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Manuscript From The Life of Washington

Irving, Washington. Manuscript From The Life of Washington

No Place, ca. 1859

19 pages, various sizes but most 20 x 13 cm, each page neatly laid into a larger sheet, in an album together with the printed text of the published work and two engraved portraits of Irving. Old red morocco. Lightly rubbed. Some soiling, occasional ink smudges. Very good.

This is a long, revised autograph manuscript for Washington Irving’s The Life of George Washington. This section of the monumental biography presents the growing schism between Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Hamilton, as Washington was considering standing for re-election for a second term. The manuscript, which includes most of chapter 16 of the final volume, opens with Washington reading Jefferson’s letter accusing Hamilton and his followers of using the new Constitution “only as a step to an English Constitution.” It concludes with Washington’s attempts at reconciliation, hoping that “there may be mutual forbearance and temporizing yielding on all sides. Without these I do not see how the reins of government are to be managed, or how the Union of the States can be much longer preserved.”

Irving completed the best-selling five-volume Life of George Washington shortly before his death in 1859. The work presented his view of Washington as “the nation’s most revered patriot … a nearly perfect hero. A country gentleman, a soldier, and a republican, motivated by civic virtue as well as a sense of noblesse oblige, he had served his country disinterestedly, carefully mediating, for instance, while president, between Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian extremes. Irving went to great lengths to make him a less remote, les glacial figure” (ANB).

The historian George Bancroft, upon receiving one of the previous volumes, remarked to Irving that his “candor, good judgment that knows no bias, the felicity of selection, these are yours in common with the best historians,” and added that “the style, too, is masterly, clear, easy and graceful; picturesque without mannerism, and ornamented without losing simplicity.”

This is a wonderful, long manuscript by one of America’s first great authors about America’s greatest historical subject.