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Best Kitchen Before and Afters When he was able to master the whole Bible, which was printed in , his education was considered complete. This old Indian Bible, which Eliot was ten years in translating, was printed at Cambridge and bound in dark blue morocco, it being the first Bible and one of the first books ever printed in America. Two hundred copies were made, and a second edition contained a dedication to Charles II.
The dedication took up two pages, which was about all the English the old book contained, the rest being [pg 5] in that curious, half-musical, half-guttural tongue of the Mohegans, which Cotton Mather said had been growing since the time of the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel. Certainly some of the words are of such mighty length and awful sound that we may well believe the same old preacher when he says that he knew from personal knowledge that demons could understand Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, but that they were utterly baffled by the speech of the American Indians.
One of the earliest books that may be claimed as belonging to American letters was a volume descriptive of the early settlements in Virginia by Captain John Smith. It has great value as a representation of Indian life before its contact with white civilization. Smith had followed the army of England through the greater part of Europe and Asia and knew the life of a soldier of fortune. He had fought with Turks, hunted Tartars, and had always been the hero of the occasion. The Indian to him was but another [pg 6] kind of heathen to subdue, and the book is full of adventures, in which he describes himself as always intrepid and victorious.
This is the earliest book that brings the Indians of the colonies closely before our eyes, and its style is good, and shows that strong, terse, English fibre which characterized the writings of the adventurous Englishman of that time. In another book Smith gives a charming description of inland Virginia, whose birds, flowers, wild animals, rivers, and scenery are discussed in a poetic fashion that throws a new light on the character of the adventurous soldier.
There is in both volumes a richness of description in the details of Indian life that possesses a rare value to the student. The story of Smith's visit to Powhatan, the father of Pocahontas, reads like a bit of oriental fairy lore, and the great Indian chief, seated upon his couch of skins, with his savage guard around him, is brought as vividly before our eyes as the hero of a romance. And so Smith's books stand for good literature, though written only with the idea of familiarizing the people at home with the condition of the new colony, and they make [pg 7] no mean showing as the beginning of American letters.
In New England literature from the first partook inevitably of the Puritan character. There were long journals of the pilgrim fathers, books on books of sermons, and volume after volume of argument on the burning religious questions that had been heard in England since the first Puritan defied the king and openly declared for freedom of conscience. Among the most celebrated of these old books is the Bay Psalm Book of , in which the psalms of David were done into metre for the use of congregations.
This book, in which the beautiful Hebrew poetry is tortured into the most abominable English, is a fair example of the religious verse-making of the day. A curious book was the first almanac, published at Cambridge in , and which contained prognostications of the weather, dates of historical events, general news of the world, and bits of poetry, having also blank spaces for the use of the owner, who could either utilize them for preserving his own verses, as Cotton Mather [pg 8] did, or keep therein his accounts with his wig maker and hair-dresser, as did that worthy Puritan Thomas Prince.
Perhaps the greatest poet of those early times was Anne Bradstreet, who wrote her famous poems on the Assyrian, Persian, Grecian, and Roman monarchies, and who was called the tenth muse by an admiring public. These works are long and learned, but they show less the poetic spirit of the age than do the short but pointed ballads that sprang up from time to time and which indicated the popular feeling over the events that were making the history of New England.
These ballads were on every conceivable subject, from the Day of Judgment to the sale of a cow. The war between England and France for the possession of Canada gave rise to many ditties the tunes of which remained popular long afterward. The Indian wars also furnished material for many. They were printed in almanacs, or loose sheets, and sometimes not printed at all.
They served as news-venders long before the first newspaper was published in and they expressed, as nothing else [pg 9] could have done, the attitude of the people toward the church, the state, the governor, and even the "tidy man" tithing-man , whose duty it was to tickle with a hazel rod any youngster who was unlucky enough to fall asleep in church. Later, in revolutionary times, the ballad became a power second to none.
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Here first appears that great hero Yankee Doodle, who comes, like will-o'-the-wisp, from no one knows where, although many learned pages have been written to show his nationality. He seems to have been as great a traveller as Marco Polo or Baron Munchausen, and, like them, he must have seen many strange sights and countries. Perhaps he may have a trace of the gypsy in him and could recall, if he liked, strange wanderings through the Far East. He may have been a camp-follower through the German and Flemish wars.
