The Legend of Sleepy Hollow -...
Washington Irving was born on 3rd April, 1783, the youngest of 11, in New York.
Irving found his real interests away from school in literature and the theatre. An outbreak of yellow fever at 15 moved him away from Manhattan and into the surrounding countryside providing valuable settings for later works such as ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’.
By 19 Irving was writing regularly to the New York Morning Chronicle, commenting on the theatrical and social scenes. When his health began to fail, he was sent on the Grand Tour of Europe. Bizarrely he ignored most of the great sights on offer to concentrate on developing his social and conversational powers. His health, though, did improve.
In 1806, back in New York to study law, he scraped a pass at the bar and then founded with several others the literary magazine Salmagundi. Irving nicknamed the city ‘Gotham City’, a name still in use today. Moderately successful, the magazine spread Irving’s reputation beyond New York.
In 1809 while mourning the death of his teenage fiancée Irving finished his first significant book, ‘A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynsasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker’. It satirised local history, local historians and politics. It received great critical acclaim.
Unfortunately his family’s established trading company was now facing great upheavals and Irving was dispatched to England to try to sort it out. After two years he could see no way out but bankruptcy. This left him in England with no real employment prospects, and so he returned to writing.
He sent some short stories back to New York to be published as ‘The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent’. The first part included ‘Rip Van Winkle’ and was extremely successful. The sixth part contained ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’.
Beset by literary piracy, with no copyright law at the time, he set about publishing legitimate copies in England to outwit the bootleggers. From now on Irving published concurrently in America and England in order to render piracy obsolete.
In August 1824, he published ‘Tales of a Traveller’, which included the famed ‘The Devil and Tom Walker’.
In 1826, the American Minister to Spain, invited him to Madrid where he could examine the many historical documents that he had access to. Irving reveled in both the size of the libraries he was granted access to and their rich quality. Historical works flowed from his pen further enhancing his reputation and fortune.
Following the completion of ‘Tales of the Alhambra’ in 1832, Irving returned to America after 17 years abroad. He was now a figurehead of American literature and dispensed advice to Edgar Allan Poe amongst others. Irving also became an advocate for American copyright legislation.
A later appointment as Minister to Spain in 1842 left him disheartened at the antics of the various political factions he encountered. It also afforded him no time to write as he had hoped.
On his return home he began an ‘Author’s Revised Edition’ of his works agreeing an unprecedented deal for 12 per cent of the retail profits.
Washington Irving died of a heart attack at his ‘Sunnyside’ home on the 28th November 1859 at the age of 76, a few months after completing his five volume George Washington biography, in whose honour he had been named.
‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ is a story almost everyone has encountered. An enormous success at the time it is now an undeniable American Spooky classic.