', is the most densely populated and geographically smallest of the five boroughs 5 is a number, numeral, and glyph. 5, five or number 5 may also refer to: * AD 5, the fifth year of the AD era ...

to a merchant family, Irving made his literary debut in 1802 with a series of observational letters to the ''Morning Chronicle'', written under the pseudonym Jonathan Oldstyle. He temporarily moved to England for the family business in 1815 where he achieved fame with the publication of ''The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.'', serialized from 1819–20. He continued to publish regularly throughout his life, and he completed a five-volume biography of George Washington just eight months before his death at age 76 in
Tarrytown, New York Tarrytown is a administrative divisions of New York#Village, village in the administrative divisions of New York#Town, town of Greenburgh, New York, Greenburgh in Westchester County, New York, United States. It is located on the eastern bank of ...
. Irving was one of the first American writers to earn acclaim in Europe, and he encouraged other American authors such as
Nathaniel Hawthorne Nathaniel Hawthorne (July 4, 1804 – May 19, 1864) was an American novelist, dark romantic, and short story writer. His works often focus on history, morality, and religion. He was born in 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts Salem ( ) is a historic c ...

Nathaniel Hawthorne
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (February 27, 1807 – March 24, 1882) was an American poet and educator whose works include "", ', and '. He was the first American to translate 's ' and was one of the from New England. Longfellow was born in , w ...

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Herman Melville Herman Melville (Name change, born Melvill; August 1, 1819 – September 28, 1891) was an American novelist, short story writer, and poet of the American Renaissance (literature), American Renaissance period. Among his best-known works are ...

Herman Melville
Edgar Allan Poe Edgar Allan Poe (; born Edgar Poe; January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849) was an American writer, poet, editor, and literary criticism, literary critic. Poe is best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and ...

Edgar Allan Poe
. He was also admired by some British writers, including
Lord Byron George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, ( el, Λόρδος Βύρωνας, translit=Lórdos Výronas, translit-std=ISO; 22 January 1788 – 19 April 1824), simply known as Lord Byron, was an English poet and peer Peer may refer to: Socio ...

Lord Byron
Thomas CampbellThomas Campbell may refer to: Arts and entertainment * Thomas Campbell (poet) (1777–1844), Scottish poet * Thomas Campbell (sculptor) (1790–1858), Scottish sculptor * Thomas Campbell (visual artist) (born 1969), California-based visual artist ...
Charles Dickens Charles John Huffam Dickens (; 7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870) was an English writer and social critic. He created some of the world's best-known fictional characters and is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian e ...

Charles Dickens
Mary Shelley Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (, ; ; 30 August 1797 – 1 February 1851) was an English novelist who wrote the Gothic fiction, Gothic novel ''Frankenstein, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus'' (1818), which is considered an History of sci ...
Francis Jeffrey File:22 to 24 Moray Place Edinburgh.JPG, 22 to 24 Moray Place Edinburgh. 24, to the left, was the home of Lord Jeffrey Francis Jeffrey, Lord Jeffrey (23 October 1773 – 26 January 1850) was a Scottish judge and literary critic. Life He was ...
Walter Scott Sir Walter Scott, 1st Baronet (15 August 1771 – 21 September 1832), was a Scottish historical novelist, poet, playwright and historian. Many of his works remain classics of European and Scottish literature Scottish literature is literatu ...

Walter Scott
. He advocated for writing as a legitimate profession and argued for stronger laws to protect American writers from copyright infringement.


Early years

Washington Irving's parents were William Irving Sr., originally of
Quholm Quholm () is a hamlet ''The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark'', often shortened to ''Hamlet'' (), is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (baptism, bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English pla ...
Shapinsay Shapinsay ( sco, Shapinsee) is one of the Orkney, Orkney Islands off the north coast of mainland Scotland. There is one village on the island, Balfour, Orkney, Balfour, from which Roll-on/roll-off, roll-on/roll-off car ferries sail to Kirkwall ...
Orkney Orkney (; sco, Orkney; on, Orkneyjar; nrn, Orknøjar), also known as the Orkney Islands, is an archipelago An archipelago ( ), sometimes called an island group or island chain, is a chain, cluster or collection of island A ...

, Scotland, and Sarah (née Saunders), originally of
Falmouth, Cornwall Falmouth ( ; kw, Aberfala) is a town, civil parish and port on the River Fal on the south coast of Cornwall, England, United Kingdom. It has a total resident population of 21,797 (2011 census). Etymology The name Falmouth is of English lan ...
, England. They married in 1761 while William was serving as a petty officer in the British Navy. They had eleven children, eight of whom survived to adulthood. Their first two sons died in infancy, both named William, as did their fourth child John. Their surviving children were William Jr. (1766), Ann (1770),
Peter Peter may refer to: People * List of people named Peter, a list of people and fictional characters with the given name * Peter (given name) ** Saint Peter (died 60s), apostle of Jesus, leader of the early Christian Church * Peter (surname), a sur ...
(1771), Catherine (1774), Ebenezer (1776), John Treat (1778), Sarah (1780), and Washington.Burstein, 7. The Irving family settled in Manhattan, and were part of the city's merchant class. Washington was born on April 3, 1783, the same week that New York City residents learned of the British ceasefire which ended the
American Revolution The American Revolution was an ideological and political revolution which occurred in colonial North America between 1765 and 1783. The Americans in the Thirteen Colonies The Thirteen Colonies, also known as the Thirteen British Colo ...
. Irving's mother named him after George Washington. Irving met his namesake at age 6 when George Washington was living in New York after his inauguration as President in 1789. The President blessed young Irving, an encounter that Irving had commemorated in a small watercolor painting which continues to hang in his home. The Irvings lived at 131 William Street at the time of Washington's birth, but they later moved across the street to 128 William St. Several of Irving's brothers became active New York merchants; they encouraged his literary aspirations, often supporting him financially as he pursued his writing career. Irving was an uninterested student who preferred adventure stories and drama, and he regularly sneaked out of class in the evenings to attend the theater by the time he was 14. An outbreak of
yellow fever Yellow fever is a viral disease of typically short duration. In most cases, symptoms include fever Fever, also referred to as pyrexia, is defined as having a above the due to an increase in the body's temperature . There is not a singl ...
in Manhattan in 1798 prompted his family to send him upriver, where he stayed with his friend
James Kirke Paulding James Kirke Paulding (August 22, 1778 – April 6, 1860) was an American writer and, for a time, the United States Secretary of the Navy. Paulding 's early writings were satirical and violently anti-British, as shown in ''The Diverting History of ...

