Chapter Six — History and Faith

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.]

{205} In the preceding chapters it has been repeatedly maintained that Cooper’s world view cannot be comprehended in its fullness unless the depth and orthodoxy of his religiosity is adequately considered and assessed. His is a god-centered universe which, although mysterious and unfathomable, everywhere gives testimony to the primacy and potency of providential intervention and direction. It is the hand of providence that causes the cyclic fluctuations in profane history; so too, the eschatological conclusion of sacred history and subsequent redemption of the chosen is subject to Divine volition. For the duration of history the most significant determinant in man’s daily activities, indeed, of the human situation, is the ineradicable legacy of the primal Fall. Cooper was a thoroughly committed trinitarian — a fact which, in and of itself, would have placed him within the mainstream of ante-bellum religious dogmatism. But what separates him from the majority of his fellow Americans and what makes him unique among major American novelists was his involvement in the high-church movement, his unswerving devotion to the historic Christian church with its venerable liturgy and rich tradition. 1 His novels and other writings can never be fully understood except when considered within the boundaries of his deeply religious cosmology. Susan Fenimore Cooper affirms the constancy of her father’s belief, writing, “He not unfrequently spoke on sacred subjects, and always with reverence. He ever yielded a full and honest assent to the great doctrines of Christianity. Doubt and scepticism would seem never, for a moment, to have darkened that clear mind, that frank spirit, that upright heart.” 2

His faith directed him deeply into history, to a somewhat obscure but romantic past, where sacred traditions, articulated through ornate pageants and lofty rituals, dominated the lives of Christendom. For a number of New York Romantics associated with the Knickerbocker, and for a number of notable English Romantics including Cooper’s English counterpart, Waiter Scott, the Romantic movement was linked to an affirmation of the traditional high {206} church, in addition to a repudiation of Enlightenment rationalism. 3 In two Cooper novels, The Wing-And-Wing and The Sea Lions, the romantic heroines refuse the hand of their Deist beaus, making faith in the trinity prerequisite to marriage. 4 Just as his Romantic neo-orthodoxy rejected rational religion, so too, it rejected rational ethics and esthetics. “The utilitarian school, as it has been popularly construed, is not to my taste.” he writes, “for I believe there is great utility in the grace and elegance of life, and no one would feel more disposed to resist a system. in which these essential properties are proscribed.” 5 Religion is, according to his Romantic neo-orthodoxy, graceful, elegant, and essentially irrational. “It is this Faith, he says, “which forms the mighty feature of the church on earth.” 6

Faith in the trinity, alone, was not enough to satisfy the provisions of his neo-orthodox Christianity. However trinitarian, he nonetheless conceived the non-liturgical, low-church, overly ratiocinative practices of the descendants of New England Puritanism, to be merely the other side of rational religion. Like rational religion, Puritanism was ascetic, graceless, and put an inordinate stress on the intellect. Also, it lacked the joyousness and humanity of his faith. In The Spy Harvey Birch masquerades as a Calvinist minister, providing Cooper the opportunity to parody the hell-fire and damnation practices he disdained in low-church Protestantism. “No joy, or relaxation,” he writes, “appeared ever to have dwelt on features that frowned habitually, as if in detestation of the vices of mankind. The brows were beetling, dark, and forbidding, giving promise of eyes of no less repelling expression; but the organs were concealed beneath a pair of enormous green goggles, through which they glared around with a fierceness that denounced the coming day of wrath. All was fanaticism, uncharitableness, and denunciation.” 7 Calvinism was a religion of “denunciation,” dwelling too heavily on “the vices of mankind.” He particularly disliked the “fanaticism” of low-church Protestantism, and saw danger ahead for America resulting from the proliferation of the sort of sects and denominations that infested Upstate New York during the florescence of burnt-over-district enthusiasm. Within the domain of Captain Willoughby’s rustic plantation in Wyandotté, no ministry other than the Anglican is permitted, just as in Mark Woolston’s community in The Crater, the only minister included among the initial immigrants is Episcopalian. Sectarian proliferation causes social disharmony. Had Cooper had his way, unity would be enforced in the United States under the {207} directorship of a national church. 8

