A History of New York, from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty. By Diedrich Knickerbocker

Author: Washington Irving  | Date: 1809

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A Satire on Jefferson (1809)

WASHINGTON IRVING

SUCH were the personal endowments of William the Testy, but it was the sterling riches of his mind that raised him to dignity and power. In his youth he had passed with great credit through a celebrated academy at the Hague, noted for producing finished scholars, with a dispatch unequalled, except by certain of our American colleges, which seem to manufacture bachelors of arts, by some patent machine. Here he skirmished very smartly on the frontiers of several of the sciences, and made such a gallant inroad into the dead languages, as to bring off captive a host of Greek nouns and Latin verbs, together with divers pithy saws and apothegms, all which he constantly paraded in conversation and writing, with as much vain glory as would a triumphant general of yore display the spoils of the countries he had ravaged. . . .

No sooner had this bustling little man been blown by a whiff of fortune into the seat of government, than he called together his council and delivered a very animated speech on the affairs of the province. . . .

Having . . . artfully wrought up his tale of terror to a climax, he assumed a self satisfied look, and declared, with a nod of knowing import, that he had taken measures to put a final stop to these encroachmerits — that he had been obliged to have recourse to a dreadful engine of warfare, lately invented, awful in its effects, but authorized by direful necessity. In a word, he was resolved to conquer the Yankees — by proclamation! . . .

Never was a more comprehensive, a more expeditious, or, what is still better, a more economical measure devised, than this of defeating the Yankees by proclamation . . . all that was wanting to insure its effect, was that the Yankees should stand in awe of it; but, provoking to relate, they treated it with the most absolute contempt . . .

. . . Upon beholding therefore the inefficacy of his measure, the sage Kieft like many a worthy practitioner of physic, laid the blame, not to the medicine, but the quantity administered, and resolutely resolved to double the dose.

In the year 1638 therefore, that being the fourth year of his reign, he fulminated against them a second proclamation, of heavier metal than the former; written in thundering long sentences, not one word of which was under five syllables. This, in fact, was a kind of non-intercourse bill, forbidding and prohibiting all commerce and connexion, between any and every of the said Yankee intruders, and the . . . fortified post of Fort Goed Hoop, and ordering, commanding and advising, all his trusty, loyal and well-beloved subjects, to furnish them with no supplies of gin, gingerbread or sour crout; to buy none of their pacing horses, meazly pork, apple brandy, Yankee rum, cyder water, apple sweetmeats, Weathersfield onions or wooden bowls, but to starve and exterminate them from the face of the land. . . .

The great defect of Wilhelmus Kieft’s policy was, that though no man could be more ready to stand forth in an hour of emergency, yet he was so intent upon guarding the national pocket, that he suffered the enemy to break its head — in other words, whatever precaution for public safety he adopted, he was so intent upon rendering it cheap, that he invariably rendered it ineffectual. All this was a remote consequence of his profound education at the Hague — where having acquired a smattering of knowledge, he was ever after a great conner of indexes, continually dipping into books, without ever studying to the bottom of any subject; so that he had the scum of all kinds of authors fermenting in his pericranium. In some of these title page researches he unluckily stumbled over a grand political cabalistic word, which, with his customary facility he immediately incorporated into his great scheme of government, to the irretrievable injury and delusion of the honest province of Nieuw Nederlandts, and the eternal misleading, of all experimental rulers. . . .

Not to keep my reader in any suspence, the word which had so wonderfully arrested the attention of William the Testy and which in German characters, had a particularly black and ominous aspect, on being fairly translated into the English is no other than economy — a talismanic term, which by constant use and frequent mention, has ceased to be formidable in our eyes, but which has as terrible potency as any in the arcana of necromancy.

When pronounced in a national assembly it has an immediate effect in closing the hearts, beclouding the intellects, drawing the purse strings and buttoning the breeches pockets of all philosophic legislators. Nor are its effects on the eye less wonderful. . . . the unfortunate patient becomes myopes or in plain English, pur-blind; perceiving only the amount of immediate expense without being able to look further, and regard it in connexion with the ultimate object to be effected. . . . Such are its instantaneous operations, and the results are still more astonishing. By its magic influence seventy-fours, shrink into frigates — frigates into sloops, and sloops into gun-boats. . . .

"Unhappy William Kieft!" . . . Did he, as was but too commonly the case, defer preparation until the moment of emergency, and then hastily collect a handful of undisciplined vagrants, the measure was hooted at, as feeble and inadequate, as trifling with the public dignity and safety, and as lavishing the public funds on impotent enterprizes. — Did he resort to the economic measure of proclamation, he was laughed at by the Yankees, did he back it by non-intercourse, it was evaded and counteracted by his own subjects. Whichever way he turned himself he was beleaguered and distracted by petitions of "numerous and respectable meetings," consisting of some half a dozen scurvy pot-house politicians — all of which he read, and what is worse, all of which he attended to. The consequence was, that by incessantly changing his measures, he gave none of them a fair trial; and by listening to the clamours of the mob and endeavouring to do every thing, he in sober truth did nothing. . . .

It has been a matter of deep concern to me, that such darkness and obscurity should hang over the latter days of the illustrious Kieft — for he was a mighty and great little man worthy of being utterly renowned, seeing that he was the first potentate that introduced into this land, the art of fighting by proclamation; and defending a country by trumpeters, and windmills — an economic and humane mode of warfare, since revived with great applause, and which promises, if it can ever be carried into full effect, to save great trouble and treasure, and spare infinitely more bloodshed than either the discovery of gunpowder, or the invention of torpedoes.

[Washington Irving], (New York, etc., 1809), I, 196–266 passim.

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Chicago: Washington Irving, A History of New York, from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty. By Diedrich Knickerbocker in American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1902), 361–362. Original Sources, accessed October 16, 2019, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=ZZ2K978RMSKQ73B.

MLA: Irving, Washington. A History of New York, from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty. By Diedrich Knickerbocker, Vol. I, in American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, Vol. 3, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1902, pp. 361–362. Original Sources. 16 Oct. 2019. originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=ZZ2K978RMSKQ73B.

Harvard: Irving, W, A History of New York, from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty. By Diedrich Knickerbocker. cited in 1902, American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. , The Macmillan Company, New York, pp.361–362. Original Sources, retrieved 16 October 2019, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=ZZ2K978RMSKQ73B.