The Murder Prospect (A Cortlandt Scott Thriller Book 1)
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It was somewhat singular, but the sisters did not then remark it, that a man so peaceable in his pursuits, and seemingly possessed of no valuables that could tempt cupidity, should in that spot, where crime was never heard of, use such habitual precaution. When the door closed upon him, and while the old woman, relieved with a light hand and soothing lotions, which she had shewn some skill in preparing, the anguish of the sprain, Madeline cast glances of interest and curiosity around the apartment into which she had had the rare good fortune to obtain admittance.
The house had belonged to a family of some note, whose heirs had outstripped their fortunes. It had been long deserted and uninhabited; and when Aram settled in those parts, the proprietor was too glad to get rid of the incumbrance of an empty house, at a nominal rent. The solitude of the place had been the main attraction to Aram; and as he possessed what would be considered a very extensive assortment of books, even for a library of these days, he required a larger apartment than he would have been able to obtain in an abode more compact and more suitable to his fortunes and mode of living.
The room in which the sisters now found themselves was the most spacious in the house, and was indeed of considerable dimensions. It contained in front one large window, jutting from the wall. Opposite was an antique and high mantelpiece of black oak. The rest of the room was walled from the floor to the roof with books; volumes of all languages, and it might even be said, without much exaggeration, upon all sciences, were strewed around, on the chairs, the tables, or the floor.
A few papers, filled with astronomical calculations, lay on the desk, and these were all the witnesses of the result of study. Indeed Aram does not appear to have been a man much inclined to reproduce the learning he acquired;—what he wrote was in very small proportion to what he had read. So high and grave was the reputation he had acquired, that the retreat and sanctum of so many learned hours would have been interesting, even to one who could not appreciate learning; but to Madeline, with her peculiar disposition and traits of mind, we may readily conceive that the room presented a powerful and pleasing charm.
As the elder sister looked round in silence, Ellinor attempted to draw the old woman into conversation. She would fain have elicited some particulars of the habits and daily life of the recluse; but the deafness of their attendant was so obstinate and hopeless, that she was forced to give up the attempt in despair.
Just consider, the fat black mares, never too fast, can only creep along that broken path,—for road there is none: it will be quite night before the coach arrives. But I do so trust Mr. Aram will not meet that terrible man. I feel too high a respect for him to allow myself much fear. And who but Eugene Aram, when the floods in the year before swept along the low lands by Fairleigh, went day after day to rescue the persons, or even to save the goods of those poor people; at a time too, when the boldest villagers would not hazard themselves across the waters?
Presently the bell sounded, and the old woman, familiar with its shrill sound, rose from her kneeling position beside the sufferer to attend to the summons. Ellinor sprang forward and detained her: the poor old woman stared at her in amazement, wholly unable to comprehend her abrupt gestures and her rapid language. It was with considerable difficulty and after repeated efforts, that she at length impressed the dulled sense of the crone with the nature of their alarm, and the expediency of refusing admittance to the Stranger.
Meanwhile, the bell had rung again,—again, and the third time with a prolonged violence which testified the impatience of the applicant. Satisfied at having done thus much, Ellinor now herself hastened to the door and secured the ingress with an additional bolt, and then, as the thought flashed upon her, returned to the old woman and made her, with an easier effort than before, now that her senses were sharpened by fear, comprehend the necessity of securing the back entrance also; both hastened away to effect this precaution, and Madeline, who herself desired Ellinor to accompany the old woman, was left alone.
She kept her eyes fixed on the window with a strange sentiment of dread at being thus left in so helpless a situation; and though a door of no ordinary dimensions and doubly locked interposed between herself and the intruder, she expected in breathless terror, every instant, to see the form of the ruffian burst into the apartment. As she thus sat and looked, she shudderingly saw the man, tired perhaps of repeating a summons so ineffectual, come to the window and look pryingly within: their eyes met; Madeline had not the power to shriek.
Would he break through the window?
He gazed upon her evident terror for a moment with a grim smile of contempt; he then knocked at the window, and his voice broke harshly on a silence yet more dreadful than the interruption. I beg pardon, Madam, is Mr. Aram—Eugene Aram, within? The man, as if satisfied, made a rude inclination of his head and withdrew from the window. Ellinor now returned, and with difficulty Madeline found words to explain to her what had passed. It will be conceived that the two young ladies watched the arrival of their father with no lukewarm expectation; the stranger however appeared no more; and in about an hour, to their inexpressible joy, they heard the rumbling sound of the old coach as it rolled towards the house.
This time there was no delay in unbarring the door. As Aram assisted the beautiful Madeline into the carriage—as he listened to her sweet voice—as he marked the grateful expression of her soft eyes—as he felt the slight yet warm pressure of her fairy hand, that vague sensation of delight which preludes love, for the first time, in his sterile and solitary life, agitated his breast. Lester held out his hand to him with a frank cordiality which the scholar could not resist. Let us break the ice boldly, and at once. Come and dine with me to-morrow, and Ellinor shall sing to us in the evening.
Another glance at Madeline conquered the remains of his reserve: he accepted the invitation, and he could not but mark, with an unfamiliar emotion of the heart, that the eyes of Madeline sparkled as he did so. With an abstracted air, and arms folded across his breast, he gazed after the carriage till the winding of the valley snatched it from his view. He then, waking from his reverie with a start, turned into the house, and carefully closing and barring the door, mounted with slow steps to the lofty chamber with which, the better to indulge his astronomical researches, he had crested his lonely abode.
It was now night. The Heavens broadened round him in all the loving yet august tranquillity of the season and the hour; the stars bathed the living atmosphere with a solemn light; and above—about—around—. Shall we see throughout creation each marvel fulfilling its pre-ordered fate—no wandering from its orbit—no variation in its seasons—and yet imagine that the Arch-ordainer will hold back the tides He has sent from their unseen source, at our miserable bidding?
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Shall we think that our prayers can avert a doom woven with the skein of events? To change a particle of our fate, might change the destiny of millions! Shall the link forsake the chain, and yet the chain be unbroken? Away, then, with our vague repinings, and our blind demands. All must walk onward to their goal, be he the wisest who looks not one step behind. The colours of our existence were doomed before our birth—our sorrows and our crimes;—millions of ages back, when this hoary earth was peopled by other kinds, yea!
What then is crime? What life? He sought for a fairer subject for meditation, and Madeline Lester rose before him. Eugene Aram was a man whose whole life seemed to have been one sacrifice to knowledge. What is termed pleasure had no attraction for him. From the mature manhood at which he had arrived, he looked back along his youth, and recognized no youthful folly.
Love he had hitherto regarded with a cold though not an incurious eye: intemperance had never lured him to a momentary self-abandonment. Even the innocent relaxations with which the austerest minds relieve their accustomed toils, had had no power to draw him from his beloved researches.
The delight monstrari digito; the gratification of triumphant wisdom; the whispers of an elevated vanity; existed not for his self-dependent and solitary heart. He was one of those earnest and high-wrought enthusiasts who now are almost extinct upon earth, and whom Romance has not hitherto attempted to pourtray; men not uncommon in the last century, who were devoted to knowledge, yet disdainful of its fame; who lived for nothing else than to learn.
From store to store, from treasure to treasure, they proceeded in exulting labour, and having accumulated all, they bestowed nought; they were the arch-misers of the wealth of letters. Wrapped in obscurity, in some sheltered nook, remote from the great stir of men, they passed a life at once unprofitable and glorious; the least part of what they ransacked would appal the industry of a modern student, yet the most superficial of modern students might effect more for mankind.
They lived among oracles, but they gave none forth. And yet, even in this very barrenness, there seems something high; it was a rare and great spectacle—Men, living aloof from the roar and strife of the passions that raged below, devoting themselves to the knowledge which is our purification and our immortality on earth, and yet deaf and blind to the allurements of the vanity which generally accompanies research; refusing the ignorant homage of their kind, making their sublime motive their only meed, adoring Wisdom for her sole sake, and set apart in the populous universe, like stars, luminous with their own light, but too remote from the earth on which they looked, to shed over its inmates the lustre with which they glowed.
From his youth to the present period, Aram had dwelt little in cities though he had visited many, yet he could scarcely be called ignorant of mankind; there seems something intuitive in the science which teaches us the knowledge of our race. Some men emerge from their seclusion, and find, all at once, a power to dart into the minds and drag forth the motives of those they see; it is a sort of second sight, born with them, not acquired. And Aram, it may be, rendered yet more acute by his profound and habitual investigations of our metaphysical frame, never quitted his solitude to mix with others, without penetrating into the broad traits or prevalent infirmities their characters possessed.
In this, indeed, he differed from the scholar tribe, and even in abstraction was mechanically vigilant and observant. Much in his nature would, had early circumstances given it a different bias, have fitted him for worldly superiority and command. A resistless energy, an unbroken perseverance, a profound and scheming and subtle thought, a genius fertile in resources, a tongue clothed with eloquence, all, had his ambition so chosen, might have given him the same empire over the physical, that he had now attained over the intellectual world.
It could not be said that Aram wanted benevolence, but it was dashed, and mixed with a certain scorn: the benevolence was the offspring of his nature; the scorn seemed the result of his pursuits. He would feed the birds from his window, he would tread aside to avoid the worm on his path; were one of his own tribe in danger, he would save him at the hazard of his life:—yet in his heart he despised men, and believed them beyond amelioration.
Unlike the present race of schoolmen, who incline to the consoling hope of human perfectibility, he saw in the gloomy past but a dark prophecy of the future. As Napoleon wept over one wounded soldier in the field of battle, yet ordered without emotion, thousands to a certain death; so Aram would have sacrificed himself for an individual, but would not have sacrificed a momentary gratification for his race. And this sentiment towards men, at once of high disdain and profound despondency, was perhaps the cause why he rioted in indolence upon his extraordinary mental wealth, and could not be persuaded either to dazzle the world or to serve it.
But by little and little his fame had broke forth from the limits with which he would have walled it: a man who had taught himself, under singular difficulties, nearly all the languages of the civilized earth; the profound mathematician, the elaborate antiquarian, the abstruse philologist, uniting with his graver lore the more florid accomplishments of science, from the scholastic trifling of heraldry to the gentle learning of herbs and flowers, could scarcely hope for utter obscurity in that day when all intellectual acquirement was held in high honour, and its possessors were drawn together into a sort of brotherhood by the fellowship of their pursuits.
