Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
By Washington Irving (17831859)
From History of New York
HAVING passed some time very agreeably at Albany, our author proceeded to Scaghtikoke, where, it is but justice to say, he was received with open arms, and treated with wonderful loving-kindness. He was much looked up to by the family, being the first historian of the name; and was considered almost as great a man as his cousin the congressmanwith whom, by the bye, he became perfectly reconciled, and contracted a strong friendship.
In spite, however, of the kindness of his relations and their great attention to his comforts, the old gentleman soon became restless and discontented. His history being published, he had no longer any business to occupy his thoughts, or any scheme to excite his hopes and anticipations. This, to a busy mind like his, was a truly deplorable situation; and had he not been a man of inflexible morals and regular habits, there would have been a great danger of his taking to politics, or drinking,both which pernicious vices we daily see men driven to by mere spleen and idleness. It is true he sometimes employed himself in preparing a second edition of his history, wherein he endeavoured to correct and improve many passages with which he was dissatisfied, and to rectify some mistakes that had crept into it; for he was particularly anxious that his work should be noted for its authenticity; which indeed is the very life and soul of history. But the glow of composition had departed,he had to leave many places untouched, which he would fain have altered; and even where he did make alterations, he seemed always in doubt whether they were for the better or the worse.
After a residence of some time at Scaghtikoke, he began to feel a strong desire to return to New York, which he ever regarded with the warmest affection; not merely because it was his native city, but because he really considered it the very best city in the whole world. On his return, he entered into the full enjoyment of the advantages of a literary reputation. He was continually importuned to write advertisements, petitions, handbills, and productions of similar import; and although he never meddled with the public papers, yet had he the credit of writing innumerable essays, and smart things, that appeared on all subjects, and all sides of the question; in all which he was clearly detected by his style.
He contracted, moreover, a considerable debt at the post office, in consequence of the numerous letters he received from authors and printers soliciting his subscription, and he was applied to by every charitable society for yearly donations, which he gave very cheerfully, considering these applications as so many compliments. He was once invited to a great corporation dinner; and was even twice summoned to attend as a juryman at the court of quarter sessions. Indeed, so renowned did he become, that he could no longer pry about, as formerly, in all holes and corners of the city, according to the bent of his humour, unnoticed and uninterrupted; but several times when he has been sauntering the streets, on his usual rambles of observation, equipped with his cane and cocked hat, the little boys at play have been known to cry, There goes Diedrich!at which the old gentleman seemed not a little pleased, looking upon these salutations in the light of the praise of posterity.
In a word, if we take into consideration all these various honours and distinctions, together with an exuberant eulogium passed on him in the Port Folio (with which, we are told, the old gentleman was so much overpowered, that he was sick for two or three days), it must be confessed, that few authors have ever lived to receive such illustrious rewards, or have so completely enjoyed in advance their own immortality.
After his return from Scaghtikoke, Mr. Knickerbocker took up his residence at a little rural retreat, which the Stuyvesants had granted him on the family domain, in gratitude for his honourable mention of their ancestor. It was pleasantly situated on the borders of one of the salt marshes beyond Corlears Hook; subject indeed to be occasionally overflowed, and much infested in summer time, with mosquitoes; but otherwise very agreeable, producing abundant crops of salt grass and bulrushes.
Here, we are sorry to say, the good old gentleman fell dangerously ill of a fever, occasioned by the neighbouring marshes. When he found his end approaching, he disposed of his worldly affairs, leaving the bulk of his fortune to the New York Historical Society; his Heidelberg Catechism, and Vander Doncks work to the city library; and his saddle bags to Mr. Handaside. He forgave all his enemiesthat is to say, all who bore any enmity towards him; for as to himself, he declared he died in good will with all the world. And, after dictating several kind messages to his relations at Scaghtikoke, as well as to certain of our most substantial Dutch citizens, he expired in the arms of his friend the librarian.
His remains were interred, according to his own request, in St. Marks churchyard, close by the bones of his favourite hero, Peter Stuyvesant; and it is rumoured, that the Historical Society have it in mind to erect a wooden monument to his memory in the Bowling Green.