In 1831 Mr. Irving was thrown, by his diplomatic position, into the thick of the political and social tumult, when the Reform Bill was pending and war was expected in Europe. It is interesting to note that for a time he laid aside his attitude of the dispassionate observer, and caught the general excitement. He writes in March, expecting that the fate of the cabinet will be determined in a week, looking daily for decisive news from Paris, and fearing dismal tidings from Poland. “However,” he goes on to say in a vague way, “the great cause of all the world will go on. What a stirring moment it is to live in! I never took such intense interest in newspapers. It seems to me as if life were breaking out anew with me, or that I were entering upon quite a new and almost unknown career of existence, and I rejoice to find sensibilities, which were waning as to many objects of past interest, reviving with all their freshness and vivacity at the scenes and prospects opening around me.” He expects the breaking of the thraldom of falsehood woven over the human mind; and, more definitely, hopes that the Reform Bill will prevail. Yet he is oppressed by the gloom hanging over the booksellers’ trade, which he thinks will continue until reform and cholera have passed away.
During the last months of his residence in England, the author renewed his impressions of Stratford (the grateful landlady of the Red Horse Inn showed him a poker which was locked up among the treasures of her house, on which she had caused to be engraved “Geoffrey Crayon’s Sceptre”); spent some time at Newstead Abbey; and had the sorrowful pleasure in London of seeing Scott once more, and for the last time. The great novelist, in the sad eclipse of his powers, was staying in the city, on his way to Italy, and Mr. Lockhart asked Irving to dine with him. It was but a melancholy repast. “Ah,” said Scott, as Irving gave him his arm, after dinner, “the times are changed, my good fellow, since we went over the Eildon Hills together. It is all nonsense to tell a man that his mind is not affected when his body is in this state.”
Irving retired from the legation in September, 1831, to return home, the longing to see his native land having become intense; but his arrival in New York was delayed till May, 1832.
If he had any doubts of the sentiments of his countrymen toward him, his reception in New York dissipated them. America greeted her most famous literary man with a spontaneous outburst of love and admiration. The public banquet in New York, that was long remembered for its brilliancy, was followed by the tender of the same tribute in other cities, an honor which his unconquerable shrinking from this kind of publicity compelled him to decline.
The “Dutch Herodotus, Diedrich Knickerbocker,” to use the phrase of a toast, having come out of one such encounter with fair credit, did not care to tempt Providence further. The thought of making a dinner-table speech threw him into a sort of whimsical panic — a noble infirmity, which characterized also Hawthorne and Thackeray.
The enthusiasm manifested for the homesick author was equaled by his own for the land and the people he supremely loved. Nor was his surprise at the progress made during seventeen years less than his delight in it. His native place had become a city of two hundred thousand inhabitants; the accumulation of wealth and the activity of trade astonished him, and the literary stir was scarcely less unexpected. The steamboat had come to be used, so that he seemed to be transported from place to place by magic; and on a near view the politics of America seemed not less interesting than those of Europe. The nullification battle was set; the currency conflict still raged; it was a time of inflation and land speculation; the West, every day more explored and opened, was the land of promise for capital and energy. Fortunes were made in a day by buying lots in “paper towns.” Into some of these speculations Irving put his savings; the investments were as permanent as they were unremunerative.
Irving’s first desire, however, on his recovery from the state of astonishment into which these changes plunged him, was to make himself thoroughly acquainted with the entire country and its development. To this end he made an extended tour in the South and West, which passed beyond the bounds of frontier settlement. The fruit of his excursion into the Pawnee country, on the waters of the Arkansas, a region untraversed by white men, except solitary trappers, was “A Tour on the Prairies,” a sort of romance of reality, which remains today as good a description as we have of hunting adventure on the plains. It led also to the composition of other books on the West, which were more or less mere pieces of book-making for the market.