In Lionel Lincoln, which is set in Puritan Boston at the outbreak of the Revolution, the name of the Anglican minister is the Reverend Dr. Liturgy. His name emphasizes the difference between his mode of worship and the low-church majority. The true church is inseparable from his historic liturgy. It is the “forms,” the “sublime” and “venerable rites” that make the church what it is. 9 Not only did Cooper oppose the low-church attack on the sacred liturgy, he opposed its materialistic ethos, which, he writes, has prompted “a worldly-mindedness that amounts nearly to rapacity; all cloaked and rendered decent by a conventional respect for duties, and respectable and useful, by frugality, enterprise, and untiring activity.” 10 It is a lackluster ethos. based in a doggedly “conventional respect for duties.” The fruits of Puritanism are “frugality, enterprise, and untiring activity.” Here, over a half-century before Weber published his famous thesis, Cooper records its basic sense. In the view of history to which he and Weber subscribed, the rationalization of religious “forms” was an early step in the overall rationalization of Western culture, whose end product, capitalism, the conservative American novelist and master German sociologist each found distasteful.

The historic Christian church rests between the extremes of rational religion and low-church Protestantism. Cooper was a lifelong adherent of the Protestant Episcopal Church. Yet however loyal he was to his own church and however much he might promote it in his American novels, on a whimsical substratum in his imagination it was the Roman Catholic Church, with its richer liturgy, greater history. and compelling mystery which held the more powerful magnetism for him. 11 He gives “regret that the church, as it exists among us, is not really more Catholic.” 12 “You know my passion for the poetry of the Roman worship,” he writes, “The odour of the incense, the vaulted roofs, attenuated aisles and naves, the painted windows, and the grand harmonies of the chants, are uniting sources of delight to me.” 13 In his Swiss travelogue he recalls the impact of his visit to the shrine of Einsiedeln. The experience was so overwhelming, he writes, that “I found it necessary to draw largely on my Protestant insensibilities, in order to gaze at the bronzed countenance of Mary with indifference.” Here he juxtaposes his Protestant rational faculty to his Catholic effusiveness, his head to his heart. For a moment he relies on his reason to shield his affections from awe inspired reverie. But he always preferred the heart to the head. {208} Once he relaxed his Protestant resistance, he says, “I knew that the temple was God’s, and that his Spirit was present; I felt persuaded that much devout reliance on his mercy was blended with the superstition I witnessed; and, while my reason showed how fearfully near idolatry these poor people had approached, the mystery of the incarnation never appeared so sublime, and, if I may so express it, so palpable, as at that moment.” 14 His reason objected, but his heart succumbed to the inspiration of the shrine. In Cooper, Romantic esthetics combine with ideological conservatism to favor the historic church, the Roman Catholic Church.

Cooper repeatedly berated New Englanders for depreciating the love and warmth and graciousness of the historic church, and instead upholding a cold, ascetic theology which seemed to place too much weight on the negative aspects of the human condition. But in one particular his own theology had more in common with Calvinism than he would have liked to admit. For he too considered Adam’s disobedience at the beginning of time the signal event in human history. Virtually everything he wrote at some point, in some passage, ponders the ramifications of man’s fallen state. History began with man’s Fall from Grace, and will end with his restitution to Grace. In the mean time the repercussions of the Fall upon human society and human activities and human history will be the paramount determinant. The scope and consequences of original sin rest at the marrow of Cooper’s world view. It is in this preoccupation with the consequences of original sin, especially in the pitilessly deterministic manner in which commissions of sin in the past act upon families and communities for generations to come, that he most resembles the Puritans he professed to abhor.

Cooper’s Christianity is conservative about the capability of man to behave ethically in a corrupt world. But it is not as pessimistic as the Augustinian view, which finds man incapacitated by his fallen condition such that even temporary improvement is impossible within the temporal sphere. 15 James Franklin Beard states,

Human nature — Cooper saw, felt, and believed — was everywhere and always the same: fallible, selfish, capricious, egocentric, unequally endowed, passion-ridden, yet capable under favorable circumstances of governing itself by rational, self-imposed restraints and even of achieving a measure of selflessness. Since ‘the elements of all that man could by possibility become exist in every community,’ {209} what ‘that godlike-devil man’ does in fact become depended significantly on the structure of his society, especially on his legal and political institutions. 16

He believed, as Beard affirms, that under the right social conditions, helped by institutional constraint, communities can for a time exceed the gross depravity of the human condition, and, approximate utopia. As Beard notes, “the structure of society” is the critical determinant of its inhabitants capability to transcend the harsh verdict handed down to Adam and Eve and their descendants. During the pastoral stage of the historical cycle man can, to a limited extent, rise above his debased nature. But as the cycle turns away from proximate utopia it becomes increasingly difficult for man’s “moral sentinel.” his conscience, to overcome the “humiliation and ignorance” in which he is cast. 17

