It was the 19th of September, 1846, says his biographer, “when the impatient longing of his heart was gratified, and he found himself restored to his home for the thirteen years of happy life still remaining to him.”
THE CHARACTERISTIC WORKS.
The Knickerbocker’s “History of New York” and the “Sketch-Book” never would have won for Irving the gold medal of the Royal Society of Literature, or the degree of D.C.L. from Oxford.
However much the world would have liked frankly to honor the writer for that which it most enjoyed and was under most obligations for, it would have been a violent shock to the constitution of things to have given such honor to the mere humorist and the writer of short sketches. The conventional literary proprieties must be observed. Only some laborious, solid, and improving work of the pen could sanction such distinction,—a book of research or an historical composition. It need not necessarily be dull, but it must be grave in tone and serious in intention, in order to give the author high recognition.
Irving himself shared this opinion. He hoped, in the composition of his “Columbus” and his “Washington,” to produce works which should justify the good opinion his countrymen had formed of him, should reasonably satisfy the expectations excited by his lighter books, and lay for him the basis of enduring reputation. All that he had done before was the play of careless genius, the exercise of frolicsome fancy, which might amuse and perhaps win an affectionate regard for the author, but could not justify a high respect or secure a permanent place in literature. For this, some work of scholarship and industry was needed.
And yet everybody would probably have admitted that there was but one man then living who could have created and peopled the vast and humorous world of the Knickerbockers; that all the learning of Oxford and Cambridge together would not enable a man to draw the whimsical portrait of Ichabod Crane, or to outline the fascinating legend of Rip Van Winkle; while Europe was full of scholars of more learning than Irving, and writers of equal skill in narrative, who might have told the story of Columbus as well as he told it and perhaps better. The under-graduates of Oxford who hooted their admiration of the shy author when he appeared in the theatre to receive his complimentary degree perhaps understood this, and expressed it in their shouts of “Diedrich Knickerbocker,” “Ichabod Crane,” “Rip Van Winkle.”