Chapter Four — Proximate Utopia

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.]

{115} At first glance Cooper’s The Crater appears to be the product of a well-defined genre in Western letters — marked by such monuments as Thomas More’s Utopia and James Harrington’s Oceana — locating utopia in a protective geography, usually on an island. In the realm of imagination, the colonization of America rests within this tradition The foremost recommendation of the New World to the Old World imagination was the physical distance of its virginal expanse from the soiled European continent. The New World, like Woolston’s South Sea islands, offered mankind another chance, a beginning again, in an unblemished geography protected by remoteness. Until the end of the eighteenth century this was the standard format of literary utopias Their physical remoteness protected them from European contamination. These utopias stressed the regenerative capacity of the land. Their economies were primarily agricultural and each citizen was a land holder. A right relationshiP with the land made for a morally upright citizenry. So utopia had a strong likeness to the pastoral state as defined by Volney, Cole, and Cooper. But these utopias had a timeless cast; they resided outside of history. Utopia was blissful and unchanging. 1

In contradistinction to this utopian tradition, Cooper’s history of the Crater and Vulcan’s Peak, like Plato’s legend of Atlantis, is governed by the recognition that time is not static, that change occurs in repeating cycles. Cooper’s realization that social change is unavoidable within the temporal sphere — that history cannot redeem fallen human beings — clearly separates him from the long-standing, pre-nineteenth-century utopian tradition, however much he shares its vision of a pastoral ideal. His ideal of history also precludes his concurring with the nineteenth-century utopian tradition, which, although accepting the principle of social change, views history as a linear development and utopia as open-ended. 2

Due to his belief in the certainty of human imperfectibility, Cooper was unable to envisage a state of perfection short of the eschatological end of history, and was never tempted to elaborate {116} utopian formulas. The Crater illustrates the cyclical stages of history and it shows one stage to be superior to any of the others. This superior stage is imperfect and unenduring. It is a proximate utopia, not the real thing. Quite clearly the community described in the novel is not a utopia in the ordinary meaning of the word. Nevertheless, Cooper’s proximate utopias serve an imaginative function that, in a very important way, is comparable to the imaginative function served by true utopias. Utopia is an imaginative model of what society could become, should it fully realize its potential. As the ideal, utopia provides a model against which the actual, existing society is judged. Contemporary society, then, is either criticized or applauded by the extent to which it either fails or succeeds to measure up to the utopian ideal. The ideological content of thought extends from an evaluation of contemporary society and a verbalization of its shortcomings where it fails to conform with the ideal. Ideology, as such, is the articulation of the remedial work needed to transform existing society into what it should be according to the utopian model.

Once the “utopian element” in Cooper’s thought has been properly identified and its limits understood, it becomes a valuable tool in the project of reconstructing his world view. Karl Mannheim writes,

It is the utopian element — i.e. the nature of the dominant wish — which determines the sequence, order, and evaluation of single experiences. This wish is the organizing principle which even moulds the way in which we experience time. The form in which events are ordered and the unconsciously emphatic rhythm, which the individual in his spontaneous observation of events imposes upon the flux of time, appears in the utopia as an immediately perceptible picture, or at least a directly intelligible set of meanings. The innermost structure of the mentality of a group can never be as clearly grasped as when we attempt to understand its conception of time in the light of its hopes, yearnings, and purposes. On the basis of these purposes and expectations, a given mentality orders not merely future events, but also the past. ... It is in nothing but this meaningful ordering of events, extending far beyond mere chronological orderings, that the structural principle of historical time is to be discovered. 3

{117} The utopian vision is an optical instrument through which social and political phenomena are evaluated. Even more, it orders events and provides structure to time. Not only does it project the future, but it explains the past. Mannheim’s analysis of the far-reaching significance of the “utopian element” of thought underscores the importance of recreating and assessing Cooper’s idea of history in the context of his imaginative ideal, in order to comprehend the nature of his social and political thought, and, ultimately, in order to reassemble his world view. The structure of profane history in Cooper only achieves purpose and meaning in so far as it relates to proximate utopia, and, conversely, proximate utopia only makes sense within the structure of profane history.

Cooper’s cyclical idea of history informs that proximate utopia has appeared on many occasions in mankind’s past, and will, presumably, continue to recur in the future. Yet the specific proximate utopia which provides the model for his ideological evaluation of his contemporary society, is the one that made its appearance in the new nation at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century This early United States proximate utopia is portrayed in The Pioneers, the Wallingford novels, and in The Chainbearer; and, with minor variations due to the South Seas’ locale, it also makes an appearance in The Crater. It logically follows, then, that social and political phenomena in his contemporary society are seen as ideologically deviant to the extent that they do not mesh with what he imagined the nation to be like during the decade or so before and after the turn of the century. It was at that point in time, in his opinion, that nature and society co-existed in harmony in eastern America. Although he felt that the western migration of the American people recapitulated the stages of change in the cycle of history, he never in his fiction produced an idealized pastoral community out West. So the professional novelist time and again returned in his imagination to the memories he held of New York State from his youth and early adulthood, when seeking a model of proximate perfection against which to contrast the subsequent, ill-founded changes in American civilization.

In The Crater proximate utopia is headed by a patriarchal figure, standing atop the social and political hierarchy. He is the land-giver. The rest of the community is beneath him in stature and beholden to him for the regenerative land, which he benevolently {118} bestowed upon them, and which is the basis of their good fortune. Everyone in the community defers to the patriarch, including the lesser gentry. Adherence to this principle of deference to legitimate authority gives cohesion to the community and provides stability. There is but one church, the Episcopal Church; its minister, a model of decorum and conservatism, is the guardian and purveyor of the historistic liturgy. Proximate utopia is largely agricultural, and each citizen has access to the morally redemptive soil. But, because there is no legislative branch of government, the masses of citizens have no direct input into government. They are incapable of governing themselves wisely and must rely on the wisdom and beneficence of Woolston and his council of gentry who, by virtue of their natural endowment and place in the social hierarchy, are singularly equipped to exercise leadership. In The Crater, as everywhere in Cooper’s writings, the basic unit of social organization is the family. The presumption is that social organization will be perpetuated generationally through the family — the gentry breeding more gentry and the commoners more commoners. So authority is legitimated through inheritance. This is a stabilizing process, giving order and definition to society. Inheritance is also the mechanism through which the distribution of property is perpetuated and the ownership of property legitimized.

Fundamental to proximate utopia in The Crater, and throughout Cooper’s works, is the existence and perseverance of a well-defined social hierarchy. He firmly believed that “Equality of condition is incompatible with civilization.” 4 Proximate utopia has a definite likeness to a feudal seigniory. Different classes perform different functions, as designated by their place and role within the social hierarchy. There is one striking difference, however, between the social hierarchy in feudal Europe and the social hierarchy in proximate utopia. Under feudalism the three estates were legal entities, with each estate having clearly defined privileges and responsibilities. But in proximate utopia there is no legal mechanism to guarantee the integrity of the social order. “In other countries,” he explains, “where positive ordinances create social distinctions in furtherance of these ends, it is believed they cannot be obtained in any other manner; but it is hoped that America is destined to prove, that common sense and the convictions of propriety and fitness, are as powerful as force.” 5 Where in the Old World compliance with the class structure was legally obligatory, {119} in the New World the class structure must be maintained by common consent. Here, the sustenance of the social order depends upon freely given submission to the norms and dictates of the system by everyone in the population. Subordination to the social hierarchy’s norms is voluntary; it is morally but not legally compulsory.

A contradiction exists in his social philosophY between his wish that people voluntarily submit themselves to their birthright in the social hierarchy, and his powerfully entrenched belief that fallen human beings are easily corrupted. Proximate utopia is designed to inhibit social change. But because mobility is not legally proscribed, social change is rapid — in the fictional community in The Crater. and in actual communities in the States. Clearly, “the convictions of propriety and fitness” are not “as powerful as force.” A voluntary social hierarchy will not be self-sustaining. It is contrary to human nature. But throughout his fiction at least, the attractive, morally upright characters exhibit an indomitable sense of place. The unattractive characters, on the other hand, having little sense of place, are crude-mannered upstarts who threaten social stability by attempting to transcend their designated place in the hierarchy and by failing to yield to the innate authority invested in their designated superiors. Indeed, here is one basic and easily recognizable distinction between good guys and bad guys in the novels. Good guys know their place and give unquestioning allegiance to the social hierarchy; bad guys do not. When widespread acceptance of place and deference to authority no longer obtain, then proximate utopia ceases to exist.

Society as a composite whole, in Cooper’s conservative conviction, is an organic entity founded in ordered interdependence. Modern conservatism began as a negative response among intellectuals to the social manifestations of the French Revolution, particularly its rationalization of social interrelationship. The beginnings of modern conservatism, then, coincide with the time period in which Cooper reached intellectual maturity. He reacted particularly negatively to the Revolution’s impact upon the traditional community, and to the moral tone it set. 6 Although his intellectual roots reach back to a conservative, eighteenth-century, Whig tradition, the French Revolution had an important negative influence upon his thought. For someone such as Cooper, who deeply revered the historistic community, the social reconstruction of old-regime France executed by the Revolution was an historical anathema. It {120} accomplished in one great burst of negative energy what was taking centuries in other European countries. In an incredibly short span of time it transformed a tradition-laden society into a rational, modern state. It speeded up an historical process whose gradual movement was enough to unsettle the conservative mind. “What we see in this view of history,” Robert Nisbet explains, “is the specter of cultural disintegration and moral disenchantment. Major values seem to be in process of corruption, a process caused by conditions that no mere social reconstruction, even revolution, is likely to offset. There is a preoccupation with social dislocation — of community, class, authority, and sacred values — that arises out of centuries old tendencies of centralization, leveling, secularization.” 7 For Cooper, it is this vision of history through which proximate utopia is effaced and against which proximate utopia is designed to resist, even though it ultimately cannot.

The conservative mind, Nisbet writes, stresses “the principle of interdependence of social phenomena. Since society is organismic in nature, there is always a delicate interrelation of belief, habit, membership, and institution in the life of any society. Each individual and each social trait are parts of a larger system of coherence.” This, he continues, is why nineteenth-century conservatives had “a deep preoccupation with disorganization,” which “was, for them, essentially a moral phenomenon.” 8 Cooper’s ordered, interdependent, proximate utopian community is “organismic.” The community as a whole bestows identity and provides meaning to its individual parts. It is both the source of individual morality and the source of individual freedom. Both freedom and morality extend from the historistic community; and neither freedom nor morality can survive the disruption of the institutions, mores, and patterns of belief which comprise this “organismic” community.

D. H. Lawrence perceives the inner truth of the social philosophy to which Cooper is semi-consciously committed, but never fully verbalizes:

Men are less free than they imagine; ah, far less free. The freest are perhaps least free.  Men are free when they are in a living homeland, not when they are straying and breaking away. Men are free when they are obeying some deep, inward voice of religious belief. Obeying from within. Men are free when {121} they belong to a living, organic, believing community, active in fulfilling some unfulfilled, perhaps unrealized purpose. Not when they are escaping to some wild west. 9

Absolute freedom, for Cooper, is self-delusion;it is a return to chaos. Freedom exists within a social context and derives from the community. Cooper defines “liberty” as “the greatest possible personal freedom of action, that comports with the general good.” 10 Freedom is delimited. It obtains through restraint not release, and is bounded by “the general good” of the community. It is relative to and inseparable from an historically sanctified social fabric, wherein place is defined and adhered to, and from which identity is attained. Individuals, as Lawrence says, achieve freedom to the extent that the social order achieves purpose. Like Lawrence, A. N. Kaul thinks that in nineteenth-century literature the central problem of individualism in American society pertains to “the concept of community life.” “It has figured primarily as an unstated ideal,” he thinks, as “a measuring rod rather than a blueprint for actuality. It qualifies the concept of individual freedom and irresponsibility. It postulates a set of values for relationship between individuals which, in their turn, provide a basis for criticism of actual society.” 11 This is precisely what Cooper’s proximate utopian community construct does — it defines and qualifies individual freedom, “and provides basis for criticism of actual society.”

