Ebooks, Fiction, Non-Fiction 1000s of Free books and stories online to read now ~ Main Page

 

 

 

Recollections of Irving by His Publisher

You are aware that one of the most interesting reunions of men connected with literary pursuits in England is at the annual dinner of the "Literary Fund,"—the management of which has been so often dissected of late by Dickens and others. It is a fund for disabled authors; and, like most other British charities, requires to be fed annually by a public dinner. A notable occasion of this kind happened on the 11th of May, 1842. It was at this that I first met Mr. Irving in Europe. The president of the festival was no less than the Queen's young husband, Prince Albert,—his first appearance in that (presidential) capacity. His three speeches were more than respectable, for a prince; they were a positive success. In the course of the evening we had speeches by Hallam and Lord Mahon for the historians; Campbell and Moore for the poets; Talfourd for the dramatists and the bar; Sir Roderick Murchison for the savans; Chevalier Bunsen and Baron Brunnow for the diplomatists; G. P. R. James for the novelists; the Bishop of Gloucester; Gally Knight, the antiquary; and a goodly sprinkling of peers, not famed as authors. Edward Everett was present as American Minister; and Washington Irving (then on his way to Madrid in diplomatic 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 spoke to me in terms of strong admiration of the works and genius of Cooper, and regretted that the great novelist seemed to cherish some unpleasant feeling towards him. One day, some time after I had commenced a library edition of Cooper's best works, and while Irving's were in course of publication in companionship, Mr. Irving was sitting at my desk, with his back to the door, when Mr. Cooper came in, (a little bustlingly, as usual,) and stood at the office-entrance, talking. Mr. Irving did not turn, (for obvious reasons,) and Cooper did not see him. Remembering his "Mr. Sharp, Mr. Blunt,—Mr. Blunt, Mr. Sharp," I had acquired caution as to introductions without mutual consent; but with a brief thought of how matters stood, (they had not met for several years,) and a sort of instinct that reduced the real difference between the parties to a baseless fabric of misapprehension, I stoutly obeyed the impulse of the moment, and simply said,—"Mr. Cooper, here is Mr. Irving." The latter turned,—Cooper held out his hand cordially, dashed at once into an animated conversation, took a chair, and, to my surprise and delight, the two authors sat for an hour, chatting in their best manner about almost every topic of the day and some of former days. They parted with cordial good wishes, and Mr. Irving afterwards frequently alluded to the incident as being a very great gratification to him. He may have recalled it with new satisfaction, when, not many months afterwards, he sat on the platform at the "Cooper Commemoration," and joined in Bryant's tribute to the genius of the departed novelist.

Mr. Irving was never a systematic collector of books, and his little library at Sunnyside might have disappointed those who would expect to see there rich shelves of choice editions, and a full array of all the favorite authors among whom such a writer would delight to revel. Some rather antiquated tomes in Spanish,—in different sets of Calderon and Cervantes, and of some modern French and German authors,—a presentation-set of Cadell's "Waverley," as well as that more recent and elegant emanation from the classic press of Houghton,—a moderate amount of home-tools for the "Life of Washington," (rarer materials were consulted in the town-libraries and at Washington,)—and the remainder of his books were evidently a hap-hazard collection, many coming from the authors, with their respects, and thus sometimes costing the recipient their full (intrinsic) value in writing a letter of acknowledgment.

The little apartment had, nevertheless, become somewhat overcrowded, and a suggestion for a general renovation and pruning seemed to be gladly accepted,—so I went up and passed the night there for that purpose. Mr. Irving, in his easy-chair in the sitting-room, after dinner, was quite content to have me range at large in the library and to let me discard all the "lumber" as I pleased; so I turned out some hundred volumes of un-classic superfluity, and then called him in from his nap to approve or veto my proceedings. As he sat by, while I rapidly reported the candidates for exclusion, and he nodded assent, or as, here and there, he would interpose with "No, no, not that," and an anecdote or reminiscence would come in as a reason against the dismissal of the book in my hand, I could not help suggesting the scene in Don Quixote's library, when the priest and the barber entered upon their scrutiny of its contents. Mr. Irving seemed to be highly amused with this pruning process, and his running commentary on my "estimates of value" in weighing his literary collections was richly entertaining.

Observing that his library-table was somewhat antiquated and inadequate, I persuaded him to let me make him a present of a new one, with the modern conveniences of drawers and snug corners for keeping his stray papers. When I sent him such a one, my stipulation for the return of the old one as a present to me was pleasantly granted. This relic was of no great intrinsic value; but, as he had written on this table many of his later works, including "Mahomet," "Goldsmith," "Wolfert's Roost," and "Washington," I prize it, of course, as one of the most interesting mementos of Sunnyside.

