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THE BIOGRAPHICAL MAGAZINE.
JAMES FENNIMORE COOPER.
“I FIND,” says a great American es- these accomplishments. Certain it is sayist, “ a provision in nature for the that he made a very respectable prowriter;" that is, the acute observer gress, which he was careful afterwards quoted finds, that it is perfectly neces- to improve. For six years, or theresary for the writer to exist, because he abouts, Cooper's life was bustling and purifies, exalts, enobles, and instructs, full of activity, various adventures the human race; he chronicles the occurring which afforded him excellent deeds, he notices the chances and materiel, hereafter to be worked up in changes, he defines and characterises his various novels. He was brought humanity ;-and for these last qualities thoroughly into contact with scenes of amongst writers, the novelist holds his which he afterwards gave so faithful rank. With these, the name at the and glowing a rescript. In one of his head of our article is of no mean value, latest novels, “ Afloat and Ashore,” he not only on account of his position as has embodied many of these scenes. a writer, but as being the very first of The book is pronounced, by those who American novelists.
best knew him, to be essentially autoMen are only seen in their true biographical, and one of the incidents greatness by comparison ; one com- is an anecdote in which the anthor pares Virgil to Homer, and Dante to figures in propriâ personâ. It will not Milton; and, following this out, flat- be trespassing to quote it. The hero terers call the prosaic Klopstock the is in an American vessel, when a hosGerman Milton, and, more truly, Bé- tile French privateer approaches; ranger the Burns of France, and the being in the maintop, he observes the subject of the present paper the Ame- movements of the enemy, and gives rican Scott. Recently this great man notice of them to his captain by drophas passed that bourne from which ping a copper wrapped in a piece of none return, and in the fulness of a paper, on deck, on which was written, fame which few will reach, although "The brig's forecastle is filled with to which many will aspire.
armed men, hid behind the bulwarks.” James Fennimore Cooper was born “ Captain Digges heard the fall of on the 15th of September, 1789, and, the copper, and looking up-nothing had he lived but a few hours longer, takes an officer's eyes aloft quicker would have completed his sixty-second than to find anything coming out of a year, dying on the 14th of his natal top-he saw me pointing to the paper. month, 1851. His father was a high I was rewarded for this liberty by an dignitary in the American law, and approving nod. Captain Digges read resided at the period of Fennimore's what I had written, and I soon obbirth at Burlington, New Jersey, at served Neb and the cook filling the which place, there being, we presume, engine with boiling water. This job a sufficient academy, the future no- was no sooner done than a good place velist commenced his education, which was selected on the quarter-deck for was further eliminated at New Haven this singular implement of war, and and Yale colleges.
then a hail came from the brig. One who goes to sea at sixteen, as a “Vat zat sheep is ?' demanded some midshipman in the American navy, one from the brig. which was the case with Cooper, can- “The Tigris of Philadelphia, from not be expected to be very deeply Calcutta home. What brig is that ?' learned in dead languages and mathe- “ La Folie-corsair Français. From matics, and therefore various hip-and-vair you come ?' thigh sticklers for school education,
65 From Calcutta. And where are should have been more chary of their you from ?? sneers against the novelist's lack of “Gaudaloupe. Vair you go, eh ?'
“Philadelphia. Do not luff so near let slip by ten years, in this quiet reme; some accident may happen.' tirement before he came before the
« Vat you call ' accident ? Can ne- public. When he had once broken the vair hear, eh ? I will com tout prés.' ice, which was in 1821, by publishing
“Give us a wider berth, I tell you ! a novel called “Precaution;" his rise Here is your jib-boom nearly foul of in favour was rapid, although the premy mizzen-rigging.'
liminary work was an unsuccessful "Vat mean zat bert' vidair, eh? one ; but the same year produced "The Allons, mes enfants ; c'est le moment !'' Spy," "The Pioneers, and
and “The “ Luff a little, and keep his spar Pilot.” Of the origin of the latter clear,' cried our captain. Squirt novel Mr. Griswold tells the following away, Neb, and let us see what you anecdote, which at the late meeting in can do!'
