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Horatio Greenough had the 'Effingham' books in mind when he wrote to Cooper: 'I think you 'lose hold on the American public by rubbing down their shins with brickbats as you do.'
TRAVELS, HISTORY, POLITICAL WRIT
INGS AND LATEST NOVELS
COOPER was a giant of productivity. Some brief comment has been made on twenty-three of his novels. It is impossible in the limits of this study to do much beyond giving the titles of his remaining books.
The History of the Navy of the United States of America begins with the earliest American sea'fight' (May, 1636), when John Gallop in a sloop of twenty tons captured a pinnace manned by thieving Indians, and closes with the War of 1812. The noteworthy features of the book are accuracy, independence, severity of style, and freedom from spread-eagleism. The brief Chronicles of Cooperstown, written in a plain way, has the natural interest attaching to the subject and the author.
A Letter to his Countrymen, partly autobiographical, is absorbing in its bitter earnestness. The Travelling Bachelor purports to be the letters of a cosmopolite, a man of fifty, to various mem
bers of his club, recounting his travels in the United States. The book is historical, statistical, argumentative. It treats of government, manners, , art, literature, of fashions in dress and of peculiarities of speech. As an attempt on the part of a man of strong prejudices to take an objective view of his own country, it is singularly interesting. Were its seven hundred closely printed pages lightened with humor or relieved by any grace of expression, The Travelling Bachelor would be a vastly entertaining work.
The American Democrat is a collection of short essays, forty-five in number, on the American republic, liberty, parties, public opinion, property, the press, demagogues, the decay of manners, individuality, aristocrat and democrat, pronunciation, slavery, etc., etc. The tone of the comments is intentionally censorious, and often proves exasperating. Having been long absent from America, Cooper found himself to a certain degree in the
situation of a foreigner in his own country.' On this account he was prepared to note peculiarities. Praise and blame are mingled. The American Democrat sets forth high ideals, as may be seen,
for example, in the suggestive essay on party. The book is courageous but wanting in suavity.
Sketches of Switzerland and Gleanings in Europe, comprising ten volumes in the original editions, are studies of Continental and English life. They contain a multitude of spirited, pungent, and true
observations. Lacking the “antiseptic of style, the books are no longer read.
Between 1845 and 1850 Cooper published eight novels. Three of the eight, Satanstoe, The Chainbearer, and The Redskins, are narratives supposed to be drawn from the Littlepage Manuscripts.' The first is not only the best, but is also one of the most genial of all Cooper's novels. Corny Littlepage had attractive friends, such as the mettlesome youth Guert Ten Eyck, a splendid specimen of the free-handed, royally generous Dutch-American. Jason Newcome, on the other hand, embodies Cooper's never latent hostility to New England. The pictures of old days in New York and Albany are brilliant and highly finished, and the encounter with the Indians in Cooper's most spirited vein.
The Crater is a history of the adventures of Mark Woolston of Bristol, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, who was shipwrecked on a volcanic island in the Pacific, and with the able seaman Bob Betts set himself to solve the problem of existence. What with gardening, poultry-raising, boat-building, tempests, earthquakes, exploration of neighboring islands, colonization, savages, and pirates, the book resolves itself into one of the infinite variations of Robinson Crusoe. After twenty-nine chapters of this sort of thing comes an absurd and irrelevant conclusion.
All the later novels, Jack Tier, The Sea Lions, Oak Openings, and The Ways of the Hour, are hard reading, yet the least happy of them has passages betraying the master's hand. The Sea Lions stands out by virtue of the powerful descriptions of an Antarctic winter; but neither Captain Spike's mission to the gulf, nor the revelation of fat, profane Jack's true station and sex, nor yet the malapropisms of Mrs. Budd (she would say “It blew what 'they call a Hyson in the Chinese seas'), can make Jack Tier more than tolerable.
Cooper's greatest achievements were his stories of the sea and the forest. His real creations are sailors, backwoodsmen, old soldiers, and Indians. Whether his red men are conceived in the spirit of modern ethnological science can matter but little now. They are neither so close to Chateaubriand's idealized savage, nor so far from the real Indian as is generally believed. That Cooper had no skill in representing contemporary society is plain enough; but the failure of Home as Found need not have been as complete as it was. Haste and anger must bear the blame of that literary disaster. Where he deals with manners of the past, as in Satanstoe, he is often most felicitous. With his novel of The Bravo he was in line with the Romantic movement. How far he comprehended that movement, or was influenced by it, is a more intricate problem.
Modern literature can show but few authors more popular than Cooper. He has been praised extravagantly; but the fact that Miss Mitford thought him as good as Scott ought not to prejudice us against him. And he has been damned without measure; but over against Mark Twain's unchivalrous attack on his great fellow countryman may be set the royally generous tributes of Balzac and of Dumas.