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James Fenimore Cooper

James Fenimore Cooper: The Early Years

Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 752
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  • Book Info
    James Fenimore Cooper
    Book Description:

    James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) invented the key forms of American fiction-the Western, the sea tale, the Revolutionary War romance. Furthermore, Cooper turned novel writing from a polite diversion into a paying career. He influenced Herman Melville, Richard Henry Dana, Jr., Francis Parkman, and even Mark Twain-who felt the need to flagellate Cooper for his "literary offenses." His novels mark the starting point for any history of our environmental conscience. Far from complicit in the cleansings of Native Americans that characterized the era, Cooper's fictions traced native losses to their economic sources.Perhaps no other American writer stands in greater need of a major reevaluation than Cooper. This is the first treatment of Cooper's life to be based on full access to his family papers. Cooper's life, as Franklin relates it, is the story of how, in literature and countless other endeavors, Americans in his period sought to solidify their political and cultural economic independence from Britain and, as the Revolutionary generation died, stipulate what the maturing republic was to become. The first of two volumes,James Fenimore Cooper: The Early Yearscovers Cooper's life from his boyhood up to 1826, when, at the age of thirty-six, he left with his wife and five children for Europe.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13500-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xxxvi)

    Author of the famous five-part Leather-Stocking series as well as twentyseven other novels and a box full of historical and miscellaneous works, James Fenimore Cooper (1789–1851) remains one of the most original yet most misunderstood figures in the history of American culture. Almost single-handedly in the 1820s, Cooper invented the key forms of American fiction— the Western, the sea tale, the Revolutionary romance—forms that set a suggestive agenda for subsequent writers, even for Hollywood and television. Furthermore, in producing and shrewdly marketing fully 10 percent of all American novels in the 1820s, most of them best sellers, Cooper...

  5. CHAPTER ONE The Vision
    (pp. 1-25)

    One day in the fall of 1785, New Jersey wheelwright and merchant William Cooper urged his horse up a steep wooded ridge in central New York, eager to inspect a tract of land he was angling to acquire. The long fight against British authority, nowhere bloodier than on the exposed New York border, had been over for only four years, and the 1783 treaty formally ending it was so recent that the countryside still showed deep scars. On his way there, Cooper had passed through a nearby village, Cherry Valley, that had been all but wiped out by raiding Loyalists...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Lessons
    (pp. 26-60)

    For Cooper the next big change was school. Otsego surrounded him with fresh sights that left deep impressions, but formal instruction there was so improvised and haphazard that most of his siblings had to be sent elsewhere for various periods, and he was to fare no better.¹ His father, to be sure, tried to improve the local situation in the mid-1790s by luring recent Yale graduate Joshua Dewey to Cooperstown. Judge Cooper’s scheme was ambitious: he wished to found a local classical academy to prepare the best students, his youngest son hopefully among them, for college and the learned professions....

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Voyage of the Stirling
    (pp. 61-100)

    The second ex-collegian in the Cooper family left New Haven late in June or early in July 1805, probably with the marks of what Nathan Smith called his “barbarous & cruel” beating still evident on his body.¹ He arrived in Cooperstown soon afterwards to find the village in turmoil over a young man whose horrid crime and impending execution riveted everyone’s attention—especially, given all that had happened to him of late, Cooper’s. During his final days in New Haven, theConnecticut Journalprinted the latest news in the Otsego case: “COOPERSTOWN, June 6.The unhappy Arnoldwas on Tuesday...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Midshipman James Cooper
    (pp. 101-139)

    The young sailor home from the sea began the new year with a new title—midshipman—conferred on him via a printed warrant signed by President Thomas Jefferson. The document, with its grandiloquent phrases and formal script, marked the public realization of a private dream to which Cooper had remained staunchly committed, partly out of his love of the sea and partly because it defined his future on his own terms rather than his family’s.¹ He moved forward now, though, with the blessing and aid of his father. Familiar with how such things were managed, Judge Cooper asked one of...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Love and War
    (pp. 140-179)

    With the return of theWaspto New York in April 1810, Cooper’s active days in the navy were numbered. His resumption of recruiting, for one thing, was a further reminder that this was not the service as he had imagined it. When, on May 1, one of his earlier recruits stumbled on board drunk, then careened overboard and drowned in Wallabout Bay, the futility of it all was brought home.¹ Then or soon after, Cooper composed a letter of resignation and, in keeping with naval custom, “offer’d it to Capt[.] Lawrence, for his inspection.” Hardly ignorant of Cooper’s simmering...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Fenimore Farm
    (pp. 180-215)

    It was a season of mortality. James Lawrence, severely wounded in the encounter with theShannon,lingered several days before he died in Halifax, where theChesapeakewas taken after its capture. An initial funeral was held there on June 7, but later in the summer his body was exhumed and returned to the United States—to Salem and Boston and then eventually New York, where, on September 16, a crowd of up to fifty thousand mourners turned out to honor him at his interment in Trinity churchyard.¹ Cooper surely would have joined that crowd had he been near the...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Gains and Losses
    (pp. 216-239)

    The family barely had settled in with the DeLanceys at Heathcote Hill before Cooper was off again. This time he was bound to the village of Williamstown or Cooper’s Falls in St. Lawrence County, where, in the latest and most complex of their joint operations, he and his cousin Courtland recently had established a general store. Courtland handled the retail operation and related undertakings (a small potash facility, for one) and spent some time hounding the settlers who owed Cooper money on lands in DeKalb and nearby Bangor. For his part, Cooper provided the store’s major financial backing, probably using...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT A Better Book
    (pp. 240-269)

    After the Coopers moved into Angevine in the fall of 1818, Susan, pregnant again, began spending much of her time there. This development and Cooper’s growing absorption with financial matters and with finding and preparing a whaleship across the following spring meant that the couple’s paths often diverged. (When the girl, Maria Frances, was born on Tuesday, June 15, 1819, the very day the deal for theUnionwas to be finalized, Cooper was busy with the ship in New York City rather than by his wife’s side.)¹ This whole period was full of serious changes. Cooper’s brother Samuel, just...

