St. Nicholas
Washington Irving
Washington Irving


Minister to Spsin Successful Author
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Washington Irving (1783-1859)
Harper's Magazine, Volume 24, 1862, pp.249-254
Minister to Spain

IT was the good fortune of Washington Irving to pass through a long and somewhat checkered life, surrounded by more sincere friends, and with fewer personal enemies, than usually falls to the lot of public men. Indeed he may be said to form an exception to the particular class to which he belonged; for while all admired the exquisite skill with which his genius colored the early history of our country, and invested the old Spanish legends with an exalted poetic imagery, none were found to envy him the possession of these remarkable powers, or cast a doubt upon the genuineness of his literary wares. This remarkable exemption is in a great measure due to the gentleness and simplicity of his character, which not only pervades with a genial influence every page that he has written, but rendered him in private life one of the most charming and agreeable of companions. My personal acquaintance with Irving began in the spring of 1842, while he was on a visit at Washington for the purpose of receiving instructions from the State Department prior to his departure for Madrid, as Minister from the United States to that court. This position was conferred by Mr. Tyler, then President, not only without solicitation on his part, but even without knowledge of the honor intended. The first intimation he had of his selection was contained in a letter from the State Department, written by Mr. Webster, and addressed to him in his official capacity. This appointment was made at the recommendation of Mr. Webster, who afterward told Mr. Everett that he regarded it as one of the most honorable memorials of his administration of the Department of State. At the time of Irving's visit Dickens, who had been received in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia with remarkable civic demonstrations, was in Washington, somewhat disappointed, it must be confessed, at the difference between his reception there and in the Northern cities he had just visited, although without sufficient reason. He had in his writings touched, in a masterly manner, a chord of human sympathy which vibrated intensely among the masses, and they came forth in numbers to greet him; but to the statesman he presented no such claim, and he was, accordingly, received in Washington simply as a distinguished stranger, whose presence was of too frequent an occurrence to excite much notice. Lord Morpeth, now Earl of Carlisle, who preceded Dickens a few months, passed through the Northern capitals which had witnessed the triumphs of the novelist with but little notice. In Washington, however, as a member of the British Parliament, and an eminent English statesman, he met with a reception in every way becoming his distinguished position. While Irving was in Washington one of the levees usually given by the President at stated intervals took place. No special invitations are given to these soirees, and the public are apprised of them by a notice in the columns of the Government newspaper. On these occasions the President receives his fellow-citizens in the most informal manner, shaking hands indiscriminately with all who approach him; and as he is not presumed to know them all, the Marshall of the District of Columbia ascertains the name from the individual who desires to be presented, and introduces him to the President. Sometimes it is customary to announce the name of each guest aloud as he enters tho room in which the President receives. This was the case on the evening now alluded to; and, consequently, the knowledge of each distinguished arrival was speedily circulated among the guests in the various apartments. It was generally understood that Washington Irving would be present, but that Dickens would not visit the Presidential mansion on this occasion, because he had not received a special invitation. Some surprise was manifested, therefore, at the announcement of Mr. and Mrs. Dickens, who arrived about an hour after the opening of the levee, accompanied by the Speaker of the House of Representatives (Winthrop). The rooms at this time were quite full, and great anxiety was manifested to see the eminent novelist, whose works were familiar to most of those present. About half an hour after the entrance of Dickens Washington Irving was announced, and from that moment became the universal object of attraction. He was the theme of conversation in each group, and was constantly surrounded by those who were anxious to obtain a glimpse of their distinguished countryman, or the more fortunate few who were presented to him. Dickens did not remain long after the entrance of Irving, and left almost unobserved by the crowds whose thoughts were wholly concentrated upon their especial favorite. Dickens alludes to this reception in his "Notes on America," and bestows a compliment on the Americans for their attention to their distinguished countryman. I could not but think at the moment that he was seriously annoyed by the sudden extinguishment of his own importance as a lion, and vexed at the transfer of universal regard to another. Dickens was a young, and, as I remember him at that time, a small but very handsome man, with a profusion of hair, as he is represented in his earlier portraits.

