Knickerbocker's History of New York, Complete
Knickerbocker's History of New York, Complete
Knickerbocker's History of New York, Complete
KNICKERBOCKER'S HISTORY OF NEW YORK is the book, published in December, 1809, with which Washington Irving, at the age of twenty-six, first won wide credit and influence. Walter Scott wrote to an American friend, who sent him the second edition —
"I beg you to accept my best thanks for the uncommon degree of entertainment which I have received from the most excellently jocose History of New York. I am sensible that, as a stranger to American parties and politics, I must lose much of the concealed satire of the piece, but I must own that, looking at the simple and obvious meaning only, I have never read anything so closely resembling the style of Dean Swift as the annals of Diedrich Knickerbocker. I have been employed these few evenings in reading them aloud to Mrs. S. and two ladies who are our guests, and our sides have been absolutely sore with laughing. I think, too, there are passages which indicate that the author possesses powers of a different kind, and has some touches which remind me much of Sterne."
Washington Irving was the son of William Irving, a sturdy native of the Orkneys, allied to the Irvines of Drum, among whose kindred was an old historiographer who said to them, "Some of the foolish write themselves Irving." William Irving of Shapinsha, in the Orkney Islands, was a petty officer on board an armed packet ship in His Majesty's service, when he met with his fate at Falmouth in Sarah Sanders, whom he married at Falmouth in May, 1761. Their first child was buried in England before July, 1763, when peace had been concluded, and William Irving emigrated to New York with his wife, soon to be joined by his wife's parents.
At New York William Irving entered into trade, and prospered fairly until the outbreak of the American Revolution. His sympathy, and that of his wife, went with the colonists. On the 19th of October, 1781, Lord Cornwallis, with a force of seven thousand men, surrendered at Yorktown. In October, 1782, Holland acknowledged the independence of the United States in a treaty concluded at The Hague. In January, 1783, an armistice was concluded with Great Britain. In February, 1783, the independence of the United States was acknowledged by Sweden and by Denmark, and in March by Spain. On the 3rd of April in that year an eleventh child was born to William and Sarah Irving, who was named Washington, after the hero under whom the war had been brought to an end. In 1783 the peace was signed, New York was evacuated, and the independence of the United States acknowledged by England.
Of the eleven children eight survived. William Irving, the father, was rigidly pious, a just and honorable man, who made religion burdensome to his children by associating it too much with restrictions and denials. One of their two weekly half-holidays was devoted to the Catechism. The mother's gentler sensibility and womanly impulses gave her the greater influence; but she reverenced and loved her good husband, and when her youngest puzzled her with his pranks, she would say, "Ah, Washington, if you were only good!"
For his lively spirits and quick fancy could not easily be subdued. He would get out of his bed-room window at night, walk along a coping, and climb over the roof to the top of the next house, only for the high purpose of astonishing a neighbor by dropping a stone down his chimney. As a young school-boy he came upon Hoole's translation of Ariosto, and achieved in his father's back yard knightly adventures. "Robinson Crusoe" and "Sindbad the Sailor" made him yearn to go to sea. But this was impossible unless he could learn to lie hard and eat salt pork, which he detested. He would get out of bed at night and lie on the floor for an hour or two by way of practice. He also took every opportunity that came in his way of eating the detested food. But the more he tried to like it the nastier it grew, and he gave up as impracticable his hope of going to sea. He fastened upon adventures of real travelers; he yearned for travel, and was entranced in his youth by first sight of the beauties of the Hudson River. He scribbled jests for his school friends, and, of course, he wrote a school-boy play. At sixteen his schooling was at an end, and he was placed in a lawyer's office, from which he was transferred to another, and then, in January, 1802, to another, where he continued his clerkship with a Mr. Hoffman, who had a young wife, and two young daughters by a former marriage. With this family Washington Irving, a careless student, lively, clever, kind, established the happiest relations, of which afterwards there came the deep grief of his life and a sacred memory.
