SOURCE: “Prefigurations: ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’,” in Form and Fable in American Fiction, Oxford University Press, 1961, pp. 83-96.
[In the following essay, Hoffman explains how “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” dramatizes a conflict between two cultures—those of the Yankee city-dweller and the backwoodsman—that was to become a major theme in American literature.]
The first important literary statement of the themes of native folk character and superstition was made, fittingly enough, in the first literary work by an American to win worldwide acclaim. When The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. appeared in London in 1819, its author became the first of a long series of expatriate Americans who found their native roots all the more poignant for viewing them from a distance.
Washngton Irving was fortunate, granted his special though restricted gifts, to be alive and in England at that moment in the history of literature. He sought out, and was taken up by, Sir Walter Scott, who was showing how the sentiment of nostalgia for the past could infuse fiction and become its informing principle. In his novels Scott projected that sense of historical continuity which formed a curious undercurrent of sensibility even before the Romantic movement began. Little though the Augustans attended the medieval or more recent past, there were important eighteenth-century successors to such early antiquarian works as Sir Thomas Browne's collection of Vulgar Errors (1648) and Samuel Pepys' collection of broadside ballads. Bishop Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765) and John Brand's Observations on the Popular Antiquities of Great Britain (1795) laid the groundwork for the two directions British folklore study has followed ever since. Scott took his prominent place in both with his ballad collection, The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802) and his comprehensive Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (1830). Much more influential, however, than these formal studies in introducing a whole generation of readers—and authors—to such materials was his use of folklore in his own fiction. One of Scott's earliest and most popular disciples along this line was a young American littérateur, the London representative of P. E. Irving & Co., New York dealers in hardware.
Washington Irving was already something of an antiquary. His early Knickerbocker's History of New York reveals him to be enchanted with the very past he satirized. In The Sketch Book Irving used several themes to which he would again and again recur: the Gothic tale in the German manner of ‘The Spectre Bridegroom,’ the antiquarian nostalgia of the four sketches on English Christmas customs, the character sketch of ‘The Village Angler.’ The two selections destined for most enduring fame, however, were careful reconstructions of the scenes of Irving's own boyhood in the Dutch communities of the Hudson Valley. One of these retells a German folktale in this American setting, in which Rip Van Winkle sleeps away his twenty years after a heady game of bowls with the ghostly crew of the Half-Moon. In the other tale, ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,’ Irving brought into belles-lettres for the first time the comic mythology and folk beliefs of his native region. In Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones he dramatized that clash of regional characters—the Yankee versus the Backwoodsman—which would soon become a major theme in our literature, as well as a continuing motif in a century and a half of folktales, and in our national history.
It is surprising that the extent to which Irving drew upon native folklore has scarcely been acknowledged. The chief reason for this seems to be Henry A. Pochmann's convincing demonstration, in 1930, of the extent of Irving's indebtedness to his German contemporaries. Stanley T. Williams, in his definitive biography, gives us a further exploration of Irving's methods of composition.1 When we see the extent to which Irving depended on other men's books, often translating without acknowledgment, we can understand why recent critics are reluctant to grant him credit for originality in interpreting American themes.
The foremost students of American humor have strangely overlooked ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.’ Walter Blair does call it ‘a characteristic piece of American humor,’ but his remark is relegated to a footnote. And Constance Rourke, writing with her usual felicity, remarks that ‘in the Knickerbocker History and in Rip Van Winkle Irving created a comic mythology as though comic myth-making were a native habit, formed early …... But his Dutch people were of the past, joining only at a distance with current portrayals of native character.’2 Why did Miss Rourke not mention ‘Sleepy Hollow’? I do not know; but I hope to show that in Ichabod and Brom Bones, Irving gave us portrayals of current native character projected backwards in time, rather than merely historical types unrooted in contemporary folklore.