Our author was far from idle. Indeed, he could not afford to be. Although he had received considerable sums from his books, and perhaps enough for his own simple wants, the responsibility of the support of his two brothers, Peter and Ebenezer, and several nieces, devolved upon him. And, besides, he had a longing to make himself a home, where he could pursue his calling undisturbed, and indulge the sweets of domestic and rural life, which of all things lay nearest his heart. And these two undertakings compelled him to be diligent with his pen to the end of his life. The spot he chose for his “Roost” was a little farm on the bank of the river at Tarrytown, close to his old Sleepy Hollow haunt, one of the loveliest, if not the most picturesque, situations on the Hudson. At first he intended nothing more than a summer retreat, inexpensive and simply furnished. But his experience was that of all who buy, and renovate, and build. The farm had on it a small stone Dutch cottage, built about a century before, and inhabited by one of the Van Tassels. This was enlarged, still preserving the quaint Dutch characteristics; it acquired a tower and a whimsical weather-cock, the delight of the owner (“it was brought from Holland by Gill Davis, the King of Coney Island, who says he got it from a windmill which they were demolishing at the gate of Rotterdam, which windmill has been mentioned in ‘Knickerbocker’”), and became one of the most snug and picturesque residences on the river. When the slip of Melrose ivy, which was brought over from Scotland by Mrs. Renwick and given to the author, had grown and well overrun it, the house, in the midst of sheltering groves and secluded walks, was as pretty a retreat as a poet could desire. But the little nook proved to have an insatiable capacity for swallowing up money, as the necessities of the author’s establishment increased: there was always something to be done to the grounds; some alterations in the house; a greenhouse, a stable, a gardener’s cottage, to be built — and to the very end the outlay continued. The cottage necessitated economy in other personal expenses, and incessant employment of his pen. But Sunnyside, as the place was named, became the dearest spot on earth to him; it was his residence, from which he tore himself with reluctance, and to which he returned with eager longing; and here, surround by relatives whom he loved, he passed nearly all the remainder of his years, in as happy conditions, I think, as a bachelor ever enjoyed. His intellectual activity was unremitting, he had no lack of friends, there was only now and then a discordant note in the general estimation of his literary work, and he was the object of the most tender care from his nieces. Already, he writes, in October, 1838, “my little cottage is well stocked. I have Ebenezer’s five girls, and himself also, whenever he can be spared from town; sister Catherine and her daughter; Mr. Davis occasionally, with casual visits from all the rest of our family connection. The cottage, therefore, is never lonely.” I like to dwell in thought upon this happy home, a real haven of rest after many wanderings; a seclusion broken only now and then by enforced absence, like that in Madrid as minister, but enlivened by many welcome guests. Perhaps the most notorious of these was a young Frenchman, a “somewhat quiet guest,” who, after several months’ imprisonment on board a French man-of-war, was set on shore at Norfolk, and spent a couple of months in New York and its vicinity, in 1837. This visit was vividly recalled by Irving in a letter to his sister, Mrs. Storrow, who was in Paris in 1853, and had just been presented at court:
“Louis Napoleon and Eugenie Montijo, Emperor and Empress of France! one of whom I have had a guest at my cottage on the Hudson; the other, whom, when a child, I have had on my knee at Granada. It seems to cap the climax of the strange dramas of which Paris has been the theatre during my lifetime. I have repeatedly thought that each grand coup de theatre would be the last that would occur in my time; but each has been succeeded by another equally striking; and what will be the next, who can conjecture?
“The last time I saw Eugenie Montijo she was one of the reigning belles of Madrid; and she and her giddy circle had swept away my charming young friend, the beautiful and accomplished ——— — into their career of fashionable dissipation. Now Eugenie is upon a throne, and a voluntary recluse in a convent of one of the most rigorous orders! Poor ——! Perhaps, however, her fate may ultimately be the happiest of the two. ‘The storm’ with her ‘is o’er, and she’s at rest;’ but the other is launched upon a returnless shore, on a dangerous sea, infamous for its tremendous shipwrecks. Am I to live to see the catastrophe of her career, and the end of this suddenly conjured-up empire, which seems to ‘be of such stuff as dreams are made of’?”
As we have seen, the large sums Irving earned by his pen were not spent in selfish indulgence. His habits and tastes were simple, and little would have sufficed for his individual needs. He cared not much for money, and seemed to want it only to increase the happiness of those who were confided to his care. A man less warm-hearted and more selfish, in his circumstances, would have settled down to a life of more ease and less responsibility.