It is more than probable that he hobnobbed with the Italian banditti, and took an elfish delight in depriving honest travellers of their wits and purses. We know that he lived for a time in Holland, where he seems to have preferred a peaceful life and was content with [pg 10] the humdrum existence of those worthy Dutch farmers who invited him to their feasts, welcomed him to their roofs, and sang his praises in their harvest-fields in such stirring words as these:. Afterward Yankee Doodle seems to have tired of pastoral life, for we find him in the midst of Roundhead and Cavalier upon the battle-fields of England during the Civil War.
No doubt such a jolly comrade felt a tinge of sadness at the misfortunes of the unlucky Charles I.
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At any rate he never became an Englishman, and seems only to have paused in England while making up his mind where to settle down and spend his old [pg 11] age. He probably made his first bow in America in , and it is evident that he took a fancy to the new country, and was pleased, and perhaps flattered, by the reception he met.
With his old abandon he threw himself heart and soul into the conflict, and became, in fact, the child of the Revolution. He was a leading spirit everywhere. Throwing all recollections of English hospitality to the winds, he chased the red coats at Bunker Hill, gave them a drubbing at Bennington, and remained bravely in the rear to watch their scouts while Washington retreated from Long Island. Many a time he was the sole support of the faithful few stationed to guard some important outpost; many a time he marched along with the old Continentals, grim and faithful, expecting every moment would reveal danger and perhaps death.
He crossed the Delaware with Washington on that eventful Christmas night, in , though the Italian blood in him must have shrunk a little from the cold. He stood shoulder to shoulder with the great leader through all the misery and hopelessness of Valley Forge.
Such devotion met with its reward. When the war was over the old veteran retired from the service with full military rank, and was brevetted an American citizen besides. It is pleasant to think that he has at last found a resting place among a people who will always honor and love him. Two other ballads very popular at that time were The Battle of Trenton and The Massacre of Wyoming , while innumerable ones of lesser note were sung by fireside and camp-fire, all through the colonies.
In New York the first liberty pole raised in the country was planted by the Sons of Liberty, a band of patriotic Americans, who set it up again and again as it was cut down by the Tories, accompanying their work by singing every imaginable kind of ballad that would irritate the breast of the British sympathizers. During the war of , came the Star Spangled Banner , written to the accompaniment of shot and shell, while the author, Francis S.
Key, was a prisoner on shipboard watching the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British, in the harbor of Baltimore. In the days when Louisiana was a province of Spain a little dark-eyed boy used to wander among the fields and groves of his father's plantation studying with eager delight the works of nature around him.
Lying under the orange-trees watching the mocking-bird, or learning from his mother's lips the names of the flowers that grew in every corner of the plantation, he soon came to feel that he was part of that beautiful world, whose language was the songs of birds and whose boundaries extended to every place where a blossom lifted its head above the green sod. To him, as he said years afterward, the birds were playmates and the flowers dear friends, and before he could distinguish between the azure of the sky and the [pg 15] emerald of the grass he had formed an intimacy with them so close and endearing that whenever removed from their presence he felt a loneliness almost unbearable.
No other companions suited him so well, and no roof seemed so secure as that formed of the dense foliage under which the feathered tribes resorted, or the caves and rocks to which the curlew and cormorant retired to protect themselves from the fury of the tempest. In these words, recorded by himself, we read the first chapter of the life history of John James Audubon, the American naturalist and the author of one of the early classics of American literature.
In those early days his father was Audubon's teacher, and hand in hand they searched the groves for new specimens, or lingered over the nests where lay the helpless young. It was his father who taught him to look upon the shining eggs as 'flowers in the bud,' and to note the different characteristics which distinguished them. These excursions were seasons of joy, but when the time came for the birds to take their annual departure the joy was turned to sorrow.
To the young naturalist a dead bird, though beautifully [pg 16] preserved and mounted, gave no pleasure. It seemed but a mockery of life, and the constant care needed to keep the specimens in good condition brought an additional sense of loss. Was there no way in which the memory of these feathered friends might be kept fresh and beautiful?
