Washington Irving in Paris

the greek statues

The decapitated St. Denis at Notre Dame Cathedral. –Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com



April 17, 2019

With the recent fire at Notre Dame, as well as comments made on Saturday by “Washington Irving” (a.k.a. John Dennis Anderson) about staying in Paris, I’ve been thinking about Washington Irving’s connections to Paris.

“The Adventure of the German Student,” a sketch included in Tales of a Traveller  (1824), takes place in Paris at the time of the French Revolution.

Irving begins the story:“On a stormy night, in the tempestuous times of the French revolution, a young German was returning to his lodgings, at a late hour, across the old part of Paris. The lightning gleamed, and the loud claps of thunder rattled through the lofty, narrow streets—but I should first tell you something about this young German.”

As Irving scholars know, “The Adventure of the German Student” features a female decapitated goblin. Contemplating this sketch and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” alongside Irving’s commentary about the French Revolution, beheadings naturally come to mind when mentally mapping Irving’s paths to Paris.

In “The Adventure of the German Student,” Irving mentions specific places in Paris, such as the Pays Latin, the “monastic walls of the Sorbonne,” and “the great libraries of Paris, those catacombs of departed authors.” Though he doesn’t specifically name Notre Dame, we can imagine it looming in the background since it’s a short walk from the Latin Quarter.

Irving also kept a journal while in France in 1823.

On Sunday, August 3, 1823, he writes: “Arrive at 11 oclock at Paris get a room at the Hotel de Suede Rue Du Baillay — drive out in cabriolet to Mr Storrows — find the girls much grown & improved — dine there a Mr & Mrs (Arnold) Everett there with their little son & daughter — Walk in, not being able to get place in carriage — roads thronged with carriages — water works playd at St Cloud” (Reichart 205).

His Paris journal entries consist of items such as visits to the theater and opera, sleeping arrangements, and dining parties.

While in Paris on Saturday, August 9, 1823, Irving says he met with John Howard Payne, the playwright. And numerous visits with Payne are mentioned throughout his journal entries.

The two worked on some projects together, and Payne was also part of the love triangle with Mary Shelley. Payne proposed to her, but she declined, saying she preferred Irving.

For several days in Paris, Irving was troubled by a nightmare. He writes on Monday, August 11, 1823: “Woke at 4 oclock this morning—with a strange horror on my mind—a dread of future evil—of failure in future literary attempts—a dismal forboding that I could not drive off by any effort of reason” (Reichart 209). The next day, he writes: “Awake between 3 & 4 with same horror of mind” (210).

One might think with these troubling nightmares, Irving would have some beverage to settle his nerves, or take something else, but I don’t see any such references.

On Saturday in Irving, Texas, someone asked “Washington Irving” about his favorite wines, which stumped the Father of American Literature. And to be honest, I don’t recall any specific comments by Irving about a favorite wine, and for the past few years, I’ve been studying wassail and drinking in his writing.

Now, I’m noticing in his Paris journals numerous references to coffee, not wine. No wonder I like this guy! I’m more of a coffee connoisseur than a wine aficionado myself.

On Thursday, August 14, 1823, he comments about his breakfast of coffee, bread, and butter: “Breakfast at caffe—had caffe au lait, pain & beurre” (Reichart 211). And on Saturday, August 16, he scribbles “go to coffee house & breakfast” (212). Again, on August 18, it’s “Coffee au lait & bread & Butter –18 sous” (213).

Speaking of waking up to coffee and Irving’s nightmares, I came across a vampire reference in Irving’s journal. I have the Black Vampyre on my list of must-reads, since its reception history connects to Irving, so that’s no doubt why I noticed this entry this round.

On Friday, August 15, Irving notes his theater doings: “go to Theater St Martin—see L’homme Gris—Le Cuisinier de Buffon (good – father) & Polichinelle Vampire –very extraordinary” (Reichart 212).

On Friday, September 19, Irving leaves Paris. From August 3 to September 19, 1823, he’s in Paris. In his journals, I don’t see any references to Notre Dame. But I’ll keep looking. You typically come across these kinds of references when you’re not actively looking for them, kind of like the vampire and coffee references I spotted while scanning for Notre Dame.

Until next week, please feel free to add to the conversation wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, on this page. Comments are very much welcomed. Also feel free to message me at Tracy_Hoffman@baylor.edu. I try my best on Wednesdays to blog on the WIS website, to respond to all correspondence, and to update the WIS page.

Published in: on April 17, 2019 at 5:38 pm  Comments (1)  

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