To go back to the period of his return to America. He was now past middle life, having returned to New York in his fiftieth year. But he was in the full flow of literary productiveness. I have noted the dates of his achievements, because his development was somewhat tardy compared that of many of his contemporaries; but he had the “staying” qualities. The first crop of his mind was of course the most original; time and experience had toned down his exuberant humor; but the spring of his fancy was as free, his vigor was not abated, and his art was more refined. Some of his best work was yet to be done.
And it is worthy of passing mention, in regard to his later productions, that his admirable sense of literary proportion, which is wanting in many good writers, characterized his work to the end.
High as his position as a man of letters was at this time, the consideration in which he was held was much broader than that — it was that of one of the first citizens of the Republic. His friends, readers, and admirers were not merely the literary class and the general public, but included nearly all the prominent statesmen of the time. Almost any career in public life would have been open to him if he had lent an ear to their solicitations. But political life was not to his taste, and it would have been fatal to his sensitive spirit. It did not require much self-denial, perhaps, to decline the candidacy for mayor of New York, or the honor of standing for Congress; but he put aside also the distinction of a seat in Mr. Van Buren’s cabinet as Secretary of the Navy. His main reason for declining it, aside from a diffidence in his own judgment in public matters, was his dislike of the turmoil of political life in Washington, and his sensitiveness to personal attacks which beset the occupants of high offices. But also he had come to a political divergence with Mr. Van Buren. He liked the man — he liked almost everybody — and esteemed him as a friend, but he apprehended trouble from the new direction of the party in power. Irving was almost devoid of party prejudice, and he never seemed to have strongly marked political opinions. Perhaps his nearest confession to a creed is contained in a letter he wrote to a member of the House of Representatives, Gouverneur Kemble, a little time before the offer of a position in the cabinet, in which he said that he did not relish some points of Van Buren’s policy, nor believe in the honesty of some of his elbow counselors. I quote a passage from it:
“As far as I know my own mind, I am thoroughly a republican, and attached, from complete conviction, to the institutions of my country; but I am a republican without gall, and have no bitterness in my creed. I have no relish for Puritans, either in religion or politics, who are for pushing principles to an extreme, and for overturning everything that stands in the way of their own zealous career . . . . Ours is a government of compromise. We have several great and distinct interests bound up together, which, if not separately consulted and severally accommodated, may harass and impair each other . . . . I always distrust the soundness of political councils that are accompanied by acrimonious and disparaging attacks upon any great class of our fellow-citizens. Such are those urged to the disadvantage of the great trading and financial classes of our country.”
During the ten years preceding his mission to Spain, Irving kept fagging away at the pen, doing a good deal of miscellaneous and ephemeral work. Among his other engagements was that of regular contributor to the “Knickerbocker Magazine,” for a salary of two thousand dollars. He wrote the editor that he had observed that man, as he advances in life, is subject to a plethora of the mind, occasioned by an accumulation of wisdom upon the brain, and that he becomes fond of telling long stories and doling out advice, to the annoyance of his friends. To avoid becoming the bore of the domestic circle, he proposed to ease off this surcharge of the intellect by inflicting his tediousness on the public through the pages of the periodical. The arrangement brought reputation to the magazine (which was published in the days when the honor of being in print was supposed by the publisher to be ample compensation to the scribe), but little profit to Mr. Irving. During this period he interested himself in an international copyright, as a means of fostering our young literature. He found that a work of merit, written by an American who had not established a commanding name in the market, met very cavalier treatment from our publishers, who frankly said that they need not trouble themselves about native works, when they could pick up every day successful books from the British press, for which they had to pay no copyright. Irving’s advocacy of the proposed law was entirely unselfish, for his own market was secure.
