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INTRODUCTION TO RIP VAN WINKLE.
THE story of Rip Van Winkle purported to have been written by Diedrich Knickerbocker, who was a humorous invention of Irving's, and whose name was familiar to the public as the author of A History of New York. The History was published in 1809, but it was ten years more before the first number of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., was published. This number, which contained Rip Van Winkle, was, like succeeding numbers, written by Irving in England and sent home to America for publication. He laid the scene of the story in the Kaatskills, but he drew upon his imagination and the reports of others for the scenery, not visiting the spot until 1833. The story is not absolutely new; the fairy tale of The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood has the same theme ; so has the story of Epimenides of Crete, who lived in the sixth or seventh century before Christ. He was said to have fallen asleep in a cave when a boy, and to have awaked at the end of fifty-seven years, his soul, meanwhile, having been growing in stature. There is the legend also of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, Christian martyrs who were walled into a cave to which they had fled for refuge, and there were miraculously preserved for two centuries. Among the stories in which the Harz Mountains of Germany are so prolific is one of Peter Klaus, a goatherd who was accosted one day by a young man who silently beckoned him to follow, and led him to a secluded spot, where he found twelve knights playing, voiceless, at skittles. He saw a can of wine which was very fragrant, and, drinking of it, was thrown into a deep sleep, from which he did not wake for twenty years. The story gives
incidents of his awaking and of the changes which he found in the village to which he returned. This story, which was published with others in 1800, may very likely have been the immediate suggestion to Irving, who has taken nearly the same framework. The humorous additions which he has made, and the grace with which he has invested the tale, have caused his story to supplant earlier ones in the popular mind, so that Rip Van Winkle has passed into familiar speech, and allusions to him are clearly understood wy thousands who have never read Irving's story. The recent dramatizing of the story, though following the outline only, has done much to fix the conception of the character. The story appeals very directly to a common sentiment of curiosity as to the future, which is not far removed from what some have regarded as an instinct of the human mind pointing to personal immortality. The name Van Winkle was happily chosen by Irving, but not invented by him. The printer of the Sketch Book, for one, bore the
The name Knickerbocker, also, is among the Dutch names, but Irving's use of it has made it representative. In The Author's Apology, which he prefixed to a new edition of the History of New York, he says: “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
New Yorkers of Dutch descent priding themselves upon being. genuine Knickerbockers.'
and . :
RIP VAN WINKLE.
A POSTHUMOUS WRITING OF DIEDRICH KNICKERBOCKER
By Woden, God of Saxons,
The following tale was found among the papers of the late Diedrich Knickerbocker, an old gentleman of New York, who was very curious in the Dutch history of the province, and the manners of the descendants from its primitive settlers. His historical researches, however, did not lie so much among books as among men ; for the former are lamentably scanty on his favorite topics ; whereas he found the old burghers, and still more their wives, rich in that legendary lore so invaluable to true history. Whenever, therefore, he happened upon a genuine Dutch family, snugly shut up in its low-roofed farmhouse under a spreading sycamore, he looked upon it as a little clasped vol. ume of black-letter, and studied it with the zeal of a book-worm.
The result of all these researches was a history of the province during the reign of the Dutch governors, which he published some years since. There have been various opinions as to the literary character of his work, and, to tell the truth, it is not a whit better than it should be. Its chief merit is its scrupulous accuracy, which indeed was a little questioned on its first appear. ance, but has since been completely established; and it is now admitted into all historical collections, as a book of unquestionable authority
The old gentleman died shortly after the publication of his work, and now that he is dead and gone, it cannot do much harm
1 William Cartwright, 1611–1643, was a friend and disciple of Ben Jonson.
to his memory to say that his time might have been much bete ter employed in weightier labors. He, however, was apt to ride his hobby his own way; and though it did now and then kick the dust a little in the eyes of his neighbors, and grieve the spirit of some friends, for whom he felt the truest deference and affection ; yet his errors and follies are remembered “more in sorrow than in anger," and it begins to be suspected that he never intended to injure or offend. But however his memory may be appreciated by critics, it is still held dear by many folk, whose good opinion is worth having ; particularly by certain biscuitbakers, who have gone so far as to imprint his likeness on their new-year cakes ;and have thus given him a chance for immortality, almost equal to the being stamped on a Waterloo Medal, or a Queen Anne's Farthing. 8
1 The History of New York had given offence to many old New Yorkers because of its saucy treatment of names which were held in veneration as those of founders of families, and its general burlesque of Dutch character. Among the critics was a warm friend of Irving, Gulian C. Verplanck, who in a discourse before the New York Historical Society plainly said : “It is painful to see a mind, as admirable for its exquisite perception of the beautiful as it is for its quick sense of the ridiculous, wasting the richness of its fancy on an ungrateful theme, and its exuberant humor in a coarse caricature.” Irving took the censure good-naturedly, and as he read Verplanck's words just as he was finishing the story of Rip Van Winkle, he gave them this playful notice in the introduction.
* An oblong seed-cake, still made in New York at New Year's time, and of Dutch origin.
8 There was a popular story that only three farthings were struck in Queen Anne's reign ; that two were in public keeping, and that the third was no one knew where, but that its lucky finder would be able to hold it at an enormous price. As a matter of fact there were eight coinings of farthings in the reign of Queen Anne, and numismatists do not set a high val piece.
WHOEVER has made a voyage up the Hudson must remember the Kaatskill Mountains. They are a dismembered branch of the great Appalachian family, and are seen away to the west of the river, swelling up to a noble height, and lording it over the surrounding country. Every change of season, every change of weather, indeed, every hour of the day, produces some change in the magical hues and shapes of these mountains, and they are regarded by all the good wives, far and near, as perfect barometers. When the weather is fair and settled, they are clothed in blue and purple, and print their bold outlines on the clear evening sky; but sometimes when the rest of the landscape is cloudless they will gather a hood of gray vapors about their summits, which, in the last rays of the setting sun, will glow and light up like a crown of glory.
At the foot of these fairy mountains, the voyager may have descried the light smoke curling up from a village, whose shingle-roofs gleam among the trees, just where the blue tints of the upland melt away into the fresh green of the nearer landscape. It is a little village of great antiquity, having been founded by some of the Dutch colonists in the early time of the province, just about the beginning of the government of the good Peter Stuyvesant, (may he rest in peace !) and there were some of the houses of the original settlers standing within a few years, built of small yellow
1 A light touch to help the reader into a proper spirit for receiving the tale.
Stuyvesant was governor of New Netherlands from 1647 to 1664. He plays an important part in Knickerbocker's History of New York, as he did in actual life. Until quite recently a pear tree was shown on the Bowery, said to have been planted by him.