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Famous Like Me > Writer > I > Washington Irving

Profile of Washington Irving on Famous Like Me

Name: Washington Irving  
Also Know As:
Date of Birth: 3rd April 1783
Place of Birth: New York, New York, USA
Profession: Writer
From Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia
Washington Irving

Washington Irving (April 3, 1783 – November 28, 1859) was an American author of the early 19th century.

Irving was born in Manhattan. A lawyer, he was a member of the American diplomatic staff in Britain and in Spain. He spoke Spanish. He was a prolific essayist who wrote widely respected biographies of George Washington and Muhammad as well as other historical figures. He also wrote books on 15th century Spain dealing with subjects such as Columbus, the Moors, and the Alhambra.

He is said to have invented the literary myth that everyone before Columbus thought the earth was flat. He is also credited with coining the phrase "the almighty dollar".

Irving traveled on the Western frontier in the 1830s and recorded his glimpses of western tribes in A Tour on the Prairies (1835) and was one of the few 19th century figures to speak out against the mishandling of relations with the Native American tribes by Europeans:

It has been the lot of the unfortunate aborigines of America, in the early periods of colonization, to be doubly wronged by the white men. They have been dispossessed of their hereditary possessions by mercenary and frequently wanton warfare, and their characters have been traduced by bigoted and interested writers.

Irving and James Fenimore Cooper were the first American writers to earn acclaim in Europe. He is said to have mentored authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Edgar Allan Poe.

Irving's famous home Sunnyside in Tarrytown, New York.
Irving's grave, marked by the flag, in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Sleepy Hollow, New York.

He lived in his famous home of Sunnyside, which is still standing just south of the Tappan Zee Bridge. The property and the original house called "Wolfert's Roost" were originally owned by Wolfert Acker, about which he wrote the sketch, "Wolfert's Roost."

It is believed that the city of Irving, Texas was named after him, as are Washington Street and Irving Street in Birmingham. His book Bracebridge Hall was the inspiration for the naming of the town of Bracebridge, Ontario.


His first book was A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Dietrich Knickerbocker (1809), a sly satire on self-important local history that brought "Knickerbocker" into the American lexicon, and then wider English usage.

Irving left for Europe in 1815. In 1819-1820 he published The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, which includes his best known stories, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip van Winkle.

The latter story was written overnight, while Irving was staying with his sister Sarah and her husband, Henry van Wart in Birmingham, England—a place which also inspired some of his other works. Bracebridge Hall or The Humorists, A Medley is based on Aston Hall, there.

Irving wrote The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus in 1828, the Conquest of Granada a year later, and, the Voyages of the Companions of Columbus in 1831.

Irving returned to the United States in 1832 and published Legends of the Conquest of Spain in 1835. But primary among his works of this period were three "Western" books, designed to put to rest the notion that Irving's time in England and Spain had made him more European than American. His first western book was A Tour on the Prairies, published in 1835; the beginning of Chapter 10 includes the following, interpreted by some literary critics to be a comment on concerns about his public persona:

We send our youth abroad to grow luxurious and effeminate in Europe; it appears to me, that a previous tour on the prairies would be more likely to produce that manliness, simplicity, and self-dependence, most in unison with our political institutions.

His second western book was Astoria; he wrote it during a six-month stay with the then-retired John Jacob Astor. It was a worshipful account of Astor's attempt to establish a fur trading colony at present-day Astoria, Oregon.

During Irving's stay with Astor, Benjamin Bonneville paid a visit. His tales of his three years in Oregon Country were said to have enthralled Irving. A month or two later, when Irving encountered Bonneville in Washington, D.C., Bonneville, struggling to write about his journey, decided instead to sell his maps and notes to Irving for $1,000. Irving used that material as the basis for his 1837 book The Adventures of Captain Bonneville, which most believe to be the best of his three western books.


  • The Life of Washington Irving, by Stanley T. Williams, 1935.

This content from Wikipedia is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Washington Irving