As an illustration of habit, it may be added, that, some time after the new table had been installed, I was sitting with him in the library, when he searched long and fruitlessly for some paper which had been "so very carefully stowed away in some very safe drawer" that it was not to be found, and the search ended in a sort of half-humorous, half-earnest denunciation of all "modern conveniences";—the simple old table, with its primitive facilities, was, after all, worth a dozen of these elegant contrivances for memory-saving and neatness.

One rather curious characteristic of Mr. Irving was excessive, unaffected modesty and distrust of himself and of his own writings. Considering how many a débutant in letters, not yet out of his teens, is so demonstratively self-confident as to the prospective effect of his genius on an expecting and admiring world, it was always remarkable to hear a veteran, whose fame for half a century had been cosmopolitan, expressing the most timid doubts as to his latest compositions, and fearing they were unequal to their position,—so unwilling, too, to occupy an inch of ground to which any other writer might properly lay claim. Mr. Irving had planned and made some progress in a work on the Conquest of Mexico, when he learned of Mr. Prescott's intentions, and promptly laid his project aside. His "Life of Washington," originating more than thirty years ago, was repeatedly abandoned, as the successive works of Mr. Sparks, Mr. Padding, and others, appeared; and though he was subsequently induced to proceed with his long-considered plan of a more dramatic and picturesque narrative from a new point of view, yet he was more than once inclined to put his MSS. into the fire, in the apprehension that the subject had been worn threadbare by the various compilations which were constantly coming out. When he ventured his first volume, the cordial and appreciative reception promptly accorded to it surprised as much as it cheered and pleased him; for though he despised hollow flattery, no young writer was more warmly sensitive than he to all discriminating, competent, and honest applause or criticism. When "Wolfert's Roost" was published, (I had to entice the papers of that volume from his drawers, for I doubt whether he would have collected them himself,) I saw him affected actually to tears, on reading some of the hearty and well-written personal tributes which that volume called forth. But though every volume was received in this spirit by the press and the public, he was to the last apprehensive of failure, until a reliable verdict should again reassure him. The very last volume of his works (the fifth of "Washington") was thus timidly permitted to be launched; and I remember well his expression of relief and satisfaction, when he said that Mr. Bancroft, Professor Felton, and Mr. Duyckinck had been the first to assure him the volume was all that it should be. His task on this volume had perhaps extended beyond the period of his robust health,—it had fagged him,—but he had been spared to write every line of it with his own hand, and my own copy is enriched by the autograph of his valedictory.

To refer, however briefly, to Mr. Irving's politics or religion, even if I had intimate knowledge of both, (which assuredly I had not,) would be, perhaps, to overstep decorous limits. It may, however, properly be mentioned, that, in the face of all inherent probabilities as to his comfortable conservatism, and his earnest instincts in favor of fraternal conciliation and justice, (which was as marked a quality in him as in the great man whom be so faithfully portrayed,) in spite of all the considerations urged by timid gentlemen of the old school in favor of Fillmore and the status quo, he voted in 1856, as he told me, for Fremont. In speaking of the candidates then in the field, he said of Fremont, that his comparative youth and inexperience in party-politics were points in his favor; for he thought the condition of the country called for a man of nerve and energy, one in his prime, and unfettered by party-traditions and bargains for "the spoils." His characterization of a more experienced functionary, who had once served in the State Department, was more severe than I ever heard from him of any other person; and severity from a man of his judicious and kindly impulses had a meaning in it.

Favored once with a quiet Sunday at "the Cottage," of course there was a seat for us all in the family-pew at Christ Church in the village (Tarrytown). Mr. Irving's official station as Church-Warden was indicated by the ex-ambassador's meek and decorous presentation of the plate for the silver and copper offerings of the parishioners. At subsequent successive meetings of the General (State) Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church, (to which I had been delegated from a little parish on Staten Island,) the names of Washington Irving and Fenimore Cooper were both recorded,—the latter representing Christ Church, Cooperstown. Mr. Irving for several years served in this capacity, and as one of the Missionary Committee of the Convention, his name was naturally sought as honoring any organization. He was the last person to be demonstrative or conspicuous either as to his faith or his works; but no disciple of Christ, perhaps, felt more devoutly than he did the reverential aspiration of "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will toward men."

Passing a print-window in Broadway one day, his eye rested on the beautiful engraving of "Christus Consolator." He stopped and looked at it intently for some minutes, evidently much affected by the genuine inspiration of the artist in this remarkable representation of the Saviour as the consoler of sorrow-stricken humanity. His tears fell freely. "Pray, get me that print," said he; "I must have it framed for my sitting-room." When he examined it more closely and found the artist's name, "It's by my old friend Ary Scheffer!" said he,—remarking further, that he had known Scheffer intimately, and knew him to be a true artist, but had not expected from him anything so excellent as this. I afterwards sent him the companion, "Christus Remunerator"; and the pair remained his daily companions till the day of his death. To me, the picture of Irving, amid the noise and bustle of noon in Broadway, shedding tears as he studied that little print, so feelingly picturing human sorrow and the source of its alleviation, has always remained associated with the artist and his works. If Irving could enjoy wit and humor and give that enjoyment to others, no other writer of books had a heart more tenderly sensitive than his to the sufferings and ills which flesh is heir to.