Donald Ringe believes “Cooper’s view of the world became darker as he grew older,” and Howard Mumford Jones thinks Cooper’s pessimism “anticipated the pessimism of Mark Twain.” 18 Both are wrong. He consistently held to a dark view of the world, prompted by his recognition of the full meaning of man’s fallen status. As time passed he did feel that America was changing for the worse. But throughout his career he adhered to an idea of history that both predicted and anticipated the decline of American civilization. To suggest that his late novels, such as The Crater, The Sea Lions, and The Ways Of The Hour, are more pessimistic about the human condition than his early novels, is to overlook the grim view of human nature contained in the early novels, such as Lionel Lincoln, The Last Of The Mohicans, The Prairie, The Heidenmauer, and The Bravo. What is more, there is absolutely no continuity between Cooper’s Christian pessimism and the nihilism of Twain. For Twain nothing resides beyond the temporal sphere; there is no Heaven or Hell, no afterlife, no Second Coming and Redemption. For Twain the human race is fixed in depravity, trapped in historical time, from which there is no escape. But Cooper’s temporal pessimism is assuaged by his religious conviction, his belief in an afterlife, and his assurance that the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth will one day obtain. For him, mundane existence is of small consequence by comparison with what is to come. Juxtaposed to Twain’s cosmic pessimism, the promise of the hereafter for Cooper imparts a sense of cosmic optimism which completely overshadows his temporal pessimism. His faith that providence will ultimately bring history to {210} a joyous conclusion diminishes the importance of his reservations about the here and now, about temporal life, to cosmic insigniftcance.

In The Ways Of The Hour he states that there are two distinct categories of history, “sacred history” and “profane.” 19 Under the sway of “profane” history, human perfectibility is unattainable. This view of profane history extends from a deeply pessimistic conception of the human condition. Yet for Cooper, unlike Augustine, profane history is not unrelenting depravity. “There are periods in the histories of all countries,” he repeatedly explains in his writings, “in which entire nations may be said to be on their good behavior. These are the times of struggles and changes, when attention is drawn to the acts of public men, and principles have unusual influence.” 21 Yet taken by itself, this vision of endlessly repeating cycles is deeply pessimistic. Mircea Eliade states, for modem man “repetition emptied of its religious content necessarily leads to a pessimistic vision of existence. When it is no longer a vehicle for reintegrating a primordial situation, and hence for recovering the mysterious presence of the gods, that is, when it is desacralized, cyclic time becomes terrifying; it is seen as a circle forever turning on itself, repeating itself to infinity.” 21 Cooper does not dwell in the wholly sacralized cosmos of archaic man, but unlike most moderns his cosmos is not entirely desacralized either. As Eliade establishes, “religious man lives in two kinds of time,” sacred and profane. 22 It is this sacred dimension of Cooper’s world view, with its ecstatic vision of paradise regained at the end of time, that completely dwarfs his temporal pessimism. The final act of sacred history, according to his world view, reaffirms the sacredness of the cosmos, with the recovery of the “primordial situation,” through the reestablishment of man in “the mysterious presence of the Gods.”

Eliade says, speaking of archaic man, “What is to become ‘our World’ must first be ‘created,’ and every creation has a paradigmatic model — the creation of the universe by the gods.” 23 Cooper’s “paradigmatic model” is contained in Genesis — in the emergence myths telling of the creation of the world, man’s appearance in paradise, and subsequent Fall. In the course of sacred history, “’our world’” in its “primordial situation” or primal sense cannot recur until the reconstitution of the “paradigmatic model” at the end of time. But in the course of profane history, the “paradigmatic model” reappears {211} each time a cycle of history returns to the garden stage. In The Crater, for instance, Cooper makes it clear that the “paradigmatic model” for Mark Woolston’s island paradise is the Garden of Eden. The ordering of events in each cycle of profane history is identical to the ordering of events in the one-and-only cycle of sacred history: the creation of the garden, the Fall, the reign of corruption, and the reinstitution of the garden. Each creation in profane history approximates the “paradigmatic model” which designates the beginning and the end of sacred history. In the cyclic fluctuations of profane history, man approaches the divine each time the garden stage recurs. But in the temporal sphere, God’s presence is limited, tempered, and partially obscured. Only with the reinstitution of the “paradigmatic model” in all its primal glory, at the end of sacred history, will man once again stand in the completely undistorted presence of the divine.

