A History of New York

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John Irving (b. 1942)


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From the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker, burlesque history by Irving, published in 1809 and revised in 1812,1819, and 1848. It satirizes the methods of contemporary historians, the heroic style of epic poetry, and men and events during the Dutch administration as well as during its own period. Although Irving follows the history of New Netherland as then known, his satirical intention causes him to alter or disregard facts, as when, in the figure of William the Testy (William Kieft), he draws a Federalist caricature of Jefferson. According to the preface, the fictitious chronicler was “a small brisk looking old gentleman … a very inquisitive body … although a little queer in his ways.”

Book I contains a cosmogony and description of the world, parodying contemporary histories, and a burlesque account of the discovery and peopling of America. Book II chronicles the voyage of Hudson, early Dutch colonization, and the founding of New Amsterdam, and gives traditional portraits of Dutch colonial types. Book III describes the “golden reign” of the stolid governor Wouter Van Twiller, who was “exactly five feet six inches in height, and six feet five inches in circumference,” and whose head was “a perfect sphere”; the profound deliberations of his burgomasters over their pipes; conditions in early New Amsterdam; the hostility of the neighboring Yankees of Connecticut; and the establishment of Fort Goed Hoop. Book IV tells of the governorship of William the Testy, so learned that he was “good for nothing”; his pugnacity; his war “by proclamation” with the Yankees; his many laws, partisan quarrels, and border disputes. Books V, VI, and VII chronicle the reign of Peter Stuyvesant (Peter the Headstrong): his political reforms and military adventures in Delaware; and his unsuccessful defense of New Amsterdam against the conquering British force.

Subjects: Literature.

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Washington Irving (1783—1859) American writer