Because four of the five Leatherstocking Tales have New York settings they suggest that in these novels James Fenimore Cooper sought to shape the materials of his own sense of remembered places. With the exception of his Connecticut schooling, his voyage across the Atlantic in his youth, and some possible sailing experience when he was stationed with the Navy in New York Harbor, the boundaries of New York State had been his own until he reached his mid-thirties. Certainly his life had not been restricted. He had traveled and supported a family before he began to write. And he did not confine his speculations.
James Grossman emphasizes Cooper's insistence that fiction not be mistaken for reality and cites the preface to The Deerslayer in which Cooper revealed his doubts that his countrymen could "understand that a novel is a work of fiction and is to be read as such."1 Throughout his career the author sought to clarify the province of the novel. Rather than feeling fiction was inherently deceptive, as early as 1823 in a short piece named "Imagination" which appeared in his Tales of Fifteen, Cooper repeated the warnings against novel reading which formed a part of the didacticism of domestic fiction. But according to Grossman:
Cooper, in this sustained bit of farce, while apparently repeating the old lesson has changed it slightly but significantly; the danger isn't in fiction itself but in mistaking it for life.2Although he dealt lightly with the matter early in his career, the issue assumed graver tones by the time he wrote The Deerslayer, a time that succeeded the Effingham libels in the wake of the Home novels. One of his longest pronouncements on the necessity of distinctions between fiction and life occurred in the text of a letter he wrote in March, 1842, in which he reviewed the formulations of the first published work of his Tales:
The Pioneers is announced, in its title page, as a 'Descriptive Tale'; descriptive, not . . . of a literal account of persons and things; but descriptive as regards general characteristics, usages, and the state of a new country. Under Mr. Jordan's construction of the term [Jordan was counsel for the publisher Webb] descriptive, the book would not have been a 'tale' at all; it would have been truth, or a misrepresentation of what professed to be truth.His definition of literary representation by the evidence of his letter, thus, was that it is intended to be generalization of places and people as opposed to specific detail.
When a work professes to be fiction, the reader is bound to consider all those parts fiction, which cannot be proved to be otherwise. It is seldom that a work of this nature is met with, that does not contain some reality, and the inference that all is intended to represent facts, because a part does would come very near giving a death low to fiction altogether.3
An active man, Cooper more often found in his reading, modes for expressing his ideas rather than for modifying his behavior. From the evidence of the epigraphs in his novels and his autobiographical accounts, his ability to retain and to recite passages of literature was remarkable. In writing of his travels he paused to muse on Falstaff's "Shall I not take mine ease, in mine inn!" and noted that "Shakespeare may have meant no more than the drowsy indolence of a glutton . . ." But for him Falstaff's words related to relative enjoyments, and the American traveler could, because of the literary memory, better enjoy a warm fire on a chilling day. Too he associated the comfort of sleeping on deck "under a wet pee-jacket, and with a coil of rope for a pillow.4 Literature provided enhancement of life. Such a complementary principle could well explain a scholar's assumption that Susan's mention of her father's building a ha-ha fence indicated he had been reading Austen's Mansfield Park, in which a ha-ha plays an important part . . ."5 Further than an acquaintance with literature his work reflects interests in diverse areas of study and personal observation of human behavior and natural phenomena. In a letter to Richard Henry Dana of 14 April 1823, responding to Dana's praise of The Pioneers Cooper stated: "I write of men and things as I have seen them, and few men of my years have seen the world in more of its aspects than myself--"6 He did not exaggerate. The varied activities disciplined by his literary endeavor were unique and fitting for one who would extend the tradition of the English and American novel.
In the saga of Leatherstocking may be found the fine expression of Cooper's perception of the American experience. The novelist's earliest years were spent at Cooperstown, New York, in the late eighteenth-century when the settlement was a pioneering community developed by the resourceful William Cooper. A hilly country on Otsego Lake, the beautiful setting nurtured the love of nature that the mature James Fenimore Cooper imparted to his fiction.
While at work on the manuscript of The Pioneers, Cooper wrote to John Murray: "I had announced the work as a 'descriptive' tale but perhaps have confined myself too much to describing the scenes of my own youth . . ."7 In addition to an idyllic setting, his childhood provided a remarkably vigorous and aggressive father, the artist's perception of whom can probably best be appreciated by the figure assumed to be his fictional counterpart, Judge Temple in The Pioneers. Warren S. Walker concludes "The robust and manly paternal image in several of Cooper's novels derives largely from the qualities of William Cooper."8 The healthy father image is in itself a rarity in American fiction and perhaps presents still another facet of Cooper's quality that is often overlooked, the resiliency of his ego. The idealization of the politically active, educated leader reveals the kind of enlightened paternalism Cooper touted.
James Grossman characterizes Judge Cooper, a Federalist, as a man kind to his settlers but not to political opponents and relates:
He had an old Revolutionary veteran arrested and sent off to jail in irons for circulating petitions against the Alien and Sedition Laws. This instance of Federalist tyranny is supposed to have caused the downfall of the party in New York.9Like his famous son, the judge was forthright and controversial.
Andrew Nelson has done a study of the many parallels between the facts of William Cooper's land patents and the fiction of the Temple-Effingham plot of The Pioneers. In the novel old Major Effingham is represented as a former Indian agent who obtained title to the land about Otsego, and there is a question about whether Judge Temple had stolen that land from Effingham and his heirs. The real George Croghan in 1768 participated in the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, and about 1770 acquired title to one hundred thousand acres around Lake Otsego. He died a poor man, his property mortgaged. His daughter Susannah and her husband Augustin Prevost tried to save Croghan's holdings, but the Revolution set aside their rights.10 It is Nelson's thesis that William Cooper's purchase of Croghan's lands affected the composition of The Pioneers and that the Effinghams resemble the Prevosts. He enumerates several points of comparison, among these being that a question of Temple's rightful ownership existed; that Oliver Effingham's father, like Croghan's son-in-law, was a major in the Royal Americans; that Croghan's second wife was an Indian and Oliver was suspected of having Indian blood; that both families were related to prominent colonials; and even that there was some fictional use of the event of Augustin Prevost's having been a fatality in the shipwreck of The Albion and the assumption that Major Effingham was lost at sea.11 His evidence supports the conclusion that Cooper made extensive use of materials available to him concerning his father's property rights.
Another study of the historicity of characters in The Pioneers is by Lyman H. Butterfield. Butterfield, for instance, reviews the actual kinds of settlers known to have lived in Cooperstown who can easily be found to fill the pages of The Pioneers. Such real and subsequently fictional characters were the emigré, a Revolutionary soldier, lawyers, teachers, preachers, and a printer.12 Susan Fenimore Cooper remembered:
Natty Bumppo was entirely original, with the exception of his leather stockings, which were worn by a very prosaic old hunter, of the name of Shipman, who brought game to the Hall.13The character of the hunter that is drawn in The Pioneers, of course, does not achieve the near heroic stature that the overall portrait of the five novels attains. In the first novel Natty is a foil to the dominant Judge Temple, a valid antithesis of the judge's assumed authority, and a spokesman of natural law as opposed to civil law.
Unlike the Cooperstown days, the educational experiences of the novelist, who attended a preparatory academy in Albany with the sons of other prominent New York men and Yale College, scarcely figure (although they lend interesting texture to the Littlepage novels) in the Leatherstocking Tales. Interestingly, the commentary on education that is secondary to character development in several of the novels pertains to the education of young women rather than young men. Elizabeth Temple is introduced returning after a long educational absence to the wilderness; Mabel Dunham had received an education somewhat at odds with her station in life and her relative cultivation made the illiterate Natty an unlikely suitor; Hetty and Judith were tutored by their mother who had handed down the benefits of her own schooling, somewhat comparable to that of Charlotte Temple's in England. But the male characters' schooling receives scant attention.
