September 1, 2011

Irving and Scott: dream or delirium

On September 1, 1817, Washington Irving wrote to his brother from Abbotsford, the Scotland home of Walter Scott. Armed only with a letter of introduction, the young Irving had dropped by only to see if the author of works like Waverley and Rob Roy (though he was then more known for his poetry) would even consider a meeting. Imagine his surprise when "the glorious old minstrel himself came limping to the gate, [and] took me by the hand in a way that made me feel as if we were old friends." In fact, though strangers, Scott invited Irving to stay at his home for several days. About halfway through that experience, Irving wrote to his brother:

I cannot tell how truly I have enjoyed the hours I have passed here. They fly by too quick, yet each is loaded with story, incident, or song; and when I consider the world of ideas, images, and impressions that have been crowded upon my mind since I have been here, it seems incredible that I should only have been two days at Abbotsford. I have rambled about the hills with Scott... and have been in a kind of dream or delirium.

As for Scott himself, Irving referred to him as "a sterling golden-hearted old worthy," and praised his youthful joy and imagination, mingled with charming simplicity "that puts you at ease with him in a moment." Scott was 12 years older than Irving, though his marked limp and gait made him appear older. He was working on Rob Roy at the time, as well as on Abbotsford itself, which was not quite complete. Scott was no less impressed by his young American admirer. He wrote that the man who provided Irving's letter of introduction deserved his gratitude: "Tell him, with my best love, that I have to thank him for making me known to Mr. Washington Irving, who is one of the best and pleasantest acquaintances I have made this many a day."

It was with Scott's help that Irving was able to publish the British edition the British edition of his Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon with publisher John Murray, which begun a long and lucrative partnership.

*This meeting, as well as the many others Irving shared throughout Europe, is best described in the book Washington Irving: An American Original by Brian Jay Jones, newly available in paperback. Brian has written a guest post for the American Literary Blog describing Washington Irving's relationship with his brother Peter.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Rob,

    I just wanted to thank you for the recent interesting posts about Bierce (Sept. 1) and the acquaintanceship between Scott and Irving. Very informative. I also appreciate the Irving biography reference.

    An aside: I just saw the film "The Trip." In one scene, a character is reading aloud a S.T. Coleridge poem from a book whose cover depicts, I swear, the portrait of Scott you used in your posting. I never could catch the title of the volume, but it was uncanny to see the same image twice in "one day" (another recent film title!). Unless, of course, I was wrong.

    Anyway, thanks again, from a follower of your American lit blog.