Washington Irving And The Empress Eugenie
( Originally Published 1921 )
To the casual reader the name of Washington Irving suggests a romantic figure that belongs to a very different world from the one in which we live. Somehow we think of him as the ancients thought of their muses—a forceful but mysterious being who wielded an en-chanting spell over our forebears, charming them into tears and smiles at his own good pleasure. He dwelt high up among the mountains and sometimes in the glades and forests of the lowlands but always far re-moved from the haunts of men. Such at least we too frequently visualize him if we dare give rein to our fancy at all, but nevertheless he was, as Theodore Roosevelt portrayed him, the first in the American field of true literature—quite a practical, everyday man of letters and a real builder of intellectual structures. But romanticism and fancy will always cluster about his name —and why not? We see him sitting at the feet of the great magician, Sir Walter Scott, at Abbotsford, learning the secrets of his magic art and assuming the mantle as it fell from his shoulders; and again we find him among the legendary castles of old Europe. But let us turn to the pages of history a moment.
It is an afternoon in the gardens of the old Alhambra in Spain. The lengthening shadows fall aslant the figure of a kindly-faced man of middle age. Upon his knee are two little children. He is telling them undoubtedly some wonderful tale, for the children sit open-eyed and silent. One of them is Eugenie Marie de Montijo, eight years old, afterward Eugenie, Empress of France. The story-teller is the author of Diedrick Knickerbocker, now Minister to Spain from the United States.
With this incident in mind, the writer sought a line from the aged Empress still living but now practically a recluse in the safe retreat she found in England with the fall of the French Empire. The following note is therefore of passing interest.
FARNBOROUGH HILL FARNBORO' HANTS February 9th, 1919.
The Lady in Waiting to the Empress Eugenie presents her compliments to Mr. Henry Collins Brown and regrets that the very retired life the Empress now leads prevents her Majesty from attempting any definite promise of her recollections of Washington Irving, but as opportunity presents itself she may be able to send some memories that may be of interest.
As this number of the Manual must go to press early in the year, it is doubtful if we shall be able to include this contribution unless received much earlier than we now expect. To have even the slightest contribution from one privileged to have such unique personal intercourse with New York's first citizen would be a joy indeed. The events of recent months have, however, imposed an additional burden upon a soul already tired almost beyond the limit of human endurance, and it is perhaps unreasonable of us to expect it at present.
Washington Irving died in 1859. The incident to which we have referred: occurred in the 30's. The Em-press is now in her 92nd year. She has survived every contemporary—a striking example of "the last leaf on the tree".