first American romantic, “the father of American Romanticism,” Washington Irving (1783-1859) was the first U.S. writer whose work (and not the personality, as in the case of Benjamin Franklin) has received European recognition.
Irving himself, a witty and extremely modest man, explained the reasons for his popularity: “Enlightened Europe was struck by the fact that people from the thicket of America expressed himself on quite decent English. They looked at me – he wrote – as at something new and strange in literature as at a half-savage who took pen in hand, instead of sticking it in the head.”
Irving was the youngest of eleven children of a prosperous New York merchant, a universal favorite, thanks to consistently smooth, friendly disposition, he was multi-talented personality: an excellent draftsman, an avid music lover, and a tireless traveler.
Irving traveled a lot: he traveled almost half of the American continent, visited England, Germany, and at different times lived in Spain for several years. In his life, which he generally perceived as happy, there were annoying breakdowns and blows of fate. Therefore, because of poor health Irving, the only one of the brothers, has not received a university education, but his health got better later, and he lived happily until seventy-six years.
Bankruptcy firm in which Irving was a companion, led to his ruin, but he recovered soon due to his literary success. There was only one tragedy in Irving’s life that was not able to overcome or to forget – the untimely death of his bride, eighteen-years-old Matilda Hoffman. He had never married and apparently had no girlfriend. The most important thing in Irving’s life was his literary work; the rule “no day without a line” was his motto. Over forty years of literary activity, he produced about twenty voluminous writings and a large number of journal publications. But he almost never practiced only in literature, but in different years, combined with his business or diplomatic service.
Early literary experiments by Irving: “Letters of Jonathan Oldstyle, Gentleman” (1802), published in the newspaper of his brothers Peter and William, participation in the family literary enterprise (together with his brothers and their cousin-in-law JK Paulding) creating a series of satirical “Salmagundi, or Fads and opinions Lancelot Lengstuff, Esquire, and others ” (1807-1808), including the first successful work “A History of New York from the beginning to the end of the Dutch dynasty, written by Diedrich Knickerbocker” (1809) – are in the genre of educational aesthetics.
Immediately after the publication of A History of New York, Irving stepped into the grave and long creative crisis, the beginning of which coincided with the death of Miss Hoffman: a decade he published almost nothing. In 1815, Irving went to Europe. This was his second trip overseas. The first was undertaken in 1804-1806 to strengthen his health. This time Irving needed to restore the peace of mind, he did not know then that he would be back after seventeen years abroad, first doing the family business, and then working as a diplomat in Spain (1826-1829) and the UK (1829-1832).
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