Headless Horseman Blog

About historic Sleepy Hollow and its environs…

Month: September 2019

Summer in the Days of Ragtime

By Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

The summer of 1912.  There was a lot to do—or not do.  What there was to do required no interaction with smart phones, computers, Kindles, the Internet, televisions, or radios.  Even the first American commercial radio station was still a good eight years off.  The music of the day was concert music, band music, and ragtime… and it could be heard live or from a phonograph record.  That’s it.  If you wanted to see Harry Houdini perform one of his stunts, you had to find a way to show up… or just be content with the photo of Houdini that ran with the newspaper story.  Reading was an important component of entertainment and leisure in the early 20th century.

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt

In that time the United States population was about 95,000,000 and the GDP thirty-seven billion.  In politics, former President Theodore Roosevelt decided to challenge his former secretary of war in the upcoming election, incumbent President William Howard Taft.  For that purpose Roosevelt created the Progressive or “Bull Moose” Party.   Much water had flowed under the proverbial “bridge” since 1897, when Theodore Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, made an oration at the Tarrytown Music Hall on the occasion of the Old Dutch Church’s bicentennial. 

The Lost World

The Lost World

More locally in the August election, Tarrytown Village President, Frank R. Pierson, was voted, once again, the president of the Tarrytown School Board.  Among the most popular new books of that year was Arthur Conan Doyle’s, The Lost World.  The Woolworth Building in New York was then the tallest building in the world, and on July 2nd the city’s first Automat opened at Times Square.

Farrington's Drug Store

Farrington’s Drug Store

One of the joys of summer in the year 1912 was Sleepy Hollow’s Farrington Pharmacy at 60 Beekman Avenue.  There you could catch up on the latest professional baseball scores, which were telegraphed in while you refreshed yourself with “The Finest Soda in Town.”  The shop also prided itself on its grape juice and lemonade beverage.  If you were not content with just hearing about sporting activities, you might catch a real, semi-professional baseball game at St. Teresa’s Park, just one block down the street, at the corner of Beekman Avenue and Pocantico Street.  You might even catch the local Catholic Club take on the Oakwood Team of White Plains.     

If kids wanted to compete athletically themselves, there were many options, including the annual St. Teresa’s Church Picnic offering a Children’s Sports Field Day with foot races, bicycle races, all kinds of races—sack races, three-legged races, barrel races, and a one-mile walking race.  Other attractions were offered—exhibition dancing and an Irish piper.  Not to be outdone, Transfiguration Church in Tarrytown had its own 4th of July Picnic with “games, dancing and good music.”

Jim Thorpe

Jim Thorpe

The ultimate “games” were being played out that summer in Stockholm Sweden where the United States team was making headlines and garnering the greatest portion of the “gold”.  The team’s standout athlete was Jim Thorpe, who won both the decathlon and pentathlon, and who would, six months later, be dispossessed (“temporarily”) of his awards.  His awards were posthumously reinstated in 1982. 

Eddie Collins

Eddie Collins

Closer to home, a graduate of the Irving School in Sleepy Hollow was continuing to astound the fans of professional baseball.  Baseball Hall of Famer Eddie Collins played for the Philadelphia Athletics, and at the end of his career he ranked second in the major league in career games, walks, and stolen bases.  Collins had graduated from the private boys school in Sleepy Hollow during the spring of 1903.  During his Irving School days, his parents lived first on Wildey Street and then, afterward, at 90 North Broadway in Tarrytown (the current Dwyer Funeral Home).  A cartoon in the Tarrytown Daily News suggested that making a kid practice the fiddle while all his friends were off playing baseball was just “Taking the Joy Out of Summer.”

