Home as Found (1838)

Warren S. Walker (Texas Tech University)

Originally published in Warren S. Walker, Plots and Characters in the Fiction of James Fenimore Cooper (Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1978).

Copyright © 1978 by Warren S. Walker.  Placed online with the kind permission of Warren S. Walker, and of Shoe String Press, Inc.

[May be reproduced for instructional use by individuals or institutions; commercial use prohibited.]

Chapter numbers [in square brackets] have been inserted by the webmaster at approximately the point where each chapter begins, to facilitate locating particular plot incidents in the text.

— Hugh C. MacDougall

[This is the second of the two Effingham novels.]

[1] The cousins Edward and John Effingham and the former’s daughter, Eve, return from a lengthy stay abroad to their town residence in New York City. There Eve is welcomed home by her cousin and former schoolmate, Grace Van Cortlandt, the orphaned daughter of a prominent family who becomes a ward of Edward Effingham. Delighted to see each other again after several years, both girls are aware, nevertheless, of certain differences now in their attitudes and manners. As they are talking, they are surprised by a caller, one Aristabulus Bragg, a Yankee lawyer moved to New York, who is now the agent and attorney for the Effinghams’ upcountry estate at Templeton. It soon becomes apparent from Bragg’s comments on contemporary American life that he is an extreme egalitarian, feeling that even one’s personal life should be governed by what the majority of people approve. This becomes apparent in his mild censure of the Gothic features in the architecture of the Wigwam, the Effingham mansion at Templeton; a majority of Americans, he advises Eve, now favor the style of the Greek Revival.

[2] At dinner that evening the Effinghams entertain Captain John Truck, master of the packet Montauk on which they had returned (quite circuitously) from Europe, Sir George Templemore, British baronet who was a fellow passenger, Grace Van Cortlandt, and Aristabulus Bragg. During the repast Bragg demonstrates in their crudest forms some of the vulgarities to which Americans of the time are prone. He is presumptuous and coarse in his manner, arrogant in his provincialism, utterly scornful of tradition, and consistently materialistic in his “go-ahead-ism.” The other two male guests often serve as foils to this pronounced American type. Sir George is urbane, deferential, and humanistic in his outlook. Captain Truck, though a man of action and a hearty “old salt,” is modest, courteous, and warmhearted. The old seaman is surprised and moved almost to tears by the gifts presented to him by the Effinghams as mementos and tokens of appreciation for his courageous behavior during their recent voyage together: a silver punch bowl from Eve, a silver watch from her father, and a pair of silver tongs from cousin John. Bragg rudely hefts each of these gifts and announces his estimates of their respective market values.

[3] To Sir George Templemore’s question as to whether the upper class in America, like its counterpart in England, breaks down into social cliques and coteries, Grace and Eve respond affirmatively; and to prove their point, they invite the baronet to join them in visiting those socialites keeping open house that evening: Mrs. Jarvis, Mrs. Hawker, and Mrs. Houston. They are also accompanied on their calls by John Effingham and the reluctant Captain Truck, who feels out of his element among the social elite. The brash Aristabulus Bragg they leave behind temporarily with Edward Effingham to discuss business matters relating to the Templeton estate. [4] The party stops first at the Jarvis home, where they are met by the steady, practical master of the house and his wife, Jane, who is a showy, aggressive social climber. To the great amusement of the Effingham group, they find being lionized there as a renowned traveler Steadfast Dodge, the narrow-minded, provincial newspaper editor who has become an authority on all Europe in six months. A fellow voyager of theirs on the Montauk, he is well known to them as a pretentious fraud. At their next stop their hostess is the widowed Mrs. Hawker, a gracious and dignified lady in her seventies, a descendant of one of the oldest families in the state. They are all fascinated at the Hawker home by the witty intellectual conversation of one Mrs. Bloomfield. [5] They proceed next to the most fashionable home in New York, that of Mrs. Houston, where a ball is in progress. The banality of the occasion is relieved by the absurd behavior of Miss Ring, supposedly a typical belle of the time. After carrying on an exaggerated and demonstrative flirtation simultaneously with five men she has cornered, she mistakes Bragg for the visiting Englishman of rank said to be among the Effingham guests; even more ridiculous, she concludes that Truck must be an Anglican clergyman traveling with the distinguished visitor. If either of the gentlemen concerned is aware of her errors in identity, he mercifully forbears exposing them.

[6] Mistaken identity becomes highly farcical at the next soiree attended by the central characters. The satire this time is directed not at the pretension and snobbery of a shallow, upperclass society but at the jejune nature of the city’s literati. After being mistaken for an English clergyman, Captain Truck is thought now, quite unbeknownst to him, to be a prominent English writer. Accordingly, a reception is arranged for him at the home of Mrs. Legend, a patroness of letters, who invites the leading authors to meet this literary star from abroad. A score of writers fawn before Truck and ply him with questions about literature old and new. Quite ignorant of the poets and novelists to whom they refer, Truck makes evasive and noncommittal answers, all of which are interpreted as being shrewd witticisms and subtly ambiguous critical thrusts. Besides the Effingham group, only four young wags are aware that poor Truck is a simple seaman beyond his depth in conversation. When Steadfast Dodge arrives, however, he moves about the gathering and whispers the truth about Truck’s occupation, whereupon most of the guests make a hasty and embarrassed exit. Quite oblivious to the whole contretemps, Truck thanks his mortified hostess for a pleasant evening and invites her to come to the dock to inspect his packet ship.

[7] American materialism, especially the mania for money, is the next object of Cooper’s satire. Under the guidance of John Effingham, Sir George visits the New York Stock Market and Wall Street, where he is introduced to the rage for speculation which animates American finance. In a symbolic gesture of wish fulfillment, Cooper has that section of the city destroyed that night by a fire that runs out of control for many hours.

[8] On May 31 the Effingham group, including Grace and Sir George, leaves New York City bound for Templeton. They travel up the picturesque Hudson by steamboat, at what they consider breakneck speed, to Albany and thence westward through the Mohawk Valley on a canal boat. The last stage of the journey is made by carriages. All along the way to Templeton they see in the architecture ample evidence of the popularity of Greek Revival, structures for even the most mundane purposes bearing a resemblance to classical temples. [9] On the outskirts of Templeton they are met by Paul Powis (alias Paul Blunt), a traveling companion who [in Homeward Bound] had suddenly left the Montauk, as it had come within American waters, and had boarded a British cruiser; although an American newspaper report had labeled him a deserter from the English navy, the report was baseless, for he was an American citizen. Powis is a great favorite with all of the Effinghams for having been of great service to them in Europe and en route to the United States, and there are frequent clues to the romantic interest that has developed between him and Eve. [10] The arriving travelers are, in a sense, greeted by the dead as well as by the living, for there are still echoes at Templeton of the Leather-Stocking, Natty Bumppo, and other early settlers in the area.

[11] The Wigwam, Edward Effingham’s mansion, to which they all now retire, is an architectural monstrosity. Constructed originally [in The Pioneers] by two amateur Yankee builders, it was said, euphemistically, to be of the “composite order.” Almost fifty years later John Effingham has restyled the building, removing some of its ugliest features but giving it a flat roof which will not withstand the winter weather of such a high northern latitude. Everyone has his say about the architecture, including the townspeople, who are offended that it does not conform to the popular Palladian principles.

Most of these citizens are strangers to the Effinghams, the westward flow of migration having filled, emptied, and filled the town again several times during the twelve years that Eve and her father were abroad. These birds of passage have little respect for property and still less for the privacy of the individual. A group of apprentice boys, shouting and swearing, gather to play ball on the front lawn of the Wigwam until they are urged to move elsewhere. The local barber requests permission to take down the fence around the front yard in order to haul manure across it for his potato patch. The fact that Bragg, manager of the Effingham property, sees nothing unusual in the request is an indication of the temper of the times.

[12] On the third day after their arrival at Templeton, the Effinghams hold open house for their friends and neighbors. Among those who call are Tom Howel and Mr. Wenham, both American types during the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Howel is a hopeless Anglophile, so affected by the “colonial complex” that he values only English opinion on any subject, regardless of opposing evidence. Thus he is certain that Emperor Nicholas of Russia is a monster because the czar was so described in an English journal. The fact that his old friends the Effinghams have met Nicholas and attest to his humanity does not sway Howel a jot from his opinion. Wenham, who mistakenly supposes America completely liberated from the influence of European culture, maintains a rigidly nationalistic point of view on every issue. In this attitude he is frequently supported by Dodge. [13] The extreme and simplistic views of Howel and Wenham often provide comic preludes to more serious consideration of national characteristics.