New York, to erect à monument to “ The engine made a movement just Cooper, Mr. Bryant, the American as the French began to run out on poet, repeated : their bowsprit, and, by the time six or "Talking with the late Charles eight were on the heel of the jib-boom, Wilkes, of New York, a man of taste they were met by the hissing hot and judgment, our author heard exstream, which took them en echelon, as tolled the universal knowledge of it might be, fairly raking the whole Scott, and the sea portions of “The line. The effect was instantaneous. Pirate” cited as a proof. He laughed Physical nature cannot stand excessive at the idea, as most seamen would, and heat, unless particularly well supplied the discussion ended by his promising with skin ; and the three leading to write a sea story, which could be Frenchmen, finding retreat impossible, read by landsmen, while seamen should dropped incontinently into the sea, feel its truth.* preferring cold water to hot-thé From this the “Pilot” resulted, chances of drowning to the certainty which lifted Cooper at once into celeof being scalded. I believe all three brity. Sir Walter Scott himself, in a were saved by their companions on letter to Miss Edgeworth, bore testiboard, but I will not vouch for the mony to its truth and excellence. “The fact. The remainder of the intended novel," he ites, “is a very clever one, boarders, having the bowsprit before and the sea scenes and characters in them, scrambled back upon the brig's particular, are admirably drawn. I adforecastle as well as they could ; be- vise you to read it as soon as possible.” traying by the random way in which The novel was worthy of the panegyric, their hands flew about, that they had and a higher still has been bestowed, a perfect consciousness how much they and worthily, upon it. It became imleft their rear exposed on the retreat. mediately popular, and was eagerly read A hearty laugh was heard in all parts in England, translated into the various of the Tigris, and the brig, putting her European languages, and, stranger still helm hard up, wore round like a top, to relate, into Persian, an honour, as far as if she were scalded herself.”
as we know, as regards novels, reserved Adventures of this sort he had suf- for the "Spy” and the "Pilot.” “This ficient during the short time he was at novel,” says a critic, speaking of the sea, to furnish his memory and to aid
was the first which brought his invention.
Cooper into notice, which gave him his In 1811 he retired into private life, earliest reputation, and which will conand he soon after rendered this retire- tinue to preserve it.”+ His descripment more agreeable, and riveted tions of marine scenery, of the moving, more firmly his ties to the shore, by restless ocean, and of the ever varying marrying Miss Lancey, a lady of great changes of the sky, were at once seen accomplishments, whose brother is one to be unsurpassed in freshness and of the New York bishops. On his truth. They rivalled his word pictures marriage Mr. Cooper settled at his of American woods and savage man, patrimonial estate, named Cooper's and, as Mr. Prescott truly remarks, Town, or in American parlance Coo- are “alive with the breath of poetry.” per's-ville.
“Witness,” says the last-quoted authoHorace's rule of keeping one's first production nine years may have well * The Prose Writers of America. been indulged in by our author, for he * North American Review, Jan. 1852.
rity,“his infinitely-various pictures of the other side of the Channel, when the ocean ; or still more, of the beauti- first brought to light, they are worthy ful spirit which rides upon it--the of some notice. gallant ship.”
In the first place, the “ mode of pubThe “Pilot” was, for the time, the first lishing,” noticed by Sir Walter, does favourite of Cooper's novels. That his great honour to Cooper. It was, of countrymen should love a novel where course, nothing less than the copyright in their own bravery was prominently bill in embryo, which Cooper endeaplaced before them, and whereof the voured zealously to introduce, and heroes were American, none can won which would have been, if introduced, der; and the novel-readers of England one of the greatest boons to American let their prejudices succumb to their literature, and without which that admiration. But, more than this, it literature is now suffering, and has enjoyed a reflected fame, for an Eng- become dwindled, dwarfish, and imitalish dramatist, a Mr. Fitzball, seizing tive. * Sir Walter, who regarded upon the work, cleverly turned its literature-as a late critic has said-as sting against the Americans, by pro- a “mere money-making machine," did ducing a drama of the same name (the not see the patriotism of the proposal, “Pilot,”) wherein Long Tom Coffin but clutched at the idea of making was personated by Mr. T. P. Cooke, more; “every little helps,” he writes, which had an extraordinary long run and, we believe, let the matter drop. at the Adelphi Theatre. Sir Walter Not so Cooper; he wrote at once to Scott went, amongst others, to see this Messrs. Carey and Lea, the great piece, and in his diary notices “the American publishers, and, in a manly quiet effrontery” of the dramatist, in letter which we have before us, set turning the offensive parts of the story forth the advantages which such a against the Yankees. Let us add, that measure would be to American literathe drama is still popular.
