Read THE AUTHOR’S APOLOGY. of Knickerbocker's History of New York, free online book, by Washington Irving, on

The following work, in which, at the outset, nothing more was contemplated
than a temporary jeu-d’esprit, was commenced in company with my brother,
the late Peter Irving, Esq.  Our idea was to parody a small hand-book which
had recently appeared, entitled, “A Picture of New York.”  Like that, our
work was to begin an historical sketch; to be followed by notices of the
customs, manners and institutions of the city; written in a serio-comic
vein, and treating local errors, follies and abuses with good-humored

To burlesque the pedantic lore displayed in certain American works, our
historical sketch was to commence with the creation of the world; and we
laid all kinds of works under contribution for trite citations, relevant
or irrelevant, to give it the proper air of learned research.  Before this
crude mass of mock erudition could be digested into form, my brother
departed for Europe, and I was left to prosecute the enterprise alone.

I now altered the plan of the work.  Discarding all idea of a parody on the
“Picture of New York,” I determined that what had been originally intended
as an introductory sketch should comprise the whole work, and form a comic
history of the city.  I accordingly moulded the mass of citations and
disquisitions into introductory chapters, forming the first book; but it
soon became evident to me that, like Robinson Crusoe with his boat, I had
begun on too large a scale, and that, to launch my history successfully, I
must reduce its proportions.  I accordingly resolved to confine it to the
period of the Dutch domination, which, in its rise, progress and decline,
presented that unity of subject required by classic rule.  It was a period,
also, at that time almost a terra incognita in history.  In fact, I was
surprised to find how few of my fellow-citizens were aware that New York
had ever been called New Amsterdam, or had heard of the names of its early
Dutch governors, or cared a straw about their ancient Dutch progenitors.

This, then, broke upon me as the poetic age of our city; poetic from its
very obscurity, and open, like the early and obscure days of ancient Rome,
to all the embellishments of heroic fiction.  I hailed my native city as
fortunate above all other American cities in having an antiquity thus
extending back into the regions of doubt and fable; neither did I conceive
I was committing any grievous historical sin in helping out the few facts
I could collect in this remote and forgotten region with figments of my
own brain, or in giving characteristic attributes to the few names
connected with it which I might dig up from oblivion.

In this, doubtless, I reasoned like a young and inexperienced writer,
besotted with his own fancies; and my presumptuous trespasses into this
sacred, though neglected, region of history have met with deserved rebuke
from men of soberer minds.  It is too late, however, to recall the shaft
thus rashly launched.  To any one whose sense of fitness it may wound, I
can only say with Hamlet ­

    “Let my disclaiming from a purposed evil
    Free me so far in your most generous thoughts
    That I have shot my arrow o’er the house,
    And hurt my brother.”

I will say this in further apology for my work:  that if it has taken an
unwarrantable liberty with our early provincial history, it has at least
turned attention to that history, and provoked research.  It is only since
this work appeared that the forgotten archives of the province have been
rummaged, and the facts and personages of the olden time rescued from the
dust of oblivion, and elevated into whatever importance they may actually

The main object of my work, in fact, had a bearing wide from the sober aim
of history, but one which, I trust, will meet with some indulgence from
poetic minds.  It was to embody the traditions of our city in an amusing
form; to illustrate its local humors, customs and peculiarities; to clothe
home scenes and places and familiar names with those imaginative and
whimsical associations so seldom met with in our new country, but which
live like charms and spells about the cities of the old world, binding the
heart of the native inhabitant to his home.

In this I have reason to believe I have in some measure succeeded.  Before
the appearance of my work the popular traditions of our city were
unrecorded; the peculiar and racy customs and usages derived from our
Dutch progenitors were unnoticed, or regarded with indifference, or
adverted to with a sneer.  Now they form a convivial currency, and are
brought forward on all occasions; they link our whole community together
in good-humor and good-fellowship; they are the rallying points of home
feeling; the seasoning of our civic festivities; the staple of local tales
and local pleasantries; and are so harped upon by our writers of popular
fiction that I find myself almost crowded off the legendary ground which I
was the first to explore by the host who have followed in my footsteps.

I dwell on this head because, at the first appearance of my work, its aim
and drift were misapprehended by some of the descendants of the Dutch
worthies, and because I understand that now and then one may still be
found to regard it with a captious eye.  The far greater part, however, I
have reason to flatter myself, receive my good-humored picturings in the
same temper with which they were executed; and when I find, after a lapse
of nearly forty years, this haphazard production of my youth still
cherished among them; when I find its very name become a “household word,”
and used to give the home stamp to everything recommended for popular
acceptation, such as Knickerbocker societies, Knickerbocker insurance
companies, Knickerbocker steamboats, Knickerbocker omnibuses,
Knickerbocker bread, and Knickerbocker ice; and when I find New Yorkers of
Dutch descent priding themselves upon being “genuine Knickerbockers,” I
please myself with the persuasion that I have struck the right chord; that
my dealings with the good old Dutch times, and the customs and usages
derived from them, are n harmony with the feelings and humors of my
townsmen; that I have opened a vein of pleasant associations and quaint
characteristics peculiar to my native place, and which its inhabitants
will not willingly suffer to pass away; and that, though other histories
of New York may appear of higher claims to learned acceptation, and may
take their dignified and appropriate rank in the family library,
Knickerbocker’s history will still be received with good-humored
indulgence, and be thumbed and chuckled over by the family fireside.

Sunnyside, 1848.