Imagens das páginas

THE OLD School-Books.

his diction in all his writings, that he was etymological from the beginning. The leading teacher of the institution was ever insisting on the importance of rhetoric, and struggled hard to make every boy a Cicero. He assigned pieces for memory, to be rehearsed at the public exhibitions of his scholars, and such was his ethnological science and his acquaintance with the doctrine of temperaments, that he committed to Irving the heroic lines— “My voice is still for war,” &c.— while I, nearly seven years younger, was given for rhetorical display— “Pity the sorrows of a poor old man,” &c

There was a curious conflict existing in the school between the principal and his assistantinstructor: the former a legitimate burgher of the city, the latter a New England pedagogue. So far as I can remember, something depended on the choice of the boy's parents in the selection of his studies; but if not expressed otherwise, the principal stuck earnestly to Dilworth, while the assistant, for his section of instruction, held to Noah Webster. The same system or rule was adopted with the school in unfolding the intricacies of arithmetic: Dilworth was all in all with the principal, while Nicholas Pike, with his amended federal currency, was imparted by the assistant. To render this sketch of the institution where young Irving received the earlier principles of his school-education less imperfect, it may be stated that the slender duodecimo volume of Morse's geography was in use. This book was a novelty in school-apparatus, being the first of its kind which professed an account of the different States of the Union, and it enlisted the attention of the schoolmasters. The glowing description of New England by the reverend author, its fertile soil and products, often invoked a smile from the old Knickerbocker instructors. The picture which the patriotic author had drawn of Wethersfield, its fair damsels and its exuberant onions, invoked merriment among the juvenile learners, and secured for a while for the book the sobriquet, the onion edition. There was, besides, a special teacher of elocution, in partial association with the academy, by the name of Milne. He was the compiler of a book entitled the Well-bred Scholar; a man of taste, a dramatic writer, if not a performer. He possessed a magisterial air, a robust and athletic fulness; lived plethoric, and died, I believe, apoplectic. He was an Englishman by birth, and perhaps the first among us, in the progress of instruction, who attempted expounding the art of speaking. Where or how young Irving acquired a knowledge of the classics I am unable to say. We had but three or four schools