James Kirke Paulding
Tarrytown, New York Tarrytown is a administrative divisions of New York#Village, village in the administrative divisions of New York#Town, town of Greenburgh, New York, Greenburgh in Westchester County, New York, United States. It is located on the eastern bank of ...
. It was in Tarrytown he became familiar with the nearby town of
Sleepy Hollow, New York Sleepy Hollow is a village in the town of Mount Pleasant, New York, Mount Pleasant, in Westchester County, New York, United States. The village is located on the east bank of the Hudson River, approximately north of New York City, and is served ...
, with its Dutch customs and local ghost stories. He made several other trips up the Hudson as a teenager, including an extended visit to
Johnstown, New York Johnstown is a city A city is a large human settlement.Goodall, B. (1987) ''The Penguin Dictionary of Human Geography''. London: Penguin.Kuper, A. and Kuper, J., eds (1996) ''The Social Science Encyclopedia''. 2nd edition. London: Routledge. It ...
where he passed through the
Catskill Mountains The Catskill Mountains, also known as the Catskills, are a Physiographic regions of the world, physiographic province of the larger Appalachian Mountains, located in southeastern New York (state), New York. As a cultural and geographic region, ...
region, the setting for "
Rip Van Winkle ''Rip Van Winkle'' statue in Irvington, New York (a town named for Washington Irving), not far from the Tarrytown, New York">Tarrytown Tarrytown is a administrative divisions of New York#Village, village in the administrative divisions of New ...
". "Of all the scenery of the Hudson", Irving wrote, "the Kaatskill Mountains had the most witching effect on my boyish imagination". Irving began writing letters to the New York ''Morning Chronicle'' in 1802 when he was 19, submitting commentaries on the city's social and theater scene under the pseudonym Jonathan Oldstyle. The name evoked his
Federalist The term ''federalist'' describes several political beliefs around the world. It may also refer to the concept of parties, whose members or supporters called themselves ''Federalists''.http://m-w.com/dictionary/federalist. History Europe In E ...
leanings and was the first of many pseudonyms he employed throughout his career. The letters bought Irving some early fame and moderate notoriety.
Aaron Burr Aaron Burr Jr. (February 6, 1756 – September 14, 1836) was an American politician and lawyer. He served as the third vice president of the United States during President Thomas Jefferson's first term from 1801 to 1805. Burr's legacy is defin ...

Aaron Burr
was a co-publisher of the ''Chronicle'', and was impressed enough to send clippings of the Oldstyle pieces to his daughter Theodosia.
Charles Brockden Brown Charles Brockden Brown (January 17, 1771 – February 22, 1810) was an American novelist, historian, and editor "Quarters of the news editor", one of a group of four photos in the 1900 The Seattle Daily Times—Editorial Department".">The ...

Charles Brockden Brown
made a trip to New York to try to recruit Oldstyle for a literary magazine he was editing in Philadelphia. Concerned for his health, Irving's brothers financed an extended tour of Europe from 1804 to 1806. He bypassed most of the sites and locations considered essential for the social development of a young man, to the dismay of his brother William who wrote that he was pleased that his brother's health was improving, but he did not like the choice to "''gallop through Italy''… leaving Florence on your left and Venice on your right".Burstein, 43. Instead, Irving honed the social and conversational skills that eventually made him one of the world's most in-demand guests. "I endeavor to take things as they come with cheerfulness", Irving wrote, "and when I cannot get a dinner to suit my taste, I endeavor to get a taste to suit my dinner". While visiting Rome in 1805, Irving struck up a friendship with painter
Washington Allston Washington Allston (November 5, 1779 – July 9, 1843) was an American painter and poet A poet is a person who creates poetry. Poets may describe themselves as such or be described as such by others. A poet may simply be a writer of poet ...
and was almost persuaded into a career as a painter. "My lot in life, however, was differently cast".

First major writings

Irving returned from Europe to study law with his legal mentor Judge
Josiah Ogden Hoffman Josiah Ogden Hoffman (April 14, 1766 – January 24, 1837 in New York City) was an American lawyer and politician. Early life Josiah Ogden Hoffman was born on April 14, 1766, in Newark, New Jersey, the son of Nicholas Hoffman (1736–1800) and Sa ...

Josiah Ogden Hoffman
in New York City. By his own admission, he was not a good student and barely passed the bar examination in 1806. He began socializing with a group of literate young men whom he dubbed "The Lads of Kilkenny", and he created the literary magazine ''
Salmagundi Salmagundi (sometimes abbreviated as salmi) is a dish of seasoned meats, stewed with vegetables. Salad "Salmagundi is more of a concept than a recipe. Essentially, it is a large composed salad that incorporates meat, seafood, cooked vegetable ...
'' in January 1807 with his brother William and his friend James Kirke Paulding, writing under various pseudonyms, such as William Wizard and Launcelot Langstaff. Irving lampooned New York culture and politics in a manner similar to the 20th century ''Mad'' magazine. ''Salmagundi'' was a moderate success, spreading Irving's name and reputation beyond New York. He gave New York City the nickname "Gotham" in its 17th issue dated November 11, 1807, an Anglo-Saxon word meaning "Goat's Town". Irving completed '' A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker'' (1809) while mourning the death of his 17-year-old fiancée Matilda Hoffman. It was his first major book and a satire on self-important local history and contemporary politics. Before its publication, Irving started a hoax by placing a series of missing person advertisements in New York newspapers seeking information on
Diedrich Knickerbocker Diedrich Knickerbocker is an American literary character who originated from Washington Irving's first novel, ''A History of New York, A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker ...

