Sunday, April 3, 2016

Today in History

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Washington Irving, International Bestselling Author

Today in 1783, Washington Irving was born in Manhattan, the youngest of eleven children. His parents, William Irving, Sr. and Sarah Sanders, were Scottish immigrants. Irving was born soon after the American Revolution was won, and his mother named him after General George Washington. When he was six he was able to meet George Washington, an event Irving later made the subject of a watercolor that stills hangs in his house today.

Washington Irving is famous for two short stories: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. Modern readers may not know that he also a biographer and historian. Spending many years in Europe, where he was what we would call a celebrity, he was also a diplomat, part of the American delegations in London and was appointed US Minister to Spain in 1842 by President John Tyler, at the endorsement of Secretary of State Daniel Webster.

Above all, however, Irving Washington was a lifelong and prolific writer. As a young writer he wrote under a variety of amusing pen names, including Jonathan Oldstyle and Diedrich Knickerbocker. His biographies, however, he published under his own name.

Part of the reason for his popularity, in my opinion, is that Irving Washington wrote simply to entertain, and readers responded to that. He wrote in the vernacular, and his stories remain readable and enjoyable even today.

Irving Washington was a strong advocate for copyright laws, since his own work was frequently stolen and reprinted without his permission. This was a big problem with his The Sketch-Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. which was the series that contained both Rip Van Winkle and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. To thwart the "literary bootleggers", he would have his books published on the same day in America and in England, by two different publishers.

As his fame and influence grew, his advice was sought by many young writers, including Edgar Allan Poe. He also corresponded with Charles Dickens.

Washington Irving passed away on November 28, 1859, at his home in Tarrytown, New York at the age of 76. His last words were said to be: "Well, I must arrange my pillows for another night. When will this end?" He is buried at Sleepy Hollow cemetery. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem "In The Churchyard at Tarrytown" is an elegy to him.

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