And though Aram gave little or nothing to the world himself, he was ever willing to communicate to others any benefit or honour derivable from his researches. On the altar of science he kindled no light, but the fragrant oil in the lamps of his more pious brethren was largely borrowed from his stores. From almost every college in Europe came to his obscure abode letters of acknowledgement or inquiry; and few foreign cultivators of learning visited this country without seeking an interview with Aram.
He received them with all the modesty and the courtesy that characterized his demeanour; but it was noticeable that he never allowed these interruptions to be more than temporary. He proffered no hospitality, and shrunk back from all offers of friendship; the interview lasted its hour, and was seldom renewed.
Patronage was not less distasteful to him than sociality. Some occasional visits and condescensions of the great, he had received with a stern haughtiness, rather than his wonted and subdued urbanity. The precise amount of his fortune was not known; his wants were so few, that what would have been poverty to others might easily have been competence to him; and the only evidence he manifested of the command of money, was in his extended and various library.
He had now been about two years settled in his present retreat. Unsocial as he was, every one in the neighbourhood loved him; even the reserve of a man so eminent, arising as it was supposed to do from a painful modesty, had in it something winning; and he had been known to evince on great occasions, a charity and a courage in the service of others which removed from the seclusion of his habits the semblance of misanthropy and of avarice.
The peasant drew aside with a kindness mingled with his respect, as in his homeward walk he encountered the pale and thoughtful Student, with the folded arms and downeast eyes, which characterised the abstraction of his mood; and the village maiden, as she curtsied by him, stole a glance at his handsome but melancholy countenance; and told her sweetheart she was certain the poor scholar had been crossed in love. As the Moon plays upon the waves, and seems to our eyes to favour with a peculiar beam one long track amidst the waters, leaving the rest in comparative obscurity; yet all the while, she is no niggard in her lustre—for though the rays that meet not our eyes seem to us as though they were not, yet she with an equal and unfavouring loveliness, mirrors herself on every wave: even so, perhaps, Happiness falls with the same brightness and power over the whole expanse of Life, though to our limited eyes she seems only to rest on those billows from which the ray is reflected back upon our sight.
From his contemplations, of whatsoever nature, Aram was now aroused by a loud summons at the door;—the clock had gone eleven. Who could at that late hour, when the whole village was buried in sleep, demand admittance? Who could this be? From his lofty chamber he looked forth and saw the stars watch quietly over the scattered cottages and the dark foliage that slept breathlessly around. All was still as death, but it seemed the stillness of innocence and security: again! He thought he heard his name shouted without; he strode once or twice irresolutely to and fro the chamber; and then his step grew firm, and his native courage returned.
His pistols were still girded round him; he looked to the priming, and muttered some incoherent words; he then descended the stairs, and slowly unbarred the door. Without the porch, the moonlight full upon his harsh features and sturdy frame, stood the ill-omened Traveller. The good Squire received him with a warm cordiality, and Madeline with a blush and a smile that ought to have been more grateful to him than acknowledgements. She was still a prisoner to the sofa, but in compliment to Aram, the sofa was wheeled into the hall where they dined, so that she was not absent from the repast.
It was a pleasant room, that old hall! Though it was summer—more for cheerfulness than warmth, the log burnt on the spacious hearth: but at the same time the latticed windows were thrown open, and the fresh yet sunny air stole in, rich from the embrace of the woodbine and clematis, which clung around the casement. A few old pictures were paneled in the oaken wainscot; and here and there the horns of the mighty stag adorned the walls, and united with the cheeriness of comfort associations of that of enterprise.
The good old board was crowded with the luxuries meet for a country Squire. The speckled trout, fresh from the stream, and the four-year-old mutton modestly disclaiming its own excellent merits, by affecting the shape and assuming the adjuncts of venison. Then for the confectionery,—it was worthy of Ellinor, to whom that department generally fell; and we should scarcely be surprised to find, though we venture not to affirm, that its delicate fabrication owed more to her than superintendence. Then the ale, and the cyder with rosemary in the bowl, were incomparable potations; and to the gooseberry wine, which would have filled Mrs.
But the wine excepted these various dainties met with slight honour from their abstemious guest; and, for though habitually reserved he was rarely gloomy, they remarked that he seemed unusually fitful and sombre in his mood. Something appeared to rest upon his mind, from which, by the excitement of wine and occasional bursts of eloquence more animated than ordinary, he seemed striving to escape; and at length, he apparently succeeded. Naturally enough, the conversation turned upon the curiosities and scenery of the country round; and here Aram shone with a peculiar grace.
Vividly alive to the influences of Nature, and minutely acquainted with its varieties, he invested every hill and glade to which remark recurred with the poetry of his descriptions; and from his research he gave even scenes the most familiar, a charm and interest which had been strange to them till then. To this stream some romantic legend had once attached itself, long forgotten and now revived;—that moor, so barren to an ordinary eye, was yet productive of some rare and curious herb, whose properties afforded scope for lively description;—that old mound was yet rife in attraction to one versed in antiquities, and able to explain its origin, and from such explanation deduce a thousand classic or celtic episodes.
No subject was so homely or so trite but the knowledge that had neglected nothing, was able to render it luminous and new. Lester himself, a man who, in his long retirement, had not forgotten the attractions of intellectual society, nor even neglected a certain cultivation of intellectual pursuits, enjoyed a pleasure that he had not experienced for years. The gay Ellinor was fascinated into admiration; and Madeline, the most silent of the groupe, drank in every word, unconscious of the sweet poison she imbibed.
Walter alone seemed not carried away by the eloquence of their guest. He preserved an unadmiring and sullen demeanour, and every now and then regarded Aram with looks of suspicion and dislike. This was more remarkable when the men were left alone; and Lester, in surprise and anger, darted significant and admonitory looks towards his nephew, which at length seemed to rouse him into a more hospitable bearing.
As the cool of the evening now came on, Lester proposed to Aram to enjoy it without, previous to returning to the parlour, to which the ladies had retired. Walter excused himself from joining them. The host and the guest accordingly strolled forth alone. I may, at times, feel the weariness of existence—the tedium vitae; but I know well that the cause is not to be remedied by a change from tranquillity to agitation. The objects of the great world are to be pursued only by the excitement of the passions.
The passions are at once our masters and our deceivers;—they urge us onward, yet present no limit to our progress. The farther we proceed, the more dim and shadowy grows the goal. It is impossible for a man who leads the life of the world, the life of the passions, ever to experience content. For the life of the passions is that of a perpetual desire; but a state of content is the absence of all desire. Thus philosophy has become another name for mental quietude; and all wisdom points to a life of intellectual indifference, as the happiest which earth can bestow.
A slight smile curved the lip of the Student; he avoided, however, the argument, and remarked,. The tragedy of Hamlet was performed: a play full of the noblest thoughts, the subtlest morality, that exists upon the stage. The audience listened with attention, with admiration, with applause. He performed a variety of juggling tricks, and distorted his body into a thousand surprising and unnatural postures.
The audience were transported beyond themselves: if they had felt delight in Hamlet, they glowed with rapture at the mountebank: they had listened with attention to the lofty thought, but they were snatched from themselves by the marvel of the strange posture. Lester attempted to combat the truth of the illustration, and thus conversing, they passed on through the village green, when the gaunt form of Corporal Bunting arrested their progress.
Walter, I know wants to consult you about letting the water from the great pond, and you must give us your opinion of the new brewing. I hope your honour liked the trout I sent up. The Scholar thanked the good Bunting, and would have proceeded onward, but the Corporal was in a familiar mood. So you saw him! What said he to you of me? I gave him what I could afford, and he has now proceeded on his journey. And now, yonder lies my way home.
Good evening. The young ladies expect your return to them for an hour or so! What will they think of such desertion? No, no, come back, my good friend, and suffer me by and by to walk some part of the way home with you. Lester at first felt a little offended, but when he recalled the peculiar habits of the Scholar, he saw that the only way to hope for a continuance of that society which had so pleased him, was to indulge Aram at first in his unsocial inclinations, rather than annoy him by a troublesome hospitality; he therefore, without further discourse, shook hands with him, and they parted.
When Lester regained the little parlour, he found his nephew sitting, silent and discontented, by the window. Madeline had taken up a book, and Ellinor, in an opposite corner, was plying her needle with an air of earnestness and quiet, very unlike her usual playful and cheerful vivacity. There was evidently a cloud over the groupe; the good Lester regarded them with a searching, yet kindly eye. Ellinor coloured and sighed, and worked faster than ever. Walter threw open the window, and whistled a favourite air quite out of tune.
Lester smiled, and seated himself by his nephew. You eyed the poor student, as if you wished him among the books of Alexandria! You accuse me of what? I say vain, pedantic! What on earth but the love of display could make him monopolize the whole conversation? Has he benefited mankind by them? What should I admire in such a machine of literature, except a waste of perseverance?
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At this sudden turn from declamation to reproach, Lester laughed outright; and his nephew, in high anger, rose and left the room. Lester turned round in his chair, and regarded with a serious look, the faces of both sisters. Several days elapsed before the family of the manor-house encountered Aram again. By degrees, however, as the days passed without maturing the acquaintance which Walter had disapproved, the youth relaxed in his attacks, and seemed to yield to the remonstrances of his uncle.
Lester had, indeed, conceived an especial inclination towards the recluse. Any man of reflection, who has lived for some time alone, and who suddenly meets with one who calls forth in him, and without labour or contradiction, the thoughts which have sprung up in his solitude, scarcely felt in their growth, will comprehend the new zest, the awakening, as it were, of the mind, which Lester found in the conversation of Eugene Aram.
His solitary walk for his nephew had the separate pursuits of youth appeared to him more dull than before; and he longed to renew an intercourse which had given to the monotony of his life both variety and relief. He called twice upon Aram, but the student was, or affected to be, from home; and an invitation he sent him, though couched in friendly terms, was, but with great semblance of kindness, refused.