Diedrich Knickerbocker
, a crusty Dutch historian who had allegedly gone missing from his hotel in New York City. As part of the ruse, he placed a notice from the hotel's proprietor informing readers that, if Mr. Knickerbocker failed to return to the hotel to pay his bill, he would publish a manuscript that Knickerbocker had left behind. Unsuspecting readers followed the story of Knickerbocker and his manuscript with interest, and some New York city officials were concerned enough about the missing historian to offer a reward for his safe return. Irving then published ''A History of New York'' on December 6, 1809 under the Knickerbocker pseudonym, with immediate critical and popular success. "It took with the public", Irving remarked, "and gave me celebrity, as an original work was something remarkable and uncommon in America". The name Diedrich Knickerbocker became a nickname for Manhattan residents in general and was adopted by the
New York Knickerbockers The New York Knickerbockers were one of the first organized baseball Baseball is a bat-and-ball games, bat-and-ball game played between two opposing teams who take turns batting (baseball), batting and fielding. The game proceeds when ...
basketball team. After the success of ''A History of New York'', Irving searched for a job and eventually became an editor of ''
Analectic Magazine The ''Analectic Magazine'' (1813–1820) was published in Philadelphia by Moses Thomas, and later, by James Maxwell. Washington Irving served as editor 1813-1814. The magazine was described as "comprising original reviews, biography, analytical ...
'', where he wrote biographies of naval heroes such as
James Lawrence James Lawrence (October 1, 1781 – June 4, 1813) was an officer of the United States Navy ), (unofficial)."''Non sibi sed patriae''" ( en, "Not for self but for country") (unofficial). , colors = Blue and gold  , colors_label = Co ...
Oliver Perry Oliver Hazard Perry (August 23, 1785 – August 23, 1819) was an American naval commander, born in South Kingstown, Rhode Island. As the best-known and most prominent member of the Perry family naval dynasty, he was the son of Sarah Wallace Alex ...
. He was also among the first magazine editors to reprint
Francis Scott Key Francis Scott Key (August 1, 1779January 11, 1843) was an American lawyer, author, and amateur poet from Frederick, Maryland Frederick is a city in and the county seat A county seat is an administrative center, seat of government, or capit ...

Francis Scott Key
's poem "Defense of
Fort McHenry Fort McHenry is a historical American coastal The coast, also known as the coastline or seashore, is defined as the area where land meets the ocean The ocean (also the sea The sea, connected as the world ocean or simply the oc ...

Fort McHenry
", which was immortalized as "
The Star-Spangled Banner "The Star-Spangled Banner" is the national anthem of the United States. The lyrics come from the "Defence of Fort M'Henry", a poem written on September 14, 1814, by 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key after witnessing the bo ...
". Irving initially opposed the
War of 1812 The War of 1812 (18 June 1812 – 17 February 1815) was a conflict fought by the United States of America The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country in . It ...
like many other merchants, but the British attack on Washington, D.C. in 1814 convinced him to enlist. He served on the staff of Daniel Tompkins, governor of New York and commander of the New York State Militia, but he saw no real action apart from a reconnaissance mission in the Great Lakes region. The war was disastrous for many American merchants, including Irving's family, and he left for England in mid-1815 to salvage the family trading company. He remained in Europe for the next 17 years.

Life in Europe

''The Sketch Book''

Irving spent the next two years trying to bail out the family firm financially but eventually had to declare bankruptcy. With no job prospects, he continued writing throughout 1817 and 1818. In the summer of 1817, he visited
Walter Scott Sir Walter Scott, 1st Baronet (15 August 1771 – 21 September 1832), was a Scottish historical novelist, poet, playwright and historian. Many of his works remain classics of European and Scottish literature Scottish literature is literatu ...

Walter Scott
, beginning a lifelong personal and professional friendship. Irving composed the short story "Rip Van Winkle" overnight while staying with his sister Sarah and her husband, Henry van Wart in
Birmingham, England Birmingham ( ) is a city A city is a large .Goodall, B. (1987) ''The Penguin Dictionary of Human Geography''. London: Penguin.Kuper, A. and Kuper, J., eds (1996) ''The Social Science Encyclopedia''. 2nd edition. London: Routledge. It can ...

Birmingham, England
, a place that inspired other works, as well. In October 1818, Irving's brother William secured for Irving a post as chief clerk to the United States Navy and urged him to return home. Irving turned the offer down, opting to stay in England to pursue a writing career. In the spring of 1819, Irving sent to his brother Ebenezer in New York a set of short prose pieces that he asked be published as '' The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.'' The first installment, containing "Rip Van Winkle", was an enormous success, and the rest of the work would be equally successful; it was issued in 1819–1820 in seven installments in New York, and in two volumes in London ("The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" would appear in the sixth issue of the New York edition, and the second volume of the London edition). Like many successful authors of this era, Irving struggled against literary bootleggers. In England, some of his sketches were reprinted in periodicals without his permission, a legal practice as there was no international copyright law at the time. To prevent further piracy in Britain, Irving paid to have the first four American installments published as a single volume by John Miller in London. Irving appealed to Walter Scott for help procuring a more reputable publisher for the remainder of the book. Scott referred Irving to his own publisher, London powerhouse
John MurrayJohn Murray or John Murry may refer to: Arts and media Literature and music *John Murray (publishing house), a British publishing house, founded by John Murray (1745–1793) *John Murray (publisher, born 1778) (died 1843), second head of the pub ...
, who agreed to take on ''The Sketch Book''. From then on, Irving would publish concurrently in the United States and Britain to protect his copyright, with Murray as his English publisher of choice. Irving's reputation soared, and for the next two years, he led an active social life in Paris and Great Britain, where he was often feted as an anomaly of literature: an upstart American who dared to write English well.

