Desmond-Fish Library Logo

Back one level
Books & Reading


Literature of the Hudson River Valley

"Whoever has made a voyage up the Hudson must remember the Kaatskill Mountains. They are a dismembered branch of the great Appalachian family, and are seen away to the west of the river, swelling up to a noble height, and lording it over the surrounding country. Every change of season, every change of weather, indeed, every hour of the day, produces some change in the magical hues and shapes of these mountains, and they are regarded by all the good wives, far and near, as perfect barometers. When the weather is fair and settled, they are clothed in blue and purple, and print their bold outlines on the clear evening sky; but sometimes, when the rest of the landscape is cloudless, they will gather a hood of gray vapors about their summits, which, in the last rays of the setting sun, will glow and light up like a crown of glory."
Washington Irving, Rip Van Winkle

Washington Irving (1783-1859)

Irving was America's first internationally famous author. His work is so inextricably a part of the early Dutch towns of the Hudson River Valley that it is difficult to think of one without the other. In fact pieces he wrote which are set in other places are relatively unknown. The stories set in "these fairy mountains" are known for their subtle wit and memorable characters such as Ichabod Crane and Rip Van Winkle. He was born in New York City in 1783 and set out to study law although he had no love for it. He began to contribute essays to New York newspapers in 1802 and soon began earning a reputation as an amusing satirical writer on New York society. Together with his brothers Peter and William Irving, and William's brother-in-law James Paulding, they published Salmagundi or The Whim-Whams and Opinions of Launcelot Langstaff, Esq., and Others a collection of poems and essays. Washington Irving's next work published in 1809 was A History of New York a supposed account of New York during the Dutch settlement told by his fictitious narrator Diedrich Knickerbocker. This "history" includes a description of a voyage up the Hudson by Peter Stuyvesant, the last Dutch governor of colonial New York. In this description, Irving gives us a reason for the naming of Anthony's Nose.

It must be known that the nose of the trumpeter was of a very lusty size...Now thus it happened that bright and early in the morning, the good Antony, having washed his burly visage, was leaning over the quarter-railing of the galley, contemplating it in the glassy wave below. Just at this moment, the illustrious sun, breaking in all its splendor from behind a high bluff of the highlands, did dart one of its most potent beams full upon the refulgent nose of the sounder of brass- the reflection of which shot straight away down, hissing-hot, into the water, and killed a mighty sturgeon that was sporting beside the vessel!...When this astonishing miracle came to be known to Peter Stuyvesant, and he tasted of the unknown fish, he, as may well be supposed, marvelled exceedingly; and as a monument thereof, he gave the name of Anthony's Nose to a stout promontory in the neighborhood; and it has continued to be called Anthony's Nose ever since that time.

After an unsuccessful business venture in England, Irving returned to writing in 1818. His Sketch Book published in 1820 contained his two most popular works, Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. In these stories his genius for physical caricature is beyond compare. In first describing Ichabod Crane, Irving tells us he had "hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, (and) feet that might have served for shovels." He goes on to say, "His head was small, and flat at top, with huge ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose, so that it looked like a weathercock perched upon his spindle neck, to tell which way the wind blew." Rip Van Winkle's character is summed up thus: "The great error in Rip's composition was an insuperable aversion to all kinds of profitable labor."

While still living and traveling in Europe, he published Bracebridge Hall, Tales of a Traveler, and Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus. In 1832 he returned to America to great acclaim and published The Alhambra. After a long trip to the western part of the United States , he published A Tour of the Prairies, Astoria, and The Adventures of Captain Bonneville.He returned to Spain in 1842 to act as the United States minister to that country. During this time he also traveled to England as an envoy to the negotiations over the Oregon controversy.

In 1846 he returned to live in the United States and remodeled his famous home, Sunnyside, located in the village of Irvington, named later in his honor.

Text of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Text of Rip Van Winkle

James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851)

A brief biography and discussion of his work from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)

Bryant was born in Cummington, Massachusetts and spent much of his youth roaming the fields and woods near his house in western Massachusetts. It was not until 1825 that Bryant came to New York to edit the New York Review and Atheneum Magazine that he became friends with writers and artists who were part of what was later called the "Hudson River School." After one year on the "Review", he became the editor of the Evening Post, and stayed in that position for the rest of his life. Like Irving, Bryant studied law as a young man but his real love was always writing. He published his first volume of poetryThe Embargo, or Sketches of the Times: A Satire at the age of thirteen. "Thanatopsis" his most well-known work was first published in the North American Review in 1817. He subsequently published Poems which included "The Yellow Violet" and "To a Waterfowl." His poetry was very romantic, steeped in nature imagery and echoed the picturesque style of the Hudson River painters. He was a friend and supporter of such prominent artists as Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand. In 1828 and for three subsequent years, Bryant and Robert Sands and Gulian Verplanck created a holiday giftbook The Talisman with illustrations by Cole, Durand, Robert Weir and others. He was one of the founders in 1844 of the American Art Union which promoted these Hudson River artists by selling $5 subscriptions for membership. Periodically the members drew lots for hundreds of paintings and sculptures. Among those works distributed by lottery were Cole's four painting series, "The Voyage of Life." The Union was brought to a sudden end in 1852 when a judge ruled that it violated state lottery laws. But in its brief history the Art Union brought the works of these artists into the national prominence.

Text of Thanatopsis

Text and Discussions of Bryant's work

Susan Warner (1819-1885) and Anna Bartlett Warner(1827-1915)

In 1834 Susan and Anna Warner moved to Constitution Island with their father, Henry Warner. They intended to live on the island only during the summer but reverses in Henry Warner's fortune forces them to sell their home in New York City. In order to support themselves and their father, Susan and Anna Warner began to write novels. Susan Warner's first book, The Wide, Wide World was so popular both in the United States and abroad that soon she was producing at least one novel each year. Queechy and The Law and The Testimony were her next two books. The Hills of Shatemuc, her next novel sold 10,000 copies on the day it was published.

Anna Warner is best known for writing the words to Jesus Loves Me, This I Know. She worked with her older sister Susan on several books and published Dollars and Cents , a novel which relates the story of their change in circumstances. She also wrote a biography of Susan after her sister died.

Although their writing brought them fame, it never made them rich. They continued their days on the island, spending winters on the mainland at friend's houses, doing their own gardening and cooking. Gardening was one of Anna Warner's great joys; one of her books was called Gardening By Myself. The sisters promoted the somewhat radical idea that young ladies could actually do their own physical work such as gardening.

The Warner sisters were also known for their deep commitment to religious teachings. Each Sunday, they held Bible classes for cadets from West Point. After Susan's death in 1885, Anna continued the tradition.The sisters are buried at the West Point cemetery.

After Susan died, Anna was offered large sums of money by developers for Constitution Island. She refused to sell despite her continued poverty. Finally Mrs. Russell Sage, a noted philanthropist, bought the property and donated it to West Point in accordance with the wishes of the Warner sisters. A condition of the gift was that Anna Warner would be allowed to live at the island until her death. When she was unable to maintain the property, the cadets created The Constitution Island Association, which continues today to preserve the island and its historic sites. The Warner house is open to the public with guided tours by docent volunteers on certain weekends in the summer.

John Burroughs (1837-1921)

From his log cabin home in West Park, New York, Burrough's wrote essays about his deep love and respect for nature. His home was called Slabsides and there he entertained Walt Whitman and other prominent people of his time. His best known works are Wake Robin(1871), Locusts and Wild Honey (1879), Breath of Life(1915), and Bird and Bough1906. Today Slabsides is open to the public. Groups and individuals may tour the grounds, trails, log cabin and educational center with prior permission.

Twentieth Century Authors

Peter Lourie

Peter Lourie is a contemporary author whose books about the Hudson include Hudson River: An Adventure from the Mountains to the Sea, River of Mountains, and The Lost Treasure of Captain Kidd. The latter is a children's book which gives a modern day version of a hunt for the legendary treasure of Captain William Kidd. Lourie's other books include Sweat of the Sun, Tears of the Moon, Amazon: A Young Reader's Look at the Last Frontier, An Adventure to the Gold Fields of the Klondike and Everglades: Buffalo Tiger and The River of Grass.

T. Coraghessan Boyle

Boyle's novel World's End won the 1988 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. The story is set in Peterskill which bears many historical resemblances to Peekskill, New York. The book moves between three time periods and follows the interwoven destinies of three families.