Introduction to The Prairie (1827)
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 Cooper’s idealization of Indians; genesis of The Prairiein New York, 1826; arrival in France and description of French landscape (quotation); first meeting with Sir Walter Scott (quotation); afterthoughts about the plot.
II: From Household Edition Cooper’s arrival in France, 1826; apartment in Paris; genesis of The Prairie; Cooper’s interest in Indians and meetings with members of Plains Indian delegations visiting Washington; description of Dacotah (Sioux) and Pawnee Indians; extensive quotation from Long’s expedition; Cooper’s abstemious habits; first meeting with Sir Walter Scott; efforts to assist Scott in America.
Contents: THE PRAIRIE — Indian Deputations — Western Tribes — The author’s sketches of Indian Character — Natty the Trapper — Poetical Spirit of the books — Interview with Sir Walter Scott — Extract, The Thicket on the Prairie.
 Ere “The Mohicans” was published, a second romance of Indian adventure had been already planned. But the scene was changed. The ground was no longer overshadowed by the boundless forest and timbered heights; the limpid lakes, the falling streams of the eastern valleys, were no longer accessories in the picture. In the course of his inquiries regarding the habits and character of the red man, while writing “The Mohicans,” Mr. Cooper was thrown repeatedly into temporary associations with parties of warriors from the tribes beyond the Mississippi, on their way to smoke the calumet at the council halls in Washington. He was much interested by some of the chiefs — the anecdotes of their different deeds of wild prowess, told by the interpreters; of their singular fortitude and powers of physical endurance; of their wily cunning and fierce passions; the vein of poetry and laconic eloquence, if the expression may be used, marking their brief speeches; their natural dignity of manner and grace of gesture, blended with their strongly-marked savage mien and accoutrements, struck him very forcibly. Tales of vast buffalo hunts; of battles between the mounted tribes, of vast fires sweeping over these boundless plains, were listened to with the vivid interest and sympathy and searching inquiry always aroused in him by narratives of adventure. The result was a determination to attempt a second Indian book, whose scenes should be laid on the wild Western plains, among the mounted tribes beyond the Mississippi.
The prairies he had never seen. His travels westward had not extended farther than Buffalo and Niagara, where he had gone on duty, when serving in  the navy. And at the moment of planning the book, he had not leisure for an excursion beyond the Mississippi, much as he wished to see that singular region. The necessary information could, therefore, be drawn from books and conversation only. But the eye of genius has a living lens of its own, peculiar to itself, endowing it with an insight which penetrates far below the surface of things, which seizes objects though veiled by the intervening cloud, which is capable of clear perception far beyond the common horizon; give it but a vague outline, let it but fix its vision on some distant point, and ere long great facts appear, strong and distinct in all the force of their reality, while lesser details of poetical grace and natural feeling come to light, and live and glow like the flowers beneath the sunbeam. With Shakespeare it looks toward Italy, and he who had never trod other than his native soil, brings all Venice, and Verona, and “Padova la dotta” to the shores of England, and throws the softness of the Italian moon over the nearest lawn. With the author of “Waverley” it looks into the scroll of History, and the page becomes illuminated with all the quaint pageantry of mediæval Time, in life-like glow and movement. It turns, with the poet of “Childe Harold,” toward the Russian steppe, and the wild troop of untamed horse comes rushing in savage fury toward the terrified reader.
The sketches of Indian character, as drawn by the writer of “The Mohicans” and “The Prairie,” have been declared too poetical, too much idealized. To a certain degree this criticism may be just. His was a mind naturally attracted by the noblest elements in every subject; he had little sympathy with the petty — he took no pleasure in dwelling on the perverted deformities of our common nature. His best characters — those which are the most complete, the most highly-finished, which take the strongest hold of the reader’s mind — were usually cast in a noble mould. It was natural that this should be so; never was there a pen held by a writer of works of the imagination more frankly honest, more simply sincere, more invariably guided by the real feeling of the author, than his own. He wrote from the heart. It was no cold, factitious head-work with him. His own personal views were always elevated; to this fact his whole life bears testimony — a testimony which assumes its strongest character to those who knew most intimately the habitual daily course of that life. Writing, with him, was simply the outpouring of his own nature, the expression of his own thought train of thought, the current of real feeling in his own breast. Every character at all a favorite with him, he instinctively idealized — he gave it something of the glow ever warm at his own heart’s core. It was, therefore, quite a matter of course that in drawing Indian character he should dwell on the better traits of the picture, rather than on the coarser and more revolting though more common points. Like  West, he could see the Apollo in the young Mohican. He chose to draw from a Tamemund [sic], a Powhattan, a Metacom. To-day we are apt to forget that such men have existed; we stumble over a drunken Oneida, or Chippewa, lying in our path, and conceive ourselves entitled to lower the whole race, in its past independent existence, to the condition of the fallen wretch before us, degraded by vices, thrust upon him by the white man. With Uncas, with the Pawnee Loup, the author may have shown us the red man in a highly poetical light; and yet in each case the picture is in itself so beautiful, that which of us shall deliberately say he could wish the outline less noble, the coloring less pure!
The idea of a narrative connected with the great Prairies being conceived, the figure of Natty once more rose before the writer. Again there was a moment of hesitation; would the public tolerate the introduction of the same character for a third time; would it be possible to carry the old hunter, in extreme age, through a train of freshly novel incident without impairing the native dignity, the simple beauty of the conception? The doubt lasted but a moment; the affection, if one may so term it, of the writer for this creation of his mind, blended with the consciousness of the ability to carry out the idea, decided the question; and with the first pages of the narrative the old man is revealed, standing in the solitude of the silent plain:
“The sun had fallen below the crest of the nearest wave of the prairie, leaving the usual rich and glowing train on its track. In the centre of this flood of fiery light, a human form appeared, drawn against the gilded background, as distinctly, and, seemingly as palpable, as though it would come within the grasp of any extended hand. The figure was colossal; the attitude rousing and melancholy, and the situation directly in the route of the travellers. But, imbedded as it was in its settings of garish light, it was impossible to distinguish more concerning its proportions or character.
“The effect of such a spectacle was instantaneous and powerful. The man in front of the emigrants came to a stand, and remained gazing at the mysterious object with a dull interest, that soon quickened into a species of superstitious awe. His sons, so soon as the first emotions of surprise had a little abated, drew slowly around him, and, as they who governed the teams gradually followed their example, the whole party was soon condensed in one silent and wondering group. Notwithstanding the impression of a supernatural agency was very general among the travellers, the ticking of gun-locks was heard and one or two of the bolder of the youths cast their rifles forward, in guarded readiness for any service.
“’Send the boys off to the right,’ exclaimed the resolute wife and mother, in  a sharp, dissonant voice; ‘I warrant me, Asa or Abner will give some account of the creatur!’
“’It may be well enough to try the rifle,’ muttered a dull-looking man, whose features, both in outline and expression, bore no small resemblance to the first speaker, and who loosened the stock of his piece and brought it dexterously to the front, while delivering this decided opinion; ‘the Pawnee Loups are said to be hunting by hundreds in the plains; if so, they’ll never miss a single man from their tribe.’
“’Stay!’ exclaimed a soft-toned but fearfully-alarmed female voice, which was easily to be traced to the trembling lips of the younger of the two women; we are not all together; it may be a friend!’
“’Who is scouting now?’ demanded the father, scanning, at the same time, the cluster of his stout sons with a displeased and sullen eye. ‘Put by the piece, put by the piece;’ he continued, diverting the other’s aim, with the finger of a giant, and with the air of one it might be dangerous to deny. ‘My job is not yet ended; let us finish the little that remains in peace.’
“The man who had manifested so hostile an intention appeared to understand the other’s allusion, and suffered himself to be diverted from his object. The sons turned their inquiring looks on the girl who had so eagerly spoken, to require an explanation; but, as if content with the respite she had obtained for the stranger, she had already sunk back in her seat, and now chose to affect a maidenly silence.
“In the mean time, the hues of the heavens had often changed. In place of the brightness which had dazzled the eye, a gray and more sober light had succeeded, and as the setting lost its brilliancy, the proportions of the fanciful form became less exaggerated, and finally quite distinct. Ashamed to hesitate, now that the truth was no longer doubtful, the leader of the party resumed his journey, using the precaution, as he ascended the slight acclivity, to release his own rifle from the strap, and to cast it into a situation more convenient for sudden use.
“There was little apparent necessity, however, for such watchfulness. From the moment when it had thus unaccountably appeared, as it were, between the heavens and the earth, the stranger’s figure had neither moved nor given the smallest evidence of hostility. Had he harbored any such evil intention, the individual who now came plainly into view seemed but little qualified to execute them.
“A frame that had endured the hardships of more than eighty seasons was not qualified to awaken apprehension in the breast of one as powerful as the  emigrant. Notwithstanding his years, and his look of emaciation if not of suffering, there was that about his solitary being, however, which said that time, and not disease, had laid his hand too heavily on him. His form had withered, but it was not wasted. The sinews and muscles, which had once denoted great strength, though shrunken, were still visible; and his whole figure had attained an appearance of induration, which, if it were not for the well-known frailty of humanity, would have seemed to bid defiance to the further approaches of decay. His dress was chiefly of skins, worn with the hair to the weather; a pouch and horn were suspended from his shoulders; and be leaned on a rifle of uncommon length, but which, like its owner, exhibited the wear of long and hard service.
“As the party drew nigher to this solitary being, and came within a distance to be heard, a low growl issued from the grass at his feet, and then a tall, gaunt, toothless hound arose lazily from his lair, and shaking himself, made some show of resisting the nearer approach of the travellers.
“’Down, Hector, down,’ said his master, in a voice that was a little tremulous and hollow with age. ‘What have ye to do, pup, with men who journey on their lawful callings?’
“’Stranger, if you ar’ much acquainted in this country,’ said the leader of the emigrants, ‘can you tell a traveller where he may find necessaries for the night.’
“’Is the land filled on the other side of the Big River?’ demanded the old man, solemnly, and without appearing to hearken to the other’s question; ‘or why do I see a sight I had never thought to behold again!’
“’Why, there is country left, it is true, for such as have money, and ar’ not particular in the choice,’ returned the emigrant; ‘but to my taste, it is getting crowdy. What may a man call the distance from this place to the nighest point on the main river.’
“’A hunted deer could not cool his sides in the Mississippi, without travelling a long five hundred miles.’
“’And in what way may you name the district, hereaway?’
“’By what name,’ returned the old man, pointing significantly upward, ‘would you call the spot where you see yonder cloud?’
“The emigrant looked at the other, like one who did not comprehend his meaning, and who half suspected he was trifled with, but he contented himself by saying —
“’You ar’ but a new inhabitant, like myself, I reckon, stranger, otherwise you wouldn’t be backward in helping a traveller to some advice; which costs but little, seeing it is only a gift in words.’
 “’It is not a gift, but a debt that the old owe to the young. What would you wish to know?’
“’Where I may ‘camp for the night. I’m no great difficulty-maker, as to bed and board, but, all old journeyers, like myself, know the virtue of sweet water, and a good browse for the cattle.’
“’Come, then, with me, and you shall be master of both; and little more is it that I can offer on this hungry prairie.’
“As the old man was speaking, he raised his heavy rifle to his shoulder, with a facility a little remarkable for his years and appearance, and without further words led the way over the acclivity into the adjacent bottom.” [James Fenimore Cooper, The Prairie . Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985, Chapter I, pp. 14-17]
“The Prairie” was commenced in New York, in the winter of 1826. The author was at that time suffering from the consequences of the attack of fever, which for several years affected his health quite seriously. He was anxious to finish his work, however, at an early day. The profits of his pen had of late years become of importance to hint; the settlement of his father’s estate, under very unfavorable circumstances, had made great and unforeseen changes in his fortune. The prospect of an ample inheritance had passed away. He was now a poor man. There were debts to be discharged — debts brought upon him by no extravagance of his own, but through the misconduct of others for whom he had assumed responsibilities. To discharge these debts became of course his first object. And to effect this purpose, he attempted writing at a moment when enfeebled by the effects of fever. To keep up his strength for the task, he tried a stimulant; he took coffee before writing; and this was the only occasion on  which be over resorted to any thing of the kind for the same purpose. Through life his manner of living was generous, but clearly temperate. Wine he drank daily, but at dinner only, and then always moderately. Rarely, indeed, did he take a single glass at any other hour, excepting at an occasional supper-party. Opium never entered his lips. Even the habit of smoking was never formed. Those few cups of coffee, while writing “The Prairie,” are believed to have been the only instance in which a stimulant of any kind was resorted to, while writing; the effect on his nerves was not good, and the coffee was given up after a short time.
In the summer of 1826, having honorably discharged the debts alluded to, he sailed for Europe, carrying his wife and children with him, and provided with the means of support for one year in advance. The last chapters of “The Prairie” were written in the third story of the old Hotel de Jumièges, in the Faubourg St. Germain, a building which is now occupied by the nuns of the adjoining convent of St. Maur.
A few passages from letters of the author belonging to this period are inserted here. The first shows us a French landscape as seen by him. The second relates to an interview between Sir Walter Scott and Mr. Cooper, the former having visited France at this moment with the view of collecting materials for the “Life of Napoleon,” which he was then writing.
A French Landscape.
“After amusing ourselves with the spectacle of the diligence, we found the scenery too beautiful to re-enter the carriage immediately, and we walked to the top of the mountain. The view from the summit was truly admirable. The Seine comes winding its way through a broad, rich valley, from the southward, having just before run east, and a league or two beyond, due west, our own Susquehanna being scarcely less crooked. The stream was not broad, but its numerous isles, willowy banks, and verdant meadows, formed a line for the eye to follow. Rouen, in the distance, with its ebony towers, fantastic roofs, and straggling suburbs, lines its shores, at a curvature where the stream swept away west again, bearing craft of the sea on its bosom. Those dark old towers have a sombre, mysterious air, which harmonizes admirably with the recollections that crowd the mind at such a moment! Scarce an isolated dwelling was to be seen, but the dense population is compressed into villages and bourgs, that dot the view, looking brown, and teeming like the nests of wasps. Some of these places still have remains of walls, and most of them are so compact and well-defined that they appear more like vast castles than like the open villages of England or  America. All are gray, sombre, and absolutely without glare, rising from the background of pale verdure, to many appropriate bas-reliefs.
“The road was strewed with peasants of both sexes, wending their way homeward from the market of Rouen. One tawny woman, with no other protection for her head than a high, but perfectly clean cap, was going past us, driving an ass, with the panniers loaded with manure. We were about six miles from the town, and the poor beast, after staggering some eight or ten miles to the market in the morning, was staggering beck with this heavy freight at even. I asked the woman, who, under the circumstances, could not but be a resident of one of the neighboring villages, the name of a considerable bourg, that lay about gun-shot distant in plain view, on the other side of the river. ‘Monsieur je ne saurais vous dire, parceque, voyez-vous, je ne suis pas de ce pays 1à.’ I once inquired of a servant-girl at a French inn, who might be the owner of a châteaunear by, the gate of which was within a hundred feet of the house we were in. She was unable to say, urging as an apology, that she had only been six weeks in her present place! This too, was in a small country hamlet. ... The road for the rest of the afternoon, led us over hills and plains, from one reach of the river to another, for we crossed the latter repeatedly before reaching Paris. The appearance Of the country was extraordinary to our eyes. Isolated houses were rare, but villages dotted the whole expense. No obtrusive colors, but the eye had frequently to search against the hill-side, or in the valley, and first, detecting a mass, it gradually took in the picturesque angles, roofs, towers and walls of the little bourg. Not a fence or visible boundary of any sort, to mark the limits of possession. Not a hoof in the fields grazing, and occasionally a sweep of mountain land which resembled a pattern card, with its stripes of green and yellow, and other hues, the narrow fields of the rural proprietors. The play of light and shade on these gay upland patches, though not strictly in conformity with the laws of taste, was certainly attractive. When they fell entirely into shadow, the harvest being over, and their gaudy colors lessened, they resembled the melancholy and wasted vestiges of a festival. At Louviers we dined, and there we found a new object of wonder in the church. It was of the Gothic of the bourg, less elaborated and more rudely wrought than that of the larger towns, but quaint, and, the population considered, vast. Ugly dragons thrust out their grinning heads at us from the buttresses. The most agreeable monstrosities imaginable, were crawling along the gray old stones. After passing this place, the scenery lost a good deal of the pastoral appearance, which renders Normandy rather remarkable in France, and took still more of the starch pattern-card look just mentioned. Still it was sombre, the villages were to be detached by the eye from their setting of fields,  and here and there, one of those ‘silent fingers pointing to the skies,’ raised itself into the air like a needle, to prick the consciences of the thoughtless. The dusky hues of all the villages, contrasted oddly, and not unpleasantly, with the carnival colors of the grains.” [James Fenimore Cooper, Gleanings in Europe: France . Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983, pp. 58-61]
* * * * * * *
Interview With Sir Walter Scott.
“It might have been ten days after the arrival of Sir Walter Scott, that I had ordered a carriage one morning, with the intention of driving over to the other side of the river, and had got as far as the lower flight of steps on my way to the door, when another coach drove into the court. It was raining, and as my own carriage moved off to make room for the new-comer, I stopped on the stairs until it should return. The carriage-steps rattled, and presently a large, heavy-moulded man appeared in the door of the hotel. He was gray, and limped a little, walking with a cane. We passed each other on the stairs, bowing, as a matter of course. I had got to the door, and was about to enter the carriage, when it flashed on my mind that the visit might be to myself. I had not the slightest suspicion who the visitor was, though I fancied both the face and form were known to me.
“The stranger went up the large stone steps slowly, leaning with one hand on the iron railing, and, with the other on his cane. He was on the first landing, as I stopped, and, turning toward the next flight, our eyes met. The idea I might be the person he wanted, seemed then to strike him for the first time: ‘Est-ce Monsieur — que j’ai l’honneur de voir?’ he asked, in French, and with but an indifferent accent. ‘Monsieur, je m’appelle — — Eh-bien, done, je suis Walter Scott.’
“’I ran up the landing, shook him by the hand, which he stood holding out to me cordially, and expressed my sense of the honor he was conferring. He told me, in substance, that the Princesse ------. had been as good as her word, and, having succeeded herself in getting hold of him, she had good-naturedly given him my address. By way of cutting short all ceremony, he had driven from his hotel to my lodgings. All this time he was speaking French, while my answers and remarks were in English, suddenly recollecting himself, he said, ‘Well, here have I been parlez-vousingto you in a way to surprise you, no doubt; but these Frenchmen have got my tongue so set to their lingo, that I have half forgotten my own language.’ As we proceeded up the next flight of stairs, he accepted my arm, and continued the conversation in English, walking with more difficulty than I had expected to see.
* * * * * * *
“There would be an impropriety in my relating all that passed in this interview; but we talked over a matter of business, and then the conversation was more general. You will remember that Sir Walter was still the Unknown — he did not avow himself for several months after — and that he was believed to be in Paris in search of facts for the ‘Life of Napoleon.’ Notwithstanding the former circumstance, he spoke of his works with great frankness and simplicity, and without the parade of asking any promises of secrecy. In short, as he commenced in this style, his authorship was alluded to by us both just as if it had never been called in question. He asked me if I had a copy of the ------. by me, and on my confessing I did not own a single volume of any thing I had written, he laughed, and said be believed that most authors had the same feeling on the subject; as for himself, he cared not if he never saw a Waverley novel again as long as he lived. Curious to know whether a writer as great and as practised as he, felt the occasional despondency which invariably attends all my own little efforts of this nature, I remarked that I found the mere composition of a tale a source of pleasure, so much so that I always invented twice as much as was committed to paper, in my walks, or in bed, and in my own judgment much the best parts of the composition never saw the light; for what was written was usually written at set hours, and was a good deal a matter of chance, and that going over and over the same subject in proofs disgusted me so thoroughly with the book, that I supposed every one else would be disposed to view it in the same light. To this he answered that he was spared much of the labor of proof-reading, Scotland, he presumed, being better off than America — in this respect; but still he said he ‘would as soon see his dinner again after a hearty meal as to read, one of his own tales, when he was fairly rid of it.’
“He sat with me nearly an hour, and he manifested, during the time the conversation was not tied down to business, a strong propensity to humor. Having occasion to mention our common publisher in Paris, he quaintly termed him, with a sort of malicious fun, ‘Our Gosling’ — his name was Gorselin [sic] — adding he hoped he at least ‘laid golden eggs.’
“I hoped he had found the facilities he desired, in obtaining facts for the forthcoming history. He rather hesitated about admitting this. ‘One can hear as much as he pleases in the way of anecdote,’ he said, ‘but then, as a gentleman, he is not always sure how much of it he can, with propriety, relate in a book; beside’ — throwing all his latent humor into the expression of his small gray eyes — ‘one may even doubt how much of what he hears is fit for history on another account.’ He paused, and his face assumed an exquisite air of confiding simplicity, as he continued with perfect bonne foi, and strong Scotch feeling, ‘I have been to see my countryman M’Donald, and I rather think that will be about  as much as I can do here, now.’ This was uttered with so much naïvetéthat I could hardly believe it was the same man, who, a moment before, had shown so much shrewd distrust of oral relations of facts.
“’I inquired when we might expect the work. ‘Some time in the course of the winter,’ he replied, ‘though it is likely to prove larger than I at first intended. We have got several volumes printed, but I find I must add to the matter considerably, in order to dispose of the subject. I thought I should get rid of it in seven volumes, which are already written, but it will reach, I think, to nine.’ ‘If you have still two to write, I shall not expect to see the book before spring.’ ‘You may: let me once get back to Abbotsford, and I’11 soon knock off these two fellows.’ To this I had nothing to say, although I thought such a tour de forcein writing might better suit invention than history.
“When he rose to go, I begged him to step into the salon, that I might have the gratification of introducing my wife to him. To this he very good-naturedly assented, and entering the room, after presenting Mrs.-------- and my nephew W ------------, he took a seat. He sat some little time, and his fit of pleasantry returned, for he illustrated his discourse by one or two apt anecdotes, related with a slightly Scottish accent, which he seemed to drop and assume at will. Mrs.-------- observed to him that the bergèrein which he was seated had been twice honored that morning, for General Lafayette had not left it more than half an hour. Sir Walter looked surprised at this, and said, inquiringly, ‘I thought he had gone to America to pass the rest of his days?’ On my explaining the true state of the case, he merely observed, ‘He is a great man;’ and yet I thought the remark was made coldly, or in complaisance to us.
“When Sir Walter left us, it was settled that I was to breakfast with him the following day but one. I was punctual, of course, and found him in a new silk douillettethat he had just purchased, trying, ‘as hard as he could,’ as he pleasantly observed, ‘to make a Frenchman of himself’ — an undertaking as little likely to be successful, I should think, in the case of his Scottish exterior and Scottish interior too, as any experiment well could be. There were two or three visitors present, beside Miss Ann Scott, his daughter, who was his companion on the journey. He was just answering an invitation from the Princess-------- to an evenings party, as I entered. ‘Here,’ said he, ‘you are a friend of the lady, and parlez-vousso much better than I: can you tell me whether this is for Jundi, or Lundi, or Mardi, or whether it means no day at all?’ I told him the day of the week intended. ‘You get notes occasionally from the lady, or you could not read her scrawl so readily!’ ‘She is very kind to us, and we often have occasion to read her writing.’ ‘Well, it is worth a very good dinner to get through a page  of it.’ ‘I take my revenge in kind; I fancy she has the worst of it!’ ‘I don’t know, after all, that she will get much the better of me, with this plume d’auberge.’ He was quite right, for, although Sir Walter writes a smooth, even hand, and one that appears rather well than otherwise on a page, it is one of the most difficult to decipher I have ever met with; the i’s, u’s, m’s, n’s, a’s, e’s, l’s, and r’s, for want of dots, crossings, and being fully rounded, looking all alike, and rendering the reading slow and difficult, without great familiarity with his mode of handling the pen; at least I have found it so.
“He had sealed the note, and was about writing the direction, when he seemed at a loss: ‘How do you address this lady — as “Her Highness?”’ I was much surprised at this question from him, for it denoted a want of familiarity with the world, that one would not have expected in a man who had been so very much and so long courted by the great. But, after all, his life has been very provincial, though, as his daughter remarked in the course of the morning, they had no occasion to quit Scotland to see all the world, all the world coming to see Scotland.
“The next morning he was with me again, for near an hour, and we completed our little affair. After this we had a conversation on the law of copyrights in the two countries, which, as we possess a common language, is a subject of great national interest. I understood him to say that he had a double right in England to his works; one under a statute, and the other growing out of common law. Any one, publishing a book, let it be written by whom it might, in England, duly complying with the law, can secure the right, whereas none but a citizen can do the same in America. I regret to say that I misled him on the subject of our copyright law, which, after all, is not so much more illiberal than that of England, as I had thought it.
“’I told Sir Walter Scott that, in order to secure a copyright in America, it was necessary the book should never have been published anywhere else. This was said under the popular notion of the matter; or that which is entertained among the booksellers. Reflection and examination have since convinced me of my error: the publication alluded to in the law can only mean publication in America; for, as the object of doing certain acts previously to publication is merely to forewarn the American public that the right is reserved, there can be no motive for having reference to any other publication. It is, moreover, in conformity with the spirit of all laws to limit the meaning of their phrases by their proper jurisdiction. Let us suppose a case. An American writes a book; he sends a copy to England, where it is published in March; complying with the terms of our own copyright law, as to the entries and notices, the same work is  published here in April. Now will it be pretended that his right is lost, always providing that his own is the first Americanpublication? I do not see how it can be so, by either the letter or the spirit of the law. The intention is to encourage the citizen to write, and to give him a first property in the fruits of his labor; and the precautionary provisions of the law are merely to prevent others from being injured for want of proper information. It is of no moment to either of these objects that the author of a work has already reaped emolument in a foreign country: the principle is to encourage literature by giving it all the advantages it can obtain.
“If these views are correct, why may not an English writer secure a right in this country, by selling it in season to a citizen here? An equitable bond might not, probably would not, be sufficient; but a bona fidetransfer for a valuable consideration, I begin to think, would. It seems to me that all the misconception which has existed on this point has arisen from supposing that the term publication refers to other than a publication in the country. But, when one remembers how rare it is to get lawyers to agree on a question like this, it becomes a layman to advance his opinion with great humility. I suppose, after all, a good way of getting an accurate notion of the meaning of the law would be to toss a dollar into the air, and cry ‘heads,’ or ‘tails!’ Sir Walter Scott seemed fully aware of the great circulation of his books in America, as well as how much he lost by not being able to secure a copyright. Still he admitted they produced him something. Our conversation on this subject terminated by a frank offer, on his part, of aiding me with the publishers of his own country — an offer twice renewed, after intervals of several years; but, although grateful for the kindness, I was not so circumstanced as to be able to profit by it.
“He did not appear to me to be pleased with Paris. His notions of the French were pretty accurate, though clearly not free from the old-fashioned prejudices. ‘After all,’ he remarked, ‘I am a true Scot, never, except on this occasion, and the short visit I made to Paris in 1815, having been out of my own country, unless to visit England, and I have even done very little of the latter.’ I understood him to say he had never been in Ireland at all.
“I met him once more in the evening, at he hotel of the Princess ------. The party had been got together in a hurry, and was not large. Our hostess contrived to assemble some exceedingly clever people, however, among whom were one or two women, already historical, and whom I had fancied long since dead. All the female part of the company, with the silent delicacy that the French so well understand, appeared with ribbons, hats, or ornaments of some sort or other, of a Scottish stamp. Indeed, almost the only woman in the room who did not appear as a Caledonian was Miss Scott. She was in half-mourning, and, with her black eyes and jet-black hair, might very well have passed for a Frenchwoman, but for a slight peculiarity about the cheek-bones. She looked exceedingly well, and was much admired. Having two or three more places to go to, they staid but an hour. As a matter of course, all the Frenchwomen were exceedingly empreséesin their manner to the Great Unknown; and as there were three or four who were very exaggerated on the score of romance, he was quite lucky if he escaped some absurdities. Nothing could be more patient than his manner under it all; but as soon as he very well could, he got into a corner where I went to speak to him. He said, laughingly, that he spoke French with so much difficulty, he was embarrassed to answer the compliments. ‘I am as good a lion as need be, allowing my mane to be stroked as familiarly as they please, but I can’t growl for them in French. How is it with you?’ Disclaiming the necessity of being either a good or a bad lion, being very little troubled in that way, for his amusement, 1 related to him an anecdote. Pointing out to him a Comtesse de ------------, who was present, I told him I had met this lady once a week for several months, and at every soirée she invariably sailed up to me to say: ‘Oh Monsieur, quels livres! — vos charmans livres — que vos livres sont charmans!’ and I had just made up my mind that she was, at least a woman of taste, when she approached me with the utmost saing froidand cried, ‘Bon soir, monsieur ------------; je viens d’acheter tous vos livres, et je compte profiter de la première occasion pour les lire!’
“I took leave of him in the ante-chamber, as he went away, for he was to quit Paris the following evening.
“Sir Walter Scott’s person and manner have been so often described, that you will not ask much of me in this way, especially as I saw so little of him. His frame is large and muscular, his walk difficult, in appearance, though he boasted himself a vigorous mountaineer, and his action in general measured and heavy. His features and countenance were very Scottish, with the short thick nose, heavy lips, and massive cheeks. The superior or intellectual part of his head was neither deep nor broad, but perhaps the reverse, though singularly high. Indeed, it is quite uncommon to see a skull so round and tower-like in the formation, though I have met with them in individuals not at all distinguished for talents. I do not think a casual observer would find any thing unusual in the exterior of Sir Walter Scott, beyond his physical force, which is great, without being at all extraordinary. His eye, however, is certainly remarkable. Gray, small, and without lustre, in his graver moments it appears to look inward, instead of regarding external objects, in a way, though the expression more or less belongs to  abstraction, that I have never seen equalled. His smile is good-natured and social; and when be is in the mood, as happened to be the fact so often in our brief intercourse as to lead me to think it characteristic of the man, his eye would lighten with a great deal of latent fun. He spoke more freely of his private affairs than I had reason to expect, though our business introduced the subject naturally; and, at such times, I thought the expression changed to a sort of melancholy resolution that was not wanting in sublimity.
“The manner of Sir Walter Scott is that of a man accustomed to see much of the world without being exactly a man of the world himself. He has, evidently, great social tact, perfect self-possession, is quiet, absolutely without pretension, and has much dignity; and yet it struck me that he wanted the ease and aplombof one accustomed to live with his equals. The fact of his being a lion may produce some such effect; but I am mistaken if it be not more the influence of early habits and opinions, than of any thing else.
“Scott has been so much the mark of society, that it has evidently changed his natural manner, which is far less restrained than it is his habit to be in the world. I do not mean by this the mere restraint of decorum, but a drilled simplicity or demureness, like that of girls who are curbed in their tendency to fun and light-heartedness, by the dread of observation. I have seldom known a man of his years whose manner was so different in a tête à tête, and in the presence of a third person. In Edinburgh, the circle must be small, and he, probably, knows every one. If strangers do go there, they do not go all at once, and, of course, the old faces form the great majority, so that he finds himself always on familiar ground. I can readily imagine that in Auld Reekie, and among the right set, warmed, perhaps, by a glass of mountain-dew, Sir Walter Scott, in his peculiar way, is one of the pleasantest companions the world holds.[”] [James Fenimore Cooper, Gleanings in Europe: France . Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983, pp. 149-157]
The principal subject of the conversation between Sir Walter Scott and Mr. Cooper, may be stated to have related to the pecuniary affairs of the author of “Waverley,” as regarded his interests in America. Mr. Cooper was most warmly and sincerely engaged in forwarding those interests. He wrote private letters, articles for papers and periodicals, and other public appeals, with this view. It was his hope that something nearer to a just compensation for the fruits of his labors than he had yet received, might be given to the veteran writer, struggling under adversity. He believed that a man whose works — purely original, the off-spring of his own individual mind and labor, were providing sources of livelihood to ten thousand printers, and increase of wealth to a hundred booksellers, had every right to look for a respectable portion of the receipts of his works, from a people speaking the same language, and every reading household of whom had  those works passing through their hands. For a time the American author was quite sanguine of the result. This hope was destined to be disappointed, Publics, whether under Crown or Congress, are not often generous; simply just they are, perhaps, never.
“The Prairie” was published by Messrs. Cary and Lea, of Philadelphia, in the autumn of 1826 [sic]. It was read with less eagerness than the “Last of the Mohicans,” by the public generally; but a position higher than that of any previous work of the same writer was conceded to it by the better class of critics. In France, it was very greatly admired. At a later day, when revising his works for a final edition, the writer expressed much regret that he had not confined the characters to those naturally connected with the ground, the rude backwoodsman and his family group, with the Pawnees and Dacotahs, all moving about Natty as a common centre. The introduction of Inez and Middleton, he declared a great blemish. The book was a favorite with himself; it gave him pleasure to have written it, and yet he seldom thought with much interest of his own works after they had once passed from his portfolio. This was especially the case during the first fifteen or twenty years of his professional career, when he seems very rarely to have looked back to his own writings, and still more rarely to have opened one.
Excerpt: “The Thicket on the Prairie” [The Prairie, Chapters 12-13, pp. 128-145]
[ix] In the early days of July, 1826, Mr. Cooper landed is England with his wife and children. Some pleasant weeks were passed in the Isle of Wight and at Southampton; Carisbrooke Castle and Netley Abbey were visited and admired with all the enthusiasm of Americans when first exploring the ruins of the Old World. After a flying visit to London, which the author had already seen when a young sailor, the family party crossed the Channel to Havre. There was a charming excursion up the Seine in a tiny steamboat, which puffed its way against the current in a fashion so leisurely as to allow ample time for admiring the fine banks of the river and the old castles crowning the heights here and there. At Rouen there was a pause, and a pilgrimage to the grand old cathedral, and another to the Hotel de Ville where Joan of Are closed her heroic and saintly life in the flames, under the eye of belted knights of England and France. The impression produced on the mind of the auth the Cathedral of Rouen was very deep, and never effaced. From Rouen the journey to Paris was performed in a very leisurely way, vetturinofashion. These first views of French scenery were sketched in a letter from which we give an extract: —
“The Seine comes winding its way through a broad rich valley, from the southward. ... The stream was not broad, bat its numerous isles, willowy banks, and verdant meadows formed a line for the eye to follow. Rouen in the distance with its ebony towers, fantastic roofs, and straggling sub-[x]urbs, lines its shores at a curvature where the stream swept away westward again, bearing craft of the sea on its bosom. Those dark old towers have a sombre, mysterious air, which harmonizes admirably with the recollections that crowd the mind at such a moment. Scarce an isolated dwelling was to be seen, but the dense population was compressed into villages and bourgs, that dot the view, looking brown, and teeming like the nests of wasps. All are gray, sombre, and absolutely without glare, rising from the background of pale verdure, so many appropriate bas-reliefs. ... The road for the rest of the afternoon led us over hills and plains, from one reach of the river to another, for we crossed the latter repeatedly before reaching Paris. The appearance of the country was extraordinary to our eyes. Isolated houses were rare, but villages dotted the whole expense. No obtrusive colors, but the eye had frequently to search against the hill-side, or in the valley, and, detecting a mass, gradually took in the picturesque angles, roofs, and towers of the little bourg. Not a fence or visible boundary of any sort to mark the limits of possession. Not a hoof in the fields grazing, and occasionally a sweep of land which resembled a pattern card, with its stripes of green and yellow, and other hues, the narrow fields of the rural proprietors. The play of light and shade on these gay upland patches was attractive. At Louviers we dined and there we found a new object of wonder in the church. It was of the Gothic of the bourg, less elaborate and more rudely wrought than that of the larger towns, but quaint, and, the population considered, vast. Ugly dragons thrust out their grinning heads at us from the buttresses. The most agreeable monstrosities imaginable were crawling along the gray old stones.” [James Fenimore Cooper, Gleanings in Europe: France . Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983, pp. 58-59, 60]
With his usual rapidity and decision the traveller had been in Paris but a few days, when a temporary home was provided for his family. It was thoroughly French in character. There was a short, narrow gloomy lane or street, shut in between lofty dwelling-houses, the lane often dark, [xi] always filthy, without sidewalks, a gutter running through the centre, over which, suspended from a rope, hung a dim oil lamp or two — such was the rue St. Maur, in the Faubourg St. Germain. It was a gloomy approach certainly. But a tall porte cochèreopened, and suddenly the whole scene changed. Within those high walls, so forbidding in aspect, there lay charming gardens, gay with parterres of flowers, and shaded by noble trees, not only those belonging to the house itself, but those of other adjoining dwellings of the same character — one looked over park-like grounds covering some acres. The hotel itself, standing on the street, was old, and built on a grand scale; it had been the home of a French ducal family in the time of Louis XIV. The rooms on the two lower floors were imposing and spacious; with ceilings of great height, gilded wainscoting and various quaint little medallion pictures of shepherds and shepherdesses, and other fancies of the time of Madame de Sévigné. Those little shepherds were supposed to have looked down upon la mère beautéand upon la plus jolie fille de Franceas she danced her incomparable minuets. Those grand saloons were now devoted to the humble service of a school for young ladies. Put on the third door, to which one ascended by a fine stone stairway, broad and easy, with elaborate iron railings, there was a more simple set of rooms, comfortably furnished, where the American family were pleasantly provided for, in a home of their own. Unwilling to separate from his children, who were placed at the school, the traveller adopted this plan that he might be near them. One of the rooms, overlooking the garden, and opening on a small terrace, became his study. He was soon at work. In his writing-desk lay some chapters of a new novel. The MS. had crossed the ocean with him, though but little had been added to its pages during the wanderings of the English and French journeys.
Before “The Last of the Mohicans” was finished, the of another Indian romance had suggested itself. On this occasion he had chosen ground entirely novel, and in [xii] singular contrast with the shadowy forests about the Horicon, with which his imagination bad been occupied during the previous months. He resolved to cross the Mississippi to wander with his fictitious characters over the desolate wastes of the remote western prairies. The new book was to be another Indian tale, but under aspects entirely novel. Delegations from the western tribes were frequently seen at that period on their way to Washington. Since his interest in the race had become especially awakened, he lost no opportunity of visiting these parties, which often lingered for several months in the great eastern cities. He followed them from New York to Philadelphia, to Baltimore, to Washington; he studied the different individuals who composed these embassies of warriors; he admired their physical appearance, he was impressed with the vein of poetry and laconic eloquence, if the expression may be used, marking their brief speeches; and their natural dignity of manner and grace of gesture, blended with their strongly marked savage mien and accoutrements, struck him forcibly. He made the personal acquaintance of the prominent chiefs. He questioned the intrepreters [sic] closely. The army officers who accompanied these delegations were frequently old friends. He listened with the deepest interest and with vivid sympathy to their accounts of great buffalo hunts, of wild battles between mounted tribes, of the fires sweeping over those vast plains. Pull of life and spirit himself he was always keenly interested in narratives of adventure. Era many weeks passed, he had fully decided to attempt a second Indian book, whose scenes should be laid among the mounted tribes beyond the Mississippi. This romance was to be called the “Prairie.”
The characters in the new book, so far as the Indians ware concerned, may be said to have been sketched from nature. True, he had never seen the prairies. But a close attendance of several months upon the delegations referred to, had shown him the living Pawnee and Dacotah braves in their best aspect. He saw much to command [xiii] his admiration in those wild braves. His was a mind naturally attracted by the noblest elements in every subject. He had no sympathy with the petty — he took no pleasure in dwelling on the perverted deformities of our common nature. His best characters — those which are the most complete, the most highly finished, which take the strongest hold of the reader’s mind, were usually cast in a noble mould. It was natural that this should be so; there was never a pen held by a writer of works of the imagination more frankly honest, more simply sincere, more invariably guided by the real feeling of the author, than his own. He wrote from the heart. It was no cold factitious head-work with him. His own personal views were always elevated; to this fact his whole life bears testimony, a testimony which assumes its strongest character to those who knew him most intimately. Writing with him was simply the outpouring of his own nature, the expression of his own inmost train of thought, the current of real feeling in his heart. Every character at all a favorite with him, he instinctively idealized, he gave it something of the glow ever warm at his own heart’s core. It was therefore quite a matter of course that in drawing Indian character he should dwell on the better traits of the picture, rather than on the coarser, and more revolting though more common points. Like West, he could see the Apollo in the young Mohawk. He chose to draw from a Metacom, a Powhatan. To-day we are apt to forget that such men have actually existed. We stumble over a drunken Chippewa lying in the path, and conceive ourselves entitled to lower the whole race, even in its past independent existence, to the abject condition of the fallen wretch before us, degraded though he be by vices learned of the white man.
The Sioux and the Pawnee were the tribes he chose as actors in the wild drama. The reader will remember that the tribes we call the Sioux were a confederacy of different bands, called by the Algonquins “Nadouessioux,” or “Enemies,” hence the appellation we have given these people. [xiv] They called themselves, however, the Dacotahs, or Confederates, a name generally used by the American government of the present day. The Dacotahs held the ground between Lake Superior and the Rocky Mountains, roaming often farther southward. For more than a century and a half, or since 1702, they had been the deadly, hereditary foes of the Chippewas. There were some forty-two bands of the Dacotahs, as late as 1858. No tribe could show finer looking men, generally tall and stout, though well proportioned, with a certain air of dignity and daring. Their dress consisted of skin robes often painted with the exploits of the wearer; dyed porcupine quills, and feathers were also largely used by them for ornaments. The scalp locks of enemies, and necklaces of the claws of the grizzly bear were the adornments of which they were most proud. The black claws were generally about three inches long, and quite a number were needed to make out the loose necklace which hung over the breast, just as a grandee of Spain may wear the ribbon of the Golden Fleece. The Sioux, at the date of the “Prairie” were generally armed with the lance, and bow and arrow; they had few guns. There existed among these confederates a singular association, proving very clearly the desperate bravery of which their young warriors were capable. At the time when Lewis and Clarke made their important explorations of the western wilds, there was a band of this kind numbering twenty-four Sioux braves, bound together by attachment, so many brothers in arms, under a vow never to retreat before any danger, or give way to any foe. In war this band went boldly forward, without sheltering themselves in any way, depending solely on their personal valor. These heroes belonged to the Yankton band; their tribe was once crossing the Missouri on the ice, a hole lay immediately before this particular party; the opening might have been easily avoided by a short circuit; this the foremost of the band disdained to do, but went straight forward, and was lost. The others would have followed his example but were forcibly held [xv] back by their friends. This band of braves always sat together, danced together, and encamped apart from the rest of the tribe. They were generally about thirty or thirty-five years of age. Such was the respect paid to them, that their seats in council were superior to those of the chiefs, and they commanded more homage personally. When Major Lewis was in the Sioux country, the band was reduced to four warriors. These were the remains of a company of twenty-two, which went into battle against the Kite Indians of the Black Mountains, where eighteen were killed. The surviving four were only saved by dragging them from the field — their friends compelling them by force to retreat. The conical tents or tipis of the Sioux were covered with buffalo robes, artistically painted with many a wild hieroglyphic story. These lodges were sufficiently large to accommodate ten or fifteen persons. The arrangement was generally compact and orderly. In the centre was a cooking place, beneath the opening for smoke at the top of the lodge. At the date of the “Prairie,” or nearly seventy years ago, the women already wore more cloth than skins. Their moccasins were made of deer-skins, beautifully worked after their own fashion, but they wore embroidered leggings of red and blue cloth, with a broad projecting border above the knee. A large piece of blue cloth was tied about the waist, and fell to the knee. Another piece of the same material was fastened about the neck, and fell to the waist. Their hair was generally braided, and fantastically ornamented with beads, feathers, or at times with flowers. Such was the garb of the “Pure Fountain,” and the “Bending Willow,” two living Sioux women half a century since. A prominent chief of that period bore the title of the “Deliverer.” The Dacotah braves were occasionally tattooed.
The Pawnees were a very warlike and powerful people, numbering, it was believed, twenty thousand souls. They roamed over the prairies on the banks of the Missouri, and its tributary the Platte. They were divided into four bands [xvi] each with its own chief while the whole tribe, or nation, acknowledged one superior chief. The names of several prominent chiefs of that day were “The House of Mystery,” “The Bird that goes to War,” “The Brave Man.” A great chief was Lo-loch-lo-hoo-la. Major O’Fallen visited the “Grand Pawnees” at their village. As the American party advanced, they saw a long line of squaws on the banks of the stream, bearing heavy burdens of fuel towards the village. The leading chief Tarrarecawaho was seen approaching in full dress. “We could not but admire,” says the writer, “the lofty dignity of his appearance. But his extreme hauteur became manifest when he halted at the head of his own line, without offering his hand, or even deigning to look at us. His deportment was reciprocated, and we moved onward without particularly noticing him.” The chief thought better of it, however; slowly advancing he offered his hand to each officer in turn. “Long-Hair,” said the American officer, “I have come to visit you agreeably to your invitation, and desire to know, whether, or not, you are glad to see me.” “That I am glad to see you,” was the proud answer, “the display of these medals on my dress, and those flags of your nation in my village may testify.” He then invited the American officers to his lodge. “We performed a half circuit around the village,” continues the narrative, “and entered it to the sound of the bugle, drum, and fife, with which the commonalty and the children seemed highly delighted, following, or rather walking beside the musicians obliquely like two extensive wings, exhibiting the form of the letter V. Of these instruments the bugle was decidedly the favorite. We passed by, and saluted the lodges of the chiefs, at each of which an American flag was hoisted, with the exception only of one which we passed unnoticed, owing to its being distinguished by the Spanish flag, which however was struck as soon as the cause of the procedure was known. This ceremony being performed, the men were marched off to encamp, and we entered the lodge of the grand chief, After eating some [xvii] excellent boiled bison meat, he requested to know if we would condescend to eat at the houses of the warriors. But the agent informed him we could only accept the hospitality of the chiefs. We were then conducted to six other feasts, in immediate succession, after which we retired to the encampment on a low prairie, near the town.”
A grand council followed. The Pawnee chiefs and principal warriors sat in a dignified circle. The American officers were also present, in a position of honor. Tarrarecawaho, the great chief, alone remained standing. He addressed his warriors in a fluent and impassioned manner; from the only man of this nation who possess a knowledge of the manners and power of the Whites. I have been to the town of Red Head.” — Governor Clarke, of St. Louis, — “and I saw all that a red skin can see. Here sits a chief,” pointing to the agent, “who controls everything in this land; if he should forbid you to wear breech-clothe, you could not wear them. You know we cannot do without powder and balls; you must see therefore we cannot dispense with this chief, as he would prevent our obtaining them. I have no fears for myself. I only dread the consequences of imprudent conduct for the women and children. Take pity on your women and children, warriors. When this agent tells you he is a chief, he speaks truth. When he tells you soldiers appear like grain in the spring, in the place of those who die, he speaks truth. You, my nation, are like the fly in strength, just so easily can the mighty pale-face nation crush you between their fingers.”
“He then in a mild tone and polite manner said that he would consult his chiefs, and give us the result of the consultation on the morrow.”
Accordingly, about noon the following day, we repaired to the lodge in which the assembly convened. They formed a circle, sitting on green mats. A profound silence ensued. Tarrarecawaho at length arose, and after a short speech offered his pipe to the Major to smoke, announcing that he presented him a horse. Several speakers followed, who gen[xviii]erally offered the pipe in the same manner.” Some of the Pawnee speeches were very brief. “Father, the Master of life has placed me in this land; and what should I fear? Nothing! You are a chief. I am a chief.” Or again: “Father look at me, and see if I deceive you, when I say I have but one intention, and that a good one.” Or again: “Father, my heart is strong, my heart is strong!” “Father, I am happy to hear what yon say about peace. Father, I have finished.”
The American officers invited the Pawnee warriors to their camp. “The chiefs and warriors appeared at our camp in due time, and seated themselves on robes and blankets, before our tent, while several hundreds of people encompassed us, but at a safe distance.” The agent made some appropriate remarks, and the presents were then distributed by him. These were in three separate piles. One was laid before Tarrarecawaho, the great chief; another before Sharetaresh, and another before the Tappage chief. A difference had existed for some time between Tarrarecawaho and Sharetaresh. The former was in fault, and now availed himself of this favorable opportunity for reconciliation; he deliberately made over to Sharetaresh his whole pile of merchandise. Sharetaresh then proceeded to parcel out his double portion, consisting of guns, powder, balls, strouding, calico, blankets, etc., etc.; he gave all away among the people, reserving nothing for himself. He laid a portion at the feet of Tarrarecawaho, who again parted with it, reserving only for himself a United States flag. He then expressed his thanks and those of his tribe to the agent for these gifts, and the ceremony was over.
Another visit was paid to the Pawnee Loups by Major Long. This tribe was then — in 1819-20 — under the leadership of two remarkable men, father and son. Latelasha, the father, was a chief of unusual sagacity, and of a generous disposition. He was the chief of a town, which a few years earlier was said to have numbered one hundred and forty-five lodges, containing a population of 6,233 souls, [xix] among whom were 1,993 warriors; owning six or eight thousand horses. The town was situated in latitude 41°, on a plain partially wooded. Their hunting grounds ranged over high, open plains, chiefly to the southward of the Platte. Of all the tribes on the Missouri River and its tributaries they were the most numerous and the most warlike.
When within two miles of the village or town, a messenger appeared requesting the American party to halt, in order that the chiefs might have time to make preparations suitable to the dignity of their guests, the representatives of a nation “so great and powerful as the Big Knives.” The latter name being generally given to the Americans by the prairie tribes, in consequence of the officers wearing swords. “After waiting a short time,” says the narrative, “we observed at the distance of a mile a great number of mounted Indians, emerging suddenly, apparently from the plain itself, for we could not then see a ravine which had previously concealed them. They immediately began to ride in various directions and to perform numerous evolutions, until the whole were arranged in a widely extended line. These rapid movements which attracted our attention from other objects having ceased, we perceived a small body of men in front, whose movements were independent of the others, and who were advancing at a moderate pace. When all were formed they set forward, slowly at first, but gradually increasing their speed an they approached, until they surrounded us at full speed. It is impossible by description to do full justice to the scene of savage magnificence that was now displayed. Between three and four hundred mounted Indians, dressed in their richest habiliments of war, were rushing around us in every direction with streaming feathers, war weapons, and with loud shouts and yells. The few, whom we observed in advance of the main body, and whom as they came near we recognized to be their chief men, presented a perfect contrast to the others In their slow movements and the simplicity of their dress. Courtesy obliged us to shake hands with each, as they came to us in [xx] succession for that purpose, nor was a single soldier of our train forgotten by one of them. They expressed great satisfaction at our visit, rubbing their breasts in token of the sincerity of their pleasure. Latelasha, the Grand Chief, perceiving that the division of his warriors on our left raised some dust on the march, ordered them to the leeward, that we might not be incommoded. Almost from the beginning of this interesting fête our attention had been attracted to a young man who seemed to be the leader or partisan of the warriors. He was about twenty-three, of the finest form, tall, muscular, and exceedingly graceful, and of a most prepossessing countenance. His head-dress of eagle’s feathers descended in a double series upon his back like wings to his saddle croup. His shield was highly decorated, and his long lance ornamented by plaited casing of red and blue cloth. On inquiring of the Indians, our admiration was augmented by learning that this was no other than Wa-ta-la-sha-roo, with whose name and character we were already familiar. The most intrepid warrior of his nation, the eldest son of La-te-la-sha, he is destined, as well by mental and physical qualities as by his distinguished birth, to be the future leader of this people.” This Pawnee youth was indeed a very remarkable and striking character, a true hero in every high sense of the word; not only was he the most daring and intrepid warrior of his people, but he was also disinterested, generous, and warm-hearted to a high degree. He was distinguished for his humanity, and his filial piety was remarkable. We return to the narrative.
“The name of Wa-ta-la-sha-roo is connected with the abolition of a custom formerly prevalent in this nation, at which humanity shudders. The Pawnee Loups sacrificed human victims to the ‘Great Star,’ the star Venus. This sacrifice was annual, just before their horticultural labors began, with a view to their success. It was believed that a breach of this custom would cause a failure of maize, beans, and pumpkins. Any individual of the tribe could offer up [xxi] a prisoner, male or female. The devoted person was clothed in the gayest and most costly attire, constantly attended by the conjurers who gratified every want, in order to keep the victim cheerful and to fatten him better When the prisoner was duly fattened, a day was appointed, the victim was brought out and bound to a cross; a solemn dance took place, and after other ceremonies the warrior, whose prisoner the victim was, cleaved his head with a tomahawk, while the warriors shot arrows at him.”
Latelasha, or Long Knife, was anxious to abolish this custom, but without success.
“An Ietan woman, who was brought captive to the village was doomed to the ‘Great Star’ by the warrior whose property she had become by the fate of war. She underwent the usual preparation, and on the appointed day was led to the cross amidst a great concourse of people, as eager perhaps as their civilized fellow-men to witness the horrors of an execution. The victim was bound to the cross with throngs of skin, and the usual ceremonies being performed, her dread of a more terrible death was about to be terminated by tomahawk and arrow. At this critical juncture Wa-ta-la-sha-roo, son of Latelasha, stepped forward into the area, and in a hurried but firm manner declared that it was his father’s wish to abolish this sacrifice; that for himself he now presented himself before them for the purpose of laying down his life on the spot, or of releasing the victim. He then cut the cords which bound her to the cross, carried her swiftly through the crowd to a horse which he presented to her, and having mounted another himself, conveyed her beyond the reach of immediate pursuit, when, having supplied her with food, and admonished her to make the best of her way to her own nation, which was at a distance of at least four hundred miles, he was constrained to return to the village. The emancipated Ietan had, however, the good fortune on her journey the next day to meet a war party of her own people, by whom she was conveyed top her family in safety.”
“This daring deed would, almost to a certainty, have terminated in an unsuccessful attempt under any other warrior. and Wa-ta-la-sha-roo was, no doubt, indebted for the success of this noble achievement to the distinguished renown which his feats of chivalry had already gained for him. Notwithstanding the signal success of his daring action, all other display of the firmness and determination of the young warrior was required to abolish this sacrifice, it is hoped forever. The succeeding spring, a warrior who had captured a fine Spanish boy, vowed to sacrifice him to the ‘Great Star,’ and accordingly placed him under the care of the magi for the purpose.” “The Knife Chief, La-te-la-sha, hearing the determination of the warrior, consulted with his son respecting the best means of preventing a repetition of the horrible ceremony. “I will rescue the boy,” said Wa-ta-la-sha-roo, “as a warrior should, by force.” But the Knife Chief was unwilling his son should again expose himself to danger so imminent as that he had once encountered in this cause, and hoped to compel the warrior to exchange his victim for a large quantity of merchandise, which he would endeavor to obtain with that view. For this purpose he went to Mr. Poppan, who happened to be in the village for purposes of trade. Mr. Poppan generously contributed a considerable quantity of merchandise and much was added by himself, by Wa-ta-la-sha-roo, and other Indians. All this treasure was laid in a heap together in the lodge of the Knife Chief, who thereupon summoned the warrior before him. The chief armed himself with his war club, and explained the object of his call, commanding the warrior to accept the merchandise and yield up the boy, or to prepare for instant death. The warrior refused, and the chief waved his war club in the air towards the warrior. “Strike,” said Wa-ta-la-sha-roo, who stood near to support his father: “I will meet the vengeance of his friends!” But the more prudent and politic chief added a few more articles to the mass of merchandise, in order to give the warrior another opportunity of acquiescing without forfeit[xxiii]ing his word. The experiment succeeded; the goods were reluctantly accepted, and the boy liberated. He was subsequently conducted to St. Louis by the traders. The merchandise was sacrificed in the place of the boy; the cloth was cut up into shreds, and suspended from poles at the place of sacrifice, and many valuables were consumed by fire. It is not expected that another attempt to immolate a human victim will be made during the lifetime of Wa-ta-la-sha-roo and his benign father.”
“Our cavalcade now performed a circuit around the village, and saluted the lodge of La-te-la-sha, upon which the flag of the United States was hoisted. The soldiers then marched to the place of encampment, and we were feasted as before. Great order prevailed in the village, and silence throughout, which was attributed to the recent loss of friends in battle. On the prairies between the head waters of the Kansas and Rio del Norte a war-party of the Pawnee Loups had been defeated. There were ninety-three Pawnees against a large party of Ietans, Arrapahoes, and Kiowas. The Pawnees were surrounded. The battle raged with great fury. The enemy was very numerous, and the Pawnees, having exhausted their arrows, took to their war clubs and knives. Their leader was wounded by an arrow buried to the feathers in his flesh. He knew his wound to be mortal, fell, and half rising called to his men, “My braves, fight while you can move a limb, and when your arrows are gone take to your knives.” A11 the principal braves were killed or disabled, the survivors were ordered to fight their way through, and save themselves. Only forty escaped, all wounded but seven. One had eight wounds. They had thrown off their robes, breech-cloths, and leggings at the commencement of the battle, and were now absolutely naked, the weather was extremely cold, and all suffered greatly. The retreating party made rude cars to drag the wounded who could not walk during the laborious march to the village.”
“The following day, after our reception, a council was [xxiv] held at which eleven horses and mules were presented to us in the usual way. In two instances, however, the bores was represented by a cord or halter attached to a stick. One of there cords was drawn by a little Ietan girl, that Wa-ta-la-sha-roo had captured in battle, and adopted as his daughter. She seemed the favorite of his family. Dancing followed to American music. A skin lodge was provided for us, as the one marquee was too feeble to resist the high wind. Presents were then made to La-te-la-sha and the Matiff chief. The latter transferred his to La-te-la-sha, who laid the whole before Wa-ta-la-sha-roo to dispose of as he thought proper. The young chief appointed two persons to distribute the merchandise, and thus the whole was disposed of, though very unequally. The chiefs then thanked us, and withdrew.”
A short time previously the Ponca tribe complained to the Grand Pawnees that the Pawnee Loups had injured them. Tarrarecawaho adopted the cause of the Poncas and marched at the head of a large war party to the Loup Village. Wa-ta-la-sha-roo sallied out to meet him. The Grand Pawnees were much the most numerous. The brave Loup partisan rode forward and challenged Tarrarecawaho to single combat, in order to avoid bloodshed, and settle the dispute. But La-te-la-sha by his wisdom adjusted the matter peaceably.
The Pawnee lodges were capacious, with the usual cooking place and outlet for the smoke. They were furnished with mats very ingeniously woven of grass or reeds; bison robes were abundant, both dressed and undressed. The first were gayly painted. They had wooden dishes and ladles with small brass kettles. Opposite the door, in a rude niche, was a bison’s skull. The women were often pretty: their heads were ornamented with wreaths of flowers. The lodges were crowned without with flags, shields, bows, quivers, and scalps. Before the door was the owner’s lance and shield.
[xxv] The parting salutation of the Pawnee chiefs was a blessing: “May the Master of Life be your protector!” [These quotations are presumably all from Edwin James, Account of an expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains: performed in the years 1819 and ‘20 ... under the command of Major Stephen H. Long. ... Philadelphia: H.C. Carey and I. Lea, 2 vols., 1822-23. This was the major source used by Cooper in writing The Prairie. “Major O’Fallen” was Major Benjamin O’Fallon, Indian Agent, who negotiated a number of treaties with the Pawnees.]
Such were the wild people from whom the author chose to draw his principal Indian character for the romance of the Prairies. Wa-ta-la-sha-roo he had known personally, when the chief made one of a delegation to Washington.
The idea of a narrative connected with the Prairies having been conceived, the figure of Natty rose once more before the writer. Again there was a moment of hesitation: would the public tolerate the introduction of the same character for the third time? would it be possible to carry the old hunter, in extreme age, through a train of freshly novel incident without impairing the native dignity, the simple beauty of the conception? The doubt lasted but a moment; the affection, if one may so term it, of the writer for this creation of his mind, blended with the consciousness of the ability to carry out the idea, decided the question, and with the first pages of the narrative the familiar figure is revealed by the light of the setting sun, in the solitude of the silent waste.
“The Prairie” was chiefly written, as we have already observed, in the little study of the Rue St. Maur. The writer’s health was at that time less strong than usual, owing to the consequences of a severe attack of fever, from which he had suffered the previous year. Anxious to finish his book st an early day, for the first and last time in his long career as a writer, he had recourse to a stimulant; he took strong coffee while writing. But the experiment was a short one; the effect on his nerves was not good, wakeful nights followed, and the coffee was given up at the end of a week. Through life his manner of living was generous, but clearly temperate. He generally took a glass of wine at dinner, though not always. Rarely indeed aid he take anything of the kind at other hours. Opium never entered his lips. Even the habit of smoking was never formed.
While writing “The Prairie,” his little study crowded in the morning with the imaginary figures of mounted Indians [xxvi] and squatters, moving about Natty, the afternoons and evenings were passed in very different scenes. He was then making his first acquaintance with France, and Parisian society, where he was received with all the graceful attention which never fails to be conceded to literary men of distinction in the Old World. Genius and high literary talent occupy a very different position in Europe from that which is allotted to them in America. Society in Paris was probably never more agreeable than during the years including the Restoration and the reign of Louis Philippe. There was more of true dignity and simplicity, more of high culture, less of glare and extravagance, more real refinement and less of ostentation, the moral tone was higher, than would appear to have been the case under the First or the Second Empires.
It was at this period that he made the acquaintance of Sir Walter Scott. We give an account of the meeting in his own words.
“I had ordered a carriage one morning, with the intention of driving over to the other side of the river, and had got as far as the lower flight of steps on my way to the door, when another coach drove into the court. It was raining, and as my own carriage moved off to make way for the newcomer I stopped on the stairs until it should return. The carriage steps rattled, and presently a large, heavy-moulded man appeared in the door of the hotel. He was gray, and limped a little, walking with a cane. We passed each other on the stairs, bowing as a matter of course. I bad got to the door and was about to enter the carriage, when it flashed on my mind that the visit might be to myself I had not the slightest suspicion who the visitor was, though I fancied both the face and form were known to me.
“The stranger went up the large stone steps slowly, leaning with one hand on the iron railing and with the other on his cane. He was on the first landing as I stopped, and turning towards the next flight, our eyes met. The idea I might be the person he wanted seemed then to strike him [xxvii] for the first time. ‘Est-ce Monsieur Cooper que j’ai l’honneur de voir?’ he asked in French, and with but an indifferent accent. ‘Monsieur, je m’appelle Cooper.’ ‘Eh bien, done, je suis Walter Scott.’
“I ran up the landing, shook him by the hand which he stood holding out to me cordially, and expressed my sense of the honor he was conferring. He told me in substance, that the Princess-------- had been as good as her word, and having succeeded herself in getting hold of him, she had good-naturedly given him my address. By way of cutting short all ceremony he had driven from his hotel to my lodgings. All this time he was speaking French, while my answers and remarks were in English; suddenly recollecting himself, he said, “Well, here have I been parley-vouing [sic] to you in a way to surprise you, no doubt; but these Frenchmen have got my tongue so set to their lingo that I have half forgotten my own language.’ As we proceeded up the next Eight of stairs, he accepted my arm and continued the conversation in English, walking with more difficulty than I had expected to see.
“You will remember that Sir Walter Scott was still the Unknown — he did not avow himself until several months later — and that he was believed to be in Paris in search of facts for the Life of Napoleon. Notwithstanding the former circumstance, he spoke of his works with great frankness and simplicity and without the parade of asking any promises of secrecy. In short, as he commenced in this style, his authorship was alluded to by both just as if it had never been called in question. He asked me if I had a copy of the ‘Mohicans’ by me, and on my confessing I did not own a single volume of anything I had written, he laughed and said that he believed most authors had the same feeling on the subject; as for himself he cared not if he never saw a Waverley novel again as long as he lived. Curious to know whether a writer so great and as practiced as he felt the occasional despondency which invariably attends all my own little efforts of this nature, I [xxviii] remarked that I found the mere composition of a tale a source of pleasure; so much so that I always invented twice as much as was committed to paper, in my walks, or in bed, and in my own judgment much the best parts of the composition never saw the light; for what was written was usually written at set hours, and was a good deal a matter of chance, and that going over and over the same subject in proofs disgusted me so thoroughly with the book, that I supposed every one else would be disposed to view it in the same light. To this he answered that he was spared much of the labor of proof-reading, Scotland, he presumed, being better off than America in this respect; but still, he said, he ‘would as soon see his dinner again after a hearty meal, as read one of his own tales when he was fairly rid of it.’. ...
“The next morning he was with me again for near an hour. ... We had a conversation on the law of copyright in the two countries, which as we possess a common language, is a subject of great national interest. I understood him to say that he had a double right in England to his works; one under a statute, and the other growing out of common law. Any one publishing a book, let it be written by whom it might, in England, duly complying with the law, can secure the right, whereas none but a citizen can do so in America. ... Sir Walter Scott seemed aware of the great circulation of his books in America, as well as how much he lost by not being able to secure a copyright. Still he admitted they produced him something. Our conversation on this point terminated by a frank offer, on his part, of aiding me with the publishers of his own country — an offer twice renewed after an interval of several years — but although grateful for the kindness, I was not so circumstanced as to be able to profit by it. ...
Sir Walter Scott’s person and manner have been so often described, that you will not ask much of me in this way, especially as I saw so little of him. His frame is large and muscular, his walk difficult in appearance, though [xxix] he boasted himself a vigorous mountaineer, and his action in general measured and heavy. His features and countenance were very Scottish, with the short, thick nose, heavy lips, and massive cheeks. The superior or intellectual part of his bead is neither deep nor broad, but perhaps the reverse, though singularly high. Indeed it is quite uncommon to see a skull so round and tower-like in formation, though I have met with them in individuals not at all distinguished for talents. I do not think a casual observer would find anything unusual in the exterior of Sir Walter Scott beyond his physical force, which is great, without being at all extraordinary. The eye, however, is certainly remarkable. ‘Gray, small, and without lustre, in his graver moments it appears to look inward, instead of regarding external objects, in a way, though the expression belongs more or less to abstraction, that I have never seen equaled. His smile is good-natured and social; and when he is in the mood, as happened to be the fact so often in our brief intercourse as to lead me to think it characteristic of the man, his eye would lighten with a great deal of latent fun. He spoke more freely of his private affairs than I had reason to expect, though our business introduced the subject naturally; and, at such times, I thought the expression changed to a sort of melancholy resolution, that was not wanting in sublimity.” [James Fenimore Cooper, Gleanings in Europe: France . Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983, pp. 149-156]
Mr. Cooper occupied himself at this time very warmly and sincerely in forwarding the pecuniary interests of the author of “Waverley” in America. He wrote private letters and other appeals with this view. It was his hope that something nearer to a just compensation for the fruits of his labors than he had yet received, might be given to the veteran writer, struggling under adversity. He believed that a man, whose works purely original — the offspring of his own individual mind and labor — were providing sources of livelihood to thousands of printers, and increase of wealth to hundreds of booksellers, had every right to look for a respectable portion of the receipts of his books from [xxx] a people speaking the same language, and every reading household of whom held those books in their hands. For a time the American author was quite sanguine of the result. He was destined to be disappointed. Publics are not often generous; simply just they are very rarely, indeed. Genius, when opposed by the spirit of Trade, is sacrificed — has no rights. And yet Trade lives by the fruits of Genius.
In a letter to a friend in America on this subject, he wrote as follows: “My communications with the author of ‘Waverley’ on this subject have been of the most unreserved character. Knowing as I do the high and honorable motives which prompt him, at my suggestion, to consent to reap a little emolument from among the thousands and tens of thousands that he has so long delighted and instructed on our side of the water and after so nobly disregarding the immense sums which he might have obtained in that quarter, T cannot command words to express to you the anxiety I feel that this tardy attention to his interests may be followed by results in some degree worthy of the literary treasure he has bestowed on the age. I should think that in an enlightened and liberal country such as we profess to be, the very expression of such a wish would establish a right in his favor as sacred as any that could be granted by the most minute attention to legislative forms. Every high-minded man in the nation will be with you in this undertaking, and stand ready to support you with his voice and character. The language is a common property, and what has always been called with respect to other countries the Republic of Letters may well be termed a ‘Fraternity’ as between England and the United States. We are, in a literary sense, the offspring of Chaucer, Spenser, and Shakespeare, as much so as the English subject of the present day. But I know this act of justice will be done, and shall say no more about it” [probably from an early draft of a letter, the final version of which was sent to Cooper’s publisher, Carey and Lea of Philadelphia, on November 9, 1826. See James F. Beard, Jr., ed., Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper, Harvard University Press, 6 vols., 1960-1968, Vol. I, p. 179.]
Again, in another letter of the same period, he says: “It has always struck me that the laws of copyright in both [xxxi] countries are illiberal, and on our side impolitic. The language is common property, and there is no sufficient reason why talent, which has often been said to belong to no country, should not be encouraged by opening every public avenue by which it may be justly rewarded. I consider that every good citizen is just as much bound to consider the interests and honor of his particular country in the exercise of his talents as he is to consult the more immediate welfare of his family in upholding that of Society in general. But while the claims of nature are so strong, they are not engrossing. A great deal is due to humanity, and perhaps no class of men serve her general interests so effectually as popular writers of high character. In this way individual talent is common property, and naked justice requires that it should be rewarded by those it benefits. Would to Heaven that the liberal spirit which exists, but which so often lies dormant in America, could be made to awaken, and exercise some of its grateful influence on this subject.” [same; see Beard, Vol. I, p. 176.]
He closes another letter as follows: —
“I have written you frankly on this subject, as well as on the change of law. I heartily wish that something may be done this winter, with regard to copyright laws. These facts ought to be put with force before Congress. The Law stands in its present shape because no two great nations have before possessed a common language, like the English and ourselves, and the necessity for departure from ordinary rules could only become apparent by practice. Set an example of liberality which would be commendable on general principles, and so directly operative in detail on our interests, England will be sure to follow the example. ... Circumstances place me above the suspicion of giving an interested opinion on this matter. I have much more reason as you well know, to be surprised at my own success to complain of any want of it. As a proof that I am not down-hearted I hope soon to send you ‘Prairie’ complete, though I can hardly say that I feel a greater in[xxxii]terest in its success, than I do in that of some plan to remunerate the author of ‘Waverley,’ for the delight and instruction which he has so long lavished on the American nation gratuitously.
“J. F. C.
“PARIS, November, 1826” [same; see Beard, Vol. I, p. 178.]