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by acre, until there was little more left than a mere patch of Indian corn and potatoes, yet it was the worse conditioned farm in the neighbourhood.
His children, too, were as ragged and wild as if they belonged to nobody. His son Rip, an urchin begotten in his own likeness, promised to inherit the habits with the old clothes of his father. He was generally seen trooping like a colt at his mother's heels, equipped in a pair of his father's cast off galligaskins, which he had much ado to hold up with one hand, as a fine lady does her train in bad weather.
Rip Van Winkle, however, was one of those happy mortals, of foolish, well oiled dispositions, who take the world easy, eat white bread or brown, whichever can be got with least thought or trouble, and would rather starve on a penny than work for a pound. If left to himself, he would have whistled life away in perfect contentment; but his wife kept continually dinning in his ears about his idleness, his carelessness, and the ruin he was bringing on his family. Morning, noon, and night, her tongue was incessantly going, and every thing he said or did was sure to produce a torrent of household eloquence. Rip had but one way of replying to all lectures of the kind, and that, by frequent use, had got into a habit. He shrugged his shoulders, shook his head, cast up his eyes, but said nothing. This, however, always provoked a fresh volley from his wife; so that he was fain to draw off his forces, and take to the outside of the house-the only side which, in truth, belongs to a henpecked husband.
Rip's sole domestic adherent was his dog Wolf, who was as much hen-pecked as his master; for Dame Van Winkle regarded them as companions in idleness, and even looked upon Wolf with an evil eye, as the cause of his master's going so often astray. True it is, in all points of spirit befitting an honourable dog, he was as courageous an animal as ever scoured the woods-but what courage can withstand the ever-during and all besetting terrors of a woman's tongue? The moment Wolf entered the house his crest fell, his tail drooped to
the ground or curled between his legs, he sneaked about with a gallows air, casting many a sidelong glance at Dame Van Winkle, and at the least flourish of a broomstick or ladle, he would fly to the door with yelping precipitation.
Times grew worse and worse with Rip Van Winkle as years of matrimony rolled on; a tart temper never mellows with age, and a sharp tongue is the only edged tool that grows keener with constant use. For a long while he used to console himself, when driven from home, by frequenting a kind of perpetual club of the sages, philosophers, and other idle personages of the village; which held its sessions on a bench before a small inn, designated by a rubicund portrait of His Majesty George the Third. Here they used to sit in the shade, of a long lazy summer's day, talking listlessly over village gossip, or telling endless sleepy stories about nothing. But it would have been worth any statesman's money to have heard the profound discussions that sometimes took place, when by chance an old newspaper fell into their hands from some passing traveller. How solemnly they would listen to the contents, as drawled out by Derrick Van Bummel, the schoolmaster, a dapper learned little man, who was not to be daunted by the most gigantic word in the dictionary; and how sagely they would deliberate upon public events some months after they had taken place.
The opinions of this junto were completely controlled by Nicholas Vedder, a patriarch of the village, and landlord of the inn, at the door of which he took his seat from morning till night, just moving sufficiently to avoid the sun and keep in the shade of a large tree; so that the neighbours could tell the hour by his movements as accurately as by a sun-dial. It is true, he was rarely heard to speak, but smoked his pipe incessantly. His adherents, however, (for every great man has his adherents,) perfectly understood him, and knew how to gather his opinions. When any thing that was read or related displeased him, he was observed to smoke his pipe vehemently, and to send forth short, frequent, and angry
puffs; but when pleased, he would enhale the smoke slowly and tranquilly, and emit it in light and placid clouds; and sometimes, taking the pipe from his mouth, and letting the fragrant vapour curl about his nose, would gravely nod his head in token of perfect approbation.
From even this strong hold the unlucky Rip was at length routed by his termagant wife, who would suddenly break in upon the tranquillity of the assemblage and call the members all to nought; nor was that august personage, Nicholas Vedder himself, sacred from the daring tongue of this terrible virago, who charged him outright with encouraging her husband in habits of idleness.