Individuals achieve freedom communally, through subservience to the social organism — not as unattached, self-directed atoms, and “Not when they are escaping to some wild west.” In Cooper’s opinion, “man was not created to live alone. Society is indispensable to him.” 12 The life of the hunter is disadvantageous, his persona, Judge Temple observes, because “it totally removes one from the influence of more sacred things.” 13 The hunter lives beyond the pale of the sacred community, remote from its moral-giving and identity-bestowing institutions. Cooper’s wilderness — the hunter’s and trapper’s milieu — entirely lacks the ethical sustenance provided by the organic community. The young frontiersmen in the novels who retain their moral integrity, such as Paul Hover in The Prairie, Oliver Effingham in The Pioneers, Ben Boden in The Oak Openings, get married at the tale’s conclusion, leave the forest behind, assume a prominent place in the society which they never really left. The wilderness or savage state raises a specter of anarchy, chaos. {122} Its untrammeled depths are not a suitable environment for the gifts of white men. The real frontiersmen in the novels, such as Hurry Harry and Floating Tom Hutter in The Deerslayer, Abiram White in The Prairie, Aaron Thousandacres in The Chainbearer, and Gershom Waring in The Oak Openings, are morally despicable, white savages. They have forsaken their racial gifts; they lack humility, are irreligious, and, as bad guys, lack respect for the social hierarchy.

Leatherstocking is the sole exception in Cooper’s fiction. But he represents an ideal unattainable by ordinary people. He is, for Cooper, a dream or fantasy; his type has no counterpart in reality. Leatherstocking is, in David Noble’s words, “a myth of nature,” an impossibly unrealizable ideal; and, as Noble explains, with his death at the end of The Prairie, Cooper consciously repudiates the American myth which he embodies. 14 Leatherstocking dies without kin. He has no American descendants. Leatherstocking, whose Christian name is Nathaniel Bumppo, is a very special person, and exempt from most human frailties. Like his namesake, Nathaniel, in the New Testament, he possesses “a total absence of guile.” 15 The Delaware first call him “Straight Tongue” because he “was not given to lying.” 16 “In short,” Cooper declares, “a disbeliever in the ability of man to distinguish between good and evil without the aid of instruction would have been staggered by the character of this extraordinary inhabitant of the frontier.” 17 He calls him “a sort of type of what Adam might have been supposed to be before the fall.” 18 What is remarkable about Leatherstocking’s moral composition is that he alone can exist in the anarchical wilderness and retain the moral integrity which, for mankind in general, can only be sustained in society with the help of family governance, community leaders, social mores, church liturgy, and institutional restraints.

Leatherstocking has a rare, innate sense of social order that, for humanity as a whole, must be obtained through community socialization. As the good guy par excellence, he thoroughly knows and wholeheartedly accepts his social role and racial gifts. Other backwoodsmen, living beyond the pale of Christian civilization, regress and go native, but not he — “for being a whiteskin,” he says, “I will not deny my nature.” 19 Unlike the white savages living in the forests, he worships the Christian Deity, resists marrying an Indian, refuses to scalp the dead, and is true to his class. His acknowledgment of the propriety of the social hierarchy is manifested in “habitual deference” to his superiors. 21 Bumppo is a humble name, and he {123} unfailingly exercises the humility appropriate to his station. This is why he resists Sergeant Dunham’s proposal that he marry Mabel, who, although the daughter of a humble sergeant, has the refinement and sensibility of a superior rank in the social order, and is, in Leatherstocking’s words, “fit to be an officer’s lady.” 21 The genteel women he encountered in the forest, he says, “were always too much above me to make me think of them as more than so many feeble ones I was bound to protect and defend.” 22 Chivalry, for this “knight” of the wilderness,” 23 is a part of his nature — he instinctively accepts its code of honor, and also the social order in which chivalry flourished. The doctrine of gifts infuses all the requisite qualities of social order. For Leatherstocking it means acceptance of race, place, and as he says, “l accept all men in their callings.” 24 In the social hierarchy men are born to different callings, to which they should willingly submit, and different stations, from which they should guide their inferiors and defer to their superiors. This freely given submission to the social order, intrinsic to Leatherstocking’s nature, is the adhesive which holds the social fabric of proximate utopia together.

When the inhabitants of a community no longer submit to the guidelines of proximate utopia, then the cycle of history advances on its axis. The Pioneers depicts the proximate utopian stage in the settlement of Upstate New York. In Home As Found, a sequel to The Pioneers set in the same locale two generations later, John Effingham exclaims, “Alas’” “the days of the ‘Leather-Stockings’ have passed away. He preceded me in life, and I see few remains of his character in a region where speculation is more rife than moralizing.” 25 His words reflect the changes that have occurred in the community of Templeton. The humbly born no longer acknowledge place, no longer defer to natural authority, and no longer possess the moral fiber of the long deceased hunter. Now upstart Yankees, the Aristabulus Braggs and Steadfast Dodges, are in the ascendancy. They travel “the highway trodden by a nameless multitude.” 26 They have no sense of communitY, no respect for hallowed traditions, and, lacking the humility of their birthright, they refuse to defer to the wisdom and judgment of the gentry. The traveller returning to Templeton in 1828 after an extended absense, writes Cooper (who himself returned to Cooperstown in 1836 after long absence), “will find new feelings, new opinions in the place of traditions that he may love, an indifference to everything but the present moment, and even {124} those who may have better feelings, and a wish to cherish all that belongs to the holier sentiments of man, afraid to utter them lest they meet with no sympathy. 27 His words carry the conviction that, in two generations’ time, the sacred, organic community detailed in The Pioneers has been superseded by a secular, mass society, whose tone is set by the democratic average. In Home As Found Templeton is a nearly horizontal community. Once the vertical community described in The Pioneers was levelled, it no longer approximated utopia. Indeed, it was rapidly travelling through the cycle toward proximate anti-utopia.

Cooper’s preoccupation with an ordered, hierarchical society pervades his fiction. In proximate utopia the social hierarchy consists of roughly three classes, akin to the three estates of feudal society. His admirable characters invariably occupy a niche in one of the three estates and are steadfastly loyal to their designated role. Good guys know their place and keep it. They are either high church clerics (usually Episcopal but sometimes Catholic) or gentry or commoners.

The most interesting personalities in Cooper’s fiction belong to the third estate. They include memorable characters such as Leatherstocking, Harvey Birch in The Spy, Tom Coffin in The Pilot, Jacopo Frontoni in The Bravo, and Andries Coejemans in The Chainbearer, and more predictable types such as Moses Marble in the Wallingford novels and Bob Betts in The Crater. The good commoner is morally impeccable, resolute as to calling and place, unselfserving, deferential, and doggedly loyal to legitimate gentry. Their type, She loyal third estate, are the mortar and the bricks of proximate utopia. It is their lowly but unflagging strength that sustains the social pyramid and holds proximate utopia together. Even when given the chance to rise above their God-given station in life, they refuse out of loyalty to the social order. Such is the case in Afloat And Ashore. When the captain of the Crisis perishes, first mate Marble turns the command over to second mate Wallingford, in deference to his higher social standing. Such is also the case in The Crater when Betts resigns from the Council upon perceiving its membership should be restricted to gentlemen. Blacks also belong to the third estate. For them, servitude is a racial gift; and good blacks always demonstrate unqualified acceptance of this role. Jaap Satanstoe in the Littlepage trilogy and Nebuchadnezzar {125} Clawbonny in the Wallingford novels, for example, remain dedicated to their masters long after slavery is abolished. In point of fact, all the correct and upstanding members of Cooper’s third estate are truly devoted to their gentry — in effect, their servants, whether black, white, slave or freeman — and the gentry in turn reciprocate their friendship and loyalty, although always cognizant of their loftier place in society. “The rule of most civilized nations,” he says, “is for the master to treat the servant as an humble friend.” 28 Leatherstocking serves his gentry and is their “humble friend,” just as Neb Clawbonny serves Miles Wallingford and is his “humble friend.”

The second estate is the domain of the landed gentleman. In Cooper’s lexicon gentlemen are distinct from aristocrats. Aristocrat is a pejorative term. Their kind either do not inhabit or have little weight in proximate utopia; they are demagogues, who make their weight felt later on in the cycle of history. Gentlemen, on the other hand, are the capstones of the social hierarchy. Through their wisdom and beneficent guidance the proximate utopian community finds its true course, obtains its values and its standards. Many of Cooper’s gentlemen bear an unmistakable resemblance to the author himself or to his father, William Cooper. Judge Temple, the founder of Templeton in The Pioneers, and Mordaunt Littlepage, the proprietor of Ravensnest in The Chainbearer, like William Cooper, take possession of vast tracts of Upstate New York land after the Revolution and are the leading citizen of a new community. They are landgivers, and it is to them that the commoners of Templeton and Ravensnest are beholden as recipients of the nurturing and redemptive earth. Edward Effingham, in Home As Found, on the other hand, is a mirror image of Cooper himself. Effingham, like Hugh Littlepage in The Redskins, returns to the ancestral estate from abroad and is confronted with social disorder. The protagonists in the Wallingford novels and The Crater also resemble Cooper. Both ship to sea as teenagers but eventually return to stay, Wallingford as a landed gentleman, and Woolston presumably to become one.

Members of the first estate occupy a symbolic role in proximate utopia. They are Christian gentlemen and lead faultless lives. The clergy uphold the true church and speak with moral exactitude. But they do not provide leadership and they exert little authority. That is the role of the gentry. Only the Catholic clerics in the European novels possess any of the power and prestige of the first {126} estate under the ancien régime. Their American counterparts, such as Mr. Grant in The Pioneers, Dr. Liturgy in Lionel Lincoln, Mr. Woods in Wyandotté: Mr. Hardinge in the Wallingford novels, Mr. Warren in The Redskins, and Mr. Hornblower in The Crater, are pious, sincere, but powerless. The clergy represent the legitimate, historical church, but are only ornamental figures in Cooper’s fiction, giving balance and decorum to the community. They are passive symbols of tradition and propriety, exerting little influence on actual developments in the narratives. The gentry in his American novels, beginning with the Wharton family in The Spy, all belong either to the Anglican or the Episcopal Church.

It is the second estate, then, not the first estate, that shoulders the burden of responsibility in proximate utopia. But the second estate has to rely upon the freely given support of a loyal third estate, because the gentry’s position in society carries with it no legal mandate to govern. They are the standard-bearers. Without their leadership the community will follow the vulgar herd. “So great being the deference paid to publick [sic] opinion, in a country like this,” he wrote in 1838, “that men actually yield their own sentiments to that which they believe to be the sentiment of the majority.” 29 Widely given respect for the gentry’s station in the social hierarchy is an absolute necessity, It inhibits the community from being reduced to the democratic average. “Besides,” he says, “there is a great danger that, in the absense of respect for station, men will get to have respect for mere money, which is the most abject and contemptible of all conditions of the mind, to say nothing of its direct tendency to corruption.” 31 During the proximate utopian stage in American history the social hierarchy, as he remembered it, retained the allegiance of the population. But by the Jacksonian Era, in Cooper’s opinion, American society was fast falling into the throes of a vulgar consensus. From the vantage of the year 1844, he sadly notes the changing constitution of the social order. “These distinctions,” he says, speaking of the categories in the social hierarchy, “were much more marked immediately after the war of the Revolution than they are to-day.” 31 In the years following the American Revolution the social hierarchy was still intact. All four of Cooper’s proximate utopian novels — The Pioneers, the two Wallingford novels, and The Chainbearer — are set in these early years of the new nation. Those four novels divulge American communities the way they were and the way they ought to be, and they provide {127} Cooper an instrument through which to record and analyze subsequent developments.

