Washington Irving’s A History of New York was intended to be a satire of sorts to the vast number of esoteric historical texts, philosophers, and the general pompous attitudes of professors in general. He takes on the persona of Dietrich Knickerbocker to do this. He, the narrator/personality Knickerbocker not Irving himself, uses extensive footnotes, vague allusions to obscure myths, and name drops almost every other sentence. The imaginary historian is the epitome of all that Irving probably saw wrong with the academic world. He is condescending and contradictory. Yet he is unaware of being so.
For the philosopher, setting down with thorny argument the bare rule, is so hard of utterance, and so misty to be conceived, that one that hath no other guide but im shall wade in him till he be old before he shall find sufficient cause to be honest. For his knowledge standeth so upon the abstract and general, that happy is that man who may understand him, and more happy that can apply what he doth understand. -Phillip Sidney, An Apology for Poetry
As the quote above states, Irving too writes, though through example rather than writing it out in such explicit tones, of the philosopher who spends more time on his theories than anything else. Irving also mocks the historian.
On the other side, the historian, wanting the precept, is so tied, not to what should be but to what is, to the particular truth of things and not to the general reason of things, that his example draweth no necessary consequences, and therefore a less fruitful doctrine. - Phillip Sidney, An Apology for Poetry.
If Knickerbocker writes of the philosophers and scientists and unwittingly mocks them through Irving’s devices, than Knickerbocker himself is a device with which to mock historians. He is so set on setting down his points and spitting out the names, theories, and such which he knows so well that he completely misses what is in front of his face. One case in point is one Professor Puddinghead which he describes with such assiduous detail. He is so focused on describing how significant the professor’s actions are in relation to the scientific theory that he fails to see one thing. The man is describing a complex theory by swinging a full bucket of water over his own head.
The following excerpt by Irving thus annotated will hopefully help the person reading look past the deliberately obscure references he places around all around the appear, to see that he is working on many levels. The first, of course, being the absurdist narrative Knickerbocker provides, and yet Knickerbocker himself is a device for Irving to use.
Or perhaps, by mocking the philosopher and the historian much like Sidney did, he too is making a statement about poetry.