In positing two concurrent, interconnected historical processes, Cooper anticipated the position of the twentieth-century American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr. Cooper and Niebuhr each perceive a similar association between history and the cosmos, between history and faith. For Niebuhr, like Cooper, profane history is defined and in many ways dominated by the presence of original sin. “There is,” according to Niebuhr, “no historical development which gradually eliminates those sinful corruptions of brotherhood which stand in contradiction to the law of love.” 24 In conservative Christianity, man’s sinfulness is the paramount fact of temporal existence. And Niebuhr thinks liberal theologians are “particularly embarrassed by the traditional Biblical-Christian doctrine of sin.” 25 Due to generic corruption in human nature, he has no illusions about the possibility of progress or the possibility of achieving utopian solutions within the scope of profane history. 26 Enduring progress cannot occur within the temporal sphere. In fact, Niebuhr blames the standard association of Christianity with the idea of progress on liberal theologians who sought to make Christianity relevant by identifying it with a modern intellectual development. 27 For the conservative Christian theologian, “history remains morally ambiguous to the end.” 28

Niebuhr insists that “mankind will continue to ‘see through a glass darkly’ and the final meaning of history can be anticipated only by faith,” yet he grants “There are provisional meanings in history, capable of being recognized and fulfilled by individuals and {212} cultures.” 29 What this means is, although there can be no lasting moral progress within time, nevertheless, individuals and communities can and do demonstrate limited improvement of temporary duration. 31 He dismisses the classical analogy of history as endlessly repeating cycles because it cannot account for human volition. Nonetheless he believes civilizations do have cycles of existence which are analogous to organic cycles. Sounding much like Cooper, he says.

Civilizations come to life and prosper by the ingenuity of human freedom. Presumably they die by the misuse of that freedom. Perhaps they can be reborn by the renewal of that freedom. The modern interpretation of history does not understand the cycle of birth and death of civilizations and culture at all because its conception of the indeterminate possibilities in history leaves no room for death and judgement. Yet civilizations do die; and it may be that, like the individual, they destroy themselves when they try too desperately to live or when they seek their own life too consistently. 31

Therefore, in his words, “Though nations and empires have a longer life-span than individuals they are all, as the prophet observed, ‘delivered unto death’ (Ezekie1 31:14).” 32 Profane cycles, he believes, are “meaningful because eternal principles are vindicated in both the life which overcomes death in rising civilizations, and in the death which overtakes proud life in dying ones.” 33

“St. Augustine’s Christian realism errs in its too consistent emphasis upon the sinful corruptions of the world’s peace,” Niebuhr observes, because “Civilizations and cultures do rise and prosper; and they have periods of creativity and stability before the destructive elements in them overcome the creative ones.” 34 Though he disagrees with Augustine’s analysis of profane history - which does not admit even temporary improvement — he concurs with Augustine’s analysis of sacred history. For Cooper, as for Augustine and Niebuhr, sacred history comprises one great cycle of time from paradise lost to paradise regained. In Cooper’s words, “The time of man is but a moment in the reckoning of Him whose life is eternity — earth the habitation of a season!” 35 In Cooper, the use of seasonal analogy and metaphor to depict time and change is no different from the use of biological analogy and metaphor. Here he compares the {213} duration of the temporal world to the life of a season, implying that sacred history is curvilinear, not unilinear. And nothing in the vast body of his writings gives evidence to the contrary.

Donald Ringe, however, comes to a different conclusion. He writes, “like Cole’s Voyage of Life, The Crater envisions time as both cyclical and linear, a view which Cooper himself explicitly states at the close of the next-to-last chapter in the book.” He finds that although “change goes on within the world through a series of recurring cycles, the whole direction of cosmic time is linear. It moves from a point in the beginning’ to a divinely appointed end.” 36 He grants that profane history in Cooper is cyclical. But he argues, basing his judgment in part on a passage in The Crater, but largely on Cole’s four painting series, Voyage of Life, that sacred history for Cooper, Cole, and Bryant is linear.” 37 But Voyage of Life does not intrinsically support his interpretation. In the final painting of the four part series the implication is that the representative human being will go straight up to Heaven. But the series makes no comment on the primal beginning or the eschatological end of time. Niebuhr states there is the “eternity which is ‘above’ and the eternity which is at the end of history.” 38 The last painting in Voyage of Life addresses the “eternity which is ‘above’,” not “the eternity which is at the end of history.” The four paintings show the life cycle of a representative human being, but offer no information about the ultimate scope of sacred history. Likewise, the passage Ringe cites from the second-to-last chapter of The Crater does not intrinsically support the claim that Cooper thought sacred history linear. The passage states that the temporal world is “advancing slowly but unerringly towards the great consummation, which was designed from the beginning, and which is as certain to arrive in the end, as that the sun sets at night and rises in the morning.” 39 The passage does state that sacred history is “advancing” toward the eschatological “consummation” of time. But it does not state that the movement is linear. It does, however, use the analogy of the daily life cycle, “that the sun sets at night and rises in the morning,” to express the certainty of the author’s faith that paradise will someday be regained. The passage gives no reason to believe that the motion of time from the Fall to the Redemption is not one great cycle of time.