His chief works in these ten years were, “A Tour on the Prairies,” “Recollections of Abbotsford and Newstead Abbey,” “The Legends of the Conquest of Spain,” “Astoria” (the heavy part of the work of it was done by his nephew Pierre), “Captain Bonneville,” and a number of graceful occasional papers, collected afterwards under the title of “Wolfert’s Roost.” Two other books may properly be mentioned here, although they did not appear until after his return from his absence of four years and a half at the court of Madrid; these are the “Biography of Goldsmith” and “Mahomet and his Successors.” At the age of sixty-six he laid aside the “Life of Washington,” on which he was engaged, and rapidly threw off these two books. The “Goldsmith” was enlarged from a sketch he had made twenty-five years before. It is an exquisite, sympathetic piece of work, without pretension or any subtle verbal analysis, but on the whole an excellent interpretation of the character. Author and subject had much in common: Irving had at least a kindly sympathy for the vagabondish inclinations of his predecessor, and with his humorous and cheerful regard of the world; perhaps it is significant of a deeper unity in character that both, at times, fancied they could please an intolerant world by attempting to play the flute. The “Mahomet” is a popular narrative, which throws no new light on the subject; it is pervaded by the author’s charm of style and equity of judgment, but it lacks the virility of Gibbon’s masterly picture of the Arabian prophet and the Saracenic onset.
We need not dwell longer upon this period. One incident of it, however, cannot be passed in silence — that was the abandonment of his lifelong project of writing the History of the Conquest of Mexico to Mr. William H. Prescott. It had been a scheme of his boyhood; he had made collections of materials for it during his first residence in Spain; and he was actually and absorbedly engaged in the composition of the first chapters, when he was sounded by Mr. Cogswell, of the Astor Library, in behalf of Mr. Prescott. Some conversation showed that Mr. Prescott was contemplating the subject upon which Mr. Irving was engaged, and the latter instantly authorized Mr. Cogswell to say that he abandoned it. Although our author was somewhat far advanced, and Mr. Prescott had not yet collected his materials, Irving renounced the glorious theme in such a manner that Prescott never suspected the pain and loss it cost him, nor the full extent of his own obligation. Some years afterwards Irving wrote to his nephew that in giving it up he in a manner gave up his bread, as he had no other subject to supply its place: “I was,” he wrote, “dismounted from my cheval de bataille, and have never been completely mounted since.” But he added that he was not sorry for the warm impulse that induced him to abandon the subject, and that Mr. Prescott’s treatment of it had justified his opinion of him. Notwithstanding Prescott’s very brilliant work, we cannot but feel some regret that Irving did not write a Conquest of Mexico. His method, as he outlined it, would have been the natural one. Instead of partially satisfying the reader’s curiosity in a preliminary essay, in which the Aztec civilization was exposed, Irving would have begun with the entry of the conquerors, and carried his reader step by step onward, letting him share all the excitement and surprise of discovery which the invaders experienced, and learn of the wonders of the country in the manner most likely to impress both the imagination and the memory; and with his artistic sense of the value of the picturesque he would have brought into strong relief the dramatis personae of the story.
In 1842 Irving was tendered the honor of the mission to Madrid. It was an entire surprise to himself and to his friends. He came to look upon this as the “crowning honor of his life,” and yet when the news first reached him, he paced up and down his room, excited and astonished, revolving in his mind the separation from home and friends, and was heard murmuring, half to himself and half to his nephew: “It is hard — very hard; yet I must try to bear it. God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb.” His acceptance of the position was doubtless influenced by the intended honor to his profession, by the gratifying manner in which it came to him, by his desire to please his friends, and the belief, which was a delusion, that diplomatic life in Madrid would offer no serious interruption to his “Life of Washington,” in which he had just become engaged. The nomination, the suggestion of Daniel Webster, Tyler’s Secretary of State, was cordially approved by the President and cabinet, and confirmed almost by acclamation in the Senate. “Ah,” said Mr. Clay, who was opposing nearly all the President’s appointments, “this is a nomination everybody will concur in!” “If a person of more merit and higher qualification,” wrote Mr. Webster in his official notification, “had presented himself, great as is my personal regard for you, I should have yielded it to higher considerations.”
No other appointment could have been made so complimentary to Spain, and it remains to this day one of the most honorable to his own country.
