Monday, July 13, 2009

Washington Irving

My chief critic, editor and "significant other"(and the one responsible for getting me to write and maintain this journal), Katherine, pointed out quite meritoriously that my last post left her somewhat in the lurch as to the identity and importance of Washington Irving. My thirty year love affair with American magazines and popular culture sometimes causes me to falsely assume that my audience is as familiar with some of the personages whom I take for granted.

Washington Irving was of monumental importance in the development of truly American literature and was really America's most successful humorist prior to Samuel Clemens. He was also a man of many other literary talents and he crossed paths with and influenced virtually every other important literary personality of the first half of the nineteenth century.

This reminds me quite a bit of Sara Josepha Hale, a magazine editor of many other talents, though Ms. Hale is considerably less well remembered today. (See blog entry)

Ironically, Irving was criticized during his time for selling out to the British but his indelible mark on American popular culture cannot be minimized. The cream rises to the top and, while the reputation of some early American superstars such as Longfellow are fading, the mark of Irving continues to shine, vis a vis, Rip Van Winkle, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the term "Gotham" as applied to New York City and "Knickerbocker" as applied to a New Yorker.

Frank Luther Mott lists "The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon" as a magazine, since it was issued periodically, though it is really more of a book in parts than a true magazine. Nonetheless, it appears on Irving's magazine curriculum vitae, with Analectic, Salmagundi and his later conributions to Knickerbocker Magazine (for one issue, Knickerbacker Magazine).

A few additional Irving-related items from my collection:

The Star Spangled Banner and the first issue of Knickerbocker.

As you can read on the long Wikipedia entry, that is only a portion of Irving's legacy. One correction on the wikipedia: Irving was the first magazine editor to print Defense of Fort McHenry. Oversight addressed. The next installment of American humor periodicals to follow shortly. More about Irving


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