Cooper attended Yale for three years and was expelled for disciplinary reasons in his junior year: " . . .There is a story of an explosion (apparently of gunpowder) in a college room and of a donkey placed in a professor's chair."14 Grossman assumes that it was at Yale Cooper contracted his lasting suspicion of Puritanism and the critic cites the ambiguous reference to wickedness and degradation presumably of Yale students of Puritan background in one of the travel books:
The reader is inflamed with the most lurid notions, and at the same time worried that he is being a bit of a fool and misinterpreting a description of some form of spiritual vice. Cooper was always torn between a gentlemanly ideal of personal reticence and a simple desire to talk about himself.15The available information concerning the college years does provoke the surmise that the judge's son, like Natty Bumppo, was not altogether successful in relating to authority figures. And he was not the only one of his brothers to manifest social problems. His older brother William Jr. was dismissed from Princeton for misconduct.16
After Yale Cooper, on the advice of his father, served as a common seaman aboard the Stirling and crossed the Atlantic. He apparently had the kind of experiences described by Dana in Two Years Before the Mast and Melville in Redburn. Walker describes the first voyage as a "rude awakening" for a squire's son and advises:
The crew that shipped aboard the Stirling was probably standard for the period: the flotsam and jetsam of society, derelicts and drunkards, Ishmaels, and a few old salts with hearts of oak and a love of the deep; these were the men, some of them ill after their fling ashore, some of them in delirium tremens, whom the young Cooper, just barely seventeen, joined for his first voyage.17His initial naval experience secured, Cooper could receive a naval commission as a midshipman. In 1808 as a midshipman he was sent to Oswego and Lake Ontario, setting of The Pathfinder, the only one of the Natty Bumppo books to capitalize on the naval background. While at Oswego "to supervise the building of a brig," he lived in a "primitive frontier village."18 Thus, he received impressions of Lake Ontario and its surrounding forests in that time when the area was literally a border country, its boundaries disputed by the United States and England.
Resigning from the Navy, Cooper married Susan De Lancey on 1 January 1811; he had met the Westchester heiress while stationed in New York City. The young couple during the first years of their marriage moved between Cooperstown and Westchester County, finally settling at Scarsdale in the region that would prove more important in the production of The Spy than in that of the Leatherstocking stories. Of Cooper's activities between his resignation from the Navy and his assumption of authorship, Grossman relates:
He busied himself with gentleman farming, belonged to the county agricultural society and the county Bible society, was a vestryman of the church, a colonel in the militia, and part owner of a whaler on which he occasionally sailed in local waters.19That period of his life was not to provide obvious material for the Bumppo fiction. Of the men sketched in the series only Middleton, who appears in The Prairie, exhibits the qualifications for such a role. Too, the associations that would follow that period of his life would probably often be painful. Between 1813 and 1819 all five of his brothers died, leaving debts and numerous responsibilities which Cooper assumed.20
The record of Cooper's journals and letters attests that he was a gregarious man and maintained long-standing relationships that gave him great pleasure both with family members, particularly with his wife and children, and with numerous friends. He acquired friends among the New York gentry as early as his school days in Albany. Naval companions, both fellow officers and such an old salt as Ned Myers, were not forgotten. New ties were formed during his early married life. In New York City he was a member of the literary The Bread and Cheese.21 On his travels Cooper became acquainted with many of the great men of the early nineteenth-century. Beard's index of the writer's correspondents is impressively long.
That his friends furnished, if not grist for his fiction, connections that would make publication and reputation possible, is evident. Beard indicates the part Cooper's work as a magazine reviewer played in establishing him as a writer. The editor of The Literary and Scientific Repository, and Critical Review in which his early non-fiction was printed was Colonel Charles Kitchell Gardner who had served with Cooper during his assignment on Lake Ontario. The pages of Gardner's magazine included work by Cooper from its inception in 1820 to its demise in May, 1822.22 Beard maintains that Goodrich, who published Precaution, was "probably the only publisher Cooper knew well enough to approach confidentially . . ." and notes that "Goodrich published chiefly guidebooks, maps, and manuals."23 The fact that he knew Goodrich rather than that he verified the man's appropriateness as a publisher of fiction then must have been an overwhelming factor in the tyro author's choice of a publisher.
Susan mentions her father's propensity for conversation and credits his listening to his neighbors in Westchester County for much of the impetus of The Spy. She cites especially the importance of Judge William Jay's memories.24 To the Leatherstocking Tales his propensity for gaining information informally brought some of the specific details that he used in characterizing the plains Indians who appear in The Prairie. Susan recounts that the writer followed a delegation of prairie Indians whom he had encountered in New York to Washington and that "The Army officers in charge of this deputation told him many interesting facts connected with those tribes."25 Both those western Indians and the flora and fauna of that region that The Prairie depicts must have been a partial result of that trip to Washington. Traveling with him was the naturalist Charles Bonaparte.26
Generally known are the facts of Cooper's meeting with the writer Sir Walter Scott and his long acquaintance with the distinguished French General Lafayette. Less often documented is the astonishing record of his many acquaintances among the foremost scientists of his era. Harry Hayford Clark provides extensive data about those scientific friendships. At least as early as his days at Yale, Cooper laid the foundation for his lifetime interest in experimentation and research. In 1805 he studied with Banjamin Silliman and later corresponded with him. His astronomy professor was Day. Besides Bonaparte, he knew the naval explorer Wilkes. In Paris he met the painter and inventor S. F. B. Morse. Numbered among his friends in applied science were DeWitt Clinton, developer of the Erie Canal, and the Scottish John Loudon McAdam, constructor of highways, with whom he was related by marriage and corresponded. There were two family physicians with whom he visited. One, Dr. James DeKay, was a fellow member of the Bread and Cheese Club and published in 1826 his Address on the Progress of the Natural Sciences in the United States. In the address DeKay defended the doctrine of a great "chain of being" which Clark defines as "scientific and cosmic sanction for acceptance of a parallel doctrine of the rightness of social gradations as opposed to the kind of egalitarianism associated with Thomas Paine."27 A second doctor friend was John W. Francis, physician to Cooper during the latter part of his life. The naturalist and explorer A. von Humboldt was his acquaintance.28 In his novels, then, particularly the botanical and geographical observations are occasionally without fictional precedents, reflecting not so much the author's models as his own interests.
The writer's connection with leading members of the Hudson River School of painting has been traced. Thomas Cole and Thomas Doughty he numbered among his closest friends.29 A trip that he made with English visitors he credited as the inspiration of the setting of The Last of the Mohicans. To his English publisher in 1826 he wrote:
Will you have the goodness to get a set of The Mohicans neatly bound and send it to the Hon. E. G. Stanley, the eldest son of Lord Stanley, I know no better way of distinguishing him. He is a member of Parliament, and after his father, the next heir to the Earldom of Derby. It is the Gentleman who was in this country last year. He and I were together in the caverns at Glens Falls, and it was there I determined to write the book, promising him a copy. Send it with a note, saying that you were requested to do so, by the Author.30Cooper's friendships obviously extended the scope and cultural richness of the Leatherstocking Tales.
Another kind of inheritance arising primarily from the novelist's gifts as a listener accounted for an additional strength for his books. Nancy and Pedrini in analyzing the similes and metaphors of The Pathfinder set forth imagery that sustains realistic reference to occupation. However, they choose to write:
Cooper's significant contribution to American literature lies in his romantic treatment of the sea and the forest. His approach is that of a folklorist rather than a historian. Leatherstocking, or Pathfinder as the hero is called in The Pathfinder, is an embodiment of the romantic nobleness, purity and simplicity which a forest, removed from and uncorrupted by civilization, suggested to Cooper.31These critics do not define their terms. Cooper's "romantic treatment" needs qualification. Cooper was "romantic" in his disregard of structure: his novels defy fictional rules. But Cooper was not optimistic, not "romantic," about man in the forest and on the sea. His view of man and society was formalistic. The conflict between the liberation from literary rules and the observance of social decorum informs Cooper's work. What folklore he worked with, Cooper welded to a static view of society. Such incorporation seems to subvert the essential robustness, earthiness, and very freedom of genuine folk materials. Cooper apparently desired the common man to be both more gratuitous and abstemious than is his ordinary characterization in folklore.
Particularly The Pathfinder offers a contrast to the possibilities of folk art. Bumppo's inappropriate marriage proposal to Mabel could have been treated with broad comic effects by a rowdier telling. Cooper strove to make his hero appear to have sprung from the materials of legend and reminiscence by allusions to him in Home As Found. But there is little evidence that Natty is a folk hero.
One criterion of Cooper's use of folklore is an investigation of his presentation of proverbs. Demonstrating that Cooper drew proverbs that were "genuine folk products" from acquaintances with people rather than with literature, Walker concludes "The closer his own life is to the scene and time of the story, the more proverbs he uses."32 Walker finds much of the folk wisdom incorporated in metaphors. Having examined all Cooper's novels, Walker comments on the use of Negro lore in sixteen of them. Pointing out these materials are about, not by, Negroes, he credits them as representing white perceptions.33 In The Pioneers, for example, the Negro dimly is seen as that "picturesque part of the American scene" Walker suggests in his findings. Other than that book, the only Leatherstocking story characterizing the Afro-American is The Last of the Mohicans in which one of the principal characters, Cora Munro, is of mixed blood.
Walker cannot deem original such folk types in Cooper's work as the comic Irishmen or pirates. The critic notes that half-wits in the writer's novels were borrowed from Shakespeare and Scott. The portrayal of Indian solicitude for the mentally deficient, he points out, was first attempted in fiction by Cooper.34 That innovation affects especially the outlines of The Last of the Mohicans and The Deerslayer. In other work Cooper portrayed a Brother Jonathan as more genial than his prototypes, according to Walker, and a Yankee more villainous.35 Neither type was encountered by Natty other than incidentally in The Pioneers. The irrepressible Bushes in The Prairie, by their passion, suffering, moral growth, and endurance, may be acknowledged as folk types consonant with the materials of ballads and legends about the American frontier.
The most nautical of the Bumppo novels, The Pathfinder -- it presents a saltwater sailor, Cap, and a freshwater mariner, Jasper Western -- does not rely on pirate lore or seamen's superstitions. Only in The Deerslayer did allusions to piracy function significantly. Before settling at Lake Glimmerglass, Tom Hutter was a pirate. As if he remained on the sea, he buried his dead in the water. William H. Bonner, noting Tom's relationship to piracy in The Deerslayer, does not make the novel central to his thesis concerning Cooper's perception of the meaning of piracy. Noting what finally might have been learned by colonials from legends of piracy and after examining novels such as The Red Rover which treat the theme extensively, Bonner suggests of Cooper: "He caught the early spirit of independence that disregarded English law, that in the Revolution was patriotic and good, but that before that time had been criminal."36 Because most of the Leatherstocking Tales have inland settings, the legends of pirates and legitimate sailors might furnish a paradigm for the fictional handling of questions of land ownership, and the transition of Hutter from pirate to squatter seems to support such a theory.
If, as most critics conclude, Cooper drew most of his materials about the eastern Indians from the pages of John Heckewelder, his Indian lore as does his Negro lore proceeds from second-hand sources. All the Indians, Delaware and Iroquois, and in The Prairie, Pawnee and Sioux, were seemingly formulated to sustain the legend of the Delawares that their people were persuaded by the Iroquois not to bear arms and thus were made vulnerable to attacks by other tribes.37 Perhaps Lawrence's hint about Cooper's Indians bears repeating also:
There has been all the time, in the white American soul, a dual feeling about the Indian. First was Franklin's feeling that a wise Providence no doubt intended the extirpation of these savages. Then came Crèvecoeur's contradictory feeling about the noble Red Man and the innocent life of the wigwam.38If Cooper was limited by Lawrence's two possibilities, then, he chose the view of Crèvecoeur. There is a noted progression in the complexity of separating good Indians from bad between the writing of The Last of the Mohicans and The Deerslayer so that tribal affiliation in the latter does not entirely insure a particular kind of character.
Certainly the legendary basis of Natty's feats as a forester and marksman cannot be neglected. Legend especially credited the men of Kentucky and Tennessee with marksmanship, and such men are met in The Prairie in the characters of the Bushes and the renegade Abiram White. Twain disparages Natty's marksmanship in The Pathfinder and Natty's aim is admittedly fantastic. But for the most part the feats of characters in the Tales fall short of legendary performances. Showing the same preference for what finally again bespeaks his bent for realism, Cooper fails to rely on supernatural elements. Walker observes:
Some of Cooper's surest artistry is to be observed in the deft way in which he uses lore of the supernatural for the purposes of fiction without going beyond the bounds of the credible.39Such an instance of the bounds Cooper allows would be Abiram's swooning in The Prairie which appeared death-like after he was accused of the murder of his nephew Asa. Middleton is fictionally shown as "awe-struck by what he believes a manifest judgment of Heaven."40 The omniscient author, however, presents Abiram's collapse as a consequence of his guilty conscience. Unlike Claggert in Melville's Billy Budd, the culprit recovers consciousness to face human judgment.
Since the materials available to Cooper in the accounts of the historical (and legendary) Daniel Boone were extensive, the analysis of those which Cooper chose to use and, perhaps of greater importance, those he chose not to use will be dealt with in a discussion of the writer's methods of characterization. John Bakeless' study of Boone, for instance establishes that folklore attributed to the wilderness scout a love of solitude to which Byron alludes in his Don Juan.41 Perhaps from such a hint Cooper conceded the sublimation of all Natty's passions in his attachment to nature, but legend did not reveal Boone in a similar way.
George Monteiro makes an interesting distinction between Natty and Boone when he asserts that Natty cannot be considered Cooper's portrayal of a woodsman, but of a hunter. Boone figured as both hunter and woodsman. Monteiro cites Billy Kirby in The Pioneers as Cooper's characterization of an axe wielder and suggests that such a portrayal as much as oral tradition could have contributed to the emergence of the legendary Paul Bunyan.42 Walker also, at the same time clarifying what kind of folk hero Natty's image better fits than that of the prolific Boone, builds a case for Cooper's fiction assisting folk tradition in prefiguring an important kind of American folk hero, the cowboy. Like Natty, the later cowboy was not materialistic and inept with women, for whom he apparently cared much less than for his horse.43
Explaining the legendary appeal of the western hero, Walker expatiates:
Uninterested in "getting ahead" or scrambling for status, he provides a counterbalance to the Horatio Alger ideal, an ideal which, on the surface, is widely praised and admired, but an ideal which many people (at one time or another and to varying degrees) wish to escape.44Indeed, Natty could have been a model for the kind of American hero who disparages accumulation. Both Monteiro and Walker furnish a basis for believing that, if Natty did not grow out of folklore, his example contributed substantially to subsequent legend.
After his marriage and until 1926 Cooper remained in the United States; accordingly, he relied on the accounts of others to provide horizons beyond the eastern part of the country where he resided. As his reference to Scott's fiction, his first recorded notice of travel narrative concerned the format of one particular book. In a letter to Goodrich composed in July, 1820, in the midst of his work on Precaution, Cooper reported: "I have notic'd the type of Noah's Travel [s]. I am tempted to regret I had not seen a specimen of that type as I like it exceedingly -- this will however do --"45 Since Noah's travels took him to England, the setting of Precaution, it is not unlikely that Noah furnished observations that were reflected by the relatively untraveled American's novel.
Col. Gardner, editor of the Repository, considered Cooper competent to review travel narrative and in a letter of 7 January 1822 advised the author:
I wish you would favor me with a review of Travels -- easy writing -- also. Some publisher has sent me Didier's Travels, which if you prefer it, abuse -- or Tudor's Eastern Country.46Decidedly, such a mode of writing was apropos to Cooper's interests. His familiarity with travelers' information may be traced not only in his letters and his daughter's comments but also in his production. The semi-fictional Notions of the Americans picked up by a Travelling Bachelor, written in Europe and published in 1828, permitted him to see America in the guise of an European traveler and to function as both critic and eulogist. Although three of the Tales had been printed by the appearance of Notions, two of the novels followed the writer's establishment as a travel commentator. During the 1830's he penned a series of books based on his observations of European culture during the years he had spent in travel with his family. Always a reader of travel narrative and a keen observer, Cooper was at last able himself to travel and to record his own observations. His fascination with travel affected the writing of his fiction.
Two of the Leatherstocking novels in particular reveal Cooper's debts to travel narrative, but all, of course, share the influence of the peripatetic John Heckewelder whose book on Indian customs arose after years of missionary journeys from Pennsylvania and New York to as far west as Indiana. According to Susan, her father used four writers of travel narratives in his composition of The Last of the Mohicans. If Susan's memories are correct, he relied on such materials during the actual preparation of his manuscript.
E. Soteris Muszynska-Wallace calls attention to the four writers Susan named in his reconstruction of the sources of The Prairie (1827) because he believes similar books of travel were used, to some extent, for The Last of the Mohicans (1826) as well. Susan cited specifically Lewis, Clark, MacKenzie, and Charlevoix. The following list gives more elaborate bibliographical information: M. Lewis and W. Clark, History of the Expeditions under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark, to the Sources of the Missouri, there across the Rocky Mountains and down the River Columbia to the Pacific Ocean. Performed during the Years 1804-5-6. 2 vols. Philadelphia and New York, 1813; P. de Charlevoix, Journal of a Voyage to North America . . .Together with an Account of the Customs, Characters, Religion, Manners and Traditions of the Original Inhabitants. 2 vols. London, 1761; and A. MacKenzie, Voyages from Montreal . . .through . . . North America, to the Frozen and Pacific Oceans; in the Years 1789 and 1793. 2 vols. London, 1802.47 To this list Muszynska-Wallace adds the annals of Long's expedition, which he feels contain information that the novelist also incorporated in his fiction:
Edwin James, comp., Account of an Expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains, Performed in the Years 1819 and '20 . . . under the Command of Major Stephen H. Long. From the notes of Major Long, Mr. T. Say, and Other Gentlemen of the Exploring Party, 2 vols. (Philadelphia, 1823).48Thus, Cooper made use of five writers who compiled four separate accounts from which he could draw information.
Thomas Philbrick, too, in his reviews of sources, principally those of The Pioneers and The Last of the Mohicans contained in separate published articles, points to the importance of eyewitness accounts for details of the siege of Fort William Henry, in addition to whatever memories the DeLanceys, Cooper's in-laws, may have provided. He specifies that, as Clavel points out, the account of Jonathan Carver in his Travels Through the Interior Parts of North-America (1778) gave assistance to the writer particularly in his treatment of certain features:
. . .the attitude of Colonel Munro (Cooper's spelling) at the time of the capitulation, the deep and rapid changes worked on Munro by the humiliation of his defeat, his futile efforts to persuade the French officers to stop their Indian allies from menacing the defenceless British garrison; the Indian war cry which triggers the savage slaughter; and the spectacle of the Indians in, he act of drinking the blood of their victims.49As Cooper would point out, the traveler depended, for impressions of a new country, upon his own perceptions. His ability to write at all, for the novelist, depended on the strength of his confidence in his own unique point of view.
The narrative skill of published travelers in recording how they saw fresh places and people offered Cooper a mode adaptable to the requirements of writing the historical novel. Similar to the purposes of travel writers, Cooper's motive in writing the five novels under consideration, particularly those first three, was partially that of informing readers in settled areas on both sides of the Atlantic about the American frontier and its inhabitants. To work out four of the novels he could draw upon first-hand impressions of geographical features. The Prairie, however, depended totally upon the work of others because the book depicted a region in which Cooper had never traveled.
Some materials in The Prairie, according to Muszynska-Wallace, are common to all chronicles of the West, any one of which has numerous references to plains, grass, prairie fires, herds of buffaloes, and Western Indians. But certain resemblances that the novel, which was completed in Paris, bear to travel literature are such that bespeak only Lewis and Clark.50 The extended study of sources reveals:
Such resemblances as pertain to a mirage, a skin boat, a buffalo hide giving protection from fire and the cooking of a bison's hump, together with the use Cooper made of the Indian names Weucha, Mahtoree, and Hard-Heart, the Yankton-Sioux words "me-ha-has-hah" (Long Knife) and "wa-con-she-cheh" (bad spirit), and the outcry "wah" suffice to indicate specific sources.51The list indicates the level of concreteness Cooper chose to duplicate when using travel literature as source material.
John T. Flanagan seeks, as his title "The Authenticity of Cooper's The Prairie" proposes, to deal with the many critics who complained that Cooper did not exhibit a knowledge of the West. Like other scholars, Flanagan cites Cooper's reliance upon Long and Lewis and Clark, and suggests that also Schoolcraft might be noted. Since the Indians of the plains resemble those of the New York novels, Flanagan is of the opinion that the Reverend Mr. Heckewelder as much influenced the composition of The Prairie as that of the other books.52 The point is well taken because a good many of the details about Indians, details which contribute a major share of the interest of each of the Leatherstocking Tales, are similar.
Critics both contemporary with Cooper and in the twentieth-century have assessed and reassessed his portrayal of Indians. Among others, Arthur C. Parker reiterates the earliest charges that the novelist took most of his notions about Indian life from Heckewelder in spite of the availability of studies both by Indians and recognized anthropologists.53 Parker would have a more convincing argument if he named specific documents. Serious study of the Indian is ordinarily considered to have begun in the late nineteenth century. Besides Heckewelder's work and other travel narratives, captivity narratives supplied Cooper's imagination with details. Crèvecoeur and Brackenridge might be cited as sources. But Cooper's fictional design determined what Indian materials were put into the Tales.
Also included with Parker's article in the New York Historical Association's publication devoted to Cooper scholarship, is a study which makes conclusions similar to those of Parker, "Cooper's Indians" by Paul A. W. Wallace. Wallace criticizes Cooper's assumptions about the status of women among the New York Indians. To summarize Cooper's attitude briefly, it consistently deplores the consideration of the Delawares as having been reduced to the status of women after their alliance with the Iroquois and the deprivation of the Indian women, as evidenced by their bearing unnecessary burdens and receiving only slight affection from their spouses. For example, the proselytizing Hetty is allowed to harangue Chingachgook in The Deerslayer concerning his future marital responsibilities to Wah-tah-Wah, whom Hetty feared would be abused if her life were to reflect the ordinary pattern of that of the Indian bride. Wallace, to the contrary, insists that the Indian woman in terms of tribal management, very often enjoyed higher status than did the white woman. He explains that the word woman meant something different in Iroquois than it did in English and was in no way a deprecatory term.54 To explain Cooper's reliance upon Heckewelder, Wallace views the legend recorded by the missionary and originally provided by the Delawares as:
. . .a fantastic vision of the American forest peopled by good spirits and bad: a vision that provided the novelist not only with a colorful background for Hawkeye, Chingachgook, and Uncas, but also with the moral sanctions . . .appropriate to the Indian slaughters of which these tales are full.55Heckewelder's pages, however, are filled with depictions of manners and customs, more than with morals. And Heckewelder's "vision" was not so insistent as was Cooper's.
Another kind of explanation of Cooper's extensive reliance on the mode of an individual experience is that there was historically scant reference available for him for the background he wanted for his fiction. Philbrick states that there were, for instance, only brief references to the account of events at Fort William Henry in the standard histories and alludes to Benjamin Trumbull's A General History of the United States of America, Boston, 1810, I, 372-373.56 Pointing out that Cooper in The Last of the Mohicans did not end his recital of events with the massacre at Fort William Henry, but had Hawkeye and his party return to the site, Philbrick maintains: "Without any doubt, this ghastly scene derives from a second and still more widely known narrative of frontier warfare, David Humphreys' Life of Israel Putnam (1780)." The bibliographical notation for this further contribution to the list of individual reminiscences is: An Essay on the Life of the Honorable Major-General Israel Putnam (Brattleboro, Vermont, 1812).57
The vindication of Cooper's decisions about sources for his novels is underscored by Philbrick's comments concerning the contrast of the novelist's preparation of the unsuccessful Lionel Lincoln (1825) and that of The Last of the Mohicans: " . . .Cooper, it would appear, gratefully seized on the Travels [by Carver] and The Life of Putnam as convenient sources of the vivid, first-hand information that his 'narrative' required."58 In adopting such a method the novelist betrayed his commitment to fiction at the expense of scholarship.
Although his final decisions about the use of sources were not based upon painstaking verification, Cooper did balance his personal recollections with those of others who had taken approximately the same routes, though in times or circumstances different from those of his own. Morton Ross credits Gregory Paine as the first to find parallels between materials in The Pathfinder and those in Mrs. Anne Grant's Memoirs of an American Lady.59 Certainly her sensibility would have revealed a different Lake Ontario from the one Cooper would have seen as a young Naval officer. Reading the reminiscences of others, Cooper might have marked the effects of praiseworthy tone or point of view. In writing of his travels and those of his imaginary bachelor he permitted himself the freedom of a first-person stance that was never to be a part of the elevated focus of narration used throughout the Tales. Whatever the differences in effect between the Bumppo saga and the achievement of his sources, Cooper's best novelistic passages would bear the imprint of the fine quality good personal narrative can sometimes possess, the immediacy and sincerity that involvement may secure.
By the time he wrote the last two Tales, The Pathfinder and The Deerslayer, Cooper worked with the completion of books about his own travels in published form. He had also experimented with the kind of detachment possible when pretending to be a sophisticated traveler in the United States. Robert Spiller in editing Gleanings in Europe mentions the rarity of editions of the five European travel books and points out:
Yet these five books were written at the turning point in their author's career. They are the protestations of a great romanticist who has suddenly been faced with facts too solid for the dissolving magic of his art.60The critic shows the books relevant to the position that he has maintained that Cooper in his development as a novelist became not a romancer but a commentator on his times. The fact that two of the Tales were written after this interposition of realism could explain certain differences they bear to the first three of the novels, The Last of the Mohicans probably being the one of those three, in its somberness, that the two later ones most resemble.
Two instances of Cooper's own notions of his accomplishment as a travel writer furnish a basis for speculation about his awareness of the technical mastery of point of view. In the Preface to the First Edition of his Gleanings, he spoke of wishing to record the character of Europe as one from another nation:
. . .as no two travellers see precisely the same things, or, when seen, view them with precisely the same eyes, this is a species of writing, after all, that is not likely to pass, or cease to be useful.61His use of the word eyes and acknowledgment of the fundamental divergence in perception by any two viewers certainly indicates that he understood that his role as a writer was to record his way of looking at life. Throughout his career he displayed a confidence in his own perception. Besides a feeling of individual competence he felt too another aspect of his character as perceptive viewer:
I have no idea of boring mankind with statistics, and dry essays on Politics, but to give only, rapid sketches of what I shall see with American eyes.62What he wrote of his plans to become still another writer of travels signaled a kind of recognition of both his strength and limitation, essentially a recognition that he worked within the confines of his own consciousness. His eyes were "American eyes." Though technically he did not achieve the kind of mastery of point of view and the international novel that challenged Henry James, Cooper's pronouncement of the possibilities for an American writer foreshadows those of James.
