Washington Irving was the first native American to succeed as a professional writer. He remains
important as a pioneer in American humor and the development of the short story. Irving was greatly
admired and imitated in the 19th century. Toward the end of his career, his reputation declined due to the
sentimentality and excessive gentility of much of his work ("Irving" 479). Washington Irving's time spent
in the Hudson Valley and abroad contributed to his writing of The Devil and Tom Walker, The Legend of
Sleepy Hollow, and Rip Van Winkle.
Irving was born in New York City on April 3, 1783, the youngest of eleven children in a merchant
family. Unlike his brothers, Irving did not attend nearby Columbia College, instead he was apprenticed in
1801 to a lawyer. In 1806, he passed the bar examination, but remained financially dependent on his
family until the publication of The Sketch Book. In the meantime, Irving did odd jobs for the family as
agent and lobbyist. It seems like he worked as little as possible, and for years pursued an amateur or
semiprofessional interest in literature ("Irving" 479). In his free time, he read avidly and wandered when
he could in the misty, rolling Hudson River valley, an area steeped in local folklore and legend that would
serve as an inspiration for his later writings. ("Washington Irving" DISC)
At nineteen, Mr. Irving began writing satirical letters under the pseudonym "Jonathan Oldstyle."
He wrote to a newspaper owned by his brother Peter, named the New York Morning Chronicle. His first
book, Salmagundi, was a collaboration with another brother, William and their friend James Kirke
Paulding. This book satirized early New York theater and poked fun at the political, social, and cultural
life of the city. Washington Irving's second book, A History of New York, from the Beginning of the
World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, is narra...
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