In reading Irving’s letters written during his third visit abroad, you are conscious that the glamour of life is gone for him, though not his kindliness towards the world, and that he is subject to few illusions; the show and pageantry no longer enchant — they only weary. The novelty was gone, and he was no longer curious to see great sights and great people. He had declined a public dinner in New York, and he put aside the same hospitality offered by Liverpool and by Glasgow. In London he attended the Queen’s grand fancy ball, which surpassed anything he had seen in splendor and picturesque effect. “The personage,” he writes, “who appeared least to enjoy the scene seemed to me to be the little Queen herself. She was flushed and heated, and evidently fatigued and oppressed with the state she had to keep up and the regal robes in which she was arrayed, and especially by a crown of gold, which weighed heavy on her brow, and to which she was continually raising her hand to move it slightly when it pressed. I hope and trust her real crown sits easier.” The bearing of Prince Albert he found prepossessing, and he adds, “He speaks English very well;” as if that were a useful accomplishment for an English Prince Consort. His reception at court and by the ministers and diplomatic corps was very kind, and he greatly enjoyed meeting his old friends, Leslie, Rogers, and Moore. At Paris, in an informal presentation to the royal family, he experienced a very cordial welcome from the King and Queen and Madame Adelaide, each of whom took occasion to say something complimentary about his writings; but he escaped as soon as possible from social engagements. “Amidst all the splendors of London and Paris, I find my imagination refuses to take fire, and my heart still yearns after dear little Sunnyside.” Of an anxious friend in Paris, who thought Irving was ruining his prospects by neglecting to leave his card with this or that duchess who had sought his acquaintance, he writes: “He attributes all this to very excessive modesty, not dreaming that the empty intercourse of saloons with people of rank and fashion could be a bore to one who has run the rounds of society for the greater part of half a century, and who likes to consult his own humor and pursuits.”
When Irving reached Madrid, the affairs of the kingdom had assumed a powerful dramatic interest, wanting in none of the romantic elements that characterize the whole history of the peninsula. “The future career [he writes of this gallant soldier, Espartero, whose merits and services have placed him at the head of the government, and the future fortunes of these isolated little princesses, the Queen and her sister], have an uncertainty hanging about them worthy of the fifth act in a melodrama.” The drama continued, with constant shifting of scene, as long as Irving remained in Spain, and gave to his diplomatic life intense interest, and at times perilous excitement. His letters are full of animated pictures of the changing progress of the play; and although they belong rather to the gossip of history than to literary biography, they cannot be altogether omitted. The duties which the minister had to perform were unusual, delicate, and difficult; but I believe he acquitted himself of them with the skill of a born diplomatist. When he went to Spain before, in 1826, Ferdinand VII. was, by aid of French troops, on the throne, the liberties of the kingdom were crushed, and her most enlightened men were in exile. While he still resided there, in 1829, Ferdinand married, for his fourth wife, Maria Christina, sister of the King of Naples, and niece of the Queen of Louis Philippe. By her he had two daughters, his only children. In order that his own progeny might succeed him, he set aside the Salique law (which had been imposed by France) just before his death, in 1833, and revived the old Spanish law of succession. His eldest daughter, then three years old, was proclaimed Queen by the name of Isabella II, and her mother guardian during her minority, which would end at the age of fourteen. Don Carlos, the king’s eldest brother, immediately set up the standard of rebellion, supported by the absolutist aristocracy, the monks, and a great part of the clergy. The liberals rallied to the Queen. The Queen Regent did not, however, act in good faith with the popular party she resisted all salutary reform, would not restore the Constitution of 1812 until compelled to by a popular uprising, and disgraced herself by a scandalous connection with one Munos, one of the royal bodyguards. She enriched this favorite and amassed a vast fortune for herself, which she sent out of the country. In 1839, when Don Carlos was driven out of the country by the patriot soldier Espartero, she endeavored to gain him over to her side, but failed. Espartero became Regent, and Maria Christina repaired to Paris, where she was received with great distinction by Louis Philippe, and Paris became the focus of all sorts of machinations against the constitutional government of Spain, and of plots for its overthrow. One of these had just been defeated at the time of Irving’s arrival. It was a desperate attempt of a band of soldiers of the rebel army to carry off the little Queen and her sister, which was frustrated only by the gallant resistance of the halberdiers in the palace. The little princesses had scarcely recovered from the horror of this night attack when our minister presented his credentials to the Queen through the Regent, thus breaking a diplomatic deadlock, in which he was followed by all the other embassies except the French. I take some passages from the author’s description of his first audience at the royal palace:
“We passed through the spacious court, up the noble staircase, and through the long suites of apartments of this splendid edifice, most of them silent and vacant, the casements closed to keep out the heat, so that a twilight reigned throughout the mighty pile, not a little emblematical of the dubious fortunes of its inmates. It seemed more like traversing a convent than a palace. I ought to have mentioned that in ascending the grand staircase we found the portal at the head of it, opening into the royal suite of apartments, still bearing the marks of the midnight attack upon the palace in October last, when an attempt was made to get possession of the persons of the little Queen and her sister, to carry them off . . . . The marble casements of the doors had been shattered in several places, and the double doors themselves pierced all over with bullet holes, from the musketry that played upon them from the staircase during that eventful night. What must have been the feelings of those poor children, on listening, from their apartment, to the horrid tumult, the outcries of a furious multitude, and the reports of firearms echoing and reverberating through the vaulted halls and spacious courts of this immense edifice, and dubious whether their own lives were not the object of the assault!
“After passing through various chambers of the palace, now silent and sombre, but which I had traversed in former days, on grand court occasions in the time of Ferdinand VII, when they were glittering with all the splendor of a court, we paused in a great saloon, with high-vaulted ceiling incrusted with florid devices in porcelain, and hung with silken tapestry, but all in dim twilight, like the rest of the palace. At one end of the saloon the door opened to an almost interminable range of other chambers, through which, at a distance, we had a glimpse of some indistinct figures in black. They glided into the saloon slowly, and with noiseless steps. It was the little Queen, with her governess, Madame Mina, widow of the general of that name, and her guardian, the excellent Arguelles, all in deep mourning for the Duke of Orleans. The little Queen advanced some steps within the saloon and then paused. Madame Mina took her station a little distance behind her. The Count Almodovar then introduced me to the Queen in my official capacity, and she received me with a grave and quiet welcome, expressed in a very low voice. She is nearly twelve years of age, and is sufficiently well grown for her years. She had a somewhat fair complexion, quite pale, with bluish or light gray eyes; a grave demeanor, but a graceful deportment. I could not but regard her with deep interest, knowing what important concerns depended upon the life of this fragile little being, and to what a stormy and precarious career she might be destined. Her solitary position, also, separated from all her kindred except her little sister, a mere effigy of royalty in the hands of statesmen, and surrounded by the formalities and ceremonials of state, which spread sterility around the occupant of a throne.”
I have quoted this passage, not more on account of its intrinsic interest, than as a specimen of the author’s consummate art of conveying an impression by what I may call the tone of his style; and this appears in all his correspondence relating to this picturesque and eventful period. During the four years of his residence the country was in a constant state of excitement and often of panic. Armies were marching over the kingdom. Madrid was in a state of siege, expecting an assault at one time; confusion reigned amid the changing adherents about the person of the child-queen. The duties of a minister were perplexing enough, when the Spanish government was changing its character and its personnel with the rapidity of shifting scenes in a pantomime. “This consumption of ministers,” wrote Irving to Mr. Webster, “is appalling. To carry on a negotiation with such transient functionaries is like bargaining at the window of a railroad-car: before you can get a reply to a proposition the other party is out of sight.”
Apart from politics, Irving’s residence was full of half-melancholy recollections and associations. In a letter to his old comrade, Prince Polgorouki, then Russian Minister at Naples, he recalls the days of their delightful intercourse at the D’Oubrils’:
“Time dispels charms and illusions. You remember how much I was struck with a beautiful young woman (I will not mention names) who appeared in a tableau as Murillo’s Virgin of the Assumption? She was young, recently married, fresh and unhackneyed in society, and my imagination decked her out with everything that was pure, lovely, innocent, and angelic in womanhood. She was pointed out to me in the theatre shortly after my arrival in Madrid. I turned with eagerness to the original of the picture that had ever remained hung up in sanctity in my mind. I found her still handsome, though somewhat matronly in appearance, seated, with her daughters, in the box of a fashionable nobleman, younger than herself, rich in purse but poor in intellect, and who was openly and notoriously her cavalier servante. The charm was broken, the picture fell from the wall. She may have the customs of a depraved country and licentious state of society to excuse her; but I can never think of her again in the halo of feminine purity and loveliness that surrounded the Virgin of Murillo.”