''Bracebridge Hall'' and ''Tales of a Traveller''

With both Irving and publisher John Murray eager to follow up on the success of ''The Sketch Book'', Irving spent much of 1821 travelling in Europe in search of new material, reading widely in Dutch and German folk tales. Hampered by writer's block—and depressed by the death of his brother William—Irving worked slowly, finally delivering a completed manuscript to Murray in March 1822. The book, ''Bracebridge Hall, or The Humorists, A Medley'' (the location was based loosely on
Aston Hall Aston Hall is a Listed building, Grade I listed Jacobean architecture, Jacobean house in Aston, Birmingham, England, designed by John Thorpe and built between 1618 and 1635. It is a leading example of the Jacobean prodigy house. In 1864, the ho ...

Aston Hall
, occupied by members of the Bracebridge family, near his sister's home in Birmingham) was published in June 1822. The format of ''Bracebridge'' was similar to that of ''The Sketch Book'', with Irving, as Crayon, narrating a series of more than 50 loosely connected short stories and essays. While some reviewers thought ''Bracebridge'' to be a lesser imitation of ''The Sketch Book'', the book was well-received by readers and critics. "We have received so much pleasure from this book", wrote critic Francis Jeffrey in the ''Edinburgh Review'', "that we think ourselves bound in gratitude... to make a public acknowledgement of it." Irving was relieved at its reception, which did much to cement his reputation with European readers. Still struggling with writer's block, Irving traveled to Germany, settling in
Dresden Dresden (, ; wen, label=Sorbian languages, Upper and Lower Sorbian, Drježdźany) is the capital city of the Germany, German States of Germany, state of Saxony and its second most populous city, after Leipzig. It is the List of cities in German ...

in the winter of 1822. Here he dazzled the royal family and attached himself to Amelia Foster, an American living in Dresden with her five children. Irving was particularly attracted to Foster's 18-year-old daughter Emily and vied in frustration for her hand. Emily finally refused his offer of marriage in the spring of 1823. He returned to Paris and began collaborating with playwright
John Howard Payne John Howard Payne (June 9, 1791 – April 10, 1852) was an American actor, poet, playwright, and author who had nearly two decades of a theatrical career and success in London London is the capital city, capital and List of urban areas in ...

John Howard Payne
on translations of French plays for the English stage, with little success. He also learned through Payne that the novelist
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (, ; ; 30 August 1797 – 1 February 1851) was an English novelist who wrote the Gothic novel '' Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus'' (1818), which is considered an early example of science fiction. She als ...
was romantically interested in him, though Irving never pursued the relationship. In August 1824, Irving published the collection of essays '' Tales of a Traveller''—including the short story " The Devil and Tom Walker"—under his Geoffrey Crayon persona. "I think there are in it some of the best things I have ever written", Irving told his sister. But while the book sold respectably, ''Traveller'' was dismissed by critics, who panned both ''Traveller'' and its author. "The public have been led to expect better things", wrote the ''United States Literary Gazette'', while the ''New-York Mirror'' pronounced Irving "overrated". Hurt and depressed by the book's reception, Irving retreated to Paris where he spent the next year worrying about finances and scribbling down ideas for projects that never materialized.

Spanish books

While in Paris, Irving received a letter from
Alexander Hill Everett Alexander Hill Everett (March 19, 1792 – June 28, 1847) was an American diplomatist, politician, and Boston Boston (, ), officially the City of Boston, is the capital city, capital and List of municipalities in Massachusetts, most populous c ...

Alexander Hill Everett
on January 30, 1826. Everett, recently the American Minister to Spain, urged Irving to join him in Madrid, noting that a number of manuscripts dealing with the Spanish conquest of the Americas had recently been made public. Irving left for Madrid and enthusiastically began scouring the Spanish archives for colorful material. With full access to the American consul's massive library of Spanish history, Irving began working on several books at once. The first offspring of this hard work, '' A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus'', was published in January 1828. The book was popular in the United States and in Europe and would have 175 editions published before the end of the century. It was also the first project of Irving's to be published with his own name, instead of a pseudonym, on the title page. Irving was invited to stay at the palace of the
Duke of Gor Duke of Gor ( es, Duque de Gor) is an hereditary title in the Spanish nobility, peerage of Spain, accompanied by the dignity of Grandee, and granted in 1803 by Charles IV of Spain, Charles IV to Nicolás Mauricio Álvarez de las Asturias Bohorques ...
, who gave him unfettered access to his library containing many medieval manuscripts.'' Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada'' was published a year later, followed by ''Voyages and Discoveries of the Companions of Columbus'' in 1831. Irving's writings on Columbus are a mixture of history and fiction, a genre now called romantic history. Irving based them on extensive research in the Spanish archives, but also added imaginative elements aimed at sharpening the story. The first of these works is the source of the durable myth that medieval Europeans believed the Earth was flat. According to the popular book, Columbus proved the Earth was round. In 1829, Irving was elected to the
American Philosophical Society The American Philosophical Society (APS), founded in 1743 in Philadelphia Philadelphia (colloquially known simply as Philly) is the largest city in the Commonwealth A commonwealth is a traditional English term for a political community ...
. That same year, he moved into Granada's ancient palace Alhambra, "determined to linger here", he said, "until I get some writings under way connected with the place". Before he could get any significant writing underway, however, he was notified of his appointment as Secretary to the American Legation in London. Worried he would disappoint friends and family if he refused the position, Irving left Spain for England in July 1829.