He writes that he turned in his anxiety to his father, who in answer laid before him a volume of illustrations. Audubon turned over the leaves with a new hope in his heart, and although the pictures were badly executed the idea satisfied him. Although he was unconscious of it, it was the moment of the birth of his own great life work. Pencil in hand he began to copy nature untiringly, although for a long time he produced what he himself called but a family of cripples, the sketches being burned regularly on his birthdays.
But no failure could stop him. He made hundreds of sketches of birds every year, worthless almost in themselves because of bad drawing, but valuable as studies of nature. Meantime for education the boy had been taken from Louisiana to France, the home of his father, who wished him to become a soldier, [pg 17] sailor, or engineer.
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For a few hours daily Audubon studied mathematics, drawing, and geography, and then would disappear in the country, returning with eggs, nests, or curious plants. His rooms looked like a museum of natural history, while the walls were covered with drawings of French birds. Learning mathematics with difficulty Audubon became easily proficient in fencing and dancing, and learned to play upon the violin, flute, flageolet, and guitar.
His drawing lessons were his greatest delight, the great French artist, David, being his teacher and critic. Once, on the elder Audubon's return from a long sea-voyage, he was chagrined to find that although his son had probably the largest amateur natural-history collection in France, he had neglected his equations, angles, and triangles, and the lad was sent to his father's station, given one day to visit the ships and fortifications, and then set to the study of mathematics, and mathematics only.
For one year he wrestled with problems and theorems, counting himself happy if by any chance he could fly to the country for an hour to [pg 18] take up his acquaintance with the birds; and then the father admitted his son's unfitness for military pursuits and sent him to America to take charge of some property. Audubon was then seventeen years of age, and had but one ambition in life—to live in the woods with his wild friends. As his father's estate was rented by a very orderly minded Quaker there was little for Audubon to do except enjoy himself.
Hunting, fishing, drawing, and studying English from a young English girl he afterward married, filled the day, while he never missed the balls and skating parties for which the neighborhood was famous. He was the best marksman in the region, able to bring down his quarry while riding at full speed. He was the best skater to be found; at balls and parties he was the amateur master of ceremonies, gayly teaching the newest steps and turns that obtained in France.
In the hunt it was Audubon—dressed, perhaps, in satin breeches and pumps, for he was a great dandy—who led the way through the almost unbroken wilderness.
Add to this that he was an expert swimmer, once swimming the [pg 19] Schuylkill with a companion on his back; that he could play any one of half a dozen instruments for an impromptu dance; that he could plait a set of picnic dishes out of willow rushes; train dogs, and do a hundred other clever things, and it is easy to see why he was a general favorite. His private rooms were turned into a museum.
The walls were covered with festoons of birds' eggs, the shelves crowded with fishes, snakes, lizards, and frogs; the chimney displayed stuffed squirrels and opossums, and wherever there was room hung his own paintings of birds. It was the holiday of life for the young lover of nature, and he enjoyed it with good will. Here the idea of his great work came to him as he was one day looking over his drawings and descriptions of birds. Suddenly, as it seemed to him, though his whole life had led to it, he conceived the plan of a great work on American ornithology.
He began his gigantic undertaking as a master in the school of nature wherein he had been so faithful a student, for he now saw with joy that the past, which had often [pg 20] seemed idle, had been in reality rich with labors that were to bear fruit. He began at once to put his work into scientific form, and nothing better illustrates his energy and ambition than the fact that he entered on it alone and unaided, though none knew better than he the toil and ceaseless endeavor necessary for its completion.
Except in a very immature form, American ornithology at that time did not exist; it was a region almost as unknown to human thought as the new world which Columbus discovered. Season after season, from the Gulf to Canada and back again, these winged creatures of the air wended their way, stopping to hatch and breed their young, becoming acquainted with Louisiana orange-groves and New England apple-orchards, now fluttering with kindly sociability round the dwellings of men and again seeking lonely eeries among inaccessible mountain tops, pursuing their course at all times almost without the thought and cognizance of man.