ture. “ The whole range of English Shortly after these publications, Mr. literature,” he writes, “is thrown open Cooper visited Europe, where he re- to the American publisher. He chooses mained some years, and became one of his book, after it has gone through the the literary lions of the day. In Eng- ordeal of a nation of publishers, and land, he was introduced to Sir Walter offers it to his countrymen, supported Scott, then at the zenith of his popu- by the testimony and praise of reviews. larity, who thus notices his fellow Against this array of names the Ameauthor :
rican writer has to make head, or “Nov. 23, 1826.-Visited Princess fail." + Galitzin, and also Cooper, the Ameri- Cooper suggested, as a remedy, the can novelist. This man, who has law of copyright; but the booksellers shown so much genius, has a good were too strong for him, and they still deal of the manners (or want of man- triumph, and fortunes have been made, ners) peculiar to his countrymen. He and still are being made, out of the proposed to me a mode of publishing works of Dickens, Scott, Bulwer, and in America, by entering a book as the Macaulay, for which the English auproperty of a citizen. I will think of thor has never received one penny from this. Every little helps, &c."
the American publisher; English book“Nov. 6.—Cooper came to breakfast, sellers are now making reprisals upon but we were obsèdes partout. Such a American authors; but that only number of Frenchmen bounced in suc- aggravates the evil. Cooper did not cessively and exploded, or, I should say, discharged their compliments, that I could hardly find an opportunity to
* The writer is not ignorant of the many speak a word, or to entertain Mr. excellent American authors, but is con
strained to adopt the opinions expressed, Cooper at all."*
from his own observations, and from the These, we believe, are the only extracts in which Cooper is noticed by The “North American Review,” the first
opinions of the Americans themselves. the author of “Waverley," and as they critic of that continent, expressed itself were the cause of much animosity on
both severely and sorrowfully on the ques
tion a few months since. * Diary of Sir Walter Scott, as quoted + “ The Knickerbocker,”—New York in "Lockhart's Life.”
magazine, April, 1838.
cease, however, to agitate and to press and detail. The battles of Lexington this important question, both in the and Bunker's Hill are admirably given. various literary journals and elsewhere. Next_come “The Pathfinder,
His next works, perhaps not in Red Rover,” “The Water Witch," and exactly correct date of appearance, “The Two Admirals ;” followed quickly were what is called the “ Leather “The Jack O'Lantern; or, The PriStocking” novels; that is, a series of vateer,” a novel which Cooper wrote, five novels, so called from the chief somewhat out of opposition to his personage or character, which runs critics, who insisted upon his vein of throughout the series, which com- seafaring novels being exhausted; it prises: “ The Deer Slayer,” “ The Path- is not very successful. The story of finder,”..“ The Last of the Mohicans," Lady Hamilton, Lord Nelson, and that “ The Pioneers,” and “The Prairie.” cruel murder of Prince Caraccioli, are Of these the finest is the “ Last of the introduced ; and various new characMohicans,” a novel which is held by ters, one of which is a British tar, many to be the masterpiece of its figure on the scene. In 1843,“ Wyanauthor. “The book," says a great dotte ; or, the Hutted's Knoll,” a quiet authority, “has a genuine game fla- narrative novel of American scenery, vour ; it exhales the odours of the pine followed ; and was itself succeeded by woods, and the freshness of the moun- “Raven's Nest," introducing three happy tain wind. Its dark and rugged characters,—Captain Hugh Littlepage, scenery, rises as distinctly on the eye Uncle Ró and Mistress Oportunity as the images of the painter's canvass, Newcome. In this novel Cooper inor rather as the reflections of nature dulged in some asperities, for he was herself. But it is not as the mere somewhat like one of our own authorrendering of material forms, that these esses,-whose name shall of course not word paintings are most highly to be transpire-always in hot water with esteemed, they are instinct with life, his critics. with the very spirit of the wilderness; Not only also was this on his own they breathe the sombre poetry of side of the channel, but also upon solitude and danger.” The Scotch English ground did the Novelist carry bard, Burns, effected so great a triumph his warfare. One cause of this was Cooover imagination, that the very window per's extreme sensitiveness to adverse through which Tam O'Shanter saw (?) criticism, and secondly, the fact that the witches dance, although a creation he wrote severely himself of others. of the fancy, has been pointed out by Having travelled in Europe, and been the guides; a similar story is told of lionized in England, a book on the the author of Waverley's creation of various countries in which he sojourned Michael Scott's grave in Melrose Ab- was as much expected as were the bey. Nor were American guides be- “American Notes" from Dickens. The hind hand; so vividly had Cooper de result in both instances was much the scribed each spot, that the scene of the same ; the institutions of the country fight of Gleenis Falls (a very marked were commented upon freely and seportion of the novel), is pointed out as verely; our overbearing aristocracy, if this fictitious combat were a scene of our lord-loving commoners, and the history. “Nay," says a narrator, “if etiquette which allows a man of supethe lapse of a few years has not en- rior rank, conferred either by birth or lightened the guide's understanding, chance, to walk out of a room, or to he would as soon doubt of the reality enter it, and to be announced before of the battle of Saratoga as that of the rest of the company, especially Hawkeyes' fight with the Mingoes.” before a man of genius, were exposed