Vaudeville

Vaudeville

The Music Hall offered a mix of silent films and vaudeville.  The theater boasted that it was “The coolest spot in the village.”  (Note that in 1912 the word “cool” referred exclusively to temperature.)  With respect to live entertainments at the theater, the public apparently needed to be assured that performances would be in good taste, “Three refined acts including the News Boys’ Sextet—a high class act”.  This year was also the advent of the serial movie.  How many of us know that the mini-series was in invention of early silent films?  Audiences would be lured back to see the next exciting installment of Edison Studios’, What Happened to Mary?  The Fox & Biography Studio was fond of shooting scenes in our local villages in those days.  The “film biz” was still in the process of transplanting itself to the West Coast, not exclusively to enjoy the better shooting weather, but to escape the crippling threat of Edison’s exclusive patents on motion picture equipment.

Croquet

Croquet

We can be sure that the day laborers who landscaped the local estates and the maids and seamstresses had little use for the croquet sets and hammocks advertised by C. H. Curtiss and Company in Tarrytown, but they might have splurged on the summer drinks and ice cream served up by Breunig’s at 47 Orchard Street, owners of a “new sanitary fountain”.  Today it is not clear who could have afforded the amenities of the Phoenix Hotel at the Tarrytown waterfront, which included a cafe, restaurant, and “summer garden” overlooking the Hudson River’s Tappan Zee (the body-of-water, not the bridge).  Nearby, the Tarrytown boat club hosted a dance for its members and the public.

It was a time when catching a six-pound bass could land you on the front page of the Tarrytown Daily News (which had just begun publishing).  The proud fisherman just had to remember to pass the newspaper office at Valley Street on the way home.

The Adirondacks

The Adirondacks

Further up the Hudson River, Bear Mountain Park and Lodge were under construction and they would not open for yet another year.  But if a rustic lodge was the vacationer’s summer dream, then he or she could take the New York Central Railroad to the Adirondacks or perhaps the Thousand Islands?  The traveler was counseled to pack old clothes for “roughing it”, and journey north for some fun at fishing, golf, or tennis.  At night there would of course be dancing and stories told around the campfire, and one could sleep soundly up in the woods due to the cool summer nights! Film exposed up in the northern wilds could be sent ahead by mail or express, and Russell and Lawrie Pharmacy on the northwest corner of Main Street and Broadway would have the photos ready on the vacationer’s return.  In addition to expedited photo processing Russell & Lawrie Pharmacy had other allurements.  “If you own a straw hat (and you probably do) you will need Elkay’s Straw Hat Cleaner,” available at the drug store.

Women's Suffrage

Women’s Suffrage

The call of the northern wilds could be answered by men or women, for the leaders of the New York State women’s suffrage movement were promoting a new “physical activism” to all women, who would no longer be confining themselves to the family homestead.  The campaign had been earnestly joined for women of New York State to win the Vote.

The dictates of fashion can be severe, so it was only fair to warn folks that, in 1912, women’s clothes should have “abundant pockets” and “taffeta bodices” are to be worn with “white organdie skirts”.  “Flat and thin” was the preferred style dictated for the 1912 handbag.

If local events were not plentiful enough for one’s taste, the pedestrian ferry could be taken to the other side of the Hudson River where the Nyack firemen were throwing their annual carnival.  The grand prize was a Chevrolet five-passenger automobile.  There was also a midnight sail scheduled to Palisades Amusement Park on the New Jersey side of river.  The Scarborough K.O.K.A. (?) planned an August trip to Coney Island, and another Coney Island excursion was offered by Irvington’s Pastime Athletic Club, leaving from Lockwood & Pateman’s Dock aboard the Cyrus.  In Tarrytown the Christ Church Sentinels offered an excursion to Rye Beach and for 75 cents one could voyage on the Commander through the Hudson Highlands.  The hosts, Asbury Church Sunday School, assured participants that there would be “no crowding” aboard and “first class music”. 

In Irvington that summer, the Saint Barnabas Church Junior Auxiliary presented two plays on the parish lawn, and tickets were only 15 cents.  In Sleepy Hollow the Tarrytown Hebrew School sponsored a picnic at St. Teresa Park.  The Women’s Devotional Society of the Second Reformed Church planned a “porch tea” at the private home of a member at 24 South Washington Street to be held Thursday from 3-6, admission 15 cents.  Glenville Fire Company held a “Peach Festival” and dance—“peaches, ice cream, cake, and good music.”  Immaculate Conception Church in Irvington hosted a lawn party on the Russell Thompkins estate with music and amusements—admission, 50 cents.  St. Paul’s Church in Sleepy Hollow planned an ice cream and cake sale.  And one of the biggest events of the summer was that held by Rescue Hose at the Chevrolet lot, on the corner of Hudson Street and Beekman Avenue.  It included a wrestling exhibit, a Ferris wheel, shooting galleries, and an Italian band.  An estimated 2000 people attended.

Model T

Model T

Mr. & Mrs. C. F. Odell of Grove Street hosted a summer porch party in honor of their daughter Helen.  We don’t know if this announcement was just an FYI, or if everyone was invited.  A sober note in the wake of all this socializing—“Speed maniacs are a menace.”  Or so the editor of the Tarrytown Daily News thought.  “Automobiles are being sold at lower prices every year…  everybody thinks that he or she can drive a car.”  So the writer looked ahead to better times, when “every driver will be compelled to take an examination and go through a course in driving before being issued a license.”  And to give the crusading editor his due, there were many bad auto accidents reported near and far in that day.

The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse

The Hudson River could be both a pleasure and a hazard.  Those who sought to enjoy its waters had to take their opportunities and chances amid the industrial uses it was  increasingly being put to.  A brand new YMCA building on Main Street in Tarrytown opened its doors in 1912.  At the “Y” children could learn to swim, but many youths did not yet know how.  Young people in that day often went unmonitored, especially in the summertime, and the river took its toll.  There were newspaper stories of both drownings and rescues.  The lighthouse keeper, Captain Kalberg, lamented that youths regularly tried to reach the lighthouse from the shore, and he would often feel oblige to launch a rescue boatjust in case.  In that day the shore was nearly a quarter mile from the lighthouse.

Rockwood Hall

Rockwood Hall

In the month of August that year a new bridge was completed in Sleepy Hollow.  It was constructed at a cost of approximately $15,000 donated by William Rockefeller.  Mr. Rockefeller it seems had to routinely cross the Pocantico River bridge on his way home along Route 9, and he must have preferred to cross a new bridge.  The village fathers ordered a bronze plaque to be placed on this new crossing, crediting Mr. Rockefeller’s “gift”, but the man “indignantly” ordered his name removed.  He of course paid for the removal of the plaque too.  Our journal of record informs us reassuringly that,” William Rockefeller will spend most of the summer at Rockwood Hall”, though “he may spend a few days at his cottage in the Adirondacks.  Many picnickers are admitted to his estate daily, however they are not permitted to eat lunch on the estate.” 

 

 

[Copyright © 2012 & 2019 Henry John Steiner]

Old Susan of Sleepy Hollow

by Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

A woman's face

A woman’s face

The portrait of Old Susan will, of necessity, be only a fragment.  As in piecing together a few shards of ancient pottery we can only attempt to suggest the whole.  It may seem strange to contemplate a subject where the bare facts are exceedingly bare, but Old Susan peers out at us from a distance of over three hundred years and we might take a moment to see if we can bring her into better relief.

The will of Philipse

The will of Philipse

Our knowledge of Old Susan’s existence hangs on a slender thread—a passing mention in the will of Frederick Philipse I, signed October 26, 1700.  The Philipse will provides us with a few facts and a few possibilities.  History gives us other clues which help in sketching some of the vague outlines of her life.

Mill and manorhouse

Mill and manorhouse

Old Susan was an enslaved African-American who lived and worked at the Philipse Upper Mills in 1702.  The Upper Mills was, roughly speaking, what we know today as the Village of Sleepy Hollow.  Old Susan was one of a number of enslaved persons who, upon Frederick Philipse’s death in 1702, were conveyed as property to the ownership of his son, Adolph.  There were other enslaved persons also mentioned by name in the will: Symond, Charles, Towerhill, Samson, Claes, Billy, Mingo, Hendrick, Bahynne and Hector—these were the men; there was a boy named Peter; and there were other women, Susan the Younger and Mary.  There was also a Native American woman named Hannah and her child (who was not named in the will).  By what law or practice these Native Americans became enslaved is not clear.  All these enslaved persons appear to have lived and worked at Sleepy Hollow.

Frederick Philipse

Frederick Philipse

For some reason, possibly due to her age, it would appear that Philipse singled out Old Susan for at least a kind of special treatment.  The language of the clause is strong and clear, “Then I will and order that ye negroe woman, old Susan, shall dwell and continue in plantation at ye upper mills soe long as she lives.”  From what we know of Philipse, he was not a  sentimentalist; he was an able, hard-boiled businessman who did not miss a wrung on the ladder to commercial success.  During his life he acquired enormous wealth and political power.  He arrived at New Amsterdam in 1647, at about the age of twenty-one.  Early on as a yeoman carpenter and an assessor he found favor under the administration of Peter Stuyvesant, after which he entered the shipping trade.  Philipse married a wealthy widow, Margaret DeVries.  He also made a seamless political transition after the British took possession of New Netherlands in 1664.  By 1675, the year he became a member of the governor’s council, Philipse was said to be the wealthiest man in New York.  Later, on the death of his first wife he married an even wealthier widow, Catherine Derval,  a daughter of the powerful Van Cortlandt family.

Vessel carrying enslaved people

Vessel carrying enslaved people

In time Philipse became an energetic shipper of enslaved persons to New York and elsewhere.  His large fleet of ships commonly made the run to Madagascar and other points in Africa to take on human beings as cargo.  It is unlikely that he would pay a premium for that which he could easily import.  He and his son Adolph were  also notorious evaders of the customs authorities, unloading his human cargo off-shore and smuggling it into the colony on smaller vessels.  Not exactly the portrait of a “benevolent” slave holder.

Dutch fluyt

Dutch fluyt

Recent evidence suggests that Old Susan was brought to America by a Philipse ship, the Charles, perhaps so named as a homage to the British king, Charles II, or possibly named after a Philipse child, Charles.  It seems probable that at the time of Frederick Philipse’s death the enslaved woman, Old Susan, had been put to work with the Philipse Family for more than a few years.  It appears that she arrived at the Upper Mills (today, Sleepy Hollow) in 1685, five years after Philipse struck a deal on the Pocantico Purchase with leaders of the local Weckquaesgeck Tribe. 

Angola shoreline

Angola shoreline

New details suggest that Old Susan may have come from the area today known as “Angola” or the neighboring “Congo.” Soyo was apparently the coastal slave trading center for that region, and the Charles dropped anchor there in 1685.  (This was also the year stamped on the bell of the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow, which was cast in Holland.)  The Charles, captained by Thomas Singleton,  had been owned (and managed) by Philipse’s first wife, Margaret.  This ship had been described elsewhere as a “small flute-ship.”  The Dutch-designed “fluyt” was a dedicated commercial transport vessel, not designed for potential adaptation as a war ship.  It therefore offered roughly twice the cargo space of other vessels.  After taking on this “cargo,” the Charles sailed for Barbados, presumably the intended destination for all the Africans it had taken on.  But only 105 remained at that island, and for some reason—not entirely clear—nine of them continued on to the colony of New York.  Of these nine, eight would in due course arrive at the Upper Mills of Philipseburgh, but not by the route that one would expect. 

