Saturday, November 9, 2013

Washington Irving Biography

Washington Irving (1783-1859)

v     Irving was America’s first internationally best-selling author.

v     He was also an essayist, biographer, historian, and diplomat, serving as minister (ambassador) to Spain from 1842-46.

v     He’s most famous today for his short stories Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, both included in his collection The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., published in 1819. Geoffrey Crayon was the narrator for many of his books.

v     Irving started his career in 1802, age 19, by writing letters to a newspaper, The New York Chronicle. He used the pseudonym, or fake name, Jonathan Oldstyle.

v     In 1807, he and his brother William started a magazine named Salmagundi which made fun of New York culture and politics––similar to today’s Mad Magazine. In this magazine he coined the name Gotham City, for New York City. Gotham actually means “goat’s town.”

v He used many pseudonyms (also called pen names) including William Wizard, and Lancelot Langstaff. Pen names were common in the US in the 19th century, as writers feared literary critics who could ruin their reputations. 
v     In this magazine he coined the name Gotham City, for New York City. Gotham actually means “goat’s town”.

v     He wrote a 5 volume biography of George Washington and another of Mohammad.

The Alhambra, an 11th century palace in Granada, Spain

v     He wrote history books about Christopher Columbus, the Alhambra, and New York City (NYC). His history of NYC, written under the pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker. The New York Knicks basketball team is named after him - for a long time Knickerbocker was synonymous with New Yorkers. It's also the name of a kind of trouser worn by the Dutch, still worn today in American football and baseball - baggy, and ending just below the knee:

v     In the history of New York, Irving wrote of a dream of St. Nicholas flying in the sky in a wagon, starting the myth of Santa Claus as he’s known today.

v     Irving was appointed first chairman of the Astor Library, beginning the New York Public Library.

v     In England, he won a medal from the Royal Society of Literature, and an honorary doctorate from Oxford.

Personal Life:

Washington Irving was born in Manhattan, NYC, the youngest of eleven children (eight survived. One was actually named Ebenezer! Can you believe it?). His parents were Scottish-English immigrants and merchants. He was born the same year that the USA won the American Revolution, so he was named after Gen. George Washington. At six, he got to meet George Washington, who was living in New York at the time.

Irving’s health was always weak, so his family sent him on many journeys to get him out of the city. He traveled all through New York State and the Catskill mountains, and then throughout Europe. Coming home, he started the magazine Salmagundi, and then started a marketing campaign for his History of New York City. He posted missing-person ads in various newspapers for Diedrich Knickerbocker, as if he were a real person. And, when he published his book under the same name, it was so famous it was an instant hit.

In the War of 1812, Irving served on the staff of Governor Daniel Tomkins. Afterwards, he moved to England in a failed attempt to revive his family’s merchant business, and stayed there for seventeen years, devoting his life to writing stories. He had troubles with copyright piracy. He sent his stories to be published in New York, only to find copies being printed in the UK. So, he found a good publisher, John Miller in London, and started publishing his works at the same time in America and England.
In 1826 Irving went to Madrid to study some documents that had just been made public concerning Columbus and the conquest of America. He wrote A History of the Life of Christopher Columbus which was very successful, and his first work published in his own name. He mixed fact with fiction, creating the genre romantic history. He began the myth that, before Columbus, Europeans believed the world was flat.
In 1832 Irving returned to America and toured the American west, writing A Tour On The Prairies.

Sunnyside, Irving's home in Tarrytown, NY

He bought a home (now a museum) in Tarrytown, near Sleepy Hollow, where he entertained and encouraged many younger authors, including Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens, who came during his American tour. Poe, the "tomahawk man", wasn’t so kind in return, saying,
Irving is much over-rated (precenený), and a nice distinction might be drawn between his just and his surreptitious (secretive) and adventitious (accidental) reputation—between what is due to the pioneer solely (len ako priekopník), and what to the writer.” He was also criticized by others for spending too many years in Europe, writing, “of and for England, rather than his own country.”
Irving’s appointment as Minister to Spain was very difficult, due to the turbulent politics there. He wrote:
“I am wearied and at times heartsick of the wretched politics of this country. . . . The last ten or twelve years of my life, passed among sordid speculators in the United States, and political adventurers in Spain, has shewn me so much of the dark side of human nature, that I begin to have painful doubts of my fellow man; and look back with regret to the confiding period of my literary career, when, poor as a rat, but rich in dreams, I beheld the world through the medium of my imagination and was apt to believe men as good as I wished them to be.”
He died, age 76, of a heart attack in his bedroom. According to legend, his last words were, “Well, I must arrange my pillows for another night. When will this end?” His death was commemorated in a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

In The Churchyard In Tarrytown
How sweet a life was his; how sweet a death!
Living, to wing with mirth the weary hours,
Or with romantic tales the heart to cheer;
Dying, to leave a memory like the breath
Of summers full of sunshine and of showers,
A grief and gladness in the atmosphere

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