“It is the divine attribute of the imagination, that when the real world is shut out it can create a world for itself, and with a necromantic power can conjure up glorious shapes and forms, and brilliant visions to make solitude populous, and irradiate the gloom of a dungeon.”
On this day, in 1783, one of my heroes, author Washington Irving was born. He is of course, most famous for his short stories, Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow; which were included as part of his first volume of essays and short stories, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. It was first published in the US in seven serialized paperback installments between June of 1819 and September 1820.
According to Wikipedia, in 1809, Irving completed work on his first major book, A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker, a satire on self-important local history and contemporary politics. Prior to its publication, Irving placed a series of missing person advertisements in New York newspapers seeking information on Diedrich Knickerbocker, a Dutch historian who had allegedly gone missing from his hotel in New York City. As part of the ruse, Irving placed a notice—allegedly from the hotel’s proprietor—informing readers that if Mr. Knickerbocker failed to return to the hotel to pay his bill, he would publish a manuscript Knickerbocker had left behind. Pretty clever, if you ask me.
Irving, his brother William, and colleague James Kirke Paulding founded the short-lived Salmagundi; or The Whim-whams and Opinions of Launcelot Langstaff, Esq. & Others, a satirical periodical that lampooned New York culture and politics, very similar to today’s Mad magazine. In addition to the pen names Diedrich Knickerbocker and Geoffrey Crayon, Irving wrote under several other names such as Launcelot Langstaff, and my personal favorite, William Wizard.
His life story was too long and rich and varied to do justice here, but makes fascinating and inspriational reading. Irving is generally credited as the first American to earn his living solely by his pen, and the first to establish his story locations in the United States. He is also credited with offering encouragement and advice to many now-famous authors, such as Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Dickens. He also popularized the nickname for New York City as “Gotham City”, and several of his idealized short stories on Christmas are credited with forming the foundation of how we celebrate Christmas in the US.
Not bad, for a guy who wrote fairy tales.