Neither was Cooper oblivious to the paradoxical overtones of any reliance upon personal observation to the detriment of imagination. He had written The Prairie set in a land he had never seen. As he later realized, furthermore, his travel books never won the audience that even his first work of fiction, Precaution, managed. The indifferent reception of the works on travel dismayed him. In 1843, a time that had brought perspective to his judgment of Precaution, he complained to Griswold:
The knowledge it betrayed of English society was the most worthless and superficial kind, and yet I think it gained me more reputation in that way, than my own subsequent work on England -- a book written after six visits to the country, and under circumstances singularly favorable to observation!63A writer's supposition of truth promoted his work in a way superior to that of his actual acquaintance with facts. Again he prefigured a Jamesian reality.
The art of travel writing contributed to Cooper's craftsmanship, first of all, in the Tales because travel narrative supplied concreteness and immediacy. Second, his evaluation of the merits of facts versus fiction deepened his assumptions about the efficacy of fictional license.
When he began to write, Cooper expressed fully as much concern for the particulars of publication as he did for the criteria of literary judgment. His letters to Goodrich document an interest in such matters as advertising. He inquired on 2 July 1820 concerning Goodrich's handling of Precaution: "Have you announced it, and in what Manner -- . . ."64 Before the first novel was off the press, the writer had begun his second. And on 28 June 1828, again paying scant attention to his literary labors but showing concern about format, he sent off an introduction to The Spy: "I send you the three first chapters in order to see your style and type -- that of the Monastery will do -- but should like a better paper --"65 The pains he took with the practical matters of printing reflected his lifelong zest for information about innumerable activities. Accounts of the literary man's business dealings and intellectual concerns during the years in which he created Natty Bumppo indicate enormous vitality and curiosity.
Cooper's rhetorical skills were practiced frequently in the conduct of his business and professional concerns. Not one of his biographers fails to delineate the long record of the novelist's often cantankerous dealings with the world at large. Like his father who finally died as the result of complications following a blow on the head dealt by a political opponent, Cooper was long interested in the law and litigation. As early as 1820, years before the extensive journalistic duel that succeeded unfavorable Parisian reviews of The Bravo (1831), before the libel trials as a consequence of the Home novels of the 1830's, before the hostilities of the Anti-Rent controversy and the Littlepage novels of the 1840's, Cooper was threatening his first publisher Goodrich with lawsuits over the textual errors he denounced in Precaution:
An interview of half an hour will settle more than a dozen letters, and perhaps avert a legal controversy that will be vexatious to me and inevitably attended with loss to yourself. . . .I can bring as respectable men as there are in the Country to prove -- the evil consequences pervade every chapter of the Book after the 15th and those not in commas and dashes -- but in sense -- grammar -- and execution to an almost ruinous degree --66An amicable settlement did not ensue. Wiley became his second publisher.
But the language of Cooper's indignation was never silent. In his novels flourished appeals to reason, denunciations, recriminations, and a marvelous, perhaps therapeutic, wrath. Even though the Leatherstocking Tales were considered among the least provocative of his titles, the series demonstrably is not without its portion of his rhetoric of controversy. An old man in his eighties his famous hero cries out in the pages of The Prairie: "What the world of America is coming to, and where the machinations and inventions of its people are to have an end, the Lord, he only knows." (Chapter xxiii, p. 296) Very often Natty Bumppo was the mouthpiece of sentiments that were to be received as those of common sense and practical wisdom in the face of a treacherous social order.
Another voice arose from the vexations of certain business dealings: a plea of innocence and a cry for compassion. When Cooper began his career as author, he was in debt to Robert Sedgwick who had loaned him money in 1818 and 1819 and who eventually sued him for repayment. In a letter to Peter Augustus Jay who represented Cooper when he settled his financial affairs with Sedgwick, the novelist despairs:
I suffered him to make his own calculations and, sign'd the bond and Mortgage -- In short I tried to forget it -- Another item -- he made interest of Bond payable every 6 months, without previous agreement, (at least such is my impression) . . . .67Apparently in his business dealings in a way similar to that of his writing, he preferred to rely on memory and impression rather than documentation. For an exceedingly complicated loan that incurred interest charges incomprehensible to him, Cooper admittedly had kept no actual records.
William Charvat thought Cooper an excellent businessman when the author handled the affairs of publication. Charvat contends that Cooper considered his writing as saleable as any other commodity and pointed out: "Though his self-respect as a writer was unmitigated, he exploited literature in a brisk and business-like fashion."68 The best example of his shrewdness was his approach to the problem of inadequate international protection of authors during the nineteenth-century. In making copyright arrangements that gained international royalties on sales of his books, Cooper displayed a finer business acumen than did most of his contemporary authors. He relied upon pre-publication agreements in different countries. According to Walker:
This gave a definite sales advantage to the authorized publisher, for he alone could announce the forthcoming work and take orders in advance; and with a month needed by even the most efficient pirate to bring out a competing edition, he could skim the cream off the market.69Cooper was, of course, at an advantage in having American citizenship in order to protect himself against the practices of his own countrymen, the most unscrupulous of the pirates. Working on behalf of Scott, Cooper futilely attempted to obtain American royalties for the Scotsman after Scott's financial difficulties became known. His letter to Scott reveals Cooper's concern for the lack of power all authors shared in obtaining foreign royalties.70
Putting him in a more favorable light than did his often querulous business manners were those he exhibited during his career as corresponding secretary of the Otsego County Agricultural Society before his move to his wife's domain in Westchester County. In a letter "To the Freeholders of the County of Otsego" Cooper invited membership in the society and argued the advantages of shared information concerning advancements in husbandry: "Acquainted with the peculiarities of our own soils, climate, situation, our wants and our resources the Otsego County Agricultural Society will act directly on the interests of ourselves."71 Thus, he polished such prose as promised the benefits of cooperation and communication among fellow landholders and revealed that his pen as well produced blandishment as vituperation. Besides his membership in an agricultural society after his marriage, he belonged to Bible societies, was commissioned a colonel in the militia, and invested in a whaling vessel.72 The simplicity of Leatherstocking's needs was a contradiction of the diversity of those of his author.
Of the social sciences the discipline of history actually contributed no more than such fields as political science, economics, and geography to the implications of the Leatherstocking Tales. The intellectual climate in the United States during the early nineteenth century demanded American writers. For the prospective author there awaited adequate resources. William Tudor's address printed in the North American Review in 1815 lists, for instance, recommended readings and subjects in American history and propounds a method of delineating the Indians. Of Tudor's influence on Cooper, Spiller speculates:
Although his sources were different, his general approach to the problem of poetry was that which James Fenimore Cooper adopted in his experiments with fiction which began a half dozen or more years later. Did Cooper read this essay after the failure of Precaution?73Many of the items in Tudor's catalogue are the kinds of works Cooper found of most assistance, personal narratives. Tudor suggested Dr. Belknap's American biographies and called attention to such characters as Standish, King Philip, and Mrs. Hutchinson. He recalled President Stiles' mention of Dixwell, a regicide who fled the Restoration, and reminded writers that histories of Virginia and Massachusetts existed. Besides Colden and Charlevoix, Tudor chose as authorities on the Indians Lafitau and Adair.74 But Cooper maintained that he discovered "a poverty of materials" when he surveyed the history of his country.75 He concluded American writers would be advised to depict general rather than local applications of human conduct. In the light of his demands such a work as the delightful Letters from an American Farmer by Michel-Guillaume Jean de Crèvecoeur, which Clavel places somewhere in spirit between romance and guidebook,76 would better serve the requirements of Cooper's imagination than would a history of particulars.
George Bancroft would be the most notable example of a historian contemporary with Cooper. Of Bancroft's exuberant point of view Lewis notes:
The historic struggle which led to that new and more glorious era -- that era for which the Christian centuries had been but a prologue -- was the subject of Bancroft's History of the United States, a work of ten volumes written between 1834 and 1876.77As did John Filson, the Boone biographer, Bancroft expressed a positive view of the American experience that, although Cooper did not share, he apparently read with admiration. Not living out the years of Bancroft's work on his history, Cooper nonetheless voiced an opinion of its beginnings in a letter he wrote to Bancroft offering a correction of the naming of land and sea commanders during the Battle of New Netherlands: "I shall take this occasion to express my thanks for a history written in the, interest of human rights." With human rights Cooper associated the early mission of the Quakers and pointed out his own Quaker origins to Bancroft.78 Nonetheless, the sustained melancholy of The Deerslayer (and the earlier The Last of the Mohicans) is in contrast to the vindications of the progress of civilization in North America.