The two Wallingford novels, Afloat And Ashore and Miles Wallingford, demonstrate the potency of the the proximate utopian ideal in Cooper’s literary consciousness. They are morality tales, and bring sharply into focus his belief that when the ethos of proximate utopia is violated the outcome will not be happy. The moral to the tales is presented through two literary means. He shows how history violates proximate utopia through the device of a first-person narrator, Miles Wallingford, who is the author’s persona and speaks directly for him. Speaking as a somewhat chastened old man in the year 1844 (the year the novel was published), forty years after the date of his tale’s conclusion, Wallingford continually inserts into the narrative his perspective on the changes wrought by the passage of time on American society. Since the cycle has turned away from proximate utopia, the changes are all for the worse. Secondly, Cooper studies what happens when the imperatives of proximate utopia are not fully observed or fully understood, by following Wallingford’s exciting but unfortunate global adventures. The Wallingford novels wear an aspect of the comedy of errors. The errors result from Wallingford’s inability to come to grips with his calling and place in proximate utopia. The sometimes grim comedy commences when his father commits the first error, an unpardonable violation of the pastoral ethos. He invents a machine to increase the profit of his estate, Clawbonny, but the machine turns on the inventor and kills him. Wallingford says of this incident, “I had always regarded my father as one of the fixtures of the world; and had never contemplated his death as a possible thing. That another revolution might occur, and carry the country back under the dominion of the British crown, would have seemed to me far more possible than that my father could die. Bitter truth now convinced me of the fallacy of such notions.” 32 Young Wallingford learns several truths from this episode. For one, technology, as a catalyst of change, is incompatible with proximate utopia. The elder Wallingford was justly destroyed by his own mechanical contrivance for vainly trying to improve upon (proximate) perfection. Also, young Wallingford learns of the instability and impermanency of earthly existence. There are no temporal absolutes. Time is cyclical and life fleeting, both for the individual and for society.

{128} But Wallingford has other lessons to learn about the inviolable ethos of proximate utopia. He correctly speaks of “the profound deference” he had for his father’s wishes. 33 The domestic social order is a microcosm of the larger community. The basis of interrelationship within the domestic hierarchy, like the outside community, is deference to duly constituted authority. Yet, when his mother dies and the Reverend Mr. Hardinge becomes his guardian, he unwisely and incorrectly runs off to sea without obtaining his guardian’s approval. For this transgression of the social order he will pay dearly on numerous occasions. He should have remained at Clawbonny; instead he flees proximate utopia, and faces death, the loss of the girl he loves, and even the loss of his estate when thrown into a debtor’s prison, all because he violated the proximate utopian ethos. Constantly during the difficult and troubled years following his transgression of the ethos, he returns temporarily to the pastoral bliss of Clawbonny, in day dreams or in person. The vast world outside of the insular, organic, pastoral community is harsh, deceitful, violent, irreligious. Upon one of his returns to Clawbonny he says,

There lay the house in the secure retirement of its smiling vale, the orchards just beginning to lose their blossoms; the broad, rich meadows, with the grass waving in the south wind, resembling velvet; the fields of corn of all sorts; and the cattle, as they stood ruminating or enjoying their existence in motionless self-indulgence beneath the shade of trees, seemed to speak of abundance and considerate treatment. Everything denoted peace, plenty, and happiness. Yet this place, with all its blessings and security, had I wilfully deserted to encounter pirates in the Straits of Sunda, shipwreck on the shores of Madagascar, jeopardy in an open boat off the Isle of France, and a miraculous preservation from a horrible death on my own coast! 34

Clawbonny is a perfect picture of pastoral felicity, blessed with “peace, plenty, and happiness.” But this is still early in the first volume of the two Wallingford novels, and he is destined to depart and return many more times away from and back to “the secure retirement of” Clawbonny’s “smiling vale,” and experience many more harrowing escapes, before he will finally learn the lesson of the two novels and settle down as the patriarch of his proximate {129} utopian estate.

The comedy of errors, which begins with his father’s accident and is continued by his straying from the redemptive soil of his estate, is furthered by his misconception of his place in the social order. Wallingford is too humble and places himself below his rightful station. “I knew my own place in the social scale perfectly,” he says,

nor was I, as I have just said, in the least inclined to fancy that one man was as good as another. I knew very well that this was not true, either in nature or in social relations; in political axioms, any more than in political truths. ... I was not disposed to take a false view of my own social position. I belonged, at most, to the class of small proprietors, as they existed in the last century, and filled a very useful and respectable niche between the yeoman and gentleman, considering the last strictly in reference to the upper class of that day. 35

He is right — “one man” is not “as good as another.” The social hierarchy should be rigorously observed. But he bases his estimation of his own place on lack of tangible wealth. Because he has so low an opinion of his birthright, disclaiming a place among legitimate gentry, he does not ask for the hand of his true love, Lucy Hardinge, who, although the daughter of a humble minister, is nevertheless the sole heiress of a sizable fortune and connected by blood with the best New York families. Unfortunately his guardian, Lucy’s father, encourages his unfounded estimation of his place. “There is good sense in your feeling on the subject of marriage in unequal conditions in life,” says Mr. Hardinge, “for they certainly lead to many heart-burnings, and greatly lessen the chances of happiness. One thing is certain; in all such cases, if the inferior cannot rise to the height of the superior, the superior must sink to the level of the inferior. Man and wife cannot continue to occupy different social positions.” 36 Mr. Hardinge’s sentiments are also Cooper’s. But both Mr. Hardinge and Miles Wallingford have overlooked an important distinction that the reader should not overlook. Wallingford is a gentleman and a member of the gentry class because he displays the refinement, education, and possesses the sanctifying lineage of Cooper’s second estate. Character and breeding, not money. in Cooper’s opinion, are the prerequisites of gentility. 37 This Wallingford does not {130} understand, even after his uncle, John Wallingford, lectures to him about the eminence and respectability of the Wallingfords of Clawbonny. Even the wise commoner, Moses Marble, cannot convince the stubborn gentleman of his gentility. Marble asks him, “how many generations have there been of you now at the place you call Clawbonny — ” Wallingford answers, “Four, from father to son, and all of us Miles Wallingfords.” “Well,” returns Marble, “the old Spanish proverb says ‘it takes three generations to make a gentleman’; and here you have four to start upon.” 38 Miles will not listen to good advice. Still believing that money is a criterion of gentility, he returns to sea, gambling all he owns on the chance for a quick fortune, and returns to shore penniless. But Lucy knows he is a gentleman, however impoverished, and they finally declare their love for one another, wed at Clawbonny, and live happily ever after in proximate utopian bliss.

The Wallingford novels are impregnated with questions pertaining to the social order. Cooper’s preoccupation with the preservation and strict observance of the social hierarchy was not merely a literary formula borrowed from the sentimental novelists. 39 Edwin Cady writes, “Cooper’s was the first significant literary mind stirred by the philosophy of gentility. His novels can be understood as he understood them himself, and from a critical viewpoint never steadily taken before, when they are examined in terms of that philosophy. For Cooper could hardly write without reference to it. Virtually all his characters are imagined within its interpretative scope.” 41 Certainly his “philosophy of gentility” directs his conception of the good society. Yet the problem of gentility and the exactitude of place in a social hierarchy pose difficult questions in a republican society where place is not legally defined and where society is too fluid to admit easy formularization. 41 His autobiographical characterization of Miles Wallingford hints at the difficulty he himself encountered in identifying and defining gentility. A proper understanding of gentility was of grave significance to him because of the extraordinary eminence and importance of the role of the gentry in his world view. They bear the burden of responsibility for the entire community in proximate utopia. Miles Wallingford is more than merely Cooper’s persona; he was modelled closely after the author himself. 42 And Lucy Hardinge was modelled after Cooper’s wife, the former Susan Augusta DeLancey. 43 Thus in marriage, in Robert Spiller’s words, Cooper “became, by adoption, a somewhat {341} modified patroon. 44 Like young Wallingford, young Cooper married above his apparent station in life, and it is easy to imagine that Wallingford’s discomforture with his social position in relation to Lucy Hardinge’s is a reflection of the author’s uneasiness in his own courtship of Susan DeLancey. Later in life Cooper assumed an unofficial position as national spokesman for the gentry class. The rigorous and severe class distinctions pervading his works, however integral they might be to his world view, have the appearance of an overly self=conscious endeav a newly risen elite, whose continuing lack of ease is reflected in his zealous scrupulosity.

Cooper was a victim of social change. Just at the time that he became the first Cooper to achieve full-fledged gentility, mass society had effectively undermined gentility in its clearly defined, eighteenth-century usage. 45 His father, who is portrayed as Judge Temple in The Pioneers, although a great landholder and patriarch of his community, is not a complete gentleman. He is a bit too rough about the edges, and lacks the sanctifying lineage, to fully meet Cooper’s rigorous standards. At the end of the novel, the Temple line is to be continued through the Judge’s only child, his daughter Elizabeth. It is her marriage to Oliver Effingham, son of a Loyalist gentleman apparently disinherited by the Revolution, that legitimizes the social position of the leading family of Templeton. In th same manner, Cooper’s marriage into the Loyalist DeLancey family formalized his aspiration to gentility. The Effinghams who appear in the Home novels are descendants of Elizabeth and Oliver. There is no doubt of their title to gentility. But by this time, two generations after the heyday of Judge Temple, the ascendency of the democratic average in Templeton has undercut the Effinghams’ elite place in society and greatly impaired their ability to control and give direction to the community. In real life, Cooper, too, was confronted with popular indifference in Cooperstown to his preeminent social station, which caused him great frustration.

Quite clearly breeding, which is so important to his conception of legitimate gentry, had little meaning to the inhabitants of Cooperstown by the middle 1830s. In his fiction he continually emphasizes the significance of the continuity of blood lines, while despairing of pretenders such as the Newcomes in the Littlepage trilogy, who, after four generations of trying to push their way into the gentry through demagogy, underhanded financial dealings, even marriage, {132} in the end remain crass newcomers. Unlike the fourth generation Wallingford, the fourth generation Newcome has not acquired the faintest notion of what true gentility entails. Gentility is, ultimately, according to Cooper, a refined sensibility - the result of “high breeding.” And he thought it “unreasonable to expect high breeding in any but those who are trained to it, from youth upward.” 46 Although he does not argue explicitly for an hereditary gentry, and feels men and women of high virtue and refined cultivation should have access to the station of gentry, his cautious conservatism militates against this occurring very often. Stability of blood lines is a cushion against social instability; and there is a powerful sense in his works that so long as the right families maintain control, proximate utopia will be preserved. But in 1834, only thirty years after the fictional marriage of Miles Wallingford and Lucy Hardinge in proximate utopia, he wrote his wife, “Every hour I stay at home, convinces me more and more, that society has had a summerset. and that the élite is at the bottom!” 47 In thirty years’ time, in his opinion, mass society toppled the gentry from its position of social, cultural, and political leadership in the nation, supplanting the gentry with unvirtuous, uncultivated demagogues.

So long as proximate utopia obtained, the American gentleman was the patriarch of an organic, agrarian community. Much like the feudal seignior, Cooper’s gentlemen head a social pyramid which commands allegiance from below and expects benign and just rule from above. He tells of his admiration for the “system of patriarchal rule, which lies at the foundation of the whole social structure” in France. 48 Social cohesion is dependent upon the observance of place and role within the hierarchy. It is “commanded” in the Bible, he believes, “that the private duties of station” be conscientiously observed. 49 The community is organically interrelated and interdependent. There are no groups or individuals in proximate utopia who are free to act willfully. Should one part of the social organism fail to properly function in its given role, the entire body would be affected. He was committed to an organically stratified community that must maintain as a whole unit or face dissolution, anarchy. in his words, “The entire complexion, and in many respects, the well being of society, depends on the deportment of its members, to each other.” 51 “A regard for the duties of private station,” therefore, is “indispensable to order.” 51 Although roles are vertically placed within the hierarchy, each station carries with it responsibilities {133} in addition to benefits. In the social hierarchy “It behooves the master to be kind to the servant, the servant to be respectful and obedient to his master; the young and inexperienced to defer to the aged and experienced; the ignorant to attend to the admonitions of the wise, and the unpolished to respect the tastes and habits of the refined.” 52 The system is founded in organic reciprocation. Indeed, the chief beneficiaries are the lower orders; for, being the least endowed, they have the most to gain. Such is the intra-organismic interaction of the proximate utopian social body, overseen by the guiding intelligence of the patriarch — its nerve center.

