Monday, December 11

Biography: Washington Irving

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Washington Irving is one of the greatest literary geniuses of the 19th century. He was an American author, politician and essayist, well known for his immortal works such as the Rip Van Winkle and the Legend of the Sleepy Hollow.

Irving was born in April 3, 1783 on Manhattan, New York. He was the youngest among 11 children. As a student, Irving was described as “disinterested in studying.” He often sneaks out of class just to watch theatrical shows.

At a young age, Irving already showed glimpse of his literary brilliance often writing short essays and stories.

In 1798, when the American plague, yellow fever struck New York, the then teenager Irving stayed in Tarrytown. There he learned about the village of Sleepy Hollow which is famous for its local ghost stories and later served as an inspiration for Irving to write perhaps his greatest work.

Also, during his stay in Tarrytown, he often visited Catskill Mountain, the setting of his short story Rip Van Winkle.

Because of the economic status of his elder brothers and sisters which were all accomplished businessmen in the New York district, Irving carelessly pursued his literary dreams.

In 1802, the nineteen-year old writer started submitting articles to the newspaper The Morning Chronicle using the pen name Jonathan Oldstyle. The editors of the newspaper were impressed with Irving’s writings that it landed him a job editing a magazine in Philadelphia.

Irving toured Europe from 1804-1806, visiting the beautiful cities of Marseilles, Genoa, Sicily and Rome. He went back to the United States to continue his law studies and in 1806, he barely passed the bar exam. He practiced law but because of his love for literature, he devoted himself exclusively in writing.

In 1807, Irving with the help of his brother William and childhood friend James Kirke Paulding started a magazine called Salmagundi. The magazine achieved decent success.

In 1809, Irving finished writing his first full length book,  A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker.

Knickerbocker was actually a hoax and superbly orchestrated marketing campaign that built solid interest for the book. Later, the word Knickerbocker was associated with the first American school of writers.

From 1812-1814, Irving took a job as one of the senior editor of the Analectic magazine. He fully cemented his literary career when we finished writing his two masterpieces which received positive reviews and achieved colossal public success.

He stayed in Europe for 17 years, from 1815-1832. There he served as the Secretary to the American Legation in London.

He returned to America and spent his last years in Tarrytown, serving as the president of the Astor Library until his death on November 28, 1859.


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