Chapter Three — The Continuity and Consistency of Cooper’s World View

Allan M. Axelrad (University of Pennsylvania)

Norwood, PA: Norwood Editions, 1978. Limited to 200 Copies.

Copyright © 1978, Allan M. Axelrad.

Placed online with permission of the copyright holder.

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

{81} However divisive Cooper scholarship is on most questions pertaining to literary interpretation of his novels and the principles of his social thought, it shows virtual unanimity on one subject — the ideological discontinuity of his thought. The verdict of the scholarship is either that he was ideologically inconsistent or that he underwent a change of heart and ideological reversal in mid-career. The scholarly consensus denies the possibility that Cooper gave allegiance to a uniform view of the world throughout his career.

Robert Spiller, for example, observes that Cooper’s “social and religious principles” were not the result “of imposed or formulated doctrine,” and he concludes that “A codified analysis of his position would be fruitless.” 1 Jesse Bier concurs, saying, “At all events, there is no tenable ground for assuming a subtle or transcendant [sic] unity to Cooper’s mind.” 2 Bier’s opinion is based upon the assumption that by the end of the eighteenth century, American culture was too complicated and too fragmented to permit the existence of “a monolithic or even harmonious consciousness.” 3 So Spiller and Bier deny either consistency or wholeness in his writings and thought.

Most scholars, rather than discovering a fragmented consciousness or an undoctrinaire Cooper, detect and pinpoint the date of a significant watershed in his thought. Cooper’s thought, it is widely maintained, obtained an early synthesis that later on was shattered and then reformulated. This view posits a young, optimistic writer, enamored with popular democracy, and an older, pessimistic writer who significantly retreats from his youthful ebullience and becomes narrowly conservative. Concurrently, according to this view, Cooper shifts from wholehearted endorsement to either qualified acceptance or full rejection of the idea of progress. The important fact in Cooper scholarship is the certainty of a dramatic metamorphosis in the outlook of the author. This metamorphosis, it is felt, is reflected in the ideological difference between the early and later fiction.

{83} Cooper’s return from Europe to America in 1833 is the date most frequently given for his ideological turnabout. Susan Fenimore Cooper’s Pages And Pictures, From The Writings Of James Fenimore Cooper, published in 1861 and frequently cited in modern scholarship, affirms and contributes to the widely accepted opinion that her father’s attitude toward American civilization changed decisively upon his return home. “His feeling toward the country underwent a change,” she says, “the enthusiasm of that glowing devotion which he had carried with him for so many years had passed away.” 4 The reason she giVes is the “chilling and repelling” reception he received by his countrymen, and also the moral deterioration the country had undergone. 5 The historical record, Cooper’s works and correspondence, fully substantiate her opinion in this regard. But several additional observations she makes are not substantiated by close reading of Cooper’s novels, and are inconsistent with his world view. In these particulars, Susan Fenimore Cooper anticipates and abets several widely and erroneously held opinions of twentieth-century scholarship.

She speaks of his hopefulness for America in its “period of early youth,” equating his optimism with a vision of “onward progress, this upward growth, of a high, free, Christian civilization.” 6 Whether or not it was her intent, her words “onward progress” and “upward growth” have been linked to a linear idea of history. Thus, though perhaps inadvertently, she is an early source for the position that Cooper accepted the idea of progress. What is more, she suggests that the tone of the novels written prior to Cooper’s return from Europe is decidedly different from the tone of the subsequent novels. 7 She believes his early novels reflect his confident optimism for the future of New World civilization; but his later novels, in her analysis, reflect the pessimistic outlook he acquired upon his return. Such is the basic formulation of modern Cooper scholarship: he is an optimistic liberal before returning, a pessimistic conservative afterward; and the transformation is mirrored in the novels.

Thomas Lounsbury, who, in 1882 became Cooper’s first biographer, reaffirms Susan Fenimore Cooper’s judgment that until returning from Europe he was an enthusiastic advocate in his fiction of democracy and progress, and afterward a disillusioned critic. 8 Virtually every major twentieth-century Cooper scholar echoes this belief that he was an idealistic exponent of American democracy in {83} the 1820s and early 1830s, but later, after 1833, soured on the democratic experiment, reversed himself ideologically, and adopted a pessimistic view of the human condition. 9 John P. McWilliams, Jr., dissents from this scholarly consensus which dates the ideological metamorphosis in the year 1833, writing, “Criticism has rather consistently followed the older view of Cooper as a youthful liberal who adopted conservative or reactionary ideas upon returning from Europe in 1833. This picture, not markedly different from the Whig caricature, is simplistic because it is based on two separate confusions. We must distinguish, as Cooper did, between facts and principles. Cooper’s conception of American political facts changed greatly after 1833, but his determination to retain his political principles remained constant.” 10 McWilliams astutely perceives that Cooper did not change ideologically in 1833; instead, Cooper thought America had changed. There is, however, a minority opinion in the scholarship which dates his switch from liberalism to conservatism as late as 1846 or 1847. 11 But McWilliams believes he remained ideologically moderate until 1850, when, with the publication of his last novel, The Ways Of The Hour, he recanted and became a cynical reactionary. 12

The almost unanimous opinion that Cooper underwent a dramatic ideological transformation in 1833 or at some late date in his career, runs counter and is opposed to a central argument of this book — that the world view divulged in 1847 in The Crater is identical to the world view to which Cooper subscribed throughout his adulthood. James Franklin Beard, in a lonely voice of opposition to the canons of Cooper scholarship, states that Cooper’s “intellectual detachment baffled his contemporaries and still baffles critics and historians who try to classify his ideas according to preconceived patterns. To be understood in the full context of his times and ours, his thought must be examined in terms of its own organic unity.” 13 Beard’s statement contains two important observations: first, scholars are remiss for conceptualizing Cooper’s thought through “preconceived patterns” — such as imposing the idea of progress upon his thought because of the “preconceived” notion that it was universally accepted in his day; and second, there is an overriding “organic unity” to his thought that must be reconstructed if he is to be properly understood and appreciated. Unfortunately Beard does not divulge the long neglected “unity” to Cooper’s thought. Still, his affirmation of “organic” wholeness in Cooper rises against {84} the tide of scholarship that insistently raises the specter of disunity in Cooper’s literary career and perception of the world.

No doubt, Cooper’s perception of and attitude toward American civilization changed in mid-career, but his political, economic, cultural, social, and religious values remained constant. What happened was his country changed — or, at least in his opinion it changed — but his view of the world remained steadfast. He believed that during his youth and early adulthood America existed in the proximate utopian stage of the cycle of history. An enlightened gentry was then in power. This natural elite, the standard-bearers of wise conservatism, was paid respectful deference by the vast majority of citizens. In his view, Americans were then a free and virtuous people, reverential of tradition, and organically interrelated in a social hierarchy in which place was clearly defined and adhered to. But all too quickly, time-honored principles were cast aside, admitting rapid and reckless social change. In 1833, when he returned from seven years abroad, Jacksonian democracy was in full swing, and, as he saw it, the democratic average under the sway of demagogy was effacing all that he considered sacred and leading the country rapidly through the cycle of history toward ruin. Given this view of American history and social change, it is no wonder that he changed from a cautious admirer to a caustic critic of the nation in a short span of time. To have remained its admirer, he would have had to part with his principles. But he stubbornly held to a view of the world that was once widely accepted, at least by the leadership class, but had little appeal during the bustling heyday of rough-hewn, log cabin politics.

Cooper’s post-1833 novels, which reflect his perception of negative and harmful social change, are quite naturally more polemical than the earlier ones. He felt duty bound, as a gentleman and standard-bearer, to tell whoever would listen what was wrong. But his pre-1833 novels, no less than his later fiction, contain a thoroughly pessimistic appraisal of human nature. Like the later fiction, they show a preoccupation with human corruptibility and, concurrently, the necessity of social and institutional restraints. The need to maintain social order in the face of man’s natural propensity toward unruliness, is nowhere better illustrated than in the conservative author’s insistence on the rigid maintenance of the social hierarchy, which is just as vociferously advocated in his first American novel, The Spy, as in his last, The Ways Of The Hour. However much {85} Cooper’s approbation of American society diminished after 1833, the political ideology, economic order, and social conventions subscribed to in the earlier fiction remain identical in the later fiction. He was always a conservative, always more pessimistic than optimistic about the outcome of social behavior, and throughout his career steadfastly loyal to the social and political principles and world view contained in The Crater.

The remainder of this chapter will be devoted to showing that, the scholarly consensus notwithstanding, Cooper did adhere to a uniform view of the world throughout his thirty year career as a professional writer. Also, due to the almost unanimous and virtually unchallenged critical and historiographical opinion that Cooper changed ideologically from liberal to conservative at some point in his career, it is an important and material question to ask how this interpretation came to be established, what are its bases, and in what particulars have factual and judgmental misunderstanding contributed to its perpetuation?

The Crater is the only work in which Cooper fully, almost self-consciously, unfolds and details his world view in its entirety. His second most illuminating work, The American Democrat (1838), a social and political exegesis of Jacksonian America, is perfectly consistent with The Crater, but reveals less of his world view because it concentrates upon a society at one particular point in time, rather than examining the entire process of time and social change. Notions Of The Americans (1828), the pre-1833 counterpart of The American Democrat, likewise examines American society at a particular moment in time. But Notions, which was written for European not American edification, is an ideological aberration, intended as propaganda, and not a reliable source of Cooper’s early social and political convictions. With the exception of Notions, a collection of children’s stories, and his first novel, Precaution (a lackluster imitation of the English novel of domestic manners), the bulk of his pre-1833 literary production consists of eleven novels written during the years 1821 through 1832. No single one of the early novels is nearly as revealing of Cooper’s world view as The Crater or even The American Democrat. But taken as a whole, they are ideologically consistent with The Crater, and, although far less cohesive,’represent an identical view of the world. Even more important, there is no basis whatsoever in any one of the early novels {86} for thinking that Cooper was once a liberal democrat.

The ideological principles in the early novels — as wed as their artistic and linguistic expression — show an unmistakable correspondence to the ideological principles in The Crater. In subsequent chapters it will be shown that the proximate utopian stage in the cycle of history was carefully drawn in The Pioneers (1823), Afloat And Ashore and Miles Wallingford (1844), and The Chainbearer (1845); and the proximate anti-utopian stage was faithfully rendered in The Bravo (1831). These novels, like the entire body of Cooper’s fiction, whether written before or after 1833, exhibit the same fundamental vocabulary and way of looking at the world as The Crater. They contain a reverence for tradition, for sacred institutions; and a hostility toward social change in Europe or America, whether through political and economic experimentation, experimental religion, science and technology, or the erosion of class structure. Cooper’s preoccupation with the consequences of original sin is everywhere apparent. The inheritability of sin, passed on generationally through families, has important repercussions in Lionel Lincoln (1825) and in the Littlepage trilogy written twenty years later.

The world view in the early novels, as in the later ones, is structured about a cyclical idea of history. In the previous chapter it was established that the cyclical idea of history originated in organic analogues and metaphors of time and social change. These organic expressions of the mutability of social constructions are just as plentiful in the early fiction as they are in his later works. In his first meritorious novel, The Spy, an organic metaphor taken from the human life cycle explains the outbreak of the American Revolution — “the child,” he reasons, “was of age.” 14 Equally apparent in The Spy is his lifelong preoccupation with the inexorability of the cycle of life. “It is a painful discovery we make, as we advance in Life,” he writes,

that even those we most love are not exempt from its frailties. When the heart is fresh, and the view of the future unsullied by the blemishes which have been gathered from the experience of the past, our feelings are most holy; we love to identify with the persons of our natural friends all those qualities to which we ourselves aspire, and all those virtues we have been taught to revere. The confidence with which we esteem seems a part of our nature. 15

Youthful “feelings” are “most holy,” just as society in its youth most closely approximates paradise. In the life cycle, like the cycle of civilization, the preeminence of youth is “a part of our own nature.” The youthful stage of life, for human beings and for societies, is the idyllic. The opposite is true of old age. No person or society is “exempt from its frailties.” The passage of time causes irredeemable “blemishes” that are “gathered from the experience of the past.” Where Cooper’s prose exhibits an almost pathological preoccupation with youth and youthfulness, there is a blatant inability to cope with aging, old age, and loss of vigor. Expressions of the cycle of time, applied to characters and to society, pervade Cooper’s fiction; they are integral to his view of human life and human constructions, as well as his view of nature. In addition to The Spy, organic analogues and metaphors of the cycle and stages of history can be identified in every one of his pre-1833 novels. 16 The persistence throughout Cooper’s works of organic terminology associated with a nonlinear perception of time and social change, militates against the almost unanimous scholarly opinion that, at least until the year 1833, the ideological content of his thought is best interpreted within the circumscriptions of the paradigm of progress. Furthermore, there is not any evidence in the novels that he ever subscribed to the idea of progress.

Biological analogies and metaphors of time and change are endemic in Cooper, reinforcing the conviction that he adhered to a view of the world in which open- ended progress is inconceivable. The recurrence of the-ruins-of-time motif further and even more forcefully substantiates this belief. Cooper scholarship has shown little interest in the ruins motif. Several studies have noted its existence. 17 But it has never been closely examined; and the depth of meaning Cooper attached to ruins has escaped meaningful analysis. The motif, which issues from the organic metaphors decay, decomposition, mortification, death, defines the approaching end or completion of a cycle of history. Volney’s motif is inseparable from an ultimately pessimistic outlook on society; and for Cooper, the motif of ruins stresses the unavoidable consequences of man’s fallen state. It is of the utmost significance that the literary expression of the motif is not restricted to Cooper’s post-1833 fiction. The early and continuous presence of this artistic expression of the mutability of civilization, contradicts the opinion that Cooper was an optimistic, liberal democrat prior to his return.

{88} The message imparted by Volney in The Ruins to Cooper and the Hudson River School is that ruins of past civilizations contain profound lessons for the present. In the “invocation” Volney exclaims, “Tombs, what virtues and potency do you exhibit!” From the contemplation of ruins, “The wise man” obtains conservative but high-minded “virtues.” “Thus do you,” he says, addressing all ruins in meta- form, “rein in the wild sallies of cupidity, calm the fever of tumultuous enjoyment, free the mind from the anarchy of the passions, and raise it above those little interests which torment the mass of mankind.” 18 Foremost of the lessons they impart is what will happen to an intemperate people who violate the pastoral ethos, and also the unhappy knowledge that such violations are ultimately unavoidable.

The ruins of time in nature — mountains, deserts, trees — also contain moral allegories rich in meaning to Hudson River figures. From contemplating the ruins of time in nature, no less than the ruins of civilization, the Romantic mind was instructed in the flux and processes of time. Natural facts are emblems of social facts. In The Crater, just as in the pre-1833 novel, The Prairie, natural ruins mark the state of desolation. The desert isle, the time-worn volcano in The Crater, and the treeless expenses of The Great American Desert in The Prairie, each project moral allegories about providential interruption of the lives of sinful people, whose course of time had run. More so than mountains in general, Cooper was apt to associate volcanoes with the ruins of time. They forewarn of or designate the apocalyptic destruction of decadent civilizations. The presence or symbolic anticipation of volcanic destruction is pregnant with meaning within Cooper’s world view; their symbolic usage in early fiction such as Lionel Lincoln and The Heidenmauer, and later fiction such as Home As Found, The Redskins, The Crater, is strongly suggestive of the linguistic continuity of his thought.

Clearly the pessimistic motif of morally instructive ruins is not restricted to the post-1833 novels. The motif is plainly evident in his fiction well before his personal disillusionment with American civilization. The motif appears in his first serious novel, The Spy. The tale is set in eastern New York, a neutral ground penetrated by forays of both Patriot and Royalist forces during the American Revolution. The novel considers the effect on society of the authority structure disintegrating under the chaotic conditions of civil war. 19 In this neutral ground, beside Patriot and Royalist troops, there is an {89} unseemly group of men called Skinners, who signify the mob turned loose in the absence of institutional restraint. The Skinners have no respect for tradition, authority, class, or property. They are immoral barbarians, analogous to the barbarians who sack the city in Cole’s fourth painting, and who undermine Woolston’s leadership in The Crater. The Skinners ravage and pillage the Wharton home in The Spy. The havoc they wreak is described as “giving the finishing touch of desolation to the scene,” thereby anticipating the fifth painting in The Course of Empire, “Desolation.” All that remains when they finish their sordid business are “glimmering ruins.” 21

The Skinners’ Barbarism produces this microcosmic scene of “desolation” and “ruins” in The Spy, anticipatory of the end of a cycle of history. Fortunately, their kind is a small minority during the revolutionary upheaval, of insufficient consequence to deter the country from its youthful promise on the upward arc of the cycle. Cooper draws upon nature to symbolize the impermanence of the Skinners’ work, writing, “The sun broke forth, on the morning that succeeded this night of desolation, in unclouded lustre.” 21 The bright sun denotes the passing quality and unimportance of the Skinners’ malevolent deed. These barbarians of the Revolution fail to destroy American civilization; yet, in Cooper’s view of the world, it is certain that later barbarians will succeed where the Skinners did not.