Probably the closest Cooper came to working in a way parallel to the suggestions by Tudor was in his composition of Lionel Lincoln, a novel which he named his only true historical novel. Arvid Shulenberger interprets Cooper's criteria for the genre as requiring both "historically known or notable events" and accurate research.79 And Cooper was unwilling to duplicate his efforts after the poor reception of Lionel Lincoln. The novel, a curious blend of a studied depiction of a believable Boston background at the time of the incident at Breed's Hill and the most incredible melodrama surrounding an English major's recognition of his father, escaped from a London asylum, deserves further study. It well may hold the key to Cooper's notions of what an mutation of a Scott novel entailed.
Avoiding Cooper's narrow definition, a recent doctoral dissertation considers Cooper wrote twenty-five books that could be examined as historical novels. The conclusions of the study reflected that Cooper did not use many actual figures from history in his fiction but created heroes. His work was found reasonably free of anachronism. Summarizing the total effects of the novels, the writer noted: "In contrast to Scott's vision of human continuity, Cooper's is a vision of the violent nature of human history."80 In truth, the somber tone of Cooper's approach and his weighting of thematic overtones separate his work from that of Scott whose concerns were with attaining psychological insights and providing a consequential plot.
Cooper's own historical works exemplify how he thought history should be written. The History of the Navy of the United States was published in 1839 and for it Spiller among others offers great praise.81 One contemporary critic, a naval historian who is not familiar with Cooper's fiction, also endorses Cooper's work as a sea historian and advises: "The tone of the history is of a detached and abstract impartiality, in which the narrative is seldom relieved by anecdote."82 More relevant to the fabric of the Leatherstocking Tales are the records incorporated in the loosely organized Chronicles of Cooperstown Cooper saw through the presses in 1838. Exhibiting both a lack of organizational principle, other than that of acknowledging time spans sometimes as long as fifteen years and a demonstrable authorial perspective, the Chronicles relate events as they pertained to the Lake Otsego vicinity. Between a paragraph on the general growth and prosperity of the town during the first decade of 1800 and a paragraph devoted to the erection of a new court house at about the same times for example, the third-person narrator announced the death of the ambitious judge who was his own father: "On the 22d December 1809, died William Cooper, Esquire, the original proprietor, after whom the village was named." Among the qualities the father possessed, his son enumerated none that displayed a loving parent: "To the enterprise, energy and capacity of this gentleman, the county of Otsego is more indebted for its rapid settlement, than to those of any other person."83 Neither did he recount the violent circumstances leading to the judge's demise.
It could be charged that the Chronicles are sometimes devoid of reader interest because of their level of abstraction. What, for instance are the particulars of the "unladylike pursuits" Cooper decries when he extols the possibilities of female education in the Cooperstown of his days:
. . .it is hoped the attainments and principles which render the sex so attractive and useful as well as respectable will take deep root in the community. [And by having learned new amusements the young ladies will attain] . . . juster notions of their own dignity, and an increasing dislike for those familiar and unladylike pursuits that are too apt to form the aim of a mere village belle."84Such deportment as the author, and father of four daughters, considered transgressing the bounds of ladylike conduct remains a mystery. Cooper's attitude toward history was seldom frivolous.
A study that is helpful in relating three of the novels under discussion -- The Last of the Mohicans, The Pathfinder, and The Deerslayer -- to the actual history of the Canadian border to which they allude is S. B. Liljegren's The Canadian Border in the Novels of J. F. Cooper. He finds:
What strikes the attentive reader of Cooper's novels about the whites and the redskins of the Canadian border, is the confusion of tribes and nationality prevalent. It is imperative to remember that the Leatherstocking Tales are literature, not history, though they are built on historical events.85Liljegren does not deem Cooper's sources satisfactory. For whatever reasons, all five of the novels lack historical validity. Part of their achievement however, rests upon their remaining one of the most comprehensive attempts by an American writer to treat the outlines of American history seriously.
Political questions received modulated treatment in these novels, all of which were set between the approximate dates of 1740 and 1805, a time that spared their author commentary on the American scene of the years of their composition, 1823 to 1841. Because New York state did not revise its conservative constitution of 1777 until 1821, Natty Bumppo's enfranchisement would have been doubtful because of his lack of property. Cooper's Chronicles of Cooperstown supports this surmise:
In 1795, the township of Otsego, then much larger than at present, however, contained 2160 males above age of 16, a prodigious increase for ten years. It had 491 electors under the laws of that period, viz: 368 L100 freeholders; 55 L20 freeholders; and 60 persons renting tenements at L2.86Thus, Judge Temple in The Pioneers is a spokesman of the landed gentry; his leadership is not so much derived from the will of those he governs as it is from concepts of benevolence and paternalism. If not in accordance with voting and office qualifications at the time of the novels composition in 1827, such views did reflect the 'stake in life' theories applauded in earlier history. Cooper did not choose to deal with the realities of a political democracy when he wrote the Tales.
D. H. Lawrence complains about Cooper's ambivalence toward democratic institutions:
That is why one rather gets impatient with him. He feels he is superior, and feels he ought not to feel so, and is therefore rather snobbish, and at the same time a little apologetic. Which is surely tiresome.87Although his practice often belied his theories, Cooper consistently counted himself a democrat. He was in Europe when Andrew Jackson's first term in office commenced and welcomed Jackson's Presidency. To the sculptor Horatio Greenough his letter of 28 January 1830 reflected approval of what Beard explains was Jackson's first message to Congress on 8 December 1829:
Well, what do you think of Old Hickory's Message? It is a capital one -- sound from beginning to end, and whether it is himself or his counsellors he is a better man for us, than your Quincy giant.88That he did not fully understand Jackson's policies which would enhance egalitarianism was borne out by the surprise he manifested over conditions in the United States in 1833 after his seven-year European absence. But the consequences of his unfavorable reactions to such "leveling" tendencies as he deplored did not so much affect the production of the Tales as that of the Home novels.
Only indirectly do the Tales denounce civil government that abrogates the powers of responsible individuals. In The Pioneers Natty challenges the letter of the game laws, but otherwise the Tales are no handbook of civil disobedience. In Europe Cooper had opportunity to observe the consequences of governmental centralization, which he considered the outgrowth of Napoleonic policy, and to him centralization represented a deprivation of the liberty of French local government.89 The dilemma of Cooper's fears about the threats ever present to individual liberty may be embodied in Leatherstocking's flight from both romantic and political involvements. Natty's idealism remained uncompromised not only by the corrupt elements of civilization but also by the benign forces of recognizably sound relationships.
An economic issue that was to become important politically was that of the protective tariff. For the Repository of April, 1821, Cooper wrote "An Examination of the New Tariff." Beard credits the review in the following manner:
Again Cooper demonstrated his capacity to enter confidently into technical discussion, this time economic; and again he recommended a national policy of enlightened self-interest.90As times changed, Cooper's tendency was to endorse economic policies favorable to an agrarian as opposed to a commercial society.
Clark attributes to Cooper's concept of the gentleman's being ideally religious and moral the ability to contain both his political and social thought.91 The critic interprets Cooper's idea of progress in America as a movement toward what amounted to the establishment of a caste system.92 Indeed, Cooper characters who are portrayed as admirable invariably express contentment with their station in life.
A long section of Clark's study is given to evaluating his data on Cooper's awareness of current opinion on the effects of heredity and environment. Clark documents Cooper's awareness of opinions by Charlevoix, Colden, Elliot, Heckewelder, MacKenzie, and Major Stephen H. Land who knew Buffon. To illustrate Cooper's views, Clark reviews the passage in The Deerslayer in which Natty distinguishes between his concept of "nature" and that of "gifts."93 The pertinent passage is as follows:
A natur' is the creatur' itself; its wishes, wants, ideas, and feelin's, as all are born in him. This natur' never can be changed in the main, though it may undergo some increase or lessening. Now, gifts come of sarcumstances." (Chapter xxv, p. 455)For Judith, thus, Natty explained nature in terms of heredity and gifts, environment.