St. Augustine combined the Greek idea of patterned growth, expressed through biological analogy, with the Old Testament idea of history`being sacred and unique, to produce the Christian concept of {214} historical necessity. 41 In Frederick J. Teggart’s words, Augustine “Enisaged the life of humanity, the succession of the generations from Adam to the end of the ages, as the life of a single person.” 41 For Augustine the course of sacred history is fixed by design, is governed by necessity, and is comprised of one unique, never again to be repeated, great cycle of time, conceptualized through organic analogy. 42 Because Augustine, Cooper, and Niebuhr see no permanent improvement within historical time, no lasting moral progress, it is unesthetic and misleading to conceive of their idea of sacred history as unilinearly developmental. Rather, it is best envisioned as one great cycle of time from a significant past to a significant future, from the loss of paradise to its reinstitution. Such a view is esthetically more satisfying because it is consistent with their predilection to express time and change through organic analogy and metaphor. 43

Niebuhr views the scope of sacred history as a cycle from the first to the second Adam. The second Adam is Christ; and it is his Second Coming which signals the end of history. He is quick to point out that the cycle from first to second Adam does not result in the restitution of the innocence of the first garden. The second garden, symbolized in the figure of Christ, is a state of perfection not innocence. 44 The Christian cycle is symbolic, not the literal cycle of time that dominated the archaic mind. It is unique, never to be repeated, and its conclusion spells the end of history. Yet, for Niebuhr, as for Cooper, the meaning of history is not self-evident. History is ensconced in mystery. In the temporal sphere history is ultimately meaningful only insofar as the individual has faith in the resurrection. 45 “The Christian faith,” writes Niebuhr, “begins with, and is founded upon, the affirmation that the life, death, and resurrection of Christ represent an event in history, in and through which a disclosure of the whole meaning of history occurs, and all of these questions are answered.” 46 There are patterns to history, tentative meanings, but history is conclusively meaningful only to the extent that it providentially gives rise to and reinforces faith.

Cooper believes that the course of history will continue its cyclic pattern of growth and decay “until men shall reach that period in their history when, possibly to their wonder, they will find that a faultless code for the government of all their affairs has been lying neglected, daily and hourly, in their very hands, for eighteen centuries and a half, without their perceiving the all-important truth. In due season this code will, supersede all others, when the world will {215} for the first time be happy and truly free.” 47 Until the return of Christ, who first appeared “eighteen centuries and a half” ago, the human race will continue to exist in the muddle of its own depravity. But when mankind comes to dwell in Christ’s kingdom, under his “faultless code of government,” then “for the first time” the human race will “be happy and truly free.” Likewise, Niebuhr believes “There are renewals of life in history, individually and collectively,” such as America was for Cooper in its proximate utopian phase, “but no rebirth lifts life above the contradictions of man’s historic existence. The Christian,” Niebuhr and Cooper agree, must await “a ‘general resurrection’ as well as a ‘last judgement.’” 48 Historic “renewals” are limited, inconclusive, non-utopian.