Cooper writes, “The social duties of a gentleman are of a high order. The class to which he belongs is the natural repository of the manners, tastes, tone, and, to a certain extent, of the principles of a country.” 53 During the proximate utopian stage in the cycle, a country. back through all history, the gentry has been the standard-bearer for the rest of the community. “Those who do not see and feel the importance of possessing a class of such men in a community, to give it tone, a high and far sighted policy, and lofty views in general,” he insists, “can know little of history.” 54 More than just being standard-setters, the gentry have economic and political responsibilities, comparable in kind to those shouldered by the feudal seignior in his day. Not only do they provide the nurturing land for the entire community, but they have charitable responsibilities for the sustenance of the poor. 55 In the political arena the gentry are duty bound to hold all offices, from the neighborhood justice of the peace to the highest senatorial or executive or judicial position in the land. They and only they possess the wisdom and ability to represent the people as a whole. 56 The preservation of proximate utopia hinges on the continuing preeminence and vigilance of the gentry. Speaking of the “duties of an American gentleman,” Cooper states, “the first of his obligations is to be a guardian of the liberties of his fellow citizens.” 57 In the 1840s, when the cycle of American history had swung away from proximate utopia, he continued to fight a gentlemanly rear-guard action against defilers of American liberty, through a series of civil suits born out of stubborn conviction that principles cannot be compromised.

Yet in the vast body of his fiction, the foremost duty of the gentleman issues out of his preeminence as titular head of the immediate organic community in which he resides. Cady speaks of “the Cooper-Vanderbilt ideal of the good gentleman guiding his flock of {134} dependents from the pillared mansion.” 58 It is in the surrounds of the mansion house that the gentleman is most in his element, encompassed as he is by a doting family and devoted servants and deferential commoners. In the spring of 1836 Cooper moved his family back to Cooperstown, where he intended to take up the life of a country gentleman. He repurchased and remodelled the family dwelling, Otsego Hall, making it over into an approximation of a European manor house, in one scholar’s words, “into a design-it-yourself Gothic mansion.” 59 A second scholar speaks of the “baronial splendor” of the Hall, and a third notes that its interior had “been enlarged to conform with the standards of Parisian hôtels.” 61 It was a fit dwelling for a gentleman who had decided to move back into the ancestral home and resume his hereditary place as community patriarch atop the Cooperstown social hierarchy.

Of course times had changed and Cooper was a virtual stranger to Cooperstown. His reception certainly lacked the desired deferential adulation pictured in his fiction as rightfully belonging to the hereditary head of the community social hierarchy, at least in proximate utopia. In The Chainbearer, when the hereditary patriarch of Ravensnest, Mordaunt Littlepage, returns, he receives a reception appropriate to his station:

A rumor had gone forth among the people that their landlord had arrived, and some of the older tenants, those who had known “Herman Mordaunt,” as they all called my grandfather, crowded around me in a frank, hearty manner, in which good feeling was blended with respect. They desired to take my hand. I shook hands with all who came, and can truly say that I took no man’s palm into my own that day, without a sentiment that the relation of landlord and tenant was one that should induce kind and confidential feelings. The Ravensnest property was by no means necessary to my comfortable subsistence; and I was really well enough disposed to look forward, if not to “future generations,” at least to a future day, for the advantages that were to be reaped from it. I asked the crowd in, ordered a tub of punch made, for, in that day, liquor was a necessary accompaniment of every welcome, and endeavored to make myself acceptable to my new friends. A throng of women, of whom I have not yet spoken, were also in attendance; {135} and I had to go through the ceremony of being introduced to many of the wives and daughters of Ravensnest. On the whole, the meeting was friendly, and my reception warm. 61

The return of Littlepage has the characteristic of a feudal seignior arriving at a distant manorial holding. The people flock to him to touch his hand. Like children rushing out to greet a long-lost father, the Ravensnest commoners swarm about the long-absent patriarch. It is a touching welcome for young Littlepage and he takes it as an expression of the fealty that is his due as land-giver and patriarch. To signify the mutuality of their relationship, he in turn receives them in his home and refreshes them with drink. The medieval pageantry of the seignior returning to his lands is repeated in Miles Wallingford, when the errant adventurer finally returns to proximate utopia to stay. “i had no tenantry to come out and meet me,” he apologizes, “but there were the blacks. ... Lucy prepared me for a reception by these children of Africa, even the outcasts having united with the rest to do honor to their young master. Honor is not the word; there was too much heart in the affair for so cold a term.” In fact, he says, “I question if any European landlord ever got so warm a reception from his tenantry as I received from my slaves.” 62 Whether black slaves or white tenants or small property holders, the meaning is all the same to Cooper. In proximate utopia the patriarch, a member of the gentry class, presides over a vast agrarian community, which pays homage to him, and which in return receives elevating guidance.

Cooper does not really distinguish between yeomen farmers, tenants, servants, and slaves. In proximate utopia they all perform a similar function, making up a loyal third estate. Yet blacks are beneath whites in the Great Chain of Being. They are “of the very humblest class known in a nation — nay, of a class sealed by Nature itself, and doomed to inferiority.” 63 Although black “inferiority” is “sealed by Nature itself,” in the absence of white commoners, blacks fill a comparable role in proximate utopia. True, their racial gifts militate against their ever rising above the station of servant. But the servant’s is an honorable calling. “The conditions of master and servant,” Cooper believes, “are those of co-relatives, and when properly understood they form additional ties to the charities and happiness of life.” 64

Cooper was equivocal about slavery. He was opposed to it in {136} principle, but always represented slavery as a benign institution, not really different in kind from the patroon system, and mutually beneficial to master and slave. Says Wallingford, “I do not believe that the institution, as it was formerly known in New York, was quite as much to the disadvantage of the white man as to that of the black. There was always something of the patriarchal character in one of our households, previously to the change in the laws; and the relation of master and slave in old, permanent families,” he tells, “had ever more or less of that which was respectable and endearing.” 65 Back “in that day,” Wallingford informs us, “a negro was ready enough to allow he had his betters, and did not feel he was injured in so doing. At the present time, I am well aware that the word is proscribed even in the State’s prisons.” At the turn of the century the social hierarchy kept people in their proper place. But no longer, he concedes, “everybody being just as good as everybody else” in the year 1844. 66 “It is not easy to describe the affection of an attached slave,” Wallingford explains, for it “has blended with it the pride of a partisan, the solicitude of a parent, and the blindness of a lover.” 67 So when he tells Nebuchadnezzar of his wish to free him, although he seems surprised, we are not surprised that Neb does not desire freedom. Likewise, when he broaches the subject of manumission to the mother of one of his female slaves, she replies, “no gal ob mine shall ebber be free nigger’s wife. No sah; ‘scuse me from dat disgrace, which too much for fait’ful old servant to bear!” 68 Even after New York law frees the Clawbonny slaves, Wallingford reports, “The old ones did not wish to quit me, and never did; while it took years to loosen the tie which bound the younger portion of them to me and mine.” Forty years after manumission, he continues, “near twenty of them are living round me, in cottages of mine.” 69 But by the 1840s, at least in most of the state, the organic fiber which produced such stalwart blacks is seriously frayed. He laments, “Alas! alas! among the improvements of this age, we have entirely lost the breed of the careless, good-natured, affectionate, faithful, hard-working, and yet happy blacks, of whom more or less were to be found in every respectable and long established family of the State, forty years ago.” 71

The innermost sanctuary of proximate utopia is the domestic household. Within its confines the hierarchical ordering of persons is, from bottom to top — female servants, male servants, female children, male children, wife, husband. Cooper had difficulty {137} coping with old age, and in his fiction the extended family usually lacks elderly gentry, with the exception of the somewhat doddering widower who sometimes lives long enough to see his daughter safely placed in the hands of the young hero. Domestics are integral parts of the family circle, such as Ann Sidley in Homeward Bound, who was “born a servant, lived a servant, and was quite content to die a servant, — and this, too, in one and the same family.” Ann recognizes that “she was in the precise situation to render her more happy than any other that to her was attainable,” 71 It is her gift to be a domestic. Children, as has been shown in the Wallingford novels and The Crater, must follow the wishes of their parents. In these novels misfortune results from child defying parent or surrogate parent. As Sergeant Dunham says in The Pathfindar, his daughter Mable will be permitted “a prudent choice” of husband, “though disobedience is the next crime to mutiny.” 72 Most important, wives must honor and obey husbands. In The Ways Of The Hour Cooper speaks loudly against “cup-and-saucer” laws in New York which grant women rights. 73 Jack Wilmeter tells Anna Updyke, who shares his sentiments about the place of women in the hierarchy, “the weakness of the hour is to place your sex above ours, and to reverse all the ancient rules in this respect.” 74 Everywhere in his works, Cooper, as a philosophical conservative, takes affront and is appalled by “audacious innovations on long-received and venerable rules of conduct.” 75 Wilmeter explains the difference between wife and husband: “Oh! as to accomplishments, and small talk, and making preserves, and dancing, and even poetry and religion — yes, I will throw in religion — I could wish my wife to be clever — very clever.” Yet, “all that would do well enough. But when it came to the affairs of men, out-of-doors concerns, or politics, or law, or anything, indeed, that called for a masculine education and understanding, I could not endure a women who fancied she knew the most.” 76 It is the gift of wives to make “preserves” and “small talk,” but the “masculine” gift to understand “politics” and “law.” And, according to the code of true womanhood, women are the conservators of virtue and “religion.” Such is the role of the gentlewoman in society. In the novels well-bred women always comply with these rules of conduct and place.

In the patriarchal community, women are subservient to and gain their identity through their lovers/husbands, and ultimately, through the organic community itself. Nina Baym gets to the {138} marrow of the meaning of the marriage bond within the community context:

The content of the marriage statement is deeply conservative: marriage takes place within the boundaries of the group. Neither extending or modifying the social structure, it confirms the group’s previous membership, and tightens the group’s solidarity and exclusiveness.  In Cooper’s conservative view of society, no person is a “person” in the romantic or existential sense wherein he exists for his own ends, and wherein the group’s ultimate purpose is to facilitate self-development and fulfillment. On the contrary, the chief “existent” is the group, and the idea of personhood is only rudimentarily developed. ... Women, as signs and objects in the society — as the mortar rather than the bricks of it — are even less persons than men are, and Cooper’s depiction of them is controlled by the issue of their social use. 77

In Cooper, women are social types, But men as well as women are depicted in accordance with “their social use.” In his conservative world view, as Baym says, “the chief ‘existent’ is the group,” and men as well as women lack personality. “in the romantic or existential sense.” As Cooper himself states, “An entire distinct individuality, in the social state, is neither possible nor desirable. Our happiness is so connected with the social and family ties as to prevent it.” 78 Leatherstocking is the only fully developed personality in his fiction. But he is not a social type at all. For, not being impeded by “social and family ties,” he exists beyond and in a sense transcends society — and is an unfulfillable fantasy. Cooper’s characters, his men as well as his women, either lack or at best have rudimentary personalities. They are social types, rather than individual personalities, who act predictably in conformance with their position and function in the community context. The community, not the individual, obtains sovereignty, while the individual is defined and receives identity through the community. So one’s freedom, even one’s essential meaning, in his conservative view, derives from integration in a living, organic community.

