Washington Irving was born in New York City in 1783 as the youngest of 11 children. His father was a wealthy merchant, and his mother, an English woman, was the granddaughter of a clergyman.
Early in his life Irving developed a passion for books. He studied law but practiced only briefly. In his twenties he travelled widely Europe, where he saw the famous English naval officer, Nelson. After returning to the United States, Irving started working with his brothers as partners in the family hardware business until it collapsed in 1818. During the war of 1812 Irving was a military in the U.S. Army. Irving's career as a writer started in journals and newspapers.
|Washington at 22|
Irving's success in social life and literature was shadowed by a personal tragedy. He was engaged to be married to Matilda Hoffman who died at the age of seventeen, in 1809. Later he wrote in a private letter, addressed to Mrs. Forster, as an answer to her inquiry why he had not been married: "For years I could not talk on the subject of this hopeless regret; I could not even mention her name; but her image was continually before me, and I dreamt of her incessantly." (how romantic, Washington Irving!)
|Portrait of Matilda Hoffman|
|"Washington Irving researching Columbus in the convent of Rábida", by David Wilkie|
His stay in Granada brought him into contact with the library of the University and gave opportunity to stay for a time at the Alhambra Palace and it was then that he got to collect the legends and stories from Granada which were the source of "Tales of the Alhambra", written in 1829. This original novel mixes a number of stories with the travel book and the newspaper and the protagonist is the author himself, after his arrival in Spain when he begins a tour through Andalusia which brings him to Granada. And there he got shocked before the sight of the majesty of the Alhambra. During his stay he met Mateo Jimenez who becomes his servant and told him about all these stories and legends that revolve around the monument of the Alhambra and its Arab past. This work has been translated into numerous languages and it is considered one of the most important for this author. Many years later several movies were based on some of those stories that Washington Irving wrote.
In 1832 Irving returned to New York to an enthusiastic welcome as the first American author to have achieved international fame. His fellow-traveler and Charles Joseph Latrobe described Irtving as a "man of a thousand occupations: a botanist, a geologist, a hunter of beetles and butterflies, a musical amateur, a sketcher of no mean pretensions, in short, a complete virtuoso". And his friend Charles Dickens later credited Irving as an influence on his own Christmas writings, including the classic "A Christmas Carol".
Irving also used other German folktales in his short stories, among them "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow". The tale was filmed as the second half of Disney's animated movie "The Adventures of Ichabold and Mr Toad" (1949). Tim Burton's film version from 1999 has darkened and partly changed the story.
He continued to socialize and keep up with his correspondence well into his seventies, and his fame and popularity continued to soar.
Washington Irving died of a heart attack in his bedroom at Sunnyside at the age of 76. And legend says that his last words were: "Well, I must arrange my pillows for another night. When will this end?