June 11, 2015

#04-030: Washington Irving, International Best-Seller

black-and-white image (engraving) of a prosperous, self-satisfied-looking man in coat and vest, high-collared shirt, bare-faced and hair swept forward
Washington Irving

Note: One of America's first international artists, Washington Irving's reputation rests largely on two short stories--but they're familiar to almost all American readers.

Get Ready: Have you ever heard of "the headless horseman"? Or of a man who slept for 20 years?

Washington Irving (1783-1859) holds a unique place in American literature. A generation younger than, but still contemporary with, the inventor Eli Whitney (see Lesson #04-028) and the painter Gilbert Stuart (see Lesson #04-029), he is considered to be the first American author to become a best-seller in Europe. Not only was his work well-known, but he inspired such 19th-century American greats as Nathaniel Hawthorne (author of The Scarlet Letter), Herman Melville (Moby Dick), Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (The Song of Hiawatha), and Edgar Allan Poe (numerous poems and macabre tales).

Irving's best-known works are stories like "Rip Van Winkle" (1819; see Lesson #08-087) about a man who fell asleep in the woods for over 20 years; and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (1820), about a "Headless Horseman" playing a prank on poor schoolteacher Ichabod Crane.

Despite the popularity of these tales, Irving was quite a serious author. He drew on local history for these stories, and was in fact as much a historiographer and biographer as he was a storyteller. He wrote biographies of great men like George Washington (in five volumes!) and Muhammad, as well as histories of Spain. (He was in fact U.S. ambassador to Spain between 1842 and 1846.)

Washington Irving was in the first generation of his family born in America--his parents having come from the British Isles--and the youngest of 11 children (only eight of whom survived to adulthood).

He was born the week that his fellow-citizens learned the American colonists had defeated the British, so his mother named him after the great hero of that war, George Washington. As the president then lived in New York, where the Irvings also lived, young Washington Irving was able to meet his namesake at age six.

His writing career began with letters to the local newspaper, written under a pseudonym. His work was good enough to catch the publisher's eye, and he was soon writing as a profession.

He lived a long and productive life, over 20 years of it in Europe, and at age 76 died of a heart attack at his home named "Sunnyside" in New York State.


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington_Irving

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. ambassador
  2. biographer
  3. catch someone's eye
  4. colonists
  5. historiographer
  6. inspired
  7. macabre
  8. namesake
  9. prank
  10. pseudonym

  1. people who settled a new area (like the first British people who came to America)
  2. a trick; a practical joke
  3. with a dark, frightening tone or atmosphere
  4. encouraged; gave motivation to
  5. two people (or things) that share the same name, especially when one is named after the other
  6. someone who writes people's life stories
  7. get someone's attention
  8. person whose profession is writing history
  9. a false name, as when Samuel Clemens called himself "Mark Twain"
  10. official representative of one country to another

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for June 11, 2015

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. j; 2. f; 3. g; 4. a; 5. h; 6. d; 7. c; 8. e; 9. b; 10. i