Secretary to the American legation in London

Arriving in London, Irving joined the staff of American Minister
Louis McLane Louis McLane (May 28, 1786 – October 7, 1857) was an American lawyer and politician from Wilmington, in New Castle County, Delaware, and Baltimore, Maryland. He was a veteran of the War of 1812 War is an intense armed conflict between ...
. McLane immediately assigned the daily secretary work to another man and tapped Irving to fill the role of aide-de-camp. The two worked over the next year to negotiate a trade agreement between the United States and the
British West Indies The British West Indies, sometimes abbreviated to the BWI, is a collective term for the British territories The British Overseas Territories (BOTs), also known as United Kingdom Overseas Territories (UKOTs), are fourteen dependent territo ...
, finally reaching a deal in August 1830. That same year, Irving was awarded a medal by the Royal Society of Literature, followed by an honorary doctorate of civil law from Oxford in 1831. Following McLane's recall to the United States in 1831 to serve as Secretary of Treasury, Irving stayed on as the legation's chargé d'affaires until the arrival of
Martin Van Buren Martin Van Buren ( ; born Maarten van Buren (); December 5, 1782 – July 24, 1862) was an American lawyer and statesman who served as the 8th president of the United States The president of the United States (POTUS) is the and of t ...

Martin Van Buren
, President
Andrew Jackson Andrew Jackson (March 15, 1767 – June 8, 1845) was an American lawyer, soldier, and statesman who served as the seventh president of the United States The president of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state and head of ...

Andrew Jackson
's nominee for British Minister. With Van Buren in place, Irving resigned his post to concentrate on writing, eventually completing '' Tales of the Alhambra'', which would be published concurrently in the United States and England in 1832. Irving was still in London when Van Buren received word that the United States Senate had refused to confirm him as the new Minister. Consoling Van Buren, Irving predicted that the Senate's partisan move would backfire. "I should not be surprised", Irving said, "if this vote of the Senate goes far toward elevating him to the presidential chair".

Return to the United States

Irving arrived in New York on May 21, 1832, after 17 years abroad. That September, he accompanied Commissioner on Indian Affairs
Henry Leavitt Ellsworth Henry Leavitt Ellsworth (November 10, 1791 – December 27, 1858) was a Yale-educated attorney who became the first Commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office, where he encouraged innovation by inventors Samuel F.B. Morse and Samuel Colt. Ellswor ...
on a surveying mission, along with companions
Charles La Trobe Charles Joseph La Trobe, CB (20 March 18014 December 1875), commonly Latrobe, was appointed in 1839 superintendent of the Port Phillip District The Port Phillip District was a historical administrative division of the Colony of New South Wal ...
and Count Albert-Alexandre de Pourtales, and they traveled deep into
Indian Territory The Indian Territory and the Indian Territories are terms that generally described an evolving land area set aside by the United States Government The federal government of the United States (U.S. federal government or U.S. governmen ...
(now the state of Oklahoma). At the completion of his western tour, Irving traveled through Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, where he became acquainted with politician and novelist . Irving was frustrated by bad investments, so he turned to writing to generate additional income, beginning with ''A Tour on the Prairies'' which related his recent travels on the frontier. The book was another popular success and also the first book written and published by Irving in the United States since ''A History of New York'' in 1809. In 1834, he was approached by fur magnate
John Jacob Astor John Jacob Astor (born Johann Jakob Astor; July 17, 1763 – March 29, 1848) was a German-American businessman, merchant, real estate mogul, and investor who made his fortune mainly in a fur trade The fur trade is a worldwide industr ...

John Jacob Astor
, who convinced him to write a history of his fur trading colony in the
Astoria, Oregon Astoria is a Port, port city and the seat of Clatsop County, Oregon, United States. Founded in 1811, Astoria is the oldest city in the state of Oregon and was the first American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains. The county is the northwest ...
. Irving made quick work of Astor's project, shipping the fawning biographical account ''
Astoria Astoria may refer to: Places United States * Astoria, Illinois * Astoria, Missouri * Astoria, Queens, neighborhood in New York City * Astoria, Oregon * Astoria, South Dakota * Astoria Township, Fulton County, Illinois Other places * Astoria ...
'' in February 1836. In 1835, Irving, Astor, and a few others founded the Saint Nicholas Society in the City of New York. During an extended stay at Astor's home, Irving met explorer
Benjamin Bonneville Benjamin Louis Eulalie de Bonneville (April 14, 1796 – June 12, 1878) was an American officer in the United States Army The United States Army (USA) is the land military branch, service branch of the United States Armed Forces. It is one of ...

Benjamin Bonneville
and was intrigued with his maps and stories of the territories beyond the
Rocky Mountains The Rocky Mountains, also known as the Rockies, are a major mountain range A mountain range is a series of mountains ranged in a line and connected by high ground. A mountain system or mountain belt is a group of mountain ranges with simila ...

Rocky Mountains
. The two men met in Washington, D.C. several months later, and Bonneville sold his maps and rough notes to Irving for $1,000. Irving used these materials as the basis for his 1837 book ''The Adventures of Captain Bonneville''. These three works made up Irving's "western" series of books and were written partly as a response to criticism that his time in England and Spain had made him more European than American. Critics such as James Fenimore Cooper and
Philip Freneau Philip Morin Freneau (January 2, 1752 – December 18, 1832) was an American poet A poet is a person who creates poetry. Poets may describe themselves as such or be described as such by others. A poet may simply be a writer of poetry, o ...