These novels made Cooper's fame to the most indignant and searching complete, and together with the nau- satire. tical ones were his chief triumphs ; There were also other things upon
ers, but of less grandeur, were to which Fennimo Cooper lectured the follow. “The Wept of Wish-ton-wish,” English; hewould insist, in a few cases, a strange story, with a stranger title, is that they mispronounced words, which much admired for its melancholy inte- the Americans had preserved in all rest. “Lionel Lincoln,” bore testi- their purity. In fine, whilst giving us mony to his power, accuracy, and spirit, credit for many admirable institutions, in description of military movements for hospitality, and kindness, he perhaps,
In 1849 ap
naturally enough insisted, that the faces and red men again ask our attenyounger country, of which he was the tion, and ask it, alas ! almost in vain
n; native, had progressed, whilst we, the we feel that the potent power is leavparent one, had fearfully degenerated. ing the great magician, and that he had
The "Quarterly Review, of which better bury his pen, as Prospero does Lockhart, son-in-law of Sir Walter his magic wand“ certain fathoms in the Scott, had recently assumed the edi- earth;" but a little time, however, and torship, took up the cudgels for Eng- then he will have ceased. land, and in a sparkling but spitefully peared the “Sea Lions,” a novel in written review of Cooper's book, took which the venue is laid in those “ a vigorous reprisal upon him. “He has gions of thick ribbed ice," wherein Sir questioned our English,” said they; “let John Franklin and his gallant crews are us try his.” And thereupon the re- immured. There is in this last novel viewer proved the American author originality, force, and a dramatic reguilty of several sins against the ality, which will carry the reader rules of Lindley Murray and Com through with the book. Last of all, pany. Next he directed his shafts announced as last, positively the last, against American manners, and gave of a very long list of novels of which them a more severe handling than we have not mentioned one half, came Cooper had our own, and finally dis- the “Ways of the Hour,” in which the missed the work as totally unworthy failing power of the author was but of America, of Cooper, of printer, too visibly shown. Cooper had writpublisher, buyer, or reader.
ten himself out. The literary circles at New York Besides the very numerous progeny naturally took the novelist's side of of novels, some of which we have the question, and the magazines of the mentioned above, and to others of period will witness on perusal, of how which we have alluded, Cooper convirulent a nature are the "quarrels of tributed to the history of his country, authors."
that of the “ United States Navy;" to " Tantæne animis coelestibus iræ."
biography,“ Lives of distinguished Na
val Officers ;” and to travel,“ Sketches We need not lead our readers fur- of Switzerland,” and “Gleanings of ther into the affray. We may here Europe.” mention that Lockhart did not write But not by these or by his later the review in question (of which he productions will the name of James was accused, and Sir Walter Scott's Fennimore Cooper be handed down to diary was brought into the quarrel), posterity; but by his earlier and fresher and that succeeding quarrels with the productions, by his pictures of huliterary vehicles of his own country manity in its untamed and savage served to erase from Cooper's mind state, with its heroism, its magnanithe great fall out with the English mity, and its cunning; his prairies and with the Quarterly. One of his stretching out to the eye of the imagiproductions, characterized by those native boy, who first reads his romance, who have read it as a weak and in- with more than the vastness and judicious tale, quite unworthy of the grandeur of reality, forming a picture author's reputation, was the “Moni- which age scarce dims, or time dimikins," and this was fixed upon by some nishes : his sailors and squatters, true American journals as a subject of children of nature under different banter and jest; epigram and pasqui- aspects ; his pictures of sea-fight and nade followed each other upon the storm, or of tempests in those vast unfortunate book, and annoyed the interminable forests of America, which sensitive author, who even threatened we children of Europe only dream of. to relinquish his pen and be silent This he was born to introduce and to altogether.
describe, and he has done it nobly; The promise, although hailed with and amongst praise for great original apparent delight by some ill-natured talent, and undoubted honesty of purcritics, was not kept : in 1848 he was pose, let us not forget that he has ready with the “Bee Hunter," wherein never written one word or sentence was again revived, for this time only, subversive of morality, or one book the vast prairies and solitudes of his which is improper for our children to earlier and happier productions. Pale read.