April 3, 2008, marks Washington Irving’s 225th birthday — let’s call it a Nearlysemiquincentennial. I sent off birthday wishes to the folks at Historic Hudson Valley earlier today, and wanted to be sure I did the same here at home base.
If you only know Washington Irving through his short stories “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” or “Rip Van Winkle” . . . well, then, you’re missing out on quite a bit. Irving’s repertoire was expansive, and ran from the serious — he wrote biographies of George Washington, Christopher Columbus, and Muhammad — to the downright bawdy. If you’ve never read Irving’s A History of New York — especially in its original 1809 wild-haired glory — what are you waiting for? It’s available from the Library of America, and you’ll find it more than worth the effort. While Rip and Ichabod might be better known, you’ll find William “The Testy” Kieft much funnier. The Sketch Book may have made him famous, but it’s A History of New York that first got him noticed and remains, I would argue, some of his finest, and funniest, writing.
So, pick up History of New York — or for that matter, anything by Irving — then read it. By doing so, you’ll be celebrating the life of America’s first genuine bestseller, celebrity, and all around good guy. Happy Birthday, WI.