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THE NATIONAL PERIOD
THE EARLY WRITERS
I. Great Names
With the close of the Revolution, the adoption of the Constitution, and the launching of the ship of state America came to a realization of self and began to exhibit that self in literary as well as political activity. Our authors for the first time wrote as Americans, our contribution to the world of literature from now on was a distinctive product, the creation of a new people.
1. Washington Irving (1783-1859), the “Father of American Letters, was the first American writer to achieve international fame. He spent many years abroad, was Secretary to the American legation in London and afterward Minister to Spain. In 1830 he was awarded one of the two medals given annually by the Royal Society of Literature to authors of distinguished merit. Oxford conferred upon him the degree of D.C.L. He wrote under the pseudonyms of Diedrich Knickerbocker, Jonathan Oldstyle, and Geoffrey Crayon. His Knickerbocker History of New York is considered a masterpiece of American humor. Irving's best work is to be found in his sketches. His home, Sunnyside at Tarrytown on the Hudson, is sometimes spoken of as the Abbotsford of America because its popularity with tourists is about as great as that of the home of Sir Walter Scott.
THE ADVENTURE OF MY AUNT
(From Tales of a Traveller) My aunt was a lady of large frame, strong mind, and great resolution: she was what might be termed a very manly woman. My uncle was a thin, puny little man, very meek and acquiescent, and no match for my aunt. It was observed that he dwindled and dwindled gradually away, from the day of his marriage. His wife's powerful mind was too much for him; it wore him out. My aunt, however, took all possible care of him; had half the doctors in town to prescribe for him; made him take all their prescriptions, and dosed him with physic enough to cure a whole hospital. All was in vain. My uncle grew worse and worse the more dosing and nursing he underwent, until in the end he added another to the long list of matrimonial victims who have been killed with kindness.
“And was it his ghost that appeared to her?” asked the inquisitive gentleman, who had questioned the former story-teller.
"You shall hear,” replied the narrator.-My aunt took on mightily for the death of her poor husband. Perhaps she felt some compunction at having given him so much physic, and nursed him into the grave. At any rate, she did all that a widow could do to honor his memory. She spared no expense in either the quantity or quality of her mourning weeds; wore a miniature of him about her neck as large as a little sun-dial, and had a full length portrait of him always hanging in her bed-chamber. All the world extolled her conduct to the skies; and it was determined that a woman who behaved so well to the memory of one husband deseryed soon to get another. It was not long after this that she went to take up
her residence in an old country-seat in Derbyshire, which had long been in the care of merely a steward and a housekeeper. She took most of her servants with her, intending to make it her principal abode. The house stood in a lonely, wild part of the country, among the gray Derby
shire hills, with a murderer hanging in chains on a bleak height in full view.
The servants from town were half frightened out of their wits at the idea of living in such a dismal, pagan-looking place; especially when they got together in the servants' hall in the evening, and compared notes on all the hobgoblin stories picked up in the course of the day. They were afraid to venture alone about the gloomy, black look-. ing chambers. My lady's maid, who was troubled with nerves, declared she could never sleep alone in such a
gashly rummaging old building”; and the footman, who was a kind-hearted young fellow, did all in his power to cheer her up.
My aunt was struck with the lonely appearance of the house. Before going to bed, therefore, she examined well the fastnesses of the doors and windows; locked up the plate with her own hands, and carried the keys, together with a little box of money and jewels, to her own room; for she was a notable woman, and always saw to all things herself. Having put the keys under her pillow, and dismissed her maid, she sat by her toilet, arranging her hair; for being, in spite of her grief for my uncle, rather a buxom widow, she was somewhat particular about her person. She sat for a little while looking at her face in the glass, first on one side, then on the other, as ladies are apt to do when they would ascertain whether they have been in good looks; for a roistering country squire of the neighborhood, with whom she had flirted when a girl, had called that day to welcome her to the country.