Philip Freneau
felt that he had turned his back on his American heritage in favor of English aristocracy. Irving's western books were well received in the United States, particularly ''A Tour on the Prairies'', though British critics accused him of "book-making". In 1835, Irving purchased a "neglected cottage" and its surrounding riverfront property in Tarrytown, New York, which he named Sunnyside in 1841. It required constant repair and renovation over the next 20 years, with costs continually escalating, so he reluctantly agreed to become a regular contributor to ''
The Knickerbocker ''The Knickerbocker'', or ''New-York Monthly Magazine'', was a literary magazine A literary magazine is a periodical Periodical literature (also called a periodical publication or simply a periodical) is a category of Serial (publishing), ...
'' magazine in 1839, writing new essays and short stories under the Knickerbocker and Crayon pseudonyms. He was regularly approached by aspiring young authors for advice or endorsement, including Edgar Allan Poe, who sought Irving's comments on " William Wilson" and "
The Fall of the House of Usher "The Fall of the House of Usher" is a short story by American writer Edgar Allan Poe Edgar Allan Poe (; born Edgar Poe; January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849) was an American writer, poet, editor, and literary criticism, literary critic. Po ...

The Fall of the House of Usher
". In 1837, a lady of
Charleston, South Carolina Charleston is the largest city in the U.S. state of South Carolina, the county seat of Charleston County, South Carolina, Charleston County, and the principal city in the Charleston metropolitan area, South Carolina, Charleston–North Charle ...

Charleston, South Carolina
brought the attention of William Clancy, newly appointed bishop to
Demerara Demerara ( nl, Demerary) is a historical region in the Guianas The Guianas, sometimes called by the Spanish language, Spanish loan-word ''Guayanas'' (''Las Guayanas''), is a region in north-eastern South America which includes the following ...
, a passage in ''The Crayon Miscellany'', and questioned whether it accurately reflected Catholic teaching or practice. The passage under "Newstead Abbey" read:
One of the parchment scrolls thus discovered, throws rather an awkward light upon the kind of life led by the friars of Newstead. It is an indulgence granted to them for a certain number of months, in which a plenary pardon is assured in advance for all kinds of crimes, among which, several of the most gross and sensual are specifically mentioned, and the weaknesses of the flesh to which they were prone.
Clancy wrote Irving, who "promptly aided the investigation into the truth, and promised to correct in future editions the misrepresentation complained of." Clancy traveled to his new posting by way of England, and bearing a letter of introduction from Irving, stopped at
Newstead Abbey Newstead Abbey, in Nottinghamshire Nottinghamshire (pronounced ; abbreviated Notts.) is a county in the East Midlands region of England, bordering South Yorkshire to the north-west, Lincolnshire to the east, Leicestershire to the south, and ...

Newstead Abbey
and was able to view the document to which Irving had alluded. Upon inspection, Clancy discovered that it was, in fact, not an indulgence issued to the friars from any ecclesiastical authority, but a pardon given by the king to some parties suspected of having broken "forest laws". Clancy requested the local pastor to forward his findings to Catholic periodicals in England, and upon publication, send a copy to Irving. Whether this was done is not clear as the disputed text remains in the 1849 edition. Irving also championed America's maturing literature, advocating stronger
copyright Copyright is a type of intellectual property Intellectual property (IP) is a category of property Property is a system of rights that gives people legal control of valuable things, and also refers to the valuable things themselves. ...

laws to protect writers from the kind of piracy that had initially plagued ''The Sketch Book''. Writing in the January 1840 issue of ''Knickerbocker'', he openly endorsed copyright legislation pending in Congress. "We have a young literature", he wrote, "springing up and daily unfolding itself with wonderful energy and luxuriance, which … deserves all its fostering care". The legislation, however, did not pass at that time. In 1841, Irving was elected to the
National Academy of Design The National Academy of Design is an honorary association of American American(s) may refer to: * American, something of, from, or related to the United States of America, commonly known as the United States The United States of Ameri ...
as an Honorary Academician. He also began a friendly correspondence with Charles Dickens and hosted Dickens and his wife at Sunnyside during Dickens's American tour in 1842.

Minister to Spain

John Tyler John Tyler (March 29, 1790January 18, 1862) was the 10th president of the United States The president of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state A head of state (or chief of state) is the public persona A persona ( ...

John Tyler
appointed Irving as Minister to Spain in February 1842, after an endorsement from Secretary of State
Daniel Webster Daniel Webster (January 18, 1782 – October 24, 1852) was an American lawyer and statesman who represented New Hampshire and Massachusetts in the United States Congress, U.S. Congress and served as the United States Secretary of State, U.S. Se ...

Daniel Webster
. Irving wrote, "It will be a severe trial to absent myself for a time from my dear little Sunnyside, but I shall return to it better enabled to carry it on comfortably". He hoped that his position as Minister would allow him plenty of time to write, but Spain was in a state of political upheaval during most of his tenure, with a number of warring factions vying for control of the 12-year-old
Queen Isabella II Isabella II ( es, Isabel II; 10 October 1830 – 9 April 1904), also known as the Queen of Sad Mischance and the Traditional Queen, was Queen of Spain This is a list of Spanish monarchs, that is, rulers of the country of Spain in the moder ...
. Irving maintained good relations with the various generals and politicians, as control of Spain rotated through
Espartero Baldomero Fernández-Espartero y Álvarez de Toro (27 February 17938 January 1879) was a Spanish marshal and statesman. He served as the Regent of Spain, Regent of the Realm as well as three times as Prime Minister of Spain, Prime Minister. Thr ...

