Washington Irving (April 3, 1783 – November 28, 1859) was an American author, essayist, biographer and historian of the early 19th century. He is best known for his short stories "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle", both of which appear in his book The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.
Washington Irving was a writer called the “first American man of letters.”
"In the bosom of one of those spacious coves which indent the eastern shore of the Hudson, at that broad expansion of the river denominated by the ancient Dutch navigators the Tappan Zee, and where they always prudently shortened sail, and implored the protection of St. Nicholas when they crossed, there lies a small market-town or rural port, which by some is called Greensburgh, but which is more generally and properly known by the name of Tarry Town."
"(The following tale was found among the papers of the late Diedrich Knickerbocker, an old gentleman of New York, who was very curious in the Dutch history of the province, and the manners of the descendants from its primitive settlers. His historical researches, however, did not lie so much among books as among men; for the former are lamentably scanty on his favorite topics; whereas he found the old burghers, and still more their wives, rich in that legendary lore so invaluable to true history."
"The popular image of <i>The Sketch Book's</i> creator as a 'genial' though diffident tourist indulging his fancy for aristocratic culture amidst the finery of the Old World lingers on."
Seeking a large international audience, he became primarily a writer of short fiction and personalized sketches and essays. Burlesque satire gave way to a gentler, more subtle humor, and he developed the more ingratiating prose style for which he became famous. His persona Geoffrey Crayon, a shy, ironic, at times melancholy American bachelor writer traveling in Europe—a fictionalized version of Irving himself—gave a degree of thematic and tonal unity to his miscellanies, <i>The Sketch Book</i>, <i>Bracebridge Hall</i>, <i>Tales of a Traveller</i>, and <i>The Alhambra</i>. In addition Crayon helped dramatize the author’s ambivalent feelings toward both European aristocracy and American democracy.
American readers gratefully accepted Irving's imagined "history" of the Catskills, despite the fact (unknown to them) that he had adapted his stories from a German source. Irving gave America something it badly needed in the brash, materialistic early years: an imaginative way of relating to the new land.
Retiring to his home in Sunnyside along the shores of the Hudson River, Washington Irving continued to write and eventually became a friendly mentor to the soon-to-be legendary American authors Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Edgar Allen Poe.
Irving traveled in Europe for seventeen years from 1815 to 1832, living in Dresden (1822-23), London (1824) and Paris (1925). He began work at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid in 1826. From 1829 to 1832 he was the secretary to the American Legation under Martin Van Buren. During his stay in Spain, he wrote <i>Columbus</i> (1828), <i>Conquest of Granada</i> (1829), and <i>The Companions of Columbus</i> (1831), all based on careful historical research. In 1829, he moved to London and published <i>Alhambra</i> (1832), concerning the history and the legends of Moorish Spain.
The favourite and last of 11 children of an austere Presbyterian father and a genial Anglican mother, young, frail Irving grew up in an atmosphere of indulgence. He escaped a college education, which his father required of his older sons, but read intermittently at the law, notably in the office of Josiah Ogden Hoffman
Irving had grown up in a transitional America, a nation culturally unsure of itself and deeply divided as to how democratic it should become. He is often dismissed as a political reactionary, a would-be aristocrat in a democratic society. Such a view, however, overlooks complexities, if not contradictions, in his work. For him issues were seldom clear-cut, and he was prone to exploit his uncertainties. A mild (if not rampant) self-mockery is inherent in much of his satire and fiction.