James Fenimore Cooper: The Critical Heritage

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

22.

Charles Sealsfield on Cooper

1831

Extracts from an article, ‘The Works of the Author of The Spy, ’ New-York Mirror, viii (1831), 252-4.

Charles Sealsfield, alias of Karl Postl (1793-1864), was a Moravian monk who made at least six visits to America, wrote two travel books on the United States, and in 1828 published an Indian romance, Tokeah; or the White Rose, which owes much to Cooper. See Introduction, p. 12.

The Prairie…is evidently written to follow up the success of the Pioneers; a dangerous experiment, since an author seldom if ever succeeds a second time in introducing a favourite character. The cream is generally skimmed the first time, and either the scum or sediment is served up at the second table. Our old acquaintance, Natty Bumpo [sic], verifies this observation. He appears again in the Prairie, but with increased garrulity, and becomes heavy and tedious by repetition. Of this the writer seems to have been aware, for he kills him by a natural death at the conclusion of the story, apparently apprehensive that he might be tempted to murder him by inches in a future work. One of the faults of our author, in fact, is a habit of copying himself, of giving his readers a second edition of the same characters. Nothing, for instance, can be more alike than the Red Rover and the Skimmer of the Seas. It is impossible not to perceive that one is a mere transcript of the other; and every reader must recognize their identity, notwithstanding they differ in size and in the colour of their hair. The Water Witch is the same wonderful vessel we see in the Red Rover, and there is the same disguised damsel, acting pretty much the same equivocal part in each….

As to those excessively odd, alias mysterious creatures, the Red Rover, and the Skimmer, we cannot allow them to be called sailors. The only classification we know of that will suit them is that of ‘half horse half alligator, ’ applied to the Mississippi boatmen before the invention of

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