A distinction should be made between Christian eschatology and secular utopianism. The former has to do with the attainment of perfectibility in a meta-time at the end of historical time, while the latter has to do with the achievement of a perfect society during the here and now, within time not outside of time. This distinction is quite clear in Cooper’s mind. He is an eschatologist, not a utopian; and he thinks utopians deluded in their wishful thinking that a perfect society can be constructed by less than perfect beings. He writes, “If the political economists and reformers and revolutionists of the age” — the utopians who believe human volition can make a more perfect world — if they “would turn from their speculations to those familiar precepts which all are taught and so few obey, they would find rules for every emergency; and most of all, would they learn the great secret which lies so profoundly hid from them and their philosophy, in the contented mind.” 49 The further America turned away from its proximate utopian past, the more futile or utopian efforts in the temporal sphere appeared to him. He came to think that social and humanitarian goals were inappropriate, even counterfeit. His final works — The Crater, The Oak Openings, The Sea Lions, The Ways Of the Hour, The Towns of Manhattan — exhibit an increased dissociation from efforts in the temporal sphere. Instead, they reflect the abiding stoicism of one who, although aware of a world full of impieties and transgressions, nonetheless possessed “the contented mind” of an individual who, through his faith in the hereafter, was at peace with himself and the tumultuous world. All these works look beyond historical or utopian solutions to the eschatological end of history, when all that is wrong will be set right.

Christian faith regards “historical time as moving toward a {216} significant future,” writes Niebuhr; and for him as for Cooper, “the end as Telos lies outside of history.” 51 “The symbol of the Last Judgement,” Niebuhr explains, “negates utopian illusions in progressive interpretations of history.” 51 Cooper concurs, writing, “the community will live on, suffer, and be deluded: it may even fancy itself almost within reach of perfection, but it will live on to be disappointed. There is no such thing on earth.” 52 In stating that history is “advancing” toward “that great consummation,” he echoes Niebuhr’s belief that history is “moving toward a significant future.” 53 Despite all that is wrong on this earth, Cooper’s faith affirms that “the main course is onward; and the day, in the sense of time, is not distant, when the whole earth is to be filled with the knowledge of the Lord.” 54 He uses language such as moving “onward,” “the progress it is steadily making towards,” and “advancing towards a better state of things,” in appraising the course of sacred history. 55 He does not mean the human race is becoming morally more exemplary, or that social conditions are improving. There is no suggestion in his words, properly interpreted, that provide a basis for thinking he accepted the idea of progress.

In order to alleviate any confusion between the kind of progress he is talking about and the idea of progress, he writes,

When men tell us of the great progress that the race is making towards perfection, and point to the acts which denote its wisdom, its power to control its affairs, its tendencies towards good when most left to its own self-control, our minds are filled with skepticism. The everyday experience of a life now fast verging towards three-score contradicts the theory and the facts. We believe not in the possibility of man’s becoming even a strictly rational being, unaided by a power from on high; and all that we have seen and read goes to convince us that he is most of a philosopher, the most accurate judge of his real state, the most truly learned, who most vividly sees the necessity of falling back on the precepts of revelation for all his higher principles and practice. We conceive that this mighty truth furnishes unanswerable proof of the unceasing agency of a providence, and when we once admit this, we concede that our own powers are insufficient for our own wants. 56

Though “the world as a whole is advancing towards a better state of {217} things,” it is because of “the will of God,” not the “calculations of man.” 57 Providential guidance, not man’s rational faculty, is directing mankind toward perfection. However, perfection is not achieved by progressive improvements in the temporal realm; rather, it will be achieved both in spite of and because of “the crimes, errors, and delusions” of human kind, “all of which was designed before the foundations of this world were laid!” 58 The approach of the millennium will not be signalled by mundane improvements or a higher state of morality. Man cannot save himself or achieve perfection through his own works. He is totally at the mercy of God. Faith is the only salvation.

Cooper’s faith in history, his firm conviction that man’s overriding destiny was securely in the hands of providence, is often difficult for the largely skeptical, twentieth-century mind to totally comprehend. Yet his faith and conviction were more the rule than the exception in ante-bellum America. His appraisal of sacred history is within the mainstream of historic Christianity, located on a continuum between the early-medieval orthodoxy of St. Augustine and the twentieth-century neo-orthodoxy of Reinhold Niebuhr. That providence directed the cycles of profane history and was guiding sacred history to a foreordained, apocalyptic climax, was a certainty to James Fenimore Cooper.


Footnotes are separately numbered for each chapter.  

1 Howard Mumford Jones states, “among major American novelists he is unique in his total acceptance of trinitarian Christianity and his insistent interpretation of man and the universe in the light of his belief” (Belief And Disbelief In American Literature, Chicago and London: The Univ. of Chicago Press, 1967, p. 39). In Charles A. Brady’s words, “In the orthodox sense of the word ‘religious,’ Cooper is the most religious of our major novelists” (“James Fenimore Cooper, 1789-1851, Myth-maker and Christian Romancer,” American Classics Reconsidered: A Christian Appraisal, ed. Harold C. Gardiner, S. J., New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958, p. 64).

