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Knickerbocker’s History Of New York

March 2023
1min read

When in 1809 Irving published a satiric history of Dutch New York, he adopted the pseudonym “Diedrich Knickerbocker,” described in press notices as “a small elderly gentleman, dressed in an old black coat and cocked hat” who had strangely disappeared, leaving behind a very curious manuscript. Irving, whose authorship was known almost immediately, hoped that his popular spoof would long be “thumbed and chuckled over by the family fireside.” Spoof or not, passages like those quoted on these two pages—and illustrations like the ones shown with them—have given generations of readers their image of early New York. The sketch of Knickerbocker above is Darley’s. Maxfield Parrish, 20th-century book, poster, and magazine artist, drew the Indian at left, whom Irving described as follows:

C. R. Leslie, Irving’s great personal friend, drew the scene at right. George Cruikshank, Dickens’ first illustrator, did the one below.

Washington Irving was a world traveler— und writer—of catholic tastes and interests. At top, superimposed on part of his manuscript of the five-volume Life of George Washington, one of Irving’s last works, is a wood engraving by Alexander Anderson for Salmagundi, one of his first. Below these is a drawing by W. F. Wilson for The Adventures of Captain Bonneville, U.S.A., a pioneering history which helped stimulate America’s interest in its western heroes. One of the delightful products of Irving’s Spanish sojourns was The Alhambra, for which Joseph Pennell made nearly 300 sketches; one is seen at right. But to many readers the tales of Dutch life in “the ancient cities of the Manhattoes”—which inspired not only illustrators but painters like John Quidor (opposite page)—will always represent Irving at the top of his form.

Schoolmaster Crane, and charges lucre drawn by Darley. The courting scene below is by the painter Daniel Hunting/on, a student of Morse’s.

G. W. A. Jenkinson’s version of the famous scent; in which Brom Bones, posing as the “headless horseman,” puts to flight his rival for Katrina’s hand.

Quidor exhibited The Return of Rip Van Winkle (left) at the Academy in 1829. Besides the two in this portfolio, he painted fifteen other Irving scenes. The gnomes of Rip’s dream (right) were seen quite differently by two illustrators, N.C. Wyeth (top) and Arthur Rackham.

Americans of Irving’s time, whose, own traditions had no patina of age, often idealized those of the mother country. Of no tradition was this truer than of the bounteous Christmases in England’s great manor houses, celebrated by Irving in The Sketch Book. The essays, later published as Old Christmas, were illustrated by English artists like Cecil Aldin—five of whose drawings appear here—in the same graceful style that makes Irving’s own prose a pleasure to read and read again.

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