Between Irving and Dickens the most pleasant personal relations always existed. When Dickens was in New York, prior to his visit to Washington, it was proposed to give him a public dinner, at which Washington Irving was selected to preside. If Irving had a horror of anything it was of an after-dinner speech; but on the present occasion, so universal seemed to be the demand upon Irving, that he was fain to accept the honor. Professor Felton, who saw him daily during the interval between the time of acceptance and the day of the dinner, either at the rooms of Dickens or at dinner and evening parties, says that he could not help being amused with the tragi-comical distress which the thought of that approaching dinner caused him. His pleasant humor mingled with the real dread, and played with the whimsical horrors of his own position with an irresistible drollery. Whenever it was alluded to his invariable answer was, "I shall certainly break down!" uttered in a half-melancholy tone, the ludicrous effect of which it is impossible to describe. He was haunted, continues Professor Felton, as if by a night-mare; and I could only compare his dismay to that of Mr. Pickwick, who was so alarmed at the prospect of leading about that dreadful horse all day. At length the long-expected evening arrived; a company of the most eminent persons from all professions and every walk of life were assembled, and Mr. Irving took the chair. He brought the manuscript of his speech and laid it under his plate. "I shall certainly break down!" he repeated, over and over again, to those who were seated near him at the table. At last the moment arrived. Irving rose, amidst deafening applause. He began in his pleasant voice, got through two or three sentences pretty easily, but in the next he hesitated, and, after one or two attempts to go on, gave it up with a graceful allusion to the tournament, and the troops of knights all armed and eager for the fray; and ended with the toast, "Charles Dickens, the guest of the nation!"

"There!" said he, as he resumed his seat under a repetition of applause, "I told you I should break down, and I've done it!"

"There certainly never was," remarks Professor Felton, "a shorter dinner speech. I doubt if there ever was one more successful." The manuscript seemed to be a dozen or twenty pages long, but the printed speech was not as many lines. I suppose that manuscript may be still in existence; and, if so, I wish it might be published.

While Irving was in London the following spring, on his way to Madrid, he was invited to the Literary Fund Dinner. In the Diary of Thomas Moore is the record of his conversation with Irving on the subject, and final success of his endeavors to persuade him to go. "That Dickens dinner," says Moore, "which he always pronounced with strong emphasis, hammering away with his right arm, more swo that Dickens dinner still haunted his imagination, and I almost gave up the hope of persuading him."

Irving left soon after for Spain, accompanied by J. Carson Brevoort, the son of his early and valued friend, Henry Brevoort, as Secretary of Legation, and I saw him no more for some years. His previous service as Secretary of Legation at London gave him some experience in diplomacy, and fitted him for the discharge of his duties at the court of Madrid. While occupying the former position his old friend Morse called to have his passport vised. "What is the fee?" said Morse, as Irving handed back his vised passport.

"Nothing," replied Irving. "Please," he continued, with a look of infinite drollery, and in the most cockneyish manner imaginable, "to recommend our establishment."

His Secretary, a man of refined literary tastes and gentle, unobtrusive manners, was an admirable companion for Irving, and entered largely into his pastimes as well as his business pursuits. It was Irving's custom, in the long summer days of that delicious climate, to stroll out into the Prado or the parks adorning the city, and casting himself upon a mossy bank beneath the overhanging branches of some stately tree, devote hours to the indulgence of his own pleasant reveries, occasionally broken in upon by amusements almost puerile in their character. One of these, which reminds us of his great literary prototype, Goldsmith (who, when composing his "Deserted Village," was found one day by a friend dividing his attention between the poetry and a favorite dog, whom he was teaching to sit on his haunches), was to watch the idle dogs stretched at length under the trees of the Prado, and suddenly disturb their slumbers by allowing his well-poised walking-stick to fall upon the tails of the unsuspecting animals. To the children he had always a kind word, and many of his happiest thoughts sparkled on these occasions in the midst of their innocent prattle. "Nothing annoyed him," remarks Brevoort, "so much as to be lionized, or made the centre of a group of listeners. To hear him talk, and to draw him out, it was necessary to have but few present. He preferred the society of such as had some refinement of taste not humorous or witty, but with a disposition to take the pleasant side of any question."

The period of his official residence in Spain was one of great political excitement, during which a change of Ministry took place, and law was not unfrequently made subservient to expediency. Questions of political significance frequently arose, in which he was invariably successful in his negotiations with the Government. One of these grew out of an enlistment of citizens of the United States, resident in Spain as merchants, in the National Guard. It was argued on the part of the Government that inasmuch as the property of these merchants was protected from violence by this body, it was their duty to join its ranks as active members. In the correspondence that ensued, and in all his relations with the Spanish Government, he has by his suavity and nice sense of the rights of both parties given a lesson well worthy of the imitation of diplomatists.

When Bryant was in Spain in 1857 a distinguished Spaniard said to him: "Why does not your Government send out to this court Washington Irving? Why do you not take as your agent a man whom all Spain admires, venerates, and loves? I assure you it would be difficult for our Government to refuse any thing which Irving should ask, and his signature would make almost any treaty acceptable to our people."


