The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Knickerbocker History of New York, The

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Knickerbocker History of New York, The
Edition of 1920. See also Washington Irving on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

KNICKERBOCKER HISTORY OF NEW YORK, The. Knickerbocker's ‘History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty,’ planned and partly written by Peter and Washington Irving together, was later replanned by the younger brother, entirely executed by him and published in 1809 under the whimsical pretense of being by an eccentric Dutch antiquary, Diedrich Knickerbocker. It was originally meant to be a mere skit by which two gay young men might poke fun at their fellow-townsmen, but it grew unconsciously into a full-bodied masterpiece of good-humored satire which established the settlers of an obscure Dutch colony as permanent citizens of the wider world of historical legend. Irving did not derive from facts his conception of the first New Yorkers, nor did he invent it; he merely followed a tradition current in British satire since the wars with Holland in the 17th century. The idea of writing burlesque history, too, was not novel. Moreover, Book I of the Knickerbocker ‘History,’ with its parodies of pedantic learning, belongs rather with the plan relinquished than with the mature performance. But Irving's indebtedness and his halting overture only slightly modify the credit due him for his comic masterpiece. Hearty affection for New York, tenderness toward any past with a touch of myth in it, natural mellowness of lan- guage — these lend substance to a gay and impudent wit. In the third book, which deals with the unforgettable Wouter Van Twiller and the manners of his reign, Irving is at once brilliant and charming. The books recording the deeds of Peter Stuyvesant are even more spirited, particularly in the passages of mock-heroic, which are hardly to be matched elsewhere in English. Illustrations for the ‘History’ have been made by Allston, Leslie, Jarvis and Darley.

Carl Van Doren.