I’ve been reading Washington Irving (1783-1859), “the first American writer to excite a worldwide interest through his stories” [blurb], and I particularly enjoyed his Rip Van Winkle. The tale takes place in the last half of the 18th century, and its setting is
… a little village of great antiquity, having been founded by some of the Dutch colonists, in the early times of the province, … and there were some of the houses of the original settlers standing within a few years, built of small yellow bricks brought from Holland, having latticed windows and gable fronts, surmounted with weather-cocks.
weathercock – a weathervane shaped like a rooster (technically, shaped like a cockerel – a young domestic cock)
Also used to mean something very changeable or fickle:
In Europe the situation was even darker for Ferdinand. The weathercock French government had withdrawn its earlier offer of support. – C. V. Wedgwood, The Thirty Years War
We have our setting. What sort of person was Rip, our main character?
… he was a simple good-natured man; he was, moreover, a kind neighbor, and an obedient hen-pecked husband. Indeed, to the latter circumstance might be owing that meekness of spirit which gained him such universal popularity; for those men are most apt to be obsequious and conciliating abroad, who are under the discipline of shrews at home.
obsequious – servilely obedient or attentive; fawning [One source say to think of ‘kiss-ass’.] [Latin ob "after" + sequi "follow" (as in sequel)]
curtain lecture – a wife’s private reprimand to her husband [from originally being given behind the bed-curtains}
The author, having noted that "men are most apt to be obsequious and conciliating abroad, who are under the discipline of shrews at home," continues the thought with nice irony.
Their tempers, doubtless, are rendered pliant and malleable in the fiery furnace of domestic tribulation; and a curtain lecture is worth all the sermons in the world for teaching the virtues of patience and long-suffering. [Such a] wife may, therefore, in some respects, be considered a tolerable blessing; and if so, Rip Van Winkle was thrice blessed.
Bonus words: malleable – easily controlled or influenced; tractable (also, able to adjust to changing circumstances; adaptable) [Latin malleus "hammer" (as in mallet). In science, a malleable metal is one that can be hammered or pounded into thin sheets. Contrast: a ductile metal can be stretched out into thin wire.] pliant – (noun: pliancy) easily influenced or swayed; pliable [As a technical word concerning materials: flexible; supple; able to be bent or folded easily and without breaking]
Rip, besides being hen-pecked, was characterized by …
an insuperable aversion to all kinds of profitable labor. It could not be from the want of assiduity or perseverance; for he would sit on a wet rock, with a rod as long and heavy as a Tartar’s lance, and fish all day without a murmur, even though he should not be encouraged by a single nibble. … He would never refuse to assist a neighbor even in the roughest toil, and was a foremost man at all country frolics for husking Indian corn, or building stone-fences; the women of the village, too, used to employ him to run their errands, and to do such little odd jobs as their less obliging husbands would not do for them. In a word Rip was ready to attend to anybody’s business but his own; but as to doing family duty, and keeping his farm in order, he found it impossible.
assiduity – constant or close attention to what one is doing (note: the adjective form, assiduous, is much more common)
"Lazy" and "henpecked" is an unhappy combination, as the author notes. I especially like his last sentence.
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. … 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 hen-pecked husband.
This message has been edited. Last edited by: wordcrafter,
Rip's son was exactly the same sort of good-for-nothing:
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.
gallligaskins – loose trousers (also, a kind of loosely-fitting hose or breeches worn in the 16th and 17th centuries)
And indeed Rip's son was, in adulthood, very like his father. The author, so noting, makes an interesting noun-use of the familiar word "ditto".
As to Rip’s son and heir, who was the ditto of himself, … he … evinced an hereditary disposition to attend to anything else but his business.
Ah, an unhappy marriage. "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."
But then Rip, wandering through the woods one fine day, comes upon a stranger and eagerly assists him. Why so eager? Perhaps because beer is involved!
He bore on his shoulder a stout keg, that seemed full of liquor, and made signs for Rip to approach and assist him with the load. Though rather shy and distrustful of this new acquaintance, Rip complied with his usual alacrity; and mutually relieving one another, they clambered up a narrow gully …
alacrity – brisk eagerness or enthusiasm
Bonus word: clamber – to climb awkwardly and laboriously
Rip becomes drunk and falls asleep. Upon waking he returns to his village, but finds it very different and very confusing.
The very character of the people seemed changed. There was a busy, bustling, disputatious tone about it, instead of the accustomed phlegm and drowsy tranquillity. … [A] fellow, with his pockets full of handbills, was haranguing vehemently about rights of citizens—elections—members of congress—liberty—Bunker’s Hill—heroes of seventy-six—and other words, which were a perfect Babylonish jargon to the bewildered Van Winkle.
Indeed, things have changed, for Rip has been asleep for twenty years!
phlegm – 1. sluggishness of temperament 2. calm self-possession; equanimity (more common is the medical sense: thick, sticky, stringy respiratory mucus, as during a cold)
Babylonish – Babel-like, confused in language (among other meanings)
Here's a nice further quote, from 1816 and relevant to our interests: "This is the kind of Babylonish lexicography of Johnson's Dictionary, which gives twenty-four meanings, or shadows of meaning, to the word from."