Successful Author

On his return from this mission he went to reside at Sunnyside, on the banks of the Hudson, long before familiar to the readers of the "Sketch-Book" as the spot on which the residence of Herr Van Tassel, in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, was situated. That Irving had early contemplated selecting this spot as a retreat for his declining years is not only manifest from his casual conversations on this subject with his friends, but likewise from the following account in the Legend itself:

"I recollect," he says, "that when a stripling my first exploit in squirrel-shooting was in a grove of tall walnut-trees that shades one side of the valley. I had wandered into it at noontime, when all nature is peculiarly quiet, and was startled by the roar of my own gun as it broke the Sabbath stillness around, and was prolonged and reverberated by the angry echoes. If ever I should wish for a retreat whither I might steal from the world and its distractions, and dream quietly away the remnant of a troubled life, I know of none more promising than this little valley." The antique cottage, with its irregular projections and sharp-angled roof, now so familiar to the travelers on the Hudson under the cognomen of Sunnyside, was built shortly before his appointment to Spain, but was not constantly occupied by him as his residence until his return.

Shortly after his return Sir Henry Lytton Bulwer, a brother of the novelist, was appointed by the British Government as their Minister to the United States. Among other objects, Sir Henry was especially anxious to secure, by treaty or otherwise, an international copyright between England and the United States, and expressed to me, in our frequent pleasant interviews, a desire to co-operate with American authors in any mode they might suggest to produce this desirable result. Under these circumstances a question arose as to whether, by some sort of combination among authors for their mutual protection, that end might not be gained, and I was requested to write to Irving for his opinion. I accordingly addressed him a letter, to which, after a few weeks' delay, I received tho following reply:

"Nw York, Oct. 23, 1848.

"Dear Sir, The pressure of various engagements, which cut up my time at present, and keep me divided between town and country, must plead my excuse for not sooner answering your letter.

"I'm sorry to say I have little faith in the efficiency of any association among literary men for their mutual protection and profit in this publication of their works. 1 have thought a great deal on the subject, have known various plans to be discussed and even commenced, among which was one In London, patronized, if I recollect right, by Thomas Campbell, the poet. They all, however, came to nothing. I have not time at present to go into the various considerations which have convinced me of the impracticability of any attempt by a combination of authors to regulate and control the course of tho 'trade.' I can only say that the conclusion I have come to on this subject is the result of much reflection and inquiry.

"The main thing wanting at present for the protection of our native literature is an international law of copyright. This once obtained, all authors of merit would be able to take care of their own wants, and original works worthy of publication would readily find a profitable market.

"I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant, "Washington Irving."

At the time this letter was written Irving had but little reason to complain either of his success as an author or the pecuniary reward he had obtained from his writings. Apart from the sums obtained from his copyrights in this country, he had received from his London publisher, John Murray, for the

. s
Sketch-Book 407 10
Bracebridge Hall 1050 00
Tales of a Traveler 1575 00
Life of Columbus 3150 00
Companions of Columbus 525 00
Conquest of Granada 2100 00
Tour on tho Prairies 400 00
Abbotsford and Newstead            400 00
Legends of Spain 100 00
      Total 9767 10
and from Mr. Bentley, for the "Alhambra" 1050, "Astoria" 500, and "De Bouville's Adventures" 900 in all, amounting to not far from $62,000.

He now supposed that the sale of his published works had reached their limit and he had little more to expect from them, when Mr. George P. Putnam proposed to bring out a new series of his entire works, at a very liberal rate of compensation for his copyright. He at once accepted the offer, as I have been informed by Mr. Putnam, without the alteration of a single word. The sums received by Irving under this arrangement have exceeded seventy-five thousand dollars.

Irving, especially in his early literary career, was greatly influenced by moods in his composition, at times writing with great rapidity, and at others being unequal to any literary exertions for weeks together. His first productions were written at the age of nineteen, and consist of a number of essays on theatrical performances, habits of the good people of New York, and like subjects. These appeared in the Morning Chronicle in 1802, a newspaper just started by his brother, Dr. Peter Irving, with the signature of Jonathan Oldstyle. In 1804 he visited Europe on account of an incipient attack of pulmonary disease.

While in Rome he met Washington Allston, and was so charmed with the painter and his art that he suddenly conceived the idea of being an artist. "Why," he says, in alluding to this period, "might I not remain here and turn painter? I mentioned the idea to Allston, and he caught at it with eagerness. Nothing could be more feasible. We could take an apartment together. He would give me all the instruction and assistance in his power, and was sure I would succeed." His lot, however, was differently cast. Doubts and fears gradually clouded his prospects, and he gave up the transient but delightful prospect of remaining in Rome with Allston and turning painter. In 1806 he returned to New York, and soon after, in connection with his brothcr (WilliamIrving) and James K. Paulding, issued in numbers the "Salmagundi."

