The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.

IV. Irving

§ 2. First Voyage to Europe

In 1804, Irving, who had just attained his majority, made his first journey to Europe. His father had died some years earlier, and the direction of the family affairs was in the hands of the eldest brother William. The trip seems to have reestablished Washington’s health, which had been a cause of anxiety to his brothers. After a voyage of forty-two days he landed in Bordeaux, whence he journeyed to Paris. He then travelled by way of Marseilles to Genoa, from which point he went by stage-coach through some of the picturesque regions in Italy. It was on these trips that he secured his first impressions of the Italian hill country and of the life of the country folk, impressions that were utlized later in the Tales of a Traveller. From Naples, crossing to Palermo, he went by stage to Messina, and he was there in 1805 when the vessels of Nelson passed through the straits in their search for the combined French and Spanish fleet under Villeneuve, a search which culminated in the great victory at Trafalgar.

Journeying in Europe during those years of war and of national upheaval was a dangerous matter. Irving was stopped more than once, and on one occasion was arrested at some place in France on the charge of being an English spy. He seems to have borne the troublesome interruptions with a full measure of equanimity, and he used each dealy to good purpose as an opportunity for a more leisurely study of the environment and of the persons with whom he came into touch. He returned to New York early in 1806, shortly after Europe had been shaken by the battle of Austerlitz

Irving was admitted to the bar in November, 1806, having previously served as attorney’s clerk, first with Brockholst Livingston and later with Josiah Ogden Hoffman. The law failed, however, to exercise for him any fascination, and his practice did not become important. He had the opportunity of being associated as a junior with the counsel who had charge of the defence of Aaron Burr in the famous trial held in Richmond in June, 1807. The writer remembers the twinkle in the old gentleman’s eye when he said in reply to some question about his legal experiences, “I was one of the counsel for Burr, and Burr was acquitted.” In letters written from Richmond at the time, he was frank enough, however, to admit that he had not been called upon for any important service. During Irving’s brief professional association with Hoffman, he was accepted as an intimate in the Hoffman family circle, and it was Hoffman’s daughter Matilda who was the herione in the only romance of the author’s life. He became engaged to Matilda when he was barely of age, but the betrothal lasted only a few months, as she died suddenly at the age of seventeen. At the time of Irving’s death it was found that he was still wearing on his breast a locket containing her miniature and lock of hair that had been given to him half a century before.