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Knickerbocker's “New York."
“Diedrich Knickerbocker was a native of New York, a descendant from one of the ancient Dutch families which originally settled that province, and remained there after it was taken possession of by the English in 1664. The descendants of these Dutch families still remain in villages and neighborhoods in various parts of the country, retaining, with singular obstinacy, the dresses, manners, and even language of their ancestors, and forming a very distinct and curious feature in the motley population of the State. In a hamlet whose spire may be seen from NewYork, rising from above the brow of a hill on the opposite side of the Hudson, many of the old folks, even at the present day, speak English with an 'accent, and the Dominie preaches in Dutch; and so completely is the hereditary love of quiet and silence maintained, that in one of these drowsy villages, in the middle of a warm summer's day, the buzzing of a stout blue-bottle ly will resound from one end of the place to the other.
With the laudable hereditary feeling thus kept up among these worthy people, did Mr. Knickerbocker undertake to write a history of his native city, comprising the reign of its three Dutch governors during the time that it was yet under the domination of the Hogenmogens" of Holland. In the execution of this design, the little Dutchman has displayed great historical research, and a wonderful consciousness of the dignity of his subject. His work, however, has been so little understood, as to be pronounced a mere work of humor, satirizing the follies of the times, both in politics and morals, and giving whimsical views of human nature.”
Of course this last. sentence is the one which gives us the true view of the work. Shortly after “Salmagundi” had come to a close, Irving and his brother Peter conceived a plan for writing a burlesque of a recently published handbook of the city. After they had gathered a considerable material, Peter was called to Europe. Irving thereupon continued the work himself, but quite changed the plan of it: the historical sketch, which was to have been a mere introduction, he elaborated into a complete work. His book he ascribed to a mythical old gentleman named
1 The style of the rulers of Holland was “ the High Mightinesses."
Diedrich Knickerbocker, to whom he ever afterward alluded in such terms as are quoted above. “The History of New York by Diedrich Knickerbocker” was published in 1809, and at once became popular in America, and, as time went on, in England as well. In it Irving first developed that half-humorous, half-romantic aspect of the Dutch in America that is so closely associated with his name. The name Knickerbocker became famous, and he himself made use of it afterward. Thus “Rip Van Winkle” and the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow both said to have been found among
the papers of, the late Diedrich Knickerbocker." In this way did Irving bespeak a welcome for these later works of his, which were similar in vein.
The chapters selected for this book are those describing the city of New Amsterdam in the second book, one from the fourth book, and in the seventh the chapter describing the Hudson. A note on the subject-matter will be found on page 43.
Wolfert's Roost. These three sketches, pictures of Dutch life on the Hudson in three periods, were published by Irving in the "Knickerbocker Magazine.” They have great interest, not only in themselves, but in their connection with the life of the author. Irving always loved the country up and down the Hudson, and often visited his friends who had country seats by the river. When but a boy he had wandered about Sleepy Hollow with his gun. Twentyfive years afterward, on returning from his long stay abroad, he rambled, with one friend or another, among the old scenes about Tarrytown, and explored the old villages among the Catskills. In the summer of 1835, having journeyed here and there about the country, he finally decided to settle down near Tarrytown, where he had already often stayed before. He bought ten acres of land on the river bank. “It is a beautiful spot,” he writes, July 8, 1835, “capable of being made a little paradise. There is a small Dutch cottage on it, built about a century since, and inhabited by one of the Van Tassels. I have had an architect up there and shall build upon the old mansion this summer. It was more than a year, however, before the stone cottage was ready, but by Christmas, 1836, he was comfortably settled in “The Roost,” as it was called, with his brother Peter. “I am living most cozily and
delightfully in this dear, bright, little home which I have fitted up to my own humor. Everything goes on cheerily in my little household, and I would not exchange the cottage for any chateau in Christendom.” He subsequently added to the estate, and changed the name from “The Roost ” to the better known “Sunnyside.” Some time afterward the name of the village near by,
at the request of all the inhabitants except himself,” was changed from Dearmain to Irvington.
In “Wolfert's Roost” we have a happy, good-natured wreathing of legend and fancy about the place to which he was so much attached.
The Storm-Ship. Toward the end of Bracebridge Hall” Irving introduced a story “from the MSS. of Diedrich Knickerbocker,” called “The Haunted House.' The tale narrated the adventures of Dolph Heyliger, who lived in New York in the old times. By accident he was carried away up the river in a sloop bound for Albany. They met with a storm, and Dolph was swept into the water by the swinging boom. He succeeded in reaching the shore, however, and in time fell in with one Antony Vander Heyden, a hunter and sportsman from Albany, who took him into his party. As they sat around the camp-fire in the evening, Vander Heyden told the story of the Storm-Ship. The story is not unlike that of the Flying Dutchman, to which, indeed, Irving himself makes allusion. The main lines of the legend will be found on page 71.
