James Fenimore Cooper: The Critical Heritage

By George Dekker; John P. Williams | Go to book overview

LIONEL LINCOLN

1825

7.

Unsigned review, New-York Review and Atheneum

i (June 1825), 39-50

The writer of the religious or of the historical novel, has difficulties to contend with, peculiar to the walk of composition which he has selected; and unless the purposes of his work be blended in those nice proportions which it is the lot of few exactly to attain, the lighter reader will skim over the fiction, and throw aside the remainder with disgust, while the graver one will prefer to deduce his morality from real sermons, and to seek his knowledge in the authorized and established repositories of facts. The composition of the historical novel is encumbered with still another and a greater embarrassment. The author is obliged to regard, in the invention of his characters and incidents, all the proprieties of reality, and of that very reality in which he has placed his scene, with far more strictness here, than in fictions where no measure is immediately at hand to detect and to estimate his extravagance. The circumstances and characters which are known, have the effect of familiar objects in a landscape, which not only enable you to judge of the general perspective, but to ascertain the magnitude of others, which the artist, in the absence of these convenient tests of nature, might with impunity exaggerate or distort. The writer of such a work, then, has stretched his imaginations upon a Procrustean bed of his own making, and must force them all to correspond to it, at whatever risk of dislocating the limbs, or mutilating the stature of these children of his brain. In surmounting all these difficulties, the author of this book has been eminently successful. He has thrown himself fearlessly into the midst of scenes, fresh in the personal experience of many who are now alive, and destined to be eternally fresh in the traditional

-76-

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