Page images

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

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

ers of the past generation, was an original experiment, admirably fitted to usher its author into favorable notice. Between these publications and "The Sketch-Book" there was an interval when it seemed more than doubtful whether letters or affairs would become the occupation of Irving. The time and the manner of publication were remarkably auspicious for the success of the last work, whence properly dates his author-life. Issued anonymously, as a serial, and in what was then an elegant style of typography, the refinement, fancifulness, and finish of these popular papers made their legitimate impression. All these facts connected with the appearance of "The Sketch-Book" have a special interest to those who take pride and pleasure in American literature. It was like the portfolio of an artist, a series of careful and authentic studies from life and nature, embodying the native tastes and traits of the man as elicited by the scenes witnessed and the moods experienced by a genial and contemplative wanderer. It revived the spirit of Goldsmith, the tone of the essayists of Queen Anne's day, and seemed to continue, while it diversified, that pure, humane, naive, and thoughtful style of composition, which, in our vernacular, first made literature a social fact instead of a scholar's monopoly.



To this charming introduction, at once sympathetic and unostentatious, Irving owes the endearing quality of his fame. It propitiated his readers for life; and thenceforth the man and his writings became household treasures. It is indicative of his good-sense and innate sentiment that, from the first, he perfectly understood the scope of his own mind and the qualities by virtue of which he could alone hope for literary suc"If I ever get any solid credit with the public,” he wrote at this time, "it must be in the quiet and assiduous operations of my pen, under the mere guidance of fancy and feeling." Few successful authors have experienced more agreeable surprise than he at the instant and universal popularity of "The Sketch-Book." Months elapsed between the despatch of his neat little manuscripts to his friend Brevoort, in New York, and the arrival in England of the printed numbers, with the critical verdict thereon. The intervals were periods of anxious suspense with the author. He shed tears

as he read the cordial praises of his countrymen, tears, as he
wrote, "not of vanity, but for the love." These fresh and far
tributes must have been prophetic to him more than to the
English author who, in a like case, called them "the voice
of a living posterity." And when to this encouragement came
that of British readers and writers, with the literary associa-
tion and social consideration incident to popular authorship
abroad, knowing his natural want of self-confidence, we can
well believe his declaration, when he says, "I feel almost
appalled by such success." Foreign appreciation was dear to
him, as confirming the partial opinions won at home.
all," he writes, "I value success here chiefly as tending to
confirm my standing in my own country." His natural an-
tipathy to business, and the modest estimate he placed upon
his own literary abilities, are expressed with equal sincerity
and discrimination in the letters written at this period, when
he fairly exchanged the wearisome cares of trade for the pre-
carious but congenial resources of authorship. "I would not
again experience," he wrote, after the affairs of the house at
Liverpool were disastrously closed, "the anxious days and
sleepless nights which have been my lot since I have taken
hold of business, to possess the wealth of Croesus." Else-
where, speaking of his ambition as a writer, "I seek only to
blow a flute accompaniment in the national concert, and leave
others to play the fiddle and French horn."

A sense of the characteristic in animals, and fondness for such as were about him, was a trait of Irving's both artistic and humane. A charge to "pat Archy" is among other friendly salutations with which he closes one of his early letters. How aptly he describes Rip Van Winkle's dog, the prairie species he saw in the far-West, and the draggling barn-yard fowls in "The Stout Gentleman"! Landseer had no quicker eye for the expression of nature in the animal tribes; and wherever Irving sojourned, he found some dog or horse to delineate or pet. A former attaché of the American legation at London related to us a characteristic anecdote. One day he was late at dinner, and apologized therefor, saying he had been so amused in watching a group of dancing dogs in the street, that time passed unheeded. He described so vividly the different expression

[ocr errors]
[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

of these animals, how one kept his head on one side, with an air of fantastic melancholy, and another sidled along with pert nonchalance, this one with a cynical, and that with a reckless glee, that the company were convulsed with laughter. The next morning, at breakfast, one of the family rallied the Minister's lady on her yawning at so early an hour. "It is Mr. Irving's fault," she replied; "five times I was woke during the night by my husband's laughing in his dreams; and when I asked the cause, he murmured, O those dogs, those dogs!"" An English gentleman, whom we knew in Italy, had seen much of Irving at Seville, and had several of his letters, written from different parts of Spain; in one of these, after desiring his affectionate remembrance to various friends, he concludes with, "I give Hill's dog a turn. Yours truly, W. I." In explanation, the recipient informed us, that the first time Irving passed an evening with Hill, one of their coterie at Seville, his little black dog, usually most friendly in his demonstrations, barked furiously at the new guest. Amused at this, Irving untwisted the dog's tail, which grew in a stiff ring over his back; no sooner did the animal catch a glimpse of it, than he began to run round in the vain endeavor to seize the extremity; and thenceforth, every time. Irving appeared, he ran up to him expecting a renewal of the pastime; so that to "give Hill's dog a turn" became a matter of course. In a letter written but a few months before his death, alluding to the danger of rhetorical experiments in writing history, he says: "My horse, Gentleman Dick, carries me along very well on an even trot, but in attempting some rhetorical flourishes, the other day, he threw me, and ran off.” It was the "eye of leisure" with which he looked on common life, that assimilates the process of his authorship with that of the artist in hues and colors. Observation and sentiment were the materials with which he instinctively worked; laborious research, earnest argument, declamatory zeal, intense conceptions, were alien to his nature. To see and describe the beautiful and the humorous, to relate and to muse, were the congenial exercises of his kindly, graceful, and sensitive mind.

So well did Irving understand that a more earnest tone in

[ocr errors]

[ocr errors]

literature, and greater intensity of style, had in a large degree superseded the taste for quiet and graceful utterance, since his advent as an author, that he hesitated as to the expediency of republishing his various books in a uniform edition, doubting if the present generation would confirm the favorable judgment of the contemporaries of his early manhood. The remarkable success and the warm welcome Putnam's elegant reprint met with was a delightful surprise to him, and renewed in his age the most pleasing experience of his early authorship, to which the popularity of his "Life of Washington" was a grateful and appropriate consummation. Years before, in his Preface to "The Sketch-Book," he wrote: "Though the author does not aspire to those high honors which are the rewards of loftier intellects, yet it is the dearest wish of his heart to have a secure and cherished, though humble corner, in the good opinion and kind feelings of his countrymen." Never was an affectionate ambition so gratified. It is the peculiar merit and interest of this biography, that, by frankly revealing the life and heart of the man, it makes us familiar with the qualities and the experience which obtained for the author that endearing fame to which alone he aspired.

[merged small][ocr errors]


MR. SAWYER's book of "reconstructions "* is a great relief to the timid and petty style of erudition which has been prevalent among us in treating of Biblical topics. Its title is unduly ambitious; but it does not exaggerate in the least the radical and unsparing temper in which old theories of literalism and verbal inspiration are handled. A critical reader of the book will regret that the sources of information are so seldom credited. A reference to Bunsen's chronology, which puts Adam twenty thousand years before Christ, and a few comparisons with the Septuagint, make up nearly the whole of the apparatus criticus, so far as appears on the surface. This seems to us an error;

* Reconstruction of Biblical Theories; or, Biblical Science improved in its History, Chronology, and Interpretation, and relieved from traditionary_Errors and unwarrantable Hypotheses. By LEICESTER AMBROSE SAWYER. Boston: Walker, Wise, & Co. 12mo. pp. 195.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »