Takeaways from Washington Irving’s Repeated Takeoffs

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Wednesday, September 9, 2020

BY TRACY HOFFMAN
President of the Washington Irving Society

He was an attorney, yet he quit practicing.

His family owned a hardware business, yet it went bankrupt.

He was ambassador to Spain, yet he quit the job.

He was engaged, yet he never married.

He proposed to another woman, yet she declined.

He died single.

Irving quit on marriage, diplomacy, business, the law, and perhaps dozens of other goals.

For instance, I’m pretty sure he gave up on public speaking after attempting to introduce Charles Dickens to a large crowd in New York.

But the one thing he didn’t quit on–and the one important thing his failures produced–was his writing.

He never gave up on writing and publishing, even when the reception of his writing didn’t go so well; Tales of a Traveller, for example, which caused him to flee England and take off for Spain.

And in his final years, Irving churned out five thick volumes on George Washington. He gave up his travel itinerary in his later years, but he never set aside his writing agenda.

We like to watch the underdog come from behind and win. Washington Irving didn’t start out poor and end up rich, so his story isn’t the classic rags-to-riches American narrative, but his episodes of epic failure were followed by moments of success, and he kept going. That seems pretty American to me, too.

These extreme moments of failure followed by respites of success not only kept him going but they also kept his readers intrigued. These fluctuations keep scholars fascinated by his writing and legacy today. Like other great writers, his ups and downs gave him the depth necessary for prolific writing of high quality.

Ironically, Irving survived being quarantined for months aboard ship, and he dodged pandemic in New York. Those situations, it seems, were minor distractions from his writing. And if we can get a bigger picture of our life’s work, I think Irving’s quitting on some things while never giving up on the most important, despite the circumstances, is a lesson everybody can use about now.

I started this blog in August, planning to publish on August 5, but ended up throwing up my hands on blogging for the entire month of August. I’m currently teaching four face-to-face classes of American Literature, and the daily flurry of emails and preparation for the past month have taken precedence over my blogging efforts.

This morning, I came back to the rough draft, and I contemplated quitting on blogging for the remainder of our semester. But, once again, Irving has inspired me to keep going. Perhaps this blog and Irving’s legacy may have the same effect on you today as you read it.

Until my next post on a Washington Irving Wednesday, please stay healthy, and don’t quit on what’s most important.

– – – – – – – – – –

Feel free to add to the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, or on this page. Comments are very much welcomed.

If you need a thoughtful reply, please message me at Tracy_Hoffman@baylor.edu.

I try to respond to Washington Irving Society-related email on Wednesdays, and I also update the WIS page on Washington Irving Wednesdays. If things get hectic and other jobs and responsibilities take precedence over author society business, my email responses might get backlogged, and therefore be delayed by weeks or months. However, I will eventually get around to reading and responding to all messages, most likely on Wednesdays.

Published in: on September 9, 2020 at 5:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

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