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more dismal, that he wrote to Brevoort, upon the report that the latter was likely to remain a bachelor : “We are all selfish beings. Fortune by her tardy favors and capricious freaks seems to discourage all my matrimonial resolves, and if I am doomed to live an old bachelor, I am anxious to have good company. I cannot bear that all my old companions should launch away into the married state, and leave me alone to tread this desolate and sterile shore.” And, in view of a possible life of scant fortune, he exclaims: “Thank Heaven, I was brought up in simple and inexpensive habits, and I have satisfied myself that, if need be, I can resume them without repining or inconvenience. Though I am willing, therefore, that Fortune should shower her blessings upon me, and think I can enjoy them as well as most men, yet I shall not make myself unhappy if she chooses to be scanty, and shall take the position allotted me with a cheerful and contented mind.” When Irving passed the winter of 1823 in the charming society of the Fosters at Dresden, the success of the “Sketch-Book '' and “Bracebridge Hall” had given him as
72 WASHINGTON, IRWING.
surance of his ability to live comfortably by the use of his pen. To resume. The preliminary announcement of the History was a humorous and skillful piece of advertising. Notices appeared in the newspapers of the disappearance from his lodging of “a small, elderly gentleman, dressed in an old black coat and cocked hat, by the name of Knickerbocker.” Paragraphs from week to week, purporting to be the result of inquiry, elicited the facts that such an old gentleman had been seen traveling north in the Albany stage; that his name was Diedrich Knickerbocker; that he went away owing his landlord; and that he left behind a very curious kind of a written book, which would be sold to pay his bills if he did not return. So skillfully was this managed that one of the city officials was on the point of offering a reward for the discovery of the missing Diedrich. This little man in knee-breeches and cocked hat was the germ of the whole “Knickerbocker legend,” a fantastic creation, which in a manner took the place of history, and stamped upon the commercial metropolis of the New World the indelible Knickerbocker name and character; and even now in the city it is an undefined patent of nobility to trace descent from “an old Knickerbocker family.” The volume, which was first printed in Philadelphia, was put forth as a grave history of the manners and government under the Dutch rulers, and so far was the covert humor carried that it was dedicated to the New York Historical Society. Its success was far beyond Irving's expectation. It met with almost universal acclaim. It is true that some of the old Dutch inhabitants who sat down to its perusal, expecting to read a veritable account of the exploits of their ancestors, were puzzled by the indirection of its commendation; and several excellent old ladies of New York and Albany were in blazing indignation at the ridicule put upon the old Dutch people, and minded to ostracize the irreverent author from all social recognition. As late as 1818, in an address before the Historical Society, Mr. Gulian C. Verplanck, Irving's friend, showed the deep irritation the book had caused, by severe strictures on it as a “coarse caricature.” But the author's winning ways soon dissipated the social cloud, and even the Dutch critics were erelong disarmed by the absence of all malice in the gigantic humor of the composition. One of the first foreigners to recognize the power and humor of the book was Walter Scott. “I have never,” he wrote, “read anything so closely resembling the style of Dean Swift as the annals of Diedrich KnickerVocker. 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 power of a different kind, and has some touches which remind me of Sterne.” The book is indeed an original creation, and one of the few masterpieces of humor. In spontaneity, freshness, breadth of conception, and joyous vigor, it belongs to the spring-time of literature. It has entered into the popular mind as no other American book ever has, and it may be said to have created a social realm which, with all its whimsical conceit, has almost historical solidity. The Knickerbocker pantheon is almost as real as that of Olympus. The introductory chapters are of that elephantine facetiousness which pleased our great-grandfathers, but which is exceedingly tedious to modern taste; and the humor of the book occasionally has a breadth that is indelicate to our apprehension, though it perhaps did not shock our great-grandmothers. But, notwithstanding these blemishes, I think the work has more enduring qualities than even the generation which it first delighted gave it credit for. The world, however, it must be owned, has scarcely yet the courage of its humor, and dullness still thinks it necessary to apologize for anything amusing. There is little doubt that Irving himself supposed that his serious work was of more consequence to the world. It seems strange that after this success Irving should have hesitated to adopt literature as his profession. But for two years, and with leisure, he did nothing. He had again some hope of political employment in a small way; and at length he entered into a mercantile partnership with his brothers, which was to involve little work for him, and a share of the profits that should assure his support, and leave him free to follow