Cabbages and Cash: Irving’s Accounts Surrounding “The Devil and Tom Walker”


Wednesday, January 30, 2019

This Friday, February 1, I’m taking a class called “Accounting and Decision Making for Nonprofits” to help me with Washington Irving Society efforts.

Yesterday, I also had a lively conversation with some accounting majors about entry-level accounting, my toughest class in undergrad. I kept dropping the class every semester until senior year when I figured out I could take the class at a community college and transfer in the credit. Desperate times call for desperate measures!

This week, I’ve also been diving into the Twayne publication of Irving’s Journals and Notebooks Volume II, 1807-1822, which would be the time leading up to Tales of a Traveller. I was looking for something unrelated to “The Devil and Tom Walker,” but noticed some of Irving’s financial commentary.

This rabbit trail was bound to happen.

We know that Irving’s family hardware business in New York City and Liverpool went bankrupt prior to “The Devil and Tom Walker.” We also know Irving was out to prove himself financially as a writer and managed to achieve his goal. I’m wondering, though, how some curious financial details noted in his journals might enlarge our understanding of Irving and this story.

When Irving visits Stratford, England, the home of William Shakespeare, he records spending money on a coach, a play, a housekeeper, a butler, and the Shakespeare house (Reichart 59-60).

While in England in 1817, Irving jots down expenses for steam boat fares, breakfast, the mending of coats, gloves, celery and cabbage seed (166-67). Celery and cabbage seed! Why would Irving, a man of letters, need celery and cabbage seed while traveling through Europe?

We see cabbages pop up in his writing, most notably in “Wolfert Webber, or Golden Dreams,” the story following “The Devil and Tom Walker.”

In fact, Irving seems to make a huge deal about cabbages, kind of how my mother does on New Year’s Day. She says you need some black-eyed peas for good luck and some cabbage for cash. Is Irving making a similar statement here? Cabbage is code for cash.

Irving writes: “”The field in which Cobus Webber first planted himself and his cabbages had remained ever since in the family, who continued in the same line of husbandry, with that praiseworthy perseverance for which our Dutch burghers are noted. The whole family genius, during several generations, was devoted to the study and development of this one noble vegetable; and to this concentration of intellect may doubtless be ascribed the prodigious size and renown to which the Webber cabbages attained.”

In 1817, Irving  also jotted down some financial records while working on The Sketch Book. He keeps track of how many pounds he has in his possession, jotting down, “Half of money remaining in purse” (192).

Irving makes some miscellaneous entries, and the editors suggest these could be purchases he’s considering: “hat, trunk, watch, shoes” (284).

As noted previously, the study of debits and credits doesn’t fall under my areas of high expertise. Many Irving scholars write about economic considerations. I’ll be looking more into this cabbage business between now and next Wednesday, and I’ll let you know what the financial experts have to say.

Until next week, please feel free to add to the conversation wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, on this page. Comments are very much welcomed. Also feel free to message me at I try to respond to all correspondence on Wednesdays and also update the WIS page.









Published in: on January 30, 2019 at 8:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

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