During Irving’s ministry he was twice absent, briefly in Paris and London, and was called to the latter place for consultation in regard to the Oregon boundary dispute, in the settlement of which he rendered valuable service. Space is not given me for further quotations from Irving’s brilliant descriptions of court, characters, and society in that revolutionary time, nor of his half-melancholy pilgrimage to the southern scenes of his former reveries. But I will take a page from a letter to his sister, Mrs. Paris, describing his voyage from Barcelona to Marseilles, which exhibits the lively susceptibility of the author and diplomat who was then in his sixty-first year:
“While I am writing at a table in the cabin, I am sensible of the power of a pair of splendid Spanish eyes which are occasionally flashing upon me, and which almost seem to throw a light upon the paper. Since I cannot break the spell, I will describe the owner of them. She is a young married lady, about four or five and twenty, middle sized, finely modeled, a Grecian outline of face, a complexion sallow yet healthful, raven black hair, eyes dark, large, and beaming, softened by long eyelashes, lips full and rosy red, yet finely chiseled, and teeth of dazzling whiteness. She is dressed in black, as if in mourning; on one hand is a black glove; the other hand, ungloved, is small, exquisitely formed, with taper fingers and blue veins. She has just put it up to adjust her clustering black locks. I never saw female hand more exquisite. Really, if I were a young man, I should not be able to draw the portrait of this beautiful creature so calmly.
“I was interrupted in my letter writing, by an observation of the lady whom I was describing. She had caught my eye occasionally, as it glanced from my letter toward her. ‘Really, Senor,’ said she, at length, with a smile, I one would think you were a painter taking my likeness.’ I could not resist the impulse. ‘Indeed,’ said I, ‘I am taking it; I am writing to a friend the other side of the world, discussing things that are passing before me, and I could not help noting down one of the best specimens of the country that I had met with: A little bantering took place between the young lady, her husband, and myself, which ended in my reading off, as well as I could into Spanish, the description I had just written down. It occasioned a world of merriment, and was taken in excellent part. The lady’s cheek, for once, mantled with the rose. She laughed, shook her head, and said I was a very fanciful portrait painter; and the husband declared that, if I would stop at St. Filian, all the ladies in the place would crowd to have their portraits taken — my pictures were so flattering. I have just parted with them. The steamship stopped in the open sea, just in front of the little bay of St. Filian; boats came off from shore for the party. I helped the beautiful original of the portrait into the boat, and promised her and her husband if ever I should come to St. Filian I would pay them a visit. The last I noticed of her was a Spanish farewell wave of her beautiful white hand, and the gleam of her dazzling teeth as she smiled adieu. So there ‘s a very tolerable touch of romance for a gentleman of my years.”
When Irving announced his recall from the court of Madrid, the young Queen said to him in reply: “You may take with you into private life the intimate conviction that your frank and loyal conduct has contributed to draw closer the amicable relations which exist between North America and the Spanish nation, and that your distinguished personal merits have gained in my heart the appreciation which you merit by more than one title.” The author was anxious to return. From the midst of court life in April, 1845, he had written: “I long to be once more back at dear little Sunnyside, while I have yet strength and good spirits to enjoy the simple pleasures of the country, and to rally a happy family group once more about me. I grudge every year of absence that rolls by. To-morrow is my birthday. I shall then be sixty-two years old. The evening of life is fast drawing over me; still I hope to get back among my friends while there is a little sunshine left.”
It was the 19th of September, 1846, says his biographer, “when the impatient longing of his heart was gratified, and he found himself restored to his home for the thirteen years of happy life still remaining to him.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56