It All Began with a $1 Purchase


By Steve Sears

Back in the early 1990s, my township library would schedule a yearly book sale, the goal being to ferret and discard any books that, per their records, hadn’t been checked out in a good period, and to accept books that had “gathered dust” from residences, all to gain money for the library support.

Purchases were a steal: .50 for paperbacks, $1.00 for hardcovers.

On a very warm, May morning, I bought one book, it being the only one that won my interest: a 1908 version of The Sketch Book by Washington Irving.

I had heard of Irving but was unaware that he had written “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. I would educate myself that day and the following day by reading, in my opinion, some of the most luscious word usage I had ever encountered. Yes, the previously mentioned classics were great reads, but so were – and maybe more so for me – “The Mutability of Literature”, “The Wife”, “The Widow and Her Son”.

This led to visits to both his beloved home, Sunnyside, in Tarrytown, New York, and his grave in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, and frequent sojourns to Christ Episcopal Church, which is halfway between Sunnyside and the cemetery, and is often a (I feel) forgotten or unknown tourist attraction. Inside are his pew he sat in for Sunday services, a monument dedicated following his death, and a tiny library where photos, first editions, and personal notes are on display. Further proof of my devotion was my purchase of and stocking my home library with books about and by Irving, many from the 19th century, including The Crayon Miscellany, Pierre Irving’s three-volume Life & Letters of Washington Irving, and a first edition of Wolfert’s Roost (1855). Please know that I read the latter in one evening, it falling apart in my hands, and now held together by an elastic band. This may appear to be disrespect shown the book and history, but I think it better said that reading it in one night is apt respect to my writing hero more so.

2019 is the 200th anniversary of the publication of The Sketch Book, and I’ll close by saying that I think it’s wonderful that Irving’s great Headless Horseman legend is kept alive each fall, but I think he’s deserved of more adulation than just a month or two out of the year. Yes, visitors visit Sunnyside and Irving’s grave year-round, but he I note is often forgotten when mention is made of our country’s and the world’s better 19th century, historic writers.

Dickens, Poe, and good company are all mentioned and deservedly so, but shouldn’t Washington Irving’s sun rise just as high – and maybe higher?


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The Washington Irving Society would like to thank Steve Sears for writing this week’s blog. Feel free to comment here to communicate with Steve. You can also contact him at:

Published in: on May 15, 2019 at 2:03 pm  Comments (1)  

Washington Irving in Paris, Part II


Washington Irving and Islam, edited by Zubeda Jalalzai, is now available. Irving’s 1821 journal from Paris gives us more to consider about his early interest in writing about Islam.



April 24, 2019

I decided to look through Washington Irving journal entries written in April. I was hoping to find something on this exact day, April 24, two-hundred years ago. I’ve done this sort of activity with classes in which we look to see what was happening in the newspapers on this day: 10 years ago, 50 years ago, 100 years ago, etc.

In the process of looking through Irving’s April journal entries, I came across journal pages from April of 1821. Irving writes of Paris and his first conversation with actor François Joseph Talma.

In the second volume of journals, 1807-1822, edited by Walter A. Reichart and Lillian Schlissel, we are given this note: “Irving’s meeting with the great actor, François Joseph Talma (1763-1826), occurred on April 25, 1821. Irving had first seen him on the stage on May 29, 1805, and saw him repeatedly in the theater and socially in 1823, as indicated by his journal entries. Irving utilized these notes almost verbatim in his ‘Conversations with Talma,’ first published in The Knickerbocker Gallery: A Testimonial to the Editor of the Knickerbocker Magazine from its Contributors…” (386).

Reichart and Schlissel correctly state that the journal entries are very close to the article (

Irving makes some insightful comments about Paris in 1821. For instance, he writes: “He [Talma] received me in a very cordial manner, and asked if this was my first visit to Paris. I told him I had been here once before, about fourteen years since” (

The bulk of Irving’s Knickerbocker Gallery article deals with Hamlet and the French theater since Irving had seen Talma perform in a French version of the play in Paris.

But what I found fascinating was another connection Irving must have had with Talma: the Arabesque and the Prophet Muhammad (once spelled Mahomet).

