Irving was the first American man of letters, and in him the divergent strands of literature, American history, world history and politics met.
Irving's career, which lasted over half a century, began as a writer and journalist. He published Salmagundi in 1808, and from 1812 to 1814 was an editor of Analectic magazine. His comic history of the Dutch regime in New York, A History of New York, was published in 1809 under the name...
Irving's career, which lasted over half a century, began as a writer and journalist. He published Salmagundi in 1808, and from 1812 to 1814 was an editor of Analectic magazine. His comic history of the Dutch regime in New York, A History of New York, was published in 1809 under the name of the imaginary 'Dietrich Knickerbocker', who was supposed to be an eccentric Dutch-American scholar. It was one of the earliest fantasies of literary history. The name Knickerbocker was later used to identify the first American school of writers, the Knickerbocker Group, of which Irving was a leading figure. The book became part of New York folklore, and eventually the word Knickerbocker was also used to describe any New Yorker who could trace one's family to the original Dutch settlers. He wrote his famous The Sketch Book in 1820, which included ‘Rip Van Winkle’ and ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’.
In 1822 Irving went to Europe and lived there until 1832. In Spain he became attache at the US embassy in Madrid, serving as Secretary of the Legation from 1829-1832. During his stay in Spain, he wrote Columbus, Conquest of Granada, The Companions of Columbus, and the Alhambra (concerning the history and the legends of Moorish Spain); these were all important historical works. In 1832 Irving returned to New York to an enthusiastic welcome as the first American author to have achieved international fame. He toured the southern and western United States and wrote an account of his journey.
In 1842, wanting a man thoroughly familiar with Spain, its people and history, Irving’s friend Secretary of State Daniel Webster went to President John Tyler with the suggestion that Irving be appointed U.S. Ambassador to Spain. The President agreed.
Document Signed as President, Washington, March 22, 1842, ordering the Secretary of State to affix the Seal of the United States to "a full power, and envelope of the letter of credence for Washington Irving as Minister to Spain." The letter of credence was Irving’s credentials, which he would present to the King of Spain.
Irving came home in 1845, but continued to work. From 1856-59 he wrote his magnum opus, his five volume Life of George Washington. He was a man of literature, of history, of foreign travels and affairs, with friends in politics, an artist, dabbler in science, and collector. Truly a man of all seasons, and likely the first American to combine all of these disciplines.
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