Cooper wrote two other tales of the American Revolution, Lionel Lincoln (1825) and Wyandotté, one before and one after 1833. However much Cooper condoned a just revolution, such as the American, he was always fearful of institutional disorder, civil chaos, demagogy, and mob violence, in any form. Both Lionel Lincoln and Wyandotté, like The Spy, provide glimpses into this negative attribute of revolution or civil war, showing democratic man’s propensity to barbarism under the influence of demagogues, who opportunistically seize control in an institutional vacuum. The narrative in Wyandotté begins in the year 1765 in Upstate New York, not far from the future site of Cooperstown, although a generation earlier. Captain Willoughby ventures into this outlying area in its “savage state,” 22 and sets to work carving a plantation out of the wilderness, calling it the Hutted Knoll. The tale picks up ten years later at the outset of the Revolution, the Knoll now a pastoral oasis in a wilderness still inhabited mostly by savages. Cooper explains that “Although the American Revolution was probably as {90} just an effort as was ever made by a people to resist the first inroads of oppression, the cause had its evil aspects, as well as all other human struggles.” “That there were demagogues in 1776,” he feels, “is as certain as that there are demagogues now, and will probably continue to be demagogues as long as means for misleading the common mind shall exist.” 23 It is “the common mind.” the democratic average, of whom he is fearful. When properly directed by firm institutions and enlightened leadership, commoners make good citizens. But during a civil war, in the absence of firm authority, they are easy targets for the “frauds of a demagogue,” such as Joel Strides in the novel, whose “falsehoods” and “machinations,” make them “no longer masters of their own opinions or acts.” 24 Through deceit Joel enlists some of Captain Willoughby’s commoners, and with the assistance of savage Indians, the plantation becomes a grim microcosm of civilization closing out a cycle. In Cooper’s words, “the catastrophe that befell the Hutted Knoll” evoked a feeling of “desolation.” 25 Captain Willoughby, “his wife, and daughter,” he tells, were “the first and last of their race that ever reposed in the wilds of America,” 26 the beginning and the end of a cycle. When two survivors revisit the scene of “destruction” ten years later, they are confronted with the ruins of time. The “chapel” lay in “ruins” and “half the palisades” of the Hut “were rotted down.” 27

That Wyandotté conCludes less happily than The Spy indicates the respective strength of social institutions in pastoral, eastern New York and in the Upstate wilderness at the time of the Revolution. The attempt at the Hutted Knoll to bring civilization into the forests came too early in the cycle of the country. The Pioneers, set a generation later in the vicinity of the Knoll, shows the pastoral phase now firmly established. But Wyandotté published twenty-two years after The Spy, illustrates an identical view of the world. Both novels focus on the dangers inhering in civil chaos. Each novel instructs that when the social hierarchy loses its hold on the people, they will lapse into barbarism. The ensuing “destruction” recalls the title of Cole’s fourth painting. Had Cooper been a liberal democrat, his depreciation of the integrity of the common man would be difficult to explain. Seen as a conservative, on the other hand, whose foremost allegiance is placed in institutions not people, in restraint not release, his premonitions of social disorder in these novels, forewarning of the future downfall of civilization, are easily {91} understandable. In both novels the ruins motif is explicitly linked to a specter of “desolation” — which is the title of Cole’s fifth painting. In The Spy, as in Wyandotté, the motif of ruins foretells the fate in store for a civilization that fails to sustain the conservative institutional order and authority structure of proximate utopia.

Cooper’s continuing use of Volney’s motif is plainly manifest in his 1826 novel, The Last Of The Mohicans. The ruins motif is first introduced, significantly, “in the graver light which is the usual precursor of the close of day.” 28 Leatherstocking, the two Mohicans, their genteel charges, and the minstrel seek shelter in a “decayed blockhouse” that is “quietly crumbling in the solitude of the forest, neglected and nearly forgotten, like the circumstances which had caused it to be reared.” 29 These “ruins,” 31 it turns out, provided a fortress for Leatherstocking and his Mohican friends in a previous war between Mohicans and Mohawks. During the Mohawk siege of the fortress all but two Mohicans died. Leatherstocking exclaims, “They’ll never shout the war whoop nor strike a blow with the tomahawk again!” “The brothers and family of the Mohicans formed our party,” he continues, “and you see before you all that are now left of his race.” 31 This “silent grave and crumbling ruin” is a tomb for the Mohican tribe, 32 it marks the end of a cycle of history. The two surviving Mohicans produce no further offspring; they are the end of their kind. Uncas dies at the novel’s end; and Chingachgook, the last of the Mohicans, dies in a richly symbolic conflagration at the end of The Pioneers. James T. Callow detects an “Indians-as-ruins theme” in Cooper’s frontier novels. 33 This is accentuated by Chingachgook. who, at the conclusion of The Last Of The Mohicans, calls himself “a blazed pine.” 34 As a tree marked for death, Chingachgook embodies the end of a cycle, the lingering ruins of time.

The ruins-of-time motif was so integral to Cooper’s literary expression, that he used it a second time in The Last Of The Mohicans; this time to portray the “ruins” 35 of Fort William Henry after the massacre of its inhabitants. The day after the attack, when Leatherstocking and the Mohicans return to the scene of carnage, “The fortress was a smoldering ruin.” Overnight the world of nature changed to reflect “the somber gloom” brought on by the ravages of man. “A frightful change,” he explains, had “occurred in the season,” as summer became late autumn. “The sun” now “hid its warmth behind an impenetrable mass of vapor, and hundreds of {92} human forms, which had blackened beneath the fierce heats of August, were stiffening in their deformity before the blasts of a premature November.” 36 It was a tableau of “desolation” he says, and quickly repeats himself, writing, “it was a scene of wildness and desolation,” 37 again anticipating Cole’s fifth painting, “Desolation.” Cooper observes, speaking of the climatic change in conjunction with the decimation of the fort, that the entire setting “appeared now like some pictured allegory of life, in which objects were arrayed in their harshest but truest colors, and without the relief of any shadowing.” 38 Indeed, it is an “allegory” exhibiting the concurrence of natural and human events, depicting the end of a cycle.

Cooper had to strain his literary imagination in his American novels, such as The Spy, The Last Of The Mohicans, and The Prairie, to produce the moral-dispensing ruins required by his world view. In Europe, on the other hand, the ruins of bygone civilizations were readily available. His European travelogues, particularly Excursions In Italy, divulge a fascination and preoccupation with ruins. The European novels likewise affirm the magnetism which ruins held for him. The European tales are especially significant because they alone among the pre-1833 novels are widely cited in the scholarship as evidence of his early liberalism. The first two, The Bravo (1831) and The Heidenmauer (1833), were published prior to his return to America. In a subsequent chapter it will be demonstrated that The Bravo is less concerned with denigrating European despotism, than with warning Americans of dangers intrinsic to our own society. So too, The Heidenmauer contains no blanket indictment of European civilization. Like The Bravo, it cautions against the subversion of time-honored institutions, in either monarchy or republic, underscoring the consistency and potency of Cooper’s conservatism. And like The Bravo, The Heidenmauer is intended as a warning to Americans of dangers at home, not abroad.