In a preliminary dig into Talma’s biography, we find “his professional debut…on Nov. 21, 1787, as Seide in Voltaire’s Mahomet (

Evidently, in 2005, readings of Voltaire’s Mahomet, which is a very anti-Mahomet play, created a small riot in France (

In 1821 upon meeting Talma, Irving had not published his own biography of the Prophet, nor had he traveled to Spain where he would have access to the Spanish archives.

I have often wondered why both Mary Shelley and Washington Irving wanted to publish a biography about Muhammad, and why their publisher rejected them both initially. François Joseph Talma’s performance in the 1787 Mahomet adds yet another layer to Irving’s fascination with the subject.

The influence of the theater in Irving’s writing cannot be overstated. In fact, we could use some scholarly work which delves into this subject. I have yet to find a list of all plays Irving attended. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t exist. We need to change that.

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 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 24, 2019 at 11:34 pm  Comments (1)  

Washington Irving in Paris

the greek statues

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



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 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)  

Celebrating Irving in Texas



April 10, 2019

For this Washington Irving Wednesday, I want to mention some events sponsored by the City of Irving, Texas, which is located in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. The city’s theme for April is: “Irving: The City and the Man.”

First off, if you’re anywhere near Irving, Texas, on Saturday, April 13, 2019, you must come out to one of John Dennis Anderson’s performances. At 10 a.m., Anderson will be performing at the Irving Arts Center on North MacArthur, and the Chautauqua performance will be at 2 p.m. in the South Library on Schulze.

On Washington Irving’s birthday, April 3, I showed my American Lit classes the 20-minute YouTube clip from a few years back of the Google Hangout discussion between Anderson and Irving ISD students. You can check this out to get an idea of what to expect. My students have listened to me rattle off facts and stories about Washington Irving, so I’m sure they appreciated listening to an equally reliable, yet more creative source.

But here’s something you may not pick up immediately from Anderson’s performance—he’s steeped in scholarship! He’s not just acting like Irving; he’s speaking the scholarship. He has Irving’s words memorized, and when asked questions, John often responds with what scholarship has to say about the matter.

John Dennis Anderson graduated with an undergrad and master’s from Baylor University and a Ph.D. in “Speech Communication/Performance of Literature” from the University of Texas. He retired from a professorship at Emerson College in 2016. Sic ’em Bears!

And if you’ve in or around Irving, Texas, on Saturday, April 27, you’ll also want to check out the Irving Trivia contest, which begins at 9:30 a.m. at 801 West Irving Blvd. The trivia teams take the contest seriously, often showing up in team uniforms, but they have a lot of fun with it, too. In years past, they split the contest into multiple days, but for 2019, it’s a one-day event.

I’ll be at the Anderson performances and at the trivia contest. I hope to see you there!

By the way, I love the coffee, the people, and sweet treats at Argentina Bakery in Irving. The City of Irving has many great restaurants to try, but this is my must-stop coffee shop when flying through town. Maybe I’ll bump into you there as well.

Argentina Bakery reminds me of Washington Irving because I think about his interest in South America, his translation work on Chile, and how I need to get busy working on that. I’m also reminded of Pope Francis and Argentina. I may have been the only customer to have asked the fine folks at Argentina Bakery what they thought about the new pope when he was selected.

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 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 11, 2019 at 12:12 am  Leave a Comment  

Sketch Book Vampires


backlit dark dawn environment

Photo by Pixabay on


March 27, 2019

While contemplating a blog topic for today, the following post came across my email account: “JTO: Fall 19: The Black Vampyre; A Legend of St. Domingo.”

The message came through the L-C19-Americanists ListServ, signed by Duncan Faherty and Ed White. First off, if you’re not familiar with JTO, it means “Just Teach One.” The project encourages professors to teach an understudied, neglected text.

The request to teach The Black Vampyre asks instructors to teach the text this fall and then submit a blog post about the classroom experience.

What struck me in this call for a blog: Washington Irving and Lord Byron are mentioned. The Black Vampyre was published in 1819, the same year Irving began publishing The Sketch Book.

