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The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 06, No. 37, November, 1860 online

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capacity) represented American authors. Such an array of speakers in
a single evening is rare indeed, and it was an occasion long to be
remembered.

The toasts and speeches were, of course, very precisely arranged
beforehand, as etiquette requires, I suppose, being in the presence of
"His Royal Highness," yet most of them were animated and characteristic.
When "Washington Irving and American Literature" was propounded by the
fugleman at the elbow of H.R.H., the cheering was vociferously hearty
and cordial, and the interest and curiosity to see and hear Geoffrey
Crayon seemed to be intense. His name appeared to touch the finest
chords of genial sympathy and good-will. The other famous men of the
evening had been listened to with respect and deference, but Mr.
Irving's name inspired genuine enthusiasm. We had been listening to the
learned Hallam, and the sparkling Moore, - to the classic and fluent
author of "Ion," and to the "Bard of Hope," - to the historic and
theologic diplomate from Prussia, and to the stately representative of
the Czar. A dozen well-prepared sentiments had been responded to in as
many different speeches. "The Mariners of England," "And doth not
a meeting like this make amends," had been sung, to the evident
satisfaction of the authors of those lyrics - (Campbell, by-the-way, who
was near my seat, had to be "regulated" in his speech by his friend and
publisher, Moxon, lest H.R.H. should be scandalized). And now everybody
was on tiptoe for the author of "Bracebridge Hall." If his speech had
been proportioned to the cheers which greeted him, it would have been
the longest of the evening. When, therefore, he simply said, in his
modest, beseeching manner, "I beg to return you my very sincere thanks,"
his brevity seemed almost ungracious to those who didn't know that it
was physically impossible for him to make a speech. It was vexatious
that routine had omitted from the list of speakers Mr. Everett, who
was at Irving's side; but, as diplomate, the Prussian and Russian
had precedence, and as American author, Irving, of course, was
the representative man. An Englishman near me said to his
neighbor, - "Brief?" "Yes, but you can tell the _gentleman_ in the very
tone of his voice."

In the hat-room I was amused to see "little Tom Moore" in the crowd,
appealing, with mock-pathos, to Irving, as the biggest man, to pass his
ticket, lest he should be demolished in the crush. They left the hall
together to encounter a heavy shower; and Moore, in his "Diary," tells
the following further incident.

"The best thing of the evening (as far as I was concerned) occurred
after the whole grand show was over. Irving and I came away together,
and we had hardly got into the street, when a most pelting shower came
on, and cabs and umbrellas were in requisition in all directions. As
we were provided with neither, our plight was becoming serious, when a
common cad ran up to me, and said, - 'Shall I get you a cab, Mr. Moore?
Sure, a'n't I the man that patronizes your Melodies?' He then ran off in
search of a vehicle, while Irving and I stood close up, like a pair of
male caryatides, under the very narrow protection of a hall-door ledge,
and thought, at last, that we were quite forgotten by my patron. But
he came faithfully back, and while putting me into the cab, (without
minding at all the trifle I gave him for his trouble,) he said
confidentially in my ear, - 'Now mind, whenever you want a cab, Misthur
Moore, just call for Tim Flaherty, and I'm your man.' - Now, this I call
_fame_, and of somewhat more agreeable kind than that of Dante, when
the women in the street found him out by the marks of hell-fire on his
beard."

When I said that Mr. Irving could not speak in public, I had forgotten
that he did once get through with a very nice little speech on such an
occasion as that just alluded to. It was at an entertainment given in
1837, at the old City Hotel in New York, by the New York booksellers to
American authors. Many of "the Trade" will remember the good things said
on that evening, and among them Mr. Irving's speech about Halleck,
and about Rogers the poet, as the "friend of American genius." At my
request, he afterwards wrote out his remarks, which were printed in the
papers of the day. Probably this was his last, if not his best effort in
this line; for the Dickens-dinner remarks were not _complete_.