The Heidenmauer is one of Cooper’s most persistently misunderstood novels. It is frequently held up as an illustration of youthful idealism, later recanted. In the introduction, Cooper transports the reader into the picturesque scenery of early nineteenth-century Germany at the time of his visit. The landscape which we behold is ornamented with the ruins of medieval civilization, which, in turn was erected on the ruins of the even earlier Roman civilization. Thus the locale of the tale at the time of his {93} visit was a museum richly endowed with the lessons of history. “It was easy for one thus placed,” he writes in the introduction — encircled, as such, by crumbling walls and decaying castles, the ruins of departed civilizations — “to fancy himself surrounded by so many eloquent memorials of the progress of civilization, of the infirmities and constitution, of the growth and ambition of the human mind.” 39 His words “the progress of civilization” mean no more and no less than his words “the progress of the season.” 41 In Cooper’s lexicon “progress” means motion, change, development; not open-ended development but circumscribed change, cyclical motion. Scholars, nevertheless, have time and again inferred from the words “progress of civilization” that he believed in unilinear progress; that in surveying the remnants of past civilizations in the introduction, he was looking back on the development of mankind from a crude, repressive, and inferior past, toward the sophisticated, liberal, and superior present. The Heidenmauer is set in sixteenth-century Germany, at the beginning of the Reformation. The paradigm of progress instructs that the introduction is a poetic index to the reforms undertaken by the Reformation; that the novel itself is about the resistance to change in medieval society as the Reformation sought to undertake liberating reforms. 41

The persistency with which The Heidenmauer is misinterpreted recalls D. H. Lawrence’s sound advice: “The artist usually sets out — or used to — to point a moral and adorn a tale. The tale, however, points the other way, as a rule. Two blankly opposing morals, the artist’s and the tale’s. Never trust the artist. Trust the tale.” 42 The introduction to The Heidenmauer is easily misleading to anyone unfamiliar with Cooper’s cyclical idea of history. It gives lip service to the niceties of American liberty, juxtaposed to a history of European despotism. Indeed, the preponderance of scholarship interprets the novel as an attack on late-medieval despotism and a demonstration of the beginnings of American liberty in the German Reformation. 43 But as Lawrence says, the tale “points the other way.” Spiller suggests that Cooper “lays his scene in the Palatinate in the early 16ᵗʰ century because at that time and place the group mind of man was undergoing a transition from medieval to modern social and religious ideas. Although he does not say so, he is interested in this change because he sees in it a parallel to the changes in the group mind of his own day.” 44 Clearly, The Heidenmauer was intended by Cooper as a comment on social change in the {94} States. He saw parallels between the upheavals in Luther’s Germany and changes introduced into America by mass democracy. But close reading of the novel establishes beyond any doubt that these changes were for the worse, not for the better. The Heidenmauer details the loss that must incur when a richly integrated social fabric is ravaged by a mass mentality; this happened in sixteenth-century Germany, and was threatening, in his opinion, to happen once again in the United States. 45

In The Heidenmauer Cooper argues for the preservation of traditions and institutions requisite to the maintenance of the organic social order against the impulse to desecrate the sacred and rationalize change. His unmistakable intent is established by the regard in which he holds the principal characters. The most attractive characters, the ones whom the author most esteems, are the Prior of Limburg, Father Arnolph, Odo von Ritterstein, and the Burgomaster’s wife — all pious Catholics and upholders of the old, sacred order. By contrast, the two most prominent characters in the vanguard of the new order are the Count and the Burgomaster, and they are the villains of the story. The Count is an aristocrat, a term for Cooper synonymous with demagogue; and the Burgomaster is a greedy businessman, for whom the profit motive overrides any sense of principle or tradition. Cooper’s admiration for the opulent and mysterious liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church is made plain in the novel. The proponents of the Reformation, on the other hand, are analogous to participants in the low church denominations and sects of his own day, whom he repeatedly ridiculed in his novels.

The forces at conflict in The Heidenmauer, typologically stated, are gemeinschaft-gesellschaft — the sacred, organic community versus rational, modern mass society. The basic tensions Marius Bewley discovers in Cooper’s work — tradition versus progress, past versus present, conservatism versus liberalism, “benevolent wealth” versus “aggressive acquisitive economics” 46 — are the central issues in The Heidenmauer, and Cooper wholeheartedly sides with the traditional against the new. The moral to his story is, when sacred traditions are attacked, when legitimate authority is undercut, then the forces of barbarism will be released, causing anarchy, chaos. In The Wing-And-Wing he addresses himself to the excesses abounding in France “during the height of her great revolutionary mania.” “One of the baneful results,” he writes, “was the letting loose of the audacious from all the venerable and healthful restraints of the {95} church, to set them afloat on the sea of speculation and conceit.” 47 The French Revolution was an anathema to him in its destructiveness of the institutional basis of the social fabric. It is such a vision of revolution that underlies and gives meaning to The Heidenmauer.

Objections to the rationalization of social systems are interspersed throughout The Heidenmauer. Cooper has no illusions that any society is perfect, yet he is equally certain that attempts to rationally alter a social system in order to eradicate abuses will produce an even more abusive system. “There is no more certain symptom of the decay of the principles requisite to maintain even our imperfect standard of virtue,” he explains, “than when the plea of necessity is urged in vindication of any departure from its mandate, since it is calling in the aid of ingenuity to assist the passions, a coalition that rarely fails to lay prostrate the feeble defences of a tottering morality.” 48 Social systems are not rational entities; they cannot be rationally improvised as if they were. At the precise moment that the Count and Burgomaster are effecting a rational plan to overthrow the authority of the Abbey of Limburg over their community, Cooper intejects his observations about parallel behavior in his own day — “it is not easy to eradicate by the mere efforts of reason,” he observes, “the deep roots that are thrown out by habit and sentiment. At this very hour we see nearly the entire civilized world committing gross and evident wrongs, and justifying acts, if we look closely into its philosophy, on a plea little better than that of a sickly taste formed by practices which in themselves cannot be plausibly vindicated.” 49 Communities — entire social systems — are irrational bodies, with “deep roots” dug “by habit and sentiment.” In recognizing the historicity of social organisms, Cooper profoundly disavows Enlightenment belief that society might be rationally modified to better satisfy human needs. His conservative world view militates against social change because of the inexorable verdict of the cycle of history, and because of the delicate nature of the social fabric, which is organically interwoven in a way that guarantees that if one section of the fabric is unravelled, the remainder will follow suit.

Ironically, the Count also recognizes the delicate interrelatedness of feudal authority. He perceives the risk involved in the plan to destroy the authority of the Church: “we must be wary,” he says, “lest in throwing aside one portion of the load, space be found on our shoulders to place another that is heavier.” 51 When the Count {96} and Burgomaster appraise their own situation with respect to the Church, the Burgomaster says, “They lay great stress, Herr Count, on the virtue of ancient usages, and on the sacred origin of their mission.” And the Count replies, “As much respect as thou wilt for rights that are by time, for such is the stamp that gives value to my own fair claims; and many of thy city privileges come chiefly of use.” 51 Institutional authority, “rights,” and “privileges,” are vested in the “stamp” of “time” and “use” — in tradition and in history. But despite this apparent recognition of the hallowedness of institutions, and of the brittle structure of the social order, the Count and Burgomaster nonetheless proceed to effect their unseemly scheme to destroy the Church in order to advance their own power and profit.

When the townspeople — who are comparable to Cole’s barbarians and Cooper’s Skinners — assault the Abbey of Limburg under the instigation of the Count and Burgomaster, they are reported as “occupying exactly that position in the social scale that fungi do in the vegatable [sic],” making it unmistakable with whom Cooper sides in this turbulent period of social change, and also metaphorically placing “the invaders” in the fourth stage of the cycle of history, the vicious state. 52 These Lutheran barbarians plunder the Abbey, mutilate its monuments, desecrate the sacred chapel, and leave nothing “unscathed amid the ruins.” 53 To complete the work of devastation, the Abbey is set on fire. Later, the charred ruins still issuing forth “a small thread of white smoke” curling upward, are likened to “the lessening symptoms of a volcano after an explosion.” 54 Here The Heidenmauer yields a compact allegory of the decline and fall of civilization, anticipating the imagery and language later employed in The Crater. A decadent community gives rise to barbarians, who attack the community’s most sacred institution, leaving in their wake a smoldering ruin. The motif, the ruins of time, is reinforced by the apocalyptic image of a volcano amid the Abbey’s ruins, signifying the end of a cycle of time. The Count is told that “the God of Israel hath said that he will visit the sins of the parent on the descendant, from generation to generation.” 55 This marks the destruction of the Abbey as no temporary misdemeanor committed by an idealistic and over-zealous vanguard of Lutheranism, but a serious abridgement of morality that will have grave historical repercussions.

In his introduction to The Heidenmauer Cooper conducts the reader to “the ruins of Limburg.” 56 The novel itself unfolds the {97} history behind these “ruins,” culminating in a tableau of destruction, and unmistakably placing the tale within the conservative view of the world frequently attributed to his later fiction. The Heidenmauer does not celebrate the liberation of a community from the tyranny and superstition of the medieval Church, as many scholars contend; rather, it analyzes the rationalization of a decadent society, forewarning of the unhappy results that predictably ensue. This was the moral he wished to impart to the American people. The Heidenmauer was the last novel published by Cooper prior to his return to the United States and purported ideological metamorphosis. But the novel does not detail the birth of modern freedom, nor divulge the author’s liberal appreciation for democratic man. On the contrary, the novel is a powerful commentary on the sanctity of institutional restraint, made necessary by mankind’s fallen condition. The novel explains that once the masses of men are released from the authority of time-endowed institutions, once venerable institutions are deprived of their authority, then barbarism and destruction, equated with the vicious stage in the cycle of history, will be the result.

