Washington Irving

Essay by Jimmy PopCollege, UndergraduateA+, February 1996

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Washington Irving

Washington Irving was an American writer, the first American author to achieve international fame, who created the fictional characters Rip Van Winkle and Ichabod Crane. The strict acceptance and standing popularity of Irving's tales involving these characters proved the effectiveness of the short story in American literary form.

Irving was born in New York City, Irving studied law at private schools. After serving in several law offices and traveling in Europe for his health from 1804 to 1806, he eventually was amitted to the bar in 1806. His interest in the law was not deep or long lasting, however, Irving began to give essays and sketches to New York newspapers as early as 1802. And a group of these pieces, written from 1802 to 1803 and collected under the title 'Letters of Jonathan Oldstyle', won Irving his earliest literary recognition. From 1807 to 1808, he was the leading person in a social group that included his brothers William Irving and Peter Irving and William's brother-in-law James Kirke Paulding, together they wrote 'Salmagundi', or, the 'Whim-Whams and Opinions of Launcelot Langstaff', and others, a series of essays and poems on New York society.

Irving's contributions to this thing established his reputation as an essayist and wit, and this reputation was enhanced by his next work, 'A History of New York' (1809), evidently written by Irving's famous comic creation, the Dutch-American scholar Diedrich Knickerbocker. The work is a account of New York State during the period of Dutch occupation which was from (1609-1664). Irving's mocking tone and funny descriptions of early American life offset the nationalism in much American writing of the time. Generally considered the first important contribution to American comic literature, and a great popular success from the start. The work brought Irving...