Mill dam

Mill dam

Rather than unload its cargo at New York or ascend the Hudson as far as the Tappan Zee, the Charles dropped these people on the east shore of Westchester County, somewhere near modern-day Rye.  They were then marched about fifteen miles across the greatest breadth of the county to their ultimate destination on the Hudson River shore.  In so doing, Philipse and his son Adolph were later accused in a New York court of evading import taxes.  It is said that the enslaved Africans were immediately put to the work of constructing the plantation with its church, mill, and milldam, although some sources state that a mill of some sort might have existed on the site before Philipse bought The Pocantico Purchase from the Weckquaesgeck Tribe.    

Philipsburg millstone

Philipsburg millstone

One could imagine that Old Susan was already of at least middle age when she came to the new plantation.  If she was indeed old or advanced in years at the time of the will, she might have been about Philipse’s age.  The specific provision made for her seems to imply that remaining at the Upper Mills would be perhaps more satisfactory to her, but that is certainly unclear.  The idea that she might be sold is not even entertained in the document, although an enslaved woman of average years was valued by New York commerce at approximately 15 pounds—equal to three years’ rent on a typical Philipsburg tenant farm.  The will also seems to imply that she had already been situated there for some time and may have viewed the place as a kind of home.  It is likely that she participated in and witnessed the construction of the mill, the dam, and the church.  It is probable that she observed the funeral of Philipse at the Upper Mills in December, 1702 and possibly had some role in it.

Manorhouse garden

Manorhouse garden

According to early records, Old Susan was one of approximately 150 African enslaved persons living in all of Westchester County in 1700 (which included the Bronx at that time).  There is a strong chance that Old Susan died and was buried at the Upper Mills.  Where? We do not know.  Enslaved persons were not generally memorialized with handsome markers and evocative epitaphs.  In fact, no markers at all survive from that period in Sleepy Hollow; the markers installed for members of the local Dutch Reformed congregation were, no doubt, made of wood in the early days.  If she was not buried in the Old Dutch Burying Ground (which is highly probable), then perhaps across the post road on the fringes of today’s Philipse Manor, in an area which might have been set aside for the burial of enslaved persons.  There is a tradition of such a plot being located on the easternmost block of DeVries Avenue, but there does not appear to be any reliable documentation to support that.

Eyes

A woman’s eyes

By how many years did Old Susan outlive Philipse?  What illness eventually claimed her?  Exactly what was she tasked to do as a job at the Upper Mills?  We do not even know who had the idea of giving her a special mention in the will—Philipse?  Or maybe Mrs. Philipse, Catherine Van Cortlandt, or Adolph Philipse, both of whom survived Frederick Philipse.  We do know that Old Susan was one of the first non-Native American inhabitants of Sleepy Hollow, a tiny but emerging social, commercial, and religious outpost.  Despite her enslavement, she was one of a handful of people who made up the life of that new center.  But, like many of the one-line epitaphs in the church burying ground, Old Susan’s one line of recognition in the Philipse will is the only clear story left to us.

 

[Copyright © 2006 & 2019 Henry John Steiner]

Washington Irving’s “The Angler”

By Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

Title Page - Serial No. 1 of The Sketch Book

Title Page – Serial No. 1 of The Sketch Book

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was completed by Washington Irving 200 years ago, in 1819.  (2019 is its bicentennial year!) The larger work in which it appears, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. was published by Washington Irving in installments during 1819 and 1820.  Soon collected editions of the The Sketch Book appeared in Britain and the United States.  The next-to-last offering in that work is entitled, “The Angler,” which precedes “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

This was not always the sequence of the two sketches, but let’s not get too deeply into the historical “weeds” of their publication.  Suffice it to say that, at a later date (1848), Irving considered “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” to be the most compelling “finale” to The Sketch Book.

Brook Trout— Currier and Ives

Brook Trout— Currier and Ives

In “The Angler,” Irving neglects to mention his own earliest experiences on a trout stream in Sleepy Hollow.    Although, some of that first experience seeped into the pages of both “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “The Angler.”  These angling forays began in the summer of 1798, when Washington was the youngest and frailest child of the Irving family in New York City.  That summer waves of yellow fever that summer visited the port city of New York, a deadly side effect of its trade with the Southern States.  Irving’s family worried that one such wave of yellow fever might carry the fifteen-year-old boy away. 

