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within the family circle, over and around which integrity and affection seem to have been alike vigilant. The future author then and there manifested the sensibility, the humor, the imaginative zest, the dislike of business and bustle, the need of sympathetic companionship, the relish of what is dramatic, picturesque, and original, the unambitious, desultory, tender and true, modest and indulgent, but considerate and gracious ideal of life, which afterwards came out in legend, tale, and day-dream, with such humane candor and quiet elegance as to win and warm the readers of two generations and two climes. Hence even those who never enjoyed intimate acquaintance with the man feel, as they trace the boyhood and youth of the author, as if they were listening to the reminiscences of a friend, so perfectly in unison with the idea his writings convey is every anecdote, trait, and utterance. To that sweet and harmonious whole which lends his fame so personal a charm, this record, so largely made up of his own familiar letters, is a graceful overture, wherein the reader of insight and sensibility detects the original theme and every note of the finished composition.
A vagabond propensity manifested itself by “haunting the piers," and was confirmed by his favorite reading, which consisted of voyages and travels. A love for the drama was also early indicated by clandestine visits to the theatre. One of his first metrical attempts was an “Opening Address," written for Cooper to recite, and at the same period commenced those dramatic criticisms which during his first visit to Europe are so prominent in his correspondence. He also learned in France and Italy to enjoy the opera, and this pleasure was one of the chief recreations afforded to his later years, when visiting New York. Associated with the drama was his fondness for artists. One of the most charming episodes of his biography is that devoted to his intercourse and correspondence with Leslie, Allston, and Newton. In these affinities we recognize the artistic element which was an instinct of his authorship, and feel no surprise that, when wandering about Rome with Allston, he seriously thought of adopting his friend's profession, while his letters on the subject of illustrating his writings, as well as a truly Flemish vein of descriptive talent,
evince that, in his hands, the pen achieved the same graphic. office as the pencil. In disposition and temperament, as well as ability, Irving was an artist in letters. His manner, tone, outline, atmosphere, and subjects were as individual as those of any school of painting; he had the same antipathy to affairs, the same love of the dramatic in real life, the same sense of the humorous and the characteristic, which belong to the votaries of the kindred profession, and therefore fraternized with the members of it like one of the guild.
A remarkable fact in the education of Irving, as that word is technically understood, is that he was so little indebted to scholarship either for the discipline or development of his mind. What of literary culture he had was sought under the impulse of personal taste. His style was formed, as far as models are concerned, exclusively from his familiarity with the English classics. Naturally indolent, prone to indulge his moods, living in his affections, and finding “in the comedy of life” ample food for meditation, only the spur of necessity roused him to methodical work, and for many years circumstances seemed to force him into business pursuits or legal occupation, as the only available resource. His social experience and his contemplative and observant faculties, meanwhile, were to him a better school than men of less susceptibility find in academic training or formal study.
It was proposed at one time to engage him in politics, as the readiest means of advancement; but he shrunk from party warfare as instinctively as from the technicalities of law and the strict requirements of trade. He was too frank, tolerant, and kindly by nature to enter heartily into the strife of opinion. He cherished this habit of thinking the more earnestly because of the social bitterness which in his youth was engendered by the fierce controversies of the two great political parties in our country. “I think every man,” he then wrote, “who values his own comfort and utility, should strive to cultivate it.” Withal there was no patriotic indifference. He exhibits deep feeling in writing of the war of 1812, and volunteered as aid to the Governor of his native State at that crisis. A genuine vein of romance in his nature is exhibited in his appreciation of female society, his sympathy with adven
ture and sentiment, and the touching history of his own early attachment, hallowed by the death of its object. Add to these traits a native modesty, that so habitually culminated in selfdistrust as to discourage his efforts, a “repugnance to periodical labor,” an aversion to the office of critic from the dread of giving pain, and an inability for public speaking from want of self-command, and it is easy to understand why Washington Irving so long held himself aloof from the practical enterprises into which his countrymen so audaciously plunge. On a journey, exchanging ideas with a genial companion, domesticated in a pleasant family circle, indulging in humorous vagaries with fanciful good fellows, corresponding with lively and amiable women, following the story of an adventurous explorer, the spectator of busy life, dreaming amidst a rural or picturesque scene, watching and listening as dramatic genius revealed the ecstasy of passion or the grace of comedy, he was in his element; but when called upon, by the pressure of circumstances or a sense of duty, to engage in methodical and material care and responsibilities, to assume a task, to decide on a career, distrust and dismay came over his sensitive mind. The encouragements to literary enterprise were meagre in our young land, and the sympathy such pursuits inspired among his personal friends did not allure them from what they considered the serious business of life. Domestic obligations, to which he was, from an affectionate and conscientious nature, peculiarly alive, and a sense of personal responsibility, were the motives of his early and honest, but ineffectual experiments in law and trade; and the misfortune which overtook him and his brothers in the latter career happily released him to expatiate in the field of literature.
