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of Goldsmith than Goldsmith was an imitator of Steele and Addi
He had a kindred talent with theirs and he was the heir of their tradition. The eighteenth century essay was the form in which he expressed himself most easily; and for him to have sought another mode would have been to thwart his natural inclination. He is the nineteenth century writer who has possessed most of the qualities that must combine to give the eighteenth century essay its essential charm ; and he is the only nineteenth century writer who found in the eighteenth century essay a form wholly satisfactory and exactly suited to his own development. The sketches of Geoffrey Crayon are as inevitable a revelation of the author as are the lucubrations of Isaac Bickerstaff or the Chinese letters of the Citizen of the World, and they show "that happy mingling of the lively and severe, which Johnson envied but could not emulate”
- to quote from Mr. Austin Dobson. “That charm of simplicity and grace, of kindliness and gentle humor, which,” so Mr. Dobson tells us in another place, “we recognize as Goldsmith's special property," seem somehow to have passed by inheritance to Irving as next of kin.
The eighteenth century essay is a definite form — but it contained also the beginnings of several other forms. It is not fantastic to find in the Spectator the precursor of the modern magazine, with its varied table of contents, since we can pick out from its pages not only the brisk disquisition upon the topics of the time, but also the character sketch, the short story, the theatrical criticism, the book-review, the obituary notice, and even the serial story, — for what else is the succession of papers in which Sir Roger de Coverley appears and reappears? Midway between the modern magazine and the Spectator stands the Sketch-Book ; and the first of the eight numbers in which it was originally issued had ample variety, containing, as they did, papers as dissimilar as the Author's Account of Himself, the Voyage, the essay on Roscoe, the two tales of the Wife and Rip Van Winkle, and the still unheeded warning to English Writers on America.
For nothing is the American magazine now more noted than for its short stories, and one of the tales in the first number of the Sketch-Book has been the parent of an innumerable progeny. Rip Van Winkle is not only one of the best short stories in our lan
guage ; it is also the earliest attempt in America at local fiction. Rip Van Winkle and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow (both contained in the Sketch-Book, issued in 1819-20) showed how the realities of our life here could best be made available in romance. In these stories Irving set an example to the New England group of storytellers and to the later men and women who have since explained to us also the South and the West by frank and direct tales of the way people live in the one section and the other. Irving was first in the field now cultivated so carefully by Miss Jewett and Miss Wilkins, by Mr. Cable, Mr. Harris, and Mr. Page, by Mr. Garland and Mr. Wistar.
On other authors also has Irving's influence made itself felt, – on Dickens, for one, as may be detected at once by a comparison of the Dingley Dell chapters of the Pickwick Papers, with the corresponding humorously realistic pages of the Sketch-Book and Bracebridge Hall; and for another, on Longfellow, who came under the pensive and romantic charm of Irving's earlier writings, and who took Irving's prose as the model of his own in Outre Mer and Kavanagh. Hawthorne also and Poe followed in Irving's footsteps, and their short stories often disclose their indebtedness to him. Scott appreciated highly all that Irving wrote, and more especially the tales in which the eerie was adroitly fused with the ironic; and in his paper on the Supernatural in Fictitious Composition he praised the ludicrous sketch of The Boli Dragoon as the only instance of the fantastic then to be found in the English language. The one story of this sort that Scott himself wrote, Wandering Willie's Tale (introduced into Redgauntlet), appeared about the same time as the Tales of a Traveller, and later therefore than Irving's ghostly stories. “At any rate," Irving wrote to a friend, “I have the merit of adopting a line for myself, instead of following others."
Perhaps there is no better test of originality and power than this, that an author's influence upon his fellow-craftsmen shall both broaden and endure. In the variegated garden of American story-telling “all can grow the flower now, for all have got the seed"; but it was Irving who showed how the soil should be cultivated and who brought the first blooms to perfection. His art seems so simple, his attitude is so modest, the man himself is so
unpretending and unaffected, that he has not yet received full credit for his very real originality. And not only in literature does his influence abide, but in the life of the city he was born in. It was Irving who invented the Knickerbocker legend and who imposed it upon us,“ making it out of whole cloth,” as the phrase is,
weaving it in the loom of his own playful imagination. It was Irving again who flung the entrancing veil of romance over the banks of the Hudson. To the end of time will the Catskills be Rip Van Winkle’s country, and New York the town of the Knickerbockers.
It is not by his elaborately wrought biographies that Irving is to survive, not by the lives of Columbus and of Washington, admirable as these are, but by the earlier miscellanies, developed, all of them, out of the eighteenth century essay, — the Sketch-Book, Bracebridge Hall, the Tales of a Traveller, and the Alhambra (that Spanish “ Sketch-Book," as Prescott aptly called it). It is in these that Irving is most at home; in these he is doing the work he did best; and in these his style is seen at its finest. If the style is the man, then is Irving transparently revealed in these volumes, for his writing had always the simplicity and the sincerity of his own character. But though it may seem careless, it has more art than the casual reader may suspect.