I am quite convinced that Aram evidently a man of susceptible as well as retired mind observed the coldness of your manner towards him, and that thus you have deprived me of the only society which, in this country of boors and savages, gave me any gratification. It was waxing towards eve—an hour especially lovely in the month of June, and not without reason favoured by the angler.
Walter sauntered across the rich and fragrant fields, and came soon into a sheltered valley, through which the brooklet wound its shadowy way. Along the margin the grass sprung up long and matted, and profuse with a thousand weeds and flowers—the children of the teeming June. And here and there, silvering the bushes, the elder offered its snowy tribute to the summer. All the insect youth were abroad, with their bright wings and glancing motion; and from the lower depths of the bushes the blackbird darted across, or higher and unseen the first cuckoo of the eve began its continuous and mellow note.
The river-gods were not, however, in a favourable mood, and after waiting in vain for some time, in a spot in which he was usually successful, he proceeded slowly along the margin of the brooklet, crushing the reeds at every step, into that fresh and delicious odour, which furnished Bacon with one of his most beautiful comparisons. The words were so scattered, that Walter did not trace their clue; but involuntarily he stopped short, within a few feet of the soliloquist: and Aram, suddenly turning round, beheld him.
Walter drew back, but Aram stalking directly up to him, gazed into his face, as if he would read his very soul. Well, well, what said I? Accident brought me hither.
"The Cooper Bookshelf"
I cannot plagiarise, I assure you, from any scholastic designs you might have been giving vent to. Not for us is the bright face of noon-day or the smile of woman, the gay unbending of the heart, the neighing steed, and the shrill trump; the pride, pomp, and circumstance of life. Our enjoyments are few and calm; our labour constant; but that is it not, Sir?
We grow old before our time; we wither up; the sap of youth shrinks from our veins; there is no bound in our step. We look about us with dimmed eyes, and our breath grows short and thick, and pains and coughs, and shooting aches come upon us at night; it is a bitter life—a bitter life—a joyless life.
I would I had never commenced it. And yet the harsh world scowls upon us: our nerves are broken, and they wonder we are querulous; our blood curdles, and they ask why we are not gay; our brain grows dizzy and indistinct, as with me just now, and, shrugging their shoulders, they whisper their neighbours that we are mad. I wish I had worked at the plough, and known sleep, and loved mirth—and—and not been what I am.
As the Student uttered the last sentence, he bowed down his head, and a few tears stole silently down his cheek. Young man, I wronged you—you have forgiven me. Well, well, we will say no more on that head; it is past and pardoned. Your father has been kind to me, and I have not returned his advances; you shall tell him why. I have lived thirteen years by myself, and I have contracted strange ways and many humours not common to the world—you have seen an example of this.
Judge for yourself if I be fit for the smoothness, and confidence, and ease of social intercourse; I am not fit, I feel it! I am doomed to be alone—tell your father this—tell him to suffer me to live so! I am grateful for his goodness—I know his motives—but have a certain pride of mind; I cannot bear sufferance—I loath indulgence. Nay, interrupt me not, I beseech you. Look round on Nature—behold the only company that humbles me not—except the dead whose souls speak to us from the immortality of books. These herbs at your feet, I know their secrets—I watch the mechanism of their life; the winds—they have taught me their language; the stars—I have unravelled their mysteries; and these, the creatures and ministers of God—these I offend not by my mood—to them I utter my thoughts, and break forth into my dreams, without reserve and without fear.
But men disturb me—I have nothing to learn from them—I have no wish to confide in them; they cripple the wild liberty which has become to me a second nature. What its shell is to the tortoise, solitude has become to me—my protection; nay, my life! The mind is restless at your age—have a care. Perhaps you long to visit the world—to quit these obscure haunts which you are fatigued in admiring? Aram laughed. What once was a soft retirement, will become the most intolerable monotony; the gaming of social existence—the feverish and desperate chances of honour and wealth, upon which the men of cities set their hearts, render all pursuits less exciting, utterly insipid and dull.
The brook and the angle—ha! Aram looked upon him wistfully; the bright eye, the healthy cheek, and vigorous frame of the youth, suited with his desire to seek the conflict of his kind, and gave a naturalness to his ambition, which was not without interest, even to the recluse. When they parted, Walter returned slowly homewards, filled with pity towards the singular man whom he had seen so strangely overpowered; and wondering how suddenly his mind had lost its former rancour to the Student. Yet there mingled even with these kindly feelings, a little displeasure at the superior tone which Aram had unconsciously adopted towards him; and to which, from any one, the high spirit of the young man was not readily willing to submit.
Meanwhile, the Student continued his path along the water side, and as, with his gliding step and musing air, he roamed onward, it was impossible to imagine a form more suited to the deep tranquillity of the scene. Even the wild birds seemed to feel, by a sort of instinct, that in him there was no cause for fear; and did not stir from the turf that neighboured, or the spray that overhung, his path. Ay, this tone will not betray me, I will preserve its tenor, for I can scarcely altogether renounce my sole confidant—SELF; and thought seems more clear when uttered even thus.
I was—nay, what matters it? Who is answerable for his nature? Have I not fenced it from me throughout all my youth, when my brain did at moments forsake me, and the veins did bound? And now, when the yellow hastens on the green of life; now, for the first time, this emotion—this weakness—and for whom? One I have lived with—known—beneath whose eyes I have passed through all the fine gradations, from liking to love, from love to passion?
No;—one, whom I have seen but little; who, it is true, arrested my eye at the first glance it caught of her two years since, but with whom till within the last few weeks I have scarcely spoken! Her voice rings on my ear, her look dwells on my heart; when I sleep, she is with me; when I wake, I am haunted by her image.
Strange, strange! Is love then, after all, the sudden passion which in every age poetry has termed it, though till now my reason has disbelieved the notion? And now, what is the question? To resist, or to yield. Her father invites me, courts me; and I stand aloof! Will this strength, this forbearance, last? I ought to weave my lot with none. Memory sets me apart and alone in the world; it seems unnatural to me, a thought of dread—to bring another being to my solitude, to set an everlasting watch on my uprisings and my downsittings; to invite eyes to my face when I sleep at nights, and ears to every word that may start unbidden from my lips.
But if the watch be the watch of love—away! He who trusts to woman, trusts to the type of change. Affection may turn to hatred, fondness to loathing, anxiety to dread; and, at the best, woman is weak, she is the minion to her impulses. Enough, I will steel my soul,—shut up the avenues of sense,—brand with the scathing-iron these yet green and soft emotions of lingering youth,—and freeze and chain and curdle up feeling, and heart, and manhood, into ice and age! Few men perhaps could boast of so masculine and firm a mind, as, despite his eccentricities, Aram assuredly possessed.
His habits of solitude had strengthened its natural hardihood; for, accustomed to make all the sources of happiness flow solely from himself, his thoughts the only companion—his genius the only vivifier—of his retreat; the tone and faculty of his spirit could not but assume that austere and vigorous energy which the habit of self-dependence almost invariably produces; and yet, the reader, if he be young, will scarcely feel surprise that the resolution of the Student, to battle against incipient love, from whatever reasons it might be formed, gradually and reluctantly melted away.
It may be noted, that the enthusiasts of learning and reverie have, at one time or another in their lives, been, of all the tribes of men, the most keenly susceptible to love; their solitude feeds their passion; and deprived, as they usually are, of the more hurried and vehement occupations of life, when love is once admitted to their hearts, there is no counter-check to its emotions, and no escape from its excitation. Aram, too, had just arrived at that age when a man usually feels a sort of revulsion in the current of his desires.
At that age, those who have hitherto pursued love, begin to grow alive to ambition; those who have been slaves to the pleasures of life, awaken from the dream, and direct their desire to its interests. And in the same proportion, they who till then have wasted the prodigal fervours of youth upon a sterile soil; who have served Ambition, or, like Aram, devoted their hearts to Wisdom; relax from their ardour, look back on the departed years with regret, and commence, in their manhood, the fiery pleasures and delirious follies which are only pardonable in youth.
In short, as in every human pursuit there is a certain vanity, and as every acquisition contains within itself the seed of disappointment, so there is a period of life when we pause from the pursuit, and are discontented with the acquisition. We then look around us for something new—again follow—and are again deceived. Few men throughout life are the servants to one desire.
When we gain the middle of the bridge of our mortality, different objects from those which attracted us upward almost invariably lure us to the descent. Happy they who exhaust in the former part of the journey all the foibles of existence! But how different is the crude and evanescent love of that age when thought has not given intensity and power to the passions, from the love which is felt, for the first time, in maturer but still youthful years! As the flame burns the brighter in proportion to the resistance which it conquers, this later love is the more glowing in proportion to the length of time in which it has overcome temptation: all the solid and, concentred faculties ripened to their full height, are no longer capable of the infinite distractions, the numberless caprices of youth; the rays of the heart, not rendered weak by diversion, collect into one burning focus;.
But then, as in Aram, the feelings must be fresh as well as matured; they must not have been frittered away by previous indulgence; the love must be the first produce of the soil, not the languid after-growth. The reader will remark, that the first time in which our narrative has brought Madeline and Aram together, was not the first time they had met; Aram had long noted with admiration a beauty which he had never seen paralleled, and certain vague and unsettled feelings had preluded the deeper emotion that her image now excited within him.
But the main cause of his present and growing attachment, had been in the evident sentiment of kindness which he could not but feel Madeline bore towards him. So retiring a nature as his, might never have harboured love, if the love bore the character of presumption; but that one so beautiful beyond his dreams as Madeline Lester, should deign to exercise towards him a tenderness, that might suffer him to hope, was a thought, that when he caught her eye unconsciously fixed upon him, and noted that her voice grew softer and more tremulous when she addressed him, forced itself upon his heart, and woke there a strange and irresistible emotion, which solitude and the brooding reflection that solitude produces—a reflection so much more intense in proportion to the paucity of living images it dwells upon—soon ripened into love.
Perhaps even, he would not have resisted the impulse as he now did, had not at this time certain thoughts connected with past events, been more forcibly than of late years obtruded upon him, and thus in some measure divided his heart. Fate seemed bent upon bringing together these two persons, already so attracted towards each other. After the conversation recorded in our last chapter, between Walter and the Student, the former, touched and softened as we have seen, in spite of himself, had cheerfully forborne what before he had done reluctantly the expressions of dislike which he had once lavished so profusely upon Aram; and Lester, who, forward as he had seemed, had nevertheless been hitherto a little checked in his advances to his neighbour by the hostility of his son, now felt no scruple to deter him from urging them with a pertinacity that almost forbade refusal.
