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James Fenimore Cooper

Portrait by John Wesley Jarvis
Born September 15, 1789(1789-09-15)
Burlington, New Jersey
Died September 14, 1851 (aged 61)
Cooperstown, New York
Occupation Novelist
Genres Historical Fiction
Literary movement Colonial Realism
Notable work(s) The Last of the Mohicans

James Fenimore Cooper (September 15, 1789 – September 14, 1851) was a prolific and popular American writer of the early 19th century. He is best remembered as a novelist who wrote numerous sea-stories and the historical novels known as the Leatherstocking Tales, featuring frontiersman Natty Bumppo. Among his most famous works is the Romantic novel The Last of the Mohicans, often regarded as his masterpiece.

Contents

Life and work

Early life

Cooper was born in Burlington, New Jersey, the son of William and Elizabeth (Fenimore) Cooper. His father was a United States Congressman. Shortly after his first birthday, his family moved to Cooperstown, New York, a provence founded by his father.

At 13, Cooper was enrolled at Yale, but he did not obtain a degree. He obtained work as a sailor on a merchant vessel, and at 18, Cooper joined the United States Navy. He obtained the rank of midshipman before leaving in 1811.

At age 21, he married Susan DeLancey. They had seven children, five of whom lived to adulthood. The writer Paul Fenimore Cooper was a great-grandson.

Writings

He anonymously published his first book, Precaution (1820). He soon issued several others. In 1823, he published The Pioneers; this was the first of the Leatherstocking series, featuring Natty Bumppo, the resourceful American woodsman at home with the Delaware Indians and especially their chief Chingachgook. Cooper's most famous novel, Last of the Mohicans (1826), became one of the most widely read American novels of the nineteenth century. The book was written in New York City, where Cooper and his family lived from 1822 to 1826.

In 1826 Cooper moved his family to Europe, where he sought to gain more income from his books as well as provide better education for his children. While overseas he continued to write. His books published in Paris include The Red Rover, and The Water Witch—two of his many sea stories.

In 1832 he entered the lists as a party writer; in a series of letters to the National, a Parisian journal, he defended the United States against a string of charges brought against them by the Revue Britannique. For the rest of his life he continued skirmishing in print, sometimes for the national interest, sometimes for that of the individual, and not infrequently for both at once.

Otsego Hall, Cooper's ancestral home

This opportunity to make a political confession of faith reflected the political turn he already had taken in his fiction, having attacked European anti-republicanism in The Bravo (1831). Cooper continued this political course in The Heidenmauer (1832) and The Headsman: or the Abbaye of Vigneron (1833). The Bravo depicted Venice as a place where a ruthless oligarchy lurks behind the mask of the "serene republic." All were widely read on both sides of the Atlantic, though The Bravo was a critical failure in the United States.[1]

In 1833 Cooper returned to America and immediately published A Letter to My Countrymen, in which he gave his own version of the controversy in which he had been engaged and sharply censured his compatriots for their share in it. This attack he followed up with novels and several sets of notes on his travels and experiences in Europe. His Homeward Bound and Home as Found are notable for containing a highly idealized portrait of himself.

In June 1834, he resolved to reopen his ancestral mansion, Otsego Hall, at Cooperstown, then long closed and falling into decay; he had been absent from the mansion nearly 16 years. Repairs were at once begun, and the house was speedily put in order. At first, he wintered in New York City and summered in Cooperstown, but eventually he made Otsego Hall his permanent abode.[2]

Reaction

Photograph by Mathew Brady c.1850

All these books touching upon the topics of politics and of Cooper himself tended to increase the ill feeling between author and public. The Whig press was particularly virulent in its comments, and Cooper plunged into a series of actions for libel. He emerged victorious in all his lawsuits.

After concluding his last case in court, Cooper returned to writing with more energy and success than he had had for several years. He wrote a history of the US Navy, and then returned to the Leatherstocking series with The Pathfinder, or The Inland Sea (1840) and The Deerslayer (1841) and other novels. He then returned to writing on maritime themes, including Ned Myers, or A Life Before the Mast, which is of particular interest to naval historians.

Later life

He turned again from pure fiction to the combination of art and controversy in which he had achieved distinction with the Littlepage Manuscripts (1845—1846). His next novel was The Crater, or Vulcan's Peak (1847), in which he attempted to introduce supernatural machinery. Jack Tier (1848) was a rifacimento of The Red Rover, and The Ways of the Hour was his last completed novel.

James Fenimore Cooper became a believer in spiritualism, he was an attender at spirit circles. [2]

Cooper spent the last years of his life back in Cooperstown. He died of dropsy on September 14, 1851, the day before his 62nd birthday. His interment was located at its Christ Episcopal Churchyard, where his father William Cooper was buried. Several well-known writers, politicians, and other public figures honored Cooper's memory with a dinner in February 1852; Washington Irving served as a co-chairman for the event alongside William Cullen Bryant and Daniel Webster.[3]

Legacy and criticism

Statue in Cooperstown, New York.

Cooper was one of the most popular 19th century American authors, and his work was admired greatly throughout the world. While on his death bed, the Austrian composer Franz Schubert wanted most to read more of Cooper's novels[4]. Honoré de Balzac, the French novelist and playwright, admired him greatly. Cooper's stories have been translated into nearly all the languages of Europe and into some of those of Asia.

Though some scholars may dispute Cooper being classified as a Romantic, Victor Hugo pronounced him greater than the great master of modern romance, and this verdict was echoed by a multitude of less famous readers, who were satisfied with no title for their favorite less than that of the "American Scott.” He was most memorably criticized by Mark Twain whose vicious and amusing review [5] is still read widely in academic circles. His reputation today rests upon the five Leatherstocking tales and some of the maritime stories. His presentation of race relations and native Americans has generated much comment, not all of it sympathetic.