, Bravo, then Narváez. Espartero was then locked in a power struggle with the Spanish Cortes. Irving's official reports on the ensuing civil war and revolution expressed his romantic fascination with the regent as young Queen Isabella's knight protector, He wrote with an anti-republican, undiplomatic bias. Though Espartero, ousted in July 1843, remained a fallen hero in his eyes, Irving began to view Spanish affairs more realistically. However, the politics and warfare were exhausting, and Irving was both homesick and suffering from a crippling skin condition. With the political situation relatively settled in Spain, Irving continued to closely monitor the development of the new government and the fate of Isabella. His official duties as Spanish Minister also involved negotiating American trade interests with Cuba and following the Spanish parliament's debates over the slave trade. He was also pressed into service by Louis McLane, the American Minister to the Court of St. James's in London, to assist in negotiating the Anglo-American disagreement over the Oregon border that newly elected president James K. Polk had vowed to resolve.

Final years and death

Irving returned from Spain in September 1846, took up residence at Sunnyside, and began work on an "Author's Revised Edition" of his works for publisher George Palmer Putnam. For its publication, Irving had made a deal which guaranteed him 12 percent of the retail price of all copies sold, an agreement that was unprecedented at that time. As he revised his older works for Putnam, he continued to write regularly, publishing biographies of Oliver Goldsmith in 1849 and Islamic prophet Muhammad in 1850. In 1855, he produced ''Wolfert's Roost'', a collection of stories and essays that he had written for ''The Knickerbocker'' and other publications,Williams, 2:208–209. and he began publishing a biography of his namesake
George Washington George Washington (February 22, 1732, 1799) was an American soldier, statesman, and Founding Father The following list of national founding figures is a record, by country, of people who were credited with establishing a state. Natio ...

George Washington
which he expected to be his masterpiece. Five volumes of the biography were published between 1855 and 1859. Irving traveled regularly to Mount Vernon and Washington, D.C. for his research, and struck up friendships with Presidents Millard Fillmore and Franklin Pierce. He was elected an Associate Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1855. He was hired as an executor of John Jacob Astor's estate in 1848 and appointed by Astor's will as first chairman of the Astor Library, a forerunner to the New York Public Library. Irving continued to socialize and keep up with his correspondence well into his seventies, and his fame and popularity continued to soar. "I don't believe that any man, in any country, has ever had a more affectionate admiration for him than that given to you in America", wrote Senator William C. Preston in a letter to Irving. "I believe that we have had but one man who is so much in the popular heart". By 1859, author Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. noted that Sunnyside had become "next to Mount Vernon, the best known and most cherished of all the dwellings in our land". Irving died of a heart attack in his bedroom at Sunnyside on November 28, 1859, age 76—only eight months after completing the final volume of his Washington biography. Legend has it that his last words were: "Well, I must arrange my pillows for another night. When will this end?" He was buried under a simple headstone at Sleepy Hollow cemetery on December 1, 1859. Irving and his grave were commemorated by
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (February 27, 1807 – March 24, 1882) was an American poet and educator whose works include "", ', and '. He was the first American to translate 's ' and was one of the from New England. Longfellow was born in , w ...

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
in his 1876 poem "In the Churchyard at Tarrytown", which concludes with:


Literary reputation

Irving is largely credited as the first American Man of Letters and the first to earn his living solely by his pen. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow acknowledged Irving's role in promoting American literature in December 1859: "We feel a just pride in his renown as an author, not forgetting that, to his other claims upon our gratitude, he adds also that of having been the first to win for our country an honourable name and position in the History of Letters". Irving perfected the American short story and was the first American writer to set his stories firmly in the United States, even as he poached from German or Dutch folklore. He is also generally credited as one of the first to write in the vernacular and without an obligation to presenting morals or being didactic in his short stories, writing stories simply to entertain rather than to enlighten. He also encouraged many would-be writers. As George William Curtis noted, there "is not a young literary aspirant in the country, who, if he ever personally met Irving, did not hear from him the kindest words of sympathy, regard, and encouragement". Edgar Allan Poe, on the other hand, felt that Irving should be given credit for being an innovator but that the writing itself was often unsophisticated. "Irving is much over-rated", Poe wrote in 1838, "and a nice distinction might be drawn between his just and his surreptitious and adventitious reputation—between what is due to the pioneer solely, and what to the writer". A critic for the ''New-York Mirror'' wrote: "No man in the Republic of Letters has been more overrated than Mr. Washington Irving". Some critics claimed that Irving catered to British sensibilities, and one critic charged that he wrote "''of'' and ''for'' England, rather than his own country". Other critics were more supportive of Irving's style. William Makepeace Thackeray was the first to refer to Irving as the "ambassador whom the New World of Letters sent to the Old", a banner picked up by writers and critics throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. "He is the first of the American humorists, as he is almost the first of the American writers", wrote critic H.R. Hawless in 1881, "yet belonging to the New World, there is a quaint Old World flavor about him". Early critics often had difficulty separating Irving the man from Irving the writer. "The life of Washington Irving was one of the brightest ever led by an author", wrote Richard Henry Stoddard, an early Irving biographer. Later critics, however, began to review his writings as all style with no substance. "The man had no message", said critic Barrett Wendell.

Impact on American culture

Irving popularized the nickname "Gotham" for New York City, and he is credited with inventing the expression "the almighty dollar". The surname of his fictional Dutch historian Diedrich Knickerbocker is generally associated with New York and New Yorkers, as found in New York's professional basketball team The
New York Knickerbockers The New York Knickerbockers were one of the first organized baseball Baseball is a bat-and-ball games, bat-and-ball game played between two opposing teams who take turns batting (baseball), batting and fielding. The game proceeds when ...
. One of Irving's most lasting contributions to American culture is in the way that Americans celebrate Christmas. In his 1812 revisions to ''A History of New York'', he inserted a dream sequence featuring St. Nicholas soaring over treetops in a flying wagon, an invention which others dressed up as Santa Claus. In his five Christmas stories in ''The Sketch Book'', Irving portrayed an idealized celebration of old-fashioned Christmas customs at a quaint English manor which depicted English Christmas festivities that he experienced while staying in England, which had largely been abandoned. He used text from ''The Vindication of Christmas'' (London 1652) of old English Christmas traditions, and the book contributed to the revival and reinterpretation of the Christmas holiday in the United States. Irving introduced the erroneous idea that Europeans believed the world to be flat prior to the discovery of the New World in his biography of Christopher Columbus, yet the Myth of the flat Earth, flat-Earth myth has been taught in schools as fact to many generations of Americans. American painter John Quidor based many of his paintings on scenes from the works of Irving about Dutch New York, including such paintings as ''Ichabod Crane Flying from the Headless Horseman'' (1828), ''The Return of Rip Van Winkle'' (1849), and ''The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane'' (1858).