Poor Rip was at last reduced almost to despair; and his only alternative, to escape from the labour of the farm and clamour of his wife, was to take gun in hand and stroll away into the woods. Here he would sometimes seat himself at the foot of a tree, and share the contents of his wallet with Wolf, with whom he sympathised as a fellow-sufferer in persecution. "Poor wolf," he would say, "thy mistress leads thee a dog's life of it; but never mind, my lad, whilst I live thou shalt never want a friend to stand by thee!" Wolf would wag his tail, look wistfully in his master's face, and if dogs can feel pity, I verily believe he reciprocated the sentiment with all his heart.
WE have more than once in the course of our work, been most jocosely familiar with great personages; and, in truth, treated them with as little ceremony, respect, and consideration, as if they had been our most particular friends. Now we would not suffer the mortification of having our readers even suspect us of an intimacy of the kind; assuring them we are extremely choice in our intimates, and uncommonly circumspect in avoiding connections with all doubtful characters; particularly pimps, bailiffs, lottery-brokers, chevaliers of industry,
and great men. The world in general is pretty well aware of what is to be understood by the former classes of delinquents; but as the latter has never, I believe, been specifically defined, and as we are determined to instruct our readers to the extent of our abilities, and their limited comprehension, it may not be amiss here to let them know what we understand by a great man.
First, therefore, let us (editors and kings are always plural) premise, that there are two kinds of greatness;
-one conferred by Heaven-the exalted nobility of the soul;-the other, a spurious distinction, engendered by the mob, and lavished upon its favourites. The former of these distinctions we have already contemplated with reverence; the latter we will take this opportunity to strip naked before our unenlightened readers; so that if by chance any of them are held in ignominious thraldom by this base circulation of false coin, they may forthwith emancipate themselves from such inglorious delusion.
It is a fictitious value given to individuals by public caprice, as bankers give an impression to a worthless slip of paper, thereby giving it a currency for infinitely more than its intrinsic value. Every nation has its peculiar coin, and peculiar great men; neither of which will, for the most part, pass current out of the country where they are stamped. Your true mob-created great man is like a note of one of the little New-England banks, and his value depreciates in proportion to the distance from home. In England, a great man is he who has most ribands and gew-gaws on his coat, most horses in his carriage, most slaves in his retinue, or most toad-eaters at his table; in France, he who can most dexterously flourish his heels above his head-Duport is most incontestibly the greatest man in France !— when the Emperor is absent. The greatest man in China is he who can trace his ancestry up to the moon; and in this country our great men may generally hunt down their pedigree until it burrows in the dirt like a rabbit. To be concise; our great men are those who are most expert at crawling on all-fours, and have the
happiest facility in dragging and winding themselves along in the dirt like very reptiles. This may seem a paradox to many of my readers, who with great good nature be it hinted, are too stupid to look beyond the mere surface of our invaluable writings; and often pass over the knowing allusion, and poignant meaning, that is slyly couching beneath. It is for the benefit of such helpless ignorants, who have no other creed but the opinion of the mob, that I shall trace, as far as it is possible to follow him in his ascent from insignificance, the rise, progress, and completion of a little great man.
In a logocracy, to use the sage Mustapha's phrase, it is not absolutely necessary to the formation of a great man that he should be either wise or valiant, upright or honourable. On the contrary, daily experience shows that these qualities rather impede his preferment, inasmuch as they are prone to render him too inflexibly erect, and are directly at variance with that willowy suppleness which enables a man to wind, and twist, through all the nooks and turns and dark winding passages that lead to greatness. The grand requisite for climbing the rugged hill of popularity, the summit of which is the seat of power, is to be useful. And here once more, for the sake of our readers, who are of course not so wise as ourselves, I must explain what we under ́stand by usefulness. The horse, in his native state, is wild, swift impetuous, full of majesty, and of a most generous spirit. It is then the animal is noble, exalted, and useless. But entrap him, manacle him, cudgel him, break down his lofty spirit, put the curb into his mouth, the load upon his back, and reduce him into servile obedience to the bridle and the lash, and it is then he becomes useful. Your jackass is one of the most useful animals in existence. If my readers do not now understand what I mean by usefulness, I give them all up for most absolute nincoms.
To rise in this country a man must first descend. The aspiring politician may be compared to that indefatigable insect called the tumbler, pronounced by a distinguished personage to be the only industrious animal