Sanctuaries in Washington Irving's «The Sketch Book»

The Sketch Book

by Hugo G. Walter (Author)
©2014 Monographs XII, 294 Pages


The present volume comprises a collection of wonderful and insightful essays exploring the theme of sanctuaries in Washington Irving’s The Sketch Book. These are sanctuaries of natural beauty, peacefulness, architectural splendor, and mythical vitality. In addition, the book presents a short history of sanctuaries in nineteenth-century American and European literature.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Sanctuaries in Nineteenth Century American and European Literature
  • Chapter 2: Rip Van Winkle
  • Chapter 3: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
  • Chapter 4: Sanctuaries in “The Mutability of Literature” and Other Essays
  • Conclusion
  • Works Consulted
  • Index
  • Series index

| ix →


I would like to thank my literature and humanities professors at Princeton University, Yale University, Old Dominion University, and Drew University for their guidance and inspiration over the years. I would especially like to express my gratitude to the following professors: Theodore Ziolkowski, Michael Curschmann, Carl Schorske, William G. Moulton, Robert Ready, John Warner, Sara Henry-Corrington, Victor Lange, John Fleming, Douglas Greene, John Kuehl, Linda McGreevy, Karl Knight, James McNally, Sandra Bermann, John R. Martin, David Coffin, Peter Demetz, Jeffrey Sammons, Harold Bloom, and Geoffrey Hartman.

I would also like to thank Professor Horst Daemmrich of the University of Pennsylvania and Dr. Heidi Burns of Peter Lang Publishing for their insightful and thoughtful comments regarding my manuscript.

I would like to express my gratitude to my many colleagues at Berkeley College (Online, New Jersey, and New York). And I would especially like to thank the administrators, faculty, students, and staff in Berkeley’s wonderful Online Program for their kindness, encouragement, and supportiveness.

Finally, I would like to thank the Production Department of Peter Lang for their helpful assistance and patience in the production of the manuscript. ← ix | x →

I would like to acknowledge the following institutions for permission to reprint from the following works:

Sanctuaries of Light in Nineteenth Century European Literature, by Hugo Walter, Copyright © 2010, Peter Lang Publishing, reprinted with the permission of the publisher.

Beautiful Sanctuaries in Nineteenth- and Early-Twentieth-Century European Literature, by Hugo Walter, Copyright © 2011, Peter Lang Publishing, reprinted with the permission of the publisher.

Magnificent Houses in Twentieth Century European Literature, by Hugo Walter, Copyright © 2012, Peter Lang Publishing, reprinted with the permission of the publisher.

| xi →


In two of my previous monographs, Sanctuaries of Light in Nineteenth Century European Literature and Beautiful Sanctuaries in Nineteenth- and Early-Twentieth-Century European Literature, I explored the themes of sanctuaries of light, serenity, harmony, and natural beauty in selected works of William Wordsworth, Percy Shelley, E. T. A. Hoffmann, Joseph von Eichendorff, Charlotte Brontë, Henrik Ibsen, and James Hilton.

In this new monograph I discuss the depiction and the representation of sanctuaries of natural beauty, architectural splendor, peacefulness, luminescence, twilight, and mythical vitality in Washington Irving’s The Sketch Book, which contains some of the most significant stories and essays in the history of American literature.

I would also like to add a personal note here which is relevant to my discussion of the notion of sanctuaries of light. I have been interested in literary studies and in the theme of beautiful places (places of natural loveliness as well as places of gorgeous and interesting aesthetic vitality) in literature for many years, dating back to my youth growing up in Princeton, New Jersey. The natural beauty, the architectural magnificence and splendor, the luminescence, and the tranquility of the town of Princeton and of Princeton University have always attracted and appealed to me and have been consistently inspirational ← xi | xii → for me aesthetically, emotionally, and spiritually. The sense of a lovely sanctuary or refuge which I have felt in Princeton and in various other places in the United States, in Europe, in Great Britain, in Canada, and in Asia is infused with the aura of the “healing Paradise” (355) of rejuvenating vitality which culminates Percy Shelley’s “Lines written among the Euganean Hills” and with the spirit of the “sense sublime” of which William Wordsworth speaks in “Tintern Abbey”:

And I have felt

A presence that disturbs me with the joy

Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime

Of something far more deeply interfused,

Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,

And the round ocean, and the living air,

And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;

A motion and a spirit, that impels

All thinking things, all objects of all thought,

And rolls through all things. (93–102)

I have been fortunate to experience various lovely architectural creations and places of sanctuary (as aesthetically interesting interiors and as scenic and picturesque natural spaces) over the years (especially in beautiful areas of the United States, Europe, Great Britain, Canada, and Asia). College libraries, university libraries, beautiful gardens, historic houses, churches, and museums in beautiful natural settings especially exemplify for me sanctuaries of luminescence, harmony, and serenity in the spirit of the statement of Prometheus in Act III, Scene iii of Percy Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound. For these are extraordinary places where “lovely apparitions … / Then radiant—as the mind, arising bright / From the embrace of beauty” (III.iii. 49–51) will inspire “the progeny immortal / Of Painting, Sculpture, and rapt Poesy / And arts, though unimagined, yet to be” (III.iii. 54–56). These are beautiful places which have the capacity, in the sense of Wordsworth’s statement in the “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,” to signify “the fountain-light of all our day” (151) and the “master-light of all our seeing” (152) and to preserve perpetually the “power to make / Our noisy years seem moments in the being / Of the eternal Silence: truths that wake, / To perish never” (153–56).

Hugo G. Walter, Ph.D.


| 1 →


In his essay “Style and Fame: The Sketch Book” James W. Tuttleton writes that “Irving’s self-consciousness as a writer is inseparable from his interest in the past. But that interest … is not merely antiquarian: it is obsessively concerned with Irving’s own death and his immortality as an author” (45). Tuttleton also states thoughtfully that “we do not ordinarily associate him with such morbid thoughts” (45). However, it is noteworthy, as Tuttleton says, that “The Sketch Book’s opening account of the voyage from America to England accents fear, anxiety, and estrangement” (45). The confrontation of the unknown, the perilous, and the image of oblivion during the sea voyage to England affirms the anxiety of Irving’s own mind and establishes a tone, an undercurrent, of concern and anguish about mortality which permeates a number of the stories and essays in The Sketch Book. Tuttleton writes insightfully that “Telling the story, retrieving and perpetuating some vestige, through narrative, of a transient existence—this is the burden of many of the tales in The Sketch Book” (46).

In his essay “Washington Irving and the Genesis of the Fictional Sketch” Jeffrey Rubin-Dorsky describes effectively Irving’s state of mind in the development of his approach in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.: “In 1817–1818, while he was in England, he suffered terrible anxiety and emotional ← 1 | 2 → strain over the collapse of the family business and the attendant threat of impoverishment” (229). Moreover, the death of his mother in 1817 produced a sense of despair in Irving similar to the response to Matilda Hoffman’s death in 1809. Irving speaks in a letter of desiring to isolate himself from society and wishing to have no contact with anyone (Letters 1: 743). In another letter from 1817, quoted by Perry Miller in his thoughtful afterword to an edition of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., Irving describes his feelings of despondency and despair: “I feel like one withered up & blighted—broken heart is like a desert wherein can flourish no green thing—The romance of life is past” (375). Miller argues that the only way for Irving to liberate himself from this oppressive sense of melancholy was to “write … consoling visions of benevolent humanity, tinged with reflections on death and the decomposition of corpses which would turn them into triumphs for that sensibility which alone could preserve him” (375). In his essay “Washington Irving: Amateur or Professional?” Henry A. Pochmann suggests that Irving was often prone to and susceptible to a variety of emotional moods. Around the time when Irving wrote The Sketch Book “he was given to feelings of indolence … ineffectuality, melancholy, self-depreciation, insecurity, … and despair” (22). With respect to the issue of the author’s emotional condition Pochmann also declares that “If he managed to show the world the brighter side of himself, it was because he instinctively and consciously withdrew from social intercourse when he felt the dark moods coming on” (22).