In 1845, Mr. Irving came to London from his post at Madrid, on a short
visit to his friend, Mr. McLane, then American Minister to England. It
was my privilege at that time to know him more domestically than before.
It was pleasant to have him at my table at "Knickerbocker Cottage." With
his permission, a quiet party of four was made up; - the others being
Dr. Beattie, the friend and biographer of Campbell; Samuel Carter Hall,
the _littérateur_, and editor of the "Art Journal"; and William Howitt.
Irving was much interested in what Dr. Beattie had to tell about
Campbell, and especially so in Carter Hall's stories of Moore and his
patron, Lord Lansdowne. Moore, at this time, was in ill-health and shut
up from the world. I need not attempt to quote the conversation. Irving
had been somewhat intimate with Moore in former days, and found him
doubtless an entertaining and lively companion, - but his replies to
Hall about the "patronage" of my Lord Lansdowne, etc., indicated pretty
clearly that he had no sympathy with the _small_ traits and parasitical
tendencies of Moore's character. If there was anything specially
detestable to Irving and at variance with his very nature, it was that
self-seeking deference to wealth and station which was so characteristic
of the Irish poet.

I had hinted to one of my guests that Mr. Irving was sometimes "caught
napping" even at the dinner-table, so that such an event should not
occasion surprise. The conversation proved so interesting that I had
almost claimed a victory, when, lo! a slight lull in the talk disclosed
the fact that our respected guest was nodding. I believe it was a
habit with him, for many years, thus to take "forty winks" at the
dinner-table. Still, the conversation of that evening was a rich
treat, and my English friends frequently thanked me afterwards for the
opportunity of meeting "the man of all others whom they desired to
know."

The term of Mr. Irving's contract with his Philadelphia publishers
expired in 1843, and, for five years, his works remained _in statu quo_,
no American publisher appearing to think them of sufficient importance
to propose definitely for a new edition. Surprising as this fact appears
now, it is actually true that Mr. Irving began to think his works had
"rusted out" and were "defunct," - for nobody offered to reproduce them.
Being, in 1848, again settled in Now York, and apparently able to render
suitable business-attention to the enterprise, I ambitiously proposed an
arrangement to publish Irving's Works. My suggestion was made in a
brief note, written on the impulse of the moment; but (what was more
remarkable) it was promptly accepted without the change of a single
figure or a single stipulation. It is sufficient to remark, that the
number of volumes since printed of these works (including the later
ones) amounts to about eight hundred thousand.

The relations of friendship - I cannot say intimacy - to which this
arrangement admitted me were such as any man might have enjoyed with
proud satisfaction. I had always too much earnest _respect_ for Mr.
Irving ever to claim familiar intimacy with him. He was a man who would
unconsciously and quietly command deferential regard and consideration;
for in all his ways and words there was the atmosphere of true
refinement. He was emphatically a gentleman, in the best sense of that
word. Never forbidding or morose, he was at times (indeed always, when
quite well) full of genial humor, - sometimes overflowing with fun. But I
need not, here at least, attempt to sum up his characteristics.

That "Sunnyside" home was too inviting to those who were privileged
there to allow any proper opportunity for a visit to pass unimproved.
Indeed, it became so attractive to strangers and lion-hunters, that some
of those whose _entrée_ was quite legitimate and acceptable refrained,
especially during the last two years, from adding to the heavy tax which
casual visitors began to levy upon the quiet hours of the host. Ten
years ago, when Mr. Irving was in his best estate of health and spirits,
when his mood was of the sunniest, and Wolfert's Roost was in the
spring-time of its charms, it was my fortune to pass a few days there
with my wife. Mr. Irving himself drove a snug pair of ponies down to the
steamboat to meet us - (for, even then, Thackeray's "one old horse" was
not the only resource in the Sunnyside stables). The drive of two miles
from Tarrytown to that delicious lane which leads to the Roost, - who
does not know all that, and how charming it is? Five hundred
descriptions of the Tappan Sea and the region round about have not
exhausted it. The modest cottage, almost buried under the luxuriant
Melrose ivy, was then just made what it is, - a picturesque and
comfortable retreat for a man of tastes and habits like those of
Geoffrey Crayon, - snug and modest, but yet, with all its surroundings,
a fit residence for a gentleman who had means to make everything
suitable as well as handsome about him. Of this a word anon.

