The “Amaranthine Flower” of Virtue: Cooper’s Pathfinder as Democratic Trail-Blazer

By Bill Christophersen (Independent Scholar)

Presented at the Cooper Panel on “James Fenimore Cooper and the Literary Age of Jackson” at the 30ᵗʰ Annual American Literature Association Conference in Boston, Massachusetts, May 23-26, 2019.

Originally published in  The James Fenimore Cooper Society Journal 31.1 (Whole No. 8, Spring 2020): 15-26.

Copyright © 2019, James Fenimore Cooper Society.

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

During a seven-year stay in Europe (1826-1833), partly as the American consul to Lyon, James Fenimore Cooper observed a continent in turmoil. Associating with Lafayette and the Polish revolutionary/poet Adam Mickiewicz, he became a student of republics at a time when they were being spawned and tried. But he came home to a republic he hardly recognized, whose changes he abhorred. It seemed to him to have succumbed to greed and speculation, embracing demagogues and a reckless egalitarianism that spurned men of education and experience. His disenchantment can be read in A Letter to His Countrymen (1834), which touted the Constitution and chided the citizenry for weak-mindedness; 1 The Monikins (1835), a Swiftian satire mocking a country of monkeys called Leaplow (America), where tails are docked to foster equality; The American Democrat (1838), a primer, written as the dust from the Panic of 1837 was still swirling, of the dangers lying to either side of the republican mean; and the Home novels (Homeward Bound, 1838; Home as Found, 1838), a double-barreled social exposé. These works irked readers, but Cooper believed a gentleman was obliged to admonish and lead his fellows.

The Pathfinder, or The Inland Sea (1840), featuring a resurrected Leather-Stocking and written as one more financial panic sandbagged the republic, is an apparent exception to this fusillade of screeds, satires, and social fictions. Set in the western New York wilderness during the French and Indian War and entwining a romantic and a military plot, it has largely been viewed as escapist fiction written when, as H. Daniel Peck has said, “the polemicist in [Cooper] was at rest”; a tale whose modest goal was to recapture the sales the author had lost by going abroad, writing about Europe, then returning to catechize his countrymen. 2 But Cooper was not an escapist. Witness the dozen-odd libel suits he initiated against newspaper editors whose reviews savaged his integrity along with his books. 3 Cooper revived his most popular fictional character not, I believe, to banish controversy, milk nostalgia, or merely reclaim market share, but rather to write smarter critiques — critiques that would test the premises of democratic politics.

 Social criticism of The Pathfinder begins in earnest with Robert E. Spiller, who read the tale as a “deliberate experiment in applying [Cooper’s] theories of democratic versus aristocratic society” — a subject expounded in The American Democrat — “to the elemental American scene.” Pointing to Pathfinder’s rhetoric of “gifts” and suggesting the [16] tale propounds staying in one’s approximate social station, he concluded, “The Pathfinder is a fundamental document in American democratic theory.” 4 I question whether the tale deplores getting above one’s raising, although social critics of the tale have typically taken this tack. 5 Cooper’s message, Spiller suggests, is that if everyone accepts his or her “gifts,” a just society will result. 6 “Gifts,” he infers from the scout’s usage, means one’s abilities as well as station — a domain midway between the rigid class divisions of Europe and the chaotic tendencies of Jacksonian America. But it is less Pathfinder’s social station or abilities than the difference between his and Mabel Dunham’s age, cultivation, and inclinations that argues against their marrying. And though Mabel, in an exchange with the lakesman Jasper Western, remarks, “Providence has made me the daughter of a serjeant, and I am content to remain in the station in which I was born,” Jasper makes the obvious New World response to this Old World sentiment: “But all do not remain in the stations in which they were born.” 7 If Cooper’s motive, moreover, was to shore up respect for social hierarchy, why did he choose a hero who spurns distinctions not founded on worth and sojourns with savages as readily as with officers? Merit, not birth or status, is the touchstone in this tale in which the fort at “Station” Island is to be razed, its usefulness having past. 8  

Spiller’s larger insight, though, endures. Colonial romance though it is, The Pathfinder cons democratic theory. In fact, it glosses The American Democrat.9 The vices and specters that republican tract cautions against are exemplified almost schematically in the novel’s characters. Cap, an oceangoing seaman who treats as inferior anyone who has not been baptized with salt water, personifies the vice of prejudice (“On Prejudice,” AD 71). Quartermaster Muir, who anonymously impugns Jasper’s loyalty and conspires with the French to betray the British outpost on Station Island, is the quintessential demagogue, who “acts in corners ... and is in all respects a man of intrigue and deception” (“On Demagogues,” AD 98). His modus operandi is slander, which the tract terms a “besetting vice of a democracy” (AD 83). Sergeant Dunham, who assumes his daughter should marry the man of his choice, exemplifies what The American Democrat calls “the American doctrinaire,” or old-school dogmatist (AD 101). Like the tract, the tale highlights internal social threats.

The Pathfinder, then, warns — unobtrusively this time, without hectoring — of the dangers Cooper saw threatening the ship of state. But here is where the interpretive problems start. If the tale’s aim is to present a social critique, why blur that purpose by introducing a [17] subplot — Leather-Stocking in love — that threatens to trivialize the key character? During the lake sequence, roughly a third of the tale, Pathfinder is a virtual bystander. What’s more, for a time his expertise flags (during the fort sequence, he neglects his scouting duties to court Mabel and so misses an opportunity to catch a spy). 10 How to read this development? The tale’s epigraph, moreover — “Here the heart/May give a useful lesson to the head” — puzzles. The need to master one’s passions, after all, is one of the tale’s themes: “Moderate your feelings,” the sergeant chides an unhinged Cap (259). What sort of lesson, then, does Cooper have in mind? Not only does the scout’s suit fail, but the suit itself seems as out of character as the subplot seems silly. Why must Pathfinder fall in love?

Henry Nash Smith cites generic convention: the hero of an historical romance — for that is the role to which Leather-Stocking has been promoted — must fall in love. 11 But this “nautico-lake-savage romance,” as Cooper called the hybrid fiction he was writing in a letter to his British publisher, 12 is not conventional. I think, rather, that here, as in previous Leather-Stocking tales, Cooper was writing a novel of ideas, 13 and his manipulation of character and structure serves a larger aim. Surely, as the tale’s gloss of The American Democrat suggests, those ideas concern the republic. The question of the day was whether democracy was a viable path. The tale — surprisingly, given Cooper’s republican politics — renders a tentative, qualified yes.

The Jacksonian revolution, with its extension of sovereignty, rotation of political offices and appointment of political novices, invited the common man to play a previously unimaginable role in the polis. Cooper rued the idea, but, granting its time had come, did this first crude flush of democracy — one Cooper experienced firsthand when townsfolk challenged his trusteeship of property they fancied was public 14 — mean the idea itself was impracticable? Could the common man hope to do justice to the role he presumed to fill? Pathfinder, I suggest, is Cooper’s test case. (What other character would do? Certainly none of the starchy gentlemen and Fenimore mouthpieces the author had long featured in his fictions; history and the public’s patience had eclipsed them.) In this tale, Leather-Stocking’s character is tested in ways that have little to do with marksmanship and that squint, rather, toward new realms of social responsibility.

But before the experiment could begin, Cooper had to reverse-engineer his by now internationally celebrated character, to demythologize the environmental-prophet-cum-exterminating-angel-[18]cum-archetypal westerner of the 1820s trilogy — the character whose outsize silhouette had stepped forth, as it were, from the setting sun in The Prairie. Leather-Stocking had to be humanized. That is one reason Pathfinder must fall in love. 15 Cooper does not leave the point to be inferred. “I am human after all,” declares the scout, lovelorn and beset by self-doubts, in the midst of courtship. “Yes, I find I’m very human in some of my feelin’s” (266). To be sure, this characterization risks undercutting the myth, but an irresolute Leather-Stocking offers novelistic possibilities and complexities the romantic myth did not. How, though, did it speak to democratic possibilities?

One objection to the common man’s assuming the political role previously reserved for gentlemen was that Jake Hipflask (Joe Six-Pack’s nineteenth-century avatar) lacked the emotional resolve, self-discipline and self-confidence — never mind the experience and education — to succeed on the political stage. By imagining a fallible Leather-Stocking, Cooper engages this objection. After an opening sequence that showcases Pathfinder’s woodsman’s skills and skirmishing smarts, Cooper shifts the scene to the water, “the only thing in natur’,” the scout notes, “that will thoroughly wash out a trail” (32). There, Pathfinder flounders. When Jasper overtakes the traitor Arrowhead’s canoe, Pathfinder, called on to interrogate the Tuscaroran but preoccupied with Mabel, is played by the brave. Later, Arrowhead escapes by canoe. “If Pathfinder had been on deck,” Jasper observes, “there might have been a chance [to overtake him]; but there is none now” (224). When Jasper’s loyalty is impugned and he is decommissioned, Pathfinder objects staunchly — but fecklessly. The impression conveyed is of a character sprung unpromisingly from his wonted role: a character at sea.

But the scout rallies. By the final sequences, he proves confident enough to resist an abuse of authority and noble enough to surrender Mabel to Jasper, the one she loves. What catalyzes this change? Part of the answer is that, per the epigraph, the heart teaches the head a useful lesson. Although reason must restrain emotion and assess information logically, there are times, Cooper seems to acknowledge, when instinct ought to reign and intuition be respected — “heart” signifying not the feelings but the higher instincts. Pathfinder learns this lesson as he mulls and eventually rejects the sergeant’s insistence that Mabel loves him. He learns it too by watching Jasper. The lakesman navigates instinctually, without maps. With the tempest-driven launch Cap has mishandled heading for the shoals, Jasper averts disaster by playing an educated hunch confidently, fetching up the ship where an undertow will counter the wind. 16 His instincts save the expedition. So it is that Pathfinder can [19] at last oppose a newly empowered Muir’s abusive command to arrest Jasper — the quartermaster having adduced circumstantial evidence to incriminate the lakesman — with the words, “Talk to me of no ensigns and signals, when I know the heart.” (421) It is because Pathfinder comes to know the heart (Jasper’s, Mabel’s, and his own) that he is able to do his civic duty as well as what is right by Mabel and Jasper. 17

Ordinary men, then, this bildungsroman 18 suggests, can develop, can rise to unwonted challenges, if they attend the heart’s higher promptings. What makes this implication important is that it retrieves a key democratic axiom. Its debt to John Locke’s rationalist philosophy notwithstanding, American democratic theory had long been underwritten by the belief that human beings at all levels of society are born with what historian Gordon Wood terms “a moral intuition, existing in every person’s heart.” This assumption, which he calls “the real source of democratic equality,” derived from the Scottish common-sense philosophers, as well as Kant, Coleridge, and Carlyle, who held that the mind is two-tiered and that “reason” — by which they meant, counterintuitively, the intuitive component — is superior to “intellect” or “understanding,” the rational component. 19 Thus the Jacksonian historian George Bancroft, in a speech delivered in 1835, extolled “a spirit in man ... which ... originates truth, and assents to it by the force of intuitive evidence.” He added, “This admirable power, which is the instinct of Deity, is the attribute of every man; it ... dwells in the meanest hovel.” The axiom asserted, he concluded that “government by the people is in very truth the strongest government in the world” because “it dares to rule by moral force, and has its citadel in the heart.” 21 Small wonder, then, that Cooper’s tale is preoccupied with the lesson the heart can give the head: If Pathfinder lacks, or cannot learn to rely on, the heart’s higher instincts, Jacksonian politics is a log cabin built on quicksand. Cooper, implicitly in The Pathfinder and explicitly in The American Democrat, 21 affirms a universal moral compass and challenges the newly empowered citizen to consult it for direction, rather than conventional wisdom, local gossip, elders’ assumptions, or the insinuations of the demagogue.

But if The Pathfinder affirms the common man’s ability to learn to play a more substantive political role, it also puts a rigorous, republican construction on that role.

Cicero, contemplating republican government, had postulated a duty-bound, self-ruling citizenry fulfilled in public service, vigilant of its liberty, self-disciplined enough to make wise choices and high-minded enough to place the good of the state above personal convenience. The [20] classic Roman exemplar was Cincinnatus, who selflessly left his farm to repel the invader, then, having led his troops to victory, showed restraint and mercy to the prisoners and surrendered his sword to the state. The Pathfinder dramatizes this austere republican vision. The sergeant having been killed during a skirmish on Station Island, Pathfinder steps up to lead his cohort to victory over the Mingos. Then, Cincinnatus-like, he shows mercy to the prisoners and cedes authority, at least initially, to the quartermaster.