  13. CHAPTER NINE An American Tale
    (pp. 270-301)

    Cooper’s push to have his first book issued in England sprang from his secret plan to launch the literary career that, with the help of Charles Wilkes, he already had imagined for himself. He knew that this goal would require, as he wrote Andrew Thompson Goodrich in September or October of 1820, “preparing the way” for other books (LJ1:64). It would also requirewritingthose other books. Happily, the next one had begun to emerge very early. On June 28 of that year, when barely done withPrecaution,Cooper informed Goodrich that he had “commenced another tale to be...

  14. CHAPTER TEN Legal Troubles
    (pp. 302-334)

    As Cooper followed William Parry on his polar cruise and simultaneously broughtThe Spyto its overdue end over the fall of 1821, certain outward events were driving him hard. Most concerned money.¹ The gravest among them was what the Coopers referred to as the “Bridgen suit.” That legal challenge was not actually a single suit. Rather, it was a series of three successive New York Chancery Court “bills” filed against the Cooper heirs by Albany resident Thomas Bridgen in the years leading up to 1822. Bridgen, a lawyer and soon a master of Chancery—that is, an assistant to...

  15. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  16. CHAPTER ELEVEN Settlement
    (pp. 335-366)

    Shuttling between Angevine and New York City over the fall of 1821 as he sought to bringThe Spyto its long-delayed close and see it through production, Cooper also began to imagine the outlines of a third book. The American scene was again to be his focus, but in a much more personal way. As the auctioneer’s hammer fell in Otsego, knocking down Otsego Hall and Three Mile Point and other Cooper family properties to the scavengers, Cooperstown itself emerged as his new theme.

    He had not been back to Otsego in more than four years. But the looming...

  17. CHAPTER TWELVE Taking Manhattan
    (pp. 367-399)

    Cooper’s abandonment of Angevine after his dispute with the DeLanceys cannot have been emotionally easy. But in exchange for the farm where, as his daughter Susan recalled, he had labored hard to produce a stylish “landscape,” he took Manhattan, and by all accounts the swap was very much worth it (Plate 14).¹ When he had to leave the city for a brief visit to Boston in January of 1824, he came back like a native son to what he happily called “good, great, magnanimous New-York” (LJ1:109). Small wonder. When he moved there with his family in October 1822, he...

  18. CHAPTER THIRTEEN Old Tales and New
    (pp. 400-427)

    Weaving through the rich, tumultuous, painful experiences that marked Cooper’s first year in New York City was the often severed thread of another novel, a sea tale set during the American Revolution. The idea for it had come to him after the American publication of a nautical romance,The Pirate(1821), by the still mysterious “author ofWaverley.” Few people accepted the not-yet-vindicated view, shared by Cooper (and indeed by British actor Charles Mathews), that the responsible party was none other than the acclaimed poet Walter Scott.¹ Banker Charles Wilkes, for instance, appears to have known a good deal about the...

    (pp. 428-453)

    On his return to Beach Street late in January 1824, Cooper encountered two pressing demands on his attention. Both were good. Sales ofThe Pilothad been so brisk, he learned shortly after his homecoming, that Wiley already had a team of five printers rushing a second edition, which was to appear on February 11. Presumably Cooper had worked through the book during his absence in order to finish his revisions, relying in part on Shubrick’s expert nautical advice.¹ Once his marked-up copy or list of changes had been handed to Wiley and parceled out to the printers, Cooper could...

  20. CHAPTER FIFTEEN Hawk-eye
    (pp. 454-490)

    Cooper had conceivedLionel Lincolnwith grand ambitions sometime in 1823, perhaps as early as the summer, and had done much more by way of preparation for this book’s narrative than he had done with any previous one (see Chapter 13). Once it finally was published in February 1825, however, the book fell flat. For the first time sincePrecaution,no quick second edition was called for; indeed, Wiley still had nearly a quarter of his six-thousand copy first edition on hand in the later part of the year (LLCE xxiii). Fortunately enough for his sensibilities, Cooper was out...

  21. CHAPTER SIXTEEN Literary Business
    (pp. 491-522)

    Even as the long battle with Robert Sedgwick was entering its final, critical phase, another financial concern was arising for Cooper during the fall of 1825. This one, connected to Charles Wiley, had more serious implications because it had to do with the system through which Cooper had been publishing his literary works—and producing the income that was keeping him afloat. His response in this case was to withdraw from his business relationship with Wiley and establish a new and more profitable one with the Philadelphia firm of Carey and Lea. Several factors were involved in the decision. The...

  22. Notes
    (pp. 523-680)
  23. Index
    (pp. 681-708)