Cooper’s brand of conservatism was an anomaly in Jacksonian America. With its emphasis on the historistic community, its sancti{139}fication of the group not the solitary individual, his social philosophy was not in accord with the main currents of contemporary thought. Indeed, it seemed contrary to principal manifestations of social change both here and abroad. Nisbet thinks, “For most minds in the nineteenth century, conservatism, with its essentially tragic conception of history, its fear of the free individual and the masses, and its emphasis upon community, hierarchy, and sacred patterns of belief, seemed but one final manifestation of the past from which Europe was everywhere being liberated.” 79 Cooper’s conservatism sanctifies the organic community. Within the community it is the corporate identity and the corporate tradition that are sacred. The individual is rooted in an organism that is always greater than himself. He achieves definition through the corporate structure through locality, family, station, calling, sex. The “free individual” is an anathema. He early recognized that horizontal and vertical mobility were the cause of American rootlessness, and a prime factor in the destruction of the corporate community. In his opinion the rootless Yankees, “the regular movers,” who were swarming out of New England and overrunning New York, were so many plagues of locusts, and he constantly bemoaned the “floating population” of the countryside. 81 Egalitarianism, mobility, technology, capitalism — these were the forces at work, the forces that had been at work now for several centuries, slowly at first, later rapidly dismantling the corporate community and substituting for it mass society. One might object and complain, yet there was nothing material that could be done. The course of history was clear and seemed irresistible. So Cooper was imbued with an “essentially tragic conception of [profane] history.” In a despairing letter to The Evening Post in 1835, he gave vent to his broodings over unconservative practices throughout the land, exclaiming, “Alas! alas! we are the descendants of Englishmen, and there was once a certain Mr. [Edmund] Burke.” 81

In the Home novels Aristabulus Bragg represents a class of characters who appear widely in Cooper’s fiction. He is one of the “movement-philosophers,” propelled by “go-aheadism.” 82 His type is the main force behind the severance of the new society from its historical roots. The Baronet asks Aristabulus “if one tree is not more pleasant than another; the house you were born in more beautiful than a house into which you never entered; or the altar at which you have long worshipped, more sacred than another {140} at which you never knelt — ” To which Aristabulus replies, “a human being is not a cat, to love a locality rather than its own interests. I have found some trees much pleasanter than others, and the pleasantest tree I can remember was one of my own, out of which the sawyers made a thousand feet of clear stuff, to say nothing of middlings. The house I was born in was pulled down shortly after my birth, as indeed has been its successor, so I can tell you nothing on that head; and as for altars, there are none in my persuasion.” In return, the Baronet says, “Sir, I am a cat, and like the places I have long frequented.” 83

While proximate utopia lasted, as of “1804, New York had still some New York feeling left in the State. Strangers had not completely overrun her as has since happened,” Cooper reports, “and New York names were honored; New York feelings had some place among us; life, homes, firesides, and the graves of our fathers, not yet being treated as so many incidents in some new speculation. Men then loved the paternal roof; and gardens, lawns, orchards, and churchyards, were regarded as something other than levels for railroads and canals, streets for villages, or public promenades to be called batteries or parks, as might happen to suit aldermanic ambition, or editorial privilege.” 84 Everywhere in his writings, it is an excess of freedom and mobility and an indifference to time-honored traditions that were uprooting the sacred community and producing mass mediocrity. Men made out of the stamp of Aristabulus Bragg care nothing for the beautiful and truly important things in life. They are ready to capitalize on every opportunity to gain another dollar. Aristabulus’ lack of reverence for the tree — the tree of life — epitomizes the destructiveness inhering in his type. He respects neither home, family, locality, nor even the altar, which is so fundamental to the historic church, and a symbol of the lofty station of the first estate.

The regard with which the first estate is held is emblematic of the status of the corporate community. A people’s continuing veneration of the church contains the prospect for community stability. But in New York the depreciation of the traditional high church by the descendants of low-church New Englanders boded poorly for the future of proximate utopia. Said Aristabulus — “as for altars, there are none in my persuasion.” His is one of the many sects infesting Upstate New York during the heyday of the burnt-over district, carried in, in Cooper’s view, by waves of {141} transplanted New Englanders. Low church “enthusiasm,” 85 no less than other manifestations of egalitarianism, threatens the hierarchical structure of the community in general, but particularly the history-validated, mystery-including liturgy of the church. The Knickerbocker set to which Cooper belonged “had to dissociate themselves,” according to Perry Miller, “from any taint of Puritanism, calling it a religious radicalism.” 86 Cooper so emphasized the high church stature of the Episcopal Church that he called it “the Holy Catholic Protestant Episcopal ChUrCh.” 87 In fact, his admiration for the Roman Catholic Church (whose historical veracity exceeded his own high Episcopal Church) was such that he once wishfully wrote in a letter to the Reverend Samuel Seabury, “I believe that Rome and our Church are one day to be united.” 88

The historical church, that looms so large as a symbol of the corporate community in proximate utopia, was a rapidly failing bulwark in nineteenth-century America against social change and community abstraction. Nisbet notes the great concern of post-French Revolution conservatives about social disorganization, explaining that “For them religious individualism was to be seen as the opposite side of social disorganization. Protestant depreciation of the corporate, ritualistic, and symbolic elements of religion could lead, like its historic attack upon the supremacy of Rome, only to the eventual sterilization of the religious impulse.” 89 Cooper blames “Puritan stock” for introducing “’a church without a bishop’.” 91 He deplores the fact that “No attempt has been made to create new organic social distinctions in this country, but solely to disencumber those that are inseparable from the existence of all civilized society,” concluding that “The real sages of this country, in founding its institutions, no more thought of getting rid of the landlords of the country, than the church thought of getting rid of its bishops.” 91 The first two estates are “organic” institutions, headed by “bishops” and “landlords” — they are “inseparable from the existence of all civilized society.”

The proximate utopian church is pleasingly incorporated into the pastoral village setting. Cooper tells of the “poetical charm” of hearing church bells in the village “with the first dawn of light” so that “all within hearing of its sound are admonished to recall their thoughts from earth, by addressing a prayer to God; and, with the close of day, the flock once again summoned to the fold, at the service of vespers.” “These,” he believes, “are beautiful and touching {142} memorials of our duties, and when practiced in sincerity, cannot fail to keep the mind in better subjection to the great authority that directs all our destinies.” 92 The church is esthetically infused into the village landscape. It is a joyous institution, composed of “sublime” and “venerable rites,” with “no taint of puritanism, and in which sin and innocent gayety are never confounded.” 93

In the conservative view institutions derive from “sacred, pre-rational foundations.” 94 They achieve definition through an organic nexus of time and usage. For Cooper this is especially true of the religious institution. The time-sanctified faith is “mysterious” and “incomprehensible to human understanding.” 95 The religious forms are to be accepted, practiced — not because of their outward logic or utility — but merely because they exist and always have. In proximate utopia religion is mysterious. It evades logic, and obviates rational analysis. Its substance and appeal is inseparable from its tradition — comprehended, ultimately, only through “faith.” 96 The religious organ is the heart, not the head. Mary Pratt explains to Roswell Gardiner in The Sea Lions, “I do not pretend to understand why such a sacrifice [the crucifixion] would be necessary, but I believe it, feel it.” 97 Religious perception is intuitive. She tells Roswell, who “had a high idea of the human understanding, and revolted at believing that which did violence to all his experience,” that “You worship your reason.” 98 Roswell’s “Pride of reason,” Cooper interjects, “rendered him” incapable of concessions of “faith.” 99 The religious institution requires concessions of faith, but so do the other components of the proximate utopian community. The family, the social hierarchy, the economic basis — these institutions are blessed with both Divine and historical approbation. These institutions, no less than the church, have pre-rational beginnings. Like the religious institution, they are not rational entities; their meaning cannot be comprehended through rational inquiry, and their integrity cannot withstand rational alteration.

Yet it is in Cooper’s articulation of the impact of social change upon the religious institution that he most nearly understands what Weber means by the rationalization of traditional culture in modern society. In a profound sense for Cooper the church is its historic tradition: it is indivisible from its customs, practices, quirks, weaknesses, and strengths, and cannot be tampered with and made over to conform with rational expectations. In a passage levelled at the heirs of Calvin, whom Cooper frequently chides for their inclination {143} to “disputation and reason,” he warns, “Bold and presuming is he who fancies that his intellect can rectify errors of this magnitude and antiquity, and that the church of God has been permitted to wallow on in a most fatal idolatry for centuries, to be extricated by the pretending syllogisms of his one-sided and narrow philosophy!” 101 In several European tales he gives consideration to the early stages of the rationalization of the church by the apostles of Luther and Calvin. But it is in his American novels that he explores the outcome of the low-church movement away from what he deems the historical church. In his Colonial New England tales, Lionel Lincoln, and particularly The Wept Of Wish-Ton-Wish, he studies the rationalization of religion at an early stage in American life. And in his nineteenth-century New York social novels, such as The Redskins and the Home novels, he explores later ramifications of the impact of the Puritan ethos upon American values.

In The Wept Of Wish-Ton-Wish he delves into the ethos of seventeenth-century New England Calvinism. Susan Fenimore Cooper writes, “Mr. Cooper was very far from being an admirer of Puritan peculiarities, or the fruits their principles have yielded in later time; but in the Wish-ton-Wish impartial justice has been done to all that was sound and healthful in their system: to their courage, their thrifty industry, their self-denial and simple habits of life, their shrewdness, and their indomitable resolution; while the less pleasing traits have been softened down, and a subdued poetical light, in perfect harmony with the pathetic nature of the subject, thrown over the whole.” 101 The Puritans exhibit “thrifty industry,” “self-denial,” “simple habits,” “shrewdness,” and “indomitable resolution.” These are precisely the qualities that, “in later time,” produced “the less pleasing traits” of “their principles.” Cooper intuitively grasps the fundamental drift of the Weber thesis in his astute observations on the practical consequences of Puritan piety. In The Wept Of Wish-Ton-Wish the ancestors of the Newcomes, Braggs, and Dodges are shown to be pragmatic rationalizers of culture, who, although characteristically possessing “excessive religious zeal” with a “strong coloring of fanaticism,” nonetheless “were rarely wanting in worldly discretion,” such that the practical fruits of their religion “were in common useful and rational.” 102 He continually harps upon their reliance on the intellect and on reason; their “dominion of the mind over the mere animal impulse.” 103 It is in their application of the intellect that the {144} descendants of these Puritans will transform American society. By the early nineteenth century, in his opinion, they had crossed the borders of New England, pushed up the Mohawk Valley, and were overrunning the proximate utopia of his youth. In his New York novels he depicts them as invaders, who, in their headlong pursuit of the dollar, wreck and pillage the pristine agrarian communities they encounter.