This desire for refuge and seclusion from the world of everyday mortality and from its moments and periods of personal hardship and suffering coupled with a devotion to his writing, to developing, refining, and strengthening his literary capacity, is important for Irving as a self-revitalizing and self-supporting emotional reaction and strategy for intellectual and psychological self-preservation—and it also manifests itself in various essays and stories in The Sketch Book, especially in “The Mutability of Literature,” “Rip Van Winkle,” “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” “A Royal Poet,” “Roscoe,” and “Westminster Abbey.” In “Washington Irving and the Genesis of the Fictional Sketch” Rubin-Dorsky refers insightfully to the nature of Irving’s separation from society when he says: “Grief implanted in Irving a strong recognition of the essential separateness of the world and the self; in addition, the self, conscious of its vulnerability, was forced to take refuge in its own repository of feelings” (231). The creation of the persona of Geoffrey Crayon enables Irving to reflect upon and examine his emotional experiences, as disappointing, painful, and tragic as they were or might have been, “without becoming ← 2 | 3 → psychologically immobilized by them” (Rubin-Dorsky 232). In response to experiences of great personal despair Irving devoted himself to his writing; in 1809 he worked more intensively on A History of New York, and in 1817 he began the pieces which would become The Sketch Book. Of the significance of Geoffrey Crayon, Rubin-Dorsky writes thoughtfully in “Washington Irving and the Genesis of the Fictional Sketch”: “The innovation of Crayon, whose ‘adventures’ in and around London mirror his own, gained for Irving the great advantage of being able to examine and reflect upon these experiences while remaining detached enough to perceive their significance. Crayon, in other words, became a buffer between Irving and the world” (218). One might say that the idea, image, or theme of sanctuary is important and present not only in various stories and essays in The Sketch Book but also in the presentation and development of the authorial voice. For Irving creates for himself, in a sense, a sanctuary of authorial distance from the world through which he travels during 1815–1819, from the claim of absolute responsibility of perceptive and sensitive observation which one would expect from the sketches of artistic objects and cultural experiences, and from his public persona. The creation of a sanctuary of the authorial self of mythologically vital inclinations and proportions parallels and reaffirms the images of sanctuary in a beautiful, mythical natural environment and the images of sanctuary in lovely and majestic architectural interiors which permeate various pieces in The Sketch Book from “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Specter Bridegroom” to “The Mutability of Literature” and “Westminster Abbey.”

In “Style and Fame: The Sketch Book” James W. Tuttleton states that The Sketch Book is afforded a sense of unity by the consistent presence and voice of Geoffrey Crayon, who “is that idle, drifting, spectatorial, dilettantish, curious, conservative, old-fashioned aspect of Irving’s mind” (44). Tuttleton argues effectively that the other unifying dimension of The Sketch Book besides the narrative voice of the fictive persona is the “dominating theme: Time, time’s ruins, dilapidation, dust and decay, the mutability of all things, and oblivion” (45). The flux of time and the destructive power of mortality are especially prominent themes in “The Mutability of Literature” and in “Westminster Abbey,” essays which, while expressing a profound concern about the inevitability of transience, also celebrate the capacity of the potent author to achieve a sense of immortality and transcendence.

The individual who participates in, feels a sense of connectedness to, or represents an essential part of a mythical or mythological sanctuary or of a luminous or a twilight sanctuary exemplifies the spirit of the Wordsworthian self ← 3 | 4 → in “Tintern Abbey” who articulates his profound appreciation of the natural environment:

And I have felt

A presence that disturbs me with the joy

Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime


XII, 294
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (May)
beauty peacefulness vitality history
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 294 pp.

Biographical notes

Hugo G. Walter (Author)

Hugo G. Walter earned his BA at Princeton University, his MA at Old Dominion University, his PhD in literature at Yale University, and his PhD in interdisciplinary humanities at Drew University. He is Professor of English and Humanities at Berkeley College Online. Walter's most recent publications include Beautiful Sanctuaries in Nineteenth- and Early-Twentieth-Century European Literature (Lang, 2011) and Magnificent Houses in Twentieth-Century European Literature (Lang, 2012). In addition, he has published ten volumes of poetry.


Title: Sanctuaries in Washington Irving's «The Sketch Book»
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310 pages