At the age of sixteen he entered a law office, but
he was a heedless student, and never acquired either
a taste for the profession or much knowledge of law.
While he sat in the law office, he read literature,
and made considerable progress in his self-culture;
but he liked rambling and society quite as well as
books. In 1798 we find him passing a summer holiday
in Westchester County, and exploring with his gun
the Sleepy Hollow region which he was afterwards to
make an enchanted realm; and in 1800 he made his first
voyage up the Hudson, the beauties of which he was
the first to celebrate, on a visit to a married sister
who lived in the Mohawk Valley. In 1802 he became
a law clerk in the office of Josiah Ogden Hoffman,
and began that enduring intimacy with the refined and
charming Hoffman family which was so deeply to influence
all his life. His health had always been delicate,
and his friends were now alarmed by symptoms of pulmonary
weakness. This physical disability no doubt had
much to do with his disinclination to severe study.
For the next two or three years much time was consumed
in excursions up the Hudson and the Mohawk, and in
adventurous journeys as far as the wilds of Ogdensburg
and to Montreal, to the great improvement of his physical
condition, and in the enjoyment of the gay society
of Albany, Schenectady, Ballston, and Saratoga Springs.
These explorations and visits gave him material for
future use, and exercised his pen in agreeable correspondence;
but his tendency at this time, and for several years
afterwards, was to the idle life of a man of society.
Whether the literary impulse which was born in him
would have ever insisted upon any but an occasional
and fitful expression, except for the necessities
of his subsequent condition, is doubtful.
Irving’s first literary publication was a series
of letters, signed Jonathan Oldstyle, contributed
in 1802 to the “Morning Chronicle,” a
newspaper then recently established by his brother
Peter. The attention that these audacious satires
of the theatre, the actors, and their audience attracted
is evidence of the literary poverty of the period.
The letters are open imitations of the “Spectator”
and the “Tatler,” and although sharp upon
local follies are of no consequence at present except
as foreshadowing the sensibility and quiet humor of
the future author, and his chivalrous devotion to
woman. What is worthy of note is that a boy of
nineteen should turn aside from his caustic satire
to protest against the cruel and unmanly habit of
jesting at ancient maidens. It was enough for
him that they are women, and possess the strongest
claim upon our admiration, tenderness, and protection.
First visit to Europe.
Irving’s health, always delicate, continued
so much impaired when he came of age, in 1804, that
his brothers determined to send him to Europe.
On the 19th of May he took passage for Bordeaux in
a sailing vessel, which reached the mouth of the Garonne
on the 25th of June. His consumptive appearance
when he went on board caused the captain to say to
himself, “There’s a chap who will go overboard
before we get across;” but his condition was
much improved by the voyage.