All of a sudden she thought she heard something move behind her. She looked hastily round, but there was nothing to be seen, nothing but the grimly painted portrait of her poor dear man, hanging against the wall.
She gave a heavy sigh to his memory, as she was accustomed to do whenever she spoke of him in company, and then went on adjusting her night-dress, and thinking of the squire. Her sigh was reëchoed, or answered, by a long-drawn breath. She looked round again, but no one was to be seen. She ascribed these sounds to the wind
oozing through the rat-holes of the old mansion, and proceeded leisurely to put her hair in papers, when, all at once, she thought she perceived one of the eyes of the portrait
“The back of her head being towards it !” said the storyteller with the ruined head, —"good!”
“Yes, sir !” replied dryly the narrator, “her back being towards the portrait, but her eyes fixed on its reflection in the glass.”—Well
, as I was saying, she perceived one of the eyes of the portrait move. So strange a circumstance, as you may well suppose, gave her a sudden shock. To assure herself of the fact, she put one hand to her forehead as if rubbing it; peeped through the fingers, and moved the candle with the other hand. The light of the taper gleamed on the eye, and was reflected from it. She was sure it moved. Nay, more, it seemed to give her a wink, as she had sometimes known her husband to do when living ! It struck a momentary chill to her heart; for she was a lone woman, and felt herself fearfully situated.
The chill was but transient. My aunt, who was almost as resolute a personage as your uncle, sir, (turning to the old story-teller,) became instantly calm and collected. She went on adjusting her dress. She even hummed an air, and did not make even a single false note. She casually overturned a dressing-box; took a candle and picked up the articles one by one from the fifoor; pursued a rolling pin-cushion that was making the best of its way under the bed; then opened the door; looked for an instant into the corridor, as if in doubt whether to go; and then walked quietly out.
She hastened down-stairs, ordered the servants to arm themselves with the weapons first at hand, placed herself at their head, and returned almost immediately.
Her hastily levied army presented a formidable force. The steward had a rusty blunder-buss, the coachman a loaded whip, the footman a pair of horse-pistols, the cook a huge chopping-knife, and the butler a bottle in each hand. My aunt led the van with a red-hot poker, and in my opinion she was the most formidable of the party.
The waiting-maid, who dreaded to stay alone in the servants' hall, brought up the rear, smelling at a broken bottle of volatile salts, and expressing her terror of the ghostesses. “Ghosts !” said my aunt, resolutely. "I'll singe their whiskers for them !”
They entered the chamber. All was still and undisturbed as when she had left it. They approached the portrait of my uncle.
“Pull down that picture !” cried my aunt. A heavy groan, and a sound like the chattering of teeth, issued from the portrait. The servants shrunk back; the maid uttered a faint shriek, and clung to the footman for support.
“Instantly!” added my aunt, with a stamp of the foot.
The picture was pulled down, and from a recess behind it, in which had formerly stood a clock, they hauled forth a round-shouldered, black-bearded varlet, with a knife as long as my arm, but trembling all over like an aspen-leaf. “Well
, and who was he? No ghost, I suppose,” said the inquisitive gentleman.
“A Knight of the Post,” replied the narrator, “who had been smitten with the worth of the wealthy widow; or rather a marauding Tarquin, who had stolen into her chamber to violate her purse, and rifle her strong box, when all the house should be asleep. In plain terms, continued he, “the vagabond was a loose idle fellow of dithe neighborhood, who had once been a servant in the house, and had been employed to assist in arranging it for the reception of its mistress. He confessed that he had contrived this hiding-place for his nefarious purpose, and had borrowed an eye from the portrait by way of a reconnoitring-hole.”
“And what did they do with him?-did they hang him?" resumed the questioner.
“Hang him !-how could they?” exclaimed a beetlebrowed barrister, with a hawk's nose. “The offence was not capital. No robbery, no assault had been committed. No forcible entry or breaking into the premises
“My aunt,” said the narrator, "was a woman of spirit,