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system of lot! The sentiment of love may be, and is, in a great measure, a fostered growth of poetry and romance, and balderdashed with false sentiment; but with all its vitiations, it is the beauty and the charm, the flavor and the fragrance, of all intercourse between man and woman; it is the rosy cloud in the morning of life; and if it does too often resolve itself into the shower, yet, to my mind, it only makes our nature more fruitful in what is excellent and amiable.”
Better suited him Prague, which is certainly a part of the “naughty world” that Irving preferred : —
“Old Prague still keeps up its warrior look, and swaggers about with its rusty corselet and helm, though both sadly battered. There seems to me to be an air of style and fashion about the first people of Prague, and a good deal of beauty in the fashionable circle. This, perhaps, is owing to my contemplating it from a distance, and my imagination lending it tints occasionally. Both actors and audience, contemplated from the pit of a theatre, look better than when seen in the boxes and behind the scenes. I like to contemplate society in this way occasionally, and to dress it up by the help of fancy, to my own taste. When I get in the midst of it, it is too apt to lose its charm, and then there is the trouble and ennui of being obliged to take an active part in the farce; but to be a mere spectator is amusing. I am glad, therefore, that I brought no letters to Prague. I shall leave it with a favorable idea of its society and manners, from knowing nothing accurate of either; and with a firm belief that every pretty woman I have seen is an angel, as I am apt to think every pretty woman, until I have found her out.”
In July, 1823, Irving returned to Paris, to the society of the Moores and the fascinations of the gay town, and to fitful literary work. Our author wrote with great facility and rapidity when the inspiration was on him, and produced an astonishing amount of manuscript in a short period; but he often waited and fretted through barren weeks and months for the movement of his fitful genius. His mind was teeming constantly with new projects, and nothing could exceed his industry when once he had taken a work in hand; but he never acquired the exact methodical habits which enable some literary men to calculate their power and quantity of production as accurately as that of a cotton mill.
The political changes in France during the period of Irving's long sojourn in Paris do not seem to have taken much of his attention. In a letter dated October 5, 1824, he says: “We have had much bustle in Paris of late, between the death of one king and the succession of another. I have become a little callous to public sights, but have, notwithstanding, been to see the funeral of the late king, and the entrance into Paris of the present one. Charles X. begins his reign in a very conciliating manner, and is really popular. The Bourbons have gained great accession of power within a few years.” The succession of Charles X. was also observed by another foreigner, who was making agreeable personal notes at that time in Paris, but who is not referred to by Irving, who for some unexplained reason failed to meet the genial Scotsman at breakfast. Perhaps it is to his failure to do so that he owes the semi-respectful reference to himself in Carlyle’s “Reminiscences.” Lacking the stimulus to his vocabulary of personal acquaintance, Carlyle simply wrote: “Washington Irving was said to be in Paris, a kind of lion at that time, whose books I some
what esteemed. One day the EmersonTennant people bragged that they had engaged him to breakfast with us at a certain café next morning. We all attended duly, Strackey among the rest, but no Washington came. “Could n't rightly come,” said Malcolm to me in a judicious aside, as we cheerfully breakfasted without him. I never saw Washington at all, but still have a mild esteem of the good man.” This ought to be accepted as evidence of Carlyle's disinclination to say ill-natured things of those he did not know. The “Tales of a Traveller” appeared in 1824. In the author's opinion, with which the best critics agreed, it contained some of his best writing. He himself said in a letter to Brevoort, “There was more of an artistic touch about it, though this is not a thing to be appreciated by the many.” It was rapidly written. The movement has a delightful spontaneity, and it is wanting in none of the charms of his style, unless, perhaps, the style is over-refined; but it was not a novelty, and the public began to criticise and demand a new note. This may have been one reason why he turned to a fresh field and to graver themes. For a time he busied himself on some American essays of a semi-political nature, which were never finished, and he seriously contemplated a Life of Washington; but all these projects were thrown aside for one that kindled his imagination, — the Life of Columbus; and in February, 1826, he was domiciled at Madrid, and settled down to a long period of unremitting and intense labor,