Irvine: Mary Shelley’s “Pet Name” for Washington Irving, Intriguing Twist to History of Irving, Texas

Irving News Record

The Irving News Record, October 29, 1959, discusses the founding of Irving. — City of Irving, Texas, archives

July 17, 2019

BY TRACY HOFFMAN

Never a dull moment with Washington Irving scholarship!

Last Washington Irving Wednesday, July 10, I made a visit to the City of Irving archives. On my visit, I bumped into Mary Higbie, a key player in the City of Irving’s Heritage Society. Earlier that morning, Mary had reserved an October flight to visit Tarrytown. As you might guess, she easily convinced me to join her on the New York adventure. I’m looking forward to visiting Irving’s stomping grounds this fall. Believe it or not, I’ve never been to Sleepy Hollow in October.

I spent more time talking to Mary Higbie about travel plans than I did researching Washington Irving, but one awesome archivist at the city, Christopher Strange, found some intriguing items, which he emailed to me later.

In the handful of items he sent, the one that stands out in my mind–the one I can’t shake–involves the name “Irvine.” That name probably means nothing to Christopher Strange, Mary Higbie, or other Irving scholars, but I’ve studied Mary Shelley’s love interest in Washington Irving, and knew from her correspondence that she referred to Irving as Irvine. As to why, I don’t know, but I know that was her “pet name” for him.

How the City of Irving, Texas, got its name has been the subject of local debate for more than a century. Even though the City found enough evidence connecting the name to Washington Irving, issuing a city ordinance declaring such in the 1990s, the debate still exists.

Some say the name was pulled “out of the air.” Some say it came from the railroad. All kinds of ideas exist. But here’s an intriguing twist that I spotted in a document titled “A Scenario on the Naming of Irving as It Relates to Washington Irving” by Walter H. Muller–it may have been a misspelling or misreading of “Irvine.”

The two key founders of the city, Otis Brown and J. O. Schulze, were responsible for giving the town its name, and according to this 1998 Muller document, “Irvine” was the name of a woman Brown “corresponded with from the west.”

Netta Brown, Otis Brown’s wife, was an English teacher who happened to like Washington Irving, and her husband had been a member of the Washington Irving literary society at the University of Iowa. Perhaps when “Irvine” was scribbled on a piece of paper as a possible name for the city, it was naturally read as “Irving.”

According to Muller, “Schulze has written that when he saw the name Irving on Brown’s list, he thought [it] a misspelling of Irvine, Brown’s old correspondence from out west.”

It appears that Otis and Netta were engaged when the name was chosen. She would not have wanted the town named after her husband’s old flame.

Many fun coincidences, intertwined references, in my Washington Irving research! The pet name Mary Shelley had for Washington Irving also reflects a love interest in the founding of Irving, Texas. We have two love triangles: Mary Shelley, John Howard Payne, and Washington Irving; Otis Brown, Netta Brown, and the mysterious “Irvine” out west.

The Muller text mentions a Dallas Morning News article in which Schulze was quoted, so I need to dig for that tidbit. It’s Washington Irving Wednesday, so I’ll be back in the City of Irving archives this afternoon, hopefully finding more “tempting morsels” for the Washington Irving and Texas book project.

Until next week, feel free to leave a comment on the website, or contact me at Tracy_Hoffman@baylor.edu. On Wednesdays, I do my best to update social media and answer messages related to the Washington Irving Society.

Published in: on July 17, 2019 at 2:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

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