The obsequies of a man like Washington Irving are not only a matter of the deepest interest to those who dwell near the legendary shores of the Hudson and the Soundwhose traditions he so exquisitely gave to the worldand to every American, the literature of whose country he so purified and ennobledbut to every Old and New World reader of that language, to which he added some of its choicest treasures, and with which his fame is coextensive and secure.
It was our privilege to mingle reverently with the circle of relatives and near friends, who assembled yesterday morning at Sunnyside, before Mr. Irving's remains were conveyed to the church at Tarrytown, where the public funeral services were held. The day was clear and warm, the landscape mellowed with the haze of the lingering Indian summer, and the broad Tappan Zee, the western uplands, and the romantic fastnesses of "Wolfert's Roost"2 never blended in more picturesque harmony. But the magician, who had dwelt amid and loved the scene, was silent foreverthe charm was broken, and the wand snapt in twain! And, as we wound through the path he had so often trod, it seemed as if the elms and maples, in their naked contrast, were mourning the departure of him whose home they had guarded lovingly and so long.
The remains were yesterday morning, for the first time, placed in the coffin, and were lying in the northwest parlor of the quaintly-gabled cottage, familiar to those who have loved to read of Irving. To all was granted a long, last look at the precious dust, ere it left forever the spot where his years were so ripe and lustrous. Very few were present, except the immediate family connections, it being understood that no services were to be held at the house.
The body was robed in a plain black suit, with white cravat and collar, and as the light struck the features of the deceased it seemed almost as if he were sleepingso calm and smooth had the touch of death left them. The face was thinner than we had seen it, but there was the same repose, and the same imaginative, noble brow. At the left of the coffin hung the celebrated portrait of Jarvis; by its side were the center-tableas he left it, covered with booksand his favorite chair, standing in the position where he occupied it last. It seemed as if the grief of the bereaved ones was tempered even there and then by the thought of his well-rounded life, and the euthanasy that was his lot. At about 12 M. the family procession left Sunnyside, with the body, winding through the lovely grounds to the east, and then two miles north, over a road lined with beautiful trees and mansions, to the village of Tarrytown.
This church, where the public services were held, is Episcopal, and is the one of which Mr. Irving was a communicant, a warden, and a constant attendant.3 The Rev. Dr. William Creighton is the rector, and the Rev. James S. Spencer his assistant. It is a plain, brick edifice, erected some twenty-two years ago, and will seat about 600 people. The style of architecture is Grecian, but the windows are Gothic, and of stained glass. The church was filled, except the seats reserved for the families and invited guests, with the inhabitants of Tarrytown, Irvington, and vicinity, and the walks in front, as well as the churchyard, were completely occupied. At about 12:30 o'clock the train from New York brought from 700 to 800 of our citizens, and residents of towns along the road, who had left their daily pursuits to mingle in the last sad rites.
Among the well-known literary and professional men who were present, we observed N. P. Willis, Esq. (who had come down from Idlewild, with his family, on a sad and far different occasion from that of his last visit to Sunnyside, so vividly described in his late letter); the Hon. George Bancroft; ex-Judge Kent; Henry T. Tuckerman, Esq.; the Hon. Ogden Edwards; the Hon. John Van Buren; Frederick Saunders, Esq., Astor Librarian. Thirteen of the members of the New York Board of Councilmen were also present in pursuance of the joint resolutions adopted Wednesday, but not an alderman appeared; also Messrs. William B. Astor, George Folsom, and the other trustees of the Astor Library. A large number of divines, from our own and other cities, were in the chancel, testifying by their robed presence to the goodness and purity of the departed man.
In accordance with the often exprest wish of Mr. Irving, the services were strictly in keeping with the beautiful form of the Church of England, with no unusual address or ceremony. A few minutes after one, the coffin was brought up the south aisle, preceded by the Rev. Dr. Creighton and the Rev. Mr. Spencer, the latter of whom read the form, "I am the Resurrection and the Life, saith the Lord," and the pallbearers, of whom there were eight, as follows: Gouverneur Kemble of Cold Spring, Putnam County, the oldest intimate friend of the deceased; Dr. J. G. Cogswell, Librarian of the Astor Library; Prof. James Renwick; Col. James A. Hamilton; Col. James Watson Webb; Henry Shelton, Esq.; Messrs. George T. Morgan and Nathaniel B. Holmesthe two latter gentlemen, being covestrymen of Mr. Irving, and his near friends.
The mourning relatives followed the coffin and took the seats reserved for them. While the body was being placed in front of the chancel, the choir chanted the anthem from the 39th and 90th Psalms: " Lord, let me know my end, and the number of my days." Directly following, the Lesson familiar to all, from the 15th chapter of 1st Corinthians, was impressively read by the Rev. Dr. Creighton. At the conclusion of the Lesson the choir sang the last three stanzas of the 26th Hymn, commencing "Behold, the unnumbered Angel host." At its close the Rector stated there would be no more services at the church, and that all who chose could have an opportunity of viewing the features of the deceased.