I do not presume to write of the home-details of Sunnyside, further than
to say that this delightful visit of three or four days gave us the
impression that Mr. Irving's element seemed to be at home, as head of
the family. He took us for a stroll over the grounds, - some twenty acres
of wood and dell, with babbling brooks, - pointing out innumerable trees
which he had planted with his own hands, and telling us anecdotes
and reminiscences of his early life: - of his being taken in the
Mediterranean by pirates; - of his standing on the pier at Messina, in
Sicily, and looking at Nelson's fleet sweeping by on its way to the
Battle of Trafalgar; - of his failure to see the interior of Milan
Cathedral, because it was being decorated for the coronation of the
first Napoleon; - of his adventures in Rome with Allston, and how near
Geoffrey Crayon came to being an artist; - of Talleyrand, and many other
celebrities; - and of incidents which seemed to take us back to a former
generation. Often at this and subsequent visits I ventured to suggest,
(not professionally,) after some of these reminiscences, "I hope you
have taken time to make a note of these"; - but the oracle nodded a sort
of humorous No. - A drive to Sleepy Hollow - Mr. Irving again managing
the ponies himself - crowned our visit; and with such a coachman and
guide, in such regions, we were not altogether unable to appreciate the
excursion.

You are aware that in "Knickerbocker," especially, Mr. Irving made
copious revisions and additions, when the new edition was published in
1848. The original edition (1809) was dedicated with mock gravity to the
New York Historical Society; and the preface to the revision explains
the origin and intent of the work. Probably some of the more
literal-minded grandsons of Holland were somewhat unappreciative of the
precise scope of the author's genius and the bent of his humor; but if
this "veritable history" really elicited any "doubts" or any hostility,
at the time, such misapprehension has doubtless been long since removed.
It has often been remarked that Diedrich Knickerbocker had really
enlisted more practical interest in the early annals of his native State
than all other historians together, down to his time. But for him we
might never have had an O'Callaghan or a Brodhead.

The "Sketch-Book" also received considerable new matter in the revised
edition; and the story, in the preface, of the author's connection with
Scott and with Murray added new interest to the volume, which has always
been _the_ favorite with the public. You will remember Mr. Bryant's
remark about the change in the tone of Mr. Irving's temperament shown in
this work as contrasted with Knickerbocker, and the probable cause of
this change. Mr. Bryant's very delicate and judicious reference to
the fact of Mr. Irving's early engagement was undoubtedly correct. A
miniature of a young lady, intellectual, refined, and beautiful, was
handed me one day by Mr. Irving, with the request that I would have a
slight injury repaired by an artist and a new case made for it, the old
one being actually worn out by much use. The painting (on ivory) was
exquisitely fine. When I returned it to him in a suitable velvet case,
he took it to a quiet corner and looked intently on the face for some
minutes, apparently unobserved, his tears falling freely on the glass as
he gazed. That this was a miniature of the lady, - Miss Hoffman, a sister
of Ogden Hoffman, - it is not now, perhaps, indelicate to surmise. It
is for a poet to characterize the nature of an attachment so loyal, so
fresh, and so fragrant, _forty years_ after death had snatched away the
mortal part of the object of affection.

During one of his visits to the city, Mr. Irving suddenly asked if I
could give him a bed at my house at Staten Island. I could. So we had
a nice chatty evening, and the next morning we took him on a charming
drive over the hills of Staten. Island. He seemed to enjoy it highly,
for be had not been there, I believe, since he was stationed there in a
military capacity, during the War of 1812, as aid of Governor Tompkins.
He gave us a humorous account of some of his equestrian performances,
and those of the Governor, while on duty at the island; but neither
his valor nor the Governor's was tested by any actual contact with the
enemy.

In facility of composition, Mr. Irving, I believe, was peculiarly
influenced by "moods." When in his usual good health, and the spirit was
on him, he wrote very rapidly; but at other times composition was an
irksome task, or even an impossible one. Dr. Peters says he frequently
rose from his bed in the night and wrote for hours together. Then again
he would not touch his pen for weeks. I believe his most rapidly written
work was the one often pronounced his most spirited one, and a model as
a biography, the "Life of Goldsmith." Sitting at my desk one day, he
was looking at Forster's clever work, which I proposed to reprint. He
remarked that it was a favorite theme of his, and he had half a mind to
pursue it, and extend into a volume a sketch he had once made for an
edition of Goldsmith's Works. I expressed a hope that he would do so,
and within sixty days the first sheets of Irving's "Goldsmith" were in
the printer's hands. The press (as he says) was "dogging at his heels,"
for in two or three weeks the volume was published.