James Kirke Paulding

James Kirke Paulding

Irving was sent for the summer to the Hudson River community of Tarrytown, New York.  A few years before, his oldest brother William had married Julia Paulding at the Paulding home on the Tarrytown waterfront.  Julia was the daughter of a formerly prosperous merchant, William Paulding, and she was the sister of James Kirke Paulding who would in time become one of Irving’s literary collaborators.  (Note, the many Paulding children were also the cousins of local Revolutionary-War hero, John Paulding, well known in Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow lore.)  The marriage of William Irving and Julia Paulding significantly linked the Irving and Paulding families.

Pocantico freshet and bridge

Pocantico freshet and bridge

That summer of 1798, James K. Paulding served as Washington Irving’s guide through the forests and along the streams of the Pocantico River Valley in nearby Sleepy Hollow.  Paulding was an experienced woodsman who when still a child had partly sustained his family by local hunting and fishing.  That was during the post-Revolutionary War years, while Paulding’s father languished in the county jail for debt.  Irving later remembered that it was during his 1798 visit that, “I first tried my unpracticed hand at fishing.”  He recalled, “A thousand crystal springs… sent down from the hill-sides their whimpering rills, as if to pay tribute to the Pocantico…. I delighted to follow it into the brown recesses of the woods; to throw by my fishing gear and sit upon rocks beneath towering oaks and clambering grapevines…. My boyish fancy clothed all nature around me with ideal charms, and peopled it with the fairy beings I had read of in poetry and fable.” 

A few years following the great success of The Sketch Book, James K. Paulding published his own book which included a friendly critique of Washington Irving’s angling ability: “He was the worst fisherman we ever knew…”

W.I. about ten years before The Sketch Book

W.I. about ten years before The Sketch Book

Irving’s essay, “The Angler, is loaded with tact and diplomacy.  His earlier sketches had already charmed both sides of the Atlantic.   He sought to maintain a cultivated American perspective that literally disarmed the British reader and informed Americans  about nuances of British character, but never at the sacrifice of a good laugh.  He also showed unique insight in the process of revealing aspects of British character to Britons!  Of course Irving succeeds in this while demonstrating uncommon literary ability and sophistication.  The American writer is entertaining, poking fun at Americans and Britons alike, but his humor never cuts too deeply.  Where he jokes, he is generally good-natured and agreeable.  An Anglophile and devotee of English Letters, Irving arrived in England only a few years after America’s conflict with Great Britain the War of 1812, making his enthusiastic reception by British readers and British literary critics all the more startling.  He seemed to show through his writings that he had come to Britain with an open heart.  His literary tone and style would have resonated well with this audience, as it “looked back” to the stylistic antecedents of British literature’s Classical Age and incorporated contemporary traits of English Romanticism.

Fishing Creel

Fishing Creel

Washington Irving was on a tour of Wales from July 31, 1815 to August 14, 1815, during which he toured with a traveling companion (James Renwick), kept a journal, and enjoyed more than a few local trout and grayling dinners.  His journal sheds almost no light on the subjects in “The Angler.”  Irving appears to have had little interaction with Welsh country folk on that trip, although he recorded his impressions of the countryside and some figures in Welsh history.  After completing the tour, he arrived in Liverpool where he was confronted with family business problems.  Those troubles would continue to unsettle him until the bankruptcy of his brothers’ export partnership in 1818.  Irving was associated with the business as a kind of junior partner, but his personal finances and fortunes were bound up in it.  A year after the Wales excursion he would travel to Derbyshire with his brother Peter in August of 1816.  They sought to follow the “tracks” of early British angling authority, Izaak Walton.  Irving would take yet another excursion through the Welsh countryside in late June 1817, with his brother Peter and William C. Preston—an American lawyer and political figure.

