Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

from the romance of the theme. Irving understood, what our later historians have fully appreciated, the advantage of vivid individual portraiture in historical narrative. His conception of the character and mission of Columbus is largely outlined, but firmly and most carefully executed, and is one of the noblest in literature. I cannot think it idealized, though it required a poetic sensibility to enter into sympathy with the magnificent dreamer, who was regarded by his own generation as the fool of an idea. A more prosaic treatment would have utterly failed to represent that mind, which existed from boyhood in an ideal world, and, amid frustrated hopes, shattered plans, and ignoble returns for his sacrifices, could always rebuild its glowing projects, and conquer obloquy and death itself with immortal anticipations. Towards the close of his residence in Spain, Irving received unexpectedly the appointment of Secretary of Legation to the Court of St. James, at which Louis McLane was American Minister; and after some hesitation, and upon the urgency of his friends, he accepted it. He was in the

IN SPAIN. 157

thick of literary projects. One of these was the History of the Conquest of Mexico, which he afterwards surrendered to Mr. Prescott and another was the “Life of Washington,” which was to wait many years for fulfillment. His natural diffidence and his reluctance to a routine life made him shrink from the diplomatic appointment; but once engaged in it, and launched again in London society, he was reconciled to the situation. Of honors there was no lack, nor of the adulation of social and literary circles. In April, 1830, the Royal Society of Literature awarded him one of the two annual gold medals placed at the disposal of the society by George IV., to be given to authors of literary works of eminent merit, the other being voted to the historian Hallam; and this distinction was followed by the degree of D. C. L. from the University of Oxford, – a title which the modest aui

thor never used.

[graphic][graphic]

CHAPTER VIII.

RETURN TO AMERICA. : SUNNYSDDE : THE
MISSION TO MADRID.

IN 1831 Mr. Irving was thrown, by his diplomatic position, into the thick of the political and social tumult, when the Reform Bill was pending and war was expected in Europe. It is interesting to note that for a time he laid aside his attitude of the dispassionate observer, and caught the general excitement. He writes in March, expecting that the fate of the cabinet will be determined in a week, looking daily for decisive news from Paris, and fearing dismal tidings from Poland. “ However,” he goes on to say in a vague way, “the great cause of all the world will go on. What a stirring moment it is to live in I never took such intense interest in newspapers. It seems to me as if life were breaking out anew with me, or that I were entering upon quite a new and almost unknown career of

[graphic]
[graphic]

PETURN TO AM ERICA. 159

existence, and I rejoice to find my sensibilities, which were waning as to many objects of past interest, reviving with all their freshness and vivacity at the scenes and prospects opening around me.” He expects the breaking of the thralldom of falsehood woven over the human mind; and, more definitely, hopes that the Reform Bill will prevail. Yet he is oppressed by the gloom hanging over the booksellers' trade, which he thinks will continue until reform and cholera have passed away. During the last months of his residence in England, the author renewed his impressions of Stratford (the grateful landlady of the Red Horse Inn showed him a poker which was locked up among the treasures of her house, on which she had caused to be engraved “Geoffrey Crayon's Sceptre "); spent some time at Newstead Abbey; and had the sorrowful pleasure in London of seeing Scott once more, and for the last time. The great novelist, in the sad eclipse of his powers, was staying in the city, on his way to Italy, and Mr. Lockhart asked Irving to dine with him. It was but a melancholy repast. “Ah,” said Scott, as Irving gave

[graphic][graphic]

:

him his arm, after dinner, “the times are changed, my good fellow, since we went over the Eildon Hills together. It is all nonsense to tell a man that his mind is not affected when his body is in this state.” Irving retired from the legation in September, 1831, to return home, the longing to see his native land having become intense; but his arrival in New York was delayed till May, 1832. If he had any doubts of the sentiments of his countrymen toward him, his reception in New York dissipated them. America greeted her most famous literary man with a spontaneous outburst of love and admiration. The public banquet in New York, that was long remembered for its brilliancy, was followed by the tender of the same tribute in other cities, – an honor which his unconquerable shrinking from this kind of publicity compelled him to decline. The “Dutch Herodotus, Diedrich Knickerbocker,” to use the phrase of a toast, having come out of one such encounter with fair credit, did not care to tempt Providence further. The thought of making a dinner-table speech threw him into a sort of whimsical

[graphic]
« AnteriorContinuar »