Headless Horseman Blog

About historic Sleepy Hollow and its environs…

Tag: literature

Herodotus “The Beginning”

By Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

A Personal Beginning

I have strange reading habits—more on that in another post…  As an undergraduate student, I studied literature—English literature—and I started out in a Catholic university named Saint Bonaventure.  I confess that, at the time, I had little interest in continuing my formal education. This was after graduating from Sleepy Hollow High School…

HJS—freshman

HJS—freshman

One of the things that most attracted me to literature, particularly the classics, was the historical component, be it the writings of Charles Dickens, Samuel Pepys, or pre-Shakespearian drama.  People who are aware of my role as Sleepy Hollow Historian often assume that I was a college history major.  History has always been a passion of mine, and I have searched for it in out-of-the-way places.  I don’t know specifically how I contracted the history “bug.”  It might have been my father’s early morning tales of World War II—he occasionally threw a war story off on his way to work.  He usually told me the funny ones—about his buddies in the army counter-intelligence corps—not the tragic ones.  Or maybe it was my mother who connected me with history, who had taught school in France, who sat telling me stories of ancient Greek myths and the “Song of Roland,” the stalwart knight of Charlemagne. 

Somehow or other history and stories of the past seeped into my veins.  Many years later I found a kindred soul in Washington Irving himself—his not so crazy mix of history and story.  Who can blame me for my history “habit,” seated as I have been with a front row seat on the lower Hudson River, with an unobstructed view on the scene of America’s War of Revolution?  Here I can easily see where so many of the players in that epic struggle left their footprints.  So little time, so many stories of the past!

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The Last Days of Washington Irving

By Henry John Steiner

 Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York

 

A Genius for Writing

Washington Irving

Washington Irving

 

I tend to see Washington Irving as a master of Literature’s Classical Age as well as its Romantic Age. His style might be called a hybrid of those two epochs. It is difficult to say exactly how Irving emerged in Federal America with such a strong and polished voice on only a basic education. He seemed to have been born fully-formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus, a product of the American consciousness, but with unmistakable British overtones. These he took no pains to conceal. I think Irving can hardly be censured for turning to British models when we consider the spare American literary legacy that was his—the moralizing of Cotton Mather and Benjamin Franklin. Washington Irving’s youthful, satirical writings in Salmagundi and Knickerbocker’s History of New York displayed a brilliant and confident style indebted to Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, Jonathan Swift, Oliver Goldsmith, and perhaps Pope and Johnson. Those who do not think of Irving as also a Romantic need only turn to his writings on the Hudson River and spirit of Christmas. His achievement was greatly admired by the writers of his time, both home and abroad.

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Irving, Dickens, and Christmas Spirit

By Henry John Steiner

 Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York

 I have long been familiar with the life and writings of American literary great and local celebrity, Washington Irving. Yet at times I am newly surprised at the range of influence that this genial and easygoing man had on his contemporaries. It was an influence born of his genius, cordiality, and personal appeal. In Irving’s day, his company and friendship were widely sought after, particularly in America, but also in England and continental Europe. It was Irving who first brought American letters to the world. So, it should come as no small surprise to find Irving’s influence in the spirit of our holiday celebrations.

But, how do we celebrate Christmas as a society? Are we disposed to resist the “unholy” call to commercial frenzy and espouse the spirit of peace, abundance, generosity, and mirth? How did the Christmas spirit begin to manifest itself in us this year? Did it begin with an emotionally uncomfortable Black Friday, or a sprig of evergreen in the lapel? Is there any sign of the spirit at all? I think most of us would prefer a holiday that is not the culmination of a Black Friday starting gun, we would prefer a Christmas day where we are not too depleted to savor and reflect upon the celebration’s finer associations and to join in some light-hearted reveling.

irving1

Washington Irving

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