Sir Henry Wotton

Sir Henry Wotton

“The Angler” begins with a verse motto by 17th century British diplomat and angler, Sir Henry Wotton, who enjoyed fishing a particular section of the River Thames with famed seventeenth-century English angling authority, Izaak Walton.  The work is a relatively short “sketch” of twenty-one paragraphs.  It suggests to us an idea of what a varied work The Sketch Book is as a whole.  “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “The Angler” have aspects in common.  They share a humorous tongue-in-cheek tone, and they both exhibit rustic backdrops and moments of Romantic Era sentimentality.  Astoundingly, both sketches include a charactacter or person who was maimed by a cannonball!  But, unlike “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” “The Angler,” is a work of nonfiction.  One might called it an essay or a short memoir.

Izaak Walton

Izaak Walton

The sketch begins with its narrator observing how the legacy of early British author/angler, Izaac Walton, and his book, The Compleat Angler (1653) have seduced and inspired young gentlemen in America.  The old book has ignited a vogue which Irving describes as, “angling mania,” a craze similar to that produced by Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, which inspired British boys to run off to sea.  We learn that “The Angler’s” narrator and a group of his friends were enthused one winter by reading The Compleat Angler.  By early summer the young men traveled together on a quixotic adventure along an American country stream.

A particular type of novice fisherman is introduced, one whose attention to the requisite dress and accoutrements of the sport absurdly outweigh his skill.  He is a common “butt” character-type of English literature, with precursors reaching back to and before the cross-gartered Malvolio of Shakespeare’s, Twelfth Night.  We see him in twentieth century American Westerns too, he is the “dude” or “tenderfoot,” the ludicrously tailored cowboy who arrives at the ranch never having “thrown” a rope in his life.

The Compleat Angler

The Compleat Angler

The narrator contrasts the typical English trout stream with one in his native United States.  The American stream is a rough, steep brook set in the terrain of the Hudson River Highlands.  It is contrasted with a typically placid English trout stream.  He later returns to the American stream, which presents itself as an angry torrent.  He describes how it runs its course, becoming agreeably peaceful as it descends to more level terrain.  The paragraph ends with a bit of unexpected and gratuitous misogyny.  The stream is likened to a housewife who is petulant and difficult at home, but who walks out in public with a phony air of sweet good-nature. 

There follows a short revery, invoking the memory of a cherished rural scene in the narrator’s home country.  He places before us a picture of peace and calm along a rustic brook, finishing with an earnest exclamation.

Cascade Pool at high water

Cascade Pool at high water

We next meet “the bungler,” a self-effacing portrait of the narrator as an angler.  He  lacks the “patience and adroitness” for angling and finally abandons the pursuit of trout to meditate and dream under the trees, submitting to the realization that it was the idea of angling that had bewitched him and not the actual practice.  The narrator watches his companions as they continue their hunt, secure in their delusions about the sport.  The creatures of the forest are alarmed and unsettled by this indelicate intrusion on their precincts.   

The narrator remembers that after a day of these inept efforts the squad of over-equipped gentlemen had little to show for their exertions.  Soon there appeared a young country boy, a proficient “urchin,” who equipped with the crudest equipment put to shame the older empty-handed  amateurs.

Gentlemen fishing

Gentlemen fishing

The narrator fondly remembers the special camaraderie in his group of friends, sitting about having lunch at stream-side, reading aloud passages from Walton.  He remembers the warm feelings they shared.  We learn that these thoughts and feelings are triggered by  the narrator’s more recent experience on the River Alun in Wales.  [The River Alun empties into the River Dee about twenty miles south of Liverpool in England.]

