Writer called the "first American man of letters." He is best known for the short stories "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle".
The favorite and last of 11 children, Irving avoided a college education but intermittently read law. A series of his whimsically satirical essays appeared over the signature of Jonathan Oldstyle, Gent., in the Morning Chronicle during 1802-03.
In 1806 he passed the bar examination and soon set up as a lawyer. In 1807-08, however, his chief occupation was the writing (with his brother William and James K. Paulding) of a series of 20 periodical essays entitled Salmagundi.
Irving next wrote History of New York, A, a comic history of the Dutch regime in New York, prefaced by a mock-pedantic account of the world from creation onward. He produced little original work for the next decade, Irving then published The Sketch Book (1819-20), a collection of stories and essays that mix satire and whimsicality with fact and fiction. Its tremendous success in both England and the United States assured that he could live by his pen. In 1822 he produced Bracebridge Hall, a sequel to The Sketch Book.
Early in 1826 he accepted an invitation to attach himself to the American legation in Spain, where he wrote Columbus (1828), followed by The Companions of Columbus (1831). Meanwhile, Irving had become absorbed in the legends of the Moorish past and wrote A Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada (1829) and The Alhambra (1832), a Spanish counterpart of The Sketch Book.
After a 17-year absence, Irving returned to New York in 1832, where he was warmly received. He made a journey west and produced in rapid succession A Tour of the Prairies (1835), Astoria (1836), and The Adventures of Captain Bonneville (1837). Except for four years (1842-46) as minister to Spain, Irving spent the remainder of his life at his home on the Hudson River, "Sunnyside" in Tarrytown, where he devoted his time to literary pursuits.