Next to be treated satirically is a popular religious trend of the day. A group of mechanics calls upon Edward Effingham to solicit his support in changing the interior of the church to which they all belong. They wish to make the arrangements within the church structure more democratic, they say, by lowering the pulpit and the altar while raising the congregation in banked seats like those in a theatre. It is not proper, they feel, to have the parson placed so far above the heads of his parishioners. Bragg agrees with the mechanics on this matter. He goes even further in his ideas about church reform, contending that all kneeling should be eliminated. It is un-American, he says, for God never intended Americans to kneel.

[14] On a fair day the Effinghams and their guests take a boat ride on Otsego Lake [the real lake on which Cooperstown, New York, is located], enjoying all of its scenic splendor. Appreciation of its present beauty is increased by an awareness of the antiquity of the scene. Historical references go farther back in time than the period of Natty Bumppo and the pioneer settlers. A magnificent tree known as the “Silent Pine” — misnamed, really, for it has an eloquence of its own — surely stood on this spot, Eve observes, when William the Conqueror invaded England; perhaps even earlier, another suggests, when Columbus first ventured westward into unknown seas. Balancing the solemnity of such thoughts is the comic tone of their encounter with a droll fellow known only as Commodore. Still agile in his seventies, this local character spends all of his time fishing; he now regales the party with both factual data about the lake and some of its folklore, among the latter a tall tale about a “sogdollager,” a great fish that cannot be caught. At the group’s last stop, near the “Fishing Point,” a favorite picnicking place, Eve learns from John Effingham the disturbing news that this part of the family estate is now being claimed as public property.

During the Effinghams’ absence a rumor had circulated that the Fishing Point had been given to the citizens of Templeton by Edward Effingham’s father. By the time that the present owner returned, this unfounded rumor had become accepted as fact, and there is deep public resentment that John Effingham has planned to hold a private entertainment on the property. Learning from Bragg of the citizens’ determination to claim the Point as their own, Edward Effingham posts a notice that the public should not trespass on that part of the lake front. This triggers a mass meeting at which resolutions are passed reiterating the claim that the Point had been willed to the public and censuring Edward Effingham for his alleged usurpation of public property. [15] After Edward shows Bragg both his title deed and a copy of his father’s will, both of which provide clear proof of his ownership, the attorney doubts that such information will satisfy public feeling about the matter. [16] Presented as typical of that public is Mrs. Widow-Bewitched Abbott, gossip, rumor-monger, and busybody. When she declares that the Fishing Point has been public land for as long as she can remember, we are told that she has lived in the county all of fifteen months. Despite the clamor of such people as Mrs. Abbott and the threats of less vocal residents of Templeton, Edward Effingham retains all rights to the disputed territory. [The conflict over the Fishing Point is a lightly veiled fictional treatment of the “Three-Mile-Point Controversy” in which Cooper became embroiled in 1837, the year before Home as Found was published; it was a dispute settled more quickly than the tangled mass of slander suits which grew out of it, litigation which the novelist pressed resolutely for many years.]

[17-18] To leaven the society found at Templeton, the Effinghams entertain guests from the outside world: Mrs. Hawker, their gracious New York City hostess; Mrs. Bloomfield, the brilliant conversationalist, and the nonentity who is her husband; Captain Truck of the Montauk; and Captain Charles Ducie of His Majesty’s cruiser Foam. [19-20] These newcomers are soon busy observing the life-style and social dynamics of a small rural community as they attend a picnic, [21] a Fourth of July oration, and an evening of fireworks. They also inject a cosmopolitan air into the lively discourse at the Wigwam on the mores and manners of contemporary Americans.

[22] By this time, two courtships among the central characters have progressed to formal engagements. Grace Van Cortlandt accepts the marriage proposal of Sir George Templemore; and Eve, after rejecting the presumptuous offer of Aristabulus Bragg, accepts that of Paul Powis. Edward Effingham confers his blessings upon the betrothals of both his daughter and his niece. In the final stage of the courtship between Paul and Eve much of the mystery about the former — his birth, family, background, and nationality — is clarified. [It was this mystery that had provided a cliff-hanger ending to Homeward Bound.]

