I teach Washington Irving’s story “The Devil and Tom Walker” to my students yearly. It’s a great adaptation of the old Faustian legend. The last sentence is troubling to me, though, as it suggests that there is a proverb popular in New England which uses, in some form, the phrase “The Devil and Tom Walker.” I live in New England, and I am not familiar with the proverb. In fact, the only time I’ve ever heard of Tom Walker is in Irving’s story.
Here’s the final sentence: “In fact, the story has resolved itself into a proverb, and is the origin of that popular saying, so prevalent throughout New England, of ‘The Devil and Tom Walker.’”
I know it’s only a folk tale, but it seems obvious that there really is (or was, at the time) a real-life saying or proverb involving Tom Walker and his dealings with the devil; otherwise, I doubt Irving would have mentioned it as a “popular saying, so prevalent throughout New England.”
Does anyone know if there was indeed some old proverb that utilized Tom Walker’s name? (A proverb should express a general truth, of course, so it must at least be a sentece…)