Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

the opposite side would employ herself diligently in spinning yarn, or knitting stockings. The young folks would crowd around the hearth, listening with breathless attention to some old crone of a negro, who was the oracle of the family, and who, perched like a raven in the corner of the chimney, would croak forth for a long winter afternoon a string of incredible stories about New England witches '-grisly ghosts, horses without heads—and hairbreadth escapes and bloody encounters among the Indians.

In those happy days a well-regulated family always rose with the dawn, dined at eleven, and went to bed at sun-down. Dinner was invariably a private meal, and the fat old burghers showed incontestable symptoms of disapprobation and uneasiness at being surprised by a visit from a neighbor on such occasions. But though our worthy ancestors were thus singularly averse to giving dinners, yet they kept up the social bands of intimacy by occasional banquetings, called tea-parties.

These fashionable parties were generally confined to the higher classes, or noblesse, that is to say, such as kept their own cows, and drove their own wagons. The company commonly assembled at three o'clock, and went away about six, unless it was in winter-time, when the fashionable hours were a little earlier, that the ladies might get home before dark. The tea-table was crowned with a huge earthen dish, well stored with slices of fat pork, fried brown, cut up into morsels, and swimming in gravy. The company being seated

, around the genial board, and each furnished with a fork, evinced their dexterity in launching at the fattest pieces in this mighty dish-in much the same manner as sailors harpoon porpoises at sea, or our Indians spear salmon in the lakes. Sometimes the table was graced with immense apple pies, or saucers full of preserved peaches and pears; but it was always sure to boast an enormous dish of balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog's fat, and called doughnuts, or olykoeks—a delicious kind of cake, at present scarce known in this city, excepting in genuine Dutch families.

poor creatures were unjustly put to death. the seventeenth century. In New England Irving often refers to New England witches. the superstition grew at one time into a fever See pp. 62, 84, 113. of excitement, in the course of which many

1 The belief in witches still continued in

The tea was served out of a majestic Delft tea-pot, ornamented with paintings of fat little Dutch shepherds and shepberdesses tending pigs-with boats sailing in the air, and houses built in the clouds, and sundry other ingenious Dutch fantasies. The beaux distinguished themselves by their adroitness in replenishing this pot from a huge copper tea-kettle, which would have made the pigmy macaronies' of these degenerate days sweat merely to look at it. To sweeten the beverage, a lump of sugar was laid beside each cup—and the company alternately nibbled and sipped with great decorum, until an improvement was introduced by a shrewd and economic old lady, which was to suspend a large lump directly over the tea-table, by a string from the ceiling, so that it could be swung from mouth to mouth-an ingenious expedient which is still kept up by some families in Albany; but which prevails without exception in Communipaw, Bergen, Flatbush, and all our uncontaminated Dutch villages.

At these primitive tea-parties the utmost propriety and dignity of deportment prevailed. No flirting nor coquetting-no

. gambling of old ladies, nor hoyden chattering and romping of young ones—no self-satisfied struttings of wealthy gentlemen, with their brains in their pockets-nor amusing conceits, and monkey divertisements, of smart young gentlemen with no brains at all. On the contrary, the young ladies seated themselves demurely in their rush-bottomed chairs, and knit their own woollen stockings ; nor ever opened their lips, excepting to say, yah Mynheer, or yah ya Vrouw,' to any question that was asked them ; behaving, in all things, like decent, welleducated damsels. As to the gentlemen, each of them tran

2

1 a name current in Irving's day for dandies. Cf. “Yankee Doodle." ? Yes, sir. Yes, madam.

quilly smoked his pipe, and seemed lost in contemplation of the blue and white tiles with which the fire-places were decorated; wherein sundry passages of Scripture were piously portrayedTobit' and his dog figured to great advantage; Haman’swung conspicuously on his gibbet; and Jonah' appeared most manfully bouncing out of the whale, like Harlequin through a barrel of fire.

The parties broke up without noise and without confusion. They were carried home by their own carriages, that is to say, by the vehicles Nature had provided them, excepting such of the wealthy as could afford to keep a wagon. The gentlemen gallantly attended their fair ones to their respective abodes, and took leave of them with a hearty smack at the door; which, as it was an established piece of etiquette, done in perfect simplicity and honesty of heart, occasioned no scandal at that time, nor should it at the present—if our great-grandfathers approved of the custom, it would argue a great want of reverence in their descendants to say a word against it.