Social life was to Irving the source of highest pleasure and genial inspiration, and yet few men had less of that facility of adaptation and moral hardihood that secure what is deemed success in conventional intercourse. Like the author of " The Seasons,” he was “silent in large companies," and invariably reserved until drawn out by sympathy. His affinities were, however, as keen as reticent; and when once en rapport with a fellow-creature, whether highly gifted or thoroughly con
genial, his mind, as well as his heart, was quickened by the companionship into auspicious play. His early life, as revealed by his correspondence, was singularly enriched and endeared by social charms. His intercourse with the Hoffman family, with his friends Brevoort, Paulding, Renwick, and Kemble, while frank and free, was quite as suggestive of wit as fellowship. With many of the American naval officers he enjoyed intimacy, and was evidently a prime favorite; Decatur had no more sincere mourner; he fondly alludes to the “worthy little tar, Jack Nicholson,” was the cherished guest of more than one mess-room in our Mediterranean squadron, and wrote with zest, in the old Analectic Magazine, biographical sketches of many of our naval heroes. His elder brother, reproving his desultory course as a young traveller on the Continent, writes, “ Good company, I find, is the grand desideratum with you ; good company made you stay eleven weeks in Genoa, when you need not have stayed more than two; and good company drives you through Italy.” Even in literary association it was ever the genial that he affected; from Dennie and Brockden Brown to Scott and Campbell, we find him recognizing and celebrating the human, rather than professional merits of authors. By virtue of his social graces he won the hearts of a greater variety of people than often falls to the lot of successful authors. To him the charm of life was good-fellowship or interesting acquaintance ; its resource and sanction he derived almost wholly from his affections. Few, even of those who enjoy the most intimate domestic relations, cherish stronger family love, or a more deep and delicate sense of the duties thence resulting, than Irving. And the circle, as it extended, both at home and abroad, from kindred to social ties, was ever enjoyed with infinite relish, and remembered with loyal zeal. Not yet released from the trammels of business, he wrote, “ This making of our fortune is the very bane of social life”; and, on his first visit to England, he regrets the Knickerbocker holidays. “I never wish,” he writes, “ to spend the merry Christmas and jolly New Year's elsewhere than in the gamesome city of Manhattan." We learn, too, from the record of his youth and prime in that snug and sociable city of his nativity, that the pranks of Cock5TH S. VOL. XI. NO. II.
loft Hall and the oddities of character there exhibited were no inventions of facetious Salmagundi, but often the slightly embellished experience of a set of good fellows, over the matrimonial fall of whom Irving mourns, in his bachelor exile, praying “ to be let down gently” from the elysium of male friendship, when conjugal authority shall interdict the "odd fellow,” whose inevitable banishment is so quaintly described in Elia's account of the “ Behavior of Married People.”
One is taken by surprise at the adventurous episodes of Irving's first years, associated as his life is with the quiet and uniform career of a man of letters. His first journey at home gave him veritable glimpses of American border life in a region which he visited fifty years later, to find a thrifty and even luxurious civilization. He entered into the spirit and excitement of the second war with England, with all the patriotic sympathy of early manhood. He was present at that memorable incident of our judicial history, the trial of Aaron Burr, and, with characteristic tolerance, was on pleasant terms with both parties. The vessel in which he made a voyage from Genoa to Sicily was attacked by a Mediterranean corsair. He was long embargoed at Nice by the police authorities, in consequence of informalities in his passport, and his letters record curious though annoying experiences in his efforts to contravene these representatives of “ brief authority.” He saw Nelson's fleet pass through the Straits of Messina, and found an inkling of romance in wayside incidents in the south of France, and at a masked ball at Palermo. He was in England when the Princess Charlotte died, and saw the first stage-coach arrive at Liverpool decked with laurel for the victory at Waterloo. The travel, the public events, the versatile experience, and even the vicissitudes of his life, before fairly embarked in the career of authorship, were well adapted to kindle his fancy and enrich his observation.
His first ventures in literature were casual. Those colloquial papers, after the manner of the Spectator, written under the inspiration of social emulation, and delineating local characters and manners, are still a pleasant memorial of old times in New York; and that most elaborate piece of humor, which so amused Sir Walter Scott and mystified the Knickerbock