Actuated by his great benevolence of character, Lester earnestly desired to win his solitary and unfriended neighbour from a mood and habit which he naturally imagined must engender a growing melancholy of mind; and since Walter had detailed to him the particulars of his meeting with Aram, this desire had been considerably increased. There is not perhaps a stronger feeling in the world than pity, when united with admiration.
When one man is resolved to know another, it is almost impossible to prevent him: we see daily the most remarkable instances of perseverance on one side conquering distaste on the other. By degrees, then, Aram relaxed from his insociability; he seemed to surrender himself to a kindness, the sincerity of which he was compelled to acknowledge; if he for a long time refused to accept the hospitality of his neighbour, he did not reject his society when they met, and this intercourse by little and little progressed, until ultimately the recluse yielded to solicitation, and became the guest as well as companion.
This, at first accident, grew, though not without many interruptions, into habit; and at length few evenings were passed by the inmates of the Manor-house without the society of the Student. As his reserve wore off, his conversation mingled with its attractions a tender and affectionate tone. He seemed grateful for the pains which had been taken to allure him to a scene in which, at last, he acknowledged he found a happiness that he never experienced before: and those who had hitherto admired him for his genius, admired him now yet more for his susceptibility to the affections.
There was not in Aram any thing that savoured of the harshness of pedantry, or the petty vanities of dogmatism: his voice was soft and low, and his manner always remarkable for its singular gentleness, and a certain dignified humility. His language did indeed, at times, assume a tone of calm and patriarchal command; but it was only the command arising from an intimate persuasion of the truth of what he uttered. Moralizing upon our nature, or mourning over the delusions of the world, a grave and solemn strain breathed throughout his lofty words and the profound melancholy of his wisdom; but it touched, not offended—elevated, not humbled—the lesser intellect of his listeners; and even this air of unconscious superiority vanished when he was invited to teach or explain.
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The agriculturist was astonished at the success of his suggestions; and the mechanic was indebted to him for the device which abridged his labour in improving its result. As Madeline, though she did not second the request, could scarcely absent herself from sharing the lesson, this pursuit brought the pair—already lovers—closer and closer together. It associated them not only at home, but in their rambles throughout that enchanting country; and there is a mysterious influence in Nature, which renders us, in her loveliest scenes, the most susceptible to love!
Then, too, how often in their occupation their hands and eyes met:—how often, by the shady wood or the soft water-side, they found themselves alone. In all times, how dangerous the connexion, when of different sexes, between the scholar and the teacher! Under how many pretences, in that connexion, the heart finds the opportunity to speak out. Yet it was not with ease and complacency that Aram delivered himself to the intoxication of his deepening attachment. Sometimes he was studiously cold, or evidently wrestling with the powerful passion that mastered his reason.
It was not without many throes, and desperate resistance, that love at length overwhelmed and subdued him; and these alternations of his mood, if they sometimes offended Madeline and sometimes wounded, still rather increased than lessened the spell which bound her to him. The doubt and the fear—the caprice and the change, which agitate the surface, swell also the tides, of passion. Woman, too, whose love is so much the creature of her imagination, always asks something of mystery and conjecture in the object of her affection.
It is a luxury to her to perplex herself with a thousand apprehensions; and the more restlessly her lover occupies her mind, the more deeply he enthrals it. Mingling with her pure and tender attachment to Aram, a high and unswerving veneration, she saw in his fitfulness, and occasional abstraction and contradiction of manner, a confirmation of the modest sentiment that most weighed upon her fears; and imagined that at those times he thought her, as she deemed herself, unworthy of his love.
And this was the only struggle which she conceived to pass between the affection he evidently bore her, and the feelings which had as yet restrained him from its open avowal. The child trembled, and seemed half-crying; while the old woman, in a harsh, grating croak, was muttering forth mingled objurgation and complaint. There was something in the appearance of the latter at once impressive and displeasing; a dark, withered, furrowed skin was drawn like parchment over harsh and aquiline features; the eyes, through the rheum of age, glittered forth black and malignant; and even her stooping posture did not conceal a height greatly above the common stature, though gaunt and shrivelled with years and poverty.
It was a form and face that might have recalled at once the celebrated description of Otway, on a part of which we have already unconsciously encroached, and the remaining part of which we shall wholly borrow. Dame Darkmans! I hate to encounter that old woman; there is something so evil and savage in her manner of talk—and look, how she rates that poor girl, whom she has dragged or decoyed to assist her!
Aram looked curiously on the old hag. Come, let us accost her—I like conferring with distress. The old woman looked up askant—the music of the voice that addressed her sounded harsh on her ear. Oh, yes! Ye think as much of your doits and mites, as if ye stripped yourselves of a comfort to give it to us. The sisters shuddered. For shame! Pluck the mote from your own eye!
Did not the Blessed Saviour come for the poor? What do ye tache us? There—this money is not much, but it will light your hearth and heap your table without toil, for some days at least! The little party proceeded, and, looking back, Lester saw the old woman gaze after them, till a turn in the winding valley hid her from his sight.
She married an Irish soldier whose regiment passed through Grassdale, and was heard of no more till about ten years back, when she returned to her native place, the discontented, envious, altered being you now see her. She saw her husband, who was afterwards dismissed the service, a strong, powerful man, a giant of his tribe, pine and waste, inch by inch, from mere physical want, and at last literally die from hunger.
It happened that they had settled in the country in which her husband was born, and in that county, those frequent famines which are the scourge of Ireland were for two years especially severe. You may note, that the old woman has a strong vein of coarse eloquence at her command, perhaps acquired in for it partakes of the natural character of the country in which she lived so long; and it would literally thrill you with horror to hear her descriptions of the misery and destitution that she witnessed, and amidst which her husband breathed his last.
Out of four children, not one survives. One, an infant, died within a week of the father; two sons were executed, one at the age of sixteen, one a year older, for robbery committed under aggravated circumstances; and the fourth, a daughter, died in the hospitals of London. The old woman became a wanderer and a vagrant, and was at length passed to her native parish, where she has since dwelt.
These are the misfortunes which have turned her blood to gall; and these are the causes which fill her with so bitter a hatred against those whom wealth has preserved from sharing or witnessing a fate similar to hers. What are the temptations of the rich to those of the poor? Yet see how lenient we are to the crimes of the one,—how relentless to those of the other! The consciousness of how little individual genius can do to relieve the mass, grinds out, as with a stone, all that is generous in ambition; and to aspire from the level of life is but to be more graspingly selfish.
And what is civilization, but an increase of human disparities? The more the luxury of the few, the more startling the wants, and the more galling the sense, of poverty. Even the dreams of the philanthropist only tend towards equality; and where is equality to be found, but in the state of the savage? No; I thought otherwise once; but I now regard the vast lazar-house around us without hope of relief:—Death is the sole Physician!
How poor, even in this beautiful world, with the warm sun and fresh air about us, that alone are sufficient to make us glad, would be life, if we could not make the happiness of others! Aram looked at the beautiful speaker with a soft and half-mournful smile.
There is one very peculiar pleasure that we feel as we grow older,—it is to see embodied in another and a more lovely shape the thoughts and sentiments we once nursed ourselves; it is as if we viewed before us the incarnation of our own youth; and it is no wonder that we are warmed towards the object, that thus seems the living apparition of all that was brightest in ourselves! It was with this sentiment that Aram now gazed on Madeline. She felt the gaze, and her heart beat delightedly, but she sunk at once into a silence, which she did not break during the rest of their walk.
I speak only of what we can effect for the mass. And it is a deadening thought to mental ambition, that the circle of happiness we can create is formed more by our moral than our mental qualities. And kindling, as he ever did, the moment he approached a subject so dear to his studies, Aram now spoke of the stars, which began to sparkle forth,—of the vast, illimitable career which recent science had opened to the imagination,—and of the old, bewildering, yet eloquent theories, which from age to age had at once misled and elevated the conjecture of past sages.
All this was a theme which his listeners loved to listen to, and Madeline not the least. In the course of the various conversations our family of Grassdale enjoyed with their singular neighbour, it appeared that his knowledge had not been confined to the closet; at times, he dropped remarks which shewed that he had been much among cities, and travelled with the design, or at least with the vigilance, of the observer; but he did not love to be drawn into any detailed accounts of what he had seen, or whither he had been; an habitual though a gentle reserve, kept watch over the past—not indeed that character of reserve which excites the doubt, but which inspires the interest.
His most gloomy moods were rather abrupt and fitful than morose, and his usual bearing was calm, soft, and even tender. There is a certain charm about great superiority of intellect, that winds into deep affections which a much more constant and even amiability of manners in lesser men, often fails to reach.
Genius makes many enemies, but it makes sure friends—friends who forgive much, who endure long, who exact little; they partake of the character of disciples as well as friends. Although he put up a brave front, he was almost broke. The fortune left him by his father William Cooper had evaporated. One day, while reading an English novel aloud to his family, Cooper threw it aside and exclaimed "I could write a better book than this, myself! Although no American would have dreamed of making a living as a novelist in , Cooper accepted the challenge, if only to take his mind off his troubles.
In "Precaution" appeared, and to his amazement, was reasonably reviewed, sold moderately well, and was even reprinted in England. About the Story: "Precaution" whose title and theme often make people think of Jane Austen is about the efforts of Lady Anne Moseley, an upper-class English woman whose family fortunes are on the wane, to arrange suitable marriages for her son and three grown daughters.
What about the social-climbing Jarvises? An intricate minuet of social activities ensues, with a huge cast of characters -- enlivened by the arrival of the young George Denbigh whose father promptly drops dead in church , by a kindly and idiosyncratic bachelor uncle, and a mysterious Spanish lady with a shady past. There is flirting, jilting, engagements and marriages -- mostly unhappy. Through all of this sails the oldest Moseley daughter, Emily, guided in her conduct by a wise aunt, Mrs.