Visiting London shortly after the "Life of Mahomet" was prepared for
the press, I arranged with Mr. Murray, on the author's behalf, for an
English edition of "Mahomet," "Goldsmith," etc., and took a request from
Mr. Irving to his old friend Leslie, that he would make a true sketch of
the venerable Diedrich Knickerbocker. Mr. Irving insisted that the great
historian of the Manhattoes was not the vulgar old fellow they would
keep putting on the omnibuses and ice-carts; but that, though quaint and
old-fashioned, he was still of gentle blood. Leslie's sketches, however,
(he made two,) did not hit the mark exactly; Mr. Irving liked Darley's
better.

Among the briefer visits to Sunnyside which I had the good-fortune
to enjoy was one with the estimable compiler of the "Dictionary of
Authors." Mr. Irving's amiable and hospitable nature prompted him always
to welcome visitors so kindly, that no one, however dull, and however
uncertain his claims, would fail to be pleased with his visit. But
when the genial host was in good health and in his best moods, and the
visitor had any magnetism in his composition, when he found, in short,
a kindred spirit, his talk was of the choicest. Of Sir Walter Scott,
especially, he would tell us much that was interesting. Probably no two
writers ever appreciated each other more heartily than Scott and Irving.
The sterling good sense, and quiet, yet rich humor of Scott, as well as
his literary tastes and wonderful fund of legendary lore, would find
no more intelligent and discriminating admirer than Irving; while the
rollicking fun of the veritable Diedrich and the delicate fancy and
pathos of Crayon were doubtless unaffectedly enjoyed by the great
Scotsman. I wish I could tell you accurately one-half of the anecdotes
which were so pleasantly related during those various brief visits at
"the Cottage"; but I did not go there to take notes, and it is wicked to
spoil good stories by misquotation. One story, however, I may venture to
repeat.

You remember how the author of the "Pleasures of Hope" was once
hospitably entertained by worthy people, under the supposition that he
was the excellent missionary Campbell, just returned from Africa, - and
how the massive man of state, Daniel Webster, had repeated occasion, in
England, to disclaim honors meant for Noah, the man of words. Mr. Irving
told, with great glee, a little story against himself, illustrating
these uncertainties of distant fame. Making a small purchase at a shop
in England, not long after his second or third work had given currency
to his name, he gave his address ("Mr. Irving, Number," etc.) for the
parcel to be sent to his lodgings. The salesman's face brightened: "Is
it possible," said he, "that I have the pleasure of serving Mr. Irving?"
The question, and the manner of it, indicated profound respect and
admiration. A modest and smiling acknowledgment was inevitable. A few
more remarks indicated still more deferential interest on the part of
the man of tape; and then another question, about Mr. Irving's "latest
work," revealed the pleasant fact that he was addressed as the famous
Edward Irving, of the Scotch Church, - the man of divers tongues.
The very existence of the "Sketch-Book" was probably unknown to his
intelligent admirer. "All I could do," added Mr. Crayon, with that rich
twinkle in his eye, - "all I could do was to take my tail between my legs
and slink away in the smallest possible compass."

A word more about Mr. Irving's manner of life. The impression given by
Thackeray, in his notice (genial enough, and well-meant, doubtless) of
Irving's death, is absurdly inaccurate. His picture of the "one old
horse," the plain little house, etc., would lead one to imagine Mr.
Irving a weak, good-natured old man, amiably, but parsimoniously, saving
up his pennies for his "eleven nieces," (!) and to this end stinting
himself, among other ways, to "a single glass of wine," etc., etc.
Mr. Thackeray's notions of style and state and liveried retinues are
probably not entirely un-English, notwithstanding he wields so sharp a
pen against England's snobs; and he may naturally have looked for more
display of greatness at the residence of an ex-ambassador. But he
could scarcely appreciate that simple dignity and solid comfort, that
unobtrusive _fitness_, which belonged to Mr. Irving's home-arrangements.
There were no flunkies in gold and scarlet; but there were four or five
good horses in the stable, and as many suitable carriages. Everything in
the cottage was peculiarly and comfortably elegant, without the least
pretension. As to the "single glass of wine," Mr. Irving, never a
professed teetotaller, was always temperate on instinct both in eating
and drinking; and in his last two years I believe he did not taste
wine at all. In all financial matters, Mr. Irving's providence and
preciseness were worthy of imitation by all professional literary men;
but with exactness and punctuality he united a liberal disposition to
make a suitable use of money, and to have all around him comfortable and
appropriate. Knowing that he could leave a handsome independence for
those nearest to him, he had no occasion for any such anxious care as
Mr. Thackeray intimates.

