Biography of James Fenimore Cooper

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James Fenimore Cooper (September 15, 1789 – September 14, 1851) was a prolific and popular American writer of the early 19th century. He is particularly remembered as a novelist, who wrote numerous sea-stories as well as the historical romances known as the Leatherstocking Tales, featuring frontiersman Natty Bumppo. Among his most famous works is the novel The Last of the Mohicans, which many people consider his masterpiece. His daughter, Susan Fenimore Cooper (1813-1894), was known as an author and philanthropist.
Contents
1 Early life

2 Literary career

3 Last years and legacy

4 Cooper’s writings

5 External links

Early life

Cooper was born at Burlington, New Jersey, on the 15th of September 1789. Reared in the wild country round Otsego Lake, New York, on the yet unsettled estates of his father William Cooper, a judge and member of Congress, he was sent to school at Albany and at New Haven, and entered Yale at fourteen, remaining for some time the youngest student on the rolls.

Three years afterwards he joined the United States Navy; but after making a voyage or two in a merchant vessel, to perfect himself in seamanship, and obtaining his lieutenancy, he married and resigned his commission (1811).

Literary career

James Fenimore Cooper statue

He settled in Westchester County, New York, the “Neutral Ground” of his earliest American romance, and produced anonymously (1820) his first book, Precaution, a novel of the fashionable school. This was followed (1821) by The Spy, which was very successful at the date of issue; The Pioneers (1823), the first of the Leatherstocking series; and The Pilot (1824), a bold and dashing sea-story. The next was Lionel Lincoln (1825), a feeble and unattractive work; and this was succeeded in 1826 by the famous Last of the Mohicans, a book that is often quoted as its author’s masterpiece. Quitting America for Europe he published at Paris The Prairie (1826), the best of his books in nearly all respects, and The Red Rover, (1828), by no means his worst.

At this period the unequal and uncertain talent of Cooper would seem to have been at its best. These excellent novels were, however, succeeded by one very inferior, The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish (1829); by The Notions of a Travelling Bachelor (1828); and by The Waterwitch (1830), one of his many sea-stories. In 1830 he entered the lists as a party writer, defending in a series of letters to the National, a Parisian journal, the United States against a string of charges brought against them by the Revue Britannique; and for the rest of his life he continued skirmishing in print, sometimes for the national interest, sometimes for that of the individual, and not infrequently for both at once.

This opportunity of making a political confession of faith appears not only to have fortified him in his own convictions, but to have inspired him with the idea of imposing them on the public through the medium of his art. His next three novels, The Bravo (1831), The Heidenmaue (1832) and The Headsman: or the Abbaye of Vigneron (1833), were designed to exalt the people at the expense of the aristocracy. All were widely read on both sides of the Atlantic.

James Fenimore Cooper portrait by F.O.C. Darley

In 1833 Cooper returned to America, and immediately published A Letter to my Countrymen, in which he gave his own version of the controversy he had been engaged in, and passed some sharp censure on his compatriots for their share in it. This attack he followed up with The Monikins (1835) and The American Democrat (1835); with several sets of notes on his travels and experiences in Europe, among which may be remarked his England (1837), in. three volumes, a burst of vanity and illtemper; and with Homeward Bound, and Home as Found (1838), noticeable as containing a highly idealized portrait of himself.

All these books tended to increase the ill-feeling between author and public; the Whig press was virulent and scandalous in its comments, and Cooper plunged into a series of actions for libel. Victorious in all of them, he returned to his old occupation with something of his old vigour and success. A History of the Navy of the United States (1839), supplemented (1846) by a set of Lives of Distinguished American Naval Officers, was succeeded by The Pathfinder (1840), a good “Leatherstocking” novel; by Mercedes of Castile (1840); The Deerslayer (1841); by The Two Admirals and by Wing and Wing (1842); by Wyandotte, The History of a Pocket Handkerchief, and Ned Myers (1843); and by Afloat and Ashore, or the Adventures of Miles Wallingford (1844).