Wilson, who takes the "precaution" of warning her against matrimonial dangers. Is to too much to add that Emily's ultimate marriage is successful beyond her wildest dreams? Significance: "Precaution" is not a wonderful novel; Cooper was describing an English social life about which he knew little, and he was learning how to write novels "on the job. Finding it: Never reprinted by itself, "Precaution" was included in the many "collected works" editions of Cooper.
It is also available "on line. For on-line texts see Links Page. John Jay , one of America's "founding fathers," had directed George Washington's spy service during the Revolution. Jay -- an old friend living near Cooper's Westchester County home -- told Cooper about an unnamed Revolutionary spy who had served America bravely and without seeking reward, while pretending to be a British agent and thus incurring the hatred of his countrymen.. The Story: In Mr. Wharton has retreated from New York to his country house in the "neutral ground" of Westchester County -- caught between the British and American armies, and harried by terrorist gangs the "cow-boys" and the "skinners" , who purport to be patriots or Tories but are really just bandits..
Wharton heads a divided family. His son Henry is in the British Army. His older daughter Sarah falls in love with a British Colonel. Through this divided land stalks the mysterious figure of Harvey Birch, a humble peddler, using his unmatched knowledge of the terrain to move secretly and at will. Accepted as a mere trader by the British, and suspect to most Patriots, Harvey Birch is really George Washington's most effective spy..
Before the story ends, we have met George Washington himself sometimes in disguise , Wharton's British army son and Harvey Birch have faced hanging as British agents, and the "neutral ground" has been torn by battle and destruction.. Significance: "The Spy" was an immediate popular success. For the first time, Americans could read an exciting novel about their own history. James Fenimore Cooper was instantly launched into fame and -- eventually -- fortune. One Enoch Crosby even claimed, unconvincingly, to have been the "real" Harvey Birch.
In the cynical British essayist Sidney Smith had exclaimed "In the four quarters of the globe, who reads an American book? As in all his novels, Cooper used as framework the literary formula of the "Romance" -- first popularized by Sir Walter Scott. A respectable young couple here Frances Wharton and Major Dunwoodie , with whom readers can identify, has adventures and gets married in the last chapter. But "The Spy" is not just a story of war and espionage. In it, Cooper constantly reminds us that the Revolution was a bitter civil war, with heroes and villains on both sides, where the course of honor and justice was often hard to see.
And Cooper was no longer an amateur; he had become a real novelist.. Finding it: "The Spy" has been frequently reprinted, most recently by Penguin Books ; and is available "on line. The Pioneers; or, The Sources of the Susquehanna. Background: The enormous success of "The Spy" , showed James Fenimore Cooper that there was an eager audience for stories about American life.
For his third novel, he turned to memories of the frontier village of Cooperstown in which he had grown up, but which -- in -- he had not visited for five years. Cooper made full use of Cooperstown called Templeton in the novel with its taverns and schoolhouse, of Lake Otsego and its surrounding hills, of his childhood home of Otsego Hall, and even of some fellow villagers. But his purpose was not to write a local history he would do that later. He wanted to generalize about the New York country scene as the heart of early America, shortly after the Revolution.
Cooper uses his "models" even his father Judge William Cooper of Cooperstown, who "resembles" the fictional Judge Marmaduke Temple of Templeton only as starting points on which to build fictional characters based on his own imagination. She quickly encounters the romantic but mysterious young Oliver Edwards -- who shares a cabin on the village outskirts with the old hunter, Natty Bumppo, and his Indian friend John Mohegan Chingachgook. Edwards badly conceals a deep unexplained grudge against the Temple family, but nevertheless enters the household as Judge Temple's secretary.
We visit Judge Temple's mansion and the Bold Dragoon Tavern, and participate in everyday events in the life of the village Christmas eve and Christmas, a "turkey shoot" on the frozen lake, maple sugaring, a fishing expedition, the annual slaughter of migrating passenger pigeons.
The plot then quickens. Elizabeth encounters a mountain lion. Natty Bumppo -- whose mysteriously locked cabin hides some great mystery -- is arrested for killing a deer out of season. And the story comes to a blazing climax as a forest fire rages on Mount Vision overlooking the village. Significance: Like "The Spy," Cooper's new novel was a best-seller. Americans delighted in reading about themselves, or people they recognized, in a setting that was purely American and that seemed to typify the young nation.
Its vivid pictures of American life, and its picture of American ethnic diversity, accompany a story involving major social, racial, ethical, and environmental issues, many of them unresolved today.
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A solitary, restless old hunter with exceptional woodland skills, Natty was to become, after four more books, an almost mythic figure in American literature. His valiant deeds, and his eloquence on behalf of nature and the wilderness, of honor and integrity, and of the humanity of the Native American, made him a conscience for America, while with his Indian friend Chingachgook he began what would become the American "Western" tradition.
Finding it: Often reprinted several current paperback editions , and on line. See also Reading The Pioneers as History. Tales for Fifteen. Two short stories Background: In the course of writing "The Spy" in , Cooper began to compose a series of five moral tales for adolescent girls. Of these only two were ever actually written: "Imagination," and "Heart. Two years later, the two moral stories Cooper had completed were published as "Tales for Fifteen," under the pen name of "Jane Morgan.
Of "Imagination," Cooper wrote many years later that it was "written one rainy day, half asleep and half awake, but I retain a favorable impression of it. Julia is led to believe, by a less-than-scrupulous friend, that she has a secret lover named Antonio, an enormously handsome young man of noble birth and great wealth, as well as being a decorated war hero.
When she embarks on a trip to Niagara Falls with her aunt and a rejected real-life suitor, Charles Weston, Julia is told that her romantic lover will secretly accompany her so as to protect her from all danger. She soon identifies her Antonio as being their drunken, one-eyed old coachman Tony her hero is evidently a real master of disguise , and proceeds to misinterpret everything the uncouth Tony says and does as concealing a secret message expressing his devotion to her.
Eventually, of course, Julia's eyes are opened to reality and, as is hardly surprising, she rediscovers the merits of the worthy Charles Weston -- who has in fact saved her from drowning. The story is about faithfulness in love. Twenty-year old Mary Osgood refuses to abandon a generous and gifted young musician, George Morton, who loves her, even when he contracts a long and debilitating illness.
Significance: "Imagination" is deftly told and is often hilarious. The theme of a young girl whose romantic notions completely cloud her sense of reality is a fairly unusual one though Jane Austen uses it in her "Northanger Abbey" but Cooper carries it off well. Cooper got no credit for it at the time -- who would associate "Jane Morgan" with the author of "The Spy" and "The Pioneers"! But it deserves to be rediscovered. Cooper had only agreed to the publication of "Tales for Fifteen" as a gesture of gratitude to Charles Wiley, the publisher of "The Spy," who was in serious financial difficulties, and the slim volume was hardly noticed.
Only four copies of "Tales for Fifteen" are known still to exist. When Boston publisher George Roberts wanted to reprint the two stories in , even Cooper didn't own a copy -- and Roberts had to track one down by himself. Finding it: Using one of the four surviving copies, a small facsimile edition was published in , and reprinted in Two years ago, however, I transcribed the book, and placed it on-line on the internet with some explanatory notes , where it can be found at a number of web sites, including that of the James Fenimore Cooper Society.
The Pilot: A Tale of the Sea. Background: As a young man, James Fenimore Cooper developed a love of the sea and of sailing ships -- first as a merchant sailor in , and then as a Midshipman in the infant United States Navy from It was a fascination that would last the rest of his life, and some of his closest life-long friends were career US naval officers. But in the early 19th century, the sea was not considered a suitable topic for fiction: the sea was either dangerous or boring; ships were too complicated; and sailors were drunken slobs. In , however, Cooper decided to try to use the sea as the basis of a story.
He was prodded into doing so by Sir Walter Scott's novel, "The Pirate" , in which a few scenes occur aboard ship and in which, Cooper believed, Scott got it all wrong. Gray" or the "Pilot". The Story: During the American Revolution, an unnamed American warship, accompanied by the schooner "Ariel," is hovering off the English coast, planning a series of commando-like raids on shore against the British enemy. The mission is to locate and take on board a mysterious pilot whose real identity is known only to the Captain , and to capture British officers as hostages for the good treatment of American prisoners.
Two American officers -- Lieutenants Edward Griffith and Richard Barnstable, lead the raids and provide romantic interest. But the most memorable character is "Long Tom" Coffin -- an ordinary seaman from Nantucket Island, who grew up as a whaler and still carries his harpoon with him everywhere. He became an instant favorite of Cooper's readers. Once ashore, Barnstable discovers that his fiancee Katherine Plowden and her cousin Cecilia are in a nearby mansion, held as virtual captives by Cecelia's father, a South Carolina Tory who has brought his family to England for safety.
What Cooper's public liked best, however, were the scenes at sea, as the ships are threatened by storm and rocks, and engage the British enemy in battle. Significance: In "The Pilot," Cooper succeeded for the first time in literature in making the sea, the complex technology of maneuvering sailing ships, and the exotic characters of sailors, exciting to armchair readers. The novel was big success which he would follow up with a long series of sea novels during his lifetime often more popular than his wilderness tales , and in doing so launched a new genre of writing that has lasted down to the present, with C.
As we shall see, Cooper's novels often extended literary horizons, and his discovery that technology can make good reading has led in many directions, including the science fiction of space travel. Finding it: "The Pilot," in addition to being included in all sets of Cooper's novels, has frequently been reprinted separately. Lionel Lincoln; or, The Leaguer of Boston. Background: After his success describing the American Revolution at sea in "The Pilot," Cooper had what seemed a brilliant idea -- a series of historical novels about the American Revolution, each set in a different colony.
The overall title would be "Legends of the Thirteen Republics. Early in , after visiting Boston and Cambridge to study the history of these events, and to meet with local experts, Cooper began to write. At the home of a great-aunt he meets and falls in love with his cousin Cecil Dynevor -- but soon realizes that some great family mystery is being concealed by the household. Has it something to do with his own father -- who has been locked up in an English insane asylum?