Thackeray had been invited to Yonkers, to give his lecture on "Charity
and Humor." At this "Ancient Dorp" he was the guest of Cozzens, and I
had the honor of accompanying the greater and lesser humorist in a
drive to Sunnyside, nine miles. (This call of an hour, by-the-way, was
Thackeray's only glimpse of the place he described.) The interview was
in every way interesting. Mr. Irving produced a pair of antiquated
spectacles, which had belonged to Washington, and Major Pendennis tried
them on with evident reverence. The hour was well filled with rapid,
pleasant chat; but no profound analysis of the characteristics of wit
and humor was elicited either from the Stout Gentleman or from Vanity
Fair. Mr. Irving went down to Yonkers, to hear Thackeray's lecture in
the evening, after we had all had a slice of bear at Mr. Sparrowgrass's,
to say nothing of sundry other courses, with a slight thread of
conversation between. At the lecture, he was so startled by the
eulogistic presentation of the lecturer to the audience, by the
excellent chief of the committee, that I believe he did not once nod
during the evening. We were, of course, proud to have as our own guest
for the night such an embodiment of "Charity and Humor" as Mr. Thackeray
saw in the front bench before him, but whom he considerately spared from
holding up as an illustration of his subject.

Charity, indeed, practical "good-will toward men," was an essential
part of Mr. Irving's Christianity, - and in this Christian virtue he was
sometimes severely tested. Nothing was more irksome to him than to be
compelled to endure calls of mere curiosity, or to answer letters either
of fulsome eulogy of himself or asking for his eulogy of the MSS. or new
work of the correspondent. Some letters of that kind he probably never
did answer. Few had any idea of the _fagging_ task they imposed on
the distinguished victim. He would worry and fret over it trebly in
anticipation, and the actual task itself was to him probably ten times
as irksome as it would be to most others. Yet it would be curious to
know how many letters of suggestion and encouragement he actually did
write in reply to solicitations from young authors for his criticism and
advice, and his recommendation, or, perhaps, his pecuniary aid. Always
disposed to find merit, even where any stray grains of the article lay
buried in rubbish, he would amiably say the utmost that could justly be
said in favor of "struggling genius." Sometimes his readiness to aid
meritorious young authors into profitable publicity was shamefully
abused, - as in the case of Maitland, an Englishman, who deliberately
forged an absurdly distorted paraphrase of a note of Mr. Irving's,
besides other disreputable use of the signature which he had enticed
from him in answer to urgent appeals. But these were among the penalties
of honorable fame and influence which he might naturally expect to pay.
The sunny aspect on the "even tenor of his way" still prevailed; and
until the hand of disease reached him in the last year of his life, very
few probably enjoyed a more tranquil and unruffled existence.

It became almost a proverb, that Mr. Irving was a nearly solitary
instance of a long literary career (half a century) untouched by even
a breath of ill-will or jealousy on the part of a brother-author. The
annals of the _genus irritabile_ scarcely show a parallel to such a
career. The most prominent American contemporary of Mr. Irving in
imaginative literature, I suppose, was Fenimore Cooper, - whose genius
raised the American name in Europe more effectively even than Irving's,
at least on the Continent. Cooper had a right to claim respect and
admiration, if not affection, from his countrymen, for his brilliant
creations and his solid services to American literature; and he knew it.
But, as we all know, - for it was patent, - when he returned from Europe,
after sending his "Letter to his Countrymen," and gave us "Home as
Found," his reception was much less marked with warmth and enthusiasm
than Mr. Irving's was; and while he professed indifference to all such
whims of popular regard, yet he evidently brooded a little over the
relative amount of public attention extended to his brother-author. At
any rate, he persistently kept aloof from Mr. Irving for many years; and
not unfrequently discoursed, in his rather authoritative manner, about
the humbuggery of success in this country, as exhibited in some shining
instances of popular and official favor. With great admiration for
Cooper, whose national services were never recognized as they deserved
to be, I trust no injustice is involved in the above suggestion, which I
make somewhat presumptuously, - especially as Mr. Irving more than once


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Online LibraryVariousThe Atlantic Monthly, Volume 06, No. 37, November, 1860 → online text (page 15 of 21)