« AnteriorContinuar »
tragedian, Thomas A. Cooper; the “fascinating Fairlie,” as Irving calls her, and the Sophie Sparkle of the “Stomagundi.” Ir. ving's susceptibility to the charms and graces of women — a susceptibility which continued always fresh — was tempered and ennobled by the most chivalrous admiration for the sex as a whole. He placed them on an almost romantic pinnacle, and his actions always conformed to his romantic ideal, although in his writings he sometimes adopts the conventional satire which was more common fifty years ago than now. In a letter to Miss Fairlie, written from Richmond, where he was attending the trial of Aaron Burr, he expresses his exalted opinion of the sex. It was said in accounting for the open sympathy of the ladies with the prisoner that Burr had always been a favorite with them ; “but I am not inclined,” he writes, “to account for it in so illiberal a manner; it results from that merciful, that heavenly disposition, implanted in the female bosom, which ever inclines in favor of the accused and the unfortunate. You will smile at the high strain in which I have indulged ; believe me, it is because I feel it; and I love your sex ten times better than ever.”” Personally, Irving must have awakened a reciprocal admiration. A drawing by Vanderlyn, made in Paris in 1805, and a portrait by Jarvis in 1809, present him to us in the fresh bloom of manly beauty. The face has an air of distinction and gentle breeding; the refined lines, the poetic chin, the sensitive mouth, the shapely nose, the large dreamy eyes, the intellectual forehead, and the clustering brown locks are our ideal of the author of the “SketchBook” and the pilgrim in Spain. His biographer, Mr. Pierre M. Irving, has given no description of his appearance; but a relative, who saw much of our author in his latter years, writes to me: “He had dark gray eyes; a handsome straight nose, which might perhaps be called large ; a broad, high, full forehead, and a small mouth. I should call him of medium height, about five feet eight and a half to nine inches, and inclined to be a trifle stout. There was no peculiarity about his voice; but it was pleasant and had a good intonation. His smile was exceedingly genial, lighting up his whole face and rendering it very attractive; while, if he were about to say anything humorous, it would beam forth from his eyes even before the words were spoken. As a young man his face was exceedingly handsome, and his head was well covered with dark hair; but from my earliest recollection of him he wore neither whiskers nor moustache, but a dark brown wig, which, although it made him look younger, concealed a beautifully shaped head.” We can understand why he was a favorite in the society of Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia, and Albany, as well as of New York, and why he liked to linger here and there, sipping the social sweets, like a man born to leisure and seemingly idle observation of life. It was in the midst of these social successes, and just after his admission to the bar, that Irving gave the first decided evidence of the choice of a career. This was his association with his eldest brother, William, and Paulding in the production of “Salmagundi,” a semi-monthly periodical, in small duodecimo sheets, which ran with tolerable regularity through twenty numbers, and stopped in full tide of success, with the whimsical indifference to the public which had characterized its every issue. Its declared purpose was “simply to instruct the young, reform the old, correct the town, and castigate the age.” In manner and purpose it was an imitation of the World,” and it must share the fate of all imitations; but its wit was not borrowed, and its humor was to some extent original; and so perfectly was it adapted to local conditions that it may be profitably read today as a not untrue reflection of the manners and spirit of the time and city. Its amusing audacity and complacent superiority, the mystery hanging about its writers, its affectation of indifference to praise or profit, its fearless criticism, lively wit, and irresponsible humor, piqued, puzzled, and delighted the town. From the first it was an immense success; it had a circulation in other cities, and many imitations of it sprung up. Notwithstanding many affectations and puerilities it is still readable to Americans. Of course, if it were offered now to the complex and sophisticated society of New York, it would fail to attract anything like the attention it received in the days of simplicity and literary dearth; but the same wit, insight, and literary art, informed with the modern spirit and turned upon the follies and “whim-whams” of the metropolis, would doubtless have a great measure of success. In Irving's contribu
1 An amusing story in connection with this Richmond visit illustrates the romantic phase of Irving's character. Cooper, who was playing at the theatre, needed smallclothes for one of his parts; Irving lent him a pair, – knee-breeches being still worn, – and the actor carried them off to Baltimore. From that city he wrote that he had found in the pocket an emblem of love, a mysterious locket of hair in the shape of a heart. The history of it is curious: when Irving sojourned at Genoa he was much taken with the beauty of a young Italian lady, the wife of a Frenchman. He had never spoken with her, but one evening before his departure he picked up from the floor her handkerchief which she had dropped, and with more gallantry than honesty carried it off to Sicily. His pocket was picked of the precious relic while he was attending a religious function in Catania, and he wrote to his friend Storm, the consul at Genoa, deploring his loss. The consul communicated the sad misfortune to the lovely Bianca, for that was the lady's name, who thereupon sent him a lock of her hair, with the request that he would come to see her on his return. He never saw her again, but the lock of hair was inclosed in a locket and worn about his neck, in memory of a radiant vision that had crossed his path and vanished.