There are of course good reasons why Brom and Ichabod have not been so recognized. For one thing, Irving's style is hardly what we expect in a folk document. For another, the Hudson Valley Dutch have long been thought an alien people by the Anglo-Saxons who conquered, surrounded, and outnumbered them. But the third and principal reason is Irving's own treatment of his Dutch materials. Almost everywhere except in ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ he deliberately altered the traditional characteristics of the Dutch for the purposes of his own fiction. As a consequence of Irving's popularity and of widespread ignorance of what the Dutch were really like, his caricatures were widely accepted as portraits of the Dutch-Americans. Paulding, writing The Dutchman's Fireside twenty-two years after the Knickerbocker History, imitated his friend in attributing chuckleheadedness and indolence to the brothers Vancour. In Cooper's Satanstoe (1845), however, we get a more realistic picture of the Dutch; his Guert Ten Eyck amply fulfills the historian Janvier's description: the Dutch ‘were tough and they were sturdy, and they were as plucky as men could be.’3 Only in ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ did Irving give a Dutchman these attributes; everywhere else he made them fat, foolish, pompous, and pleasure-loving. Here his usual Dutchman does appear (Van Tassel), but only in the background. Brom Bones is his realistic Dutch frontiersman, who meets and bests a Yankee in the traditional conflict of our native folk humor. Why did Irving choose this theme, so different from his usual preoccupations?
When we admit his dependence upon books, we must look at the kinds of authors on whom he depended. Othmar and Musaeus were collectors and redactors of folktales and märchen. Irving knew personally a third folklorist, Dr. Karl Böttiger, ‘who undoubtedly was able to give him expert advice on his folklore studies.’4 Wherever Irving went he collected popular sayings and beliefs; he was prepossessed by a sense of the past, and recognized the power—and the usefulness to a creative artist—of popular antiquities. Brom and Ichabod had their beginnings in local characters he had known as a boy;5 what made them take their singular form, however, was the direction in which Irving's imagination impelled them. And that direction was toward the fabulous. The fabulous was Irving's milieu.
In a reminiscence twenty years after The Sketch Book, Irving revealed that Diedrich Knickerbocker had learned the legend of Sleepy Hollow from an old Negro who gave him ‘that invaluable kind of information, never to be acquired from books,’ and from ‘the precious revelations of the good dame at the spinning wheel.’6 Of Musaeus' Volksmärchen he says nothing. But he may well indeed have heard such stories in the old Dutch chimney corners. H. W. Thompson recounts similar motifs in York State folklore: nightly visitations by a shrieking woman ‘tied to the tail of a giant horse with fiery eyes’; and ‘a curious phantom … uttering unearthly laughter, lights shining from her finger tips.’ There were revenants aplenty in Catskills. Still another important part of Dutch folk culture was the lusty practical joking7 which Cooper used in some of the most spirited pages in Satanstoe. Both aspects of Dutch folk life—the villagers' superstitions and their humor—are immortalized in ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.’
Irving sets his story in a folk society: ‘It is in such little retired Dutch villages … that population, manners, and customs remain fixed; while the great torrent of migration and improvement, which is making such incessant changes in other parts of this restless country, sweeps by them unobserved.’ And again: ‘The neighborhood is rich in legendary lore … Local tales and superstitions thrive best in these sheltered long-settled retreats.’ Into this community comes Ichabod Crane, ‘a native of Connecticut, a State which supplied the Union with pioneers for the mind as well as for the forest.’ Ichabod is Irving's Connecticut Yankee, the fictional ancestor of Mark Twain's Hartford mechanic. But his nearer descendants are Sam Slick, Jack Downing, Hosea Biglow. Before any of these was born in print Ichabod had already been a country teacher, a singing master, a sometime farmer; later he is to undergo still further metamorphoses which link him still more closely to these heroes of popular legend and literature. Like Ben Franklin, like Hawthorne's Holgrave, like the schoolmaster in Snowbound and Melville's marvelous Confidence Man, he was a jack of all trades. Metamorphosis is always magical, but now, in an egalitarian society, the magic is the power of self-reliance, not of Satan.
Ichabod's native shrewdness and perseverance are somewhat compromised by his credulity. ‘No tale was too gross or monstrous for his capacious swallow.’ Ichabod devoutly believed in all the remarkable prodigies retailed in Cotton Mather's History of New England Witchcraft (that is, the Magnalia Christi Americani). There he found spectral ships manned by ghostly women, heretics giving birth to monsters, revenants pursuing the innocent with invisible instruments of torture. But of all the ghostly tales in the valley, the one Ichabod Crane most liked to hear was that of the Headless Horseman.
