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New York Folklore Vol. 11. Nos. 1-4, 1985
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NY Folklore, Vol. 11

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NEW YORK FOLKLORE
Vol. 11, Nos. 1-4, 1985
40th Anniversary Issue

EARLY DAYS OF THE FOLKLORE RENAISSANCE IN NEW YORK STATE
by Louis C. Jones

The first recognition that there existed in New York a long tradition of folklore came from the country’s first two masters of narrative: Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper. As between literature and scholarship, in New York folklore has been closer to the former than the latter. Many of those who have collected and published and taught folklore have been teachers of English or American literature. It is only recently that trained folklorists have replaced them, but it should be remembered that the trained folklorist in America is a late comer.

Washington Irving came to American literature with a professional admiration for Richard Steele and Joseph Addison and especially Oliver Goldsmith. He too would write a clean, uncluttered prose, project a gentle, humane humor, a patient sympathy with the vagaries of the human mind. His awareness of folklore, as Harold Thompson has pointed out in Body, Boots & Britches (1939:1.18),came with his genes and his upbringing. Having a native Scot for his father and a Scotch maid to sing ballads and tell him tales of the old country when he was a child gave him a taste for the folklore he discovered rambling along the Hudson, dawdling in coves and Dutch villages. Later he came to know Sir Walter Scott and to wish to do for the Hudson what Scott had done for the Tweed.

Irving made adoptive use of the folk motifs he found current in the Hudson Valley. Interestingly enough these same types and motifs were still current as recently as the 1930’s and ‘40’s when Harold Thompson’s students and mine were collecting in New York State. Pirate lore and tales of buried treasure such as he used in Tales of a Traveller and the Devil as seen in “The Devil and Tom Walker” were to be heard of in scores of current folktales. The ghosts and evil spirits encountered in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and especially the major motif, the hoax, loom large in our archives...


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