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Irving, Washington

The Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens
John DrewJohn Drew

Irving, Washington (1783–1859), American essayist, travel-writer, and author of folk tales, 

celebrated as the first US author to achieve worldwide recognition. Dickens claimed to be one of Irving's earliest admirers, writing to him on 21 April 1841 that he had ‘worn to death in [his] pocket’ a copy of Irving's successful burlesque History of New York from the Beginning of the World &c. (1809), by ‘Diedrich Knickerbocker’, while walking about London ‘when a small and not over-particularly-taken-care-of boy’. Irving had visited Europe, including London, in 1804–6 and 1815–32, and many of his successful works after the History conjured up quaint Old World scenes for his American readers, in a style that blended the elegance of the 18th-century British essayists, with fresh Romantic enthusiasm and droll urbanity. His friendship with Walter scott brought about the successful publication in Britain of The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (1820) and its successor, Bracebridge Hall (1822); both books contained old-fashioned distillations of English life and character which gratified readers on both sides of the Atlantic. An important early review of Pickwick Papers was quick to note suspicious similarities between Dickens's descriptions of Tony Weller and Christmas at Dingley Dell, and passages from ‘The Stagecoach’ in Irving's Sketchbook, where he introduced Bracebridge for the first time ([Abraham Hayward], Quarterly Review, 59). Nevertheless, a mutual admiration was established between the two authors in the late 1830s, and plans were discussed for publishing Oliver Twist in the American Knickerbocker Magazine in exchange for the appearance of papers by Irving in Bentley's Miscellany (Pilgrim 1. 588n.). Dickens enjoyed active encouragement from Irving when planning his first visit to America in 1842 but the friendly relations between the two cooled considerably after the publication of American Notes (Ackroyd 1990, p. 351; to Irving, 21 April 1841).

John Drew