American author Washington Irving was a short story writer, essayist, poet, travel book writer, biographer, and columnist. Irving was born in New York City (near present-day Wall Street) at the end of the Revolutionary War on April 3, 1783. His parents, Scottish-English immigrants, were great admirers of General George Washington, and named their son after their hero.
Irving studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1806, but his career soon gave way to his love of writing. His other interests included architecture and landscape design, traveling, and diplomacy. He is best known, however, as the first American to make a living solely from writing. Initially, he wrote under pen names; one of these was "Diedrich Knickerbocker," who was supposedly an eccentric Dutch scholar. In 1809, using this pen name, Irving wrote A History of New-York that describes and satirizes the lives of the early Dutch settlers of Manhattan. Eventually, the term "Knickerbocker" came to refer to anyone from New York who was of Dutch ancestry.
Irving's writing continued with The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (1819), a collection which included his best known short stories The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, in which the schoolmaster Ichabold Crane meets with a headless horseman, and Rip Van Winkle, about a man who falls asleep for 20 years. Irving's writing did a great deal to make the short story a popular form of American literature. In 1822 he published a sequel to The Sketch Book, entitled Bracebridge Hall.
Irving was engaged to be married to Matilda Hoffmanm who died at the age of seventeen, in 1809. He later wrote, "For years I could not talk on the subject of this hopeless regret; I could not even mention her name; but her image was continually before me, and I dreamt of her incessantly." Irving never married.
Irving traveled in Europe for seventeen years from 1815 to 1832, living in Dresden (1822-23), London (1824) and Paris (1925). He began work at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid in 1826. From 1829 to 1832 he was the secretary to the American Legation under Martin Van Buren. During his stay in Spain, he wrote Columbus (1828), Conquest of Granada (1829), and The Companions of Columbus (1831), all based on careful historical research. In 1829, he moved to London and published Alhambra (1832), concerning the history and the legends of Moorish Spain. Among his literary friends were Mary Shelley and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Returning to the United States, Irving traveled to the American West and wrote several books using the West as their setting. These works include A Tour on the Prairies (1835), Astoria (1836), and The Adventures of Captain Bonneville, U.S.A. (1837).
In 1842 Irving returned to Europe as U.S. Ambassador minister to Spain, where he lived until 1846, continuing his historical research and writing. At the age of sixty-two Irving wrote to his friends in America: "My hear yearns for home; and I have now probably turned the last corner in life, and my remaining years are growing scanty in number, I begrude every one that I am obliged to pass separated from my cottage and my kindred...." He returned to the United States again in 1846 and settled at Sunnyside, his country home near Tarrytown, New York. Irving died in Tarrytown on November 28, 1859. Just before retiring for the night, the author had said: "Well, I must arrange my pillows for another weary night! If this could only end!" He was buried in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery at the Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.
Irving's other works include Tales of a Traveller (1824), A Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada (1829), Oliver Goldsmith (1849), and Life of Washington (5 volumes, 1855-1859). Irving's major works were published in 1860-61 in 21 volumes.
The Classical Library,