×

WASHINGTON IRVING

1783-1859
American

"Love is never lost. If not reciprocated,
it will flow back and soften and purify the heart"

Washington Irving was born on 3rd April 1783 in New York City. Washington Irving's parents were Scottish-English immigrants William Irving, Sr, originally of Quholm, Shapinsay, Orkney and Sarah (née Sanders). They married in 1761 while William was serving as a petty officer in the British Navy. They had eleven children, eight of whom survived to adulthood. The same week Irving was born, New York City residents learned of the British ceasefire that ended the American Revolution; Irving’s mother named him after the hero of the revolution, George Washington. 

At age six, with the help of a nanny, Irving met his namesake, who was then living in New York after his inauguration as president in 1789. The president blessed young Irving, an encounter Irving later commemorated in a small watercolour painting, which still hangs in his home today. An uninterested student, Irving preferred adventure stories and drama, and by age fourteen, he was regularly sneaking out of class in the evenings to attend the theatre.

The 1798 outbreak of yellow fever in Manhattan prompted his family to send him to healthier climes upriver, and Irving was dispatched to stay with his friend James Kirke Paulding in Tarrytown, New York. It was in Tarrytown that Irving became familiar with the nearby town of Sleepy Hollow. The nineteen year old Irving began writing letters to The Morning Chronicle in 1802, submitting commentaries on New York's social and theatre scene under the name of Jonathan Oldstyle. The name, which purposely evoked the writer's Federalist leanings, was the first of many pseudonyms Irving would employ throughout his career. The letters brought Irving some early fame and moderate notoriety.

In 1804, concerned for his health, Irving's brothers financed an extended tour of Europe from 1804 to 1806. To the dismay of his brother William, Irving bypassed most of the sites and locations considered essential for the development of an upwardly mobile young man. William wrote that, though he was pleased that his brother's health was improving, he did not like the decision to "gallop through Italy... leaving Florence on your left and Venice on your right". Instead, Irving preferred to hone the social and conversational skills that would later make him one of the world's most in-demand guests.

After the death of his mother, Irving decided to stay in Europe, where he remained for seventeen years from 1815 to 1832. He lived in Dresden (1822-23), London (1824) and Paris (1825). Eventually he settled in Spain, where he worked, for financial reasons, for the United States Embassy in Madrid. In 1832 Irving returned to New York to an enthusiastic welcome as the first American author to have achieved international fame.

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. In addition to his stories, Irving wrote several biographies; The Life of Oliver Goldsmith, The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus and Mohammed.

Washington Irving died of a heart attack in his bedroom at Sunnyside at the age of 76 on 28th November 1859. He was buried under a simple headstone at Sleepy Hollow cemetery on December 1, 1859.

TITLES BY WASHINGTON IRVING

Author image