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Washington Irving's parents immigrated from England. His father was Scotch, and his mother was English. Irving was born at New York, on the third of April, 1783. He died at Sunnyside, his home on the Hudson River, on the twentyeighth of November, 1859.
Thus Irving's life falls between the American Revolution and the War of Secession. At the time of Irving's birth the country was undeveloped; it was only in its infancy. It had but a scanty population, scattered along the Atlantic coast. New York was a straggling town of Dutch houses, gardens, and orchards, with fewer than twenty-five thousand inhabitants. Traveling by land was done on horseback or in stagecoach. Ships were driven by sails, and a voyage to Europe required a good many weeks. Fulton's steamboat did not appear on the Hudson until 1807. The first steam locomotive in America was one of George Stephenson's, which arrived from England in 1829.
American literature was also in its infancy. Indeed, Irving was the first American to win literary fame abroad, and the first to win enduring literary fame at home. The preRevolutionary writers have for us little interest other than their quaintness of style; and they have little value except as sources of information. Benjamin Franklin would naturally belong to this early period; but his autobiography, on which his literary reputation chiefly rests, and which has taken its place among the few great autobiographies of the world, did not appear in print until 1791, and then in a French version. The earliest English version, from an unauthorized manuscript, was not published until 1817, twentyseven years after Franklin's death. The correct, original manuscript was not published until 1868.
Thus Irving was obliged to turn to the literature of England to find models for his work. His temperament and training were such that his writing took the form of the essay, and he made a study of Addison and Goldsmith. (See the introduction to the notes on Rural Life in England.) In 1815 he went to England to help his brother in his business, in which he himself had an interest. His brother's failure, in 1818, threw Irving on his own resources, and caused him to take up writing as a means of livelihood. Instead of returning to America he settled in London, where he found the proper environment and background for his work. In his own words, "Europe held forth the charms of storied and poetical association. There were to be seen the masterpieces of art, the refinements of highly cultivated society, the quaint peculiarities of ancient and local custom. My native country was full of youthful promise: Europe was rich in the accumulated treasures of age. Her-very ruins told the history of times gone by, and every mouldering stone was a chronicle. I longed to wander over the scenes of renowned achievement-to tread, as it were, in the footsteps of antiquity-to loiter about the ruined castle-to meditate on the falling tower—to escape, in short, from the commonplace realities of the present, and lose myself among the shadowy grandeurs of the past."
Irving soon had ready the first essays of his Sketch Book. These were published in 1819, in New York. The completed series, published in book form in 1820, made Irving famous in