It has the rare merit of combining vivacity and repose. As Poe pointed out, Irving's style is excellent even though his diction is not always impeccable; and we remember that Addison also has been the prey of the rigid grammarians who think that man was made for syntax. The happy phrase is frequent in Irving's sketches, and the felicitous adjective abounds; - yet we have to admit that his leisurely and old-fashioned paragraphs do not appeal to those who fail to find beauty anywhere but in the verbal mosaics of certain latterday stylists. Irving's pages are wholesome always; they are as genuine as they are graceful, as natural as they are charming ; and perhaps they are most relished by those who best know the kindred qualities of Steele and of Goldsmith.
WOUTER VAN TWILLER
OF THE RENOWNED WOUTER VAN TWILLER, HIS UNPARALLELED
VIRTUES AS LIKEWISE HIS UNUTTERABLE WISDOM IN THE LAWCASE OF WANDLE SCHOONHOVEN AND BARENT BLEECKER AND THE GREAT ADMIRATION OF THE PUBLIC THEREAT
GRIEVOUS and very much to be commiserated is the task of the feeling historian, who writes the history of his native land. If it fall to his lot to be the recorder of calamity or crime, the mournful page is watered with his tears; nor can he recall the most prosperous and blissful era, without a melancholy sigh at the reflection that it has passed away forever! I know not whether it be owing to an immoderate love for the simplicity of former times, or to that certain tenderness of heart incident to all sentimental historians; but I candidly confess that I cannot look back on the happier days of our city, which I now describe, without great dejection of spirit. With faltering hand do I withdraw the curtain of oblivion, that veils the modest merit of our venerable ancestors, and as their figures rise to my mental vision, humble myself before their mighty shades.
Such are my feelings when I revisit the family mansion of the Knickerbockers, and spend a lonely hour in the chamber where hang the portraits of my forefathers, shrouded in dust, like the forms they represent. With pious reverence do I gaze on the countenances of those renowned burghers, who have preceded me in the steady march of existence, — whose sober and temperate blood now meanders through my veins, flowing slower and slower in its feeble conduits, until its current shall soon be stopped forever!
These, I say to myself, are but frail memorials of the mighty men who flourished in the days of the patriarchs; but who, alas, have long since mouldered in that tomb towards which my steps are insensibly and irresistibly hastening! As I pace the darkened chamber and lose myself in melancholy musings, the shadowy images around me almost seem to steal once more into existence,
- their countenances to assume the animation of life, — their eyes to pursue me in every movement! Carried away by the delusions
of fancy, I almost imagine myself surrounded by the shades of the departed, and holding sweet converse with the worthies of antiquity! Ah, hapless Diedrich! born in a degenerate age, abandoned to the buffetings of fortunes, a stranger and a weary pilgrim in thy native land, - blest with no weeping wife, nor family of helpless children, but doomed to wander neglected through those crowded streets, and elbowed by foreign upstarts from those fair abodes where once thine ancestors held sovereign empire !
Let me not, however, lose the historian in the man, nor suffer the doting recollections of age to overcome me, while dwelling with fond garrulity on the virtuous days of the patriarchs, — on those sweet days of simplicity and ease, which nevermore will dawn on the lovely island of Mannahata.
These melancholy reflections have been forced from me by the growing wealth and importance of New Amsterdam, which, I plainly perceive, are to involve it in all kinds of perils and disasters. Already, as I observed at the close of my last book, they had awakened the attentions of the mother-country. The usual mark of protection shown by mother-countries to wealthy colonies was forthwith manifested; a governor being sent out to rule over the province, and squeeze out of it as much revenue as possible. The arrival of a governor of course put an end to the protectorate of Oloffe the Dreamer. He appears, however, to have dreamt to some purpose during his sway, as we find him afterwards living as a patroon on a great landed estate on the banks of the Hudson ; having virtually forfeited all right to his ancient appellation of Kortlandt or Lackland.
It was in the year of our Lord 1629 that Mynheer Wouter Van Twiller was appointed governor of the province of Nieuw Nederlandts, under the commission and control of their High Mightinesses the Lords States General of the United Netherlands, and the privileged West India Company.
This renowned old gentleman arrived at New Amsterdam in the merry month of June, the sweetest month in all the year ; when dan Apollo seems to dance up the transparent firmament, — when the robin, the thrush, and a thousand other wanton songsters, make the woods to resound with amorous ditties, and the luxurious little