Passing up the south side and down the north the people looked at the beloved remains. The coffin was of dark rosewood, plainly but richly studded, and adorned with three wreaths of japonicas, entwined with laurel. On a silver plate was the simple inscription: "Washington Irving. Born, April 3, A.D., 1783; died, November 28, A.D., 1859." Just before the lid was closed, a ray of sunlight, shooting through the illumined glass of the south window, lit up the serene face with a glory that seemed the very reflex of the brighter land.
About 2 P.M. the procession was formed to convey the remains to the last resting place. It moved in the following order: First, the clergy; second, pall-bearers; third, the hearse; fourth, relations and invited guests; fifth, the Common Council of the City of New York; sixth, scholars of the Irving Institute, to the number of about 100, on foot; seventh, citizens in general. The procession itself was about one-quarter of a mile in length, and many hundreds beside had already gathered in the cemetery prior to its arrival. Moving still northward, with the silvery Hudson and the nestling village ever in view, it passed the André monument on the left, and so on for a mile, to the lovely hill where the Tarrytown cemetery is located. The streets through which it moved were draped with mourning, as, indeed, were the shops and dwellings through the place; the flags at the river-side were at half-mast; the church bells tolling, and all business appeared to be suspended for the day.
This burying-ground is romantically located on a hill overlooking the famous "Sleepy Hollow," where the bridge of the "Headless Horseman" is still pointed out. Near the entrance is the old Dutch church alluded to by Mr. Irving in his works. It was erected in 1699, by Frederick Philipse and Catherine Van Courtland, his wifeso says the ancient tablet. The lot of the Irving family has a south elevation on the southwest side of the ground, and commands the loveliest view of the Hudson anywhere obtainable. In it are already deposited the ashes of William Irving and wifethe parents of Washington; his brothers, Peter and William, and the wife of the latter; and the wife and three children of General E. Irving, the surviving brother of the deceased. All the graves are marked with very plain and unpretending marble stones. The grave of Washington Irving was made, at his own request, by the side of his mother's.
On the arrival of the funeral cortége at the spot, the solemn burial service was read by the Rev. Dr. Creighton, while thousands gathered mournfully and silently around. The rector seemed greatly affected in the performance of this last office. Some members of the choir chanted the anthem: "I heard a voice from Heaven, saying, Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord," during which the aged brother of the deceased was visibly overcome. This concluded the services, and the people lingeringly dispersed, but not till after the grave was filled with earth, and sodded over, and honored with a wreath of baysthe tribute to famewhich a lady placed last of all at its head.
And there Washington Irving restsamid the very scenes he legendized, and consecrated for all time. Fit burial-place for the author and the man; on the banks of his darling riverthe trees he best loved waving over himhis tomb the shrine of the dearest literary associations, the future Mecca of many a pilgrim.
General Ebenezer Irving, the surviving brother of the deceased, is 86 years old, and was, consequently, Washington's senior by ten years. He feels keenly the shock of his brother's death, having thought that, in the course of nature, his own summons would have been the first. His three unmarried daughters, Catharine, Julia, and Mary, are the nieces who have kept house for the deceased, and tenderly cherished and lightened his declining age. Another daughter, Sarah, is the wife of William Grinnell, Esq., of Havana, N. Y. His son, the Rev. Pierre M. Irving, of Brighton, Staten Island, was the last person to whom Mr. Irving spoke before his death. The Rev. Theodore Irving, also of Staten Island, is another sonand there are two others, whose names we did not obtain. Pierre P. Irving, Esq., nephew of the deceased by an older brother, and brother of Mrs. Moses H. Grinnell, forms one of the bereaved family at Sunnyside.
Those who have seen much of Mr. Irving, for some time past say that he retained to the last his erectness of posture and noble bearing. A few days before his death, while suffering painfully from the asthmatic attack which hastened it, he stooped a very little only, as if from weakness in the chest. His death was wrongly reported as having taken place at eight o'clock on Monday evening. He conversed with his usual spirits and mingled in the family amusements until about ten o'clock, when he rose to retire, and had proceeded as far as his bed-chamber, on the second story, before he fell in death.
It has been said that the most trying test to which the character of a famous author can be subjected is the estimation in which he is held by those every-day neighbors, who feel the actual contact of his social influence, and know him best as a man. The full roundness of fame is seen better at a distance, and the absorbing pursuits of successful authorship are too apt to engender harsh mannerisms that in time overcome the many lesser virtues of private life. But Mr. Irving could well abide the judgment of his fellow townsmen. Not alone the wealthy, well-read residentswho have so enhanced the natural beauties of the vicinity of Sunnyside by their exquisite summer haunts, and revered and loved him with an intellectual sympathybut the humble villagers and farmers, to whom he was so well known, were among the truest mourners that followed him to his grave.
1 From Mr. Stedman's article in the New York Tribune of December 2, 1859. After serving as journalist for some years in Connecticut, Mr. Stedman came to New York and found employment on the Tribune, under Horace Greeley, with which paper as a contributor he was at intervals employed for many years afterward.
2 The name by which Irving's home, Sunnyside, had been known when he bought the property.
3 The church is still standing on Broadway, in Tarrytown.