Washington Irving (1783-1859) was born into a rich New York family, the youngest of eleven children. He was named after the future American President, George Washington. Young Washington's early education was patchy but he developed an early love for books and writing. As an adult he didn't have to worry about earning a living and after practicing law for a few years he began to write for newspapers and magazines. His first book, Knickerbocker's History of New York (1809), was the first American humorous book that was also literature. It was a great success but Irving continued to be only a part-time writer.
In 1815 he moved to London to manage the British end of the family business and stayed there for seventeen years. He was a member of the American diplomatic staff in Britain and also in Spain. He spoke fluent Spanish, which served him well in his writings on that country, and he could read several other languages, including German and Dutch. When the family business collapsed in 1817, he had to make a living for the first time. The immediate result was The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, which contained his two most famous fantasy stories: Rip van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. These classic stories have kept Washington Irving's name alive. He and James Fenimore Cooper were the first American writers to earn acclaim in Europe, and Irving is said to have mentored authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Edgar Allan Poe. He is often called "the father of American literature" because of the charm and style of his writing and because he was always breaking new ground.
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