It was his untiring zeal which gave thus early to American literature a scientific work of such vast magnitude and importance that it astonished the scientists of Europe and won for itself the fame of being the most gigantic biblical enterprise ever undertaken by a single individual. To do this meant a life of almost constant change, and Audubon can hardly have had an abiding place after his first serious beginning. The wide continent became his home and he found his dwelling wherever the winged tribes sought shelter from the wind and storm.
His pursuit was often interrupted by occupations necessary for the support of his family, for at his father's death he had given to his sister his share of the estate and so became entirely dependent upon his own efforts for a livelihood; but at all times, no matter what his situation, his heart was in the wild retreats of nature. Travelling through the West and South in search of fortune as well as of specimens his experiences were often disenchanting. At Louisville and New Orleans he would be forced to make crayon portraits of the principal citizens in order [pg 22] to raise the money for family expenses.
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Many business speculations enlisted Audubon's hopes, but all failed utterly. Once he embarked his money in a steam mill, which, being built in an unfit place, soon failed. At another time he bought a steamboat, which, proving an unlucky speculation, was sold to a shrewd buyer who never paid the purchase money.
Again he was cheated in the clearing of a tract of timber. But his studies in natural history always went on. When he had no money to pay his passage up the Mississippi he bargained to draw the portrait of the captain of the steamer and his wife as remuneration. When he needed boots he obtained them by sketching the features of a friendly shoemaker, and more than once he paid his hotel bills, and saved something besides, by sketching the faces of the host and his family.
On the other hand, his adventures in search [pg 23] of material for his work were romantic enough to satisfy the most ambitious traveller. From Florida to Labrador, and from the Atlantic to the then unknown regions of the Yellowstone he pursued his way, often alone, and not seldom in the midst of dangers which threatened life itself.
He hunted buffalo with the Indians of the Great Plains, and lived for months in the tents of the fierce Sioux. He spent a season in the winter camp of the Shawnees, sleeping, wrapped in a buffalo robe, before the great camp-fire, and living upon wild turkey, bear's grease, and opossums. He made studies of deer, bears, and cougars, as well as of wild turkeys, prairie hens, and other birds. For days he drifted down the Ohio in a flat-bottomed boat, searching the uninhabited shores for specimens, and living the life of the frontiersman whose daily food must be supplied by his own exertions.
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Sometimes his studies would take him far into the dense forests of the West, where the white man had never before trod, and the only thing that suggested humanity would be the smoke rising miles away from the evening [pg 24] camp-fire of some Indian hunter as lonely as himself. Once as he lay stretched on the deck of a small vessel ascending the Mississippi he caught sight of a great eagle circling about his head. Convinced that it was a new species, he waited patiently for two years before he again had a glimpse of it, flying, in lazy freedom, above some butting crags where its young were nested.
Climbing to the place, and watching like an Indian in ambush until it dropped to its nest, Audubon found it to be a sea-eagle. Waiting two years longer, he was able to obtain a specimen, from which he made the picture given in his work. This is but one example of the tireless patience with which he prosecuted his studies, years of waiting counting as nothing if he could but gain his end. Some of his discoveries in this kingdom of the birds he relates with a romantic enthusiasm.
Throughout the entire work there runs the note of warmest sympathy with the lives of these creatures of the air and sunshine. He tells us [pg 25] of their hopes and loves and interests, from the time of the nest-making till the young have flown away. The freedom of bird life, its happiness, its experiences, and tragedies appeal to him as do those of humanity.
The discovery of a new species is reported as rapturously as the news of a new star. Once in Labrador, when he was making studies of the eggers, his son brought to him a great hawk captured on the precipice far above his head. To Audubon's delight, it was that rare specimen, the gerfalcon, which had heretofore eluded all efforts of naturalists. While the rain dripped down from the rigging above, Audubon sat for hours making a sketch of this bird and feeling as rich as if he had discovered some rare gem.