of any pretensions among us in that department of education at that time, and Irving, so far as I can learn, was not a scholar of Edward Riggs, a renowned teacher of the Latin, and the author of a popular grammar of that tongue—the first, indeed, of American manufacture in New York, as that of the famous old Cheever was of that of Boston. Irving, however, was preparing to enter Columbia College, but health prevented his further progress. Some few years after we find Irving a student at law with that eminent advocate, the late Josiah Ogden Hoffman. What proficiency he made in that abstract study must be left to conjecture; but in due season he opened a law-office in Pearl-street, near Coenties Slip. His health was still precarious, and he was threatened with pulmonary mischiefs. He was slender and delicate in appearance, but never weary in measures to improve his condition. For wholesome exercise he carried into practical operation a suggestion to be engaged in some mechanical operation daily, and for a specified time to saw wood, in an apartment below his office; and it is more than probable that this service proved of greater benefit to his physical powers than might have been derived at that time from nostrums and a sea-voyage. We need scarcely apprehend falling into error when we affirm that his law-office proved neither burdensome to his mental nor physical faculties. The legal profession, then, as now, abounded in numbers and in great talent. Moreover, the contemplative qualities of Irving were directed in other channels. He needed diversion; he demanded variety; and his views of life were comprehensive. It is a remark well founded, that realities are but dimly to be traced in the twilight of the imagination, and the first impulses of genius are often to be illustrated by the subsequent career of the individual. Young Irving at school was a quiet boy. I can narrate no wild freaks or sports, originating from his conduct. It is true, that except from the general good order of his section of the room, and his devotion to reading, I had little chance to do more than occasionally look at him as at other scholars, witness his movements in the streets, and observe his rather taciturn and sequestered way. He seemed to have a habit of loneliness or abstraction; but he was early a reader, and I might say an observer from the beginning to the end of his life. These qualities, it is not to be supposed, were so prominent as to induce special notice among his schoolassociates at that period of his life; yet as his teacher seemed to bestow particular attention on his pupil, and often spoke of it in after time, his maturer wisdom may have found in his scholar a temperament of peculiar indications, and thus tolerated the impulse of a youth who gave promise of character. Among the incidents of young Irving's life, we know him to have been remarkable for his pedestrian excursions ; at times alone, sometimes accompanied with his intimate friends, Paulding, Brevoort, Verplanck, and Blauvelt, an unfledged poet of New Jersey. His rambles at Weehawken and Powles' Hook; his tours to the Passaic; his grouse excursions at Hempstead; his walks through the Stuyvesant lane of cherry-trees (which, it may be remarked, passed directly through the very grounds on which this edifice where we are now convened stands), all betrayed that love of nature which he has so luxuriantly unfolded in his captivating writings. These rambles were profitable to health and wholesome to intellect; they furnished materials for contemplation and enlarged intellectual capacity: but Irving at this juncture in early manhood sought out other resources of inental gratification. He was bookish, and he read; he individualized the author whom he studied, and he extended the circle of his personal associations. He must have formed an acquaintance with a portion of that mass of men who flourished at that dawn of literary effort in this city. His profession, that of law, had secured to him some knowledge of Hamilton and Burr, of Harrison and Colden, of Wells and Jay, of Jones and Livingston; but with a generous freedom he could seek out Brown, the novelist, Linn, the poet, Allsop, Clifton, and Low. This you will say is a brief list; but genuine writers at that day were not a common article. In my searches after novelties I have walked a day to cast a glance at an author; and a reward of a thousand dollars could not bring forth for inspection a penny-a-liner. For my own part I distinctly recollect the first time I caught a glimpse of Noah Webster, when I felt a triumph as if I had made a discovery in philosophy. But there were other sources of instruction abundantly accessible to all, and Irving would draw wisdom from them: the acting drama of those times yielded gratification to the most refined in taste: the remnant of the old American company of performers was stirring in their vocation and the great renown which waited upon their achievements was recognized as substantially earned. That Irving's imagination was at an early period enamored of scenic exhibitions, and that he took great delight in theatrical displays, as holding the “mirror up to nature,” is the concurrent testimony of all acquainted with him during his minority. That his mind was fructified by a close study of the older dramatists I think a safe inference. He studied the Spanish language the better to comprehend the Spanish


