CHAPTER 1
Beginnings

WHEN JAMES FENIMORE COOPER published Precaution at the age of thirty-one, he was a gentleman farmer turned novelist by accident. Half of his life was already behind him, a life that had shown little promise of what was to come. Reared at Cooperstown, New York, a village well past the frontier stage, he had grown up the son of a wealthy land speculator, attended Yale until he was dismissed for a prank in his junior year, made a voyage to Europe in a merchant vessel, and served for several years in the Navy. After his marriage to Susan Augusta DeLancey, he settled down to a comfortable life which was typified by his membership in the local agricultural and Bible societies, his commission as colonel in the militia, and his investment in a whaling vessel. To all appearances, he was a landed gentleman who would spend his life in such mundane activities. On a dare from his wife, however, the man who did not like to write even a letter set out to compose a better book than the English one he had been reading to her.1 Although it is doubtful that he won his bet with Precaution, he launched a career that was to end thirty-one years later only after the publication of some thirty-two novels and at least a dozen volumes of non-fiction.


I The Problem

It was truly a fortunate accident that turned Cooper into a writer, for the obscure New York gentleman embarked on a course that was to place him first in the line of major American novelists. To be sure, Cooper is not usually accorded so

-17-

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James Fenimore Cooper
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Preface 7
  • Contents 9
  • Chronology 11
  • Chapter 1 - Beginnings 17
  • Chapter 2 - The American Past 26
  • Chapter 3 - Europe and the United States 56
  • Chapter 4 - Values in Conflict 91
  • Chapter 5 - The Decay of Principle 115
  • Chapter 6 - A General Estimate 145
  • Notes and References 157
  • Selected Bibliography 165
  • Index 172
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