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James Fenimore Cooper
AMES COOPER was the eleventh of the twelve
children of William and Elizabeth (Fenimore) Cooper, of Burlington, New Jersey. He was born in that picturesque town by the Delaware on September 15, 1789. The name James, given him in honor of his grandfather, had also been borne by his first American ancestor, who is said to have come from Stratford-on-Avon, in 1679. In fulfilment of a promise to his mother (whose family had become extinct in the male line), the novelist, in 1826, changed his name to Fenimore-Cooper.
At the close of the Revolutionary War, William Cooper acquired large tracts of land on Otsego Lake in New York, settled there in 1790, founded the village still known as Cooperstown, and built
W. C. Bryant: A Discourse on the Life, Character, and Genius of James Fenimore Cooper, 1852.
T. R. Lounsbury: James Fenimore Cooper, · American · Men of Letters, fourth edition, 1884.
W. B. Shubrick Clymer: James Fenimore Cooper, Beacon Biographies,' 1900.
for himself a stately home to which he gave the name of Otsego Hall. He was the first judge of the county and a member of Congress, a man of strong character and agreeable address."
Cooper's boyhood was passed amid picturesque natural surroundings, on the edge of civilization, the scene of The Deerslayer and The Pioneers. He attended the village school, prepared for college with the rector of St. Peter's Church, Albany, entered Yale in the second term of the Freshman year (Class of 1806), and was dismissed in the Junior year for some boyish escapade the nature of which is unexplained. It was decided that he should enter the
navy. There was then no training school, and boys took the first lessons in seamanship in the merchant marine. Cooper spent a year before the mast in the 'Sterling,' sailing from New York to London, thence to Gibraltar, back to London, and from London to Philadelphia. His experiences are set forth in the early chapters of Ned Myers. The ‘Sterling 'lost two of her best hands by impressment as soon as she reached English waters. Cooper's indignation at these outrages afterwards found voice through the lips of Ithuel Bolt in the story entitled Wing-and-Wing.
Judge Cooper's A Guide in the Wilderness, Dublin, 1810, was reprinted in 1897 with an introduction by J. F. Cooper [the Younger], throwing much light on the manners of the times and the character of his ancestor.
He was commissioned midshipman on January 1, 1808, and served awhile on the Vesuvius. In the following winter he was one of the party sent to Oswego to build a brig for the defence of the lake, and became acquainted with the regions described in The Pathfinder. In the summer of 1809 he had charge of the gun-boats on Lake Champlain, and in the autumn was ordered to the sloop of war. Wasp.'
He left the service on his betrothal with Miss Susan DeLancey of Mamaroneck, New York, whom he married on January 1, 1811. For a few years he lived the life of a landed proprietor, dividing his time between Cooperstown, Scarsdale, and Mamaroneck. The dulness of a novel he was reading aloud to his wife provoked him to say that he could write a better one himself. Challenged to prove it, he produced Precaution (1820), a story of English life, following conventional lines. It was apprentice work. The effort of composition taught Cooper that he could write, but not that he could write well. He had no conceit of the book, and refused it a place in his collected writings.
In 1821 The Spy, a Tale of the Neutral Ground, was published; its unqualified good fortune made Cooper a professed man of letters. From that time on until his death, twenty-nine years later, he produced books with uninterrupted regularity.
The Spy was followed by The Pioneers, or the Sources of the Susquehanna, 1823; The Pilot, a Tale