After twenty years the work was published. Every specimen, from the tiny humming-bird to the largest eagles and vultures, was sketched life size and colored in the tints of nature. There were four hundred and seventy-five of these plates, furnishing a complete history of the feathered tribes of North America, for they showed not only the appearance of the birds but [pg 26] represented also the manners and home life of this world of song. The humming-bird poised before the crimson throat of the trumpet flower, the whippoorwill resting among the leaves of the oak, the bobolink singing among the crimson flowers of the swamp maples, the snow-bird chirping cheerily among the snow-touched berries of the holly, were not sketches merely but bits of story out of bird history.
So also are those pictures of the swan among the reeds of the Great Lakes, of the great white heron seizing its prey from the waters of the Gulf, and of the golden eagle winging its way toward the distant heights that it inhabits. The work was published by subscription in London in under the title, "The Birds of North America. Later on a smaller and cheaper edition was issued.
The work now is very rare. Audubon had the gratification of knowing that his labors were understood and appreciated by the world of science. When he exhibited his plates in the galleries of England and France, whither he went to obtain subscriptions, crowds flocked to see them, and [pg 27] the greatest scientists of the age welcomed him to their ranks.
Audubon died in New York in The Scotch naturalist Wilson said that the character of Audubon was just what might have been expected from the author of such a work, brave, enthusiastic, self-sacrificing, and capable of heroic endurance. Any information concerning him will be thankfully received. Such was the curious advertisement that appeared in the Evening Post under the date of October 26, , attracting the attention of all New York.
People read it as they sat at supper, talked of it afterward around their wood fires, and thought of it again and again before they fell asleep at night. And yet not a soul knew the missing old gentleman or had ever heard of him before. Still he was no stranger to them, for he was a Knickerbocker, and everyone [pg 29] was interested in the Knickerbockers, and everyone felt almost as if a grandfather or great-grandfather had suddenly come back to life and disappeared again still more suddenly without a word of explanation.
Those who could remember their childhood sent their wits back into the past and gathered up memories of these old Knickerbockers. They saw the old burghers again walking through the streets dressed in their long-waisted coats with skirts reaching nearly to the ankles, and wearing so solemnly their low-crowned beaver hats, while their small swords dangled by their sides to show their importance.
They saw their wives in their close-fitting muslin caps, with their dress-skirts left open to show their numerous petticoats of every color, their gay stockings, and their low-cut, high-heeled shoes. They entered the quaint gabled houses made of brick brought from Holland, and sat in the roomy kitchen whose floor had just been sprinkled with sand brought from Coney Island, and on whose walls hung deer antlers and innumerable Dutch pipes. They passed into the parlor, whose chief ornament [pg 30] was the carved bedstead upon which reposed two great feather-beds covered with a patch-work quilt.
They sat in the fireplace and drank from the huge silver tankard while listening to stories of Indian warfare. In the streets they saw groups of Indians standing before the shop windows, and passed by the walls of the old fort wherein cows, pigs, and horses were feeding. They noticed the queerly rigged ships in the bay, the windmills scattered everywhere, and the canal passing right through the town and filled with Dutch canal boats.
They saw the Dutch maidens standing around the ponds washing the family linen, and visited the bowerie or country house of some honest burgher, and sat with him in his little garden where cabbages and roses flourished side by side. Such were the scenes that the strange advertisement called up, and more than one New Yorker dreamed that night that he was a child again, living over those long past days. For some time nothing was heard of Diedrich Knickerbocker, and then another advertisement appeared in the Post saying he had been seen [pg 31] twice on the road to Albany.
Some time again elapsed, and finally the paper stated that the landlord of the inn at which he stopped gave up hope of ever seeing his guest again, and declared that he should sell the manuscript of a book that Mr. Knickerbocker had left behind and take the proceeds in payment of his bill. People were really excited about the fate of the old gentleman, and one of the city officials was upon the point of offering a reward for his discovery when a curious thing happened. It was found that there was no old gentleman by the name of Knickerbocker who had wandered away from his lodging; that there was no inn at which he had lived, and no manuscript he had left behind, and that in fact, Mr.
Knickerbocker was simply the hero of a book which the author had taken this clever means of advertising. The book claimed to be the true history of the discovery and settlement of New York, and began with an account of the creation of the world, passing on to the manners, customs, and historical achievements of the old Hollanders from their first voyage in the celebrated ark the [pg 32] Good Vrow, to the shores of New Jersey. Here we read how, as the Indians were given to long talks and the Dutch to long silences, they had no trouble about the settlement of the land, but all lived peacefully together.