“The first Protestants,” he believes, “expelled so much from the service of the altar, that little was left for the Puritan to destroy.” 104 In his reading of history, the rationalization of Western culture began with the Reformation, and quickly spread from the religious to other cultural institutions. In this manner “ancient and even natural practices were condemned,” he writes, “chiefly, we believe, from the necessity of innovation.” 105 In part it is the negative attitude toward culture inhering in the low-church movement — its resolve to repress the fruits of the past through an “austerity of manner,” a “practise of self-denial,” through “sublimated doctrines,” and “severe moral government” — which prompts Cooper to conclude that, as a result of the spread of puritanic dogma, by the 1830s America is no longer a generally “happy country.” 106 Happiness is unlikely to be present “among a people who deemed all mirth a sinful levity,” and who have “a never-slumbering consciousness of” their “own imperfections.” 107 Through the migration out of New England of the Puritans’ descendants, their character is stamped upon the country as a whole. Migration is another cause of the unhappy state of the American people. Traditional, corporate communities “when properly understood and appreciated, are more pregnant of happiness,” according to Cooper, “than the vulgar scramble and heart-burnings that, in the mêlée of a migrating and unsettled population, are so injurious to the grace and principles of American life.” 108 “By placing incentives before us to make exertions,” he explains, “the El Dorado of our wishes is never obtained, and we pass our lives in vain struggles to reach a goal that recedes as we advance.” The effect of this incessant questing to find or build a mythical ideal, the American “El Dorado,” is that the existing good society, happy society, is sacrificed for a never-to-be-realized fantasy. In his words, “all the local affections [community spirit] are sacrificed to the spirit of gain.” True, “The settlement of an immense country snaps the family ties” Even more, “the constant migration has the effect to produce an {145} amalgamated whole. The tendency of things generally, with us,” he thinks, “is to destroy all individuality of character and feeling, and concentrate every thing in the common identity.” 109 It is through this migration of ex-New Englanders that the sacred, organic, proximate utopian community is transformed into a secular, mass society. Like Tocqueville, Cooper understands that the supremacy of the democratic average, the “respectable mediocrity,” is the outgrowth of the erosion of the traditional, hierarchical community. 110 By the 1830s, in his opinion, instead of discrete individuals and unique communities, America had become one “amalgamated whole.”

In Cooper’s opinion the American proximate utopia was still intact in the United States in 1800. He idealized a polite, tranquil, and basically sedentary world. It is a world in which the gentleman and genteel pursuits predominate. Social station is honored and propriety esteemed. But social change and technological innovation swiftly destroyed this fanciful world. Had it ever been intact, it was no longer by the time Cooper became a professional writer. Still, he retained a profound nostalgia for the pastoral community in which he spent his youth, and constantly returned to it in his fiction as a standard against which to measure contemporary society. In Afloat And Ashore he recalls what travel was like while the ideal of gentility still obtained, contrasting the ideal with the changes evident in 1844:

In 1803, the celebrated river we were navigating, though it had all the natural features it possessed to-day, was by no means the same picture of moving life. The steamboat did not appear on its surface until four years later; and the journeys up and down its waters were frequently a week in length. In that day, the passengers did not hurry on board, just as a bell was disturbing the neighborhood, hustling his way through a rude throng of porters, cartmen, orange-women, and newsboys, to save his distance by just a minute and a half, but his luggage was often sent to the vessel the day before; he passed his morning in saying adieu, and when he repaired to the vessel, it was with gentleman-like leisure, often to pass hours on board previously to sailing, and not unfrequently to hear the unwelcome tidings that this event was deferred until the next day. How different, too, was the passage from one {146} in a steamboat! There was no jostling of each other, no scrambling for places at table, no bolting of food, no impertinence manifested, no swearing about missing the eastern or southern boats, or Schenectady, or Saratoga, or Boston trains, on account of a screw being loose, nor any other unseemly manifestation that anybody was in a hurry. On the contrary, wine and fruit were provided, as if the travellers intended to enjoy themselves; and a journey in that day was a fiesta. No more embarked than could be accommodated; and the company being selected, the cabin was taken to the exclusion of all unwelcome intruders. ... I have a true seaman’s dislike for a steamboat, and sometimes wish they were struck out of existence; though I know it is contrary to all the principles of political economy, and opposed to what is called the march of improvement. 111

It was a world of “selected” “company,” of “gentleman-like leisure,” before being ravaged by technological advances. Life in proximate utopia was ordered, leisurely, gracious, tranquil. This way of life could not withstand the rationalization and mechanization of American civilization.

Due to the mechanism of social change built into his view of the world, Cooper was enabled to see what most ante-bellum Americans could not — that a sedate, pastoral community could not coexist with sophisticated technological development. His proximate utopia is radically “opposed to what is called the march of improvement.” In The Machine in the Garden, Leo Marx tells of the “pastoral ideal” which “is located in a middle ground somewhere ‘between,’ yet in transcendent relation to, the opposing forces of civilization and nature.” 112 This “middle ground” is Cooper’s proximate utopia, however much the social structure of his ideal might differ from that of his contemporaries. But this idyllic middle landscape could not withstand the onslaught of the machine. “Whether represented by the plight of a dispossessed herdsman the sound of a locomotive in the woods,” Marx writes, “this feature of the design brings a world which is more ‘real’ into juxtaposition with an idyllic vision. It may be called the counterforce.” 113 He does not include Cooper among the select company of those, such as Thoreau, Hawthorne, and Melville, who early perceived the presence of this ” counterforce“ in ante-bellum {147} America, and who had the foresight to see that it would radically alter the garden society as proclaimed and idealized in the literature of the day. But however much Cooper might “wish” a steamboat “struck out of existence,” he knew it was here to stay; and he also knew it would irreparably transform the old order of existence as he fancied it.

Cooper was particularly irritated by two recently introduced machines, the steamboat and the railroad. It was only natural that he use the machine as a metaphor of unpleasantness to condemn someone, for example, for eating with “railroad speed.” 114 The machine grates on one’s peace of mind. It is indelicate and ungenteel. Marx states that the machine invariably is associated with crude, masculine aggressiveness in contrast with the tender, feminine, and submissive attitudes traditionally attached to the landscape. 115 Accordingly, Cooper feels “The lovers of the picturesque sustain a great loss by means of the numerous lines of railroads that have recently come into existence.” 116 The machine is an eyesore. it spoils the graceful sublimity of the pastoral landscape. In this passage the train is criticized for introducing an irritating flavor of disharmony into hitherto tranquil, rustic settings:

Whether human ingenuity will yet succeed in inventing substitutes for the smoke and other unpleasant appliances of a railroad train, remains to be seen; but we think few will be disposed to differ with us, when we say that in our view of the matter this great improvement of modern intercourse has done very little towards the embellishment of a country in the way of landscapes. The graceful winding curvatures of the old highways, the acclivities and declivities, the copses, meadows and woods, the half-hidden church, nestling among the leaves of its elms and pines, the neat and secluded hamlet, the farmhouse, with all its comforts and sober arrangements, so disposed as to greet the eye of the passenger, will be hopelessly looked f him who flies through these scenes, which, like a picture placed in a false light, no longer reflects the genius and skill of the artist. 117

The train’s speed distorts the scenery, such that it “no longer reflects the genius and skill of the artist.” It is an “unpleasant” mode of travel as well as being esthetically unpleasing. Even more, the {148} masculine train intrudes upon “The graceful winding curvatures” of the feminine landscape, violating the maidenly “acclivities and declivities”

In a letter to Asher Durand, Thomas Cole reports, “I took a walk, last evening, up the valley of the Catskill, where they are now constructing the railroad. This was once my favourite walk; but now the charm of solitude and quietness is gone. 118 This was a commonplace observation for writers and artists associated with the Hudson River School. The train is incongruous in a pastoral setting. It mars the scenery. In addition, Cooper disliked its “clatter” and thought it “destructive of peace of mind.” 119 In this view the machine is disagreeable and spoils the scenery. Over the long term, by desecrating the pastoral landscape it will remove Americans from regenerative contact with nature. So the machine is morally debilitating. “Has it never struck you,” Captain Truck asks in Homeward Bound, “that the world is less moral since steamboats were introduced than formerly — ” 121 By upsetting the balance of nature and society requisite to the maintenance of the pastoral state, the machine causes the cycle of history to advance in its rotation to a less desirable position. Because the machine is harmful to nature and a catalyst of change, it is inimical to proximate utopia for esthetic, moral, and economic reasons, and also because it threatens the physical survival of proximate utopia.

The first application of technology in the New World destroyed the primeval environment inhabited by the Indians and by the likes of Leatherstocking. “Like the wheel that rolls along the highway,” he writes, alluding to the impact of civilization upon the Indian, “many is the inferior creature that we heedlessly crush in our path.” 121 Leatherstocking tells of being driven from the eastern forests by the ringing of axes and by the devastation left in their wake: “They scourge the very ‘arth with their axes. Such hills and hunting grounds as I have seen stripped of the gifts of the Lord, without remorse or shame! I tarried till the mouths of my hounds were deafened by the blows of the chopper, and then I came west in search of quiet. It was a grievous journey that I made, a grievous toil to pass through falling timber and to breathe the thick air of smoky clearings week after week as I did.” 122 But by this rude application of the mighty American axe to the pristine forests, the savage state was transformed into the tranquil, domesticated environment of proximate utopia. Yet the technology that crushed the {149} Indian and drove Leatherstocking forth, would also have repercussions upon white civilization. Cooper was well aware that even while taming the wilderness with their technology, white Americans had initiated a cycle of social and technological change that must eventually prove their own undoing. Not being satisfied with the (proximate) perfection they achieved in the pastoral state, they would imprudently attempt to improve upon it. Such is the example of the third Miles Wallingford, who presided over the proximate utopian community of Clawbonny following the Revolution. Unsatisfied with what he has, he invents a machine to increase the profit from his mill. It is “this improvement” which is his undoing. His son, the fourth Miles Wallingford, reports, “He was in the very act of laughing exultingly at the manner in which the millwright shook his head at the risk he ran, when the arresting power lost its control of the machinery, the head of water burst into the buckets, and the wheel whirled round, carrying my unfortunate father with it.” 123 The moral and perhaps the irony of this incident is, man cannot improve upon (proximate) perfection, even though in his arrogance and blindness he invariably will try.

Technological development is but one facet of the rationalization of society. Secularization, urbanization, the rationalization of historic institutions, egalitarianism — like technological advancement, these processes each contribute to the foreordained demise of proximate utopia. Cooper placed more emphasis on the danger inhering in egalitarianism than on any other single factor. In a letter to Horatio Greenough, he writes, “Public Opinion drags every thing to its own level, up or down, forming a very reputable mediocrity, but a mediocrity after all. I should characterize the country by the single word mediocrity.” 124 In this view, the people themselves en masse are a potent ” counterforce.” Public opinion is a levelling force that reduces everything to a democratic average. The class structure of proximate utopia cannot withstand its appeal. And when “men defer to publick [sic] opinion” instead of to the gentry, demagogy will take command. 125 Because “Democracies are necessarily controlled by publick [sic] opinion,” he believes that, “failing of the means of obtaining power more honestly, the fraudulent and ambitious find a motive to mislead, and even to corrupt the common sentiment, to attain their ends. This is the greatest danger of all large democracies,” he thinks, “since it is sapping the foundation of society, by undermining its virtue.” 126 {150} His writings are saturated with these forebodings about the menace of public opinion and the culpability of the masses. Proximate utopia is stratified in order to free the democratic average from the responsibility of decision making, and to restrict the development of egalitarianism. So long as the people defer to the superior judgment of the gentry, the demagogue will lack a forum.

Cooper was never a democrat in the Jacksonian sense of the word. Proximate utopia is designed to keep the popular will from becoming manifest. Although he normally used the terms democracy and republic interchangeably, he considered himself a republican as opposed to a democrat. 127 For his kind of republican, deference is the key to politics; for the democrat, it is public opinion. He concurs with Jefferson that an aristocracy (though he would use a different word) of talent should be continually voted into power in the republic. But scholars who call Cooper a Jeffersonian democrat are remiss. 128 Proximate utopia is founded in the staunchly conservative belief that meaningful community is organic, and derives from historically sanctioned institutions While Cooper and Jefferson share a similar opinion about the economic basis of society, and about rule by the virtuous, the gulf between their respective philosophies is revealed in a critique of Jefferson’s social thought contained in Cooper’s 1830 Paris journal. In his words, Jefferson “appears to have expected that men were to abandon all their ancient ideas, to satisfy a theory that many deemed a little doubtful.” 129 He astutely perceives that Jefferson lacked a feeling for the historicity of culture, and would readily abandon time-sanctified institutions for the sake of social experimentation. In truth, proximate utopia discloses an almost medieval, seignorial design, intended to maximize stability and to discourage precisely the sort of changes Jefferson’s social philosophy readily encourages.

