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Washington Irving

He was Hailed as Early America's "First Great Man of Letters"

At a time when young America had little in the way of literature, art or music to boast about, Washington Irving was hailed as the "First American Man of Letters." He is also considered the inventor of the short story. His greatest literary success came in 1819 when he wrote The Sketch Book. ■ Washington Irving was born April 3, 1783, the last of 11 children, to an austere Scots Presbyterian father from the Orkney Islands. Washington studied law, passed the bar exam, but practiced little. Instead he wrote about the life and manners of the times with wit and satire. During the War of 1812 he acquired a staff colonelcy in the army. Later he went to Liverpool to join his brother's hardware importing firm, but it went bankrupt. He decided to stay in England where he formed some valuable literary association with men like Sir Walter Scott. He was greatly encouraged by Scott to continue his writing. The Sketch Book resulted. ■ It contained 30 stories and essays including The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Rip Van Winkle, and The Spectre Bridegroom. The Sketch Book was received with pride by most Americans. It was followed by a proliferation of writing on Germany and Spain, including The Alhambra and The Conquest of Granada. While in Paris, during his extended European travels, he collaborated on dramatic and operatic productions. ■ After 17 years' absence, Irving returned to New York in 1832 where he was warmly received. He spent the later years at his home on the Hudson River where he devoted his time to writing biographies of men like Oliver Goldsmith, George Washington and Mahomet. The work on Washington took five volumes. He died November 28, 1859.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
Scottish-American History Club
2800 Des Plaines Avenue
North Riverside, IL 60546