The story of Mary Shelley and Washington Irving continues ...
Out of debtors’ prison by 1823, Payne was in Paris, where he met again with Washington Irving on August 9. (Recall: they’d originally met back in New York in 1809). And within a few days they were meeting often, and a friendship was flowering. Irving had left America in 1815 and spent years traveling and writing in Europe. He did not return until 1832.
Payne, meanwhile, had commenced a correspondence with Mary Shelley, much of it dealing with theater tickets (Payne could acquire them; Mary loved them). But Payne grew ever more amorous. “You are perpetually in my presence,” he wrote once, “and If I close my eyes you are still there ….” Payne dined with Mary, gave her books to read—including one by Irving. So Payne must have been alarmed and disappointed when he (soon) discovered that Mary was more interested in talking about Irving than talking with Payne.
Irving, at the time, was reeling from an embarrassment. Just a few years before, in Germany, he had befriended the Fosters, an English family. Their daughter Emily, 18, greatly attracted the 40-something Irving, who mistook her interest in his celebrity for interest in … something else. And so the deluded Irving proposed to her—“popped the question.”
She quickly declined. Irving was humiliated—but did not want anyone else to know. So he hung around the Fosters a bit longer before he headed back to England. Where Mary Shelley was waiting to pounce. Sort of.