Washington Irving's eldest brothers were beginning to thrive in business. A brother Peter shared his frolics with the pen. His artist pleasure in the theater was indulged without his father's knowledge. He would go to the play, come home for nine o'clock prayers, go up to bed, and climb out of his bed-room window, and run back and see the after-piece. So come evasions of undue restraint. But with all this impulsive liveliness, young Washington Irving's life appeared, as he grew up, to be in grave danger. When he was nineteen, and taken by a brother-in-law to Ballston springs, it was determined by those who heard his incessant night cough that he was "not long for this world." When he had come of age, in April, 1804, his brothers, chiefly his eldest brother, who was prospering, provided money to send him to Europe that he might recover health by restful travel in France, Italy and England. When he was helped up the side of the vessel that was to take him from New York to Bordeaux, the captain looked at him with pity and said, "There's a chap who will go overboard before we get across." But Washington Irving returned to New York at the beginning of the year 1806 with health restored.
What followed will be told in the Introduction to the other volume of this History of New York, by Diedrich Knickerbocker.
THE AUTHOR'S APOLOGY
The following work, in which, at the outset, nothing more was contemplated than a temporary jeu-d'esprit, was commenced in company with my brother, the late Peter Irving, Esq. Our idea was to parody a small hand-book which had recently appeared, entitled, "A Picture of New York." Like that, our work was to begin an historical sketch; to be followed by notices of the customs, manners and institutions of the city; written in a serio-comic vein, and treating local errors, follies and abuses with good-humored satire.
To burlesque the pedantic lore displayed in certain American works, our historical sketch was to commence with the creation of the world; and we laid all kinds of works under contribution for trite citations, relevant or irrelevant, to give it the proper air of learned research. Before this crude mass of mock erudition could be digested into form, my brother departed for Europe, and I was left to prosecute the enterprise alone.
I now altered the plan of the work. Discarding all idea of a parody on the "Picture of New York," I determined that what had been originally intended as an introductory sketch should comprise the whole work, and form a comic history of the city. I accordingly moulded the mass of citations and disquisitions into introductory chapters, forming the first book; but it soon became evident to me that, like Robinson Crusoe with his boat, I had begun on too large a scale, and that, to launch my history successfully, I must reduce its proportions. I accordingly resolved to confine it to the period of the Dutch domination, which, in its rise, progress and decline, presented that unity of subject required by classic rule. It was a period, also, at that time almost a terra incognita in history. In fact, I was surprised to find how few of my fellow-citizens were aware that New York had ever been called New Amsterdam, or had heard of the names of its early Dutch governors, or cared a straw about their ancient Dutch progenitors.
This, then, broke upon me as the poetic age of our city; poetic from its very obscurity, and open, like the early and obscure days of ancient Rome, to all the embellishments of heroic fiction. I hailed my native city as fortunate above all other American cities in having an antiquity thus extending back into the regions of doubt and fable; neither did I conceive I was committing any grievous historical sin in helping out the few facts I could collect in this remote and forgotten region with figments of my own brain, or in giving characteristic attributes to the few names connected with it which I might dig up from oblivion.
In this, doubtless, I reasoned like a young and inexperienced writer, besotted with his own fancies; and my presumptuous trespasses into this sacred, though neglected, region of history have met with deserved rebuke from men of soberer minds. It is too late, however, to recall the shaft thus rashly launched. To any one whose sense of fitness it may wound, I can only say with Hamlet —
"Let my disclaiming from a purposed evil
Free me so far in your most generous thoughts
That I have shot my arrow o'er the house,
And hurt my brother."
I will say this in further apology for my work: that if it has taken an unwarrantable liberty with our early provincial history, it has at least turned attention to that history, and provoked research. It is only since this work appeared that the forgotten archives of the province have been rummaged, and the facts and personages of the olden time rescued from the dust of oblivion, and elevated into whatever importance they may actually possess.
