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1. Washington Irving was born in the city of New York in 1783, and died in 1859. His school education was not protracted beyond his 16th year, when he began to study law. He was admitted to the bar, but never practiced. He spent many years in Europe, making a tour of the continent, and wandering in England and Scotland.
2. “The Sketch-Book," with the legends of “Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle," and the pictures of
English life and customs, laid the foundation of his fame and fortune. By the first he has made the Hudson a classic river; by the last he gained a cordial reception and appreciation in England.
3. He is the author of "Bracebridge Hall,” “The Tales of a Traveller," "The Life and Voyages of Columbus,” and “The Life of Washington.” His “Knickerbocker's History of New York” is a delightful and amusing volume. His style is direct, simple, and natural. His readers are touched by his unaffected pathos, and charmed equally by his genial spirit and the play of his quiet humor.
4. Thackeray says of him: “In America the love and regard for Irving was a national sentiment. It seemed to me, during a year's travel in the country, as if no one ever aimed a blow at Irving. held their hands from that harmless, friendly peacemaker. I had the good fortune to see him at New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, and remarked how, in every place, he was honored and welcomed. Every large city has its 'Irving House.' The country takes pride in the fame of its men of letters.
5. "In his family, gentle, generous, good - humored, affectionate, self-denying; in society, a delightful example of complete gentlemanhood; quite unspoiled by prosperity; never obsequious to the great (or, worse still, to the base and mean, as some public men are forced to be in his and other countries); eager to acknowledge every contemporary's merit; always kind and affable with the young members of his calling; in his professional bargains and mercantile dealings delicately honest and grateful. He was, at the same time, one of the most charming masters of our lighter language; the constant friend to us and our nation; to men of letters doubly dear, not for his wit and genius merely, but as an exemplar, of goodness, probity, and a pure life.”
54. MIDNIGHT ADVENTURE OF ICHABOD
1. It was the very witching-time of night that Ichabod, heavy-hearted and crestfallen, pursued his travels homewards, along the sides of the lofty hills which rise above Tarrytown, and which he had traversed so cheerily in the afternoon. The hour was as dismal as himself. Far below him the Tappan Zee spreads its dusky and indistinct waste of waters, with here and there the tall mast of a sloop, riding quietly at anchor under the land.
2. In the dead hush of midnight he could even hear the barking of the watch-dog from the opposite shore of the Hudson; but it was so vague and faint as only to give an idea of his distance from this faithful companion of man. Now and then, too, the long-drawn crowing of a cock, accidentally awakened, would sound far, far off, from some farm-house away among the hills; but it was like a dreaming sound in his ear. No signs of life occurred near him, but occasionally the melancholy chirp of a cricket, or perhaps the guttural twang of a bull-frog from a neighboring marsh, as if sleeping uncomfortably, and turning suddenly in his bed.
3. All the stories of ghosts and goblins that he had heard in the afternoon now came crowding upon his recollection. The night grew darker and darker; the stars seemed to sink deeper in the sky, and driving clouds occasionally hid them from his sight. He had never felt so lonely and dismal. He was, moreover, approaching the very place where many of the scenes of the ghost stories had been laid.
4. In the center of the road stood an enormous tuliptree, which towered like a giant above all the other trees of the neighborhood, and formed a kind of landmark. Its libs were gnarled and fantastic, large enough to form trunks for ordinary trees, twisting down almost to the earth, and rising again into the air. It was connected with the tragical story of the unfortunate André, who had been taken prisoner hard by, and was universally known by the name of Major André's tree. The common people regarded it with a mixture of respect and superstition, partly out of sympathy for the fate of its ill-starred namesake, and partly from the tales of strange sights and doleful lamentations told concerning it.
5. As Ichabod approached this fearful tree, he began to whistle: he thought his whistle was answered; it was but a blast sweeping sharply through the dry branches. As he approached a little nearer, he thought he saw something white hanging in the midst of the tree: he paused, and ceased whistling, but, on looking more narrowly, perceived that it was a place where the tree had been scathed by lightning, and the white wood laid bare. Suddenly he heard a groan,—his teeth chattered, and his knees smote against the saddle: it was but the rubbing of one huge bough upon another, as they were swayed about by the breeze. He passed the tree in safety; but new perils lay before him.
6. About two hundred yards from the tree a small brook crossed the road, and ran into a marshy and thickly wooded glen, known by the name of Wiley's Swamp. A few rough logs, laid side by side, served for a bridge over this stream. On that side of the road where the brook entered the wood, a group of oaks and chestnuts, matted thick with wild grape vines, threw a cavernous gloom over it.
7. To pass this bridge was the severest trial. It was at this identical spot that the unfortunate André was captured, and under the covert of those chestnuts and vines were the sturdy yeomen concealed who surprised him. This has ever since been considered a haunted stream, and fearful are the feelings of the school-boy who has to pass it alone after dark.
8. As he approached the stream, his heart began to thump: he summoned up, however, all his resolution, gave his horse half a score of kicks in the ribs, and attempted to dash briskly across the bridge; but instead of starting forward, the perverse old animal made a lateral movement, and ran broadside against the fence. Ichabod, whose fears increased with the delay, jerked the reins on the other side, and kicked lustily with the contrary foot: it was all in vain. His steed started, it is true; but it was only to plunge to the opposite side of the road, into a thicket of brambles and alder-bushes.
9. The school-master now bestowed both whip and heel upon the starveling ribs of old Gunpowder, who dashed forward snuffling and snorting, but came to a stand just by the bridge with a suddenness that had nearly sent his rider sprawling over his head. Just at this moment a plashy tramp by the side of the bridge caught the sensitive ear of Ichabod. In the dark shadow of the grove, on the margin of the brook, he beheld something huge, misshapen, black, and towering. It stirred not, but seemed gathered up in the gloom, like some gigantic monster ready to spring upon the traveler.
10. The hair of the affrighted pedagogue rose upon his head with terror. What was to be done? To turn and fly was now too late; and, besides, what chance was there of escaping ghost or goblin, if such it was, which could ride upon the wings of the wind? Summoning up, therefore, a show of courage, he demanded in stammering accents—“Who are you?” He received no reply. He repeated his demand in a still more agitated voice. Still there was no answer. Once more he cudgeled the sides of the inflexible Gunpowder, and, shutting his eyes, broke forth with involuntary fervor into a psalm-tune.