From pure fiction, however, he turned again to the combination of art and controversy in which he had achieved distinction, and in the two Littlepage Manuscripts (1845-1846) he wrote with a great deal of vigour. His next novel was The Crater, or Vulcan’s Peak (1847), in which he attempted to introduce supernatural machinery; and this was succeeded by Oak Openings and Jack Tier (1848), the latter a curious rifacimento of The Red Rover; by The Sea Lions (1849); and finally by The Ways of the Hour (1850), another novel with a purpose, and his last book.

Last years and legacy

James Fenimore Cooper

Cooper spend the last years of his life in Cooperstown, New York (named for his father). He died of dropsy on the 14th of September 1851 and a statue was later erected in his honor.

Cooper was certainly one of the most popular 19th century authors. His stories have been translated into nearly all the languages of Europe and into some of those of Asia. Balzac admired him greatly, but with discrimination; Victor Hugo pronounced him greater than the great master of modern romance, and this verdict was echoed by a multitude of inferior readers, who were satisfied with no title for their favourite less than that of “the American Scott.” As a satirist and observer he is simply the “Cooper who’s written six volumes to prove he’s as good as a Lord” of Lowell’s clever portrait; his enormous vanity and his irritability find vent in a sort of dull violence, which is exceedingly tiresome. He was most memorably criticised by Mark Twain whose vicious and amusing “The Literary Offenses of James Fenimore Cooper” is still read widely in academic circles. It is only as a novelist that he deserves consideration. His qualities are not those of the great masters of fiction; but he had an inexhaustible imagination, some faculty for simple combination of incident, a homely tragic force which is very genuine and effective, and up to a certain point a fine narrative power.

His literary training was inadequate; his vocabulary is limited and his style awkward and pretentious; and he had a fondness for moralizing tritely and obviously, which mars his best passages. In point of conception, each of his three-and-thirty novels is either absolutely good or is possessed of a certain amount of merit; but hitches occur in all, so that every one of them is remarkable rather in its episodes than as a whole. Nothing can be more vividly told than the escape of the Yankee man-of-war through the shoals and from the English cruisers in The Pilot, but there are few things flatter in the range of fiction than the other incidents of the novel.

It is therefore with some show of reason that The Last of the Mohicans, which as a chain of brilliantly narrated episodes is certainly the least faulty in this matter of sustained excellence of execution, should be held to be the best of his works. This article incorporates text from the public domain 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.

Cooper’s writings
1820 Precaution novel
1821 The Spy novel
1823 The Pioneers novel (Leatherstocking Tales)
1823 Tales for Fifteen short stories
1823 The Pilot novel
1825 Lionel Lincoln novel
1826 The Last of the Mohicans novel (Leatherstocking Tales)
1827 The Prairie novel (Leatherstocking Tales)
1828 The Red Rover novel
1828 Notions of the Americans non-fiction

1829 The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish novel
1830 The Water-Witch novel
1831 The Bravo novel
1832 The Heidenmauer novel
1832 No Steamboats short story
1833 The Headsman novel
1834 A Letter to His Countrymen politics
1835 The Monikins novel
1836 Gleanings in Europe: Switzerland travel
1836 Gleanings in Europe: The Rhine travel
1837 Gleanings in Europe: France travel
1837 Gleanings in Europe: England travel
1838 Gleanings in Europe: Italy travel
1838 The American Democrat non-fiction
1838 The Chronicles of Cooperstown history
1838 The Eclipse autobiography
1838 Homeward Bound novel
1838 Home as Found novel
1839 History of the Navy history
1840 The Pathfinder novel (Leatherstocking Tales)
1840 Mercedes of Castile novel
1841 The Deerslayer novel (Leatherstocking Tales)
1842 The Two Admirals novel
1842 The Wing-and-Wing novel
1843 Autobiography of a Pocket-Handkerchief novelette
1843 Wyandotte novel
1843 Ned Myers biography
1844 Afloat and Ashore novel
1844 Miles Wallingford novel
1845 Satanstoe novel
1845 The Chainbearer novel
1846 The Redskins novel
1846 Lives of Distinguished Naval Officers biography
1847 The Crater novel
1848 Jack Tier novel
1848 The Oak Openings novel
1849 The Sea Lions novel
1850 The Ways of the Hour novel
1850 The Lake Gun short story
1850 Upside Down play
1851 The Towns of Manhattan politics
1851 Old Ironsides history

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