The Heidenmauer and its companion novel, The Bravo, are widely cited and provide the preponderance of primary documentation in support of the scholarly consensus that Cooper’s alleged early liberalism is reflected in his fiction. Careful analysis of the novels, however, does not sustain this consensus. In his first serious literary effort, The Spy, he described his premonition of what will happen to American civilization when its institutions falter and the proper class of people lose their hold. Cooper’s conservative preoccupation with the preservation of the social hierarchy, and his fear of demagogues misleading the rabble, is repeated in The Pioneers, Lionel Lincoln, The Bravo, and The Heidenmauer, in addition to many of his post-1833 novels. In a significant number of early novels the appearance of the meaning-laden ruins-of-time motif, and the endemic application of organic analogies and metaphors of time and social change testify to the consistency of Cooper’s world view. The ideological conservatism and pessimistic appraisal of human nature contained in The Crater, the Littlepage trilogy, and the Home novels, does not mark an ideological shift in his thought away from youthful liberalism, but is part and parcel of a comprehensive view of the world to which Cooper subscribed throughout his literary career.

The language, imagery, social ideals, and political philosophy of {98} the early novels conclusively demonstrate that the ideological principles and artistic expression of Cooper’s world view were formulated long before their full rendering in The Crater, and prior to his purported 1833 ideological change of heart. The fact that not one novel supports the scholarly consensus is a striking and curious phenomenon, deserving further analysis and explanation. It is also worth investigating the minority opinion in Cooper scholarship which, in the face of so much evidence to the contrary, alleges he either never or only quite late in life relinquished his liberal faith in the competence of the people to wisely govern themselves.

Quite obviously, the paradigmatic blinder of the idea of progress, in part, accounts for the widespread misinterpretation of The Heidenmauer and other early fiction. When the incorrect paradigm is applied to The Heidenmauer, however much the tale “points the other way,” it will necessarily be misconstrued. And just as surely, when the correct paradigm is applied, it is impossible to mistake the author’s intent. It would appear, for example, that the following passage in The Heidenmauer is self-evidently clear:

The Reformation made early and rude inroads upon the formula of the Romish church. The cross ceased to be a sign in favor with the Protestant; and, after three centuries, it is just beginning to be admitted that this sacred symbol is a more fitting ornament of one of ‘those silent fingers pointing to the skies,’ which so touchingly adorn our churches, than the representation of a barn-yard fowl! 57

The passage states that the Reformation destroyed the sacred symbol of the Church and replaced it with a vulgar replica. It is a negative comment upon changes wrought by the Reformation. Regardless of this and numerous other counter-instances, the novel is still read by serious and informed Cooper scholars as “chronicling” “the birth of European freedom.” 58 The paradigm of progress instructs this interpretation of the changes discussed in the novel, mandating that they be contributions to the linear development of Western civilization. The paradigm of progress will not admit what the paradigm of repeating cycles insists upon — that the events narrated in The Heidenmauer ‘chronicle’ the barbaric destruction of a once vibrant medieval community, and that the author views the result as a loss, not a gain, for Western man.

{99} The prescriptiveness and restrictiveness of the paradigm of progress, applied to The Heidenmauer and the rest of the pre-1833 novels, help explain why Cooper was considered a liberal democrat, ideologically committed to popular democracy. Its application to the later novels likewise helps explain why a lesser number of scholars think that even late in his career he retained his youthful liberalism. But many of the later works, such as The Redskins and The Ways Of The Hour, are so unabashedly polemical in tone that it is difficult to mistake the ideological conviction of the author, especially given the knowledge of his personal disenchantment with the America he returned to in 1833, and his later feuds with his neighbors in Cooperstown, his unpopular stance in the anti-rent wars, and his series of libel suits against the press. It is this biographical information, in conjunction with the polemicism of the later fiction, that lead many scholars to believe he relinquished his faith in progress and became a conservative. In fact, information extrinsic to the novels themselves has also played a major part in shaping interpretations of the early fiction. Because the early novels, like the later ones, contain no intrinsic data to support the opinion that at least early in his career he accepted the idea of progress and was a liberal, the full explanation of the inception of this scholarly consensus must lie elsewhere. And indeed it does, in the only book-length, non-fiction work of his early career. Notions Of The Americans, Picked Up by a Travelling Bachelor, published in 1828.

Notions Of The Americans is a social and political treatise on American democracy. James Franklin Beard writes, “Notions gave an exaggerated, decidedly utopian impression of the moral and intellectual character of the American people.” He concludes, “The book remains a classic statement (perhaps the classic statement) of the ‘American dream.’” 59 Frank Collins concurs, writing, “Notions is essentially a fantasy, rising to the level of hyperbolic vision.” 61 And, in a harsher indictment, Alexander Cowie finds Notions “drenched in a nauseating solution of super-patriotism. Freedom, prosperity, progress — these were the notes he harped upon.” 61 These assessments are close to the mark. Certainly Notions is one of the more affirmative and optimistic statements of its day made about the American people, their institutions, and their destiny. What is particularly striking about its social analysis is that it is stridently out of accord with the social analysis contained in the early novels, especially The Pioneers, which is Cooper’s fullest, early, fictional {100} study of American society. In Notions — to cite one example among many of a blatant discrepancy between it and the fiction — Cooper waxes eloquent over the inhabitants of New England, who, in the vast body of his literature, are repeatedly characterized as crude, disrespectful, avaricious and aggressive, as the least attractive white people in the United States. 62

But the scholarship has taken little note of the obvious discrepancy between Notions and the fiction. Indeed, Notions is widely considered the fullest statement of Cooper’s ideological conviction, made prior to 1833. It is also the standard against which his later change of conviction is measured. But Notions is an ideological aberration, that should not be taken as seriously reflective of Cooper’s actual conviction. It is, instead, a piece of propaganda, written for European not American consumption; and it is totally unreflective of Cooper’s world view. In a letter written while in Europe to Charles Wilkes, he lays out his frame of mind while writing Notions: “I find so much ignorance here concerning America,” he explains, “so much insolence in their manner of thinking of us, which however natural is not the less false, that at every line I am tempted to decorate rather than to describe.” 63 The completed work bears out the sentiment expressed in the letter. He did “decorate” his book, at the expense of ideological conviction.

As a professional author Cooper wrote mainly for an American reading public. 64 The single exception among his book-length works is Notions Of The Americans. 65 Notions is a self-conscious reply to European detractors of American civilization; as such, it is propaganda for European consumption, not intended for his principal audience, and not an accurate compilation of his actual convictions and perceptions. 66 “’Our country, right or wrong,’” declares one Cooper persona, “is a high-sounding maxim, but it is scarcely the honest man’s maxim.” 67 He was always ready to criticize his fellow Americans for their own good, and repeatedly did, but he patriotically refused to condone European criticism of American society and culture. 68 In response to European criticism, he was consistently resentful and defensive. He says of another persona — “He loved his native land, while he saw and regretted its weaknessess [sic]; was its firm and consistent advocate abroad, without becoming its interested or mawkish flatterer at home; and at all times, and in all situations, manifested that his heart was where it ought to be.” 69 Cooper’s own attitude and behavior in this respect was perfectly consistent with {101} the sentiment he ascribes to his persona. Never a “mawkish flatterer at home,” Cooper was America’s “consistent advocate abroad,” This seemingly contradictory behavior combined his sense of duty as citizen and standard-bearer with his equally strong sense of patriotic partisanship, such that he was satisfied “his heart was where it ought to be.” Whether praising Americans to Europeans or criticizing Americans for their own good — these were public acts, undertaken in a spirit of the best interest of his own country. He uniformly portrayed America in its best light when speaking to foreigners, frequently being given to hyperbole in defense of country. 71 What he wrote for foreigners was non-ideological and inconsistent with his true conviction that was repeatedly expressed in the main body of his work, written primarily for American consumption.