I have not read the book, and I’m not clear on the loop between Uriah Derick D’Arcy, who signed The Black Vampyre, Washington Irving, and Lord Byron. But it sounds like an intriguing connection.

I’ve been arguing for years that Irving’s comments about Native-Americans could easily be translated into similar sentiments for African-Americans, and I’m even more convinced of that as I have been studying “The Devil and Tom Walker.” A look at this neglected novel, which deals with race, might add much to the conversation I’ve pursued with Irving.

Katie Bray’s 2015 American Literature article deals with the issue, so I’ll be investigating Bray’s study and checking out the text in the weeks ahead, to see if I can make it work for the fall (American Literature, Volume 87, Number 1, March 2015 DOI 10.1215/00029831-2865163 © 2015 by Duke UP).

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 I try to respond to all correspondence on Wednesdays, and I also update the WIS page on Wednesdays.

Published in: on March 27, 2019 at 7:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

Invoking the “Spirit of Rip Van Winkle,” Awakening to Research Opportunities

adult book boring face

Photo by Pixabay on


March 20, 2019

Last week, my Spring Break, I thought about posting a Wednesday blog, but then the “spirit of Rip Van Winkle” came over me. I got a little lazy, wanting to relax more than write, so I rationalized how even Washington Irving would want a respite if he had been offered a Spring Break back in the 1800s.

At the very least, Washington Irving would have traveled over Spring Break, carrying a sketch pad to scribble ideas for future books, but I’m pretty sure he would have resisted blogging, too.

So I’m back to posting on Washington Irving Wednesdays, after taking off last week.

This morning, the character Rip Van Winkle and his sketch are still on my mind. I’m thinking about ways we could research children’s versions of the story, perhaps gathering useful data on “Rip Van Winkle.”

Over the years, I’ve thought about conducting a project where undergraduate students and I would read “Rip Van Winkle” to children in schools and libraries, to get feedback on the tale. But I’ve never jumped into this arena. Baylor even runs a childcare center, perhaps a good place to conduct such a study. But again, I’ve been lazy about getting into this business.

Several years ago, I maneuvered my way onto a Children’s Literature panel at a national conference to talk about “Rip Van Winkle.” Audience members tore apart my research! Basically, I was applying the wrong scholars. These experts were correct, since I’m an Early Americanist/Irving scholar, but I felt like I was being scolded in the principal’s office.

We scholars often do this sort of thing: dabble in areas outside our comfort zones. I’ve been involved in panels on Muslim Studies because of Irving’s writings on Islam. I’m not an Islamicist, but these experts always make me feel very welcomed. And I could go on and on, as most scholars could, about giving talks on areas outside our fields of study. They typically go very well.

I’m laughing out loud to myself thinking about this Children’s Literature episode, but I need to get over this odd, rare exception to friendly circles of scholars, and reconsider Children’s Literature as an avenue of study.

Yesterday, a former student awakened my thoughts on Rip Van Winkle. This student, who took one of my classes in the fall, sent me a questionnaire about undergraduate research grants. She needs answers for a project she’s working on for a professional writing class. Evidently, she wants professors to request more grant money for undergraduate research.

Typically, an undergrad will do research under my guidance if the student is working on an Honors College thesis, a smaller version of a master’s thesis. These students approach me because they’ve taken me for a class and our research interests intersect. But that’s about it.

I have memories of undergrad professors using we students to help them work on their books, and I don’t want to manipulate my students in that way. However, I should be more open to setting up win-win situations, where their research benefits them and compliments what I’m studying and/or teaching.

December 2017, I could have used some undergraduate research funds when a senior English major and I traveled to Yosemite National Park to attend the Bracebridge Dinner. She’s now headed to grad school pursuing Medieval Literature. Our interests collided because she wanted to witness a madrigal dinner, and I wanted to see the Irving-inspired extravaganza. In one of my junior-level classes, she had also worked on an extensive research project regarding Irving’s Christmas stories, inspired by medieval tradition.

Sadly, the deadlines for grant money didn’t align with our time frame. If I had applied for grant money when we realized we needed money, the student would have graduated by the time we received the grant. And that’s my general spin on grant money with undergrads. I’m not working with the same students every semester, so plotting research projects with them would require extraordinary measures. And like I said, I’m lazy too often to muster up such energy.

