Columbia Library columns (v.14(1964Nov-1965May))

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  v.14,no.3(1965:May): Page 21  


Washington Irving's
First Academic Laurels


^ \\ ^HE TITLE PAGE of The Sketch Book (1819-1820)
disguised the author's name as "Geoffrey Crayon,
Gent.," but shortly there was no doubt about his true
identity. The international world of letters recognized him as
Washington Irving (1783-1859), sometime young-barrister-
about-.Manhattan now lixing and writing abroad.

The United States quickly cheered for him as our first pro¬
fessional writer to prove to skeptical Europeans that an Amer¬
ican could, in Irving's own words, succeed "with a feather in his
hand instead of on his head." And New York, his birthplace, also
recalled Irving's earlier triumph as the "Diedrich Knicker¬
bocker" of A History Of New York (1809). Columbia College
rose to the occasion by awarding the newly famous author an
honorary .Master of Arts degree in 1821. It was his first such
laurel. And though Columbia had for decades been giving hon¬
orary degrees, this \\'as the first the school had ever bestowed on
a career bellelettrist.

Recently Miss Louisa Kent, a direct descendant of Chancellor
James Kent (1763-1847), the distinguished jurist and longtime
intimate of the Irvings, generously donated to Special Collections
the handsome diploma which symbolized this unique degree. It
had earlier in this century been given to her own family, which
was related to the Irvings through marriage, by Mr. Edwin Van
Wart, himself an Irving family descendant. James Kent, holder
of an honorary Columbia LLD (1797), had been a Professor of
Law there and a Trustee as well.
  v.14,no.3(1965:May): Page 21