2 Susan Fenimore Cooper, Pages And Pictures, From The Writings Of James Fenimore Cooper (New York: W. A. Townsend, 1861), p. 391.

3 In “The Romantic Dilemma In American Nationalism And The Concept of Nature,” Harvard Theological Review, 48 (Oct. 1955), p. 243, Perry Miller writes, “There i$ one truism about the early nineteenth century which cannot too often be repeated: in one fashion or another, various religious interests, aroused against the Enlightenment, allied themselves with forces we lump together as ‘Romantic.’ In England the Established Church was surprised, and momentarily bewildered, to discover that Scott, Wordsworth and Coleridge started new blood pulsating through its veins, expelling the noxious humors of indifference, Deism and scepticism. At Oxford, Romantic religiosity indeed swung so far to the other extreme that it carried Newman all the way to Rome.” And in The Raven And The Whale: The War of Words and Wits in the Era of Poe and Melville (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1956), p. 23, Perry Miller says of the New York Knickerbocker set, “they were professing Christians, most of them Episcopalians, apt to be ‘high-church’ in complexion, partisans of Bishop Hobart.”

4 In James Fenimore Cooper’s The Wing-And-Wing Or Le Feu-Follet (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1895-1900), Raoul Yvard tells the lovely Ghita Caracciola, “I do not deny that there is a power to govern all this Ghita, but I maintain that it is a principle; not a being, in our shape and form; and that it is the reason of things, rather than a deity,” p. 173. But at death Raoul recants and converts. In James Fenimore Cooper’s The Sea Lions Or The Lost Sealers (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1895-1900), Roswell Gardiner also rejects reason for faith at the tale’s conclusion, but mercifully Cooper allows him to live and wed the woman who had long awaited his conversion. Cooper explains, “He had learned the first, great lesson in religious belief, that of humility; without which no man can be truly penitent, or truly a Christian. He no longer thought of measuring the Deity with his narrow faculties, or of setting up his blind conclusions, in the face of positive revelations,” p. 456. 5 James Fenimore Cooper, Gleanings In Europe, Volume Two, England (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1930), p. 382.

6 Cooper, The Sea Lions, p. v.

7 James Fenimore Cooper, The Spy: A Tale Of The Neutral Ground (New York: Hafner, 1960), pp. 371-372.

8 James Fenimore Cooper, New York, Being an introduction to an unpublished manuscript, by the author, entitled The Towns of Manhattan (New York: Payson, 1930), pp. 4-5.

9 James Fenimore Cooper, Miles Wallingford, in Works of J. Fenimore Cooper (New York: P. F. Collier, 1892), V, p. 311.

10 Cooper, The Sea Lions, p. 96.

11 In previous chapters Cooper’s attraction to Roman Catholicism has been noted on several occasions. In Wyandotté Or The Hutted Knoll (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1896), pp. 328-329, Cooper defends the Roman Church against popular American misconceptions. Cooper’s defense of and attraction to Roman Catholicism is noted by William M. Hogue (“The Novel as a Religious Tract: James Fenimore Cooper — Apologist For the Episcopal Church,” Historical Magazine of The Protestant Episcopal Church, 40, 1971, pp. 18, 19, 25); by Kay Seymour House (Cooper’s Americans, (Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 1965, p. 151); by Joel Porte (The Romance in America: Studies In Cooper, Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, And James, Middletown: Wesleyan Univ. Press, 1969, p. 50); and by Donald A. Ringe (“Cooper’s Last Novels, 1847-1850,” PMLA, 75, Dec. 1960, p. 589).

12 James Fenimore Cooper, “American And European Scenery Compared,” The Home Book Of The Picturesque: Or American Scenery, Art, And Literature (New York: Putnam, 1852), p. 69.

13 James Fenimore Cooper, Excursions In Italy (London: Richard Bentley, 1838), II, p. 178.

14 James Fenimore Cooper, Excursions In Switzerland (London: Richard Bentley, 1836), II. p. 41. In The Heidenmauer he describes a fictional visit of penitent pilgrims to the shrine of Einsiedeln.

