On April 10, 1842, Irving departed for Spain, a country in a state of perpetual political upheaval, with a number of warring factions vying for control of the twelve-year-old Isabella II. He sent Secretary of State Daniel Webster dispatches from Madrid, each full of observations, conversations, and gossip, quite unlike any dispatches the Secretary was receiving from any of his other ministers.
Violent skirmishes frequently broke out between conflicting factions, and Irving once valiantly (and foolishly) suggested that Isabella be protected by the diplomatic corps in a kind of human shield in the event the city was attacked. The job was taxing, and the sixty-year-old Irving fell ill several times with a herpetic condition. When the political situation in Spain was at last relatively settled, Irving turned with fascinated attention to the development of the new government and the fate of Isabella. Official duties occupied his time as he worked to negotiate American trade interests with Cuba and kept tabs on the Spanish parliament’s debates over slave trade.
In America, some of his investments in western lands were beginning to pay off, but Irving was still looking for new sources of revenue, and entered into discussion with George Putnam about producing an author’s revised edition of his works.
He continued to be plagued with a herpetic malady that so inflamed his legs and hands that he found walking and writing difficult. Seeking to recover his health, Irving took extended leave to travel through Paris and England. In London, however, he was pressed into official duties by Louis McLane—who was again serving as American Minister in London—to assist in resolving the Anglo-American disagreement over the Oregon border that was nagging at new president James K. Polk.
In 1846, citing “an earnest desire to return to my country and my friends,” an exhausted Irving formally resigned his post, much to the disappointment of the American and Spanish governments. In September, he boarded the steamer Cambria, bound for Boston. Washington Irving was coming home for good.