Изображения страниц



Irving's prose is distinguished for

is distinguished for grace and sweetness. It is unostentatious, natural, easy. At its best it comes near to being a model of good prose. The most striking effects are produced by the simplest means. Never does the writer appear to be searching for an out-of-the-way term. He accepts what lies at hand. The word in question is almost obvious and often conventional, but invariably apt.

For a writer who produced so much the style is remarkably homogeneous. It is an exaggeration to speak of it as overcharged with color. There are passages of much splendor, but Irving's taste was too refined to admit of his indulging in rhetorical excesses. Nor is the style quite so mellifluous as it seemed to J. W. Croker, who said: 'I can no ‘more go on all day with one of his [Irving's] ' books than I could go on all day sucking a sugar'plum.' The truth is that Irving is one of the most human and companionable of writers, and his English is just the sort to prompt one to go on all day with him.

Yet there is a want of ruggedness, the style is almost too perfectly controlled. It lacks the strength and energy born of deep thought and passionate conviction, and it must be praised (as it may

be without reserve) for urbanity and masculine





The dignified appearance of Diedrich Knickerbocker's learned work, the quiet simplicity of the principal title, and the sober dedication gave no hint to the serious-minded that they were buying one of the most extraordinary books of humor in the English language. The deception could not last long, but it is to be hoped that on the day of publication some honest seeker after knowledge took a copy home with the intent to profit at once by its stores of erudition.

On a basis of historical truth Irving reared a delightfully grotesque historical edifice. The method is analogous to that children employ when they put a candle on the floor that they may laugh at the odd shadows of themselves cast on wall and ceiling. The figures are monstrous, distorted, yet always resembling. Nothing could be at once more lifelike and more unreal than Irving's account of New Amsterdam and its people under the three Dutch governors.

Here is a world of amusement to be had for the asking. One reader will enjoy the ironical philosophy, another the sly thrusts at current politics,


[ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors]

a third the boisterous fun of certain episodes, such as the fight between stout Risingh and Peter Stuyvesant, the hint of which may have been caught from Fielding's account of how Molly Seagrim valorously put her enemies to flight. But the book will always be most cherished for its quaint pictures of snug and drowsy comfort, for its world of broad-bottomed burghers, amphibious housewives, and demure Dutch damsels wooed by inarticulate lovers smoking long pipes, and for the rich Indian summer atmosphere with which the poet-humorist invested the scenes of a not wholly idyllic past.

The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon is in one respect well named; it has the heterogeneous character that we associate with an artist's portfolio. Notes of travel, stories, meditations, and portraits are thrown together in pleasant disorder. A paper on ‘Roscoe' is followed by the sketch entitled ‘The Wife,' and the history of Rip Van Winkle' is succeeded by an essay on the attitude of English writers towards America. In another sense the volume is not a mere sketch-book, for each sketch is a highly finished picture. Here is often a selfconsciousness radically unlike the abandon of the History of New York. At times Irving falls quite into the Keepsake' manner. A faint aroma as of withered rose leaves steals from the pages, a languid atmosphere of sweet melancholy dear to the early Nineteenth Century.

[ocr errors]


pages are breezy enough. The five chapters on Christmas at Bracebridge Hall, the essay on · Little Britain,' on the 'Mutability of Liter‘ature, and that on ‘John Bull’are emphatically not in the ‘Keepsake' vein. Of themselves they would have sufficed to redeem The Sketch Book from the worst charge that can be brought against a piece of literature, the charge of being merely fashionable. But the extraordinary vitality which this book has enjoyed for eighty-five years it owes in the main to ‘Rip Van Winkle' and The Le'gend of Sleepy Hollow. Written in small form, embodying simple incidents, saturated with humor, classic in their conciseness of style, these stories are faultless examples of Irving's art.

Irving dearly loved a lovable vagabond, and Rip is his ideal. The story is told in a succession of pictures. The reader visualizes scenery, character, incident, the purple mountains, the village nestling at their feet, the ne'er-do-weel whom children love, the termagant wife, the junto before the inn door, the journey into the mountains, the strange little beings at their solemn game, the draught of the fatal liquor, the sleep, the awakening, the return home, the bewilderment, the recognition, — do we not know it by heart? Have we not read the narrative a hundred times, trying in vain to penetrate the secret of its perfection ? Something of the logic of poetry went into the creation of this idyl. We are left with the feeling that Irving himself could not have changed a word for the better.

'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow'is etched with a deeper stroke, is broader, more farcical. There is no pathos, but downright fun and frolic from the first line to the last. The audacious exaggeration of every feature in the portrait of Ichabod Crane is inimitably clever. The schoolmaster gets no pity and needs none. And the reader is justified in his unsympathetic attitude when later he learns that Ichabod, instead of having been carried off by the headless Hessian, merely changed his quarters, and when last heard of had studied law, written for the newspapers, and gone into

, politics.

In Bracebridge Hall Geoffrey Crayon returns to the English country house where he had spent a Christmas, to enjoy at leisure old manners, old customs, old-world ideas and people. Never were simpler materials used in the making of a book; never was a more entertaining book compounded of such simple materials. The incidents are of the most quiet sort, a walk, a dinner, a visit to a neighboring grange or to a camp of gypsies, a reading in the library or the telling of a story after dinner. The philosophy is naïve, but the humor is exquisite and unflagging.

The reader meets his old friends, the Squire, Master Simon, old Christy, and the Oxonian. New characters are introduced, Lady Lillycraft

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »