Context: The idea of retiring to a tower, getting away from the world and its temptations, has been frequently expressed since the Syrian hermit Simeon Stylites, who died about 459, spent thirty-five years on top of a tall pillar to escape mankind. What the escape mechanism was made of, did not matter. The "tower of ivory" mentioned in "Song of Solomon" (VII, 4) describing the neck of the poet's sweetheart, was of a different sort–a temptation, not an escape. In the current significance, an ivory tower is an imaginary place in which a recluse can remain aloof from the world. The phrase occurs in the works of many writers. Jules de Gaultier, in the nineteenth century, in his "War and the Destiny of Art," compared "the poet, retired to his Tower of Ivory, isolated, according to his desires, from the world of men" to a lighthouse keeper. Henry James in 1917 started to write a novel The Ivory Tower. Thomas Mann (1875–1955), being told in 1937 that his name had been removed from the list of Honorary Doctors of the University of Bonn, said that no one could separate the artistic and intellectual life from the political and social life and isolate himself within the ivory tower of the "culture" proper. It was, however, the literary critic Sainte-Beuve who probably coined the phrase in his poem to Abel François Villemain (1790–1870), French critic and politician, later Minister of Education. It appears in his volume of poems Pensées d'Août (August Thoughts), published in 1837.
Hugo, stern partisan,. . . fought in armor,And held his banner high in the midst of the tumult:He still holds it; and Vigny, more reserved,Retired before the noon-day, as if in his ivory tower.