[23-26] Seemingly orphaned in his infancy, Paul Assheton was cared for at first by hirelings and then by a kindly disposed guardian, Francis Powis, whose name he later adopted. Paul’s deceased mother and Charles Ducie’s mother, both Americans originally, were sisters upon whom had devolved jointly a British peerage. Wishing to secure this rank for herself but even more for her son, Mrs. Ducie, now married to an Englishman and living in England, had refused to acknowledge Paul as her sister’s legitimate child. While in the United States navy, Paul had fought a duel with his British cousin, Charles, because of a reflection the latter had cast upon the virtue of Paul’s mother. (This confrontation ended only in flesh wounds.) Ducie, having discovered thereafter his error about the circumstances of Paul’s birth, intended to find him and make proper amends. By then, however, Paul had left the navy, after Francis Powis had died and left him a competency, and thus he was not easily located. Ducie discovered him by pure coincidence on the Montauk, the vessel from which he was recovering an embezzler for trial in England. After a hasty private conference with Ducie, Powis (much to the mystification of the Effinghams and his other fellow voyagers) transferred from the Montauk to the British cruiser Foam to sail back over the very ocean which he had just crossed. His object in doing this was of great importance to both Ducie and himself. He was willing to sign papers renouncing all claim to the peerage — as an American citizen he could hardly expect to acquire it anyway — for the truth from Mrs. Ducie about his birth and parentage. His aunt, who had been present both at the wedding of his parents and at his own subsequent birth, finally helped him to achieve a partial sense of his own identity. His mother had died at the time of his birth, but about his father and what had become of him he still knew nothing. Soon after this, Mrs. Ducie acquired the suspended peerage and became Lady Dunluce. The reader must piece together the story from the two accounts Paul gives of himself, the first to John Effingham (who had, in an unofficial way, virtually adopted Paul and secretly made him heir to half of his estate) and the second (a more emotional recital) to Eve. Only to Eve does Paul remember to mention that his original surname was Assheton. Shortly afterwards, when John Effingham is apprised of this surname, a further and even more startling identification is made. Paul is revealed to be the son of the supposed bachelor John Effingham.

[27-28] John and Edward Effingham had loved the same girl. When Edward had married her, John had left home in blind despair and had hastily married the orphaned Mildred Warrender, the sister of the woman who would later become the mother of Charles Ducie. Quite beside himself, John had taken his mother’s family name, Assheton, and it was by this name only that he was known to the wife from whom he soon parted to travel in the West. Not really in love with the woman he had married on the rebound, he did not know that her death during his absence had resulted from childbirth or that a son had survived. This failure in communication is now explained. Mildred’s brother had taken a strong dislike to John when he confused him with another John Assheton, a ne’er-do-well and bigamist; supposing that his sister had unknowingly wedded a bigamist, Mr. Warrender had doubts about Paul’s legitimacy, doubts which were reflected in some of the letters that Paul later came to possess. It was remarks he found in these letters which had caused Paul to wonder about his mother’s moral position and about his own legal status. Eventually the Warrenders realized their error in thinking Paul’s father a bigamous John Assheton. As if probability had not already been pushed to the utmost limits of credulity, there is one further coincidence which sheds light on some of the otherwise obscure aspects in the identity of Paul Blunt-Powis- Assheton-Effingham. The papers of the deceased Mr. Monday [killed by Arabs in Homeward Bound] describe an orphaned infant cared f Monday’s mother in return for an annuity provided by Mrs. Ducie, Paul’s aunt. The infant was Paul, and the Monday letters provide still further evidence attesting to the virtue of Paul’s mother.

[29] There follows soon a double wedding at New St. Paul’s Church, Sir George and Grace being married at the same ceremony that unites Paul and Eve. Secure in their domestic happiness, the central characters indicate their reservations about “home as found” as they plan to visit Europe again the following year, sailing from New York in Captain Truck’s Montauk.

Bianca-Alzuma-Ann Abbott, Oriando Furioso Abbott, Rinaldo-Rinaldini-Timothy Abbott, Roger-Demetrius-Benjamin Abbott, Widow-Bewitched Abbott, Annette, Mrs. Annual, Bale, Bloomfield, Mrs. Bloomfield, Miss Brackett, Aristabulus Bragg, Brutus, Julius Brutus, Lucius Brutus, Ordeal Bumgrum, Commodore, D. O. V. E., Dickey, Steadfast Dodge, Captain Charles Ducie, Edson, Edward Effingham, Eve Effingham, John Effingham, Paul Effingham, Florio, Fun, Gray, Abijah Gross, Hammer, Mrs. Hawker, Mrs. Houston, Thomas Howel, Jarvis, Jane Jarvis, Jenny, Julietta, Captain Kant, Mrs. Legend, Longinus, Monday, Miss Monthly, Moreland, Moseley, Peter, Pierre, Pindar, Pith, Miss Ring, S. R. P., Ann Sidley, Summerfield, Sir George Templemore, Tom, Captain John Truck, Grace Van Cortlandt, Mile. Viefville, Walworth, Joe Wart, Wenham, Writ.