Knickerbocker's "History of New York," which first established his reputation as a rare humorist, was published in December, 1809. Mr. Bryant, writing in 1860, says, "I have just read this ' History of New York' over again, and I found myself no less delighted than when I first turned its pages in my early youth. When I compare it with other works of wit and humor of a similar length, I find that, unlike most of them, it carries forward the reader to the conclusion without weariness or satiety, so unsought, spontaneous are the wit and the humor. The author makes us laugh because he can no more help it than we can help laughing." Shortly after its publication Mr. Henry Brevoort sent a copy to Sir Walter Scott, with whom he was on terms of considerable intimacy, who, in a reply to him highly complimentary to its author, says, "1 have been employed these few evenings in reading the annals of 'Dcidrich Knickerbocker' aloud to Mrs. S. and two ladies who are our guests, and our sides have been absolutely sore with laughing."

The next work of moment produced by Irving was the "Sketch-Book," written in London, and first published in numbers in New York. He found much difficulty in procuring an English publisher, and was at last indebted to the good offices of Sir Walter Scott in securing for him Mr. John Murray, who had already declined the venture, as his publisher. In conversing with Mr. N. P. Willis on this subject, he remarked that "he was never more astonished than at the success of the 'Sketch-Book.'" His writing of these stories was so unlike inspiration so entirely without any feeling of confidence, which could be prophetic of their popularity. Walking with his brother one dull, foggy Sunday over Westminster Bridge, he got to telling him the old Dutch stories he had heard at Tarrytown in his youth, when the thought suddenly struck him "I have it! I'll go home and make a memorandum of these for a book." And leaving his brother to go to church, he went back to his lodgings and jotted down the data, and the next day the dullest and darkest of London fogs he sat in his little room and wrote out "Sleepy Hollow" by the light of a candle.

"Bracebridge Hall" was composed in Paris under somewhat similar circumstances. He had been for a long time without the ability to write. He had frequently made the attempt, but was as often obliged to abandon it, as his mind would offer to him no pictures worthy of being put to paper. At last his fit of inspiration came, and he went industriously to work to develop it. One morning at this period his friend Tom Moore called to make him a visit. He told him that, after waiting a long time, he had fallen into the mood, and would work as long as it lasted. So he began to write soon after breakfast, and, without taking note of time, continued until Moore returned at four in the afternoon, by which time he completely covered the table with freshly-written sheets. He continued to work without intermission in this manner for six weeks. For the copyright of this work Mr. Murray paid him a thousand guineas.

But probably one of the most rapidly composed, as well as one of the most popular of his works, is the "Life of Goldsmith." He was sitting one day at the desk of his publisher, Mr. Putnam, looking over Forstcr's work, which Mr. Putnam was about to reprint. Mr. Irving said that it was a favorite subject with him, and he had a mind to extend a sketch he had formerly made for an edition of Goldsmith's works into a volume. Mr. Putnam urged him to do so. In sixty days the first sheets were in the hands of the printer, and in three weeks after the volume was published. During the later years of his life, and especially while engaged in preparing his earlier works for republication under his arrangement with his American publisher, and in writing the "Life of Washington," his habits of composition were more systematic, and usually occupied the morning hours. In writing this last great work he was less troubled about its literary merits than in the proper collation of the materials, which had been immensely accumulated by the indefatigable labors of Sparks and others, all of which needed to be carefully examined if their materials were not used. He had been urged by Constable, the Edinburgh publisher, to write the life of Washington some thirty years before it was undertaken; but probably his task was better performed than if he had commenced it at an earlier period. Mr. Bryant, in alluding to the character of this work, says: "Here is a man of genius, a poet by temperament, writing the life of a man of transcendent wisdom and virtue a life passed amidst great events, and marked by inestimable public services. There is a constant temptation to eulogy, but the temptation is resisted; the actions of his hero are left to speak their own praise. The lessons of the narrative aro made to impress themselves on the mind by the earnest relation of facts. Meantime the narrator keeps himself in the background, solely occupied with the due presentation of his subject. Our eyes are upon the actors whom he sets before us we never think of Mr. Irving." This remark would apply with equal force to all of his other writings. In the "History of New York" we see not Irving, but the veritable old chronicler, with his quaint visage and neat threadbare suit, who had spent his life in storing up recollections of his native town; and in the "Sketch-Book" Ichnbod Crane and the prankish villagers, or poor old Rip Van Winkle, are the veritable personages that absorb the reader's attention, to the entire exclusion of the author.