Then we read of the golden reign of the first Dutch governor, Wouter Van Twiller, who was exactly five feet six inches in height, and six feet five inches in circumference, and who ate four hours a day, smoked eight, and slept twelve, and so administered the affairs of the colony that it was a marvel of prosperity.
Next we hear of Governor Keift, of lofty descent, since his father was an inspector of windmills—how his nose turned up and his mouth turned down, how his legs were the size of spindles, and how he grew tougher and tougher with age so that before his death he looked a veritable mummy. And then we see the redoubtable Peter Stuyvesant stumping around on his wooden leg adorned with silver reliefs and follow him in his expedition against [pg 33] the neighboring Swedish colonies, when the entire population of the city thronged the streets and balconies to wave farewell to him as he left, and to welcome his return as a victorious conqueror.
Lastly we see him, furious with rage, menacing the British fleet which has come to take possession of the town, threatening vengeance dire upon the English king, and still cherishing his wrath with fiery bravery when the enemy finally occupy the old Dutch town and proceed to transform it into an English city.
The book was read with interest, admiration, or amazement as the case might be. Some said it appeared too light and amusing for real history, others claimed that it held stores of wisdom that only the wise could understand; others still complained that the author was no doubt making fun of their respectable ancestors and had written the book merely to hold them up to ridicule. Only a few saw that it was the brightest, cleverest piece of humor that had yet appeared in America, and that its writer had probably a career of fame before him.
The author was Washington Irving, then a [pg 34] young man in his twenty-seventh year and already known as the writer of some clever newspaper letters, and of a series of humorous essays published in a semi-monthly periodical called Salmagundi. The Revolution was over, but the treaty of peace had not yet been signed, and the British army still remained in the city, which had been half burned down during the war.
New York was then a small town, with a population of about one seven-hundredth of what it now has; beyond the town limits were orchards, farms, country houses, and the high road leading to Albany, along which the stage coach passed at regular times. There were no railroads, and Irving was fourteen years old before the first steam-boat puffed its way up the Hudson River, frightening the country people into the belief that it was an evil monster come to devour them. All travelling was done by means of sailing vessels, stage coaches, or private conveyances; all letters were carried by the stage-coach, and every [pg 35] one cost the sender or receiver twenty-five cents for postage.
The telegraph was undreamed of, and if any one had hinted the possibility of talking to some one else a thousand miles away over a telephone wire he would have been considered a lunatic, or possibly a witch. In fact New York was a quiet, unpretentious little town, whose inhabitants were still divided into English or Dutch families according to their descent, and in whose households were found the customs of England and Holland in full force. In Irving's family, however, there was doubtless greater severity practised in daily life than in the neighboring households. The father was a Scotch Presbyterian who considered life a discipline, who thought all amusement a waste of precious time, and who made the children devote one out of the two half weekly holidays to the study of the catechism.
They were also obliged to attend church three times every Sunday, and to spend any spare moments left in reading some religious book, a discipline which had such an effect upon Irving that, to avoid becoming a Presbyterian, he went secretly to Trinity Church and was confirmed. Forbidden to attend the theatre, he would risk his neck nightly by climbing out of his window to visit the play for an hour or so, and then rush home in terror lest his absence had been discovered and his future fun imperilled.
Many a night when sent early to bed he would steal away across the adjacent roofs to send a handful of stones clattering down the wide, old-fashioned chimney of some innocent neighbor, who would start from his dreams to imagine robbers, spooks, or other unpleasant visitors in his bed-chamber; and often when Irving was supposed to be fast asleep he was far away in the midst of a group of truant boys concocting some scheme of mischief which was meant to startle the neighborhood and bring no end of fun to the daring perpetrators.
Irving went to school kept by an old Revolutionary soldier, with whom he was a great favorite and who always called him General. He was not particularly brilliant in his studies, but he distinguished himself as an actor in the tragedies [pg 37] which the boys gave at times in the school-room; at ten years of age he was the star of the company, which did not even lose respect for him when once, being called suddenly upon the stage through a mistake, he appeared with his mouth full of honey-cake, which he was obliged to swallow painfully while the audience roared at the situation.
