The famous and influential satire by Irving – his first major work – which was accompanied by possibly the first viral marketing campaign in history!
About the book:
In late 1809, while mourning the death of his seventeen-year-old fiancée Matilda Hoffman, Irving completed work on his first major book, A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker, a satire on self-important local history and contemporary politics. Prior to its publication, Irving started a hoax akin to today’s viral marketing campaigns; he placed a series of missing person adverts in New York newspapers seeking information on Diedrich Knickerbocker, a crusty Dutch historian who had allegedly gone missing from his hotel in New York City. As part of the ruse, Irving placed a notice—allegedly from the hotel’s proprietor—informing readers that if Mr. Knickerbocker failed to return to the hotel to pay his bill, he would publish a manuscript Knickerbocker had left behind.
Unsuspecting readers followed the story of Knickerbocker and his manuscript with interest, and some New York city officials were concerned enough about the missing historian that they considered offering a reward for his safe return. Riding the wave of public interest he had created with his hoax, Irving—adopting the pseudonym of his Dutch historian—published A History of New York on December 6, 1809, to immediate critical and popular success. “It took with the public”, Irving remarked, “and gave me celebrity, as an original work was something remarkable and uncommon in America”. Today, the surname of Diedrich Knickerbocker, the fictional narrator of this and other Irving works, has become a nickname for Manhattan residents in general.
After the success of A History of New York, Irving searched for a job and eventually became an editor of Analectic Magazine, where he wrote biographies of naval heroes like James Lawrence and Oliver Perry. He was also among the first magazine editors to reprint Francis Scott Key’s poem “Defense of Fort McHenry”, which would later be immortalized as “The Star-Spangled Banner”, the national anthem of the United States.