Without doubt Cooper’s pastoral ideal is steeped in agrarian mythology. But he did not subscribe to the version of the myth that was so widely touted everywhere in the country outside of the South, whose ethos was built around the adulation of the yeoman farmer. “We have no disposition,” he says, “to exaggerate the character of those whom it is the fashion to term the American yeoman.” “Least of all,” he continues, “are we disposed to set up these yeomen as a privileged class, like certain of the titular statesmen of the country, and fall down and worship a calf — not a golden one by {151} the way — of our own setting up. We can see citizens in these yeomen, but not princes.” 131 In point of fact, the gentry, not the yeomen, are Cooper’s “princes.” “Nothing contributes so much to the civilization of a country as to dot it with a gentry,” he repeatedly informs his readers, telling them “It is impossible for those who have never been witnesses of the result, to appreciate the effect produced by one gentleman’s family in a neighborhood, in the way of manners, tastes, general intelligence, and civilization at large.” 131 In Virgin Land, Henry Nash Smith suggests that by 1830 there were two separate and distinct agrarian mythologies operating in America. The northern myth idealized the noble yeoman farmer, and pictured the development of the nation as a vast system of small, family-sized farms spread across the land. The southern myth was based on a slaveocracy, and projected a vision of great plantations reaching from sea to sea. 132 Yet Cooper found neither of these versions to his liking. The yeoman was neither noble nor capable of sound, independent judgment. His type belonged to the unthinking, democratic average. The southern system, on the other hand, was suspect because of slavery. The plantation system was more like his own ideal than the northern system of detached, independent farmers. But however much he might apologize for slavery as it existed in New York prior to the enactment of compulsory manumission, he was plainly made uncomfortable by the peculiar institution. He would prefer that everyone in proximate utopia be born free. 133 So he became a spokesman for a third version of the agrarian myth, modelled upon the patroon system that once dominated the Hudson River terrain.

Colonial New York, he writes, “received the framework of the English system, possessing lords of the manor, and divers other of the fragments of the feudal system.” 134 His pastoral ideal was fashioned upon an American seignorial concept in which the gentleman landholder took the place of the northern yeoman at the pinnacle of the social order, and in which the dutiful commoner took the place of the southern slave at its foundation. Gentlemen are his “lords of the manor.” It is upon their great estates that “divers other of the fragments of the feudal system” dwell in proximate utopian community. The mode of government external to the insular community was not of the utmost importance in his opinion. Either monarchy or democracy was acceptable. What was of prime importance to him was the constitution of the immediate community, with its lord-like leaders and cheerful, peasant followers. In several particulars proxi{152}mate utopia does differ from the patroon and feudal system. Although he vociferously defended the tenant system, he preferred that the gentry sell or grant the redemptive land outright, as had his father, the founder of Cooperstown. And he was too ardently a civil libertarian to want to legalize the class distinctions which he firmly believed naturally existed. In theory, at least, in proximate utopia everyone is equal before the law, although each individual is consigned by nature to a particular role within the community hierarchy. The purpose of this Americanized seignorial system was to create a conservative bulwark designed to minimize social change — in effect, to stop history. So long as his seigniors, the gentry, retain the deferential allegiance of the commoners — so long as the pastoral state endures — history will be frozen in the proximate utopian stage of the cycle. Yet history can never really be frozen. In Cooper’s dialectic of history the forces of change are immediately present and struggling for their inevitable release. The seigniors conserve — they slow but they cannot halt history. Eventually the Temples, Effinghams, Littlepages, Wallingfords, and Woolstons will lose control, as did the New York patroons, and that will mark the end of the proximate utopian phase in the cycle of history.

“The late eighteenth century,” Vernon Louis Parrington writes, became Cooper’s “romantic haven and City of Refuge to which he returned gladly” in his fiction. 135 He is almost right. The last years of the eighteenth century did furnish a recent example of proximate utopia. But rather than a “City of Refuge” from which to escape the nineteenth century, the late-eighteenth century afforded Cooper with a model society through which, by comparison, he could evaluate and criticize contemporary society. The end-of-the-eighteenth-century stories, The Pioneers, The Chainbearer, and the Wallingford novels, are each written with an eye on the present, Cooper’s present.

Since time is never static in Cooper, there exists an ongoing dialectical interplay between the living past, the community that is, and the nascent forces of the society to be, in accordance with the stages and cyclical pattern of history. So with the inception of proximate utopia, the forces that will undermine it are already present. The real concern in the proximate utopian tales is Cooper’s contemporary society. They provide the author a vehicle through which to appraise his own time, through which to study the process of social change, and through which to explain what went wrong in America and how it occurred. In The Pioneers the community patri{153]arch, Judge Temple, fights an ongoing battle with the despoilers of proximate utopia, such as Billy Kirby with his symbolic axe, and Jotham Riddel, the avaricious upstart. Although Jotham dies in the apocalyptic conflagration at the novel’s end, the reader feels sure this is but a temporary setback for the forces of change, which are soon destined to gain the upper hand. To make no mistake, in Home As Found, Cooper once again transports his readers to Templeton. But at this later date the upstarts, instead of the gentry, establish the tone of the community, and the proximate utopian ideal is but a fond memory. The Chainbearer is also written with an historical continuum in mind. It is the second part of a trilogy. Satanstoe is part one; it is set in the 1750s and shows Ravensnest in the savage state. The Chainbearer is set in the post-revolutionary period, and examines Ravensnest in its pastoral state. And the last part of the trilogy, The Redskins, is set in the 1840s and depicts Ravensnest approaching the vicious state. In each of these novels there is a continuing interplay between the Littlepages and the Newcomes, between the gentry and the upstarts, and it is clear the upstarts must ultimately prevail. In the Wallingford novels the dialectical interplay between past and present is created through the device of the first person narrator, who, looking back upon proximate utopia from the year 1844, constantly intrudes into the narrative to examine and explain the differences between past and present. In each of the proximate utopian novels the verdict is the same — time does not stand still. As Mark Woolston discovers in The Crater, there is no lasting “City of Refuge,” even on an uncharted Pacific Island. There can be no lasting state of perfection this side of Paradise.


[Footnote numbers restart with each chapter.]  

1 Frank E. Manuel, “Toward a Psychological History of Utopias,” Utopias and Utopian Thought, ed. Frank E. Manuel (Boston: Beacon Press, 1967), pp. 71-79.

2 Manuel, pp. 79-85.

3 Karl Mannheim, Ideology And Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge, trans. Louis Wirth and Edward Shils (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, n.d.), p. 209.

4 James Fenimore Cooper, The American Democrat Or Hints On The Social And Civic Relations Of The United States Of America (New York: Minerva Press, 1969), p. 36.

5 Cooper, The American Democrat, p. 146.

6 For example, in Gleanings In Europe: France (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1928), I, he criticizes the destructive impact of Napoleonic centralization upon the traditional French community, and also bemoans the “odious” moral tone the revolutionary regime set, pp. 100, 315.

7 Robert A. Nisbet, Social Change and History: Aspects of the Western Theory of Development (London, Oxford, New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1969), p. 131

8 Robert A. Nisbet, Tradition and Revolt: Historical and Sociological Essays (New York: Random House, 1970), pp. 78, 80.

9 D. H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature (New York: The Viking Press, 1961), p. 6. This passage is contained in Lawrence’s introductory chapter and pertains to a general dilemma of the American mind, not specifically to Cooper.

10 Cooper, The American Democrat, p. 141.

11 A. N. Kaul, The American Vision: Actual and Ideal Society in Nineteenth-Century Fiction (New Haven and London: Yale Univ. Press, 1963), p. 9.

12 James Fenimore Cooper, Afloat And Ashore: A Sea Tale (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1896), p. 320.

13 James Fenimore Cooper, The Pioneers (New York: The New American Library, 1964), p. 193.

14 David W. Noble, “Cooper, Leatherstocking and the Death of the American Adam,” American Quarterly, 16 (Fall 1964), pp. 180, 181.

15 James Fenimore Cooper, The Pathfinder Or The Inland Sea (New York and Toronto: The New American Library, 1961), p. 19. In The Deerslayer (New York: Washington Square Press, 1961), Cooper once again equates Leatherstocking with the biblical Nathaniel, writing, “This expression was simply of guileless truth, sustained by an earnestness of purpose and a sincerity of feeling that rendered it remarkable,” p. 5.

16 Cooper, The Deerslayer, p. 54.

17 Cooper, The Pathfinder, p. 125. In The Prairie (New York and Toronto: The New American Library, 1964), Cooper likewise states that Leatherstocking “was a man endowed with the choicest and perhaps rarest gift of nature, that of distinguishing good from evil,” pp. 119-120.

18 Cooper, The Pathfinder, p. 125.

19 James Fenimore Cooper, The Last Of The Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757 (New York and Toronto: The New American Library, 1962), p. 228.

20 Cooper, The Last Of The Mohicans, p. 248. On the following page he writes that Leatherstocking maintained “a deference to the superior rank of his companions, that no similarity in the present state of their fortunes could induce him to forget,” p. 249.

21 Cooper, The Pathfinder, p. 122.

22 Cooper, The Pathfinder, p. 122.

23 Cooper, The Last Of The Mohicans, p. 175.

24 Cooper, The Pathfinder, p. 24.

25 James Fenimore Cooper, Home As Found (New York: Capricorn Books, 1961), p. 197.

26 Cooper, Home As Found, p. 166.

27 Cooper, Home As Found, p. 118.

28 Cooper, The American Democrat, p. 83.

29 Cooper, The American Democrat, p. 149.

30 James Fenimore Cooper, Excursions In Italy (London: Richard Bentley, 1838), I, pp. 232-233.

31 Cooper, Afloat And Ashore, p. 4. This is the analysis of his persona, Miles Wallingford.

32 Cooper, Afloat And Ashore, p. 6.

33 Cooper, Afloat And Ashore, p. 19.

34 Cooper, Afloat And Ashore, p. 106.

35 Cooper, Afloat And Ashore, p. 376.

36 Cooper, Afloat And Ashore, p. 503.

37 Stow Persons makes this analysis of the prerequisites to gentility in The Decline Of American Gentility (New York & London: Columbia Univ. Press, 1973), p. 3.

38 Cooper, Afloat And Ashore, p. 312.

39 Virgin Land: The American West As Symbol And Myth (New York: Random House, 1950), Henry Nash Smith implies that Cooper’s class structure fixation in his novels derives from the sentimental novel formula, although he acknowledges that it is consistent with Cooper’s social theory, pp. 259-260.

40 Edwin Harrison Cady, The Gentleman In America (Syracuse: Syracuse Univ. Press, 1949), p. 127.

41 In The Decline Of American Gentility, Persons explains that “the colonial gentry had scarcely attained the maturity as a class before the political and social changes initiated by the Revolution and culminating in Jacksonian democracy destroyed its class character and substituted for it a number of functional elites,” p. vi.

42 Cady, pp. 142-143.

43 Robert E. Spiller, Fenimore Cooper: Critic Of His Times (New York: Minton, Balch, 1931), p. 59.

44 Spiller, p. 64.

45 See Persons’ discussion of the changing constitution of American society, p. vii.

46 Cooper, The American Democrat, p. 143.

47 James Fenimore Cooper, The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper, ed. James Franklin Beard, III (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press. 1964), p. 42. In James Fenimore Cooper: The Novelist (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1967), George Dekker cities this letter from Cooper to his wife to demonstrate his preference for the lower classes instead of the upper classes, p. 150. But correctly read, the letter tells of the takeover of the country by upstart demagogues, who have ousted the natural elite, inverting the social hierarchy.