15 Reinhold Niebuhr, Faith And History: A Comparison Of Christian And Modern Views of History (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1949), p. 221. 16 James Franklin Beard, Introduction, The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper, ed. James Franklin Beard, I (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1960), p. xviii. For further discussion of Cooper’s pessimistic opinion about the essential nature of man see: Donald A. Ringe, The Pictorial Mode: Space & Time in the Art of Bryant, Irving & Cooper (Lexington: The Univ. Press of Kentucky 1971), 222; Jesse Bier, “Lapsarians On The Prairie: Cooper’s Novel,” Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 4 (Spring 1962), pp. 50, 56. 17 James Fenimore Cooper, The Heidenmauer Or The Benedictines (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1895-1900), p. 271.

18 Donald A. Ringe, James Fenimore Cooper (New Haven: College And Univ. Press, 1962), p. 92; Howard Mumford Jones, “Prose And Pictures: James Fenimore Cooper,” Tulane Studies in English, 3 (1952), p. 148.

19 James Fenimore Cooper, The Ways Of The Hour (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1895-1900), p. 444.

20 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. 137. In Charles O’Donnell’s words, “the destined perfection, was for Cooper not a matter of human life on this earth. In the transition state between its birth and the start of its decay, civilization is acceptable; but at all other times. the human condition is intolerable” (“Progress and Property: The Later Cooper,” American Quarterly, 13, Fall 1961, p. 408). 21 Mircea Eliade, The Sacred And The Profane. The Nature Of Religion, trans. Willard R. Trask (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1959), p. 107.

22 Eliade, p. 70.

23 Eliade, p. 31.

24 Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man: A Christian Interpretation (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953), I1, p. 96.

25 Niebuhr, Faith And History, p. 31.

26 Niebuhr, Faith And History, p. 237.

27 Niebuhr, Faith And History, p. 31.

28 Niebuhr, Faith And History, p. 135. In Reinhold Niebuhr: Prophet to Politicians (Nashville and New York: Abingdon Press, 1972), Ronald H. Stone lists three primary facets of history in Niebuhr’s analysis: (1) one cannot see unity in history; (2) history does not redeem man, thus moral progress does not exist within time; and (3) history can disclose meaning, but history does not fulfill meaning, p. 108.

29 Niebuhr, Faith And History, p. 214.

30 Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man, II, p. 307.

31 Niebuhr, Faith And History, p. 216. For Niebuhr’s discussion of the cyclic rise and fall of civilizations see The Nature and Destiny of Man, II, pp. 302-307.

32 Niebuhr, Faith And History, p. 218.

33 Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man, II, p. 307.

34 Niebuhr, Faith And History, p. 221.

35 James Fenimore Cooper, The Wept Of Wish-Ton-Wish (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1895-1900), p. 200.

36 Ringe, The Pictorial Mode, p. 174.

37 Ringe thinks Cole’s Voyage of Life “suggests a concept of time that is better understood as linear. To be sure, the four paintings illustrate four stages in the life cycle of the human being, but this is not the main point of the series. The use of a stream as the central image of life suggests a linear flow of time, and the highlight in the distant sky in the last canvas symbolizes the goal — eternal life — toward which time is moving. ... Viewed together, the series seems to imply that although in the mundane sphere, change occurs in a cyclical order, the thrust of time for the human soul is linear, moving toward an all-encompassing end” (The Pictorial Mode, p. 165).

38 Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man, II, p. 311.

39 James Fenimore Cooper, The Crater Or Vulcan’s Peak. ed. Thomas Philbrick (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1962), p. 444.

40 Robert A. Nisbet, Social Change and History: Aspects of the Western Theory of Development (London, Oxford, New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1969), p. 80.

41 Frederick J. Teggart, Theory and Processes of History (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1960), p. 87.

42 See Nisbet, p. 63.

43 Nisbet, pp. 63, 70, 77, 81, 212.

44 Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man, II, pp. 77, 80, 90.

45 Niebuhr, Faith And History, p. 37; Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man, II, p. 295.

46 Niebuhr, Faith And History, p. 26.

47 James Fenimore Cooper, The Oak Openings Or The Bee-Hunter (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1895-1900), p. 257.

48 Niebuhr, Faith And History, p. 214.

49 Cooper, The Oak Openings, p. 257.

50 Niebuhr, Faith And History, pp. 38, 237.

51 Niebuhr, Faith And History, p. 237.

52 Cooper, The Towns of Manhattan, p. 58.

53 Cooper, The Crater, p. 444.

54 Cooper, The Oak Openings, p. iv.

55 Cooper, The Oak Openings, pp. 414, 313, 413.

56 Cooper, The Oak Openings, p. 413.

57 Cooper, The Oak Openings, pp. 413, 414.

58 Cooper, The Oak Openings, p. 313.