drama. That fountain of knowledge yields to inving spring to all who desire to delineate human character; and who has excelled Irving in that branch of intricate illustration? The animating movements, the picturesque displays made fiction almost a reality, and illumined a mind so susceptible of impression. The drama, with sensibilities like his, roused to newness of reflection, dissipated ennui, and invoked the inner powers of a lonely student to increased literary effort. He must have availed himself of these advantages, now still further multiplying by the efforts of Dunlap and Smith to add novelty to the stage, if not by gorgeous scenery, yet by the bringing forward the popular productions of Kotzebue and Schiller, the acknowledged masters of the drama at that time in Germany. A personal knowledge of some facts, and the humorous and critical disquisitions on the stage, which Irving published shortly after, over the name of Jonathan Oldstyle, demonstrate his intimacy with this species of literature. His Salmagundi adds to our proofs of this fact. I forbear to enter into a consideration of the literary labors of Mr. Irving, voluminous as they are, and precious as the world acknowledges them. His Knickerbocker's History excited an interest in the metropolis never before roused up by any literary occurrence; scarcely, perhaps, by any public event. The reading community, upon its first appearance, were seized with amazement at the wondrous antiquarian research of the author, his lifelike pictures of the olden times, and his boundless humor and refined wit: and many melted in sympathy at the fate of old Diedrick himself, the deserted inhabitant of the Mulberry-street tenement. I confess myself to have been one of the thousands who sought out his obscure lodgings in vain. The brilliant career of Mr. Irving may be dated from the publication of this assumed history, and the wheel of fortune now turned in his behalf. The book was received by Campbell, the poet: through the hands of Henry Brevoort, Walter Scott possessed a copy, and almost raved with delight in its perusal. The omnipotent wit and satirist, George Canning, had nigh fractured his ribs by laughter over its pages. The reading public sought after it, and what the select averred, the masses confirmed. Mr. Irving now became the lion of London, and of the literary world. It is, however, not of his writings that I would wish to speak, at present, but rather confine myself to a few reminiscences of his individuality. The ample page of criticism has already recorded his vast literary merits, and inscribed his name on the tablet of immortality. He is national, he is universal. Did not the lateness of the evening forbid, I would dwell upon that remarkable faculty which Irving possessed of rejoicing in the luxuries and beauties of nature; his love of animals, and his kindly feelings for their comfort; his delight in surveying the garden and the farm-yard; his zeal to behold the anomalies of the vegetable world; his gratification in comprehending the labors of the naturalist; and I would attempt to point out how the defects of the schools of his boyhood were overcome by reading, and a close observation of men and things. He had the power of drawing knowledge from minute as well as great occurrences, from the ludicrous as well as the severe. He has more than once dwelt with me upon the odd characters he had encountered in the streets of our city, in those early days, and none seems to have made a stronger impression on him than the once famous Wilhelm Hoffmeister, popularly known as Billy the Fiddler. I do not know whether this musical genius and singularly-constructed man finds a place in any of Irving's writings. You all, gentlemen, have dwelt upon the genial humor of Irving; his kindly nature was ever apparent. An instance in illustration I will give. Upon his return from his first European tour, after an absence of two years, he had scarcely entered into his parent's domicile in William-street, when his first inquiry was concerning the condition and prospects of an unfortunate maimed boy, of the neighborhood, who possessed singular qualities of mental organization. Mr. Irving had a marvellous tendency to the curious. Had he walked through a lunatic asylum he would seem to have been qualified to write a treatise on insanity; had he been bred to physic, could his sensibilities have endured such servitude,-he might have become famous for his descriptive powers in diagnostic pathology. Language like this may sound extravagant; but the devoted reader of his pages will be strengthened in such an opinion, by comparing the propriety and clearness of his diction in all he utters touching the subject in hand, whether belonging to the schools of arts or of letters, whether in technical science or in the philosophy of nature. Mr. Irving was the best judge of his own faculties and attainments, and what he assumed he accomplished. His competitor is yet to be discovered. His courteous and benignant intercourse with others, whether in the humbler or the higher walks of life, was of so captivating a character as never to create a rebellious feeling, but ever awaken emotions of friendship. Unobtrusive, with his vast merits, nay almost timid, he won esteem from all beholders. He possessed a quick discernment in the analysis of character. I will give an example. Jarvis, the painter, had just finished the head of a venerable member of the


