Introduction to The Pilot (1823)
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].
I: From Pages and Pictures Idea of inventing the sea novel came after reading Scott’s The Pirate; first glimpse of the Arieland the frigate (excerpt); writing The Pilotin 1823, publication and reception; Cooper later dissatisfied with his presentation of both John Paul Jones and Long Tom Coffin; Cooper on genesis of The Pilot
II: From Household Edition A 1823 dinner conversation at New York home of Charles Wilkes (friend who had encouraged publication of Precaution), in which discussion of Scott’s The Pirateled to Cooper’s stubbornly insisting that a novel focused on the sea and seamen could be both accurate and interesting to landsmen; believing a “real” hero necessary, Cooper chose John Paul Jones’ raids on Britain in the Rangerin 1778; writing The Pilotin 1823, despite total discouragement from his friends; publication and enthusiastic reception; Cooper later dissatisfied with his presentation of both John Paul Jones and Long Tom Coffin; dedication to naval officer and friend William Branford Shubrick.
Contents: Conversation at the table of Mr. Wilkes — Sudden determination to attempt a tale of the sea — Generally discouraged by his friends — Paul Jones — The MS. read to a seaman — Full success of the book — Extracts, Battle of the Bon Homme Richard — The Frigate.
 THE idea of writing a romance connected with the sea, was accidentally suggested by a conversation at the table of Mr. Charles Wilkes. The author of Waverley had recently published “The Pirate,” and, as usual with every fresh volume from his pen, the book and its characters entered largely into the table talk of the hour. The admiration of the landsmen of the party was much excited by the nautical passages of the narrative; and some of the guests doubted whether Sir Walter Scott, the legal man, the poet of past centuries, could have drawn marine touches so correctly; the fact was given as a reason for doubting his identity with the author of Waverley. No man admired the genius of Sir Walter Scott more than the author of “The Pioneers;” but on this occasion he maintained the opinion that “The Pirate” was not thoroughly satisfactory to a nautical reader; he added that a man accustomed to ships, and the sea, could have accomplished far more with the same materials as those employed in “The Pirate.” His companions differed from him; they considered the proportion of nautical matter as a proof of the author’s skill; they held that similar scenes introduced very freely into a work of fiction must necessarily become tedious from their monotony, that they could not long be made really interesting to the general reader; professional men might take pleasure in them, but for a landsman, occasional passages by way of brief episodes, admitted for the sake of novelty and variety, must always be sufficient. More than this must necessarily become an error of judgment in any work of fiction. Mr. Cooper opposed this view of the subject with his usual spirit and animation. He admitted that as yet very little had been done in the way of nautical fiction; but he maintained  that a work of this nature, with the scene laid on the ocean, whose machinery should be ships and the waves, whose principal characters should be seamen, acting and talking as such, might be written with perfect professional accuracy, and yet possess equal interest with a similar book connected with the land. The general opinion of the company was very strongly against him. And in a conversation on the same subject with his host, prolonged after they had left table, the same views were very clearly expressed by Mr. Wilkes, for whose general taste and judgment Mr. Cooper had the highest respect. On this occasion, however, the friends differed. Before the conversation had turned to other subjects, Mr. Cooper had already resolved to prove the justness of his own opinion, although no declaration to that effect was made. The same evening, on his way home from the house of Mr. Wilkes, the outline of a nautical romance was vaguely sketched in his own mind.
“I must write one more book — a sea tale — to show what can be done in this way by a sailor!” he exclaimed, little foreseeing that the freshly-planned story should be only the first of a series of similar narratives.
It was the intention to blend history and nautical action in the new work — or to introduce at least some one striking historical character, believing that the reader’s attention could thus be more readily attracted. No necessity for any such historical figure would seem really to have existed; at a later day many were the incidents of sea life to which the same pen gave deep interest, and in which the characters were all imaginary. The new book, however, was to be a first attempt, a bold experiment with elements as yet untried. It was conceived necessary to connect with the narrative some historical name which should give it importance, and for the same reason the struggles of the Revolution were chosen for the date of the tale. The nautical annals of that period were brief, and a rapid glance was sufficient to show that among the historical figures of the time, that of the bold adventurer Paul Jones stood prominent as one of the few adapted to a work of fiction. His cruise in the Ranger, and his singularly daring descents upon Whitehaven and St. Mary’s Isle, suggested the plot of “The Pilot.”
