The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.
§ 6. Spain; The Spanish Books
The publication by Murray of The Sketch Book, and two years later of Bracebridge Hall, brought Irving at once into repute in literary circles not only in Great Britain, but on the Continent. In 1826, after a year or two chiefly spent in travelling in France, Germany, and Italy, he was appointed by Alexander Everett, at that time Minister to Spain, attache to the Legation at Madrid, and this first sojourin in Spain had an important influence in shaping the direction of Irving’s future literary work. In July, 1827, he brought to completion his biography of Columbus, later followed by the account of the Companions of Columbus (1831). The Columbus was published in London and in Philadelphia in 1828 and secured at once cordial and general appreciation. Southey wrote from London: “This work places Irving in the front rank of modern biographers”; and Edward Everett said that “through the Columbus, Irving is securing the position of founder of the American school of polite learing.” Irving continued absorbed and fascinated with the examination of the Spanish chronicles. He made long sojourns in Granada, living for a great part of the time within the precincts of the Alhambra, and later he spent a year or more in Seville. He occupied himself collecting material for the completion of The Conquest of Granada, published in 1829, and for the Legends of the Alhambra, published in 1832.
In 1828, Irving declined an offer of one hundred guineas to write and article for The Quarterly Review, of which his friend Murray was the publisher, on the ground, as he wrote, “that the Review [then under the editorship of Gifford] has been so persistently hostile to our country that I cannot draw a pen in its service.” This episode may count as a fair rejoinder to certain of the home critics who were then accusing Irving (as half a century later Lowell was, in like manner, accused) of having become so much absorbed in his English sympathies as to have lost his patriotism.
In 1829, Irving was made a member of the Royal Academy of History in Madrid, and having in the same year been appointed Secretary of Legation byLouis McLane, he again took up his residence in London. Here, in 1830, the Royal Society of Literature voted to him as a recognition of his “service to history and to literature” one of its gold medals. The other medal of that year was given to Hallam for his History of the Middle Ages. A little later Oxford honoured Irving with the degree of Doctor of Laws. The ceremony of the installation was a serious experience for a man of his shy and retring habits. As he sat in the Senate Hall, the students saluted him with cries of “Here comes old Knickerbocker,” “How about Ichabod Crane?” “Has Rip Van Winkle waked up yet?” and “Who discovered Columbus?”