Rip Van Winkle. In the year 1800 Irving made his first journey up the Hudson to Albany. It was “in the good old days before steamboats and railroads had annihilated time and space, and driven all poetry and romance out of travel.” He made the voyage in a sloop. The river and the country were a source of immense pleasure to him. Many years afterward he wrote: But of all the scenery of the Hudson, the Kaatskill Mountains had the most witching effect on my boyish imagination. Never shall I forget the effect upon me of the first view of them predominating over a wide extent of country, part wild, woody, and rugged; part softened away into all the graces
of cultivation. As we slowly floated along, I lay on the deck and watched them through a long summer's day, under
going a thousand mutations under the magical effects of atmosphere; sometimes seeming to approach, at other times to recede; now almost melting into hazy distance, now burnished by the setting sun, until, in the evening, they printed themselves against the sky in the deep purple of an Italian landscape.' When in England, sending home the tales and essays which make up the
Sketch Book,” recollections of the enchanted mountains came to his mind and he wrote this story. It became an immediate favorite, and has been ever since the best known work of its author. Fifteen years afterward, when Irving returned from Europe, he visited for the first time “the old Dutch villages on the skirts of the Catskill Mountains,” looking more closely at the spot he had already made famous.
The story is not entirely the invention of Irving : there are other legends of somewhat similar character. He himself, in the "Sketch Book," spoke of the German legend of Frederick Barbarossa (see p. 60), and there are here and there in the world other stories of those who have been cast into great sleeps, from the fairy-tale of the Sleeping Beauty to the old church legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. Most nearly like “Rip Van Winkle” is the tale of Peter Klaus, the peasant of the Harz.
But here is proof of the greatness of the writer. It is a story not uncommon ; but Irving tells it in such a way that everybody knows about Rip Van Winkle, though few have heard of Frederick Barbarossa, the Sleepers of Ephesus, or Peter Klaus. It is the genius of the writer which enables him to take stories which might be told by any one, and by his way of telling make them his own.
This is what Shakespeare did in so many of his plays (for he rarely invented his plots), and this is what Irving has done in “Rip Van Winkle."
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. We have already told how Irving as a boy wandered about Sleepy Hollow. In the story itself he speaks of his first exploit in squirrel-shooting” (p. 106). We have also seen how, when he returned from Europe, he purchased a place near Tarrytown and enlarged for himself the old Dutch cottage which had belonged to one of the Van Tassels. At a time long before he had any thought of actually settling down, save as a vague wish (p. 6),
while he was living in England, his mind often turning to the recollection of the scenes of his earlier days, he wrote this “Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” which was published in the sixth number of "The Sketch Book." A random thing," he calls it, "suggested by recollections of scenes and stories about Tarrytown.”
At first, the story was based upon "a waggish fiction of one Brom Bones, a wild blade, who professed to fear nothing and boasted of his having once met the devil on a return from a nocturnal frolic, and run a race with him for a bowl of milk punch." But although he first wrote out a sketch of this story, he put it aside, and merely introduced it shortly (p. 131) in the "Legend" as afterward written. Later he developed the character of Ichabod Crane, and Brom Bones became secondary. We can hardly say that Irving has drawn a very complimentary picture of the Yankee in the lank Connecticut schoolmaster, and yet, although we have our laugh over Ichabod, and although there are certainly some mean points in his character, it would seem that Irving had a kindness of heart for him. Ichabod Crane would seem to have been in part drawn from a schoolmaster whom Irving had known at Kinderhook as early as 1808. Long afterward, Irving wrote to him, recalling the days when they had been together, and especially mentioning the old schoolhouse, by that time replaced by a new one. “I am sorry for it,” he wrote. “I should have liked to see the old schoolhouse once more, where, after my morning's literary task was over, I used to come and wait for you occasionally until school was dismissed, and you used to promise to keep back the punishment of some little, tough, broad-bottomed Dutch boy until I should come, for my amusement—but never kept your promise.” It is probable, however, that his friend Jesse Williams only suggested to Irving some general outlines, on which he developed the character which we have in the sketch.
There are other stories of the Dutch life on the Hudson to be found in Irving's works. We have already mentioned the story of “Dolph Heyliger” in “Bracebridge Hall.” Equally interesting is “Wolfert Webber,” one of the stories of the Money Diggers in “Tales of a Traveller.” Also should be mentioned “Guests from Gibbet Island,” to be found in “Wolfert's Roost."