« AnteriorContinuar »
76 WASHINGTON, IRWING.
his fitful literary inclinations. Yet he seems to have been mainly intent upon society and the amusements of the passing hour, and, without the spur of necessity to his literary capacity, he yielded to the temptations of indolence, and settled into the unpromising position of a “man about town.” Occasionally, the business of his firm and that of other importing merchants being imperiled by some threatened action of Congress, Irving was sent to Washington to look after their interests. The leisurely progress he always made to the capital through the seductive society of Philadelphia and Baltimore did not promise much business dispatch. At the seat of government he was certain to be involved in a whirl of gayety. His letters from Washington are more occupied with the odd characters he met than with the measures of legislation. These visits greatly extended his acquaintance with the leading men of the country; his political leanings did not prevent an intimacy with the President's family, and Mrs. Madison and he were sworn friends. It was of the evening of his first arrival in Washington that he writes: “I emerged from dirt and darkness into the blazing splendor of Mrs. Madison's drawing-room. Here I was most graciously received; found a crowded collection of great and little men, of ugly old women and beautiful young ones, and in ten minutes was hand and glove with half the people in the assemblage. Mrs. Madison is a fine, portly, buxom dame, who has a smile and a pleasant word for everybody. Her sisters, Mrs. Cutts and Mrs. Washington, are like two merry wives of Windsor; but as to Jemmy Madison, — oh, poor Jemmy – he is but a withered little apple-john.” Odd characters congregated then in Washington as now. One honest fellow, who, by faithful fagging at the heels of Congress, had obtained a profitable post under government, shook Irving heartily by the hand, and professed himself always happy to see anybody that came from New York; “ somehow or another, it was matteral to him,” being the place where he was first born. Another fellow-townsman was “endeavoring to obtain a deposit in the Mechanics' Bank, in case the United States Bank does not obtain a charter. He is as deep as usual; shakes his head and winks through his spectacles at everybody he meets. He swore to me the other day that he had not told anybody what his opinion was, - whether the bank ought to have a charter or not. Nobody in Washington knew what his opinion was — not one — nobody; he defied any one to say what it was — ‘anybody — damn the one ! No, sir, nobody knows; and if he had added nobody cares, I believe honest would have been exactly in the right. Then there's his brother George : “Damn that fellow, knows eight or nine languages; yes, sir, nine languages, – Arabic, Spanish, Greek, Ital — And there's his wife, now, - she and Mrs. Madison are always together. Mrs. Madison has taken a great fancy to her little daughter. Only think, sir, that child is only six years old, and talks the Italian like a book, by ; little devil learnt it from an Italian servant, — damned clever fellow; lived with my brother George ten years. George says he would not part with him for all Tripoli,'” etc. It was always difficult for Irving, in those days, to escape from the genial blandishments of Baltimore and Philadelphia. Writing to Brevoort from Philadelphia, March 16, 1811, he says: “The people of Baltimore are exceedingly social and hospitable to strangers, and I saw that if I once let myself get into the stream I should not be able to get out under a fortnight at least ; so, being resolved to push home as expeditiously as was honorably possible, I resisted the world, the flesh, and the devil at Baltimore; and after three days' and nights' stout carousal, and a fourth's sickness, sorrow, and repentance, I hurried off from that sensual city.” Jarvis, the artist, was at that time the eccentric and elegant lion of society in Baltimore. “Jack Randolph " had recently sat to him for his portrait. “By the bye [the letter continues] that little “hydra and chimera dire, Jarvis, is in prodigious circulation at Baltimore. The gentlemen have all voted him a rare wag and most brilliant wit ; and the ladies pronounce him one of the queerest, ugliest, most agreeable little creatures in the world. The consequence is there is not a ball, tea-party, concert, supper, or other private regale but that Jarvis is the most conspicuous personage; and as to a dinner, they can no more do without him than they could without Friar John at the roystering revels of the renowned Pantagruel.” Irving gives one of his bon mots which was industriously repeated at all the dinner tables, a profane sally, which seemed to tickle the Baltimoreans exceedingly. Being very much importuned to go to church, he resolutely refused, observing that it was the same thing whether he went or stayed at home. “If I don't go,” said he, “the minister says I'll be d–d, and I’ll be d—d if I do go.” This same letter contains a pretty picture, and the expression of Irving's habitual kindly regard for his fellow-men : —
“I was out visiting with Ann yesterday, and met that little assemblage of smiles and fascinations, Mary Jackson. She was bounding with youth, health, and innocence, and good humor. She had a pretty straw hat, tied under her chin with a pink ribbon, and looked like some little woodland nymph, just turned out by spring and fine weather. God bless her light heart, and grant it may never know care or sorrow ! It's enough to cure spleen and melancholy only to look at her.