Who is the crazy old man who calls himself "Ralph," and follows him around? Who is the mentally retarded boy Job Pray, taunted and abused by the British soldiers, who defends the patriot cause, and whose impoverished mother is secretly helped by his great-aunt? Accompanied by Ralph and Job, Lincoln explores British-occupied Boston in disguise, seeing the oppression under which its people now live. As a British soldier he joins in the confused expedition sent by night in April to seize the patriot arms depots in Lexington and Concord; he experiences the battles that ensue, and the British retreat back to Boston under fire from the Minute Men.
As the patriots' siege of Boston tightens, he is wounded in the British attack on Bunker Hill. Lincoln's conflicting ties of loyalty to his King and affection for his native America, his efforts to gain the love of Cecil Dynevor, and the gradual uncovering of the mystery surrounding his personal history, lead to a dramatic and sometimes gruesome conclusion. Significance: The famous American historian George Bancroft wrote in that "In Lionel Lincoln Cooper has described the battle of Bunker Hill better than it is described in any other work. Bostonians were delighted to read an account of their city's part in the birth of the United States, but were no doubt mystified at seeing it described through the eyes of an American serving in the British army.
Critics in America praised Cooper's vivid depiction of the opening scenes of the American Revolution British critics were generally annoyed. But many readers found the plot of "Lionel Lincoln" overly complicated, and its dark Gothic atmosphere of mystery and madness seemed more appropriate to a European setting of haunted castles and monasteries than to an American colonial town. Cooper abandoned his "Legends of the Thirteen Republics" series, and sought a different topic. Finding it: "Lionel Lincoln" is available primarily in odd volumes from reprinted Cooper sets.
The Last of the Mohicans; A Narrative of One of them later a Prime Minister of Great Britain suggested that the cave on the island in the Hudson at Glens Falls would be a great site for a novel about Indians. Cooper agreed, and the next summer -- after the comparative failure of "Lionel Lincoln" -- began to write "The Last of the Mohicans. Cora is beautiful, dark-haired, courageous, and as we learn partly African-American. Alice is a pretty but helpless blonde with whom Major Heyward promptly falls in love.
Led astray by Magua, a treacherous Huron Indian with a long-standing grudge against Col. Munro, they are rescued by three British Army scouts: Hawkeye and Chingachgook whom we met as Leatherstocking and John Mohegan in "The Pioneers" and Chingachgook's handsome and valiant young son Uncas. After many exciting adventures, Hawkeye leads Cora and Alice safely to Fort William Henry, only to find its small garrison surrounded by the French under General Montcalm.
Then follows a largely historical account of the siege and surrender of the Fort, and of the massacre that followed it -- a defeat as familiar to Cooper's readers as the Alamo and Pearl Harbor are to us today. When the two half-sisters are carried off into the Adirondacks by the still vengeful Magua, Major Heyward and the three scouts follow in hot pursuit. They enter what was even in a largely unexplored wilderness, which Cooper peoples with vividly described Native Americans whose lives and customs are still largely uncorrupted by contact with Europeans.
Here only a genuine understanding of Indian ways allows Cooper's heroes to catch up with the fleeing captives, as the story moves towards its action-packed climax. Significance: Cooper's novel, with its thrilling adventures that have made it a favorite all over the world, is also a serious adult portrayal of how the American wilderness and its native peoples helped forge the American character, and of the complex and often tragic relations between America's three races -- white, black, and red.
His descriptions of Native American customs were taken from John Heckewelder, who was the best informed and most sympathetic writer about Indian ways in early 19th century America. None of the many movie versions do the novel justice, and most -- including the most recent -- change its plot and characters almost unrecognizably. Finding it: Available almost everywhere paperbacks are sold, and on-line. Next Week: "The Prairie" -- Natty Bumppo's final adventures in the vast new territories of the West acquired by America in ; rescuing hapless travellers, living among the Indians of the plains, and warning of a possibly bleak American future.
The Prairie. Background: While studying Native American culture for "The Last of the Mohicans," James Fenimore Cooper had travelled to New York and Washington to meet personally with Indian delegations from the great plains of the West, and came to know and admire several of their leaders. He studied carefully the travel accounts of Lewis and Clark, and especially the later explorations of Major Steven Long, who had placed the "Great American Desert" stretching from the Missouri to the Rocky Mountains, on the real and mental maps of Americans in the east.
From these sources Cooper -- who never did visit the high plains -- created the barren, treeless setting of "The Prairie," a setting that often resembles the endless ocean expanses of his sea novels. Unfit for cultivation or settlement, Cooper's prairie is inhabited only by nomadic horse-riding Indians and the vast herds of buffalo. The Story: In Ishmael Bush, his family and adult sons, have ventured beyond the Missouri to escape the law and seek a life free from civilized restraints.
With them are the resourceful Ellen Wade, the pedantic naturalist Dr. Bat, and, closely concealed in a tent -- well, the reader will find out. This nomadic band is rescued from its own ineptitude by a very aged Natty Bumppo now known only as "the trapper". Dismayed by the destruction of his beloved wilderness by the tree-chopping settlers in the east, he has fled westward to escape "the sound of their axes," and lives a meager life among his Pawnee Indian friends.
The Bush party is also being trailed, for equally good but different reasons, by Army Captain Duncan Uncas Middleton, the grandson of Duncan Heyward of "Mohicans," and by a "bee hunter" named Paul Hover. Soon the whole party finds itself in the midst of a war between two Native American peoples -- the Pawnee and the Sioux.
Cooper explores the characters and ways of life of these plains Indians as carefully as he had those of the forest Indians in "Mohicans. There follow exciting adventures of capture and escape, prairie-fire and buffalo stampede, and a heinous murder with a grim aftermath, before the story -- and Natty himself -- come to a fit conclusion. Throughout, Cooper in the voice of Natty repeatedly asks whether the desolate prairie may be a sign of what all America may someday become -- if the environmental destruction and "wasty ways" of her settlers are not somehow restrained.
Significance: Begun in New York, and completed in Paris after Cooper took his family to Europe in , "The Prairie" remained Cooper's personal favorite among his novels. It was the culmination of a trilogy in which he had symbolically considered America's present "The Pioneers" , its past "Mohicans" , and now -- perhaps -- its future. That may be why "The Prairie" is written in an epic style in which Natty himself almost assumes the role of a Biblical prophet.
Cooper's own life was changing and, though he did not forget the American frontier, he would not return to write another story about Natty Bumppo for almost 15 years. Finding it: Available in many paperback editions, and on-line. The Red Rover. Background: Now living with his family in Paris, Cooper turned again to the sea, and to Newport, Rhode Island, where, during the colonial period, South Carolina plantation owners spent their summers.
Newport is also the site of the famous "Newport Tower" -- a stone structure long believed by some to be of Viking origin. Cooper had visited Newport and its harbor about , and in -- on his way home from researching "Lionel Lincoln" in Boston -- he had explored its local history with a member of the Rhode Island Historical Society.
The Story: "The Red Rover" is about a pirate -- a noble, generous, courageous pirate in the tradition of Lord Byron's poems. As Newport celebrates Britain's victory over France at Quebec in , ominous rumors circulate of a mysterious ship -- perhaps a slave trader -- lurking outside its harbor. Wilder encounters the "Red Rover" and for unfathomable reasons agrees to become First Mate of his pirate ship "Dolphin. The pirate ship "Dolphin" stalks the "Royal Caroline" down the Atlantic coast, pitting the skills of the romantic pirate against those of young Wilder.
There is a succession of storms and mutinies, of battles and captures, that would lay the framework for every novel and movie of the sea that has followed. An important subplot involves the close friendship of the two sailors -- one white and one black -- whose lives are tied up with that of Wilder.
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But what is Harry Wilder's real history? Who is the Red Rover, and why has he chosen the life of an outlawed pirate? What is the secret of the beautiful Gertrude's old governess, Mrs. And who is "Roderick," the mysterious cabin boy who presides over the lush carpets and oriental furnishings of the Red Rover's inner sanctum on board the "Dolphin"?
As usual in a Cooper plot, there are mysteries to be disclosed as well as danger to be overcome. Significance: During Cooper's lifetime, "The Red Rover" was as popular as his frontier stories, and became the basis for plays, musicals, and other spin-offs -- in both England and in America. Cooper's romantic pirate joined Lord Byron's swashbuckling nautical heroes -- part criminal, part gentleman, and always mysterious -- as literary types who have made many a Hollywood fortune. Otherwise look for used reprint editions, and on-line.
Next Week: "Notions of the Americans" -- To please General Lafayette, and to contradict French and British anti-American propaganda, Cooper writes a detailed account of American government and society. Notions of the Americans: Picked up by a Travelling Bachelor. Social and Political Description Background: No Frenchman is more closely associated with America than the Marquis de Lafayette, who as a young man had become a hero of the American Revolution. In , when Lafayette toured America to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Revolution, Cooper had been one of the welcoming committee in New York, and had covered his triumphal arrival for the "New York American.
Lafayette repeatedly asked Cooper to write a book about his American visit, and Cooper -- who thought that this might be rather dull -- finally decided that he could use the visit as a framework for a serious book describing American government and society. He hoped that it would be read throughout Europe and that it might counteract the consistently anti-American accounts of most French and British travellers to the new American republic. The Story: Cooper chose to write his description as a series of 38 fictional letters, supposedly written by a Belgian traveler the "bachelor" to America to his friends in various European countries.
The un-named Belgian is escorted on his travels through America by "Cadwallader" -- a character evidently based on Cooper himself -- who serves as a guide and to explain American culture and institutions. For nearly pages, the narrator visits various parts of America he even comes to Cooperstown , investigates every aspect of America's government, society, and culture, and writes back to his friends to explain what the new Republic is like and how it works, providing both extensive facts and careful analysis. No aspect of American society is left out: Cooper describes not just government and questions of public policy, but literature and the arts, popular manners, and what makes American culture special.
And Cooper does not forget to include Lafayette's visit -- which was perhaps the greatest triumphal tour in American history. Significance: One modern writer has said that "no other book of Cooper's day set forth so clearly the structure of the American government or illustrated so well the practical impact of that structure on the self-concept of those who lived within it. Although it was published in England as well as America, and translated promptly into French and German, "Notions" received little attention, was not surprisingly "panned" in monarchist England and France, and even American reviewers found fault with it as too "pro-American.