Of his later days,—of the calmly received premonitions of that peaceful end of which only the precise moment was uncertain,—of his final departure, so gentle and so fitting,—of that "Washington-Irving-day" so dreamily, blandly still, and almost fragrant, December though it was, when with those simple and appropriate obsequies his mortal remains were placed by the side of his brothers and sisters in the burial-ground of Sleepy Hollow, while thousands from far and near silently looked for the last time on his genial face and mourned his loss as that of a personal friend and a national benefactor, yet could hardly for his sake desire any more enviable translation from mortality,—of the many beautiful and eloquent tributes of living genius to the life and character and writings of the departed author,—of all these you have already an ample record. I need not repeat or extend it. If you could have "assisted" at the crowning "Commemoration," on his birthday, (April 3d,) at the Academy of Music, you would have found it in many respects memorably in accordance with the intrinsic fitness of things. An audience of five thousand, so evidently and discriminatingly intelligent, addressed for two hours by Bryant, with all his cool, judicious, deliberate criticism, warmed into glowing appreciation of the most delicate and peculiar beauties of the character and literary services he was to delineate,—and this rich banquet fittingly desserted by the periods of Everett,—such an evening was worthy of the subject, and worthy to be remembered. The heartiness and the genial insight into Irving's best traits which the poet displayed were peculiarly gratifying to the nearer friends and relatives. His sketch and analysis, too, had a remarkable completeness for an address of that kind, while its style and manner were models of chaste elegance. Speaking of Irving's contemporaries and predecessors, he warms into poetry, thus:—

"We had but one novelist before the era of the 'Sketch-Book': their number is now beyond enumeration by any but a professed catalogue-maker, and many of them are read in every cultivated form of human speech. Those whom we acknowledge as our poets—one of whom is the special favorite of our brothers in language who dwell beyond the sea—appeared in the world of letters and won its attention after Irving had become famous. We have wits and humorists and amusing essayists, authors of some of the airiest and most graceful contributions of the present century,—and we owe them to the new impulse given to our literature in 1819. I look abroad on these stars of our literary firmament,—some crowded together with their minute points of light in a galaxy, some standing apart in glorious constellations; I recognize Arcturus and Orion and Perseus and the glittering jewels of the Southern Crown, and the Pleiades shedding sweet influences; but the Evening Star, the soft and serene light that glowed in their van, the precursor of them all, has sunk below the horizon. The spheres, meanwhile, perform their appointed courses; the same motion which lifted them up to the mid-sky bears them onward to their setting; and they, too, like their bright leader, must soon be carried by it below the earth."

Let me quote also Mr. Bryant's closing remarks:—

"Other hands will yet give the world a bolder, more vivid, and more exact portraiture. In the mean time, when I consider for how many years he stood before the world as an author, with still increasing fame,—half a century in this most changeful of centuries,—I cannot hesitate to predict for him a deathless renown. Since he began to write, empires have arisen and passed away; mighty captains have appeared on the stage of the world, performed their part, and been called to their account; wars have been fought and ended which have changed the destinies of the human race. New arts have been invented and adopted, and have pushed the old out of use; the household economy of half mankind has undergone a revolution. Science has learned a new dialect and forgotten the old; the chemist of 1807 would be a vain babbler among his brethren of the present day, and would in turn become bewildered in the attempt to understand them. Nation utters speech to nation in words that pass from realm to realm with the speed of light. Distant countries have been made neighbors; the Atlantic Ocean has become a narrow frith, and the Old World and the New shake hands across it; the East and the West look in at each other's windows. The new inventions bring new calamities, and men perish in crowds by the recoil of their own devices. War has learned more frightful modes of havoc, and armed himself with deadlier weapons; armies are borne to the battle-field on the wings of the wind, and dashed against each other and destroyed with infinite bloodshed. We grow giddy with this perpetual whirl of strange events, these rapid and ceaseless mutations; the earth seems to be reeling under our feet, and we turn to those who write like Irving for some assurance that we are still in the same world into which we were born; we read, and are quieted and consoled. In his pages we see that the language of the heart never becomes obsolete; that Truth and Good and Beauty, the offspring of God, are not subject to the changes which beset the inventions of men. We become satisfied that he whose works were the delight of our fathers, and are still ours, will be read with the same pleasure by those who come after us."