This is due in part to the remarkable purity of his style, and in part to a real unaffected modesty, that made him shrink from obtruding himself on the notice of the public. He was, indeed, exceedingly sensitive about the reception of his works with the public, and never hesitated to admit the influence of this opinion upon him. "Indifference to praise or censure," he remarked on one occasion, "was not reasonable at least it was impossible to him." He remembered how he had suffered from the opinion of a Philadelphia critic, who, in reviewing the "Sketch-Book" at its first appearance, said "that Rip Van Winkle was a silly attempt at humor, quite unworthy of the author's genius." This apprehension in regard to the excellence of his works continued to the very last volume he wrote. I have the authority of his publisher for saying that, although the first four volumes of his "Life of Washington" had been received by the public with a favor far beyond his own expectations, yet the fifth and last was timidly permitted to be launched, nor was he self-assured in regard to it until Mr. Bancroft, Professor Felton, and Mr. Duyckinck had assured him that the volume was all that it should be.

The following letter addressed to Professor Felton on this subject shows not only the condition of his health at the time it was written, but also the despondency he experienced as to the success of the volume:


"Sunnyside, May 17, 1859.

"My Dear Sir, I can not sufficiently express to you how much I feel obliged by your very kind letter of the 12th Instant, giving such a favorable notice of my last volume. I have been very much out of health of late, with my nerves in a sad state, and with occasional depression of spirits; and in this forlorn plight had come to feel very dubious about the volume I had committed to the press. Your letter had a most salutary and cheering effect, and your assurance that the last volume had been to you of more absorbing interest than either of the others carried a ray of Joy to my heart, for I was sadly afraid that the interest might be considered as falling off.

"Excuse the brevity of this letter; for I am suffering today from the lingerings of a nervous complaint, from which I am slowly recovering; but I could not suffer another day to elapse without thanking you for correspondence which had a more balmy effect than any of my doctor's prescriptions.

"With great regard, I am, my dear Felton,
     "Yours very truly,
          "Washington Irving."


His Peers

The same timidity that rendered him doubtful about the reception of his works caused him to shrink from taking a part in public meetings. The only one in which I remember him to have been engaged was on the occasion of a demonstration at Tripler Hall, New York, in 1851, shortly after the death of Cooper, intended to secure funds to erect a monument to his memory a design which unfortunately failed of accomplishing its purpose. Irving was selected as the chairman of this meeting, and consented to serve as such, I strongly suspect, as much on account of his previous relations with Cooper as from any other cause.

Upon Cooper's return from abroad Irving shared with him the field of authorship, far in advance of any of his contemporaries. Whatever may have been the motive, it is certain that Cooper kept aloof from Irving for a long time, and seemed to cherish for him no friendly sentiments. An interview between them at last took place at the office of Mr. Putnam under the following circumstances: Irving was sitting at the desk reading when Cooper came in and stood at the office door conversing with Mr. Putnam, who was at that time in the course of publishing a library edition of his best works in companionship with Irving's. He did not observe Irving, and Mr. Putnam, obeying the impulse of the moment, said, "Mr. Cooper, here is Mr. Irving." The latter turned Cooper held out his hand cordially, dashed at once into animated conversation, and, to the surprise and delight of their mutual publisher, the two authors sat for an hour chatting in the pleasantest manner about present and former times, and parted with an expression of the most cordial good wishes for each other. Irving afterward frequently alluded to the incident as one of great gratification to him.

When Irving came to the place of assemblage and found it crowded to overflowing, he began to relent of his promise, and begged Mr. Webster, who was present in the small room, where those who had an invitation to sit on the platform were assembled, to officiate in his stead. After some hesitancy Webster at last consented, greatly to the delight of Irving, who seemed more nervous and embarrassed than I had before seen him. The sketch made by Huntington of Webster, Irving, and Bryant (the orator of the evening) furnishes admirable likenesses of the three as they appeared on this occasion.

