Introduction to The Monikins (1835)

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: Cooper’s sense of humor; genesis of The Monikins; publisher’s mistaken insistence on extending it to two volumes.

Pages and Pictures, pp. 274-275

Contents: THE MONIKINS. — The author’s enjoyment of humor and pleasantry — Extract, Dr. Reasono, Sir John Goldencalf, and Captain Poke in conference.

[274] ENJOYMENT Of the humorous, a relish of the comical and ludicrous, were very strongly marked in Mr. Cooper’s familiar life. At the table, by the fireside, his conversation was full of cheerful vivacity, of fun and pleasantry. He talked invariably with great freedom and fulness — often with an earnestness, a power, and an eloquence which riveted the attention of those about him. While touching upon some subject of a grave nature — especially when moral feeling was fully aroused — language, and manner, and countenance would appear severe and stern in the extreme. An hour later, perhaps, the same fine countenance would become beaming with kindliness, or glowing with merriment. He delighted in a humorous anecdote, in a witty remark. When, in the course of reading, any thing of this nature came in his way, he was never satisfied unless it was shared with others; very frequently the laughable passage was carried immediately into the family circle, and read by him with infinite zest, and with a singularly hearty laugh — tears of merriment, meanwhile, rolling down his cheeks.

The idea of a satirical tale, in which the parts usually filled by men should be gravely carried out by monkeys, suggested itself to Mr. Cooper, while travelling in Europe. In the year 1835, the book was written, and published under the name of “The Monikins.” The lending idea was certainly excellent; two human [275] beings, each particularly well sketched in his way — the English baronet, Sir John Goldencalf, and the Yankee skipper, Captain Noah Poke, of “Stunin’tun” — are made to travel in company through monkeyland, visiting regions which, under the names of Leaphigh, Leaplow, and Leapthrough, are intended to represent England, America, and France. There are pages full of wit, fun, the most clever satire, and strong truth. But, as a complete work, the book was scarcely successful; it was too long, the vein of irony was often too complicated, while the blending of the humorous story of Sir John and his lady-love, introduced to give the volumes something of the character of a regular novel, was clearly an error. The work was hastily written; had the author given himself time — which a task of this nature requires above all others; had he condensed his two volumes into one, rejected the love story, and thrown aside the more complicated passages of satire, the work would, no doubt, have come nearer to the idea he had conceived. But “The Monikins” is one of those books which prove that publishers may sometimes mistake their own interests. It would have been the author’s wish to write a single volume exclusively filled with his Monikin people — your Lord Chatterinos, your Lady Chatterissas, your Brigadiers Downright, your Judges, People’s-Friends: something approaching to the regular novel in size and plot was required of him, in order to attract, if possible, the general reader. The attempt to combine both objects proved, as might have been foreseen, an error.

Excerpt: “Dr. Reasono and His Party.” [James Fenimore Cooper, The Monikins [1835] (New York: W.A. Townsend and Co., 1860), Chapter 8, pp. 103-108]