One point that Clark makes forcefully seems especially relevant to any assessment of Natty Bumppo's characterization: Middleton's estimate of Natty in The Prairie fully admitted the illiterate hunter's limitations. Clark offers his estimate as proof that Natty Bumppo " . . . should not (in the light of environmentalism) be interpreted as he is, as representing mankind's potential 'proper elevation and importance.'"94 With the exception of The Deerslayer each of the Tales did show off an authoritarian gentleman, who functioned very often in the manner of legitimate royalty in Shakespeare's plays.
Clark finds racial overtones in Cooper's opinions on heredity:
In general, unchanging aspects of human nature were attributed to race while differences were attributed to the conditioning effects of environment.95His survey, based on Cooper's entire production, cites numerous instances of fictional attitudes that are ultimately those of a racist. Natty Bumppo's opinions on racial differences are ever in the perspective of his belief that in God's judgment race is not important. And, as Clark admits, the figure of Cora Munro in The Last of the Mohicans is the first fictional characterization to treat a person of mixed racial inheritance deferentially.96 The Leatherstocking Tales, thus, presented the dialectics of tolerance opposed to intolerance -- the best example being Natty and Hurry Harry's exchange in the introductory pages of The Deerslayer. Cooper hesitated to approve the possibilities of racial intermarriage. In The Pioneers, when Oliver Edwards first meets Elizabeth Temple, there is speculation that the young man may have Indian blood. But, when his identity is disclosed and he is revealed as Edward Effingham, all possibility of his Indian ancestry dissolves. Cora was murdered at the end of The Last of the Mohicans, dispelling the possibility of the continuation of her mixed blood line. Without exception, white women in the novels deplored the sexual advances of red men. Natty in The Deerslayer preferred death to an alliance with a squaw.
The main lines of Cooper's tribal distinctions are drawn from Heckewelder. The missionary did not actually include many passages of invidious comparison between Cooper's exemplary Delawares and his malicious Iroquois. Heckewelder did reflect at length on the effects of acculturation after the Indians had been exposed to white civilization. He felt that both Iroquois and Delaware had changed, the Delawares for the worse and the Iroquois for the better. The Moravian regretted the Delawares' ". . .having no opportunity of displaying their true character and the talents that nature had bestowed upon them."97 Such a conclusion could well suggest to Cooper the characterization of Chingachgook, the semi-civilized, drunken John Mohegan of The Pioneers.
By the writing of The Deerslayer Cooper had somewhat softened the portrait of the Delawares' enemy; in that novel the Huron leader Rivenoak shows moderation and compassion in his treatment of Natty. In both The Deerslayer and The Last of the Mohicans, and to some extent in The Pathfinder, Indians with strong tribal identities are not so much portrayed villainously as are those who, shifting sides, enact betrayals.
Although in The Prairie Cooper's distinctions between the Sioux and the Pawnee tribes follow lines similar to those with which he separated Iroquois from Delaware, it is assumed the meliorative character of Hard-Heart Cooper depicted as a consequence of his observation of the delegation of Sioux and Pawnee chiefs he met in New York and followed to Washington, D. C., in 1826. Flanagan explains:
In particular Cooper became interested in a chief named Petelasharoo (or Peterlasharroo), a young Pawnee who incarnated all the moral and physical virtues of the plains Indians.98Because of Cooper's interest in the chief, the chief is believed to be the model for Hard-Heart, leader of the tribe with whom Natty Bumppo spent the year preceding his death. Always, Cooper drew unfavorably the character without strong identity and loyalty to any one group. Natty's tie to the Delawares, broken by the death of Chingachgook, was replaced by his eventual attachment to the Pawnees. Neither of these alliances was with people at war with white civilization according to Cooper's fiction. Having read widely in the social sciences, Cooper achieved in fiction not so much the re-enactment of actual events and situations as the dramatization of the possibilities of certain historical movements and social theories as they might have affected the behavior of generalized types of characters.
Cooper's reviews for the Repository measure his interests in science as well as in social science. The contents of Beard's Early Critical Essays indicate Cooper contributed articles on naval history, the tariff, the whale fisheries and Parry's northern expedition. External evidence of Cooper's connection with the Repository exists in A Letter to His Countrymen (1834); in it he states that he had held Gardner from favorably reviewing The Pioneers in The United States Magazine, successor to the Repository.99 Categorizing Cooper's interests in science apart from those in social science sets aside the facts of the contents of the books with which Cooper was familiar. The novelist's friend DeKay, for instance, incorporated into his book on natural science his defense of society's acceptance of social gradations. For the most part Cooper's method was to work within the framework of ideas he approved and impose them on the thematic plan of his fiction.
No less than the later realists, Cooper concerned himself with the scientific topics of his day. Clark demonstrates that the American was acquainted with the work of Malthus and LaPlace, who reinforced Newton's concept of a designed universe.100 Cooper was especially receptive to the practical benefits of science. He commended explorations, naval science, cultivation and improvement of the soil, animal husbandry, conservation, the development in communication represented by the telegraph, architecture, geography, manufacturing, roads and railroads, and even culinary improvements.101
The geologists whose opinions he embraced were Lyell and Hutton whose theories did not set aside the centrality of universal design. Cooper was known to have expressed disapproval of Georges Leopold Cuvier, once his dinner companion, because the geologist, opposing Lamarck's gradual evolutionary development, put forth a theory of vast cataclysms.102 Always for Natty Bumppo, nature is a manifestation of the Deity. He felt, further, that the forests better expressed bounty than did the prairies, which he viewed as divine warning to man against waste.
Cooper, as he had done with all his sources, preferred, if scientific pronouncements did not suit his purposes as a novelist, to plot his stories at the expense of authoritative facts. In spite of his respect for advances in medicine, very often he used a physician, notably Dr. Battius in the Tales, for comic relief. His predilection for moral allegory may account for many of the fictional assumptions he employed that were contrary to the consensus of the intellectual disciplines with which he was familiar. He demonstrates scientific method in a passage in The Deerslayer in which the Hurons speculate concerning the significance of carved ivory elephants. Of the theories set forth by the savages, the author comments: " . . .But little is hazarded in saying that they were quite as plausible, and far more ingenious, than half the conjectures that preceded the demonstrations of science." (Chapter xxi, p. 289) Thus, he employs inductive reasoning so far as it supports positions that for him remained absolutes.
As science subserved religion, so did art subserve nature for Cooper. Concerning art, the novelist's sentiments seem comparable to those of the ornithologist Alexander Wilson. "As well may worms compare with souls divine,/ As Art, 0 Nature! match her works with thine." (The Foresters, p. 41) Cooper, moreover, assumed a doctrinal stance in his belief. Howard Mumford Jones states that " . . .among major American novelists he is unique in his acceptance of trinitarian Christianity and his insistent interpretation of man and the universe in the light of this belief."103 Such firm religious convictions remained central to his perception of the world. For Cooper, nature reflected religious significance a significance which facilitated his integrated artistic vision.
When Cooper commented on the skepticism of Dr. Graham, a minor figure attending the dying Hetty in the last pages of The Deerslayer, he set forth his opposition to irreligion:
In all that relates to religion, his [Dr. Graham's] was one of those minds which, in consequence of reasoning much on material things, logically and consecutively, and overlooking the total want of premises which such a theory must ever possess, through its want of a primary agent, had become skeptical; leaving a vague opinion concerning the origin of things, that with high pretensions to philosophy, failed in the first of all philosophical principles cause. (Chapter xxxi, p. 550)The workings of reason, thus, for Cooper remained grounded in a faith in God.
Many in the early nineteenth century presented similar arguments for the union of science and religion. At Yale Cooper learned from Silliman the " . . .utility of science and also the idea that in an over-all view science and religion ought to reinforce one another -- two ideas to which Cooper was ardently devoted."104 Moreover, few writers in Cooper's time (a period before the reverberations of Darwin's discoveries) compartmentalized the provinces of science, social science, philosophy, and religion. Cooper and Bryant, in spite of marked political differences, expressed a reconciling compatibility. Marius Bewley notes: "The attitudes toward nature in both appear nearly identical. Nature is the symbol of the Creator, the mighty Cause, the infinite Source."105
One facet of his stratifying propensity was to ascribe a suitable faith, by his definition, to each of his fictional characters. Invariably his patrician spokesman, like himself, were nominal Episcopalians. Natty Bumppo was an exponent of Moravian doctrine, if not a participant in Moravian rites. History establishes that Comenius, who revised the Ratio disciplinae for the Moravians or Brethren in the seventeenth century, appealed in the dedication of his book for protection of his faith by the Church of England. Such protection was granted by the Church of England in the eighteenth century.106 Apparently Cooper felt charged by virtue of his ties with Episcopalianism to look with special favor upon Moravian proselytizing in the New World.
