Life of George Washington by Washington Irving, 5 Volume Set, 1857-1864

Irving, Washington. Life of George Washington. New York: G.P. Putnam, 1857-1864. Five-Volume Set. First and Early Editions. Bound in full leather. Housed in custom slipcase.

Presented is a beautiful five-volume set of Washington Irving’s Life of Washington. Originally published in 1855 (volumes I-III), 1857 (volume IV) and 1859 (volume V), this set includes early editions of each volume and a first edition of volume IV. In order from Volume I to Volume V, these books were printed in 1860, 1859, 1860, 1857, and 1864. All have later matching bindings with full leather and gilt embossed decorative spines. The endpages are beautifully marbled with matching edging. All five volumes are housed together in a custom archival slipcase.

Washington Irving (1783-1859) was an American short story writer, biographer, and diplomat. Most famous for his short stories Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Irving was also hailed as a great early American historical writer. Irving was the youngest of eight children and found he had a love of writing, often writing essays for his brother’s newspaper, The Morning Chronicle. In his spare time, Irving would study law and passed the bar exam in 1806 despite never attending college. However, in 1819, he decided to try and make a living solely on his writing and soon published his first major work The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, a collection of short stories that demonstrated his unique style and fabulous wit. Spending many years writing abroad in Europe, Irving soon served as the Secretary to the U.S. legation in London from 1829-1832 and then Minister to Spain from 1842-1846. Upon his return to the United States, Irving dedicated the rest of his life to writing.

Irving wrote his biography of George Washington in his New York estate, “Sunnyside,” near the Hudson River. Irving was not the first to write a biography on the Father of Hi Country. Chief Justice John Marshall and Mason Lock Weems (who invented the cherry tree myth) wrote biographies of Washington previously, but Irving’s was adamant that his version would sell. This biography covers Washington’s military career, presidency, and his personal life. Using The Writings of George Washington and his personal letters housed in the State Department, Irving was able to recreate Washington’s life after two years of research. Unlike other biographers of the time, Irving wrote of Washington in a narrative style and painted a picture of a relatable figure to celebrate rather than the mythical and infallible founding father. Other historians of the time, such as George Bancroft and William Prescott, praised Irving’s work for its detail and natural tone. The same year the final volume was released, 1859, Washington Irving passed away leaving his legacy on early American writers and this relatable history of America’s first president.


Overall very good condition. Internally, the pages have scattered foxing and some toning, as expected with age. The illustrations opposite each title page have transferred to surrounding pages. Otherwise no notable internal damage. Endpages are marbled with matching edges. All volumes have later matching bindings with calf leather boards and gilt embossed borders and spine details. Minor general wear is visible, but no major condition issues. All five volumes are housed together in a custom archival slipcase with ribbon.

Dimensions (each book): 9 ⅜” H x 6 ¼” W x 1 ½” D

Dimensions (slipcase): 9 ⅝” H x 6 ½” W x 8 ½” D

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