48 James Fenimore Cooper, Autobiography Of a Pocket-Handkerchief (Evanston: The Golden-Book Press, 1897), p. 37.

49 Cooper, The American Democrat, p. 81.

50 Cooper, The American Democrat, p. 146.

51 Cooper. The American Democrat, p. 80.

52 Cooper, The American Democrat, p. 146.

53 Cooper, The American Democrat, p. 84.

54 Cooper, The American Democrat, p. 86.

55 In Cooper’s Afloat And Ashore, Miles Wallingford explains, for example, that “the poor were never sent away empty-handed” from Clawbonny, p. 3. But particularly in the European travelogues, Cooper’s delight in contributing to the poor, in handing alms to beggars, is made evident. It is in the benevolent nature of the gentry’s constitution to care for the down-and-out, to give them a coin or a bite to eat.

56 Miles Wallingford comments on the difference between politics in proximate utopia and politics at a later date stating that in proximate utopia “a member of Congress was somebody,” but as of 1844, “he is only — a member of Congress,” Afloat And Ashore, p. 5. Cooper sadly observes that by 1844 “Politics have fallen into such hands, that office will not even give social station; the people are omnipotent, it is true; but, though they can make a governor, they cannot make gentlemen and ladies” (Afloat And Ashore, p. 167). In proximate utopia in The Crater, the political elite are all members of the gentry class. That is how it should be.

57 Cooper, The American Democrat, p. 85.

58 Cady, p. 207.

59 James T. Callow, Kindred Spirits: Knickerbocker Writers and American Artists, 1807-1855 (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1967), p. 193.

60 James Franklin Beard, editorial introduction to the years 1836-1838, The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper, III (1964), p. 213; Spiller, p. 232.

61 James Fenimore Cooper, The Chainbearer Or The Littlepage Manuscripts (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons 1895-1900), pp. 134-135.

62 James Fenimore Cooper, Miles Wallingford, in Works Of J. Fenimore Cooper (New York: P. F. Collier, 1892), V, pp. 457, 458.

63 Cooper, Miles Wallingford, p. 252.

64 Cooper, The American Democrat, p. 84.

65 Cooper, Miles Wallingford, p. 464.

66 Cooper, Afloat And Ashore, p. 356.

67 Cooper, Afloat And Ashore, p. 12.

68 Cooper, Miles Wallingford, p. 251.

69 Cooper, Miles Wallingford, p. 457.

70 Cooper, Miles Wallingford, p. 507.

71 James Fenimore Cooper, Homeward Bound Or The Chase (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1895-1900), pp. 6-7.

72 Cooper, The Pathfinder, p. 182.

73 James Fenimore Cooper, The Ways Of The Hour (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1895-1900), pp. 5, 179, 181, 192, 431.

74 Cooper, The Ways Of The Hour, p. 181.

75 James Fenimore Cooper, The Sea Lions Or The Lost Sealers (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1895-1900), p. 266.

76 Cooper, The Ways Of The Hour, p. 183.

77 Nina Baym, “The Women of Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales,” American Quarterly, 23 (Dec. 1971), p. 698.

78 Cooper, The American Democrat, p. 175.

79 Nisbet, Tradition And Revolt, p. 83.

80 Cooper, Home As Found, p. 23; James Fenimore Cooper, “The Chronicles of Cooperstown,” A History of Cooperstown, ed. Rowan D. Spraker and Frank C. Carpenter (Cooperstown: The Freeman’s Journal Co., 1929), p. 44.

81 Cooper, The Letters and Journals, III, p. 105.

82 Cooper, Miles Wallingford, p. 464; Cooper, Home As Found, p. 430.

83 Cooper, Home As Found, pp. 24-25.

84 Cooper, Miles Wallingford, p. 458.

85 James Fenimore Cooper, T he Heidenmauer Or The Benedictines (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1895-1900), p. 347.

86 Perry Miller, The Raven and the Whale: The War of Words and Wits in the Era of Poe and Melville (New York: Harcourt & World, 1956), p. 24.

87 Cooper, Afloat And Ashore, p. 413.

88 Cooper, The Letters and Journals, IV (1964), p. 423.

89 Nisbet, Tradition And Revolt, p. 81.

90 Cooper, Afloat And Ashore, p. 155.

91 James Fenimore Cooper, The Redskins Or Indian And Injin (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1895-1900), p. 247.

92 Cooper, The Heidenmauer, pp. 354-355.

93 Cooper, Miles Wallingford, pp. 311, 473.

94 Nisbet, Tradition And Revolt, p. 82.

95 Cooper, The Sea Lions, p. 382.

96 In The Sea Lions, Cooper explains that Stimson cannot compete intellectually with the Deistic logic of Roswell, “but the humble and uneducated boat-steerer had been at a school that raises the dullest intellect far above all the inferences of philosophy. He had faith,” pp. 379-380.

97 Cooper, The Sea Lions, p. 104.

98 Cooper, The Sea Lions, pp. 379, 102.

99 Cooper, The Sea Lions, p. 218.

100 James Fenimore Cooper, The Headsman Or The Abbaye Des Vignerons (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1895-1900), p. 202; Cooper, The Sea Lions, p. 424.

101 Susan Fenimore Cooper, Pages And Pictures, From The Writings of James Fenimore Cooper (New York: W. A. Townsend, 1861), p. 211.

102 James Fenimore Cooper, The Wept Of Wish-Ton-Wish (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1895-1900), pp. 13, 91.

103 Cooper, The Wept Of Wish-Ton-Wish, p. 359.

104 Cooper, The Wept Of Wish-Ton-Wish, p. 348.

105 Cooper, The Wept Of Wish-Ton-Wish, p. 348.

106 Cooper, The Wept Of Wish-Ton-Wish, pp. 60, 69, 359; James Fenimore Cooper, Gleanings In Europe, Volume Two, England (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1930), p. 358.

107 Cooper, The Wept Of Wish-Ton-Wish, pp. 60, 69.

108 Cooper, Homeward Bound, p. 7.

109 Cooper, Gleanings In Europe, Volume Two, England, pp. 358-359.

110 Cooper, Home As Found, p. 50.

111 Cooper, Afloat And Ashore, pp. 520-521.

112 Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden: Technology And The Pastoral Ideal In America (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1967). p. 23.

113 Marx, p. 25.

114 Cooper, The Ways Of The Hour, p. 318.

115 Marx, p. 29.

116 James Fenimore Cooper, “American And European Scenery Compared,” The Home Book Of The Picturesque: Or American Scenery, Art, And Literature (New York: Putnam, 1852), pp. 64-65.

117 Cooper, “American And European Scenery Compared,” p. 66.

118 Quoted in Louis Legrand Noble, The Life And Works Of Thomas Cole, ed. Elliot S. Vesell, Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1964, p. 164).

119 Cooper, The Sea Lions, pp. 455, 6.

120 Cooper, Homeward Bound, p. 243.

121 Cooper, The Redskins, p. 340.

122 Cooper, The Prairie, p. 78.

123 Cooper, Afloat And Ashore, pp. 5-6.

124 Cooper, The Letters and Journals, IV, p. 390.

125 Cooper, The American Democrat, p. 66.

126 Cooper, The American Democrat, p. 63.

127 For example, in Afloat And Ashore Cooper uses “democracy” to mean tyranny of the masses, p. 95.

128 The following scholars have been led to believe that Cooper was a Jeffersonian. In Classic Americans: A Study of Eminent American Writers from Irving to Whitman (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1931), Henry Seidel Canby states that Cooper “colored his social philosophy with the ideas of Jefferson.” p. 118. In Political Justice in a Republic: James Fenimore Cooper’s America (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: Univ. of California Press, 1972), John P. McWilliams, Jr. contends that Cooper was a follower of Jefferson, pp. 36, 46. Warren S. Walker, in his Foreword to The Spy: A Tale Of The Neutral Ground (New York: Hafner, 1960), speaks of Jefferson as Cooper’s “lifelong idol,” p. 4. And George Dekker thinks by 1827 Cooper had embraced “Jeffersonian Republicanism,” p. 109.

129 Cooper, The Letters and Journals, II (1960), p. 33.

130 James Fenimore Cooper, The Oak Openings Or The Bee-Hunter (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1895-1900), p. 154.

131 Cooper, The Chainbearer, p. 453.

132 Smith, Virgin Land, p. 151.

133 When speaking to Europeans Cooper defended slavery, when decrying the excesses of abolitionism he apologized for slavery, but all the while he regretted the inception of the institution. He respected the property rights of southerners, but felt slavery to be wrong. In “Cooper’s Attitude Toward The South,” Studies In Philology, XLVIII (Jan. 1951), Max L. Griffin states that Cooper thought “The institution of slavery was neither Christian nor suited to a liberty-loving and liberty-professing nation,” p. 70. Kay Seymour House points out that he was for African colonization (Cooper’s Americans, Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 1965, p. 82). Also, he was strongly opposed to the extension of slavery into the western territories according to Beard in his editorial introduction to the years 1846-1847 (The Letters and Jottrzals of James Fenimore Cooper, V, 1968, p. 139).

134 James Fenimore Cooper, Wyandotté Or The Hutted Knoll (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1896), p. 325. Cooper seems to have been ambivalent on the subject of whether or not the New York patroon system, and for that matter his own ideal, approximated a feudal system. In the quote cited his answer is affirmative. In The Redskins he equivocates, saying that even if the patroon system were feudal, “it would only prove that feudality, to this extent, is a part of the institutions of the State,” p. vi. But in Miles Wallingford he denies that the patroon-tenant system was feudal, writing, “In that day, a lease in perpetuity was thought a more advantageous bargain for the tenant than a lease for a year, or a term of years; and men did not begin to reason as if one day, paying rent in chickens, and wood, and work, was not fancied to be a remnant of feudality, but it was regarded a favor conferred on him who had the privilege,” p. 456. Cooper scholars have generally ignored his denials of affection for feudalism where they appear. Instead they point to similarities between the patroon system and feudalism, and between Cooper’s social values and feudal values. Whether the patroon system in New York “was a survival of feudalism,” in Granville Hicks’ opinion, “is largely a matter of definition” (“Landlord Cooper And The Anti-Renters,” The Antioch Review, V, Spring 1945, p. 99). In Tin Horns And Calico: A Decisive Episode In The Emergence Of Democracy (New York: Henry Holt, 1945), Henry Christman calls it “semifeudalism,” p. 1. But Cooper’s love affair with feudalism went beyond the question of defining the New York patroon system. Like many Romantics, especially conservative ones, the Middle Ages held a strong attraction for him. Quite a few scholars, in one fashion or another, have commented on his courtship with feudalism. In “Consciousness and Social Order: The Theme of Transcendence In The Leatherstocking Tales,” Western American Literature, 5 (Spring-Winter 1970-1971), Henry Nash Smith speaks of the “feudal” relationships between Cooper’s characters, p. 181. In Masks & Mirrors: Essays In Criticism (New York: Atheneum, 1970), Marius Bewley states that for Cooper “Property appeared to be the last defense, and Cooper was ready to champion it, even on the most feudal terms,” p. 242. And in “Fenimore Cooper and the Economic Age,” American Literature, 26 (May 1954), Marius Bewley suggests “Cooper failed to examine New York feudal society critically because he was enamored of a way of life that in his imagination at least, it seemed to foster and protect,” p. 193. In The Rise Of The American Novel (New York: American Book Co., 1948), Alexander Cowie thinks he was projecting “a sort of innocent ancien régime américain,” p. 156. Dixon Ryan Fox, in “James Fenimore Cooper, Aristocrat,” New York History, 22 (Jan. 1941), speaks of his “sympathy to feudal institutions,” p. 22. In Main Currents in American Thought Volume Two, 1800-1860: The Romantic Revolution In America (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1927), Vernon Louis Parrington says he was “feudal-minded yet espousing a republican faith,” p. 214. And Spiller states that Cooper “attempted to build a social philosophy on a discarded feudal agrarianism,” p. 317.

135 Parrington, p. 222. Howard Mumford Jones provides a useful summary of Cooper’s late-eighteenth-century ideal in The Pursuit of Happiness (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1966), pp. 105-113.