Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Washington Irving's Birth

Washington Irving was born on April 3rd, 1783, the son of Orcadian William Irving.  As noted previously in this blog, Sir Walter Scott helped Irving publish his “The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon” in England.  The story is told in Samuel Smiles’ memoir of John Murray “A Publisher and his Friends”.

‘…A business in Liverpool, in which, with his brother, he [Irving] was a partner, proved a failure, and in 1818 he was engaged on his famous "Sketch Book," which he wrote in England, and sent to his brother Ebenezer in New York to be published there. The work appeared in three parts in the course of the year 1819. Several of the articles were copied in English periodicals and were read with great admiration. A writer in Blackwood
expressed surprise that Mr. Irving had thought fit to publish his
"Sketch Book" in America earlier than in Britain, and predicted a large
and eager demand for such a work. On this encouragement, Irving, who was
still in England, took the first three numbers, which had already
appeared in America, to Mr. Murray, and left them with him for
examination and approval. Murray excused himself on the ground that he
did not consider the work in question likely to form the basis of
"satisfactory accounts," and without this he had no "satisfaction" in
undertaking to publish.

Irving thereupon sought (but did not take) the advice of Sir W. Scott,
and entered into an arrangement with Miller of the Burlington Arcade,
and in February 1820 the first four numbers were published in a volume.
Miller shortly after became bankrupt, the sale of the book (of which one
thousand had been printed) was interrupted, and Irving's hopes of profit
were dashed to the ground. At this juncture, Walter Scott, who was then
in London, came to his help.

"I called to him for help as I was sticking in the mire, and, more
propitious than Hercules, he put his own shoulder to the wheel. Through
his favourable representations Murray was quickly induced to undertake
the future publication of the work which he had previously declined. A
further edition of the first volume was put to press, and from that time
Murray became my publisher, conducting himself in all his dealings with
that fair, open, and liberal spirit which had obtained for him the
well-merited appellation of the Prince of Booksellers." [Footnote:
Preface to the revised edition of "The Sketch Book."]

Irving, being greatly in want of money, offered to dispose of the work
entirely to the publisher, and Murray, though he had no legal protection
for his purchase, not only gave him £200 for it, but two months later
he wrote to Irving, stating that his volumes had succeeded so much
beyond his commercial estimate that he begged he would do him the favour
to draw on him at sixty-five days for one hundred guineas in addition to
the sum agreed upon. And again, eight months later, Murray made Irving a
second gratuitous contribution of a hundred pounds, to which the author
replied, "I never knew any one convey so much meaning in so concise and
agreeable a manner." The author's "Bracebridge Hall" and other works
were also published by Mr. Murray…’

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