Not yet, alas, available on-line. The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish. Background: In Cooper spent the winter with his family in Florence, Italy, renting an apartment in the Palazzo Ricasoli today a hostel for American students abroad. His new subject was the Connecticut frontier in the 's -- and the moral and physical confrontations between Puritans seeking to build Christian settlements in the wilderness and the Indians they were replacing -- often by means of violence and treachery. The Story: In the devout Mark Heathcote and his family have left Massachusetts Bay to settle in the valley of the "wish-ton-wish" whip-poor-will in western Connecticut, where they hope to live a life of religious purity.
In England, Cromwell has fallen and the throne of England has been "restored" to King Charles II, Puritans are everywhere in disarray, and a search is on for the English judges the "regicides" who had condemned King Charles I to death in Heathcote buys land honestly from the local Indians, and for a time the tiny settlement prospers and grows. The plot thickens with the arrival of a mysterious stranger on horseback, and with the capture and adoption of an Indian boy who claims to be Conanchet, the real life son of Miantonimoh, a Narragansett Chief murdered by the Puritans in Then, in , as "King Philip's" war spreads through New England, Indians attack the community and carry off Mark's only granddaughter Ruth -- the lost child who becomes the "wept" of the valley of the wish-ton-wish -- and the framework for the rest of Cooper's story is set.
The settlement receives new colonists, including an unscrupulous and greedy demagogue, the aptly-named Rev. Meek Wolfe. The interplay of Puritan and Indian cultures the girl Ruth adopts the Indian name of Narra-mattah , the killing and treachery that characterized King Philip's War, and the contrast between piety and hypocrisy, all play their parts in an increasingly turbulent story.
What will become of Mark Heathcote's attempt to found a settlement based on true religious virtue? Must it -- must the American dream -- inevitably break down in the face of greed? Significance: Cooper dramatically portrayed how relations between white settlers and Native Americans got off to a disastrous start in early New England, setting patterns that would be tragically repeated for centuries. He faced squarely issues like mixed marriages, that most of his readers were horrified even to imagine, as well as probing many aspects of the complex Puritan mind.
The "Wept" is one of Cooper's most powerful and exciting novels, but one that -- with its cryptic and somewhat indigestible title -- has been largely forgotten. Cooperstonians, of course, will remember that the Cooper family named a property on Estli Avenue "Heathcote" -- the family name of Mrs.
Cooper's grandfather -- and that one of Lake Otsego's most beautiful mahogany launches still bears the name of Narra-Mattah. Finding it: Available only in odd volumes from reprinted editions, and on-line. Background: In mid, after almost a year in Florence, Cooper chartered a sailboat in Leghorn Livorno , which took him and his family down the Italian coast, stopping at the Isle of Elba which he would use in a later novel and other ports.
They arrived at Naples, and Cooper rented part of a palace "said to be the birthplace of the Renaissance poet Tasso" in Sorrento overlooking the magnificent bay -- it is now the Imperial Hotel Tramontano. The months that followed, exploring with his wife and children the beauties of the area by boat and on donkey-back, and writing on his terrace overlooking the Bay of Naples, were perhaps the happiest in Cooper's life. Cooper's joy at his life on the Bay of Naples, which he considered the most beautiful place on earth, was reflected in the novel he wrote there -- though his story is set in and around New York harbor in about , when New York was still largely a Dutch town.
There is even a cameo appearance by Lord Cornbury, perhaps the most corrupt official England ever imposed on its New York colony. The Story: Myndert Van Beverout, fur merchant and city official in colonial New York, has a country place which he calls "Lust in Rust" on the New Jersey coast where he buys silks and other luxuries "duty free" from the mysterious smuggler who sometimes calls himself Tom Tiller. Tiller's ship, the "Water-Witch," has an almost miraculous ability to avoid capture, thanks -- as we learn -- to the cryptic advice dispensed in literary quotations on enamel tablets by the wicked looking figurehead at its prow for which the ship is named.
Meanwhile, an American-born British naval officer, Captain Cornelius Ludlow, commander of Her Majesty's Ship "Coquette," has vowed to capture the "Water-Witch" and put an end to her contraband activities. Apparently she has been kidnapped aboard the "Water-Witch. As usual, the adventure is heightened by mystery. Who is "Tom Tiller," the skipper of the "Water-Witch" and how does he manage his amazing escapes?
Who are Seadrift, who sells his smuggled wares -- and Zephyr, the cabin boy who has never set foot on land? And who, of course, will marry whom? Significance: Lighter and more whimsical in tone than any other Cooper novel -- though there is nothing whimsical about its very real adventures at sea -- "The Water-Witch" has had a mixed reception from readers. Some think it "light weight" -- others, including myself, consider it one of Cooper's finest and most enjoyable novels.
Finding it: There have been no recent reprints of "The Water-Witch," but it is available in odd volumes from old editions, and can also be found "on line. Next Week: "The Bravo," set in 18th century Venice, is one of Cooper's best and most serious works, whose analysis of totalitarian terror anticipated Orwell's' "" by over a century as it sought to warn Americans against the dangers of corporate tyranny. The Bravo. Background: In the spring of , after a winter in Rome, the Cooper family spent a week in Venice on their way back to Germany and France.
Cooper was enormously impressed by Venice, and quickly decided to use it as a setting for a novel. Venice, before its conquest by Napoleon in , had been one of Europe's few Republics. But Venice was in reality a totalitarian society though the word had not been invented , ruled by an anonymous Council of Three, which controlled its nominally democratic institutions by means of an army of spies and secret policemen, bribes and torture, arbitrary arrests and assassinations, and the manipulation of public opinion.
The Story: Two couples are caught in the toils of the Venetian government. Don Camillo, a foreign nobleman, wants to marry Violetta Tiepolo, a Venetian heiress for whom the secret bureaucracy has other plans. Jacopo Frontoni, the "Bravo" Italian slang for a hired assassin of the title, is an unwilling criminal, forced to carry out the will of the Council of Three, and accept public responsibility for its evil acts, or see his imprisoned father executed.
Jacopo is in love with Gelsomina, daughter of the jail keeper of the dungeon in which the father is held captive on false charges. In Cooper's atmospheric novel, the daytime brilliance of Venetian public ceremonies constantly contrasts with the nighttime plotting in badly lit palaces and moonlit alleys and cemeteries.
Eventually everyone is drawn into a dark world of corruption and betrayal, including Antonio, a poor old fisherman who dares to protest when his only grandson is drafted into the Venetian war-galleys; Senator Gradenigo, who can always find excuses for not letting his humanity interfere with the interests of the State; and Hosea, a Jewish merchant constantly subject to official blackmail and extortion. And its ending is perhaps the most unexpected and compelling in all of Cooper's fiction.
Significance: Cooper's meaning is clear; just because America is a Republic, it is not safe from tyranny. Greed, inherited wealth and position, demagogy and the manipulation of public opinion, can create a bureaucratic totalitarianism worse than any individual despot, because it is secret, faceless, and without humanity. Not until the 20th century did Nazi Germany and Communist Russia show that Cooper's dark imaginings were all too prophetic. Not surprisingly, perhaps, it has been the basis for several Italian operas, one of them Saverio Mercadante's "Il Bravo" still being performed.
Finding it: The usual old odd volumes from sets of Cooper's works, and one reprint; it can also be found "on line" on the Internet. Next Week: "The Heidenmauer" -- Cooper continues his "European novels" with a story of sin and redemption, of morality and greed, as a feudal lord, a monastery, and a rising bourgeois town fight for mastery in a Germany on the verge of the Protestant Reformation.
The Heidenmauer; or, The Benedictines. A Legend of the Rhine. That evening Cooper and his eight-year-old-son Paul visited the "heidenmauer" or heathen wall -- supposed to have been built by Attila the Hun -- and heard stories about the Counts of Hartenburg who had ruled Durkheim from their castle, and of the Benedictine Monastery of Limburg that once stood on an adjoining hill. As Cooper watched his young son play among the ruins, he mused on the long panorama of European history that had come together to produce the varied ethnic face of America, and so a novel was born.
The Story: Count Emich of Hartenburg is a soldier's soldier, a crude and illiterate feudal lord, who prides himself on his valor and his capacity to hold liquor, and surrounds himself with opportunists of every sort. His great rival is the nearby Benedictine Monastery of Limburg, presided over by the hospitable but worldly Abbot Bonifacius, whose fellow monks -- save for the truly pious Father Arnolph and the fanatic Father Johan -- are as worldly as he. Between the castle and the monastery the trading town of Durkheim is rising in importance, led by its burgomaster Hendrick Frey -- whose life revolves about his money and his desire to find a wealthy husband for his beautiful daughter Meta.
Unfortunately, Meta is in love with the poor but worthy Berchtold, Count Emich's forester. The time is the early s, and though everyone in the story is Catholic, murmurs of Luther and of religious and civil revolt are beginning to circulate. In a crude hut built inside the ruins of the "heidenmauer," lives a pious but secretive hermit, who is much revered by the local populace, including Ulricke Frey, wife of the burgomaster, and Berchtold's widowed mother Lottchen.
The plot thickens when Count Emich seeks to enlist the support of Burgomaster Frey for an attack on the Monastery. This begins a train of events that leads to violence but not to murder and to an analysis of morality in its many complex aspects. What is virtue -- and can any human being be all good, or for that matter all bad? If Cooper cannot always answer these questions, we are left with a greater understanding of human strength and frailty. Significance: The most religiously oriented novel of Cooper's early works, "The Heidenmauer" has been likened to a medieval morality play, in which communities experience sin, penance, and redemption.
Cooper, a life-long Episcopalian, was deeply moved by the beauty, pageantry, and devotion of European Catholicism. Here he explores both individual morality, and the complex relationships in Renaissance Germany between the old feudal order, the Catholic establishment, and the rising new commercial towns and classes. Above all this book reflects his belief in the essential goodness of man -- that even the worst of men have seeds of good that can be cultivated. Fi nding It: Only available, alas, in odd volumes from old reprint sets, and on-line.