I’m wondering, though, if someone were teaching in a smaller high school or university setting where they see the same students often, if research projects could be managed efficiently, making grant money an easier grab. I’m thinking about a small school district near me where all students are housed in one building. Surely, a small school district like that would be excited about studying some “Rip Van Winkle” and getting funding to do so.

But I also wonder if small districts have greater needs than learning about Washington Irving; grant money might be needed for higher priority requests. If so, then bringing in a team from the university would be a better approach, if we can get funding from our end.

I haven’t forgotten about “The Devil and Tom Walker” and ways we might teach this story. Thoughts about “Rip Van Winkle” and research have me thinking about the Walkers, too. What data might be useful when studying the miserly couple?

Washington Irving studies, like most areas of literary research, needs digital archiving. Master’s students tend to take on these very important tasks. Nevertheless, I should be thinking about smaller digital projects for undergrads.

Thanks to my former student for reminding me of undergraduate research efforts. We will do better!

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 I try to respond to all correspondence on Wednesdays (unless it’s Spring Break!), and I also update the WIS page on Wednesd

Published in: on March 20, 2019 at 5:44 pm  Comments (1)  

Great Awakenings in Washington Irving’s “The Devil and Tom Walker”

Meeting House of the First Presbyterian Society Erected 1756. Photo taken in Boston by Tracy Hoffman.


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Several articles, podcasts, and online discussions as of late have me thinking about “The Devil and Tom Walker” in new ways.

Some very good people I know and know of seem to think academics are discrediting America and her past. I can only speak for myself, though my perspective is certainly shared by many, that what we’re working toward is a richer history: more facts, not less, certainly not deleting information.

New Historicism1, of course, is no longer new, and we continue to grapple with what history and the facts mean. That’s true for Americanists and most Americans, for that matter, who try to keep up with what’s going on in the world in light of the past.

What some label negatively as “rewriting history” is really an attempt to present more context, more texts, more data to involve groups underrepresented in our traditional history telling. I’m trying to look at this Irving text not only as opportunity to talk about America’s traditional representations of history and literature but also to think about untold stories.

What overlooked historical context can we provide for this story? What other texts might be paired with “Tom Walker”?

Irving comments upon the Great Awakening when he sets up the sketch “About the year 1727, just at the time when earthquakes were prevalent in New England, and shook many tall sinners down upon their knees, there lived near this place a meagre miserly fellow of the name of Tom Walker.”

By simply googling the year 1727, some interesting items jump out to me. For one, Irving is alluding to both the literal earthquake striking New England while also joking about spiritual revival. During this same year, the “NY General assembly permits Jews to omit phrase ‘upon the faith of a Christian’ from abjuration oath” ( This makes me wonder if people of other faiths were allowed the same courtesy.

Do we ever talk about Jews, Muslims, or even Catholics when we talk about the Protestant revivals in America? I’m reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography where he talks about the importance of meeting houses, for anyone to use, even “a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us” (

Irving also loosely references the Salem Witch Trials: “The good people of Boston shook their heads and shrugged their shoulders, but had been so much accustomed to witches and goblins and tricks of the devil in all kinds of shapes from the first settlement of the colony, that they were not so much horror struck as might have been expected.”

According to “good ‘ole Wikipedia,” the year 1727 is important to the study of witch trials: “An old woman known as Janet (Jenny) Home of Loth Sutherland becomes the last alleged witch in the British Isles to be executed when she is burned at the stake in Dornoch, Scotland”

To me, these two are obvious: the Great Awakening and the Salem Witch Trials. But what might I be missing? If I could look through different lenses, theoretical approaches if you will, what might I notice? What psychology is at play in the story? What’s the socioeconomic situation of the setting? What cultures and races deserve attention? What might the story say about gender?

We know Harvard University was around in Boston during this time, as it was founded in the 1600s. Students would be aware of Harvard’s current reputation. Talking about the role of the university as a seminary for white male students might be of interest to them. I’m reminded of Phillis Wheatley’s poem addressed to the students of Cambridge, what Harvard used to be called.

Of course, we also have many of the events leading up to the American Revolution taking place in Boston: the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre, etc. Those trying to teach “The Devil and Tom Walker” in a high school setting might present the story alongside key events that took place later in Boston.

I recently listened to the Ben Franklin’s World podcast about the Boston Massacre. Learning that the Boston area was in decline, leading up to the American Revolution, was intriguing to me. Places like Philadelphia and New York were booming in comparison. Socioeconomic considerations should be obvious paths to investigate since the story deals with the miserly Mr. and Mrs. Tom Walker.

I’ll be keeping my eye out for new ways to teach the story, particularly with regard to financial concerns in Boston and Salem during the 1720s. I’m also thinking about context and complimentary texts for each story in The Sketch Book, since we’re celebrating its 200th anniversary. I’m hoping to use the book as an anchor for one of my American Lit classes in the fall, but I really need to think through what texts would work well with it.

Until next week, please feel free to add to the conversation wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, or on this page. Comments are very much welcomed. Also feel free to message me at I try to respond to all correspondence on Wednesdays, and I also update the WIS page.

  1. For a definition of New Historicism, see:
Published in: on March 7, 2019 at 1:56 am  Leave a Comment  

The Father of American Literature: Irving’s Legacy on Display in “The Devil and Tom Walker”

teal fujifilm instax mini camera near white ceramic mug

Tom Walker and his wife lose their souls in their travels about Boston in “The Devil and Tom Walker” from Tales of a Traveller. Photo by Element5 Digital on



Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Washington Irving is considered the Father of American Literature for many reasons. He proved America had a decent writer, “a man of letters,” who produced a large body of beautifully-written work. His books influenced so many great writers to come, and much like Benjamin Franklin who thrived in the printing business, Irving was able to support himself solely by writing.

What occurred to me last night was how much “The Devil and Tom Walker” demonstrates Irving’s legacy: his influence on so many other writers, on both sides of the Atlantic.

Last night, a little before 11 p.m., I re-read “The Devil and Tom Walker” a few times. In all honesty, I was looking for any hint of Mary Shelley, since scholars were chatting about his connection with her yesterday on Twitter, and since I know Irving was working on this story when he was moving in Mary Shelley circles.

However, what struck me last night and has stayed with me this morning, instead, is a laundry list of texts which could easily be paired with this short story because you see Washington Irving’s influence in them.

Irving Independent School District, in Irving, Texas, has added “The Devil and Tom Walker” to its reading list, so I’ve been blogging about this sketch which appears in Tales of a Traveller. Perhaps some of my musings of other texts I teach or might want to teach will be useful to other instructors also looking for connections with other texts.

First off, Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens reminds me of Tom Walker in the latter part of the story when Old Scratch carries him away on the dark horse. I already teach Irving’s Christmas stories and explain how the holiday sketches influenced Dickens, but I hadn’t thought about “Tom Walker” as it relates to Ebenezer. Dickens reforms Scrooge, but Irving gives Walker a sad ending. Though Walker attempts church-going to negate his “deal with the Devil,” in the end, he loses his soul.

And how can we not see Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” in “The Devil and Tom Walker”? The setting of time and place are the same, and like Brown, Walker carries a staff when he wanders into the forest.

Of course, Mary Rowlandson’s narrative, set in Massachusetts, might also pair well. Irving’s tone about hypocrisy should readily resonate with readers of Hawthorne, as we also consider Rowlandson’s attitude toward natives. And Zitkala Ša’s Impressions from an Indian Childhood, I think, also works with Rowlandson.

When Irving describes the Devil’s color as sooty, rather than designating a particular race, I’m reminded of Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif” and her presentation of stereotypes, too.

“The Devil and Tom Walker” contains three levels of narration. Washington Irving wrote the book under the pen name of Geoffrey Crayon, a fictitious American narrator who has traveled in Europe. Finally, another fictitious narrator, a Cape Cod whaler, relays the story of “The Devil and Tom Walker.” Therefore, it seems to me, that Herman Melville’s Moby Dick might be a comparable text, especially if you discuss the role of narrator. Students could readily see a sailor’s perspective, especially at the beginning of Walker’s story about inlets, pirates, treasure, and maneuvering the waters near Boston.

The discussions of “the Indian fort” reminds me of James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans. And any chat about Irving and Cooper is fun for me and my classes. Irving spoke at Cooper’s funeral, and I can imagine Cooper, who was critical of Irving’s writing, rolling over in his grave. The irony of Cooper suggesting Irving was too soft on social ills stands out to me in the Walker story. And I will definitely blog another time to talk about Irving’s jabs at usury, slavery, and the mistreatment of Native-Americans, all evident in “The Devil and Tom Walker.”

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 I try to respond to all correspondence on Wednesdays, and I also update the WIS page.

Published in: on February 27, 2019 at 6:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

Author Societies: Watchdog Groups?

american pit bull terrier

Photo by Viktoria B. on


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

If journalists have been traditionally viewed as “the watchdog of government,” should an author society consider itself the protector of truth about its writer? Should society members be the barking dogs to point out “untruths” we see being spread on social media?

As often is the case, yesterday, Washington Irving made the “quote of the day” on various feeds, which is a good thing. It’s nice to see the world abuzz about “an old, dead white guy” I study. But tweeters failed to give the textual source for the quote.

I was reminded of my “lecture series” which students get on rudeness in writing. Whenever I talk about plagiarism with entry-level writing classes, I often make a forceful comment, which goes something like this: “It may not be plagiarism, but it might be rude.”

For instance, mechanical engineers may consider something common knowledge in their sphere, but if they’re trying to write a document for a general audience, not providing additional information and/or some citation could be very rude.

I remind students to be kind to their readers. Let them know where they can go for further information. If you didn’t “borrow” the information, then it’s not plagiarism, but please tell readers where they can go to find out more.

If I can’t easily figure out the source of a quote, it drives me batty! And if I don’t readily recognize an Irving quote, then certainly a general audience, the recipient for such “quotes of the day,” would have no idea.

Here’s the quote which ran all over the place yesterday, Tuesday, February 19, 2019:

“Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortune, but great minds rise above it.”

As you might imagine, all kinds of self-help, business-minded folks used the quote as motivational material, and I suppose that’s why the quote made the cut.

After some digging around, I found the source of the quote: “Philip of Pokanoket” from The Sketch Book. The passage sets up the death of the Wampanoag chief. Though Irving paints the Native-American leader as “a patriot attached to his native soil—a prince true to his subjects and indignant of their wrongs,” in the “quote of the day,” Philip arouses his “great mind” to kill.

Here are the lines which follow “the quote of the day”:

“The very idea of submission awakened the fury of Philip, and he smote to death one of his followers who proposed an expedient of peace. The brother of the victim made his escape, and in revenge betrayed the retreat of his chieftain. A body of white men and Indians were immediately despatched to the swamp where Philip lay crouched, glaring with fury and despair. Before he was aware of their approach, they had begun to surround him. In a little while he saw five of his trustiest followers laid dead at his feet; all resistance was vain; he rushed forth from his covert and made a headlong attempt to escape, but was shot through the heart by a renegade Indian of his own nation.”

Typically, I try not to correct people on Twitter, Facebook, or anywhere else. People generally don’t want to be corrected. The context for this quote, though, seemed worthwhile enough to share. I also thought it might introduce some people to Irving’s concerns about Native-Americans in the early republic.

I posted the following:

“ ‘Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortune, but great minds rise above it’ deals with Native-American conflict and comes from Irving’s ‘Philip of Pokanoket.’ Context is important. Full text at”

In scholarly publications, we attempt to straighten out the facts, context, and more about texts and writers, but should we feel at all obligated to correct misinformation spread about our writers in social media?

People will probably always use “Romeo and Juliet” references to describe couples in love, even though the pair committed suicide. Edgar Allan Poe fans will probably continue to circulate all sorts of nonsense about his death, though no autopsy was performed.

Instead of being bothered by lack of context or “fake news,” should I instead be content knowing countless people are still quoting from The Sketch Book in 2019—200 years after it was published?

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 I try to respond to all correspondence on Wednesdays, and also update the WIS page.

By the way, I haven’t forgotten about Tales of a Traveller. I’ll get back to it, but wanted to address this issue while it’s still fresh on my mind.



Published in: on February 21, 2019 at 2:17 am  Leave a Comment  

Valentine’s Week Musings: Broken-Hearted Washington Irving

February 2019 Heritage Tea

The City of Irving’s Heritage Society 2019 Valentine Tea. Photo by Tracy Hoffman



Wednesday, February 13, 2019

On this Valentine’s Eve, I’m thinking about Irving’s young, innocent female characters and also his heart-broken widows in The Sketch Book and Tales of a Traveller. These female characters contrast greatly with nagging Dame Van Winkle and miserly Mrs. Tom Walker.

Stories of innocent love, in particular, are fresh on my mind because my American Lit classes are reading some of these sappy stories this week. On Monday, I also briefly lectured about Irving’s love interests: Matilda Hoffman, Emily Foster, Mary Shelley.

Though I sometimes teach A Tour on the Prairies and the full Sketch Book, I typically spend three classes on a handful of Irving sketches: one day on “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” one day on the Christmas stories, and the last day, I experiment with other sketches. Because I also teach Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative, Irving’s romantic depictions of Native Americans, namely “Philip of Pokanoket” and “Traits of Indian Character” from The Sketch Book, offset Rowlandson’s depictions of Amerindians.

Since our Irving readings this semester fall on Valentine’s week, I opted to assign “The Wife,” “The Broken Heart” and “The Specter Bridegroom” in place of “Philip of Pokanoket” and “Traits of Indian Character.”

Believe it or not, many of the men in my class told me “The Wife” and “The Broken Heart” were their favorite reads thus far this semester.  Students also distinguished Leslie’s wife and the remarried widow from “The Broken Heart” with our previously discussed coquette Katrina Van Tassel and nag Dame Van Winkle.

Ironically, this morning, as I scrolled the Irving Society Twitter feed in honor of “Washington Irving Wednesday,” I was reminded of Irving’s most quoted passages, many of which come from these sentimental tales. We scholars sometimes forget: what we consider kitschy is often loved by the masses. Sadly, most Twitter posts don’t cite the texts, so I’ll throw out a few with the sources.

From “The Wife,” we get: “There is in every true woman’s heart a spark of heavenly fire, which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity, but which kindles up, and beams and blazes in the dark hour of adversity.”

In “The Widow and Her Son,” Irving writes: “Oh! There is an enduring tenderness in the love of a mother to her son that transcends all other affections of the heart. It is neither to be chilled by selfishness, nor daunted by danger, nor weakened by worthlessness, nor stifled by ingratitude. She will sacrifice every comfort to his convenience, she will surrender every pleasure to his enjoyment, she will glory in his fame and exult in his prosperity; and, if misfortune overtake him, he will be the dearer to her from misfortune; and if disgrace settle upon his name, she will still love and cherish him in spite of his disgrace; and if all the world beside cast him off, she will be all the world to him.”

Because I’ve been blogging about “The Devil and Tom Walker,” which comes from Tales of a Traveller, I’ve also been thinking about the innocent young woman, wearing white, who is raped in the section about the Italian banditti. We sometimes say killing off Dame Van Winkle is like killing off the mother land of England. I can’t help but think Irving might be killing off the innocent female, much like his beloved Matilda Hoffman, as a way of killing off his past, of healing his broken heart.

At the time of its publication, reviewers thought Tales of a Traveller obscene because of this rape episode, among other troubling stories, but maybe Irving needed to write such a scene, whether conscious of it or not. Something to consider…

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 I try to respond to all correspondence on Wednesdays, and also update the WIS page.

By the way, this past Sunday, February 10, the Irving Heritage Society of Irving, Texas, hosted yet another wonderful Valentine’s Tea. If you’re ever in the Dallas-Fort Worth area on Valentine’s Sunday, be sure to drop by, as the tea is an annual event. Here’s a link:

Published in: on February 14, 2019 at 12:41 am  Leave a Comment  
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