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  • 12/1/2004

Washington Irving

(April 3, 1783 - November 28, 1859)

Washington Irving was an American author of the early 19th century.He was born in New York City.

A lawyer, he served as American ambassador to Britain and later to Spain. He spoke Spanish. He was a prolific essayist who wrote widely respected biographies of George Washington and Muhammad as well as other historical figures. He also wrote books on 15th Century Spain dealing with subjects such as Columbus, the Moors, and the Alhambra.

Irving traveled on the Western frontier in the 1830s and recorded his glimpses of western tribes in A Tour on the Prairies (1835) and was one of the few 19th Century figures to speak out against the mishandling of relations with the Native American tribes by Europeans:

It has been the lot of the unfortunate aborigines of America, in the early periods of colonization, to be doubly wronged by the white men. They have been dispossessed of their hereditary possessions by mercenary and frequently wanton warfare, and their characters have been traduced by bigoted and interested writers.

Washington Irving was the first "literary lion" in the United States. He is said to have mentored authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Edgar Allan Poe.

His first book was A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Dietrich Knickerbocker (1809), a sly satire on self-important local history that brought "Knickerbocker" into the American lexicon, and then wider English usage.

In 1819-1820 he published The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, which included his best known stories, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip van Winkle".

Rip Van Winkle is a man who sleeps for twenty years and wakes in a world he cannot recognize. The name "Rip van Winkle" has gone into the language to describe people who awake and cannot recognize their surroundings. The story was written overnight, while staying with his sister, her husband, Henry van Wart, and their two sons and two daughters, one of whom was his godchild, in Birmingham, England - a place which also inspired some of his other works. Bracebridge Hall or The Humorists, A Medley is based on Aston Hall, there.

One of the van Wart's children would later name his first-born Washington Irving Van Wart (b. 1836), whose niece in turn was called Rosalinda Irving Van Wart (b. 1874).

It is believed that the city of Irving, Texas was named after him, as are Washington Street and Irving Street in Birmingham. His book Bracebridge Hall was the inspiration for the naming of the town of Bracebridge, Ontario.

He lived in his famous home of Sunnyside, which is still standing just suoth of the Tappan Zee Bridge. The property and the original house called "Wolfert's Roost" were originally owned by Wolfert Acker, about which he wrote the short story Wolfert's Roost.

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