Clearly Notions is an unreliable source of Cooper’s early thought. But where the novels are at best a covert source of his ideas, the content of Notions is unsubtle and easily comprehensible. So it is understandable that the novels are bypassed in favor of an overt source of information. This is why scholars rely heavily upon Notions as a source of Cooper’s pre-1833 social and political views, and also why Notions, as the prime exemplar of the ideology of the early Cooper, has become the standard against which his supposed changing belief is measured. This is immediately apparent in a number of scholarly treatments of his thought. Spiller thinks in The American Democrat Cooper “considerably modified” the social and political thought presented ten years earlier in Notions, and that “Between Notions of the American [sic] and The Redskins [1846] there is the distinction which separates deluded idealism from disillusioned experience.” 71 Ekirch writes, in Notions Cooper “gave an extremely optimistic characterization of the United States,” but recanted in 1833, “rejected the new time in America heralded by the Jacksonian upheaval,” and “now sought an aristocratic type of civilization designed for gentlemen of property.” 72 Marvin Meyers and Frank Collins contrast Notions with the 1838 Home novels in order to demonstrate his ideological metamorphosis from liberal to conservative. 73 McWilliams compares Notions to The American Democrat, suggesting, “The most evident change between the two works is one of tone. An ecstatic hymn has been replaced by troubled praise.” 74 Although McWilliams does not think the ideological conversion to disenchanted conservatism complete until 1850, he nonetheless adheres to the long established scholarly {102} tradition of accepting Notions as ideological belief without questioning Cooper’s motives. And in complete accord with the consensus, he considers it “the first full definition of Cooper’s political ideals” It is, he concludes, “the reference point by which all changes in Cooper’s view of America must be measured.” 75

The scholarly consensus that Cooper underwent an ideological metamorphosis in the midstream of his career, then, is largely based on two erroneous assumptions which reinforce each other: first, that Cooper early accepted but later rejected the idea of progress; and second, that Notions is an accurate statement of Cooper’s pre-1833 social and political ideology, against which his later transformation may be reliably gauged. These two misconceptions are largely responsible for the inability of most scholars to recognize in the early novels the fundamental assumptions of a world view that they at least partly recognize in the later works, but to which Cooper was faithful throughout. A minority, however, dissent from the 1833 consensus, instead maintaining that Cooper was a steadfast liberal either until late in life or always. There are three principal reasons for this minority opinion. The first, which has already been sufficiently discussed, results from interpreting the later as well as the earlier novels within the prescriptions of the paradigm of progress. The second extends from a misunderstanding of the meaning of Cooper’s identification with the Democratic Party. And the third has to do with a misunderstanding of the ideological nature of Cooper’s 1848 novel, The Oak Openings.

Due to the incontrovertible fact that Cooper was a member of the Democratic Party, a staunch partisan, and a great admirer of Andrew Jackson, it is sometimes supposed he was an ideological liberal. Progressive historians created a long standing fiction that the Democratic Party stood for liberalism and the common man, while the Whig Party stood for conservative business and banking interests. In this view, Cooper was, by definition, a liberal subscriber to popular democracy. The Age Of Jackson, by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., is the classic statement of the progressive position. Schlesinger writes that Cooper “adopted the most radical Democratic positions on all questions but the tariff.” 76 He admits “Cooper’s radicalism” waned in the 1840s during the anti-rent wars; but if no longer a committed radical, he leaves the impression Cooper remained a good, concerned liberal. 77 He also contends that Cooper, like Jackson, favored the lower classes, while abhorring the upper classes. 78 In {103} good part, Schlesinger’s misconstruction of Cooper’s views stems from his misunderstanding the ideological basis of Cooper’s dislike of commercial wealth. Cooper favored leadership by an enlightened, landed gentry. And he at no time desired political power in the hands of the lower classes. He always distrusted the democratic average, believing the sustenance of good government in the United States depended upon the deference of the masses of people to the wisdom of their natural superiors, the landed gentry. He was a conservative agrarian, who retained an agrarian bias against business and commerce. This is why he admired Jackson, whom he believed of a like mind, and why he enthusiastically endorsed the attack on the Bank. But he held no liberal idealism for the common man.

Recent Jacksonian historiography has largely discredited the progressive Democrat-liberal, Whig-conservative typology, which at one time provided a basis for thinking Cooper a liberal democrat. Meyers shows that Jacksonian ideology was steeped in agrarian conservatism. Thus despite their differences, “The conservatism of Cooper and the conservatism of the Jacksonians,” in his opinion, “crossed a wide gap to meet in a common resistance.” 79 Cooper’s most frequent literary expression of this “common resistance” was in his burlesques of upstart, Yankee, go-aheadism, which, to him, encapsulated the crude, money-mongering ethos that was rapidly undermining his staid, hierarchical, agrarian, proximate utopia. If anything, he had even less love of capitalism than of popular politics. His brand of conservatism informed that the only morally conscionable mode of wealth rested in the redemptive land, under the stewardship of the standard-bearing gentry class.

The 1848 novel, The Oak Openings, is the only one of the late works that appears to militate against the dour conservatism running through the Littlepage trilogy (1845-1846), The Crater (1847), The Sea Lions (1849), and The Ways Of The Hour (1850). McWilliams thinks The Oak Openings “confirmed the dream of Notions of the Americans,” as does John Gerlach, who believes Notions an early and The Oak Openings a late-in-life statement of the American destiny. 81 Edwin Fussell finds that in the “novel the Westward Movement is accepted and glorified as the spread of Protestant Christianity under the promptings of America’s Providence.” 81 Other scholars are unable to reconcile the optimistic conclusion of The Oak Openings with other novels written in the late period, which leaves them in a quandary as to the ideological {104} exactitude of the novel. Donald Ringe, for example, who is well aware of Cooper’s hostility to technology, notes, “in the final chapter of The Oak Openings and speaking in his own voice, he seems to praise the speed and convenience of rail and steamboat travel on the trip he took from New York to Michigan in 1848. Indeed, he has only words of admiration for the harvesting machine he saw in operation on Prairie Round.” 82 So Ringe concludes that he must have been equivocal on the question of the material and technological progress of American civilization. Kay House astutely observes, “Cooper seems to have changed this book as he wrote.” 83 Indeed, the euphoric conclusion of the novel simply does not ring true to what the author apparently set out to do at the beginning.

Yet there is a perfectly reasonable explanation of the ideologically anomalous ending to The Oak Openings. Cooper visited Michigan five times between 1847 and 1850. 84 The particular trip he describes at the end of The Oak Openings took place in 1848 at a time when the revenues from his novels were declining. Cooper was no vacationing tourist. He and several relatives were seriously intent on engaging in land speculation by getting in on the real estate boom in Michigan. Mentor Williams, although unconcerned with the ideological problems raised by The Oak Openings, nevertheless provides a perfect explanation for the ideological discrepancy contained in the novel’s conclusion. “The last chapter of his novel is, actually,” according to Williams, “a bold piece of promotion literature; it reads like the descriptions in any of the emigrant guidebooks. Cooper, a hard-headed business realist, was as interested as the next in keeping speculative land values high in order to realize a comfortable profit on his investment. Suppose he did ‘plug’ the fertility and prosperity of the Kalamazoo area? It was what all speculators were doing, and he had the added advantage of literary fame to induce people to read his brochure!” 85 The final chapter, which reads like a real estate brochure, is out of joint with the rest of the novel and with the rest of Cooper’s works; and like Notions, the final chapter of The Oak Openings does not express Cooper’s true ideological conviction, and therefore does not contradict the thesis that Cooper maintained an allegiance to a single view of the world throughout his literary career.

The only ideological anomaly among Cooper’s pre-1833 works, Notions Of The Americans, can be discounted as patriotic propaganda {105} written for foreign edification. And the only ideological anomaly of his later period, The Oak Openings, can be discounted as promotional literature backing up a real estate investment by the financially troubled author. So the broad sweep of his writings from 1821 to 1850 is wholly consistent with the view of the world elaborated in The Crater. Throughout his career, Cooper’s conservative world view was structured about and directed by a cyclical idea of history and social change, that had its origin in organic analogy and metaphor. His conservative and pessimistic appraisal of the course of civilization was based on his recognition of the full meaning of man’s Fall from Grace, and repeatedly given literary expression through the motif, the ruins of time. The amazing linguistic consistency and continuity of Cooper’s prose over a thirty year time span, comprising a production of over forty book-length works, in itself gives strong testimony to the uniformity and coherence of his world view. Even more tellingly significant, none of his works, properly evaluated, give evidence to the contrary.


[Footnote numbers restart with each chapter.]  