The village of Dearman, New York, changed its name to "Irvington, New York, Irvington" in 1854 to honor Washington Irving, who was living in nearby " Sunnyside", which is preserved as a museum. Influential residents of the village prevailed upon the Hudson River Railroad, which had reached the village by 1849,Dodsworth (1995) to change the name of the train station to "Irvington", and the village incorporated as Irvington on April 16, 1872. The town of Knickerbocker, Texas, was founded by two of Irving's nephews, who named it in honor of their uncle's literary pseudonym. The city of Irving, Texas states that it is named for Washington Irving. A street in San Francisco, Irving Street, is named after him. The Irving Park, Chicago, Irving Park neighborhood in Chicago is named for him as well, though the original name of the subdivision was Irvington and then later Irving Park before annexation to Chicago. Honesdale Star Park, Gibbons Memorial Park, located in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, is located on Irving cliff, which was named after him. The Irvington Historic District (Indianapolis), Irvington neighborhood in Indianapolis is also one of the many communities named after him.
, Irvington Development Organization]



Further reading

* Aderman, Ralph M. ed. ''Critical essays on Washington Irving'' (1990
* Apap, Christopher, and Tracy Hoffman. "Prospects for the Study of Washington Irving." ''Resources for American Literary Study'' 35 (2010): 3-27
* Bowden, Edwin T. ''Washington Irving bibliography'' (1989
* Brodwin, Stanley. ''The Old and New World romanticism of Washington Irving'' (1986
* Brooks, Van Wyck. ''The World Of Washington Irving'' (1944
* Burstein, Andrew. ''The Original Knickerbocker: The Life of Washington Irving''. (Basic Books, 2007). * Claude Bowers, Bowers, Claude G. ''The Spanish Adventures of Washington Irving''. (Riverside Press, 1940). * Hedges, William L. ''Washington Irving: An American Study, 1802-1832'' (Johns Hopkins UP, 2019). * Hellman, George S. ''Washington Irving, Esquire''. (Alfred A. Knopf, 1925). * Jones, Brian Jay. ''Washington Irving: An American Original''. (Arcade, 2008). * LeMenager, Stephanie. "Trading Stories: Washington Irving and the Global West." ''American Literary History'' 15.4 (2003): 683-708
* McGann, Jerome. "Washington Irving," A History of New York", and American History." ''Early American Literature'' 47.2 (2012): 349-376
* Myers, Andrew B., ed. ''A Century of commentary on the works of Washington Irving, 1860-1974'' (1975
* Pollard, Finn. "From beyond the grave and across the ocean: Washington Irving and the problem of being a questioning American, 1809–20." ''American Nineteenth Century History'' 8.1 (2007): 81-101. * Springer, Haskell S. ''Washington Irving: a reference guide'' (1976
* Williams, Stanley T. ''The Life of Washington Irving.'' 2 vols. (Oxford UP, 1935)
vol 1 online
vol 2 online

Primary sources

* Irving, Pierre M. ''Life and Letters of Washington Irving''. 4 vols. (G.P. Putnam, 1862). Cited herein as PMI. * Irving, Washington. ''The Complete Works of Washington Irving''. (Rust, ''et al.'', editors). 30 vols. (University of Wisconsin/Twayne, 1969–1986). Cited herein as ''Works''. * Irving, Washington. (1828) ''History of the Life of Christopher Columbus'', 3 volumes, 1828, G. & C. Carvill, publishers, New York, New York; as 4 volumes, 1828, John Murray, publisher, London; and as 4 volumes, 1828, Paris A. and W. Galignani, publishers, France. * Irving, Washington. (1829) ''The Life and Voyage of Christopher Columbus'', 1 volume, 1829, G. & C. & H. Carvill, publishers, New York, New York; an abridged version prepared by Irving of his 1828 work. * Irving, Washington. ''Selected writings of Washington Irving'' (Modern Library edition, 1945

External links

* * * * * s:A day with Washington Irving, A day with Washington Irving – article published by ''Once a Week (magazine), Once a Week''
Timothy Hopkins' Washington Irving collection, 1683–1839
5 volumes) is housed in th

Stanford University Libraries

in Spain

Finding Aid for the Washington Irving Collection of Papers, 1805–1933
at the New York Public Library
Washington Irving letters
Available online through Lehigh University'

* [https://www.loc.gov/rr/rarebook/coll/irving.html The Washington Irving Collection] From the Rare Book and Special Collection Division at the Library of Congress * hdl:10079/fa/beinecke.irving, Washington Irving Collection. Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. {{DEFAULTSORT:Irving, Washington Washington Irving, 1783 births 1859 deaths American biographers American male biographers American essayists American satirists American speculative fiction writers American travel writers American people of English descent American people of Scottish descent Fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences New York (state) lawyers Writers from Manhattan Romanticism Ambassadors of the United States to Spain American Hispanists Masterpiece Museum Burials at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery 19th-century American diplomats Hall of Fame for Great Americans inductees American male dramatists and playwrights American male short story writers Members of the American Antiquarian Society 19th-century American short story writers 19th-century American dramatists and playwrights American male essayists Presidents of the New York Public Library 19th-century pseudonymous writers