Cooper was also criticized heavily for his depiction of women characters in his work. James Russell Lowell, Cooper's contemporary and a critic, referred to it poetically in A Fable for Critics, writing, ". . . the women he draws from one model don't vary / All sappy as maples and flat as a prairie."[6]

Three dining halls at the State University of New York at Oswego are named in Cooper's remembrance (Cooper Hall, The Pathfinder, and Littlepage) because of his temporary residence in Oswego and for setting some of his works there.[7]

References

  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Charles Ledyard Norton (1900). " Cooper, James Fenimore". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography.  
  3. ^ Jones, Brian Jay. Washington Irving: An American Original. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2008: 391. ISBN 978-1-55970836-4
  4. ^ Letter from Schubert to Franz von Schober, November 12, 1828
  5. ^ http://etext.virginia.edu/railton/projects/rissetto/offense.html "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offences"
  6. ^ Porte, Joel. The Romance in America: Studies in Cooper, Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, and James. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1969: 20.
  7. ^ http://www.oswego.edu/library/resources/buildings.html

External links

Sources

Other


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Candor is a proof of both a just frame of mind, and of a good tone of breeding. It is a quality that belongs equally to the honest man and to the gentleman.

James Fenimore Cooper (September 15, 1789September 14, 1851) was a prolific and popular American writer of the early 19th century.

Sourced

  • Few men exhibit greater diversity, or, if we may so express it, greater antithesis of character than the native warrior of North America. In war, he is daring, boastful, cunning, ruthless, self-denying, and self-devoted; in peace, just, generous, hospitable, revengeful, superstitious, modest, and commonly chaste.
  • I will go upon the rock, boys, and look abroad for the savages," said Ishmael shortly after, advancing towards them wit a mien which he intended should be conciliating, at the same time that it was authoritative. "If there is nothing to fear, we will go out on the plain; the day is too good to be lost in words, like women in the towns wrangling over their tea and sugared cakes.
  • 'Tis grand! 'tis solemn! 'tis an education of itself to look upon!
  • Those families, you know, are our upper crust—not upper ten thousand.
    • The Ways of the Hour, Ch. 6 (1850)

The American Democrat (1838)

  • The very existence of government at all, infers inequality. The citizen who is preferred to office becomes the superior to those who are not, so long as he is the repository of power, and the child inherits the wealth of the parent as a controlling law of society.
    • On American Equality
  • The Americans ... are almost ignorant of the art of music, one of the most elevating, innocent and refining of human tastes, whose influence on the habits and morals of a people is of the most beneficial tendency.
    • On Civilization
  • Slavery is no more sinful, by the Christian code, than it is sinful to wear a whole coat, while another is in tatters, to eat a better meal than a neighbor, or otherwise to enjoy ease and plenty, while our fellow creatures are suffering and in want.
    • On Slavery
  • Candor is a proof of both a just frame of mind, and of a good tone of breeding. It is a quality that belongs equally to the honest man and to the gentleman.
    • Ch. 23
  • The tendency of democracies is, in all things, to mediocrity.
    • On the Disadvantages of Democracy
  • A refined simplicity is the characteristic of all high bred deportment, in every country, and a considerate humanity should be the aim of all beneath it.
    • On Deportment
  • The common faults of American language are an ambition of effect, a want of simplicity, and a turgid abuse of terms.
    • On Language
  • Equality, in a social sense, may be divided into that of condition and that of rights. Equality of condition is incompatible with civilization, and is found only to exist in those communities that are but slightly removed from the savage state. In practice, it can only mean a common misery.
    • On the Disadvantages of a Monarchy
  • America owes most of its social prejudices to the exaggerated religious opinions of the different sects which were so instrumental in establishing the colonies.
    • On Prejudice
  • It is a besetting vice of democracies to substitute public opinion for law. This is the usual form in which masses of men exhibit their tyranny.
    • On the Disadvantages of Democracy
  • The demagogue is usually sly, a detractor of others, a professor of humility and disinterestedness, a great stickler for equality as respects all above him, a man who acts in corners, and avoids open and manly expositions of his course, calls blackguards gentlemen, and gentlemen folks, appeals to passions and prejudices rather than to reason, and is in all respects, a man of intrigue and deception, of sly cunning and management.
    • On Demagogues
  • The American doctrinaire is the converse of the American demagogue, and, in this way, is scarcely less injurious to the public. The first deals in poetry, the last in cant. He is as much a visionary on one side, as the extreme theoretical democrat is a visionary on the other.
    • On Demagogues
  • Individuality is the aim of political liberty. By leaving to the citizen as much freedom of action and of being, as comports with order and the rights of others, the institutions render him truly a freeman. He is left to pursue his means of happiness in his own manner.
    • Individuality
  • Party leads to vicious, corrupt and unprofitable legislation, for the sole purpose of defeating party.
    • On Party
  • It is a misfortune that necessity has induced men to accord greater license to this formidable engine, in order to obtain liberty, than can be borne with less important objects in view; for the press, like fire, is an excellent servant, but a terrible master.
    • On the Press
  • In America the taint of sectarianism lies broad upon the land. Not content with acknowledging the supremacy as the Diety, and with erecting temples in his honor, where all can bow down with reverence, the pride and vanity of human reason enter into and pollute our worship, and the houses that should be of God and for God, alone, where he is to be honored with submissive faith, are too often merely schools of metaphysical and useless distinctions. The nation is sectarian, rather than Christian.
    • On Religion

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