Washington Irving [pseudonym Geoffrey Crayon] (1783-1859), American essayist, historian, and author wrote "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow";
They are given to all kinds of marvellous beliefs, are subject to trances and visions, and frequently see strange sights, and hear music and voices in the air. The whole neighborhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions; stars shoot and meteors glare oftener across the valley than in any other part of the country, and the nightmare, with her whole ninefold, seems to make it the favorite scene of her gambols.
One of the first noted American authors to be highly acclaimed in Europe during his life time, Irving was a prolific author of fiction and non-. He wrote numerous short stories, biographies, histories, and tales of his travels. His characters Ichabod Crane and Rip van Winkle are now icons of popular American culture, and many of Irving's works have inspired adaptations to the stage and film.
Named in honour of American President George Washington, under whom the United States gained independence during the American Revolution, Washington Irving was born on 3 April 1783 in New York. He was the eleventh child born to emigrants Sarah Sanders and William Irving, deacon and successful merchant. The Irving's were kind, charitable people and often tended to those left less fortunate after the war. Washington, while born sickly, was a mischievous and adventuresome young man, sneaking out at night to attend plays and frustrating his pious parents, especially his father. He roamed the city and environs, dreaming of far-off places--dreams that were partly fueled by one of his favourite books, Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. Travelling would become a life-long passion. Although he was not an avid student, he studied law and became a clerk in Josiah Ogden Hoffman's law office. The Hoffmans would become great friends to Irving.
Suffering from ill-health off and on for many years, in 1804 Irving set sail from New York Harbour, the first of many trips abroad: he was going to a spa in Bordeaux, France to treat a lung ailment. He learned French and, always gregarious, made many friends who were charmed by his easy-going ways. For the next two years he travelled through many countries in Europe including France, the Netherlands, Spain, Scotland, Wales, and England. Ever the flâneur, he basked in the hospitality of sophisticated European society and indulged his love of art, theatre, and opera. But his Grand Tour was to come to an end when, in 1806 and restored health, he returned to America and was called to the bar.
Irving's social life continued to dominate his days. He was not interested in practicing law, preferring the companionship of his male friends and the flirtatious affections of ladies. In a foreshadowing of great things to come, he collaborated with his brother William and James Kirke Paulding in creating a semi-monthly periodical to compete with the more sombre news publications of the day. While it was short-lived The Salmagundi Papers; or, the Whim-Whams and Opinions of Laucelot Langstaff, Esq. And Others. (1809) was met with great success. The Jonathan Swift-like satire and tongue-in-cheek pokes at politics, culture, and society was "to instruct the young, reform the old, correct the town, and castigate the age." In a similar vein Irving composed his first novel, Knickerbocker's History of New York (1809). A burlesque and comprehensive weaving of fact and fiction, his "History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty" is narrated by Diedrich Knickerbocker and won Irving much acclaim at home and abroad.
During the War of 1812, Irving was beset with ennui. Initially he had begrudgingly enlisted but his patriotism flared with the burning of the capitol; he also served as governors' aid and military secretary for a time. In 1815 he left America for England to visit his brother but remained for the next seventeen years, again travelling to various countries in Europe. While in England, an unsuccessful business venture with his brothers caused him to turn to his pen in hopes of providing some income. Irving's short stories, first printed in America under his pseudonym Geoffrey Crayon between the years 1819-20 were collected in The Crayon Papers and The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon. They contain two of Irvings' most famous tales: "Rip van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow". These stories were wildly popular in America and soon too in Europe where Irving, or, Geoffrey Crayon, was welcomed by noted society and literary figures including actors, writers, artists, Dukes, and Lords, Kings and Queens. Positive reviews were published and Charles Dickens, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord George Gordon Byron, and his friend Sir Walter Scott lauded his humorous and witty style.
Irving's health failed again and for many months he was unable to walk, but it did not stop him from continuing to write. His next novel was Bracebridge Hall, or, The Humorists, A Medley (1822). It was followed by Tales of a Traveller (1824), which Irving considered one of his finer works. In 1826 Irving moved to Madrid, Spain, where he set to writing his highly lauded The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (1828), Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada (1829), and Tales of the Alhambra (1832).
In 1832 Irving returned to America, greeted by his overwhelmingly adoring readership. With the intent of creating a secluded retreat for writing, he bought a farm on the banks of the Hudson River at Tarrytown in New York State. The little Dutch cottage and the picturesque views was soon transformed into the now famous residence "Sunnyside". Irving the bachelor was surrounded by loving friends and relatives, and apart from his sojourn as Minister to Spain in 1842-48, his days of living abroad were over.
Abbotsford and Newstead Abbey (1835) was followed by Astoria: Anecdotes of an enterprise beyond the Rocky Mountains (1836). "....I have felt anxious to get at the details of their adventurous expeditions among the savage tribes that peopled the depths of the wilderness." It explores Irving's impressions from travels in Canada and America as guest of John Jacob Astor's Northwest Fur Company. Irving expresses his sympathy to the displaced, and dispossessed 'savage' Native American Peoples in such stories as "Philip of Pokanoket", "Traits of Indian Character", and "Origin of the White, the Red, and the Black Men". The Adventures of Captain Bonneville (1837) was followed by Irving's biographical works Oliver Goldsmith: A Biography (1850) and Lives of Mahomet and his Successors (1850). Wolfert's Roost and Miscellanies (1855) includes short stories first published in Knickerbocker Magazine. Irving's last finished work, something he had been working on for many years but kept putting aside for other more pressing projects is his Life of George Washington (1859). Washington Irving died on 28 November 1859 and now rests in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery overlooking the Old Dutch Church in Tarrytown, New York.
Panting and fatigued, he threw himself, late in the afternoon, on a green knoll, covered with mountain herbage, that crowned the brow of a precipice. From an opening between the trees he could overlook all the lower country for many a mile of rich woodland. He saw at a distance the lordly Hudson, far, far below him, moving on its silent but majestic course, with the reflection of a purple cloud, or the sail of a lagging bark, here and there sleeping on its glassy bosom, and at last losing itself in the blue highlands.--from "Rip van Winkle"
Biography written by C. D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2007. All Rights Reserved.
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