Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
By Evert Augustus Duyckinck (18161878)
[Born in New York, N. Y., 1816. Died there, 1878. Portrait Gallery of Eminent Men and Women. 1873.]
THE LIFE of Washington Irving was so truthful, so simple, so easily to be read by all men, that few words are needed for an analysis of his character. He was primarily a man of geniusthat is, nature had given him a faculty of doing what no one else could do precisely, and doing it well. His talent was no doubt improved by skill and exercise; but we see it working in his earliest books, when he could scarcely have dreamt of becoming an author. Indeed, he was thrown upon authorship apparently by accident; a lucky shipwreck of his fortunes, as it proved, for the world. In this faculty, which he possessed better than anybody else in America, the most important ingredient was humora kindly perception of life, not unconscious of its weaknesses, tolerant of its frailties, capable of throwing a beam of sunshine into the darkness of its misfortunes. The heart was evidently his logician; a pure life his best instructor. He loved literature, but not at the expense of society. Though his writings were fed by many secret rills, flowing from the elder worthies, the best source of his inspiration was daily life. He was always true to its commonest, most real emotions.
In all his personal intercourse with others, in every relation of life, Mr. Irving, in an eminent degree, exhibited the qualities of the gentleman. They were principles of thought and action, in the old definition of Sir Philip Sidney, seated in a heart of courtesy. His manners, while they were characterized by the highest refinement, were simple to a degree. His habits of living were plain, though not homely: everything about him displayed good taste, and an expense not below the standard of his fortunes; but there was no ostentation. No man stood more open to new impressions. His sensibility was excited by everything noble or generous, and, we may add, anything which displayed humor of character, from whatever sphere of life the example was drawn. His genius responded to every honest touch of nature in literature or art. He was a man of feeling, with the sympathies of a Mackenzie or a Goldsmith. Nor did these emotions, with him, rest only in the luxuries of sentiment. He was a practical guide, counsellor and friend; and his benevolence was not confined to this charmed circle of home and neighborhood. In public affairs, though unfitted for the duties of the working politician, his course was independent and patriotic. No heart beat warmer in love of country and the Union, and the honor of his nations flag. This is worth mentioning in his case, for his tastes and studies led him to retirement; but he did not suffer it to be an inglorious ease, to which higher ends should be sacrificed.