The Pioneers depicts the only religious service to be found in any of the Tales, and the settlers, who represented diverse doctrines, respect the Episcopalian order of worship in celebrating Christmas. Although Cooper sent everybody to church at that time -- even John Mohegan and Natty Bumppo were there -- he did permit some dissenting opinion after the service. John T. Frederick's recent study on the religious opinions of American writers traces Cooper's development from an early deism to a late Trinitarianism, avowed by his becoming a communicant in the Episcopalian Church. In spite of the apparent consistency of Cooper's religious stance which postulates a seemingly unquestioned faith, Frederick contends that Cooper must be considered a man of his time for having struggled with the tenets of his belief.107 Certainly Cooper was himself a tardy convert and allowed Natty Bumppo to remain uncommitted to organized religion.
Howard Mumford Jones has written about the influences of non-verbal forms on Cooper's works. He examines the relationship between the writer's fiction and his interests in landscape painting, particularly that of the Hudson River School:
the relation of landscape painting by the Hudson River School to Cooper's fictional technique and to his view of life is matter of more lasting import. Contemporary fiction has long ceased to be panoramic, and contemporary writing overwhelmingly depends upon town values.108Accepting Jones' thesis gives further dimension to the many long passages of descriptions of uninhabited territories that perhaps for the twentieth century and its predominantly urban culture may well be the hallmark of the five novels that relate the adventures of a frontiersman familiar with the scenic wonders of New York State from the Hudson to the falls at Niagara and finally with the reaches of the Great Plains. As Jones points out:
His thirty years of literary activity fall well within the period which produced the great group of American painters we call the Hudson River School. It is my theme that Cooper touched upon, and was touched by, the cultural activities of the painters in many ways.109A good deal of evidence lends credence to the extent of the importance of the developments in painting contemporary with Cooper's endeavor. Jones documents Cooper's correspondence with artists and includes Thomas Cole, Samuel F. B. Morse, John Wesley Jarvis, and William Dunlap. Many well known nineteenth-century American artists depicted scenes from the Leatherstocking series, moreover: both Thomas Doughty and John Quidor illustrated The Pioneers; Thomas Cole, The Last of the Mohicans; and J. W. Glass, The Prairie.110
Further interrelationships of the arts are borne out by Cooper's special role in the development of American sculpture. He became the first private American citizen to commission a work of sculpture and long was the patron of Horatio Greenough. From Florence he wrote of his hopes for Greenough on 25 May 1829 to Dr. DeKay: "I intend to send these Cherubs home, as soon as finished, and I hope they may be the means of bringing patronage and encouragement to the artist." Cooper had made possible by his financial support the statuary The Chanting Cherubs. If he had any misgivings about the work, it was because the subject was at once not original and not American: "The merit of Mr. Greenough is confined to the execution, in some degree, since the subject is certainly from Raphael."111 Cooper defended Greenough when the cherubs' nudity aroused what amounted to protests of pornography in the United States of the 1830's.112 He did not, however, subsequently limn nudes in the pages of the Tales. In The Deerslayer mention is made of Chingachgook's distaste for garments with which Deerslayer had thought to conceal his presence from the watchful Hurons. To Natty the Indian friend gave as his reason for removing his clothes the fact that, from Hetty, he had learned the Hurons recognized him in spite of his disguise. Chingachgook was concerned about his appearance before his Wah-tah-Wah whom he knew to be on the opposite shore:
There was a mild satisfaction in believing that she he loved could see him, and as he walked out on the platform in his scanty native attire, an Apollo of the wilderness, a hundred of the tender fancies that fleet through lovers' brains beset his imagination and softened his heart. (Chapter xiv, pp. 238-239)The narrator's association of the incident with a mythological figure often depicted nude in statuary may indicate that the subject of how best to portray the human body in art remained on his mind.
One interest in the visual arts that he openly discussed in his fiction was that in architecture. Jones records:
Cooper was also interested in architecture his views on that vexed problem being set forth in, among other books, The Pioneers, Home as Found and Afloat and Ashore; and when, as Oliver Larkin puts it, Greek met Goth in this same decade and was overthrown, Cooper sided with the Goths.113His preference for the Gothic to the Greek might be because of its Christian origins. For him also the Gothic suggested the inspiration of the forest. When Natty returns to keep his appointment with the Hurons, the following scene is described:
The arches of the woods, even at high noon, cast their somber shadows on the spot, which the brilliant rays of the sun that struggled through the leaves contributed to mellow and, if such an expression can be used, to illuminate. It was probably from a similar scene that the mind of man first got its idea of the effects of Gothic tracery and churchly hues: this temple of nature producing some such effect, so far as light and shadows were concerned, as the well-known offspring of human invention. (Chapter xxvii, p. 485)Such effects differ from the satirical ones concerning the haphazard design and construction of Temple Hall in The Pioneers. In The Pathfinder, another novel giving insight into Cooper's concern for the specifies of construction, the author meticulously explains the plan and materials of the blockhouse where Natty's only love, Mabel Dunham, gained protection against a scalping party of Iroquois. There he dwelt upon a structure uniquely American in function and materials.
The Leatherstocking Tales suggest that Cooper worked in a manner he considered to be that of a poet and that his subject was man's relation to nature. There are frequent references to Natty's keen sensitivities, and he is "a man of strong, native, poetical feeling." Such an association is attended by Natty's contemplation of the wilderness: "He loved the woods for their freshness, their sublime solitudes, their vastness, and the impression that they everywhere bore of the divine hand of their Creator." (Chapter xvi, p. 267.) And Natty's consciousness is contrasted with that of Tom Hutter and Hurry Harry who physically also move through the forests:
Nevertheless, the whole was lost on the observers, who knew no feeling of poetry, had lost their sense of natural devotion in lives of obdurate and narrow selfishness, and had little other sympathy with nature than that which originated with her lowest wants. (Chapter xix, p. 332)Thus, the writer appears to value his characters' responsiveness. For him, however, this responsiveness was innate: visible nature in the novels never effects changes in personality. The sense of man's resistance to "that soothing of the spirit which is a common attendant of a scene so thoroughly pervaded by the holy calm of nature" (The Deerslayer, Chapter ii, p. 33) separates Cooper's view from those of such romanticists as portrayed nature working changes on the human psyche.
That certain vistas could lend tranquility to a receptive beholder confirmed the psychological theory of associationalism as it was understood in Cooper's times. Clark notes that, according to this theory, ideas and moods might be evoked by geographical places. He relates nineteenth-century concepts of associationalism to " . . .a belief in the primacy of what Cooper called the bias of the feelings as opposed to rationalism."114 An essential part of Cooper's characterization was to discover the effects of natural scenery upon his men and women as they confronted the wilderness. The following method ensued: a landscape was presented, often from the perspective of height, and in turn a character revealed his mental state to be unmoved or to be contemplative.
As Jones has pointed out, the method was practiced by the Hudson River School. Another writer, Alexander Wilson, also had tried the possibilities of associating scenic wonder with religious rapture. He compares the feelings of his foresters as they reach Niagara with those of pilgrims attaining Mecca. When they reached the falls:
This great, overwhelming work of awful Time,As Cooper did, the naturalist supposed his audience capable of associating natural magnificence with divinity. Cooper's difference then was not in his depiction of persons responsive to American scenery, but in his awareness of those who remained indifferent and incapable of inspiration. In the Tales Cooper conceded the possibility of man's inability to feel awe by his introduction of the secular Warley. This intrusion occurs in a story that was the chronicle of the idealistic Natty's initiation to manhood, and his ensuing, inexplicable depression. It was the last of the Leatherstocking stories Cooper wrote.
In all its dread magnificence sublime,
Rose on our view, amid a crashing roar
That bade us kneel, and Time's great God adore. (pp. 57-58)
Those who can no longer share Cooper's opinions and beliefs can perhaps appreciate his aspiration to make of the novel a poetic medium. Flanagan in finally admitting that The Prairie does lack the authenticity its opponents have demanded suggests that what the story achieves is verisimilitude. He compares it with the pastoral, but not authentically rural, As You Like It.115 Inviting comparison with poetic forms, a configuration of form and content emerges with the total impress of the Leatherstocking Tales, the imaginative and moving cognizance of man's relation to nature.
Fenimore Cooper was not the first to portray American scenery. Before him were the naturalists Wilson and Audubon. Irving and Paulding's works were notable for their American settings. The painter Thomas Cole won recognition for his American landscapes. Men of culture and scholarship, to compare New World scenery favorably with that of the Old, were William Tudor, Timothy Dwight, Benjamin Silliman, and Dr. Hosack.116 But Cooper's efforts to portray the natural beauty of the States were distinctive and a chief cause of the wide acclaim of his books. Cooper's artistry, like his personality, integrated divisive and dynamic experiences with coherent but static convictions.
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