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The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon


First published in 1819-20 in seven separate parts.

This book is amazing; the best-ever a tale of misery, sorrow, joy, and happiness.--Submitted by Anonymous

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Research Question

How did the social events of the time impact the text of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow?" Specifically, how did the American Revolution, Expansionism, and Puritanism impact this work?

No Subject

The Sketchbook was published in 1819-1820 and shows
Irving's attitudes long before writing A TOUR OF THE

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"THERE is something in the character and habits of the
North American savage, taken in connection with the
scenery over which he is accustomed to range, its vast
lakes, boundless forests, majestic rivers, and trackless
plains, that is, to my mind, wonderfully striking and
sublime. He is formed for the wilderness, as the Arab is
for the desert. His nature is stern, simple, and
enduring, fitted to grapple with difficulties and to
support privations," Irving writes in the Sketchbook.

The narrator of the Sketchbook is nominally not Irving,
although many of his obversations seem to come from Irving's
perspective, so one cannot assume that this is
absolutely his personal view. The word "savage," though
acceptable at the time, has a strident and demeaning
ring to our ears, for instance. But this passage links
the Native Americans directly to the landscape that
produced them. The connection between native peoples
and the landscape that formed them is "sublime," and the
hardships of life on the North American continent have
made its inhabitants "sterm, simple and enduring."

Irving continues: "It has been the lot of the
unfortunate aborigines of America in the early periods
of colonization to be doubly wronged by the white men.
They have been dispossessed of their hereditary
possessions by mercenary and frequently wanton warfare,
and their characters have been traduced by bigoted and
interested writers." Not only have they been
dispossessed, Irving tells us, but "interested" writers
have mischaracterized the Indians -- writers interested
in proving a case or shaping the way that their readers
interpret the native peoples. A variety of interests
comes to mind: to prove the superiority of European
culture, to prove the superiority of European religion,
to justify the appropriation of land and wealth, to
justify a racist campaign of removing traces of Indian
life from the land itself.

Irving grapples with the term "savage" and concludes
that it is a dehumanizing term:

"The appellations of savage and pagan were deemed
sufficient to sanction the hostilities of both; and thus
the poor wanderers of the forest were persecuted and
defamed, not because they were guilty, but because they
were ignorant."

Because they have not been raised as Christians, they
will be called "pagan" and "heathen" (Mary Rowlandson
was quite free with this disparagement of the native
people she saw), and because they have not been raised
within European culture, they will be termed "savage."

"Society has advanced upon them like one of those
withering airs that will sometimes breed desolation over
a whole region of fertility. It has enervated their
strength, multiplied their diseases, and superinduced
upon their original barbarity the low vices of
artificial life. It has given them a thousand
superfluous wants, whilst it has diminished their means
of mere existence. It has driven before it the animals
of the chase, who fly from the sound of the axe and the
smoke of the settlement and seek refuge in the depths of
remoter forests and yet untrodden wilds. Thus do we too
often find the Indians on our frontiers to be the mere
wrecks and remnants of once powerful tribes, who have
lingered in the vicinity of the settlements and sunk
into precarious and vagabond existence. Poverty,
repining and hopeless poverty, a canker of the mind
unknown in savage life, corrodes their spirits and
blights every free and noble quality of their natures.
They become drunken, indolent, feeble, thievish, and
pusillanimous. They loiter like vagrants about the
settlements, among spacious dwellings replete with
elaborate comforts, which only render them sensible of
the comparative wretchedness of their own condition.
Luxury spreads its ample board before their eyes, but
they are excluded from the banquet. Plenty revels over
the fields, but they are starving in the midst of its
abundance; the whole wilderness has blossomed into a
garden, but they feel as reptiles that infest it."

He contrasts this horrifying state of affairs with the
situation before the Europeans came:

"How different was their state while yet the undisputed
lords of the soil! Their wants were few and the means of
gratification within their reach. They saw every one
round them sharing the same lot, enduring the same
hardships, feeding on the same aliments, arrayed in the
same rude garments. No roof then rose but was open to
the homeless stranger; no smoke curled among the trees
but he was welcome to sit down by its fire and join the
hunter in his repast."

Irving's narrator attacks the way that bigoted writers
have overlooked history and social conditions:

"In discussing the savage character writers have been
too prone to indulge in vulgar prejudice and passionate
exaggeration, instead of the candid temper of true
philosophy. They have not sufficiently considered the
peculiar circumstances in which the Indians have been
placed, and the peculiar principles under which they
have been educated."

Irving then explains how the Pilgrims desecrated an
ancient burial ground soon after their arrival, and the
retaliation of the Indians was generally not explained
in the European writing as a response to an affront.
Rather, the Indian attack was described as an unprovoked
example of the viciousness or savagery of native people.
These kinds of misunderstandings were perpetuated by
writers who consciously wanted to color the way that
people looked at Native Americans -- for the motives I
have listed above, as well as for others.

"We stigmatize the Indians, also, as cowardly and
treacherous, because they use stratagem in warfare in
preference to open force; but in this they are fully
justified by their rude code of honor," Irving writes,
but as time has passed and American and European ways of
warfare have changed, we too use stealth and stalking,
snipers and other methods of warfare that we once
complained about in Indian fighting. "The natural
principle of war is to do the most harm to our enemy
with the least harm to ourselves," Irving adds, "and
this of course is to be effected by stratagem."

Irving's sketch concludes with a dark prophecy:

"We are driven back," said an old warrior, "until we can
retreat no farther--our hatchets are broken, our bows
are snapped, our fires are nearly extinguished; a little
longer and the white man will cease to persecute us, for
we shall cease to exist!"

In his own way, Irving has gone a little ways toward
trying to humanize the figure of the Indian, to argue
for their rights and to plead that the white Americans
will look again into this difficult relationship and
change their views.

Excellent writing

Washington Irving was ahead of his time, he was able to see the events unfolding around him objectively and write with a clarity that was unclouded by prevailing popular opinion.

Great story!

I liked the story. *****

No Subject

Can someone please explain to me who are Geoffrey Crayon, Diedrich Knickerbocker, and Washington Irving are? I'm so confused....

*The Legend of Sleepy Hollow*


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