The last time I met Irving was at the Astor Library, on Tuesday, June 9, 1859, but a few months before his death. He had just completed the fifth and last volume of the "Life of Washington," and seemed in the same flow of spirits that one might expect in a youth who had completed a laborious task about whose accomplishment he was very anxious. Indeed his health was hardly adequate for the task he had undertaken, and during the composition of the last volume his mental and physical powers were more severely taxed than in the arrangement of all the preceding ones. He complained of some difficulty in breathing, which was manifest to a casual observer, and was due to an attack of asthma from which he was slowly recovering. The change from country to town had benefited him, as is often tho case in asthmatic complaints, he said that when suffering from these attacks a run up to town was always attended with advantage. He attributed the relief to the want of purity in tho town atmosphere, and remarked that that of the open country was too stimulating for his respiratory apparatus. I suspect, however, that his asthmatic attacks were in some way connected with an increased nervous irritability from which he suffered, and which frequently induced him to rise in the middle of the night and engage for a time in writing, in order to induce a state of exhaustion that would be followed by sleep. On one occasion, when his friend John P. Kennedy paid him a visit, he appeared with his usually smooth-shaved face covered with a luxuriant beard, which Irving noticed, and stated that for his own part he could not afford to allow his beard to grow, otherwise he should lose one of his most valuable modes of quieting his nervous system when preternaturally excited. He said that when tired of tossing about vainly seeking for sleep, his habit was to rise and shave himself, which was always followed by an allayance of nervous excitement, and was pretty sure to be followed by a refreshing slumber.

I alluded to Charles Leslie, who had just died, and remarked that his sister, Miss Leslie, whose admirable work, "Mrs. Washington Potts," had given her a wide celebrity as an authoress among her fair countrywomen, used often to speak to me of the days when her brother Charles and Irving were inseparable companions in London.

"Yes," replied Irving, "I remember it well. It was among the happiest periods of my life. I was always a rambler, and ever delighted with new scenes and strange people. Europe to me was a vast store-house of venerable associations, but to England I always turned with that species of fond desire which a full-grown man who has been a rambler over the world feels for the home of his boyhood, and, after long years of absence, he once more approaches its hallowed precincts. It is so full of poetic and historic associations that one never tires of rambling among them. Not that our own country is wanting in beauties. It has them to overflowing; and could I have been content with the beauty of scenery alone, I need never have wandered from my own land. Her mighty rivers, her immense solitudes, her farstretched plains, and, above all, her glorious sunshine, are all that a lover of nature could desire; but to me they wanted the historic associations and the poetic interest which clung around the crumbling ruins of the old world, and invested each stone in these heavy fabrics with a reverential awe. Leslie was a good fellow and a capital artist. We used to ramble together about the environs of London, and while he sought objects for his pencil, I was busied in collecting notes for future descriptions in idle and perhaps profitless tales."

I asked him if these notes were chiefly used in the "Sketch-Book."

"Some of them," he replied, "but not all, or even a considerable part. I recurred to them when writing 'Bracebridgc Hall, far away from English scenery, and, like a painter, have every now and then worked in a little English composition in scenes far remote from, and having little connection with, England. But the greater part are unwritten."

I alluded to Leslie's continued residence in England, and remarked that after so long a time spent there America must have appeared distasteful to him.

He said that it was true that Leslie found a more congenial atmosphere in London than in America. Yet, continued he, Leslie was a true American in feeling, and on one occasion actually did take up his residence in Philadelphia, but after remaining for a year or two he was compelled to return to his London home, and the friends made during his progress as an artist there, which after all was the best place for him. In the United States, especially at the time when Leslie came here to reside, great patrons were wanting, with taste and means combined, to give that encouragement to an artist which one of true merit always found in Europe; besides, in the bustling pursuits of trade, there was little leisure and but few congenial spirits for a man of literary tastes. Leslie's wife, too, was an Englishwoman, and could not bear to live out of the smoke of London. "A pleasant little body," added Irving, "but with no appreciation of her husband's talent."

He alluded to his own long-continued residence abroad, and said that nothing gave him greater pain than the doubts cast by some newspaper writers upon his affection for his native land. He spoke with enthusiasm of his good fortune in being a citizen of the United States; and added that a dream of his literary life, much of which had been taken up in idle rumblings, was finally to settle himself down in some quiet nook upon the banks of the Hudson, where, amidst the scenes of his youth, the evening of life might be spent in the midst of sympathizing friends.

I alluded to an incident in the life of Mr. Gales, the able editor of the National Intelligencer at Washington, whom he remembered very well, which bore some resemblance to this passage in his own. While Gales was a young man and without means, he was accustomed every pleasant Sunday to ramble to an extremely picturesque elevation in the environs of Washington, and casting himself on the grass under the branches of one of the lofty forest trees that crowned its summit, indulge in the reverie that, when he should have sufficient means, he would purchase this spot, erect a cottage upon it, and there pass the remainder of his life. True to his original intention, he did purchase in later life this spot, built his cottage, and generously entertain at his hospitable board the hundreds of friends who were attracted thither by his courtly manner. He was, I remarked, among the few whose dreams of early life were realized.

"And so have mine," replied Irving; "in part, at least," he continued, after a pause, in which a shade of deep sadness crossed his countenance. I did not at the moment imagine the true cause of this, but supposed it arose from some painful reminiscence of an evanescent nature. I now believe it to be due to the revival of a train of recollections of a tenderer nature than I supposed the confirmed bachelor to be susceptible of; for it is undoubtedly true that, among the dreams of his early life, a connubial felicity which he never enjoyed was not the least prominent object in the picture. Mr. Putnam, in his recollections of Irving, says that "a miniature of a young lady, intellectual, refined, and beautiful, was handed to him one day by Irving, with the request that he would have a slight injury repaired by an artist, and a new case made for it, the old one being actually worn out by much use. The painting (on ivory) was exquisitely fine. When Mr. Putnam returned it to him, in a suitable velvet case, he took it to a quiet corner and looked intently on the face for some minutes, apparently unobserved, his tears falling freely on the glass as he gazed. Mr. Putnam adds, that it is not indelicate now to surmise that this was the miniature of Miss Hoffman, a sister of Ogden Hoffman, to whom Irving was devotedly attached, and who was snatched away by death nearly half a century since, during all which time her memory was carefully guarded by him who saw no second person to occupy the place in his affections which she had won.

In a casual notice that appeared soon after his death, evidently written by one who knew him well, the writer says, "We can not but think that we find a leaf from his own experience in a passage in his charming paper on "Newstead Abbey," where he says, "An early, innocent, and unfortunate passion, however fruitful of pain it may be to the man, is a lasting advantage to the poet. It is a well of sweet and bitter fancies, of refined and gentle sentiments, of elevated and ennobling thoughts, shut up in the deep recesses of the heart, keeping it green amidst the withering blight of the world, and, by its casual gushings and overflowings, recalling at times all the freshness and innocence and enthusiasm of youthful years." It happened not long ago that, during a visit to Sunnyside, in the absence of Mr. Irving, a friend was quartered in his sleeping apartment, and was very deeply touched to notice upon the table near the bedside an old, well-worn copy of the Bible, with the name of M_ H_ on the title-page, written in a lady's hand.

The shadow soon passed from his brow, and the conversation turned upon his visit to Abbotsford, which he has so admirably described in the "Crayon Miscellany." He spoke of the cordial manner in which he was received by the "mighty minstrel of the North," and the earnestness with which he insisted on his driving to the house for breakfast; of his delightful tarry of three days under the hospitable roof at Abbotsford, and the pleasing impressions that visit made upon his mind all of which he has fortunately given to the world in his own peculiar, felicitous style. At the time of his visit "Rob Roy" was passing through the press, and his publisher, Constable, was anxious that he should not be disturbed. Each mail brought him an abundance of proofsheets to revise, with which and in composition he occupied the morning hours. During the remainder of the day he was always at leisure, and entered heartily into such amusements as were suggested. The authorship of the Waverley novels was not at that time acknowledged, but they were generally attributed to Scott. No mention, however, was made of the subject by Scott or Irving. In speaking of the different habits of literary men, in regard to composition, he said that Scott had the power to write at any time, and always wrote well. He was indifferent as to moods, which could not be said of most men. Byron was especially under the influence of tho "fyte" in his composition. Moore had another method. He would return from a convivial party with a few sparkling images in his mind, of which he would take note, and leave the construction of the rhythm for his cooler moments, when they wcro cautiously, and often laboriously, clothed in appropriate language. Scott, notwithstanding the immense amount of intellectual labor he performed, was apparently the most perfect person of leisure of any literary man he ever knew. He had an astonishing faculty of ascertaining the substance of a book by casually running it over. He found that he possessed, in a considerable degree, this faculty himself, and supposed that most literary men acquired this habit. He had frequently run over a book in this manner, literally reading it with his fingers, and on a more careful perusal was astonished to find how little of real excellence had been left unnoticed in his hasty search.


Astor Library

During this interview Irving was seated in one of the library alcoves whose shelves were well-lined with books. Some notice was taken of this I scarcely remember how but Irving expressed himself highly gratified at the result of this noble benefaction, which he said he had watched from its inception until it had grown into an important and useful institution. What literary men most wanted in this country was books for reference, and this library would go far to supply that want.