Afterward, when he rushed around the stage flourishing a wooden sabre, he was not a tragedian to be trifled with. The glory of it even paid him for the cruelty of having to run away to see a real play. It was a favorite amusement with him after school to wander down to the wharves, where he would spend hours in watching the ships load and unload, and dream of the day when he, too, should visit those beautiful regions that lay only in reach of their white sails; for, fond as he was of boyish sports, he was much given to day-dreams, and the romantic past of the old world held a great charm for him.
The world beyond the sea [pg 38] seemed a fairyland to him; a little print of London Bridge and another of Kensington Gardens, that hung up in his bed-room, stirred his heart wistfully, and he fairly envied the odd-looking old gentlemen and ladies who appeared to be loitering around the arches of St.
John's Gate, as shown in a cut on the cover of an old magazine. Later his imagination was also kindled by short excursions to the then wild regions of the Hudson and Mohawk valleys. Drifting up the Hudson in a little sloop, day after day the picturesque beauty of the Highlands and Catskills impressed itself more deeply upon him, while his mind dwelt fondly upon the traditions which still lingered around the mountains and rivers forever associated with the struggles of the early settlers.
Years afterward we find the remembrance of these days gracing with loving touch the pages of some of his choicest work, and it is this power of sympathy, so early aroused, that gives Irving one of his greatest charms as a writer, and makes the period of which he writes seem as real as if a part of to-day. At seventeen Irving left school and began to study for the bar. But his health, which had always been delicate, made it necessary for him to take a long rest from study, and he accordingly left America for two years of travel abroad.
He visited England, France, and Italy, taking great delight in seeing those lands he had so often dreamed of, in meeting the famous people of the day, and, above all, in indulging in frequent visits to the theatre and opera, becoming in this way acquainted with all the great singers and actors whose reputation had reached America. It was after his return home that he brought out his Knickerbocker history, a work which made him so famous that when he returned to England some time afterward he found himself very well known in the best literary circles.
The results of this second visit are found in the volumes comprising Geoffrey Crayon's Sketch Book , Bracebridge Hall , Tales of a Traveller and other miscellany, in which occur charming descriptions of English country life, delightful ghost stories, the famous description of an English Christmas, the immortal legend of Rip Van Winkle , [pg 40] and an account of a visit to the haunts of Robin Hood, whose exploits had so fascinated him as a boy that he once spent his entire holiday money to obtain a copy of his adventures. Abbotsford is an account of a visit that Irving paid to Sir Walter Scott.
It is a charming revelation of the social side of Scott's character, who welcomed Irving as a younger brother in art, became his guide in his visit to Yarrow and Melrose Abbey, and took long rambling walks with him all around the country made so famous by the great novelist. Irving recalled as among the most delightful hours of his life those walks over the Scottish hills with Scott, who was described by the peasantry as having "an awfu' knowledge of history," and whose talk was full of the folk-lore, poetry, and superstitions that made up the interest of the place.
In the evening they sat in the drawing-room, while Scott, with a great hound, Maida, at his feet, read to them a scrap of old poetry or a chapter from King Arthur, or told some delightful bit of peasant fairy lore, like that of the black cat who, on hearing one shepherd tell another of [pg 41] having seen a number of cats dressed in mourning following a coffin, sprang up the chimney in haste, exclaiming: "Then I am king of the cats," and vanished to take possession of his vacant kingdom.
From this time Irving's life was one of constant literary labor for many years, all of which were spent abroad. His works on the companions of Columbus, and the Alhambra, were written during his residence in Spain, where he had access to the national archives and where he became as familiar with the life of the people as it was possible for a stranger to become. He was at home both in the dignified circles of higher life and among the picturesque and simple peasantry, whose characteristics he draws with such loving grace.
After seventeen years' absence Irving returned to America, where he was welcomed as one who had won for his country great honors. At Ultimate Styles, we offer complete design, manufacturing, finishing and installation services. We'll work to specifications from your architect or interior designer or we'll work directly with you to design your residential or commercial project.
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