The main object of my work, in fact, had a bearing wide from the sober aim of history, but one which, I trust, will meet with some indulgence from poetic minds. It was to embody the traditions of our city in an amusing form; to illustrate its local humors, customs and peculiarities; to clothe home scenes and places and familiar names with those imaginative and whimsical associations so seldom met with in our new country, but which live like charms and spells about the cities of the old world, binding the heart of the native inhabitant to his home.
In this I have reason to believe I have in some measure succeeded. Before the appearance of my work the popular traditions of our city were unrecorded; the peculiar and racy customs and usages derived from our Dutch progenitors were unnoticed, or regarded with indifference, or adverted to with a sneer. Now they form a convivial currency, and are brought forward on all occasions; they link our whole community together in good-humor and good-fellowship; they are the rallying points of home feeling; the seasoning of our civic festivities; the staple of local tales and local pleasantries; and are so harped upon by our writers of popular fiction that I find myself almost crowded off the legendary ground which I was the first to explore by the host who have followed in my footsteps.
I dwell on this head because, at the first appearance of my work, its aim and drift were misapprehended by some of the descendants of the Dutch worthies, and because I understand that now and then one may still be found to regard it with a captious eye. The far greater part, however, I have reason to flatter myself, receive my good-humored picturings in the same temper with which they were executed; and when I find, after a lapse of nearly forty years, this haphazard production of my youth still cherished among them; when I find its very name become a "household word," and used to give the home stamp to everything recommended for popular acceptation, such as Knickerbocker societies, Knickerbocker insurance companies, Knickerbocker steamboats, Knickerbocker omnibuses, Knickerbocker bread, and Knickerbocker ice; and when I find New Yorkers of Dutch descent priding themselves upon being "genuine Knickerbockers," I please myself with the persuasion that I have struck the right chord; that my dealings with the good old Dutch times, and the customs and usages derived from them, are n harmony with the feelings and humors of my townsmen; that I have opened a vein of pleasant associations and quaint characteristics peculiar to my native place, and which its inhabitants will not willingly suffer to pass away; and that, though other histories of New York may appear of higher claims to learned acceptation, and may take their dignified and appropriate rank in the family library, Knickerbocker's history will still be received with good-humored indulgence, and be thumbed and chuckled over by the family fireside.
WHICH APPEARED IN THE NEWSPAPERS PREVIOUS TO THE PUBLICATION OF THIS WORK
From the "Evening Post" of October 26, 1809.
Left his lodgings some time since, and has not since been heard of, a small elderly gentleman, dressed in an old black coat and cocked hat, by the name of Knickerbocker. As there are some reasons for believing he is not entirely in his right mind, and as great anxiety is entertained about him, any information concerning him, left either at the Columbian Hotel, Mulberry Street, or at the office of this paper, will be thankfully received.
P.S. – Printers of newspapers will be aiding the cause of humanity in giving an insertion to the above.
From the same, November 6, 1809.
To the Editor of the "Evening Post."
SIR, – Having read, in your paper of the 26th of October last, a paragraph respecting an old gentleman by the name of Knickerbocker, who was missing from his lodgings; if it would be any relief to his friends, or furnish them with any clue to discover where he is, you may inform them that a person answering the description given was seen by the passengers of the Albany stage, early in the morning, about four or five weeks since, resting himself by the side of the road, a little above King's Bridge. He had in his hand a small bundle tied in a red bandana handkerchief: he appeared to be traveling northward, and was very much fatigued and exhausted.
From the same, November 16, 1809.
To the Editor of the "Evening Post."
SIR, – You have been good enough to publish in your paper a paragraph about Mr. Diedrich Knickerbocker, who was missing so strangely some time since. Nothing satisfactory has been heard of the old gentleman since; but a very curious kind of a written book has been found in his room, in his own handwriting. Now, I wish you to notice him, if he is still alive, that if he does not return and pay off his bill for boarding and lodging, I shall have to dispose of his book to satisfy me for the same.
I am, Sir, your humble servant,
Landlord of the Independent Columbian Hotel,
From the same, November 28, 1809.
INSKEEP and BRADFORD have in the press, and will shortly publish,
A History of New York,