Introduction to The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish (1829)

Susan Fenimore Cooper

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

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

Pages and Pictures, pp. 197-212

Topics Covered: Coopers in Switzerland in 1828 (quotation); plan of Wept; Coopers travel to Florence (quotation); life in Florence; trip to Marseille (quotations); printing of Wept; moderate success of novel.

Contents: THE WEPT OF WISH-TON-WISH — Switzerland — La Lorraine — The Alps from Berne — Puritans and Indians — First View of Italy — The Casa Ricasoli — The Puritan household — Difficulties of printing — Extract, Narra-mattah

[197] THE summer of 1828 was passed in Switzerland. Those were very happy months. The sublime grandeur of the ancient mountains, and the loveliness of the pastoral valleys at their feet, far surpassed in the reality all previous conceptions of the same nature. The daily morning ride, or evening stroll, was rich in picturesque charm, while language could scarcely convey a full sense of the feeling aroused when climbing the more commanding heights, and beholding the wonders of Alpine glory revealed there. The first glimpse of the hoary Alps which the American traveller received, was unexpected at the moment:

“The day was lovely, and I had persuaded ------. to share my seat on the carriage-box. As we rounded the little height on which the ruin is seated (a ruined tower in Franche Comté, said to be a castle of Roland), she exclaimed: ‘What a beautifully white cloud!’ Taking the direction from her finger, I saw an accurately-defined mass, that resembled the highest wreath of a cloud whose volume lay concealed beyond the mountains of the Jura, which by this time were so near as to be quite distinct. There was something that was not cloudy, too, in its appearance. Its outline was like that of a chiselled rock, and its whiteness greatly surpassed the brilliancy of vapor. I called to the postillion, and pointed out this extraordinary object: ‘Mont Blanc, monsieur!’ We were, according to the maps, at least seventy miles from it, in an air line! I shall never forget the thrill of that moment. There is a feeling allied to the universal love of the mysterious that causes us all to look with pleasure at any distant object which insensibly leads the mind to the contemplation of things that are invisible. The imagination steals down the sides of distant peaks into the valleys, which it [198] is apt to people with creatures from its stores of recollections, or, perhaps, from its own creative powers. This glimpse of the glacier, for it was only a glimpse, the shining mass settling beyond the Jura, as we descended on a gallop toward Döle, transported us over a long line of road into the very heart of the country toward which we were hastening. Mont Blanc, it is true, is not in Switzerland, but it is a part of the same wonderful formation that renders Switzerland so remarkable, and the eye swept across two cantons, and half of Savoy, to take in this speck of aerial brightness. I never before so ardently longed for wings, though their possession used to be one of the most constant of my youthful aspirations.” [James Fenimore Cooper, Gleanings in Europe: Switzerland [1836] (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1980), Letter II, pp. 13-14]

Berne was the destination of the travellers. From motives of economy, and for the enjoyment of that quiet home-life which be always preferred, it was his habit, as soon as possible after reaching new ground, to secure some private dwelling for his little family band. In Europe such a step is easily taken, furnished lodgings and houses abounding everywhere. A modest country house, called La Lorraine, was soon secured. “We are in one of the pretty, little, retired villas that dot the landscape, and at the distance of only half a mile from the town. The sinuous Aar glances between us, but it has burrowed so low in the earth that no part of it is visible until we stand on its very banks. Graceful footpaths wind among the fields, which are little encumbered with fences, or even hedges, and we have roads as narrow and good as those one sees in pleasure-grounds. Our house is of stone, about as large as one of the ordinary boxes of Manhattan Island, and on the whole sufficiently comfortable. We found both house and furniture faultlessly neat.” [Gleanings in Europe: Switzerland, Letter V, p. 33] The position of La Lorraine was very quiet and retired, well shaded by lindens and other trees, and with its little trim garden and half-ruined fountain, its adjoining farm-house and barn-yard, thoroughly Swiss in all their details, was just the ground for children to roam over at will, in full enjoyment of a summer holiday. Near by there was a common, too, where hoops and jumping-ropes and kites could be used, and where parents and children often strolled together. From this common there was a very beautiful view of the Alps, which indeed were always in sight from the cottage windows — a source of unfailing delight, but especially so during the evening hours.

“I shall attempt to give you some notion of the two grandest aspects that the Alps, when seen from this place, assume. One of these appearances is often alluded to; but I do not remember to have ever heard the other mentioned. The first is produced by the setting sun, whose rays, of a cloudless evening, are the parents of hues and changes of a singularly lovely character. The lustre of the [199] glacier slowly retires, and is gradually succeeded by a tint of rose color; which, falling on so luminous a body, produces a sort of roseate light — the whole of the vast range being mellowed, and subdued into indescribable softness. This appearance gradually increases in intensity; varying on different evenings, however, according to the state of the atmosphere. At the very moment, perhaps, when the eye is resting most eagerly on this extraordinary view, the light vanishes. No scenic change is more sudden than that which follows. All the forms remain unaltered; but so varied in hue, as to look like the ghosts of mountains. You sec the same vast range of eternal snow; but you see it ghastly, and spectral. You fancy that the spirits of the Alps are ranging themselves before you. Watching the peaks for a few minutes longer, the light slowly departs. The spectres, like the magnificent images of the phantasmagoria, grow more and more faint, less and less material, until lost in the firmament. What renders all this more thrillingly exquisite, is the circumstance that these changes do not occur until after evening has fallen on the lower world — giving, to the whole, the air of nature sporting, in the upper regions, with some of her spare and detached materials. This sight is far from uncommon. It is usually seen during the summer, in greater or less perfection, twice or thrice a week. The other view is much less frequent. The Aar flows toward Berne in a north-west direction, through a valley of some width, and several leagues in length. To this fact the Bernese are indebted for their view of the Oberland Alps, which range themselves exactly across the mouth of the gorge, at the distance of forty miles in an air line. These giants are supported by a row of advanced sentinels, any one of which would be a spectacle in another country. One in particular, the Niesen, is distinguished by its conical form. It is nearly in a line with the Jungfrau, the virgin queen of the Oberland, and is some eight or ten miles in advance of the mighty range; though to the eye, at Berne, all these accessories appear tumbled, without order, at the very feet of their principals. The height of the Niesen is some eight thousand feet above the sea — rather higher than the tallest peak of the White Mountains. The Jungfrau rises, directly in the rear of this mountain, more than a mile nearer to heaven. The day was clouded; and as a great deal of mist was clinging to all the lesser mountains, the lower atmosphere was much charged with vapor. The cap of the Niesen was quite hid, and a wide pall of watery cloud entirely overhung the summits of the nearer range; leaving, however, their broad sides misty, but quite visible. In short, the Niesen and its immediate neighbors looked like any other range of noble mountains whose heads were hid in the clouds. The vapor must have caused a good deal of refraction, for above these clouds rose the whole of the Oberland Alps to an altitude which certainly [200] seemed even greater than usual. Every peak, and all the majestic formation, was perfectly visible, though the whole range appeared to be severed from the earth, and to float in air. The line of connection was veiled; and, while all below was watery or enfeebled by mist, the glaciers threw back the fierce light of the sun with powerful splendor. The separation from the lower world was made the more complete from the contrast between the sombre hues beneath, and the calm, but bright magnificence above. One had some difficulty in believing that both belonged to the same orb. The effect of the whole was to create a picture, of which I can give no other idea than by saying it resembled a glimpse through the windows of heaven at such a gorgeous but chastened grandeur as the imagination might conceive to suit the place. There were moments when the spectral aspect, just mentioned, dimmed the lustre of the snows, without impairing their forms, and no language can do justice to the sublimity of the effect. It was impossible to look at them without religious awe; and, irreverent though it may seem, I could hardly persuade myself I was not gazing at some of the sublime mysteries that lie beyond the grave.” [Gleanings in Europe: Switzerland, Letter V, pp. 39-41]

The nearer country, hill and dale, in the immediate neighborhood of La Lorraine was also charming. The drives were of course beautiful: often along narrow roads, smooth and even as garden-walks — amid open fields, rich and neat with the highest degree of culture, the passing wheel almost touching the crops, so narrow were the tracks. And then the Alps, ever in view, or at least always the hope of beholding them at the next turn, when some nearer hill or mood shut out the grand panorama for a moment! And the cottages, so exquisitely rural and rustic, and local — with their broad, projecting roofs, and low balconies, and quaint inscriptions, rude in lettering, devout in meaning! How thrifty the whole aspect of things: a dilapidated cottage, or a carelessly tilled field, seeming blots on the face of the land unknown in the good canton of Berne. Over these beautiful scenes the eye of the American traveller, eager, observant, and appreciative, wandered with delight, gathering some fresh incident of interest from every evening drive. When harvest-time came, the traveller was very much interested by the gleaners; these poor people were spread through the grain-fields in large parties. They came chiefly from the mountains, where the land lies almost wholly in pasture; and, for many, the little barley, or rye, or wheat, for their winter store, must be gathered wholly in that way, picked up by the ear, from the richer fields of the lowland farmers. Old and young, men, women, and children, they came flocking down from the Oberland in household parties, scattering themselves through the harvest-fields many a weary mile from their mountain homes. Their varied costumes wore often faded and tattered, and yet pleasing, since the interest of [201] inheritance and prolonged local growth — like that of the plants — lingered about each. Pausing, one evening, before a field where these poor people were gathered, Mr. Cooper counted one hundred and twenty-nine of them, young and old, men and women, in a field of less than six acres. We give an extract of this date:

“The day after meeting this herd of gleaners, who, by the way, were of all ages, and both sexes, we went to Hindelbank, to see the celebrated monument in the village church. The history of this monument has been often told, but it is so touchingly beautiful that it will bear to be repeated. Hindelbank is no more than a sequestered and insignificant hamlet, at the distance of two leagues from Berne. The church also is positively one of the very smallest and humblest of all the parish churches I remember to have seen in Europe. Small as it is, however, it contains the tomb of the Erlachs, whose principal residence is at a short distance from the village. A German artist, of the name of Nahl, was employed to execute something for this distinguished family, and, while engaged in the work, he took up his residence in the house of the parish priest, whose name was Langhans. The good pastor had been recently married, and tradition hath it that his young wife was eminently beautiful. She died at the birth of her first child, and while the sculptor was yet an inmate of the family. Touched by the sorrow of his host, and inspired by the virtues and beauty of the deceased, Nahl struck out the idea of this monument at a heat, and executed it on the spot, as a homage to friendship sad conjugal worth; looking to the Erlachs alone for the vulgar dross through which genius too commonly receives its impulses. We saw the château of the Erlachs, at a little distance on our right, before reaching the village. It is a house of no great size, but is historical on account of its connection with this ancient family. The humble little church was readily opened, and we entered filled with expectation. A large, labored, and magnificent, but, I think, tasteless monument, nearly covered one side of the building. It was richly wrought in marbles of different colors, but was confused and meretricious, wanting certainly the simplicity that belongs to every thing of this nature that is truly admirable. I had come to the spot without particularly attending to the history of the pastor’s family, expecting to see a piece of sculpture of rare merit, without exactly knowing what. At that moment I knew nothing of the Erlachs’ having a tomb at Hindelbank, and, seeing nothing but an exceedingly rustic and plain village church, which was nearly half occupied by this labored work of art, quite naturally supposed this was the object of our excursion. I was already endeavoring to dissect the confused details, in order to find out the gain of wheat among the heaps of tares, when I was called to the rest of the party. The sexton [202] had ascended a little platform, at the head of the church, which seemed to be covered with boards thrown loosely on the joists. Raising one or two of these, the monument appeared below. An ordinary flat tombstone, with armorial bearings and inscriptions, lay at the depth of about six inches below the floor. The idea was that of the grave giving up its dead for judgment. The stone was rent longitudinally in twain, until near the head, where a fragment was so broken as to expose the faces and busts of those who were summoned to the resurrection. The child lies tranquilly on the bosom of its mother, as if its innocence were passive, while the countenance of the latter is beaming with holy joy. One hand is a little raised, as if reverently greeting her Redeemer. The sculpture is equal to the thought, and the artist, probably from the circumstances of moulding the features after death, while he has preserved the beauty of a fine symmetry, has imparted to them a look entirely suited to the mystery of the grave. These things too often savor of conceit; and after the momentary feeling of wonder into which, perhaps, you have been surprised is a little abated, the mind turns with greater pleasure to the more severe models of classic taste. Such is not the case with this extraordinary monument. It grows upon you by study, and its rare simplicity is quite as remarkable as the boldness and poetry of the conception. Even the material, perishable and plain as it is, helps to sustain the interest, for it betrays the poverty which could not restrain, though it might trammel, genius. There it lay, in noble contrast to the more ostentatious sorrow of the Erlachs! I would not have changed it into marble, if I could, although it is no more than the common friable sandstone of the adjoining hills, of a grayish-blue color, and of which half the houses in Berne are constructed. I have heard it said that the thought of this monument is not original. For this I will not vouch: but I think it has all the appearance of being produced under the pure inspiration of the imagination, quickened by strong generous feeling. One seldom sees or hears a particularly clever thing without setting about hunting for the original; ideas which are the most natural and beautiful usually striking us with the force of old acquaintances, on account of their fitness and truth.

“There is a monument in Westminster Abbey, in which Death, in the form of a skeleton, appears opening the gates of a tomb, ready to strike his victim. This is a conceit of Roubilliac, and nothing but a conceit. The cumbrous allegory of this work can no more compare with the sublime and evangelical thought of Nahl, than the labored couplets of Racine can sustain a parallel with the vigorous images of Shakespeare. No work of art — not even the Apollo — ever produced so strong an effect on me as this monument, which — because the most [203] exquisite blending of natural sentiment with a supernatural and revealed future — I take to be the most sublime production of its kind in the world.” [Gleanings in Europe: Switzerland, Letter V, pp. 35-37]

At the foot of the Alps, a new book was planned. Mind and memory, however, turned affectionately westward; and scenes of home-life, incidents connected with the annals of his native soil, formed once more the materials selected for the work. As usual, it was no sooner planned than the first pages were written. The period and ground chosen were the early colonial time in Connecticut. The American Puritan and the Indian were to be thrown together, while the chief point of interest is a child, a lovely little girl, torn from her mother’s arms, and borne away into the wilderness by the savage band: according to a custom prevailing throughout the tribes of northern America, the captive girl is formally adopted, and engrafted into a family of the red race. Years pass over; the bereaved mother — a very beautiful character, colored with great truth, purity, and tenderness — lives drooping and mourning on the spot where the blow had fallen upon her head. The father — a fine and highly favorable picture of the colonist of that day and that ground — carries about with him, under a calm exterior, and beneath his stiff Puritan garb, a sad heart. Brother, and sister, and companions, grow to maturity, and all throw many a yearning look backward, in memory of the lost sister, the Wept of Wish-ton-Wish. A fresh outbreak of the savages occurs: the lost girl returns to her father’s roof one of the marauding band, the wife of a Narragansett warrior, the mother of an Indian boy.

[204] Such was the book planned and commenced in the little uncarpeted study at La Lorraine. Long excursions, however, made in succession to some of the many points of interest in the country about him, interfered more than usual with the progress of his work. Occasionally he went off through the more level cantons in a carriage or char-à-banc, with a part of his family; at other times he made excursions into the heart of the Alps, on foot, with a guide for his only companion. Always a good pedestrian, he enjoyed extremely these excursions on foot. While at Paris, a year or two earlier, he had undertaken to walk around the walls of that city, with an officer in the navy, an old comrade and messmate, Captain Wolcott Chauncey, for a companion, performing the feat in four hours. The distance was said to be, at that time, some eighteen miles. At length autumnal gusts began to whistle through the linden-trees about La Lorraine, showers of snow fell upon the little garden; it was declared expedient to move southward ere the Alpine passes were closed. a couple of voiturierswere engaged to transport the party, after the usual fashion, to Florence; Caspar, the principal of the two, acting as postillon-en-chef, had been a cuirassier of the first Napoleon’s wars; he had many a long tale of the camp to tell, and with much bonhomie, a hearty, jovial nature, and perfectly respectful manner, was soon in high favor with his employer, who in later years frequently alluded to him. The Lake of Geneva was reached. “A more ravishing view than that we now beheld can scarcely be imagined. Nearly the whole of the lake was visible. The north shore was studded with towns, towers, castles, and villages, for the distance of thirty miles; the rampart-like rocks of Savoy rose, for three or four thousand feet, like walls, above the water, and solitary villages were built against their bases, in spots where there scarcely appeared room to rest a human foot. The solemn, magnificent gorge, rather than valley, of the Rhone, and the river glittering like silver among its meadows, were in the distant front, while the immediate foreground was composed of a shore which also had its walls of rocks, and its towns laved by the water, its castles, its hamlets, half-concealed by fruit-trees, and its broad, mountain bosom thrown into terraces to the elevation of two thousand feet, on which reposed almost every object of rural art that can adorn a picture. The beauty of the panorama was singularly heightened by some thirty or forty large barks, with latinesails, a rig peculiarly Italian, and which, to my eye, was redolent of the Mediterranean, a sea I had not beheld for twenty years. They were lying lazily on the glassy lake, as if placed there by Claude himself, to serve as models.” [Glimpses of Europe: Switzerland, Letter XXVI, pp. 263-264]

The Simplon was crossed. The first glimpse of Italy gave great delight: “Suddenly we burst upon a little verdant valley that gave us a foretaste of Italy. [205] The valley widened, and, on one side, the mountain became less abrupt, in a way to admit of cultivation, and the abodes of men. The habitable tract was very limited, being no more than a sharp acclivity of some two or three thousand acres; but it was literally teeming with the objects of a rural civilization. The whole côtewas a leafy cloud of lovely foliage, above which peeped the roofs of cottages, wherever a cottage could stand. Tall, gaunt-looking church-towers rose out of this grateful forest. Again the mountains approached each other, and we went rolling down a gentle declivity for miles, through gorges less wild than those above, but always imposing and savage. Here the torrent was spanned by several beautiful bridges, that were to receive foot-passengers, or, at most, a packhorse. They were of hewn stone, with pointed arches, and of extreme lightness and boldness. One or two were in ruins — a fact that bespoke their antiquity, and contributed to their interest. At length the mountains terminated, and an open space appeared. A transverse valley spread itself athwart the jaws of the gorge, and a massive bridge was thrown across the torrent at right angles to our courser Old Caspar cracked his whip, and soon whirled us into an entirely new region. The country was still Alpine — the valley into which we now entered being completely imbedded in sublime mountains; but the severity of the scenery unaccountably disappeared, and was replaced by softer hues, and a gentler nature; even the naked rocks appearing less stern and repulsive than those we had left on the banks of the Rhone. The vegetation was more exuberant, and it had been less nipped by frosts; the fruits were much more generous, and all the appliances of civilization were more abundant, and more genial. As we turned out of the gorge of the Doveria, into the valley of the Toccia, the carriage passed a huge column of marble, that lay, half-completed, by the side of the rock whence it had been quarried. This was a apt emblem of Italy; nor was its effect thrown away.” [Glimpses of Europe: Switzerland, Letter XXVIII, pp. 286-287]

Florence was the destination of the travellers. As usual, a temporary home was soon arranged. The lodgings secured for the winter were in one of those old piles, half house, half fortalice, such as the warlike nobles of Florence were wont to build centuries ago, and which still form a severe feature in the aspect of that joyous and sunny city. Buildings which within are full of elegance and noble works of art, without throw a stern and frowning shade over the narrow streets. The house in which the American traveller, with his family, had been received, belonged to a lady of the family of Ricasoli, a widow with two sons — the elder a page attached to the court of the Grand Duke, the second, a tonsured Abbé still in his minority. The older brother, Baron Ricasoli, is now achieving for himself a highly honorable name, as the leader of the patriotic party in his [206] native country. Mr. Cooper’s residence in Florence was always remembered by him with great pleasure; he enjoyed extremely the society into which he was so kindly received, The higher Italian element of that society surpassed in intelligence, in activity of mind, and in elevated tone what he had anticipated, from the general condition of the country at that period. Among other gentlemen whom he met frequently, the late Marchese Capponi was remembered by him with especial and respectful regard, from his high personal character. Baron Poerio and the Cavalier Alessandro Poerio, exiles themselves, and the father and brother of the present distinguished Neapolitan exile of the same name, were frequent visitors at his house; the latter gentleman being a poet and a linguist, considered second only to Mezzofanti in acquirements of that nature. The Prince Napoleon, the elder brother of the present emperor, and the Princess Charlotte Bonaparte, he also saw frequently; for the first Mr. Cooper had anticipated a brilliant career, from his character and talents, while for the princess he cherished a most sincere regard, in common with many friends she had already won in America. These are all now deceased. It was the delight of the American traveller to enliven the hearthstone of the Casa Ricasoli with the cheery glow of wood fires, such as might have done honor to his paternal home, in the Otsego Hills; through life a bright wood-fire, in cool weather, was a necessity for him — he was very critical in the art of laying the wood, and in nursing the bright blaze, in which his cheerful nature rejoiced. While the Italian servants held up their hands with horror at such waste of fuel, the friends who gathered about the hearthstone when the chill tramontana was blowing from the Apennines, all professed great admiration of this fashion, deemed by them especially American. Among those cheered by the firelight, and to whom its charm was no novelty, was one in whom Mr. Cooper soon learned to feel a deep interest — Mr. Horatio Greenough, the sculptor.

Daily life now flowed in a double current. A traveller’s pleasures filled up many hours. Mr. Cooper’s enjoyment of works of art, painting, sculpture, and architecture, was very great; the society of artists had always given him especial pleasure; the antiquities and beautiful natural scenery of the country were of course full of interest, while many a graver thought was given to the character and condition of the people, their life and education, and the government influencing both. To the native character of the Italians, in its better aspects, he was partial, believing them capable of far more than during the last centuries they have accomplished. But while throwing himself, with his usual zest and animation, into the outward movement of the hour, a portion of every morning was given to his pen; and wide, indeed, was the difference between the [207] living groups among which he moved abroad, the gay, impulsive, laughing, singing, brown-skinned Italians, and the demure, ideal, Puritan band which surrounded him when in his study in the Casa Ricasoli. In all Italy, from the Alps to Mount Etna, the like of these could not be found — never had existed — the soil of Italy could yield no such growth — their virtues and their vices belonged alike to a very different zone of the moral world. The two currents, however, remained wholly distinct in the writer’s mind; the family of the Wish-ton-Wish were as clearly drawn as if the book had been written in the valley of the Connecticut, rather than on the banks of the Arno. Ere long the work was sufficiently advanced for printing. Here, however, the author met with great and unforeseen difficulties. The first obstacle to be overcome was the censorship of the press. In Tuscany, however, the restraints of this nature were light compared to those in other parts of Italy, and the necessary permission to print was readily granted. To carry out the plan was a task much more difficult. There was no regular English printing establishment in Florence, and several efforts which were made to procure English compositors, and set them to work in an Italian office, successively failed. Despairing of effecting his object, Mr. Cooper at length reluctantly determined to leave his family at Florence, and endeavor to make arrangements for printing at Marseilles. During the carnival he set out for Marseilles, following the beautiful road along the coast. A few extracts of that date are given:

[208] “Genoa lies at the base of a large cove, which has been converted into a fine harb means of two moles. One quarter of the town actually stands on low cliffs that are washed by the sea, which must sometimes throw its spray into the streets. Its position consequently unites the several beauties of a gorgeous capital with all its works of art, the movement and bustle of a port, the view of a sea with passing ships and its varying aspects of calms and tempests, with a background of stupendous hills; for at this point the Alps send out those grand accessories to their magnificence, the Apennines. The place is fortified, and the nature of the ground requiring that the adjacent hill should be included, the enceinteis large enough to contain all Paris. I took a horse and made the circuit of the walls. The day was mild, but had passing clouds, and some of the views toward the interior were of an extraordinary character. A deep valley separated us from the works; and there were several fine glimpses, in a sort of wild perspective, among the recesses of the mountains. I scarcely remember a scene of more peculiar wildness, blended with beauty, than some of these glimpses offered, though the passing cloud and the season perhaps contributed to the effect. The inland views resembled some of the backgrounds of the pictures of Leonardo da Vinci. Indeed, it is only in Italy, and among its romantic heights, with their castle-like villages and towns, that one gets an accurate notion of the models that the older masters copied. Seaward the prospect was truly glorious. The day was mild, and twenty sail were loitering along, quaint in rig as usual, and wallowing to the heavy ground swell. Here I had almost a bird’s-eye view of the town, port, and offing, with the noble range of coast southward, and a pile of purple mountains whose feet were lined with villages. * * I took the malle-poste, and left Genoa for Nice. The road ran on the very margin of the sea, the carriage literally rolling along the beach. Many were the pretty little fishing and trading hamlets we gallopped through in this manner, and now and then we had a town. The coast was fairly lined with them. Inland the mountains soon began to tower upward to an Alpine elevation. Imagination cannot portray bits of scenery more picturesque than some that offered on the beach. Wild ravines, down which broad and rapid torrents poured their contributions, opened toward the hills; and bridges of singular construction and of great antiquity spanned these, in bold and imposing flights. Many of those wide arches were half ruined. As for the beach, it was principally of sand, and wherever a hamlet occurred, it was certain to be lined with boats and feluccas, some lying on their bilges, and others shored up on their keels, with perchance a sail or net spread to dry. How some of these crafts, vessels of forty or fifty tons, were got there in the absence of tides, and how they were to be got off again, exceeded my skill at conjecture; the conduc [209] teuraffirmed that they sailed upon the sands, and would sail off again when they wished to put to sea! Here and there a prettily-modelled felucca was on the ways. Altogether, it was an extraordinary passage, differing entirely from any I had ever made before. For several hours we travelled in darkness; when day dawned it opened on an entirely different scene. There was no longer a beach; the coast had become rocky and broken; the land was heaving itself up into gigantic forms, and on our right appeared Monte Finale, the last summit of the Alps! The huge background of mountains protects all this coast from the north winds, and the sun of a low latitude beating against it, joined to the blend airs of this miraculous sea, conspire to render all this region precocious. Even the palm was growing in one or two places, though early in March we felt all the symptoms of a young spring. This harmony between the weather and the views contributed largely to my pleasures. Soon after quitting Mentone, the road began to wind its way across the broad and naked breast of a huge mountain. This was, in truth, the point where we crossed the Maritime Alps, the rest of the mounting and descending being merely coquetting on their skirts. The town of Monaco appeared in the distance, seated on a low rocky promontory, with the sea, laving one of its sides, and the other opening toward a pretty and secluded port. The whole of this coast is as picturesque and glorious as the imagination can paint; and then the associations, which are oriental, and sometimes oven scriptural, come in to throw a hue over all. I observed to-day a polacre rolling at her anchor, while boats were carrying off to her oil and olives from the spot where the latter had grown. As I sat leaning back in the carriage, the line of sight, by clearing the bottom of the carriage window, struck another vessel under her canvas, at the distance of half a league from the shore. We may have been, at the moment, a thousand feet above the sea. The panoramas seen from these advanced eminences were as magnificent as land and water could form — the more so from the hue of the Mediterranean, a tint eminently beautiful. Indeed, one who has seen no other sea but that which is visible from the American coast, can scarcely form a notion of the beauty of the ocean; for there the tint is a dull green, while in many other parts of the world it is a marine blue. After climbing a league we reached the summit of the pass, which was a sort of shoulder of the range, and had a short distance of tolerably level route. From this elevation we caught a glimpse of a deep bay, with a town at its head, called Villa Franca; and one of the most extraordinary of all the wasp-like looking villages I had yet seen presented itself. It literally capped the apex of a cone, whose sides were so steep as to render ascending and descending a. work of toil, and even risk. I should think that a child falling from the verge of the [210] village must roll down two hundred feet. On this extraordinary pinnacle were perched some fifty or sixty houses built of stone, resembling, as usual, one single and quaint edifice, from the manner in which they were compressed together. The conducteurdeemed this village the most extraordinary object on his route; and when I asked him what could have induced men to select such a position for a town, he answered: ‘ The bears!’ Protection was unquestionably the motive, and the village is probably very ancient. My companion thought there must be a well of great depth to furnish water, and he added that the inhabitants were chiefly shepherds. It is necessary to see a landscape embellished by towns, convents, castles, and churches, occupying sites like this, to form any accurate notion of the manner in which they render it quaint and striking.” [James Fenimore Cooper, Gleanings in Europe: Italy [1838] (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1981), Letter VII, pp. 52-53; Letter VIII, pp. 55-58]

At Marseilles the printing plan was varied. Unwilling to be absent from his temporary home longer than was possible, he succeeded in finding an English compositor, who consented to return with him to Florence, and work under Mr. Cooper’s directions in an Italian office. This man, whose name was Richard Heavisides, was unfortunately deaf and dumb. The author returned to Florence with him, however; and a room in some corner of that specious Italian dwelling, the Casa Ricasoli, was found for the printer, who received his meals from his employer’s table, while his working hours were passed in the Italian office. He proved, however, but an indifferent printer; the work went on very slowly, and the plan would probably have been abandoned from this cause alone, when the ungovernable temper of the man — a failing said to be common with mutes — rendered it necessary to send him back to Marseilles again. At length, with the [211] kind assistance of the grand duke’s librarian, other arrangements were made, and a small edition of the Wish-ton-Wish was printed, the early sheets of which were sent to Paris, London, and Philadelphia, to meet engagements with the author’s publishers in those cities. In England, the book received the name of “The Borderers,” which it still bears in that country. The word Wish-ton-Wish, the author had taken from an Indian vocabulary, professing to give it the meaning of Whip-poor-Will, in a dialect of one of the eastern tribes; the correctness of the translation he had afterward reason to doubt, when too late, however, to change the name. An American work, of no little interest, whose leading idea was very similar to that of the Wish-ton-Wish, appeared rather earlier: Hope Leslie, by Miss Sedgwick. It was a singular coincidence that two American writers should have been led to plan, at the same moment, works so similar in outline, Hope Leslie had the honors of the earlier publication, still it is simply true that the idea of Mr. Cooper’s book was quite original with himself; at the time of the publication of the Wish-ton-Wish he had never read Hope Leslie. Both authors probably drew their outline from the same sources, the annals of Deerfield, and Cherry Valley and Wyoming.

The success of the Wish-ton-Wish was moderate only. This was especially the case in America; in England and in France it was more liked. Is it an error to believe that the book has been undervalued? May we not assert that if no other work more brilliant in character had been given us by the same pen, the Wish-ton-Wish would have ranked more highly? There is a vein of deep pathetic interest running through the narrative; and many beautiful pictures might be drawn from its pages, The principal characters are well sketched, and there is a purity and freshness in the general tone like the odor of the newly-turned sod — the fragrance of bud and briar in the newly opened wood. Mr. Cooper was very far from being an admirer of Puritan peculiarities, or the fruits their principles have yielded in later times; but in the Wish-ton-Wish impartial justice has been done to all that was sound and healthful in their system: to their courage, their thrifty industry, their self-denial and simple habits of life, their shrewdness, and their indomitable resolution; while the less pleasing traits have been softened down, and a subdued poetical light, in perfect harmony with the pathetic nature of the subject, thrown over the whole. As a picture of pure family love — that between husband and wife, parent and child, brother and sister — the narrative is beautiful. The spirit of that love glows throughout; it throws a light, sweet and serene, yet clear and strong, over every page; while in no instance is there the least taint of exaggeration or conceit. Some time after the publication of the book, when revising its pages for a new edition, the writer expressed a regret that his plan [212] had not varied in one particular; the leading idea, the abduction of the daughter of the Puritan family and her adoption by the savages, would have remained the same, but instead of bringing Narra-mattah to her old home again with the Narragansett marauders, he would have carried the heart-stricken father into the wilderness on the trail of his lost child; he would have followed the parent step by step through the forest, as he was led onward — now deceived by some false rumor, then again guided by the right clue, wandering far and wide, along unexplored streams, over nameless lakes, through pathless valleys, until, at length, in some remote wigwam of the red man, he finds her as she is now drawn, a beautiful picture of sweet natural instincts, and wild grace, appearing one moment in that subdued forest light which belongs to the red man’s daughter, and then again brightening under some clearer ray of her earlier Christian nurture. We can imagine something, at least, of the higher interest, and the beauty of original detail, which would have been given to the work under this form.

Extract: “Narra-mattah” [James Fenimore Cooper, The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish [1829] (New York: W.A. Townsend and Co., 1859), Chapter XXVII, pp. 397-409]