bar, and courteously requested, Lavater-like, Mr. Irving's opinion of the character. “You have faithfully delineated the Genius of Dulness,” replied Irving. The answer was a biography of the individual. There was a trait of singular and peculiar excellence in Mr. Irving, of all mortals he was the freest of envy; and merit of every order he was ready to recognize. A literary man, par ercellence, he could admire the arts, and look upon mechanical skill and the artisan with the feelings, if not the acquisition, of the most accomplished in scientific pursuits; he knew that intellect presided in mechanics as well as in the Homeric song. He endured without annoyance the renown which waited upon the career of Fenimore Cooper; nay, he has written of the genius of his great rival in terms of strongest laudation, in admiration of his noble conceptions and his graphic powers. In like manner has he treated our Bryant. He rarely volunteered his opinion, but he never turned his back on what he had once expressed. Were I to concentrate my views on the more immediate sources of that knowledge, in his several writings, which he displayed with such copious profusion both in active life and in letters, I would affirm that a cautious reading of good authors, an almost unquenchable thirst for dramatic literature in early manhood, and a wide observation, secured by much travel, of the scenery of the bustling world, and of nature herself, had fertilized that peculiar and susceptible mind, and given to his happy mental organization its most potent charms. The deduction is safe, if formed even from the study of his writings alone, that he was fond of incidents and adventures; they enriched his gallery for illustration. Like Hawthorne, he ad mired a snow-storm ; he loved music; he loved little children, that faithful index of the human soul, and often participated in their innocent sports. He abjured excess, and was, at all times, moderate in indulgence at the table. He detested tobacco in every form, with all the abhorrence of Doctor Franklin or Daniel Webster. His toilet was neat; his dress free from peculiarities: the extremes of fashion never reached him. His portrait, with the ample furred coat, executed by Jarvis, and painted after the appearance of the Knickerbocker history, is the most characteristic of him at that period of his life, and gives the most striking idea of his mental aspect, as he was daily seen in public, accompanied with his friend Renwick, or with the superb Decatur, or old Ironsides. About two weeks before his death, Mr. Irving made his final visit to this city from his residence at Sunnyside. He had an official trust to fulfil as President of the Board of Trustees of the Astor Library: he manifested no special indications of alarming physical suffering. Yet it was observed he had less of muscular strength, and that his frame was much attenuated. With his intimate friend, the learned librarian, Dr. Cogswell, having surveyed with gratification the improvements of the enlarged edifice and the accessions of books recently made to that great institution, he remarked with some earnestness, “What, Doctor, might have been my destiny could I have commanded these treasures in my youth !” Foreign criticism has exerted her refined powers in unfolding the merits and the beauties inherent in the writings of our illustrious friend and associate; the schools of Addison and of Johnson have each awarded to him the laurel. At home a dissentient voice has not been expressed, and the republic at large has testified to the purity of his principles and the worth of his labors by a sale almost unparalleled in the annals of bibliopoly. Allibone, with the impartiality of a literary historian, has given us a charming view of this gratifying truth. But I shall make but one brief citation on the subject of our national author's qualities; it is from a classical pen, that has repeatedly dwelt upon the delectable harmony of the life and literature of Irving. I have taken it from Tuckerman ; could I have written half so well I would have preferred my own language: “The outline of his works,” says Mr.T., “should be filled by the reader's imagination with the accessories and coloring incident to so varied, honorable, and congenial a life. In all his wanderings, his eye was busied with the scenes of nature, and cognizant of their every feature; his memory brooded over the tradition of the past, and his heart caught and reflected every phase of humanity. With the feelings of a poet and the habitudes of an artist, he then wandered over the rural districts of merry England, the melancholy hills of romantic Spain, and the exuberant wilderness of his native land, gathering up their most picturesque aspects and their most affecting legends, and transferring them, with the pure and varied colors of his genial expression, into permanent memorials.” Posterity, to whom he may most safely be confided, will neither forget the man nor his writings: these unfold the treasures of a commanding genius, with the excellencies of an unparalleled diction, while of the author himself we may emphatically affirm that his literary products are a faithful transcript of his peculiar mind. He enjoys a glorious triumph : we need not plead in extenuation of a line that he has penned. Let us console ourselves at his loss that he was a native and “to the manor born,” that his life was immaculate and without reproach, and that in death he triumphed over its


terrors. Let it be our pride that the patriarch of American literature is indissolubly connected, in his mighty fame, with the Father of his Country.


A special meeting of this Society was held at the residence of its Vice-President, the Hon. David Sears, Boston, Dec. 15, 1859. After a formal announcement of the death of Mr. Irving, by the President, the following resolutions were offered by Mr. Henry W. Longfellow:


Every reader has his first book... I mean to say, one book among all others, which in early youth first fascinates his imagination, and at once excites and satisfies the desires of his mind. To me this first book was the Sketch Book of Washington Irving. I was a school-boy when it was published, and read each succeeding number with ever-increasing wonder and delight; spell-bound by its pleasant humor, its melancholy tenderness, its atmosphere of reverie, nay, even by its gray-brown covers, the shaded letters of the titles, and the fair, clear type, which seemed an outward symbol of the style. How many delightful books the same author has given us, written before and since—volumes of history and fiction, most of which illustrate his native land, and some of which illumine it, and make the Hudson, I will not say as classic, but as romantic as the Rhine! Yet still the charm of the Sketch Book remains unbroken ; the old fascination still lingers about it; and whenever I open its pages, I open also that mysterious door which leads back into the haunted chambers of youth. Many years afterwards, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Irving in Spain, and found the author, whom I had loved, repeated in the man. The same playful humor; the same touches of sentiment; the same poetic atmosphere ; and, what I admired still more, the entire absence of all literary jealousy, of all that mean avarice of fame, which counts what is given to another as so much taken from one's self— “And rustling hears in every breeze, The laurels of Miltiades.” At this time Mr. Irving was at Madrid, enaged upon his Life of Columbus ; and if the work itself did not bear ample testimony to his zealous and conscientious labor, I could do so from personal observation. He seemed to be always at work. “Sit down,” he would say: “I will talk with you in a moment, but I must first finish this sentence.” One summer morning, passing his house at the early hour of six, I saw his study window already wide open. On o mentioning it to him afterwards, he said: “Yes, I am always at my work as early as six.” Since then I have often remembered that sunny morning and that open window, so suggestive of his sunny temperament and his open heart, and equally so of his patient and persistent toil; and have recalled those striking words of Dante:


“Seggendo in piuma, In fama non si vien, ne sotto coltre: Senza la qual chi sua vita consuma, Cotal vestigio in terra di se lascia, Qual fumo in aere, od in acqua la schiuma.”

