Introduction to The Chainbearer (1845)

Susan Fenimore Cooper

Introductions to novels by her father, with significant biographic and literary information, were written by Susan Fenimore Cooper as prefaces to excerpts from 25 Cooper novels in Pages and Pictures from the Writings of James Fenimore Cooper, with Notes by Susan Fenimore Cooper (New York: W.A. Townsend and Co., 1861). She also wrote introductions to 15 (not all the same) novels published between 1876-1884 as the Household Edition of the Works of J. Fenimore Cooper (New York and Cambridge: Houghton, Mifflin and Co. [Hurd and Mifflin]).

These introductions are collected for the first time on the Cooper Society website. Lengthy quotations have been reproduced in indented form, but retaining the quotation marks of the original, and their sources have been indicated in [square brackets].

Topics Covered: Sequel to Satanstoe; Cooper on the anti-rent question [quotation]; good characterization.

Pages and Pictures, pp. 359-360.

Contents: THE CHAINBEARER. — The squatters — Thousandacres and Andries Coejemans — Mooseridge — Extract, the Storehouse Prisoner.

[359] A FEW months after the publication of “Satanstoe,” appeared “The Chainbearer,” an autobiography like the first work, and purporting to be written by the son of Cornelius and Anneke. The history of the tract of land at Mooseridge is continued, and in following the steps of Mordaunt Littlepage, the son of the proprietor, who goes there for the purpose of carrying on the improvements of the border colony, we find “Squatters” already in possession, and in the lawless proceedings of Thousandacres and his party are made to note the first working of the disorderly spirit of “Anti-Rent.”

“Every chronicle of manners has a certain value,” says the writer. “When customs are connected with principles, in their origin, development, or end, such records have a double importance, and it is because we think we see such a connection between the facts and incidents of the Littlepage Manuscripts, and certain theories of our own time, that we give the former to the world. It is, perhaps, a fault of your professed historian to refer too much to philosophical agencies, and too little to those which are more humble. * * * ‘Satanstoe’ and ‘The Chainbearer’ relate directly to the great New York question of the day, Anti-Rentism, which question will be found to be pretty fully laid bare in the third and [360] last book of the series. We conceive that no apology is necessary for treating the subject of Anti-Rentism with the utmost frankness. Agreeably to our view of the matter, the existence of true liberty among us, the perpetuity of the institutions, and the safety of public morals, are all dependent on putting down wholly and absolutely the false and dishonest theories and statements that have been boldly advanced in connection with this subject. In our view, New York is at this moment a disgraced state; and her disgrace arises from the fact that her laws are trampled under foot, without any efforts — at all commensurate with the object — being made to enforce them. If words and professions can save the character of a community, all may yet be well; but if states, like individuals, are to be judged by their actions, and the ‘tree is to be known by its fruit,’ God help us! For ourselves, we conceive that true patriotism consists in laying bare every thing like public vice, and in calling such things by their right names. It is time that they who have not been afraid to praise, when praise was merited, should not shrink from the office of censuring, when the want of timely warnings may be one cause of the most fatal evils. The great practical defect of institutions like ours, is the circumstance that ‘what is everybody’s business is nobody’s business’ — a neglect that gives to the activity of the rogue a very dangerous ascendancy over the more dilatory correctives of the honest man.” [James Fenimore Cooper, Satanstoe [1845] (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990), Preface, pp. 3-4]

The narrative of “The Chainbearer” is decidedly interesting, while the characters are all well drawn; honest Andries Coejemans, the Chainbearer, is excellent in his way, and Ursula, his pretty niece, is quite charming, so warm-hearted, and natural, and womanly; the wily Newcome, and the rude Thousandacres, with his brood, also receive full justice at the writer’s hands, and that without the least exaggeration.

Excerpt: “The Chainbearer.” [James Fenimore Cooper, The Chainbearer [1845], (New York: W. A. Townsend and Co., 1860), Chapter 20, pp. 304-310.]