6

In this dulcet period of my history, when the beauteous island of Manna-hata presented a scene, the very counterpart of those glowing pictures drawn of the golden reign of Saturn, there was, as I bave before observed, a happy ignorance, an honest simplicity, prevalent among its inhabitants, which, were I even able to depict, would be but little understood by the degenerate age for which I am doomed to write. Even the female sex, those arch innovators, upon the tranquillity, the honesty, and gray-beard customs of society, seemed for a while to conduct themselves with incredible sobriety and comeliness.

I The Book of Tobit alludes twice to Tobit's dog (iv. 16, xi. 4).

2 Esther vii. 10. 3 Jonah ii. 10.

4 The Indian name for the island on which the city of New Amsterdam was built is now generally spelled Manhattan.

In the seventeenth century, however, there were various other spellings as well. Ir. ving has both Manhattoes and Manna-hata, as here.

5 one of the ancient gods, whose reign was of the utmost peace and harmony.

[ocr errors]

Their hair, untortured by the abominations of art, was scrupulously pomatumed back from their foreheads with a candle, and covered with a little cap of quilted calico, which fitted exactly to their heads. Their petticoats of linsey-woolsey were striped with a variety of gorgeous dyes—though I must confess these gallant garments were rather short, scarce reaching below the knee; but then they made up in the number, which generally equalled that of the gentlemen's smallclothes ;' and what is still more praiseworthy, they were all of their own manufacture-of which circumstance, as may well be supposed, they were not a little vain.

These were the honest days, in which every woman staid at home, read the Bible, and wore pockets-ay, and that too of a goodly size, fashioned with patchwork into many curious devices, and ostentatiously worn on the outside. These, in fact, were convenient receptacles, where all good housewives carefully stowed away such things as they wished to have at hand; by which means they often came to be incredibly crammed—and I remember there was a story current when I was a boy, that the lady of Wouter Van Twiller once had occasion to empty her right pocket in search of a wooden ladle, and the utensil was discovered lying among some rubbish in one corner—but we must not give too much faith to all these stories; the anecdotes of those remote periods being very subject to exaggeration.

Besides these notable pockets, they likewise wore scissors and pincushions suspended from their girdles by red ribands, or, among the more opulent and showy classes, by brass, and even silver chains, indubitable tokens of thrifty housewives and industrious spinsters. I cannot say much in vindication of the shortness of the petticoats; it doubtless was introduced for the purpose of giving the stockings a chance to be seen, which were generally of blue worsted, with magnificent red clocks-or perhaps to display a well-turned ankle, and a neat,

[ocr errors]

I knee-breeches.

though serviceable, foot, set off by a high-heeled leathern shoe with a large and splendid silver buckle. Thus we find that the gentle sex in all ages have shown the same disposition to infringe a little upon the laws of decorum, in order to betray a lurking beauty, or gratify an innocent love of finery.

From the sketch here given, it will be seen that our good grandmothers differed considerably in their ideas of a fine figure froin their scantily-dressed descendants of the present day. A fine lady, in those times, waddled under more clothes, even on a fair summer's day,.than would have clad the whole bevy of a modern ball-room. Nor were they the less admired

. by the gentlemen in consequence thereof. On the contrary, the greatness of a lover's passion seemed to increase in proportion to the magnitude of its object—and a voluminous damsel, arrayed in a dozen of petticoats, was declared by a Low Dutch sonnetteer of the province to be as radiant as a sun-flower, and luxuriant as a full-blown cabbage. Certain it is, that in those days, the heart of a lover could not contain more than one lady at a time; whereas the heart of a modern gallant has often room enough to accommodate half-a-dozen. The reason of which I conclude to be, that either the hearts of the gentlemen have grown larger: or the persons of the ladies smaller—this, however, is a question for physiologists to determine.

But there was a secret charm in these petticoats, which no doubt entered into the consideration of the prudent gallants. The wardrobe of a lady was in those days her only fortune; and she who had a good stock of petticoats and stockings was as absolutely an heiress as is a Kamtschatka damsel with a store of bear-skins, or a Lapland belle with a plenty of reindeer. The ladies, therefore, were very anxious to display these powerful attractions to the greatest advantage ; and the best rooms in the house, instead of being adorned with carica

1 A sonnet is a particular kind of short poem. Here, however, Irving merely means a writer of love-poetry.

« ПредишнаНапред »