Two ships, a frigate, and a schooner, were chosen as the nautical machinery of the tale. The name of the larger vessel was purposely omitted, with the idea of vaguely connecting her cruise, in the reader’s mind, with that of some one of the few American men-of-war of the same date. To the schooner he gave the name of the Ariel, so well adapted to the peculiar character of an American craft of that size. Let us open the volume and see with what prospect of success the two vessels are first brought into view:
 “’But wha ha ye gotten here? That chiel has an ow’r liking to the land for a seafaring body; an’ if the bottom o’ the sea be any thing like the top o’ it, he’s in grat danger o’ a shipwrack!’
“This unexpected change in the discourse drew all eyes on the object toward which the staff of the observant drover was pointed. To the utter amazement of every individual present, a small vessel was seen moving slowly round a point of land that formed one of the sides of the little bay, to which the field in which the laborers were, composed the other. There was something very peculiar in the externals of this unusual visitor, which added in no small degree to the surprise created by her appearance in that retired place. None but the smallest vessels, and those rarely, or at long intervals a desperate smuggler, were ever known to venture so close to the land, amid the sand-bars and sunken rocks with which that immediate coast abounded. The adventurous mariners who now attempted this dangerous navigation in so wanton, and, apparently, so heedless a manner, were in a low black schooner, whose hull seemed utterly disproportioned to the raking masts it upheld, which, in their turn, supported a lighter set of spars, that tapered away until their upper extremities appeared no larger than the lazy pennant that in vain endeavored to display its length in the light breeze.
“The short day of that high northern latitude was already drawing to a close, and the sun was throwing his parting rays obliquely across the waters, touching the gloomy waves here and there with streaks of pale light. The stormy winds of the German Ocean were apparently lulled to rest; and, though the incessant rolling of the surge on the shore heightened the gloomy character of the hour and the view, the light ripple that ruffled the sleeping billows was produced by a gentle air, that blew directly from the land. Notwithstanding this favorable circumstance, there was something threatening in the aspect of the ocean, which was speaking in hollow, but deep murmurs, like a volcano on the eve of an eruption, that greatly heightened the feelings of amazement and dread with which the peasants beheld this extraordinary interruption to the quiet of their little bay. With no other sails spread to the action of the air than her heavy mainsail, and one of those light jibs that projected far beyond her bows, the vessel glided over the water with a grace and a facility that seemed magical to the beholders, who turned their wondering looks from the schooner to each other in silent amazement. At length, the drover spoke in a low, solemn voice —
“’He’s a bold chiel that steers her! And if that bit craft has wood in her bottom, like the brigantines that ply between Lon’on and the Frith o’ Leith, he’s more in danger than a prudent man could wish. Ay! he’s by the big  rock that shows his head when the tide runs low, hut it’s no mortal mon who can steer long in the road he’s journeying, and not speedily find land wi’ water a top o’t.’
“The little schooner, however, still held her way among the rocks and sand-pits, making such slight deviations in her course as proved her to be under the direction of one who knew his danger, until she had entered as far into the bay as prudence could at all justify, when her canvas was gathered into folds, seemingly without the agency of hands, and the vessel, after rolling for a few minutes on the long billows that hove in from the ocean, swung round in the currents of the tide, and was held by her anchor.
“The peasants now began to make their conjectures more freely concerning the character and objects of their visitor; some intimating that she was engaged in contraband trade, and others that her views were hostile, and her business war. A few dark hints were hazarded on the materiality of her construction, for nothing of artificial formation, it was urged, would be ventured by men in such a dangerous place, at a time when even the most inexperienced landsmen were enabled to foretell the certain gale. The Scotchman, who, to all the sagacity of his countrymen added no small portion of their superstition, leaned greatly to the latter conclusion, and had begun to express this sentiment warily and with reverence, when the child of Erin, who appeared not to possess any very definite ideas on the subject, interrupted him, by exclaiming —
“’Faith! there’s two of them! A.big and a little! Sure the bogles o’ the sea likes good company the same as any other Christians.’
“’Twa!’ echoed the drover; ‘twa! Ill luck bides o’ some o’ ye. Twa craft a sailing without hand to guide ‘em, in sic a place as this, whar eyesight is na guid enough to show the dangers, bodes evil, to a’ that luik thereon. Hoot! she’s na the yearling, the tither! Luik! mon, luik! she’s a gallant boat and a gr’at!’ He paused, raised his pack from the ground, and first giving one searching look at the objects of his suspicions, he nodded with great sagacity to the listeners, and continued, as he moved slowly toward the interior of the country: ‘I should na wonder if she carried King George’s commission about her; weel, weel, I wull journey, and ha’ a crack wi’ the guid mon; for they craft have a suspeecious aspect, and the sma’ bit thing wu’ld nab a mon quite easy, and the big one wu’ld hold us a’, and no feel we war’ in her.’
“This sagacious warning caused a general movement of the party, for the intelligence of a hot press was among the rumors of the times. The husbandmen collected their implements of labor, and retired homeward; and though many a curious eye was bent on the movements of the vessels, from the distant  hills, but very few of those not immediately interested in the mysterious visitors ventured to approach the rocky cliffs that lined the bay.
“The vessel that caused these cautious movements was a gallant ship, whose huge hull, lofty masts, and square yards, loomed in the evening haze, above the sea; like a distant mountain, rising from the deep. She carried but little sail, and though she warily avoided the near approach to the land that the schooner had attempted, the similarity of their movements was sufficiently apparent to warrant the conjecture that they were employed on the same duty. The frigate, for the ship belonged to this class of vessels, floated across the entrance of the little bay majestically, in the tide, with barely enough motion through the water to govern her movements, until she arrived opposite to the place where her consort lay, when she hove up heavily into the wind, squared the enormous yards on her mainmast, and attempted, in counteracting the power of her sails by each other, to remain stationary; but the light air, that had at no time swelled her heavy canvas to the utmost, began to fail, and the long waves that rolled in from the ocean ceased to be ruffled with the breeze from the land. The currents and billows were fast sweeping the frigate toward one of the points of the estuary, where the black heads of the rocks could be seen running far into the sea, and, in their turn, the mariners of the ship dropped an anchor to the bottom, and drew her sails in festoons to the yards. As the vessel swung round to the tide, a heavy ensign was raised to her peak, and a current of air opening for a moment its folds, the white field and red cross that distinguish the flag of England, were displayed to view.” [James Fenimore Cooper, The Pilot (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986), Chapter 1, pp. 12-15]
“The Pilot” was written in New York in 1823, and published by Mr. Charles  Wiley, on the 29ᵗʰ of December of that year. There could be no doubt as to its success. All that interest which the writer had believed it possible to throw around a naval narrative, was fully aroused; the opinion declared some months earlier at the table of Mr. Wilkes was proved to be correct. The pictures placed before the reader were drawn with so much spirit and poetical feeling, with so much clearness and fidelity, as to command attention, and fill the public mind for the moment. The success of the book in England was also decided. Ere long, indeed, the tale was translated into French, and German, and Italian, in spite of the many technical difficulties of the subject — a most convincing proof of the interest of the work; the flag of the little Ariel was carried triumphantly into the Bay of Biscay, aye, into the classic waters of the Mediterranean.
With the character of Paul Jones, as given in “The Pilot,” Mr. Cooper, at a later day, was himself dissatisfied. It was not sufficiently true to reality. The pilot of the frigate was represented as a man of higher views and aims, in a moral sense, than the facts of the life of Paul Jones would justify. The commander of the Ranger was in truth a bold and daring adventurer, a skilful seaman, a brave partisan, an ambitious man — but he was scarcely the enthusiast in private feeling, in political views, described in the pilot of the frigate. The author would gladly have severed entirely the slight historical link between the two, and left the pilot as vaguely connected with the annals of the country, as the ship he steered.
With Long Tom Coffin, also, he was, in his own last years, less satisfied than many of his readers. As he looked back at the character, in the maturity of long experience, he saw it with a clearer view, a greater fulness of conception, a more complete finish of detail — he considered it as a sketch only, and would gladly have wrought up the sketch of the old salt, a man after his own heart, to a finished picture, as he has done with Natty Bumppo. Of the two characters he considered that of Boltrope better, perhaps, as a piece of workmanship than that of the old Nantucket hero.
A few remarks on the origin of “The Pilot,” given in Mr. Cooper’s words, are inserted here:
“It is probable a true history of human events would show that a far larger proportion of our acts are the results of sudden impulses and accident, than of that reason of which we so much boast. However true or false this opinion may be in more important matters, it is certainly and strictly correct as relates to the conception and execution of this book.
“’The Pilot’ was published in 1823. This was not long after the appearance of ‘The Pirate,’ a work which it is hardly necessary to remind the reader has a  direct connection with the sea. In a conversation with a friend, a man of polished taste and extensive reading, the authorship of the Scottish novels came under discussion. The claims of Sir Walter were a little distrusted, on account of the peculiar and minute information that the romances were then very generally thought to display. ‘The Pirate’ was cited as a very marked instance of this universal knowledge, and it was wondered where a man of Scott’s habits and associations, could have become so familiar with the sea. The writer had frequently observed that there was much looseness in this universal knowledge, and that the secret of its success was to be traced to the power of creating that vraisemblance, which is so remarkably exhibited in those world-renowned fictions, rather than to any very accurate information on the part of their author. It would have been hypercritical to object to ‘The Pirate’ that it was not strictly nautical or true in its details; but, when the reverse was urged as a proof of what, considering the character of other portions of the work, would have been most extraordinary attainments, it was a sort of provocation to dispute the seamanship of ‘The Pirate,’ a quality to which the book has certainly very little just pretension. The result of this conversation was a sudden determination to produce a work which, if it had no other merit, might present truer pictures of the ocean and ships than any that are to be found in ‘The Pirate.’ To this unpremeditated decision, purely an impulse, is not only ‘The Pilot’ due, but a tolerably numerous school of nautical romances that have succeeded it.
“The author had many misgivings concerning the success of the undertaking, after he had made some progress in the work; the opinions of his different friends being any thing but encouraging. One would declare that the sea could not be made interesting; that it was tame, monotonous, and without any other movement than unpleasant storms, and that, for his part, the less he got of it the better. The women very generally protested that such a book would have the odor of bilge-water, and that it would give them the maladie de mer. Not a single individual among all those who discussed the merits of the project, within the range of the author’s knowledge, either spoke or looked encouragingly. It is probable that all these persons anticipated a signal failure.
“So very discouraging did these ominous opinions get to be, that the writer was, once or twice, tempted to throw his manuscript aside, and turn to something new. a favorable opinion, however, coming from a very unexpected quarter, put a new face on the matter, and raised new hopes. Among the intimate friends of the writer, was an Englishman, who possessed most of the peculiar qualities of the educated of his country. He was learned even, had a taste that was so just as always to command respect, but was prejudiced, and particularly so in all that  related to this country and its literature. Re could never be persuaded to admire Bryant’s ‘Water-Fowl,’ and this mainly because if it were accepted as good poetry, it must be placed at once amongst the finest fugitive pieces of the language. Of the ‘Thanatopsis’ he thought better, though inclined to suspect it of being a plagiarism. To the tender mercies of this one-sided critic, who had never affected to compliment the previous works of the author, the sheets of a volume of ‘The Pilot’ were committed, with scarce an expectation of his liking them. The reverse proved to be the case — he expressed himself highly gratified, and predicted a success for the book which it probably never attained.
“Thus encouraged, one more experiment was made, a seaman being selected for the critic. A kinsman, a namesake, and an old messmate of the author, one now in command on a foreign station, was chosen, and a considerable portion of the first volume was read to him. There is no wish to conceal the satisfaction with which the effect on this listener was observed. He treated the whole matter as fact, and his criticisms were strictly professional and perfectly just. But the interest he betrayed could not be mistaken. It gave a perfect and most gratifying assurance that the work would be more likely to find favor with nautical men, than with any other class of readers.” [James Fenimore Cooper, 1849 Introduction to The Pilot (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986), Introduction, pp. 5-7.]
In the pages chosen for illustration of “The Pilot,” the reader will find brought together two very different chapters from the same pen. In the first is given the historical record of the celebrated battle of the Bon Homme Richard, one of the most remarkable in the brief annals of American naval warfare, and written with all the conscientious accuracy of detail which was in the power of the historian to give it. The second passage is drawn from one of the opening chapters of “The Pilot,” the first of many storm scenes sketched by the same hand. The reader may be interested in comparing the two — history and fiction flowing in parallel, yet thoroughly distinct currents, from the same pen.
Excerpts: (1) “Battle of the Bon Homme Richard.” [James Fenimore Cooper, The History of the Navy of the United States of America (Philadelphia: Lea & Blanchard, 1839), Vol. I, pp. 188-203]; (2) “The Frigate in a Storm.” [The Pilot, Chapter 5, pp. 48-59.]
[xiii] The idea of writing a romance connected with the sea was accidentally suggested by a conversation at the table of Mr. Charles Wilkes. This gentleman, belonging to a generation older than Mr. Cooper, held a prominent position in the society of New York, at that date; he was a nephew of the celebrated John Wilkes of “North Briton” notoriety, but a man of widely opposite character, distinguished not only for his literary tastes, but for his polished manners and agreeable conversation. He had known the author of “The Spy” from boyhood, and felt a warm interest in him personally, and in connection with his literary career. It was, indeed, by the advice of this gentleman that “Precaution,” the first tale of the writer, was published, in 1819 [sic]. Mr. Wilkes lived at that time in what was then considered the choicest ground in New York, for homes of elegant leisure, in Hudson Square, under the shadow of St. John’s Church, where rows of dignified houses surrounded what was called St. John’s Park, a quiet, pleasant green, of no great size, to which the owners of the adjoining houses alone had access. To-day that same ground has become one of the great railroad centres of the largest town in America, where travel and traffic reign supreme, with all the din and racket following in the train of the locomotive. The last tree of the “Park” has long since been felled. the inmates of those homes of quiet elegance have long since taken flight to streets more congenial. St. John’s Church alone keeps its ground. But fifty years ago, among [xiv] the dignified homes surrounding the green “Park,” none was more hospitable than that of Mr. Wilkes, and there Mr. Cooper was very frequently to be found among the guests.
“The Pioneers,” was published in October, 1822 [sic]. The dinner party referred to occurred not long after. The author of “Waverley” had recently published “The Pirate,” and, as usual with every fresh novel from his pen, the book and its characters entered largely into the table-talk of the hour. The admiration of the landsmen of the party was much excited by the nautical passages of the narrative, and some of the guests doubted whether Sir Walter Scott, the legal man, the poetical interpreter of past centuries, could have drawn marine touches so correctly; the fact was, indeed, given as a reason for doubting his identity with the author of “Waverley.” No man admired the genius of Sir Walter Scott more than the author of “The Pioneers;” but on this occasion he maintained the opinion that “The Pirate” was not thoroughly satisfactory to a nautical reader; he added, that a man accustomed to ships and the sea could have accomplished far more with the same materials as those employed in “The Pirate.” His companions all differed from him. They considered the proportion of nautical matter as a proof of the author’s skill; they held that similar scenes introduced very freely into a work of fiction much necessarily become tedious from their monotony, that they could not long be made really interesting to the general reader; professional men might take pleasure in them, but for a landsman occasional passages, brief episodes, admitted for the sake of variety, must always be sufficient. More than this must necessarily become an error of judgment in any work of fiction. Mr. Cooper opposed this view, with his usual spirit and animation. He mentioned Smollett, but was told that the novels of this writer owed their success to their coarse, but vigorous wit and humor, and in spite of any connection with the sea. Still the author of “The Spy” maintained that a work of this nature, with the scene laid [xv] on the ocean, whose machinery should be ships, the waves, and the winds; whose principal characters should be seamen, acting and talking as such, might be written with professional accuracy, and yet possess equal interest with a similar book connected with the land. The general opinion of the company was very strongly against him. And, in a conversation with his host, prolonged after they had left the table, the same views were clearly expressed by Mr. Wilkes, for whose taste and judgment Mr. Cooper had the highest respect. On this occasion, however, the friends differed very decidedly. Before the conversation had turned to other subjects Mr. Cooper had already resolved to prove the justness of his own opinion, although no declaration to that effect was then made. The same evening, on his way home from the house of Mr. Wilkes, the outline of a nautical romance was vaguely sketched in his own mind.
“I must write one more book, — a sea tale, — to show what can be done in that way by a sailor!” he exclaimed to Mrs. Cooper, little foreseeing that the freshly-planned romance should be only the first of a series of similar narratives.
It was the intention to blend history and nautical fiction in the new work, or at least to introduce some one striking historical character, believing that the reader’s attention could thus be more readily attracted. No necessity for any such historical figure would seem really to have existed; at a later day many were the incidents of sea life to which the same pen gave deep interest, and in which the characters were all imaginary. The new book, however, was to be a first attempt, a bold experiment with elements as yet untried. It was conceived necessary to connect with the narrative some historical name which should give it importance, and for the same reason the period of the Revolution was chosen for the date of the tale. The nautical annals of that time were brief, and a rapid glance was sufficient to show that among the historical figures that of the bold adventurer, Paul Jones, stood prominent as one of the few [xvi] adapted to a work of fiction. His cruise on the Ranger suggested the plot of “The Pilot.”
The reader may have partially forgotten the daring descent of Jones upon Whitehaven and St. Mary’s Isle. A few details of the exploit are given: they may have interest to one holding “The Pilot” in his hand, history and fiction under the reader’s eye at the same moment. Paul Jones had received a lieutenant’s commission in the American navy as early as 1775. Three years later, after active and honorably service in different vessels, he wrote to the American Commissioners at Paris that he had long entertained the opinion that ours ships should be employed in small squadrons, or singly, on secret and sudden expeditions upon important ports of the enemy, then in a condition so defenseless that they might easily be surprised by a small force. “We cannot yet fight their navy, as their numbers and force are so far superior to ours. Therefore, it seems to be our most natural province to surprise their defenseless places, and thereby divert their attention and draw it off from our coasts.” The cruise of the Ranger was the consequence of these suggestions. “I have in contemplation several enterprises of some importance. When an enemy thinks a design against him improbable, he can always be surprised and attacked with advantage.” With these views he sailed from Brest early in April, 1778, running into the Irish Channel, taking several trading vessels as he moved northward. On the 18ᵗʰ of April the Ranger was off the Isle of Man; the wind was favorable for carrying out a project her commander had already formed of attacking the town of Whitehaven, on the coast of Cumberland, and burning the shipping in the port, “to put an end, by one good fire, in England, of shipping, to all the burnings in America,” as he declared. The shifting of the wind compelled Jones to have up the attack on that day, after he had reached the harbor and his boats were ready to be lowered. The following day, having captured and sunk a schooner, he learned that nearly a dozen merchantmen, under convoy [xvii] of a king’s tender, manned with impressed seamen, were lying at anchor in Lochvyan, on the adjacent coast of Scotland. Instantly he determined to capture them, but again the wind changed. A day later he was off Carrickfergus, and learned from a fishing-smack that a sloop-of-war which he could see at anchor with his glass was the Drake, of the royal navy, carrying twenty guns. Immediately he planned a bold and manly attack on the sloop, intending to run into the harbor at night, overlay the cable of the Drake, as if by accident, and take a position on her bow, by which her decks would be open to a fire of musketry from the Rangers, when boarders could be thrown into the English vessel, and her capture would be all but certain. The plan was successfully carried out up to the last important act; the Ranger entered the harbor, drew near the Drake, overlaid her cable, round to on her bow, but — the anchor hung, and did not drop at the important moment; the Ranger drifted too far on the quarter of the English man-of-war to carry out the plan of a surprise. This enterprise, so daring in its conception, also failed. But the Ranger, having been taken at night for an awkward merchantman, made her way safely out to sea again, and that in spite of a gale, without her true character having been discovered. The acts in the drama of Jones’s naval career followed each other with wonderful rapidity. If one plan failed at sunset, another was under way with the dawn of the next day. Whitehaven was again the goal on the 22d of April; a fair, mild day, although the country was white with snow. Again the lightness of the wind delayed the approach until midnight. When a lad Paul Jones had made his first cruise from this Cumberland port; some years of his life, as boy and man, had been passed in the town; his mother and sisters were at that moment living in the neighborhood; he knew the ground thoroughly — these facts were all in favor of the success of the plan, but they throw a shadow over the daring exploit. A man of sound feeling and high sense of honor would scarcely have [xviii] aimed at that particular port, even as an act of retaliation, unless under special necessity. But it was, beyond all doubt, this very intimate knowledge of what had been almost home ground which led Jones to that point of the coast. Setting aside this drawback to the brilliancy of the exploit, we are compelled to admire the daring gallantry and imperturbable coolness with which the plan was carried out. At midnight, on the 22d of April, Jones left the Ranger with two boats, containing thirty-one officers and men who had volunteered for the duty. The early spring morning had already dawned when the boats reached the pier. It is said that not far from one hundred large trading ships lay on the northern side of the large stone pier dividing the harbor, while about one hundred and fifty craft, varying from two to four hundred tons, lay on the opposite side of the wall. The ships were all aground; and so completely were they considered out of all danger, that there was not water enough within reach to have saved a single vessel, had the flames once been thoroughly kindled. Two batteries of thirty guns commanded the port. On landing, Jones instantly led the attack upon the batteries; he scaled the breastwork of that nearest the pier, and, with a few followers, completely surprised the small garrison, who were very snugly enjoying the comfort of the guard-house, including the sentinel, made them prisoners, and spiked the guns. Posting sentinels, and giving directions as to firing the shipping, he hastened with but one follower to the second post, a quarter of a mile distant; here the guns also were spiked, and a safe retreat thus secured for the party. But the shipping had not yet been fired, Lieutenant Wallingsford, to whom the task had been committed, declared that his light had gone out. He evidently disliked the duty which had been allotted to him, muttering words to the effect that “nothing could be gained by burning poor people’s property.” The day was beginning to dawn; the people of the town had become alarmed. The invaders had depended upon candles brought with them for firing [xix] this shipping, but these had now all burned away. It seems odd to a reader of the present day, when lucifer matches are carried about in the pocket, that candles should have been the only means depended on for a great conflagration; but such was the fact, and to this fact Whitehaven owed its safety. But Jones was resolved that the fire should at least be kindled; he ran to a neighboring house, procured a light, and with his own hand kindled a fire in the steerage of one of the larger ships, closely surrounded by others, emptying a barrel of tar into the flames, which soon burst through the hatchway, and fired the rigging. The sun had now risen. Parties of the townspeople began to gather hurriedly here and there, amazed and bewildered. Jones held his ground, however, steadily, until his party had all embarked, even standing alone on the pier for a moment, looking about him in proud defiance; then he entered his boat and rode quietly out of the harbor. Three of his men, however, had deserted, and betrayed the object of the expedition. The townspeople gathered at the pier, and succeeded in arresting the flames. The one ship fired by Jones is said to have been the only vessel destroyed.
Jones had apparently scarcely touched the deck of the Ranger, when his active spirit aimed another blow at the enemy. He steered for St. Mary’s Isle, near Kircudbright, on the Scotch coast. Here lay a beautiful estate of Lord Selkirk; to seize the person of this gentleman and exchange him for some distinguished American prisoner was the object. Again the bold adventurer started with a single boat on his daring errand. He landed on the isle, but on his way to the house learned that Lord Selkirk was absent. He returned to the shore; his officers were eager to seize the plate in the house, again urging the plea of retaliation, much silver having been seized in American homes by English soldiers. Jones always declared that he consented to this step with great reluctance. However, armed with pistols and cutlasses, and commanded by the first lieutenant, the boat’s crew went to the house. Lady Selkirk [xx] was at breakfast; she saw the party approaching, and, little aware of their character, sent to offer them refreshments. Lieutenant Simpson and another officer then went into the house and stated their errand to Lady Selkirk herself. No violence was offered, and no resistance was made; the butler collected the plate, including the tea-pot on the table, which was emptied for the purpose. Jones himself kept aloof; he no doubt spoke the truth when he declared that this act was not approved by himself, and he labored earnestly to purchase the plate and return it to Lord Selkirk. It was sold by prize agents in France, and it was with no little difficulty that Jones eventually succeeded in repurchasing it all, and returning it to Lord Selkirk, after an interval of more than seven years and a long correspondence. The old tea-leaves from Lady Selkirk’s eventful breakfast were still found in the silver tea-pot. Nothing delighted the vanity of Paul Jones more than carrying on a correspondence with distinguished personages; many were the letters he wrote during those seven years to Lord and Lady Selkirk, to Franklin, to M. de Vergennes, relating to the plate, the correspondence beginning as soon as he landed in France by a letter to Lady Selkirk. An allusion in the letter to Lady Selkirk, declaring that he had “sacrificed the softer affections of the heart and prospects of domestic happiness,” led to the introduction of the character of Alice Dunscombe into “The Pilot.”
The day after the descent on St. Mary’s Isle, Paul Jones was already off Carrickfergus, on an errand more manly, and more worthy of the flag under which he sailed. He was in quest of the Drake, the sloop-of-war he had fruitlessly attempted to capture by surprise in the port of Lochvyan, only three days earlier. Tidings of the attempt up Whitehaven had already reached Belfast, and the Drake was preparing to pursue the American cruiser, with a large number of volunteers aboard, her crew amounting in all to one hundred and sixty men. The feats of the Ranger and her daring commander had indeed excited a panic [xxi] throughout the three kingdoms, more especially on the coasts of the Irish Channel, where alarm beacons were now blazing on both shores. It was not until the sun had nearly set that the Drake succeeded in making her way out of Belfast Lough, against a strong tide. The ships met in mid-channel, and the fire was kept up obstinately, at close quarters, broadside to broadside, for an hour and four minutes, when the brave Captain Burden of the Drake was killed, and the crew called for quarter. The English vessel was very much cut up, and her loss in killed and wounded was forty-two. The injuries to the Ranger were comparatively inconsiderable, and her number of killed and wounded amounted to only eight. An act of humanity on the part of Jones will be read with pleasure. It had been necessary to seize a fishing-boat and crew, on the Ranger’s first approach to Belfast Lough, five days earlier; these poor men were now released, and as their boat had been swamped, another was given to them, and money to replace what they had lost. He also sent ashore at the time two infirm men captured in one of his prizes, giving them his last guinea to pay their expenses to Dublin. The Drake was soon after carried successfully into Brest. This brief record of only two weeks of the daring and gallant career of Paul Jones will give an accurate idea of the man himself, and of his feats of nautical adventure. Such was the original of the nameless hero of “The Pilot.” For the machinery of the tale, two ships, a frigate and a schooner, were chosen. the name of the larger vessel was purposely omitted, with the idea of vaguely connecting her cruise in the readers’ mind with that of some one of the few American men-of-war of the same date. To the schooner the name of the Ariel was given, — a name well adapted to the peculiar character of the beautiful American craft of that size, and also a repetition of the name of a large vessel, commanded at one time by Paul Jones himself, when in the American service.
“The Pilot” was written in New York, in 1823, and [xxii] published by Mr. Charles Wiley, on the 29ᵗʰ of December of that year. While writing the book the author received a large amount of discouragement from his friends, who were not to be convinced of the possibility of writing a tale of the sea which should be even tolerably interesting. Not one, as he himself repeatedly stated, encouraged him either by word or look. On the contrary, all shook their heads ominously. They all apparently anticipated a signal failure. The subject was deemed to be, in its very nature, incapable of literary treatment. It is amusing now to look back at this notion, the last half century having produced so many nautical works, more or less interesting.
There could be no doubt, however, as to the success of “The Pilot,” after publication. All that interest which the writer had believed it possible to throw around a naval narrative was fully aroused. The opinion declared some months earlier at the table of Mr. Wilkes was proved to be correct. The pictures placed before the reader were drawn with so much spirit and poetical feeling, with so much clearness and fidelity, as to command attention and fill the public mind for the moment. The success of the book in England was also decided. Ere long, indeed, the tale was translated into French and German and Italian — and that in spite of the many technical difficulties of the subject, — a convincing proof of the interest of the work. The flag of the little Ariel was carried triumphantly into the Bay of Biscay, aye, into the classic waters of the Mediterranean.
With the character of Paul Jones, as given in “The Pilot,” Mr. Cooper, at a later day, was himself dissatisfied. It was not sufficiently true to the reality. The pilot of the frigate was represented as a man of higher views and aims, in a moral sense, than the facts of the life of Paul Jones would justify. The commander of the Ranger was in truth a bold and daring adventurer, a skillful seaman, a brave partisan, an ambitious man — but he was not the enthusiast in private feeling, in political views, described in the pilot of the frigate. The author would gladly have severed entirely the slight historical link between the two, and left the pilot as vaguely connected with the annals of the country, as the ship he steered. It will be observed that the name of Jones never once occurs in the book, although, of course, his figure, and different incidents of his career are alluded to with sufficient distinctness to mark his identity with the famous adventurer.
With Long Tom Coffin, also, he was in later life less satisfied than most of his readers. As he looked back at the character, in the maturity of long experience, he saw it with a clearer view, a greater fullness of conception, a more complete finish of detail; he considered it, as it now appears, as only a sketch, and would gladly have wrought up the portrait of the old salt, a man after his own heart, to a finished picture, as he had done with Natty Bumppo. He felt that he had not done full justice to Long Tom. Of the two characters, he considered that of Boltrope better, perhaps, as a piece of workmanship, than that of the old Nantucket hero.
“The Pilot” was dedicated to a very dear and intimate friend, William Branford Shubrick, of South Carolina, then a lieutenant in the navy, a former messmate in the navy, when both were midshipmen. It was a friendship of much more than common strength of attachment, lasting unbroken until death. Mr. Cooper continued deeply interested inn the navy, and closely watchful of its interests throughout his life. When traveling in Europe, and passing through Geneva, he called to pay his respects to M. Simon, a French gentleman, an émigré, who had lived long in New York, where he had married Miss Wilkes, a sister of Mr. Charles Wilkes. In the course of the conversation, M. Simon, a literary man of some note at that day, remarked to him: “You wore the only man I ever heard foretell the result of the naval war of 1812, between England and America. You were correct in your prediction.” “I knew the ships, and I knew the men who commanded them,” was the emphatic reply.