"Brook Trout Fishing"— Currier and Ives

“Brook Trout Fishing”— Currier and Ives

There he encountered a “weathered” old man with a wooden leg who was coaching “two rustic disciples” in the art of angling.  One of these followers he typed “the poacher,” from his slightly cagey manner.   The other he labeled “a tall, awkward country lad.”  Our narrator refers to an old treatise on fishing which touts the pure and unoffending nature of the average fisherman and the moral benefits of angling.  The narrator claims that, since reading Izaak Walton, he has a “kind feeling” for those who fish.  Walton manages to turn the accustomed image of the idle, uncouth fisherman on its head, crediting the angler with industry and spiritual devotion. 

Our storyteller believes he can read into the character of the old man an attractive, “cheerful contentedness.”  This energetic and skilled instructor demonstrates to his students how best to hold the rod and the proper use of the other equipment.  The beauty of the Welsh countryside is noted.

The narrator then joins the old angler for the better part of a day, encouraging him to speak broadly on angling.  For, “who does not like now and then to play the sage?”  The angler is also spurred on to provide details about his life in general.

Stream and mill dam, Sleepy Hollow

Stream and mill dam, Sleepy Hollow

The old man tells the narrator that he spent many of his youthful years in America, where he was ruined by an unscrupulous business partner.  He relates the story of how he lost his leg—carried away by a cannonball when he served in the British Navy.  [Note that, in the story which follows “The Angler,” there is a character—the Headless Horseman—who has also lost a body part through the agency of a cannonball!]  Due to this wound, the old man enjoys the benefit of a pension amounting to nearly forty pounds-per-year.  In the words of the narrator, “This was the only stroke of real good-fortune he had ever experienced…”  It enabled him to retire to his native village and live the life of an avid fisherman of modest means.

Welsh country village

Welsh country village

The old man, too, has an appreciation of Walton’s famous book.  His manner is generally outgoing and positive by nature.  He does not appear to carry any ill will toward the United States for his business misfortune in America.  One of the old man’s “students”—the tall awkward one—is the son of a stout widow who keeps the village inn.  No doubt the old man hopes that this will secure him a favored place at the inn’s fireside and an occasional free drink for years to come.

Anglers, while exacting cruel torments on the live bait they employ, nevertheless tend  to be, by nature, gentle and serene.  The English are adept and systematic at “softening” nature.  The dedicated angler receives beneficial religious ministrations as he walks in a “meadow along some gliding stream.”  To him, it is a God-affirming experience, or so Walton asserts.  A short poetic interlude about fishing follows.

Pocantico River, a pool

Pocantico River, a pool

The narrator seeks out the old man in his country village, arriving at the one-room cottage a few evenings later.  The description of his modest home seems intended to endorse the wholesome, simple lifestyle of a humble Briton.  The man lives with a cat and a parrot in the well-ordered modest cottage amid simple pleasures.  He is  regularly mopping and sweeping it to keep it tidy.  He speaks of his fishing activities that day—the big trout he caught—and tells of sending the fish to the woman who keeps the inn, presumably to enhance his good will there.

The scenic Pocantico River

The scenic Pocantico River

The old man is praised and approved of for his peaceful contentment and good nature.  He is a “universal favorite in the village and the oracle of the tap-room…”. To that is added, “his life was quiet and inoffensive…”. He is a regular attendee at church services (sleeping during sermons), and he desires to be buried in the churchyard where the remains of his parents lie.  He can see that very gravesite as he looks out the window from his seat in church.

Young Alex Steiner of the Sleepy Hollow "Rock Rollers"

Pocantico stream improvements

The narrator fears he has wearied his readers and must end his story.  He loves the idea of fishing, but the practice of it will always elude him.  He offers a tongue-in-cheek blessing on the reader, adapted from Izaak Walton, who hopes that his own reader will trust in God, “and be quiet, and go a-angling.” 

In “The Angler” Irving is entertaining and his style proficient and cultivated.  Admittedly, he is not brilliant.  Still, the sketch is preparatory to the final story of The Sketch Book.   There we will find the voice and tone of “The Angler” employed in one of the truly brilliant works of American Literature, the virtuoso performance of Irving in ”The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” 

 

 

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