The World’s Famous Orations, Vol 4

Author: Charles Dickens  | Date: 1842


As the Literary Guest of America*

There is in this city a gentleman who, at the reception of one of my books I well remember it was the Old Curiosity Shop—wrote to me in England a letter so generous, so affectionate, and so manly, that if I had written the book under every circumstance of disappointment, of discouragement, and difficulty, instead of the reverse, I should have found in the receipt of that letter my best and most happy reward. I answered him, and he answered me, and so we kept shaking hands autographically, as if no ocean rolled between us. I came here to this city eager to see him, and [laying his hand upon Irving’s shoulder] here he sits! I need not tell you how happy and delighted I am to see him here tonight in this capacity.

Washington Irving! Why, gentlemen, I do not go upstairs to bed two nights out of the seven—as a very creditable witness near at hand can testify—I say I do not go to bed two nights out of seven without taking Washington Irving under my arm; and, when I do not take him, I take his own brother, Oliver Goldsmith. Washington Irving! Why, of whom but him was I thinking the other day when I came up by the Hog’s Back, the Frying Pan, Hell Gate, and allthese places? Why, when, not long ago, I visited Shakespeare’s birthplace, and went beneath the roof where he first saw light, whose name but his was pointed out to me on the wall? Washington Irving—Diedrich Knickerbocker—Geoffrey Crayon—why, where can you go that they have not been there before? Is there an English farm—is there an English stream, an English city, or an English country-seat, where they have not been? Is there no Bracebridge Hall in existence? Has it no ancient shades or quiet streets?

In bygone times, when Irving left that Hall, he left sitting in an old oak chair, in a small parlor of the Boar’s Head, a little man with a red nose, and an oilskin hat. When I came away he was sitting there still!—not a man like him, but the same man—with the nose of immortal redness and the hat of undying glaze. Crayon, while there, was on terms of intimacy with a certain radical fellow, who used to go about, with a hatful of newspapers, wofully out at elbows, and with a coat of great antiquity. Why, gentlemen, I know that man—Tibbles the elder, and he has not changed a hair; and, when I came away, he charged me to give his best respects to Washington Irving!

Leaving the town and the rustic life of England—forgetting this man, if we can—putting out of mind the country churchyard and the broken heart—let us cross the water again, and ask who has associated himself most closely withthe Italian peasantry and the bandits of the Pyrenees? When the traveler enters his little chamber beyond the Alps—listening to the dim echoes of the long passages and spacious corridors—damp, and gloomy, and cold—as he hears the tempest beating with fury against his window, and gazes at the curtains, dark, and heavy, and covered with mold—and when all the ghost-stories that ever were told come up before him—amid all his thick-coming fancies, of whom does he think? Washington Irving.

Go farther still: go to the Moorish fountains, sparkling full in the moonlight—go among the water-carriers and the village gossips, living still as in days of old—and who has traveled among them before you, and peopled the Alhambra and made eloquent its shadows? Who awakes there a voice from every hill and in every cavern, and bids legends, which for centuries have slept a dreamless sleep, or watched unwinkingly, start up before you and pass before you in all their life and glory?

But leaving this again, who embarked with Columbus upon his gallant ship, traversed with him the dark and mighty ocean, leaped upon the land and planted there the flag of Spain, but this same man, now sitting by my side? And being here at home again, who is a more fit companion for money-diggers? And what pen but his has made Rip Van Winkle, playing at ninepins on that thundering afternoon, as much part and parcel of the Catskill Mountains as any tree or crag that they can boast?

But these are topics familiar from my boyhood, and which I am apt to pursue; and lest I should be tempted now to talk too long about them, I will, in conclusion, give you a sentiment, most appropriate, I am sure, in the presence of such writers as Bryant, Halleck, and—but I suppose I must not mention the ladies here—"The Literature of America." She well knows how to do honor to her own literature and to that of other lands, when she chooses Washington Irving for her representative in the country of Cervantes.

*Delivered in New York City, February 18, 1842, at a dinner in his honor, attended by nearly eight hundred persons, Washington Irving presiding.

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Chicago: Charles Dickens, The World’s Famous Orations, Vol 4 in The World’s Famous Orations, ed. William Jennings Bryan (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, December, 1906), 153–156. Original Sources, accessed May 26, 2024,

MLA: Dickens, Charles. The World’s Famous Orations, Vol 4, in The World’s Famous Orations, edited by William Jennings Bryan, Vol. The World#8217;s Famous Orations, New York, Funk and Wagnalls, December, 1906, pp. 153–156. Original Sources. 26 May. 2024.

Harvard: Dickens, C, The World’s Famous Orations, Vol 4. cited in December, 1906, The World’s Famous Orations, ed. , Funk and Wagnalls, New York, pp.153–156. Original Sources, retrieved 26 May 2024, from