Book In Common: Ichabod Crane, highly unlikely hero

Now that we have  got to know Sleepy Hollow, we meet some of the inhabitants. Washington Irving describes the inhabitants of Sleepy Hollow as being caught in a sort of dreamy existence, “They are like those little nooks of still water, which border a rapid stream, where we may see the straw and bubble riding quietly at anchor, or slowly revolving in their mimic harbor, undisturbed by the rush of the passing current.”

But one man stands as an outsider – Ichabod Crane. In those days, 20 miles was far, and Crane had come all the way from Connecticut to the back woods of Upstate New York. While the people were, as always, friendly and warm to him, he was always the outsider. You get that from the way Irving introduces him. 

“He was tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels, and his whole frame most loosely hung together. His head was small, and flat at top, with huge ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose, so that it looked like a weather-cock perched upon his spindle neck to tell which way the wind blew. To see him striding along the profile of a hill on a windy day, with his clothes bagging and fluttering about him, one might have mistaken him for the genius of famine descending upon the earth, or some scarecrow eloped from a cornfield.”

He looked weird among the stout and rosy faced people of the valley, and they held him apart, even though they seemed to like him. Or just put up with him because it was hard to get a teacher?

“From hence [the schoolhouse] the low murmur of his pupils’ voices, conning over their lessons, might be heard in a drowsy summer’s day, like the hum of a beehive; interrupted now and then by the authoritative voice of the master, in the tone of menace or command, or, peradventure, by the appalling sound of the birch, as he urged some tardy loiterer along the flowery path of knowledge. Truth to say, he was a conscientious man, and ever bore in mind the golden maxim, “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” Ichabod Crane’s scholars certainly were not spoiled.”

Frankly, he doesn’t sound like a very nice man. 

“I would not have it imagined, however, that he was one of those cruel potentates of the school who joy in the smart of their subjects; on the contrary, he administered justice with discrimination rather than severity; taking the burden off the backs of the weak, and laying it on those of the strong. Your mere puny stripling, that winced at the least flourish of the rod, was passed by with indulgence; but the claims of justice were satisfied by inflicting a double portion on some little tough wrong-headed, broad-skirted Dutch urchin, who sulked and swelled and grew dogged and sullen beneath the birch. All this he called “doing his duty by their parents;” and he never inflicted a chastisement without following it by the assurance, so consolatory to the smarting urchin, that “he would remember it and thank him for it the longest day he had to live.”

Okay, I detect a note of sarcasm in that last paragraph, I don’t think Washington Irving liked the guy either!  And, something I’ve noticed in reading this story over the years – Crane is not only a dork and a bully, he’s a leech!

“on holiday afternoons would convoy some of the smaller ones home, who happened to have pretty sisters, or good housewives for mothers, noted for the comforts of the cupboard. Indeed, it behooved him to keep on good terms with his pupils. The revenue arising from his school was small, and would have been scarcely sufficient to furnish him with daily bread, for he was a huge feeder, and, though lank, had the dilating powers of an anaconda…”

There you have it.  I’ve read a lot of books about the old days, and there’s always two kinds of school teachers – the take-advantage leech who’s mean to the kids when the adults aren’t around, and the self-sacrificing heroine who gives all in the love of his/her pupils.  Laura Ingalls Wilder has a bunch of different ones in her books, but you can put them all in one or the other category. 

Irving makes fun of Crane, as though he was annoying but harmless. Given some of the stuff we hear about school teachers on the news today, they were lucky to get the guy. But he was an overbearing uninvited house guest that everybody had to put up with for the sake of their good family name. Apparently he was smart enough to know not to wear out his welcome. Don’t you hate that?

“he had various ways of rendering himself both useful and agreeable. He assisted the farmers occasionally in the lighter labors of their farms, helped to make hay, mended the fences, took the horses to water, drove the cows from pasture, and cut wood for the winter fire. He laid aside, too, all the dominant dignity and absolute sway with which he lorded it in his little empire, the school, and became wonderfully gentle and ingratiating. He found favor in the eyes of the mothers by petting the children, particularly the youngest; and like the lion bold, which whilom so magnanimously the lamb did hold, he would sit with a child on one knee, and rock a cradle with his foot for whole hours together.”

Can’t get rid of a guy like that, especially when you have a very eligible and attractive daughter.  ” The schoolmaster is generally a man of some importance in the female circle of a rural neighborhood; being considered a kind of idle, gentlemanlike personage, of vastly superior taste and accomplishments to the rough country swains… Our man of letters, therefore, was peculiarly happy in the smiles of all the country damsels. How he would figure among them in the churchyard, between services on Sundays; gathering grapes for them from the wild vines that overran the surrounding trees; reciting for their amusement all the epitaphs on the tombstones; or sauntering, with a whole bevy of them, along the banks of the adjacent millpond; while the more bashful country bumpkins hung sheepishly back, envying his superior elegance and address.”

At this point I’m only glad I never had a daughter.

I have to quit right now too, I’m way late on my chores. I hate to stop, this book is so enchanting.

 

 

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