Washington Irving, youngest of the eleven children of a wealthy New York merchant, was sickly as a child. Unable to continue in school, he educated himself along lines that struck his fancy, and his studies included the Spanish language. One of the early books in his scattered reading was DON QUIXOTE, which inspired in him a life-long interest in Spain and the Spanish people.
In 1825, while traveling in southern France, he decided to see the land of Cervantes, using as his excuse the need to go to Madrid to consult manuscripts dealing with Columbus. Out of this visit developed A HISTORY OF THE LIFE AND VOYAGES OF CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS (1828). From material uncovered but unsuitable for this work, and from impressions of his travels, he wrote a chronicle of the conquest of Granada which he attributed to an imaginary historian, the Jesuit Fray Antonio Agapida. While in Granada he visited the Alhambra, then no national monument but a dirty, run-down building, and secured permission to live there while writing the tales contained in THE ALHAMBRA (1832).
In the introduction to the first edition of A CHRONICLE OF THE CONQUEST OF GRANADA, Irving invented details of the life of Fray Antonio and affirmed that the original manuscript was in the Escorial Library. In a note to the 1850 revised edition, however, he confessed that the Jesuit priest was his own invention. He also admitted romanticizing some of the scenes and...
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