“Seated upon down, Or in his bed, man conneth not to fame, Withouten which, whoso his life consumes, Such vestige of himself on earth shall leave, As smoke in air, and in the water foam.”

Remembering these things, I esteem it a great though a melancholy privilege, to lay upon his hearse the passing tribute of these resolutions:

Resolved, That while we deeply deplore the death of our friend and associate, Washington Irving, we rejoice in the completeness of his life and labors, which, closing together, have left behind them so sweet a fame, and a memory so precious. Resolved, That we feel a just pride in his renown as an author, not forgetting that, to his other claims upon our gratitude, he adds also that of having been the first to win for our country an honorable name and position in the History of Letters. Resolved, That we hold in affectionate remembrance the noble example of his long literary career, extending through half a century of unremitted labors, graced with all the amenities of authorship, and marred by none of its discords and contentions. Resolved, That as members of this Historical Society, we regard with especial honor and admiration, his Lives of Columbus, the Discoverer, and of Washington, the Father of our Country. Resolved, That a copy of these resolutions be transmitted to his family, with the expression of our deepest and sincere sympathy.


The Hon. Edward Everett, in seconding the resolutions, said:

I cordially concur in the resolutions which Mr. Longfellow has submitted to the Society. They do no more than justice to the merits and character of Mr. Irving, as a man and as a writer; and it is to me, sir, a very pleasing circumstance, that a tribute like this to the Nestor of the prose writers of America—so just and so happily expressed—should be paid by the most distinguished of our American poets.

If the year 1769 is distinguished, above every

other year of the last century, for the number of eminent men to which it gave birth; that of 1859 is thus far signalized in this country for the number of bright names which it has taken from us; and surely that of Washington Irving may be accounted with the brightest on the list. It is eminently proper that we should take a respectful notice of his decease. He has stood for many years on the roll of our honorary members, and he has enriched the literature of the country with two first-class historical works, which although from their subjects they possess a peculiar attraction for the people of the United States, are yet, in general interest, second to no contemporary work in that department of literature. I allude, of course, to the History of the Life and Voyages of Columbus, and the Life of Washington. Although Mr. Irving's devotion to literature as a profession—and a profession pursued with almost unequalled success—was caused by untoward events, which in ordinary cases would have proved the ruin of life, a rare good fortune attended his literary career. Without having received a collegiate education, and destined first to the legal profession, which he abandoned as uncongenial, he had in very early life given promise of attaining a brilliant reputation as a writer. Some essays from his pen attracted notice before he reached his majority. A few years later, the numbers of the Salmagundi, to which he was a principal contributor, enjoyed a success throughout the United States far beyond any former similar work, and not surpassed, if equalled, by any thing which has since appeared. This was followed by Knickerbocker's History of New York, which at once placed Mr. Irving at the head of American humorists. In the class of compositions to which it belongs, I know of nothing happier than this work, in our language. It has probably been read as widely, and with as keen a relish, as any thing from Mr. Irving's pen. It would seem cynical to subject a work of this kind to an austere commentary—at least while we are paying a tribute to its lamented author. But I may be permitted to observe, that, while this kind of humorous writing fits well with the joyous temperament of youth, in the first flush of successful authorship, and is managed by Mr. Irving with great delicacy and skill, it is still, in my opinion, better adapted for a jeu d'esprit in a magazine, than for a work of considerable compass. To travesty an entire history seems to me a mistaken effort of ingenuity, and not well applied to the countrymen of William of Orange, Grotius, the De Witts, and Van Tromp. + + + + + + + After Mr. Irving had been led to take up his residence abroad and to adopt literature as a pro

« AnteriorContinuar »