1 Robert E. Spiller, James Fenimore Cooper (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1965), p. 9.

2 Jesse Bier, “The Bisection of Cooper: Satanstoe as Prime Example,” Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 9 (Winter 1968), p. 519.

3 Bier, p. 520.

4 Susan Fenimore Cooper, Pages And Pictures, From The Writings Of James Fenimore Cooper (New York: W. A. Townsend, 1861, p. 291.

5 Susan Fenimore Cooper, pp. 287, 299.

6 Susan Fenimore Cooper, pp. 286-287.

7 Susan Fenimore Cooper, p. 287.

8 Thomas R. Lounsbury, James Fenimore Cooper (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1882), p. 118.

9 Robert E. Spiller speaks of the post-1833 Cooper as “the new Cooper,” in Fenimore Cooper: Critic Of His Times (New York: Minton, Balch, 1931), p. 101. Hereafter cited as Spiller. James Grossman writes, speaking of the 1843 novel Wyandotté, “He seems to have lost faith in the bright American fable of conscious progress toward a milder better world in which all men will live by their own reason and not under the compulsion of old myths” (James Fenimore Cooper, Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1949, p. 181). Donald A. Ringe states, “In effect, Cooper’s view of the world became darker as he grew older” (James Fenimore Cooper, New Haven: College and Univ. Press, 1962, p. 92). Warren S. Walker sees a dramatic change after he returned from Europe: “While in Europe he had written five books championing the democratic way of life as he knew it; now that way of life in his own country had changed, and he found himself rejected as a national spokesman” upon his return (James Fenimore Cooper: An Introduction and Interpretation, New York: Barnes & Noble, 1962, p. 85). In his introduction to Cooper’s The Crater Or Vulcan’s Peak, ed. Thomas Philbrick (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1962), Thomas Philbrick writes, “At first Cooper had conceived of the unfolding of that destiny as all automatic progress toward enlightenment, power, and abundance.” But upon returning to the States in 1833, he was shocked by the vulgarity of Jacksonian democracy and avaricious commercialism. Thus “By the 1840s his cyclical view of history was fully formulated and its relevance to the course of America was appallingly clear.” p. xv. George Dekker, in James Fenimore Cooper: The Novelist (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1967), believes the longer he remained in Europe, “the farther left he moved.” but upon returning home he had become an archaic personality, pp. 109. 156. The periodical literature on this subject is vast, and it would be redundant to cite all the additional scholarly opinions on this subject. But the overwhelming majority likewise believe that Cooper soured upon his return home, relinquished his liberal ideals, and became very conservative.

10 John P. McWilliams. Jr. Political Justice in a Republic: James Fenimore Cooper’s America (Berkeley, Los Angeles. London: Univ. of California Press. 1972), p. 27. Hereafter cited as McWilliams.

11 John C. McCloskey, for example, finds Cooper shifted from a “Jacksonian liberal to a skeptical conservative” in 1847 (“Cooper’s Political Views In The Crater.” Modern Philology, 53. 1955. p. 113). Edgar A. Dryden concurs, arguing that in 1847 with the publication of The Crater, “No longer able to believe in progress in a social and earthly sense. he moves from a secular, progressive view of history to a universal, providential, and apocalyptic one” (“History and Progress: Some Implications of Form in Cooper’s Littlepage Novels.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 26, June 1971. p. 62). And, Thomas Bender dates Cooper’s ideological change one year earlier, in 1846 (“James Fenimore Cooper and the City.” New York History, LI. April 1970. p. 290).

12 McWilliams, pp. 399-400.

13 James Franklin Beard, Introduction to James Fenimore Cooper, The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper, ed. James Franklin Beard, I (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1960), p. xxv.

14 James Fenimore Cooper, The Spy: A Tale Of The Neutral Ground (New York: Hafner, 1960), p. 191.

15 Cooper, The Spy, p. 54.

16 In Chapter Two I established Cooper’s use of organic analogy and metaphor in the following pre-1833 novels: The Pioneers (1823), Lionel Lincoln (1825), The Prairie (1827), The Red Rover (1827), The Wept Of Wish-Ton-Wish (1829), The Water-Witch (1830), The Bravo (1831), and The Heidenmauer (1832). The two novels not previously cited are The Pilot (1824) and The Last Of The Mohicans (1826). For evidence in these two novels see: James Fenimore Cooper, The Plot, A Tale Of The Sea (New York: Publishers’ Plate, n.d.), p. 110; The Last Of The Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757 (New York and Toronto: The New American Library, 1Y6?), pp. 146, 147.

17 In The Pictorial Mode: Space & Time in the Art of Bryant, Irving & Cooper (Lexington: The Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1971), Donald A. Ringe states that Cooper, Bryant, and Irving agreed that “The ruins of the past are signs of moral failure in men,” p. 131. But Ringe does not pursue the subject any farther, and does not disclose the depth of meaning the ruins of time held for Cooper. Yvor Winters, in an essay entitled “Fenimore Cooper, or the Ruins of Time,” included in In Defense Of Reason (Denver: Alan Swallow, 1947), pp. 176-199, never really explores his promising title.

18 Constantin François de Chasseboeuf, Count de Volney, The Ruins: Or A Survey Of The Revolutions Of Empire. To Which Is Added, The Law Of Nature (London: Edward Edwards, 1822), pp. x, xi.

19 In his 1849 Introduction to The Spy, Cooper writes, “The dispute between England and the United States of America, though not strictly a family quarrel, had many of the features of a civil war,” p. vii. In Wyandotté Or The Hutted Knoll (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1896), Cooper repeatedly refers to the Revolution as a civil war, pp. 121, 145, 154. In all three tales of the American Revolution he emphasizes a familiar theme in civil wars — that of families and friends divided against themselves. Civil wars create mixed loyalties, divided allegiances and values, and produce a condition in which true authority becomes indeterminate.

20 Cooper, The Spy, pp. 307, 308.

21 Cooper, The Spy, p. 325.

22 Cooper, Wyandotté, p. 49.

23 Cooper, Wyandotté, p. iii.

24 Cooper, Wyandotté, p. 268.

25 Cooper, Wyandotté, pp. 443, 443.

26 Cooper, Wyandotté, p. 445.

27 Cooper, Wyandotté, pp. 457, 459, 458.

28 Cooper, The Last Of The Mohicans, p. 145.

29 Cooper, The Last Of The Mohicans, p. 146.

30 In The Last Of The Mohicans, Cooper repeatedly refers to the remnants of the fortress as ‘ruins.’ pp. 146, 147, 156, 157.

31 Cooper, The Last Of The Mohicans, p. 148.

32 Cooper. The Last Of The Mohicans, p. 157.

33 James T. Callow, Kindred Spirits: Knickerbocker Writers and American Artists, 1807-1855 (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1967), p. 134.

34 Cooper, The Last Of The Mohicans, p. 414.

35 Again, Cooper repeatedly relies on the word ‘ruins’ in The Last Of The Mohicans. pp. 213. 214, 224, 237, 238, 239.

36 Cooper, The Last Of The Mohicans, p. 213.

37 Cooper, The Last Of The Mohicans, pp. 213, 214.

38 Cooper, The Last Of The Mohicans, pp. 213-214.

39 James Fenimore Cooper, The Heidenmauer Or The Benedictines (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1895-1900). p. xix.

40 Cooper, Wyandotté, p. 159.

41 George J. Becker, for example, cites the introduction to The Heidenmauer to underscore his interpretation of the novel as an exposition on the continuing story of the liberation of Western man from repressive institutions, which began in Europe and which was nearing fruition in Cooper’s America (“James Fenimore Cooper and American Democracy.” College English, 17, March 1956, pp. 326-327). Dorothy Waples also misconstrues Cooper’s intent, taking the introduction to mean that The Heidenmauer is about the resistance to reform in medieval society that was painfully being effected by the Reformation (The Whig Myth of James Fenimore Cooper, New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1938, p. 84). And Charles A. Brady is misled by the introductions to all three European novels in thinking they expand upon the theme of the “history of the progress of political liberty, written purely in the interests of humanity” (“James Fenimore Cooper, 1789-1851, Myth-maker and Christian Romancer,” American Classics Reconsidered: A Christian Appraisal, ed. Harold C. Gardiner, S.J., New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958, p. 76).