Next Week: "No Steamboats" is a long-lost humorous story making fun of French misunderstandings about American culture, written by Cooper in French and published in Paris. It is not, however, a plea for a motorless Otsego! Short story Background: During his seven years in Europe, Cooper was constantly struck by all the things that Europeans "knew" about America that just weren't so, and how often they refused to accept the word of visiting Americans to the contrary. In , while living in Paris, Cooper wrote a humorous article on the subject in French -- for a literary annual called "Paris, or the Book of One Hundred and One," No.
So far as is known, this is the only time that Cooper wrote for publiction in the French language though he spoke French quite fluently, and often corresponded in it. But it has been almost totally forgotten. They are Mr. Moneybags M. Ancestry M. Doe M. Blouse -- literally, Mr. Smock, from the costume then worn by ordinary French workmen. They have come, they tell Cooper, to explore basic truths, and they are horrified by what they have learned about America.
In America, they say, "the people have rights that belong to the elite, and the consequences are frightening: there is corruption everywhere, egotism reigns, social chaos mingles social classes, Christians are savages, savages are Christians, blacks are white, whites are mulattos, and even the water has changed to rum. When Cooper reminds them that there are no steamboats crossing the Atlantic which was the case in , they refuse to believe him, and ask how he, a sailor, can deny a fact well known throughout Europe from the Mediterranean to the Arctic.
Their litany of error continues: The official name of America is "The United States of North America," and if the American Constitution says otherwise it must be wrong. Americans pay huge taxes. American streets are blocked with chains on Sundays.
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It took a violent uprising before American boats could sail on the Sabbath. American women drink tea at home with missionaries while their husbands read newspapers in their clubs, and then sew shirts for the poor until midnight.
Two Congressmen fought it out on horseback, with pistols and swords, on the floor of the House of Representatives, and only ceased when artillery arrived. Rejecting all corrections, the "Three European Ideas" disappear, oblivious to Cooper's protestations. Significance: An amusing piece of light humor, reflecting Cooper's often frustrated efforts to teach Europeans about the American he loved. Finding it: The original French version can be found "on line" at the French National Library website.
Next Week: "The Headsman" -- tribulations of the hereditary public executioner of Berne, Switzerland, when his son falls in love with an aristocrat. If inherited high status is bad -- what about inherited shame and detestation? The Headsman; or, The Abbaye des Vignerons. Background: In , Cooper and his family spent two months -- their second Swiss vacation -- at Vevey on the shores of Lake Geneva. James visited the Castle of Blonay overlooking the town, and with a friend ventured further afield to the famous Pass of the Great St.
Bernard, between Switzerland and Italy, where monks and their famous St. Bernard dogs have for centuries rescued and cared for travellers trapped in the heavy snows. Vevey has since the 17th century been famous for its periodic "Festival of the Winegrowers" "vignerons" sponsored by the local Abbey of St. Urbain, and featuring a famous allegorical procession at which prizes are awarded for the best wines. Cooper just missed the Festival of , but he learned enough about the one held in to make it a centerpiece of this novel -- nowadays the Festival is held only four times a century -- most recently in The Story: In the 18th century an overloaded boat sets sail from Geneva.
Baron de Willading is taking his beautiful but ailing daughter Adelheid to Vevey, accompanied by her suitor, a poor but honest Swiss soldier named Sigismund, and by a long-time old friend from Genoa, Signor Grimaldi. The "Winkelried" carries an unruly crowd of passengers -- not to mention two large dogs which figure so frequently in Cooper novels -- a St. Bernard named Uberto and a Newfoundland named Nettuno. Panic ensues when the passengers realize that the boat also carries the feared and detested Balthazar -- hereditary executioner headsman of the Canton of Berne -- who is blamed, and almost murdered, when the boat encounters a sudden heavy storm.
The real identity of the honest Sigismund, and the fate of his love for Adelheid, become involved with the unhappy public executioner and his family, as the story moves through the pageantry of the Festival of the Winegrowers in Vevey to the Castle of Blonay, to end in a vivid and wintry climax at the famous Monastery at the Great Saint Bernard Pass. Significance: As in his other two "European novels" Cooper explores moral and social evils which had always existed in Europe, but which he feared might still threaten the new democracy being built in America.
Thus "The Bravo" deals with faceless bureaucratic tyranny by an aristocracy of wealth, and "The Heidenmauer" with greed and fanaticism and how men can rationalize and even sanctify deeds of profound evil. Wherever or whenever they are set, Cooper's novels always address eternal questions -- and usually questions peculiarly relevant to the American experience. Next Week: Returning disillusioned to America, Cooper rebukes his reading audience, and announces prematurely the end of his writing career, in "A Letter to His Countrymen. A Letter to His Countrymen. Cooper was deeply disappointed at the generally cool reception his latest novels had received at home -- which he attributed, with some accuracy, to political animosity in the Whig-controlled American press.
He was also very upset by the hostile reaction at home and by American diplomats abroad to an article he had written for General LaFayette, proving that democratic government in America cost less than royal government in France. But Cooper was genuinely distraught; he even refused an invitation to a welcome-home party offered by his old New York writer friends. He was determined to cease writing novels for what he considered an ungrateful audience. One novel already in the works, a few books of non-fiction he had long contemplated, and he would seek something else to do.
And he would do it back home in Cooperstown. Already, Cooper had begun negotiations to buy back his father's old home at Otsego Hall, and to remodel it in the Gothic style he had come to love in Europe. In the mean time, he fired off a page book outlining his discontents. Much of it is devoted to a detailed dissection of a critical American newspaper review of Cooper's novel "The Bravo," trying to prove wrongly, as it turned out that it had been written by a Frenchman and deliberately "planted" in order to discredit him. In rambling fashion, he goes on to denounce the tendency of Americans at home to get their opinions from foreign sources, and of Americans living abroad to poor-mouth their country's institutions in order to cuddle up to foreign aristocrats.
He explores the American political system he finds after seven years abroad, discussing the roles of the Presidency and the Congress, of the press and of the parties, and finding little that he likes. A strong supporter of President Jackson and the concept of political democracy while at the same time defending cultural elitism and the rights of property , Cooper believed that the anti-Jackson Whig Party was pushing America into the hands of a corrupt aristocracy of wealth, using the tools of demagogy and a controlled press to mislead the people and gain their votes.
Congress, he believed, was increasingly under the thumb of the new men with money. Significance: "A Letter to His Countrymen" is a book only a biographer could love, and it did little to enhance Cooper's reputation. Nevertheless, it contains important clues as to Cooper's political and social philosophy -- ideas which he would express much more effectively four years later in "The American Democrat.
Your compiler has also placed it on-line on this website at A Letter to His Countrymen. Next Week: The Monikins," is Cooper's strangest and perhaps his funniest novel, a tale of biting satire in which civilized monkeys in Antarctica "ape" the political and cultural ways of England and America. The Monikins. Background: "The quill and I are divorced The tales are done. There are a few half unfinished manuscripts on other subjects to finish, and I turn sailor again -- or something else Settling temporarily in New York City, Cooper bought back his father's old home in Cooperstown Otsego Hall and remodeled it in the Gothic style pointed windows, towers, and fake battlements.
By he and his family were permanently established back in the village of his childhood. One of those manuscripts was "a little work, of an entirely new kind, nearly done" -- "The Monikins. It would be his last "novel" for several years. The Story: Sir John Goldencalf has risen from nothing -- his father, a foundling, had became enormously wealthy by inside trading on the stock market and marrying his employer's daughter. Determined to do good in the world, Sir John buys himself a seat in Parliament, and invests in economic enterprises all over the British empire, on the theory that only those with a "social stake" in the economy can truly represent the people.
He is in love with a girl from a good family. But his life is about to change. In Paris, Sir John and a casual acquaintance Captain Noah Poke of Connecticut rescue four monkeys from an organ-grinder, only to discover that they come from a civilization of talking monkeys "monikins" living in Antarctica.
Sir John escorts them home in Captain Poke's ship "The Walrus" where he finds the twin monkey nations of Leaphigh and its former colony Leaplow. Sir John and Captain Poke explore these strange lands for months, encountering various adventures along the way and enduring the hardships of a land where nobody eats anything but nuts. Finally there begins a "great moral eclipse," in which all true values are replaced by the all-mighty dollar -- and our travellers flee back home to Europe where -- might it all have been a delirious dream?
Sir John concludes with a list of what he has learned in his travels:: as "That of all the 'ocracies aristocracy and democracy included hypocrisy is the most flourishing," and "That truth is a comparative and local property, being much influenced by circumstances; particularly by climate and public opinion. Significance: "The Monikins" is a sarcastic, sometimes labored, but often hilarious satire on British and American society and politics -- a forerunner of both "Animal Farm" and "The Planet of the Apes.
Finding it: "The Monikins" was reprinted separately once in but must otherwise be sought in sets of Cooper's works, or on-line. Next Week: We begin examining Cooper's five travel books based on his seven years in Europe -- some of them masterpieces of travel writing. Gleanings in Europe: Switzerland. Background: In , back home permanently in Cooperstown, Cooper turned to a series of travel books based on his seven years in Europe He made use of his extensive travel journals as well as of his phenomenal ability to recall places and events. All five books use the format of imaginary letters to friends back home, but they differ considerably in content.
Some are mostly travelogue, with occasional digressions. Others comment extensively on the European political, economic, and cultural scene -- always addressed to an American audience. The Story: Cooper's first travel book is based on a summer July-October that the Cooper family spent near Bern, and making excursions through Switzerland's magnificent Alpine scenery. The Cooper family including five children and Cooper's year old nephew William Yeardley Cooper, who had come to Europe as Cooper's secretary and copyist had left Paris by carriage in early July, They settled at a villa La Lorraine outside the Swiss capital of Bern.
From there the older members of the family James, his wife, his year old daughter Susan, and William made two week-long excursions through Switzerland's mountains, travelling by boat, carriage, on horseback, and on foot. Then, leaving the family at La Lorraine, James Fenimore Cooper went on two trips alone, accompanied only by a guide. The first was a strenuous day hike through the Alps to the source of the Rhine; the second a trip by boat around Lake Geneva.
Cooper was impressed by the pilgrim shrine at Einsiedeln, which he would use as the setting for part of his novel "The Heidenmauer. As snows began to fall, Cooper packed up his family, and took them over the mountain passes still infested with bandits to Florence in Italy. It would be several years before they saw Paris again.