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CHAPTER III

THE NATIONAL PERIOD, 1815

I. EARLIER YEARS, 1815-1865

A. THE KNICKERBOCKER SCHOOL

17. National' progress. The last fifteen years of the Revolutionary period, from 1800 to 1815, were marked by great events in America. New States were admitted to the Union; the Louisiana Purchase made the United States twice as large as before; the expedition of Lewis and Clark revealed the wonders and possibilities of the West; Fulton's invention of the steamboat brought the different parts of the country nearer together; the successes of the War of 1812, particularly the naval victories, increased the republic's self-respect and sense of independence. This feeling was no whit lessened by the conquest of the Barbary pirates, to whom for three hundred years other Christian nations had been forced to pay tribute. Just as the great events of the sixteenth century aroused and inspired the Elizabethans, so the growth of the country, the victories, discoveries, and inventions of the first years of the nineteenth century aroused and inspired the Americans. There was rapid progress in all directions, and no slender part in this progress fell to the share of literature.

18. The Knickerbocker School. During the Revolutionary period the literary centre had gradually moved from Massachusetts to Philadelphia. When the nineteenth century began, a boy of seventeen was just leaving school whose talents were to do much to make New York, his birthplace and home, a literary centre. More

over, the name of one of his characters, Diedrich Knickerbocker, has become a literary term; for just as three English authors have been classed together as the Lake Poets because they chanced to live in the Lake Country,

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so the term Knickerbocker School has been found convenient to apply to Irving, Cooper, Bryant, and the lesser writers who were at that time more or less connected with New York.

19. Washington Irving, 1783-1859. This boy of sev enteen was Washington Irving. He first distinguished himself by roaming about in the city and neighboring villages, while the town crier rang his bell and cried in

dustriously, "Child lost! Child lost!" After leaving school, he studied law; but he must have rejoiced when his family decided that the best way to improve his somewhat feeble health was to send him to Europe, far more of a journey in 1800 than a trip around the world. in 1900. He wandered through France, Italy, and England, and enjoyed himself everywhere. When he returned to New York, nearly two years later, he was admitted to the bar; but he spent all his leisure hours on literature. The Spectator had the same attraction for him that it had had for Franklin. When he was nineteen, he had written a few essays in a somewhat similar style; and now he set to work with his brother William and a friend, James K. Paulding, to publish a Spectator of their own. They named it Salmagundi, and in the first number they calmly announced:

Salma

gundi,

1807.

Our purpose is simply to instruct the young, reform the old, correct the town, and castigate the age; this is an arduous task, and therefore we undertake it with confidence.

The twenty numbers of this paper that appeared were bright, merry, and good-natured. Their wit had no sting, and they became popular in New York. The law practice must have suffered some neglect, for Irving had another plan in his mind. One day a notice appeared in the Evening Post under the head of "Distressing." It spoke of the disappearance of one Diedrich Knickerbocker. Other notices followed. One said, "A very curious kind of a written book has been found in his room in his own handwriting." The way was thus prepared, and soon Knickerbocker's New York, History of New York was on the market. It was the most fascinating mingling of fun and sober history that can be conceived of, and was mischievously

Knickerbocker's History of

1809.

Every

dedicated to the New York Historical Society. body read it, and everybody laughed. Even the somewhat aggrieved descendants of the Dutch colonists managed to smile politely.

Knickerbocker's History brought its author three thousand dollars. His talent was recognized on both sides of the Atlantic, but for ten years he wrote nothing more. Finally he went to England in behalf of the business in which he and his brother had engaged. The business was a failure, but still he lingered in London. A government position in Washington was offered him, but he refused it. Then his friends lost all patience. He had but slender means, he was thirty-five years old, and if he was ever to do any literary work, it was time that he made a beginning. Irving felt "cast down, blighted, and broken-spirited," as he said; but he roused himself to work, and soon he began to send manuscript to a New York publisher, to be brought out in numbers under the signature "Geoffrey Crayon." His friends no longer wished that he had taken the government position, for this work, the Sketch Book, was glowing suc- The Sketch cess. Everybody liked it, and with good reason, Book, for among the essays and sketches, all of rare merit, were Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Praises were showered upon the author until he felt, as he wrote to a friend, "almost appalled by such success." Walter Scott, "that golden-hearted man," as Irving called him, brought about the publication of the book in England by Murray's famous publishing house. Its success there was as marked as in America, for at last a book had come from the New World that no one could refuse to accept as literature. The Americans had not forgotten the sneer of the English critic, "Who reads an American book?" and they gloried in

1819-1820.

their countryman's glory. The sale was so great that the publisher honorably presented the author with more than a thousand dollars beyond the amount that had been agreed upon.

Brace

1822.

Tales of a

Traveller,

An enthusiastic welcome awaited Irving whenever he chose to cross the Atlantic, but he still linbridge Hall, gered in Europe. In the next few years he published Bracebridge Hall and Tales of a Traveller. The latter was not very warmly 1824. received, for the public were clamoring for something new. Just as serenely as Scott had turned Life of Co- to fiction when people were tired of his poetry, so Irving turned to history and biography. He Conquest of spent three years in Spain, and the result of those years was his Life of Columbus, The Conquest of Granada, The Companions of ColumColumbus, bus, and, last and most charming of all, The

lumbus, 1828. The

Granada,

ions of

Alhambra.

1831. The Alhambra, 1832.

1829. The

Compan

Irving had now not only fame but an assured income. He returned to America, and there he found himself the man whom his country most delighted to honor. Once more he left her shores, to become minister to Spain for four years; but, save for that absence, he spent the last twenty-seven years of his life in his charming cottage, Sunnyside, on the Hudson near Tarrytown. He was not idle by any means. Among his later works are his Life of Goldsmith and Life of Washington. In these biographies he had two aims to write truly and to write interestingly. His style is always clear, marked by exquisite gleams of humor, and so polished that a word can rarely be changed without spoiling the sentence. To this charm of style he adds in the case of his Life of Goldsmith such an atmosphere of friendliness, of

Life of
Goldsmith,
1849.
Life of

Washing-
ton, 1855-
1859.

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