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“Your familiar pictures of home made me extremely desirous again to be there. . . . I shall once more return to sober life, satisfied with having secured three months of sunshine in this valley of shadows and darkness. In this space of time I have seen considerable of the world, but I am sadly afraid I have not grown wiser thereby, inasmuch as it has generally been asserted by the sages of every age that wisdom consists in a knowledge of the wickedness of mankind, and the wiser a man grows the more discontented he becomes with those around him. Whereas, woe is me, I return in infinitely better humor with the world than I ever was before, and with a most melancholy good opinion and good will for the great mass of my fellow-creatures l’”
Free intercourse with men of all parties, he thought, tends to divest a man's mind of party bigotry.
“One day [he writes] I am dining with a knot of honest, furious Federalists, who are damning all their opponents as a set of consummate scoundrels, panders of Bonaparte, etc. The next day I dine, perhaps, with some of the very men I have heard thus anathematized, and find them equally honest, warm, and indignant; and if I
take their word for it, I had been dining the day before with some of the greatest knaves in the nation, men absolutely paid and suborned by the British government.”
His friends at this time attempted to get him appointed secretary of legation to the French mission, under Joel Barlow, then minister, but he made no effort to secure the place. Perhaps he was deterred by the knowledge that the author of “The Columbiad” suspected him, though unjustly, of some strictures on his great epic. He had in mind a book of travel in his own country, in which he should sketch manners and characters; but nothing came of it. The peril to trade involved in the War of 1812 gave him some forebodings, and aroused him to exertion. He accepted the editorship of a periodical called “Select Reviews,” afterwards changed to the “Analectic Magazine,” for which he wrote sketches, some of which were afterwards put into the “SketchBook,” and several reviews and naval biographies. A brief biography of Thomas Campbell was also written about this time, as introductory to an edition of “Gertrude of Wyoming.” But the slight editorial care required by the magazine was irksome to a man who had an unconquerable repugnance to all periodical labor.
In 1813 Francis Jeffrey made a visit to the United States. Henry Brevoort, who was then in London, wrote an anxious letter to Irving to impress him with the necessity of making much of Mr. Jeffrey. “It is essential,” he says, “that Jeffrey may imbibe a just estimate of the United States and its inhabitants; he goes out strongly biased in our favor, and the influence of his good opinion upon his return to this country will go far to efface the calumnies and the absurdities that have been laid to our charge by ignorant travelers. Persuade him to visit Washington, and by all means to see the Falls of Niagara.” The impression seems to have prevailed that if Englishmen could be made to take a just view of the Falls of Niagara the misunderstandings between the two countries would be reduced. Peter Irving, who was then in Edinburgh, was impressed with the brilliant talent of the editor of the “Review,” disguised as it was by affectation, but he said he “would not give the Minstrel for a wilderness of Jeffreys.”
The years from 1811 to 1815, when he went abroad for the second time, were passed by Irving in a sort of humble waiting on Providence. His letters to Brevoort during this period are full of the ennui of irresolute youth. He idled away weeks and months in indolent enjoyment in the country; he indulged his passion for the theatre when opportunity offered; and he began to be weary of a society which offered little stimulus to his mind. His was the temperament of the artist, and America at that time had little to evoke or to satisfy the artistic feeling. There were few pictures and no galleries; there was no music, except the amateur torture of strings which led the country dance, or the martial inflammation of fife and drum, or the sentimental dawdling here and there over the ancient harpsichord, with the songs of love, and the broad or pathetic staves and choruses of the convivial table; and there was no literary atmosphere.
After three months of indolent enjoyment in the winter and spring of 1811, Irving is complaining to Brevoort in June of the enervation of his social life: “I do want most deplorably to apply my mind to something that will arouse and animate it; for at present it is very indolent and relaxed, and I find it very difficult to shake off the lethargy that enthralls it. This makes me restless and dissatisfied with myself, and I am convinced I shall not feel comfortable and contented until my mind is fully employed. Pleasure is but a transient stimulus, and leaves the mind more enfeebled than before. Give me rugged toils, fierce disputation, wrangling controversy, harassing research,give me anything that calls forth the energies of the mind; but for Heaven's sake shield me from those calms, those tranquil slumberings, those enervating triflings, those siren blandishments, that I have for some time indulged in, which lull the mind into complete inaction, which benumb its powers, and cost it such painful and humiliating struggles to regain its activity and independence l’” Irving at this time of life seemed always waiting by the pool for some angel to come and trouble the waters. To his correspondent, who was in the wilds of Michilimackinac, he continues to lament his morbid in