Mr. Astor, he remarked, desired to leave some memorial to the city that should bear his name. He thought of several ways, and among others that of endowing a Professorship, but finally determined to found a library, and frequently consulted him concerning it. The plan met with his most hearty approval; and he frequently endeavored to induce him to establish it during his lifetime, in order that he might be witness to its good results. Mr. Astor frequently invited him to dine with him at his country residence at Hell Gate, and talk about the library. After dinner he would call for the city plot and discuss its location. The first intention was to locate it in Astor Place, which was finally changed for its present more eligible site in Lafayette Place. On one occasion he told Irving that he thought of altering his will in regard to the library. This intelligence completely dumbfounded Irving, who supposed that after all the whole project was to be abandoned. He was, however, quickly reassured by the information that Mr. Astor proposed to add to the original bequest of three hundred and fifty thousand dollars an additional fifty thousand dollars, making the legacy for the purpose four hundred thousand dollars. Irving was delighted, and proposed immediately to draw up a codicil to that effect, which he did on the spot. He afterward ascertained that the codicil containing this bequest was not the one written by him, but was drawn up by Mr. Astor's legal adviser. He had often wished that the library had been established during the lifetime of its founder, not on account of its advantage to the people, for they already enjoyed that, but that he might bo an eye-witness of the results of his gift.

During Irving's frequent conversations with Mr. Astor about the library he occasionally hinted at his taking charge of it, which Irving promptly declined to do, and pointed to Dr. Cogswell, who had just returned from Europe, and had written a very full account of European libraries, as the appropriate person. I rather suspect that this offer, on the part of Mr. Astor, to install Geoffrey Crayon in the grave position of librarian, was rather in compliment than reality; for, apart from Irving's unfitness for a post requiring peculiar bibliographical knowledge, which he never laid claim to, Dr. Cogswell, who was a frequent guest at Mr. Astor's table, had already engrossed his mind as a fit person to carry out his trust.

Irving spoke of Dr. Cogswell on this occasion in terms of the highest commendation. He said that he was a man of vast erudition and admirable tact in the selection of books, and, next to Mr. Astor, was most to be applauded for the present condition of the library. He had devoted to its formation his best energies, and had the satisfaction of seeing the fruits of his labor in the development of a foundation upon which a far inferior workman might continue the superstructure. It was a very different thing to build up from its base such a library and to continue it afterward, and it was a most fortunate circumstance that Dr. Cogswell had undertaken the task.

Irving never hesitated to speak of his own literary productions, and was, when in the company of literary men at least, very communicative in regard to the circumstances under which they were written. His conversation on these occasions seemed to flow naturally from the subjects, and was neither marked by an affectation of restraint on the one hand, nor a consciousness of superior abilities on the other. To younger aspirants for literary fame he had always a word of encouragement and kind advice. He occasionally narrated anecdotes from his own experience of the uncertain position in which he was sometimes placed by his reputation as a writer of popular books. One of the best of these is this: While in England, not long after his name had become familiar to the public by the publication of the "Sketch-Book," he made a purchase at a shop, and directed the parcel to be sent to his lodgings, directed to Mr. Irving.

"Is it possible," said the salesman, with a look and manner that indicated profound admiration, "that I have the honor to serve Mr. Irving?"

Irving modestly acknowledged the compliment paid to his accumulating fame, and a conversation ensued in which the dealer manifested additional interest in his distinguished customer, until a direct inquiry concerning his last work disclosed the fact that he supposed he was engaged in conversation with the Rev. Edward Irving, of the Scottish Kirk, whose polemical works had given him an exalted position among the members of that church. The existence of the "Sketch-Book" was probably unknown to him. "All I could do," added Irving, with that look of peculiar drollery which those who have heard him narrate an incident of this kind well remember, "was to take my tail between my legs and slink away in the smallest possible compass."

Every one is familiar with the portrait of Irving with the fur collar, but few are aware of the reasons which induced him in sitting to adopt this costume. He thus explains them himself in a letter from Paris to his friend Leslie, in 1820: "I received a letter from Peter Powell, in which he speaks of my portrait being in the engraver's hands, and that it is painted in the old Venetian costume. I hope you have not misunderstood my meaning when I spoke about the costume in which I should like to be painted. I believe I spoke something about the costume of Newton's portrait. I meant Newton's portrait of me, not of himself. If you recollect, he painted me as if in some kind of overcoat with a fur cape a dress that has nothing remarkable in it, but which merely avoided any present fashion that might in a few years appear stupid. The Venetian dress which Newton painted himself in would have a fantastic appearance and savor of affectation. Let the costume be simple and picturesque, but such as a gentleman might be supposed to wear at the present day. I only wanted you to avoid the edges, and corners, and angles with which a modern coat is so oddly and formally clipped out at the present day."


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