Tuesday, December 1, 2009

In Memoriam: Washington Irving

I almost missed an important anniversary today but, in fairness, the event in question happened ten years after Poe's death.

In fact, it's somewhat ironic that Washington Irving was laid to rest this day in 1859 in the now-famous Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in New York. By rights, Poe should have outlived him. Irving was the very first true American man of letters — the original, if you will. He was early enough that he even met George Washington himself (his namesake) while a young tyke. In fact, Irving's first major work, A History of New York by "Deidrich Knickerbocker," was published the same year that Poe was born. Poe, then, was really part of a second wave of American writers (Irving was old enough to be friends with Poe's foster-father). Irving remained active during Poe's career, of course, though Poe called him overrated and said he had gotten lazy as a writer after achieving so much fame.

And to say he achieved fame is an understatement. This was a man who befriended presidents and royalty alike. His funeral, three days after his death by heart attack on November 28, put an entire nation in mourning for the loss of its original literary son.

I don't have too much to say on the subject of Irving's funeral, partly because I couldn't say it any better than Brian Jay Jones did on his blog. Brian is the author of the best modern biography of Irving, appropriately titled Washigton Irving: An American Original, which I happen to consider the single most readable biography out there. Now that it's December, I'm sure people are thinking of good Christmas gifts — how about a book on the American writer who had the greatest influence on our "traditional" modern Christmas?


Brian said...

You are too, too kind, my good man. Thanks for the shout out!

Anonymous said...

Is there a website of how Washington Irving was so influencial in the modern celebrations of Christmas? I have not read him extensively. I am very curious. Help me out, Rob? Thanks!


Rob Velella said...

Brian might be able to offer a better suggestion, but there are definitely plenty of places to find more about it.

Anonymous said...

Any website links? Should I read Brian's book?

Rob Velella said...

The easy answer to your question is "Yes" - I recommend the book to anyone interested in American writing from this period. If Brian checks on this again, he might offer suggestions for the Irving/Xmas connection.

Rob Velella said...

In fact, here's a good place to start. This link takes you to a few of Brian's blog posts on the Irving/Christmas stuff.