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[Transcriber's note: The spelling irregularities of the original have
been retained in this etext.]









KNICKERBOCKER'S HISTORY OF NEW YORK is the book, published in December,
1809, with which Washington living, 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 of her volume of
this History of New York, by Diedrich Knickerbocker.



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

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

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.

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