February 16, 2010

Irving and Murray

Having already published several installments of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon in the United States, its author, Washington Irving, pursued a publisher in England. The British edition was finally up for sale on February 16, 1820, and combined the first four installments of the American versions. It was an immediate success on both sides of the Atlantic.

Nevertheless, the book was not enough to save Irving's publisher, Burlington Arcade printing. In the deal to publish the Sketch Book, owner John Miller received none of its profits (Irving had assumed all risks). Within a couple months of Irving's British edition, Miller lost all his money and closed his publishing house, leaving many copies of the Sketch Book unsold.

Irving acted quickly to find another publisher to purchase the leftover stock and to hold the copyright. Fortunately, he had struck a friendship with Sir Walter Scott, who happened to be in town to accept his baronetcy. Scott brought Irving to the powerhouse publisher John Murray II — who had previously thought Irving's work would not sell. With Murray's influence over the years, Irving became the first to overcome British prejudice against American authors and become successful as a writer there (Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, wrote of the Sketch Book, "Everywhere I find in it the marks of a mind of the utmost elegance and refinement, a thing... I was not exactly prepared to look for in an American").

In fact, Irving lived away from the United States for much of his writing career, about 17 years straight (1815 to 1832, then 1842 to 1846). The only home he ever owned, however, was in his native New York — a home he named Sunnyside.

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