Meanwhile, we remember, Ichabod falls in love with Katrina Van Tassel; more exactly, seeing her father's prosperous farm, he envisages ‘every roasting pig running about with a pudding in his belly, and an apple in his mouth.’ Considerations of this sort lead Ichabod into a most interesting reverie: he imagines ‘the blooming Katrina, with a whole family of children, mounted on the top of a wagon loaded with household trumpery, with pots and kettles dangling beneath; and he beheld himself bestriding a pacing mare, with a colt at her heels, setting out for Kentucky, Tennessee, or Lord knows where.’ Here we have Ichabod Boone—Connecticut's pioneer of the wilderness as well as of the mind. Traditionally the American frontiersman has resented the mercantile...
Consider your new mattress and foundation as "sleep equipment" that needs to be cared for in order to assure the best hygiene and performance. It's important to follow mattress care instructions from the maker of your mattress as products vary greatly. However in general it's important to know about the following:
Proper Installation: Make sure your new mattress and foundation are properly installed in your home. Improper installation can damage your new sleep set. It is strongly advised to have the new mattress set professionally delivered and set up for you. If you choose to transport and install the set on your own it is best to get the advice from someone with moving experience so they can help you avoid any problems.
Use a Protective Pad: A good quality, washable mattress pad (and one for the foundation, too, if you like) is a must to keep your set fresh and free from stains. It also protects the manufacturer’s warranty.
Don't remove the tag: Contrary to popular belief, it's not illegal to remove the law tag, but the information on the label will serve as a means of identification should you have a warranty claim. Most manufacturers will not honor a warranty without these tags attached.
Let it Breathe: If you detect a slight "new product" odor, leave the mattress and foundation uncovered and well ventilated for a few hours. A breath of fresh air should do the trick! Give it Good Support: Use a sturdy bed frame. If it's a queen or king size set, make sure your frame has the adequate center support that will prevent bowing or breakage. Today’s full size mattresses are heavier so we recommend it in full as well.
Don't dry clean: The chemicals in dry cleaning agents/spot removers may be harmful to the fabric or underlying materials. Vacuuming is the only recommended cleaning method. But if you're determined to tackle a stain, use mild soap with cold water and apply lightly. Do not ever soak a mattress or foundation.
It's not a trampoline: Your new mattress set is designed for sleeping on - Not to play on - it is not a toy! Don't let the kids jump on your sleep set. Their rough-housing could do damage to the interior construction, as well as to themselves!
No boards, please: Never put a board between the mattress and foundation. It may enhance the sense of support for a while, but it will only make the problem worse over time. When any bed in your home has reached the "board stage", it is time to get rid of it and get a new one.
Out with the old: Now that you've treated yourself to a new sleep set, arrange to have your old bed removed and disposed of. Most retailers will bring it to the curb for you or place it in a designated area if you live in a apartment or condominium complex. Don't give it to the kids, relatives, guests or neighbors. If it wasn't good enough for you, it isn't good enough for anyone else. Throw it out!
MATTRESS CARE INSTRUCTIONS
Body conformity is normal in quality mattresses. Your new sleep system is designed to conform to the contours of your body allowing you a comfortable, healthy night's sleep. Body conformity will usually take place within the first nights, certainly within the first few weeks of use. Just like a new pair of shoes, a set of bedding will break in with the individual using it and become even more comfortable with use. If you notice some impressions, don't worry, this means that your mattress is conforming to your body.
To help minimize body impressions and to maximize comfort and longevity of your sleep set, we recommend that you rotate your mattress every two weeks in the first three months; and thereafter, once every two months. By rotating your mattress the cushioning and insulation materials will be evenly and properly distributed. (Also, please remove the dust cover during transit or handling. It is important to realize that this is simply a finishing item. It has no bearing on comfort or durability.)
Follow these instructions every two weeks for the first three months, then once every two months or as needed for the life of your sleep set:
- Alternate rotation to vary head and foot positions each time you turn the mattress. Use the handles to turn and reposition the mattress on the box spring only. DO NOT use the handles to lift the entire weight of the mattress.
- To avoid personal injury or damage to the mattress:
DO NOT ATTEMPT TO TURN THE MATTRESS BY YOURSELF!