Border and Frontier: Tourism in Scott’s Guy Mannering and Cooper’s The Pioneers

George G. Dekker (Stanford University)

Presented at the Cooper Panel of the 1997 Conference of the American Literature Association in Baltimore.

Originally published in James Fenimore Cooper Society Miscellaneous Papers No. 9, August 1997.

Copyright © 1997, James Fenimore Cooper Society.

[May be reproduced for instructional use by individuals or institutions; commercial use prohibited.]

My paper derives from a longer work in progress on relationships between the rise of modern tourism and the parallel rise of the Romantic novel in Britain and America between 1789 and 1860. In that work I will be less concerned with tourism as a cultural institution than with connections between novels and their authors’ experiences as tourists and as writers or readers of tourist literature, including novels that take us on a vicarious excursion. 1

Today, I will be discussing ways that Guy Mannering, first published in 1815, inspired Cooper to an act of emulation and rivalry in The Pioneers (1823). 2 Both novels depict a transitional community of the later eighteenth century struggling towards fully “civilized” status but in which many characters and the landscape itself retain atavistic survivals of a ruder way of life. Both novels feature heirs in disguise seeking the restoration of their ancestral estates; stewards of those estates who either have or are resumed to have defrauded the heirs; squatters on the estates who show little respect for “civilized” laws. However, my concern is less with these parallels of plotting and characterization than with how characters in the two novels react to their physical and human environment as tourists - how they and their creators employ the discourse of Romantic tourism.

Let me respond in advance to two possible objections to this approach to The Pioneers. First, the novel was written before Cooper himself had extensive experience as a tourist. Second, unlike those in Mannering, none of its characters is professedly a tourist. The short answer to these objections is that by 1823 the discourse of Romantic tourism was so well-established in popular fictional and non-fictional texts - not to mention paintings and widely-circulated engravings - that any reader of Scott, Austen, Wordsworth, or Irving, would have been instructed on how to see and feel the sublime, beautiful, or picturesque in landscapes, cottages, and human activities. Indeed, literary and pictorial mediations of this kind were and still are at the heart of the Romantic tourist experience. That none of the characters in The Pioneers is what we usually think of as a tourist is true, but a valid objection only if our idea of what constitutes a tourist or tourism stands up to scrutiny. We aren’t concerned here with the quantitative definitions that interest social scientists and the tourist industry, since we don’t need to know how many hotel rooms to construct, how many Hawaiian sportshirts to manufacture, or how travel outside the U.S. correlates with years of education beyond grade twelve. The factors that distinguish Romantic tourists from other people are mainly subjective and involve the cultural mediations just mentioned. In fiction, the signature or armorial device of the touristic character is a sketch book - held in the mind if not physically in the hand.

I assume that the present audience recalls The Pioneers fairly well but might need some help with Mannering. Tourism appears on the first page of Scott’s novel when a wealthy young Englishman named Guy Mannering, who has been touring the Lake District and southwestern Scotland, loses his way in the dark after spending the afternoon making sketches of monastic ruins. After a series of comic touristic misadventures including wrong directions by locals, refusal of food and bed at a miserable hut, and a near-miss of the hut’s malodorous refuse pit, the traveler finds hospitality at a manor house named Ellangowan. In recompense, Mannering, an amateur astrologer, provides a nativity chart for Harry Bertram, the infant future laird of Ellangowan, which predicts that the boy’s fifth year will be hazardous. This prediction is seconded by a fortune told by a gypsy-woman whose camp is on the estate. Other dire prophesies or curses quickly follow, and their fulfillment constitutes the action of the remainder of the novel: five-year- old Harry is kidnapped; his father dies and the estate is sold to pay his debts; and finally the lost heir returns, unaware of his own true identity and of his connection to the estate. These events, whose improbability Scott underscores, often seem to be brought about by extra-natural agencies and establish the ancient Borders region as a strange liminal space where events uncannily foreseen come mysteriously to pass.

