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
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.