Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” original stories based on European folklore, are well known to readers today. Characters from each, the farmer who naps for twenty years; scrawny schoolmaster Ichabod Crane greedily eyeing the beautiful and wealthy Katrina Van Tassel, and Bron Van Brunt who engineers Crane’s comeuppance have entertained generations of readers. Often forgotten is Irving’s History of New York, written under the name Diedrich Knickerbocker, and the Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon.
Born on April 3, 1783, Washington Irving was born in New York City. He had ten older brothers and sisters. His father was a wealthy merchant. Legend has it that he was named after George Washington, who stopped by the Irving household to give young Washington his blessing. Irving later wrote The Life of George Washington in honor of the great man. He studied law in the offices of several well-known attorneys of the day, was admitted to the bar in 1806, but practiced law only briefly. He began to write for one of his brother’s magazines and soon turned to writing and editing as a profession. Irving spent some time in England, where his family had a branch of their business. He was a great friend of Charles Dickens, who visited Irving when Dickens traveled to America. From 1845 to 1859, Irving was the president of the Astor Library, which later became the New York Public Library. He died in Tarrytown, New York, on November 28, 1859. Just before going to bed that night, he said: “Well, I must arrange my pillows for another weary night! If this could only end!”