42 D. H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature (New York: The Viking Press, 1961), p. 2.

43 Each of the following scholars also erroneously believe The Heidenmauer is an attack on European despotic government and a statement in favor of popular democracy: W. C. Brownell, American Prose Masters (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1909), p. 51; Henry Seidel Canby, Classic Americans: A Study of Eminent American Writers from Irving to Whitman (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1931), pp. 118-119; H. Lüdeke, “James Fenimore Cooper and the Democracy of Switzerland,” English Studies, 27 (1946), p. 38; George Dekker, p. 137; Spiller, p. 220; Paul Stein, “Cooper’s Later Fiction: The Theme of ‘Becoming’,” The South Atlantic Quarterly, LXX (1971), p. 77; McWilliams, pp. 166-167, 265.

44 Spiller, p. 219.

45 The following scholars arrive at approximately the same interpretation of The Heidenmauer as I do: Russell Kirk, “Cooper and the European Puzzle,” College English, 7 (Jan. 1946), p. 205; Marius Bewley, “Fenimore Cooper and the Economic Age,” American Literature, 26 (May 1954), pp. 170-171; D. E. S. Maxwell, American Fiction: The Intellectual Background (New York and London: Columbia Univ. Press, 1963), pp. 100-101; Kay Seymour House, Cooper’s Americans (Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 1965), p. 177.

46 Marius Bewley, The Eccentric Design: Form in the Classic American Novel (New York and London: Columbia Univ. Press, 1963), p. 18.

47 James Fenimore Cooper, The Wing-And-Wing Or Le Feu-Follet (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1895-1900), p. iii.

48 Cooper, The Heidenmauer, pp. 65-66.

49 Cooper, The Heidenmauer, p. 241.

50 Cooper, The Heidenmauer, p. 149.

51 Cooper, The Heidenmauer, p. 148.

52 Cooper, The Heidenmauer, pp. 230, 241.

53 Cooper, The Heidenmauer, p. 257.

54 Cooper, The Heidenmauer, p. 272.

55 Cooper, The Heidenmauer, p. 256. Earlier, the other principal perpetrator of the Abbey’s destruction, the Burgomaster, is also asked, “Dost thou not know that the crimes of the parent are visited on the child — that the wrong done to-day, however we may triumph in present success, is sure to revisit us in the dread shape of punishment?” p. 246.

56 Cooper, The Heidenmauer, p. xv.

57 Cooper, The Heidenmauer, p. 209.

58 Beard, editorial introduction to the years 1830-1832, The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper, II (1960), p. 121.

59 Beard, Introduction to The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper, I, p. xxiii.

60 Frank M. Collins, “Cooper And The American Dream,” PMLA, 81 (March 1966), p. 87.

61 Alexander Cowie, The Rise Of The American Novel (New York: American Book Co., 1948), p. 133.

62 James Fenimore Cooper, Notions Of The Americans, Picked Up by a Travelling Bachelor (New York: Frederick Ungar, 1963), I, pp. 90-110. “Cooper,” writes James W. Tuttleton, “was fundamentally suspicious of Yankees and chronically incapable of controlling his antipathy when he wrote about them in fiction.” He explains that, with the exception of Notions, Cooper’s works uniformly show hostility toward New Englanders (“The New England Character in Cooper’s Social Novels,” Bulletin of the New York Public Library, 70, 1966, pp 307, 308).

63 James Fenimore Cooper, The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper, ed. James Franklin Beard, I (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1960), p. 243. In the preface to Notions Cooper makes it plain that the object of the book is to counteract the negative opinion of America that was widely circulated through the writings of European visitors. “There is,” he says, “no Christian country on earth in which a foreigner is so liable to fall into errors as in the United States of America.” “The European,” he feels, “has a great deal to unlearn before he can begin to learn correctly,” 1. p. xvii. Notions is an exercise in purification — in creating an unblemished type. In Notions Cooper portrays America so attractively that Europeans might “unlearn” any information that detracts from its unblemished type.

64 illiam Charvat, “Cooper As Professional Author,” James Fenimore Cooper: A Re-Appraisal, ed. Mary E. Cunningham (Cooperstown: New York State Historical Association, 1954), pp. 498, 504.

65 As Henry Walcott Boynton notes, Notions “was the only one of his books done primarily for foreign consumption” (James Fenimore Cooper, New York: The Century Co., 1932, p. 189).

66 Beard writes, “Notions of the Americans was a deliberate, almost belligerent assault on British prejudice toward the United States,” in his editorial introduction to the years 1828-1830 (The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper, I, p. 253). Boynton says, “Cooper was deliberately presenting an argument for the defendant, a picture of America at her best, to counteract the commentaries of foreign trippers who had shown her at her worst,” p. 187. Kendall B. Taft writes, “a primary aim of the work was to answer English detractors of America” (“The Nationality of Cooper’s ‘Travelling Bachelor’,” American Literature, 28, Nov. 1956. p. 369). And Tuttleton believes his purpose was to make America look good in the eyes of Europe, p. 308.

67 Cooper, Wyandotté, p. 77.

68 Lounsbury writes, “No man ever criticized his own country more unsparingly, and in some instances more unjustly, than he did, who, in foreign lands, had been its stoutest and most pronounced defender.” p. 70. Dixon Ryan Fox also recognizes that Cooper spoke differently to foreigners than to Americans: “It would be absurd to call Cooper a democrat in the usual sense of tile word,” he explains, “even though he professed allegiance to a party which used that name, and even though when writing for foreigners he patriotically praised democracy as a type of government” (“James Fenimore Cooper, Aristocrat,” New York History, 22, Jan. 1941, p. 20).

69 James Fenimore Cooper, Homeward Bound Or The Chase (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1895-1900), pp. 53-54.

70 This is borne out in minor Cooper documents. John P. McWilliams, Jr., for example, notes that in his 1831 “Letter to General Lafayette,” “Cooper crowed over the adaptability of the Constitution and the stability of the popular will” (“The Crater and the Constitution,” Texas Studies In Literature And Language, 12, Spring-Winter 1970-1971, p. 634). McWilliams cites the letter to demonstrate the unbounded optimism of the early Cooper, but here again patriotism is mistaken for ideological conviction.

71 Spiller, pp. 245, 301. Donald Kay likewise thinks Cooper underwent a change of conviction in 1833, away from the early liberalism expressed in Notions (“Major Character Types in Home As Found: Cooper’s Search For American Principles And Dignity,” College Language Association Journal, 14, June 1971, p. 432).

72 Arthur Alphonse Ekirch, Jr., The Idea Of Progress In America, 1815-1860 (New York: Peter Smith, 1951), pp. 179, 180, 181. John Ross, like Ekirch, thinks the author of Notions believed in progress but that later he rejected the idea of progress for an idea of “degradation,” which underscores Ross’s view of Cooper’s ideological transformation (“The Social Criticism Of Fenimore Cooper,” University Of California Publications In English, no. 3, Feb. 24, 1933, pp. 35, 76, 111, 112).

73 Marvin Meyers, T he Jacksonian Persuasion: Politics & Belief (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1960), pp. 60, 64, 74; Collins, pp. 87, 88.

74 John P. McWilliams, Jr., “Cooper and the Conservative Democrat,” American Quarterly, 22 (Fall 1970), p. 667.

75 McWilliams, p. 130.

76 Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Age Of Jackson (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown, 1945), p. 376.

77 Schlesinger, p. 379.

78 Schlesinger, p. 377.

79 Meyers, pp. 97-98. Edward Pessen cites Cooper’s fearfulness of Jacksonian egalitarianism in Jacksonian America: Society, Personality, and Politics (Homewood: The Dorsey Press, 1969), pp. 28, 41-42, 46. Lee Benson, in The Concept Of Jacksonian Democracy: New York As A Test Case (New York: Atheneum, 1964), steps beyond most revisionists of progressive historiography, and denies the validity of the concept, Jacksonian democracy. Certainly Meyers, Pessen, and Benson agree that the Democratic Party was not the liberal party and the Whig the conservative party — that party label does not indicate ideological belief.

80 McWilliams, p. 296; John Gerlach, “James Fenimore Cooper and the Kingdom of God,” Illinois Quarterly, 351 (April 1973), pp. 34, 45, 48-49.

81 Edwin Fussell, Frontier: American Literature and the American West (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1965), p. 65.

82 Ringe, The Pictorial Mode, p. 126.

83 House, p. 251.

84 Beard, editorial introduction to the years 1837-1848, The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper, V (1968), p.219).

85 Mentor L. Williams. “Cooper, Lyon and the Moore-Hascall Harvesting Machine,” Michigan History Magazine, 31 (March 1947), p. 37.