The Historian, by Washington Irving
Hall, or The Humorists
Hermione. Pray you sit by us,
And tell's a tale.
Mamilius. Merry or sad shall't be?
Hermione. As merry as you will.
Mamilius. A sad tale's best for winter.
I have one of sprites and goblins.
Hermione. Let's have that, sir.
As this is a story-telling age, I have been tempted occasionally to
give the reader one of the many tales that are served up with supper
at the Hall. I might, indeed, have furnished a series almost equal in
number to the Arabian Nights; but some were rather hackneyed and
tedious; others I did not feel warranted in betraying into print; and
many more were of the old general's relating, and turned principally
upon tiger-hunting, elephant-riding, and Seringapatam; enlivened by
the wonderful deeds of Tippoo Saib, and the excellent jokes of Major
I had all along maintained a quiet post at a corner of the table,
where I had been able to indulge my humour undisturbed: listening
attentively when the story was very good, and dozing a little when it
was rather dull, which I consider the perfection of auditorship.
I was roused the other evening from a slight trance into which I had
fallen during one of the general's histories, by a sudden call from
the Squire to furnish some entertainment of the kind in my turn.
Having been so profound a listener to others, I could not in
conscience refuse; but neither my memory nor invention being ready to
answer so unexpected a demand, I begged leave to read a manuscript
tale from the pen of my fellow-countryman, the late Mr. Diedrich
Knickerbocker, the historian of New-York. As this ancient chronicler
may not be better known to my readers than he was to the company at
the Hall, a word or two concerning him may not be amiss, before
proceeding to his manuscript.
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 neighbourhoods 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 New-York, 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 bluebottle fly 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 humour, satirizing the
follies of the times, both in politics and morals, and giving
whimsical views of human nature.
Be this as it may:—among the papers left behind him were several
tales of a lighter nature, apparently thrown together from materials
which he had gathered during his profound researches for his history,
and which he seems to have cast by with neglect, as unworthy of
publication. Some of these have fallen into my hands, by an accident
which it is needless at present to mention; and one of these very
stories, with its prelude in the words of Mr. Knickerbocker, I
undertook to read, by way of acquitting myself of the debt which I
owed to the other story-tellers at the Hall. I subjoin it, for such of
my readers as are fond of stories.
[Footnote 12: I find that the tale of Rip Van Winkle, given in the
Sketch-Book, has been discovered by divers writers in magazines to
have been founded on a little German tradition, and the matter has
been revealed to the world as if it were a foul instance of plagiarism
marvellously brought to light. In a note which follows that tale, I
had alluded to the superstition on which it was founded, and I thought
a mere allusion was sufficient, as the tradition was so notorious as
to be inserted in almost every collection of German legends. I had
seen it myself in three. I could hardly have hoped, therefore, in the
present age, when every source of ghost and goblin story is ransacked,
that the origin of the tale would escape discovery. In fact, I had
considered popular traditions of the kind as fair foundations for
authors of fiction to build upon, and made use of the one in question
accordingly, I am not disposed to contest the matter, however, and
indeed consider myself so completely overpaid by the public for my
trivial performances, that I am content to submit to any deduction,
which, in their after-thoughts, they may think proper to make.]