Irving, Washington by Faye Huntington

Among the memoirs of my childhood none are more vivid than those connected with the school which I attended up to my tenth year; the schoolhouse, the teachers, the scholars, but above all the school books are well remembered. That was a proud and happy morning somewhere about my eighth birthday when I first carried my new American Manual to school. Now you are puzzled; you have no idea what sort of a book that was. They went out of use long ago, though in this district of which I write the old books were retained longer than in many more favored sections. The American Manual was a book of selections of prose and verse for the use of reading classes, and it was through that old book, that I became familiar with the name and writings of Washington Irving. My first lesson in pathos was "The Widow's Son;" the sad story of "George Somers" impressed me strongly and helped to form a taste for that kind of reading. There was no biographical sketch of the author in those old books, and it was not till long afterwards that I learned anything about the writer of one of my favorite sketches.

Washington Irving was a native of New York City. He was of Scotch descent and early orphaned; in consequence of the death of his father his education was conducted by his older brothers, himself being the youngest son of the family. It is said that he was once in the presence of General George Washington for whom he was named, and that the great man patted the little boy on the head upon that occasion. From this you will have some idea of when our author lived. He was born in 1783, and you will remember that General Washington did not die until 1799, so that it is not impossible that this story may be true. As to what that august patting may have had to do with his future career, I cannot guess, though he might thereby have been inspired with a lofty ambition.

I am sorry to have to tell you that as a schoolboy Washington Irving was more fond of reading stories and books of travel than of the study of his lessons; indeed it is hinted that he read his favorite books slyly, during study hours. However that may be, he managed to pick up considerable knowledge of books and of the art of composition, though he did not at first choose literature as a profession, but took up the law and failing in this he undertook commercial pursuits; making a failure in this line also, he seemed driven into literature which had heretofore been only a pastime. I have spoken of a pathetic sketch which struck my childish fancy; but perhaps Irving is quite as well known through his humorous writings as any. "The History of New York by Diedrick Knickerbocker" has been called "the most original and humorous work of the age." He spent much time abroad and was honored by the friendship of even crowned heads and received many honors; among these was a gold medal bestowed by the British crown for eminence in historical composition.

Irving never married, and when a little past fifty he settled at his country home, "Sunnyside," on the Hudson, his sister and her family his companions. But for all his devotion to a country life, Irving soon after accepted the office of Minister to the Court of Spain, and left his beautiful Sunnyside to spend four years at Madrid. During these four years he wrote delightful letters to his friends at home, telling his nieces who doted on their uncle, all about the dress and manners of the Spanish ladies.

He returned home in 1846 to spend the remainder of his life in retirement, occupying himself upon his last and greatest work, The Life of Washington, the fifth volume of which appeared just before the author's death in 1859. We may not know the secrets of his life, but his biographers tell us that the lady whom he expected to marry died early and that he mourned her loss always and that upon his death bed his thoughts turned towards his early love. He was fond of horseback riding and kept up the habit of taking long rides until he was an old man, and one day, when he was about seventy, he was thrown from his horse, receiving severe injuries. However, he seemed to recover from the effects of this fall and lived to be seventy-six years old, failing gradually until the end came; the light went out and one of our greatest American writers had crossed over to the other side.