Washington Irving’s career as a writer began obscurely at age seventeen, when his brother’s newspaper published his series of comic reports on the theater, theater-goers, fashions, balls, courtships, duels, and marriages of his contemporary New York, called Letters of Jonathan Oldstyle, Gent. Written in the persona of an elderly gentleman of the old school, these letters captured his fellow townsmen at play in their most incongruous attitudes of simple sophistication. Irving’s next work, Salmagundi, written in collaboration with his brother William and James Kirke Paulding, and published at irregular intervals in 1805–06, continued this roguish style of satire and burlesque.
A History of New York, publicized by an elaborate hoax in the local newspapers concerning the disappearance of the elderly “Diedrich Knickerbocker,” turned out to be a wild and hilarious spoof that combined real New York history with political satire. Quickly reprinted in England, it was admired by Walter Scott and Charles Dickens (who carried his copy in his pocket). In later years, as Irving revised and re-revised his History, he softened his gibes at Thomas Jefferson, the Dutch, and the Yankees of New England; this Library of America volume presents the work in its original, exuberant, robust, and unexpurgated form, giving modern readers a chance to enjoy the version that brought him immediate international acclaim.
The Sketch Book contains Irving’s two best-loved stories, “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” It also includes many sketches of English country and city life, as well as nostalgic portraits of vanishing traditions, like the old celebrations of Christmas.A writer of great urbanity and poise, acutely sensitive to the nostalgia of a passing age, Washington Irving was a central figure in America’s emergence on the international scene.