In "Rip Van Winkle," why does the character of Nicholas Vedder make a habit of not speaking?

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While still young, Rip Van Winkle liked to sit on a bench in front of the local inn and discuss issues and philosophy with other idles, all of whom had little of value to say, but a lot of time and words with which to say it. They discuss everything with great gravity, as if the world depended on their words, and yet have no effect on anything important. Interestingly, the discussion is mostly defined by the non-speech of Nicholas Vedder, who sits and smokes, but doesn't speak much.

His adherents ... perfectly understood him. When anything that was read or related displeased him, he was observed to smoke his pipe vehemently, and send forth short, frequent, and angry puffs; but when pleased, he would inhale the smoke slowly and tranquilly, and emit it in light and placid clouds...
(Irving, "Rip Van Winkle,"

Vedder is a minor character and doesn't actually affect the plot at all, but it is interesting to see how he controls the discussion; his approval, for some reason, is desired by others regardless of its actual existence. Since he is a village patriarch and the landlord of the inn, it is possible that they fear losing their bench privileges if he is displeased. It is also possible that Vedder is a disciple of the famous maxim "It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and have it proven;" if so, his silence has become respected as intelligent reticence instead of ignorance, a state with which he seems very comfortable.