When Harry Bertram returns to the presented action of the novel, he is a handsome soldier on leave in the Lake District and the secret suitor of Guy Mannering’s daughter Julia. Like her father and her suitor, Julia is an enthusiastic tourist to whom the Lake District appears “the country of romance. The scenery [she writes in a letter to a friend] is such as Nature brings together in her sublimest moods, - sounding cataracts; hills which rear their scathed heads to the sky,” etc., etc. (pp. 143-44). Harry is less gushy but equally appreciative of the magnificent scenery and accompanies an artist friend on sketching expeditions. When the Mannerings move to the vicinity of Ellangowan, Bertram follows, choosing a route through a wild Borders country that is as lawless as it is roadless in order to see the remains of Hadrian’s Wall, the celebrated Second-Century Roman defense work. Although little of the wall survives, the merest fragment suffices to inspire a touristic meditation on the grandeur of ancient Rome and the transience of empires. After this high-cultural adventure, Bertram is befriended by a hospitable farmer named Dandy Dinmont, a good-natured giant who is famous as a rough-and-tumble fighter (and is a figure in many respects parallel to Billy Kirby in The Pioneers). Dinmont introduces Bertram to the no-holds-barred communal sporting activities of the region: a badger-baiting, a fox hunt, and nighttime salmon-fishing. Scott calls the fox hunt “wildly captivating” (p. 212) and describes how the hunters’ dogs, “impatient of their restraint, and maddened with the baying beneath, sprung here and there, and strained at the slips which prevented them from joining their companions.” In this description Scott creates a synecdoche that perfectly registers the powerful tension between “civilized” restraint and “savage” impulse experienced by all members of the hunting party, including Bertram. Yet Bertram does not join in the final release of energy and passion that is necessary to achieve the kill. In each of the hunts, he remains sufficiently close to observe but distant to keep his own hands free of blood. His experience closely parallels that of a modern tourist enjoying the pleasures of a dude ranch or safari.

The hunting sequence in Mannering provides persuasive evidence that Scott’s novel served Cooper as a model to imitate and surpass. The parallel is clearest when we compare the salmon-fishing scene in Mannering with the lake-fishing scene in The Pioneers. Scott’s Borderers spear the salmon at night with the aid of torches “or fire-grates filled with blazing fragments of tar-barrels ... the principal party were embarked in a crazy boat ... while others, like the ancient Bacchanals in their gambols, ran along the banks brandishing their torches and spears ... the twinkling of a fin, the rising of an air-bell, was sufficient to point out to these adroit sportsmen in what direction to use their weapon” (p. 214). As in the fox-hunting scene that precedes it, Scott emphasizes not only the skill and energy of the hunters but also a temporary breach of civilized restraint that is just a little frightening.

Harry Bertram, after briefly trying his hand at the sport, pulls back from what almost reaches the pitch of a feeding frenzy: “though he concealed feelings that would not have been understood [by the Borderers, he did not relish] being quite so near the agonies of the expiring salmon, as they lay flapping about in the boat which they moistened with their blood. He therefore requested to be put ashore, and, from the top of a ... bank, enjoyed the scene much more to his satis faction.” By distancing himself from the blood, Bertram is enabled to aestheticize the event. He recalls his artist friend and enjoys the picturesque “effect produced by the strong red glare on the romantic banks under which the boat glided. Now the light diminished to a distant star that seemed to twinkle on the waters. ... Then it advanced nearer, brightening and enlarging as it again approached” (pp. 214-17).

In the lake-fishing chapters of The Pioneers, the action likewise takes place at night with the aid of firelight. Chapter XXIII focuses on the semi-comic disputes between the pioneers and on their “miraculous hauls” of Otsego bass, “pike, pickerel, perch, bull-pouts, salmon-trouts, and suckers” (pp. 252-53). There is a broad similarity between this and Scott’s depiction of mob-like group excitement and exploitation of the bounty of nature pushed to the point of excess. But Scott’s nighttime fishermen do not use seines, and it is in the other half of Cooper’s diptych, Chapter XXIV, that the Borderers’ method of fishing is almost exactly replicated by Leatherstocking. Like theirs, his fishing-spear has tines, and he is able to detect the fish by means of burning pine-knots contained in “a rude grating framed of old hoops of iron” (p. 265). Just as Scott does, Cooper stresses the skill required because of the refractive effects of the water.

So much for similarities between the procedures and spirit of Scott’s and Cooper’s fishermen. I turn now to those who, like Harry Bertram, are observers of this action - Judge Temple, his daughter Elizabeth, her friend Louisa, and Oliver Effingham. For these observers, especially Elizabeth and Louisa, this is but one of a series of leisurely excursions taken in the course of the novel for the sake of amusement or exercise. The part of cultured observer is played mainly by Elizabeth, whose superior education sets her apart from all of the other characters except Oliver. From the other characters she is also set apart as a comparative stranger to the scenes that are unrolled before her - and us - as the seasons advance. If nearly everything in Templeton seems new to her after an absence of only four years, this is partly a measure of the speed with which the pioneers’ “improvements” have proceeded. But Elizabeth herself has changed so much that during her homecoming journey she gazes upon the unaltered wilderness surrounding her childhood home and experiences “a pleased astonishment at the novel scenery she met at every turn of the road” (p. 19). This partial amnesia defamiliarizes scenery that the locals see without seeing because they lack the refinement or freshness of perception that Elizabeth brings to it. Schooled in the art of Romantic landscape painting and yet absent from these scenes long enough that she views them as if for the first time, she strikes a perfect balance between experience and innocence and is thus the ideal appreciative observer of, in Cooper’s words, “the romantic and picturesque character” of the country near Templeton (p. 15). 3

It is therefore appropriate that only after Elizabeth and Louisa detach themselves from the group of fishermen and become the principal observers of the action does Cooper give us the wonderful description of the mysterious moving light on the water that turns out to come from Leatherstocking and Mohegan’s torch as they glide swiftly over the lake. Rather than reexamine this much-discussed passage, I will merely remark that it closely resembles but is much more richly developed and finely nuanced than the parallel passage in Mannering and goes some way to validate Blake Nevius’s claim that Cooper’s visual imagination is superior to Scott’s (Nevius, p. 2). Of more immediate interest is a passage that occurs a little earlier in the chapter when, standing at a distance, Elizabeth displays her recently acquired culture by verbally sketching the fishing-party. This is perhaps the most paradigmatically touristic moment in The Pioneers:

“This is indeed a subject for the pencil,” exclaimed Elizabeth. “Observe the countenance of that wood-chopper, while he exults in presenting a larger fish than common to my cousin Sheriff; and see, Louisa, how handsome and considerate my dear father looks, by the light of that fire, where he stands viewing the havoc of the game. ... Would they not make a picture, Louisa?” (p. 262)

To which Louisa humbly responds: “You know that I am ignorant of all such accomplishments, Miss Temple.” “Call me by my christian name,” Miss Temple replies. For Cooper as for Scott, the “accomplishments” of the Romantic tourist are important social-class markers and the more valuable because, unlike mere forms of address, they also help to justify the existence of a leisure class.

Despite Louisa’s rather surprising ignorance and the male author Cooper’s own manifest knowledge of them, these high-cultural acquirements are gendered female in The Pioneers - not because men like Oliver and Judge Temple are essentially limited by their gender but because the transitional character of the frontier community often requires that the “gentlemen” close the social distance and join the popular action. When the great haul of fish approaches the shore, Judge Temple and Oliver, “yielding to the excitement of the moment,” temporarily abandon their role as observers and lend a hand. Indeed, the pioneering conditions require that women likewise not be too sensitive to bear looking upon what is, after all, a mass slaughter. Thus, even though set apart by both class and gender from active involvement in the lake fishing, Elizabeth is a keen vicarious participant in the “manly” sports: “even Elizabeth and Louisa were greatly excited and highly gratified, by seeing two thousand captives thus drawn from the lake, and laid as prisoners at their feet” (p. 259).

The personification of the fish as captives and prisoners laid at their feet is a playful affirmation of Louisa and Elizabeth’s honored status as “ladies,” but it is also consonant with the critique of the pioneers’ reckless prodigality implied throughout Chapter XXIII by the metaphorical transformation of the fish into “alarmed victims,” “treasures,” “spoils,” and, in Judge Temple’s words, “the choicest gifts of Providence.” As in the preceding chapter, where he moralizes the slaughter of the passenger pigeons by saying that in every direction he can “see nothing but eyes ... as the innocent sufferers turn their heads in terror” (p. 250), it is not the young women but rather Temple who, like Harry Bertram, exhibits Romantic moral feeling for his fellow creatures, and who also shares Leatherstocking’s religious conviction that the pioneers’ “wasty ways” are improvident in a more than narrowly economic sense.

Debatable though the sincerity and practical influence of religious beliefs might be in the case of Temple, they inform all of Leatherstocking’s dealings with nature and humanity and are at the root of the difference between his and Elizabeth’s appreciation of scenery. Arguable the finest descriptive set piece in The Pioneers occurs two chapters later (pp. 292-94) when Natty recollects the magnificent prospect from Pine Orchard in the Catskills, which was just becoming a tourist attraction at the time Cooper wrote the novel. Natty’s account is too long to quote and discuss here, but I note in passing that, although “God,” “Creation,” “providence,” and “second Paradise” make their predictable appearance, “sublime,” “beautiful,” “picturesque,” “romantic,” and “sketch” do not belong to the old hunter’s descriptive vocabulary or conceptual frame for the scene. This is not to suggest that the discourse of Romantic tourism could not have a religious dimension; in Wordsworth and Radcliffe it can and does; but in early Cooper, as in Austen, the discourse is secularized and clearly distinguished from Natty’s religious framework. Consider, for example, Elizabeth’s response when she and Louisa see the mysterious light from Leatherstocking’s torch approaching over the water. The timid clergyman’s daughter whispers, “It appears to be supernatural!” and begins to retreat. In pointed contrast, Elizabeth exclaims, “It is beautiful!” and holds her ground. These differing responses may help us draw some conclusions about how Scott’s Borders region and Cooper’s frontier country are both like and profoundly unlike - and how tourism fits in the picture.

Although the history in The Pioneers is partial in all senses of the word, a fictionalized past does haunt the novel throughout in the figures of Leatherstocking and Mohegan. But their vestigial and unthreatening nature, like that of the blackened stumps that decorate the landscape, is clearly inscribed at the outset on their aged bodies and is well understood not only by the reader but by the characters themselves. Although there are occasional eruptions of violence out of the wilderness past, as when the mother panther terrifies Elizabeth and Louisa, in comparison with Scott’s Border Cooper’s frontier is less shadowed by memories of mighty forbears, much less dangerous, and altogether less under the sway of superstition or the possibility of supernatural intervention. It is distinctly not a liminal space where the “weird” or uncanny can be expected. To be sure, “Something like a miracle was wrought in our favour,” recalls Judge Temple in his most Hebrew- patriarchal vein, when the settlement’s starving-time was ended by the arrival of “enormous shoals of herrings” from the distant Atlantic (p. 234). ” Something like“ a miracle indeed, but ultimately kindred with the other bounties that pour from nature’s cornucopia. For in The Pioneers the miracle is nature and the settlers are to expect no other; in the (capital-E) Enlightened vision of Judge Temple, the challenge, also the opportunity, is to manage nature rationally and, while honoring one’s debts to the past, not to let the past rule.

Elizabeth Temple, tourist-in-residence, is her father’s daughter; and while she takes a filial interest in the early history of the settlement and exhibits the cultivated appreciation of scenery that belongs to and confirms her station in society, she shares the Judge’s and Oliver’s feeling that the “unimproved” wilderness must have been “dreary” (p. 232). Although compassionate towards the survivors, she shows little curiosity about Indian relics and associated traditions that might, like the analogous relics and traditions in Guy Mannering, have greatly enhanced the touristic interest of the locale. Thanks to the Leatherstocking tales, that locale is now richly endowed with such interest (too much so, I imagine our chairman must sometimes feel). 4 But in Elizabeth and her future husband Oliver, Cooper created characters who are fit leading citizens of a community generally disinclined to look backwards and as yet unencumbered with fine feelings about God’s creatures. Harry Bertram, by comparison, is the more complete tourist and also the more “civilized” person — fit leader of a comparatively stratified society in which disparities of education, wealth, social rank, and political influence are greater and less precarious than in Cooper’s America.


1 This paper and the longer work in progress from which it derives draw on the scholarship of many researchers from many fields, including sociology, anthropology, geography, social history, and of course art and literary history, biography and theory. since I can scarcely acknowledge them all or even the most important of them here, I will mention only what I consider the one indispensable study of Cooper’s visual imagination and art of literary landscape description: Blake Nevius’s Cooper’s Landscapes: An Essay on the Picturesque Vision (Berkely, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1976). As I point out later, Romantic tourism has a large and crucial visual component, but it involves much else besides that studies of painting and literary pictorialism tend to ignore.

2 The Pioneers, or the Sources of the Susquehanna: A Descriptive Tale (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1980), ed. J.F. Beard, Lance Schachterle, and K.M. Anderson, Jr. In the absence of a satisfactory edition of Scott’s novel, I quote from Guy Mannering or the Astrologer (London: Oxford University Press, 1912).

3 Nevius points out that Cooper added the words “and picturesque” in the 1832 edition, a change that reflects his increased aesthetic sophistication and experience of the visual arts. Nevius, Cooper’s Landscapes, p. 19.

4 [I.e., the Chairman of the ALA Cooper Panel session, Hugh C. MacDougall of Cooperstown — a village regularly inundated with tourists, though these days more of them in search of the home of Baseball than of the haunts of Leatherstocking. Hugh C. McDougall]