The term that comprehends these republican traits is “virtue.” Cooper, who used the word repeatedly in The American Democrat, uses it twice toward the end of The Pathfinder, once in the motto to chapter 27 (“The only amaranthine flower on earth/Is virtue” [424]), and again when Pathfinder gestures at a key moment to “the God who ... looks upon virtue with a smile” (460). So thoroughly is the principle dramatized that little more in the way allusion is needed. But accumulated echoes of The Tempest reinforce the point. 22 Prospero, in refusing to take vengeance on the usurper Antonio, had resolved that “the rarer action is/in virtue than in vengeance” (v.1.27-28).

Leather-Stocking had, of course, behaved bravely, selflessly and humbly in previous romances. He had, for that matter, acted nobly and mercifully in the opening sequence of The Pathfinder: when Chingachgook disappeared after a skirmish, Pathfinder had put the group’s safety above his concern for Chingachgook’s fate. One could argue that the novel simply portrays a hero acting heroically; that Roman virtue need not enter into the discussion. But Cooper is at pains, it seems to me, to depict a Ciceronian ideal in the novel. Sandra M. Gustafson has shown that the concept of virtue took on additional meaning with the recovery in 1819 of previously unknown portions of Cicero’s De re publica. Retailed with lengthy quotes in 1823 by the North American Review, the text detailed two new concepts. The first is that virtue, as Cicero conceived it, meant high-mindedness realized in action (“the accomplishment in deeds rather than words of the things philosophers talk about in their corners”). The second held that the virtuous republican deliberates and entertains multiple viewpoints before making policy. 23 Cooper’s novel comprehends these nuances. Before deciding what to do with the Mingo prisoners, Pathfinder polls his cohort, sustaining Mabel’s plea that mercy be shown. Then, after Muir assumes command of the remnants of the expeditionary force and presumes to arrest Jasper, Pathfinder acts decisively, interposing himself physically, to prevent the injustice. In doing so, he epitomizes the Roman ideal, [21] showing himself to be everything a virtuous republican gentleman ought to be. Except a gentleman.

That is the genius of The Pathfinder. It drops the plea for the gentry, and with it, the assumption that commoners cannot act from lofty principles. (Indeed, it casts a gentleman — for that is the characterization Major Duncan gives Muir [164] — as the villain!) Cooper had flirted with such a stance in the Home novels. Paul Powis’s brave and selfless deeds win Eve Effingham’s affections before she learns his social standing. Powis, however, turns out to be no average fellow but a scion of her own genteel family. Harvey Birch (The Spy), too, seems to exemplify a common man rendered uncommonly virtuous by crisis (the American Revolution); but, as Kay S. House has noted, Cooper stipulates that Birch had once held “a better station.” 24 The Pathfinder stands out among Cooper’s fictions in affirming the possibility of a democratic hero. Fallible though he is, Pathfinder proves capable of growing into a new and demanding role; of accessing and trusting his higher instincts for guidance; of sacrificing personal convenience and happiness for the greater good; of exercising virtue in the classical republican sense. In doing so, the woodsman blazes a figurative path for the polity.

Works Cited

  • Bancroft, George. “The Office of the People in Art, Government and Religion.” In The Meaning of Jacksonian Democracy, edited with introduction by Edwin C. Rozwenc, 13-18. Boston: D.C. Heath and Co., 1963.
  • Bush, Sargent Jr. “Charles Cap of The Pathfinder: A Foil to Cooper’s View on the American Character in the 1840s.” Nineteenth Century Fiction 20 (1965): 267-73.
  • Cooper, James Fenimore. The American Democrat. Introduction to the second edition (1931) by H.L. Mencken; introductory note to the third edition by Robert E. Spiller. New York: Vintage Books, 1956.
  • Darnell, Donald. James Fenimore Cooper: Novelist of Manners. Newark, Del.: University of Delaware Press; London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1993.
  • Dekker, George. “The Pathfinder: Leather-Stocking in Love.” Bulletin of the British Association for American Studies 10 (1965): 40-47.
  • Gardner, Jared. Master Plots: Race and the Founding of American Literature, 1787-1845. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.
  • Grossman, James. James Fenimore Cooper: A Biographical and Critical Study. Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 1949.
  • Kaul, A.N. The American Vision: Actual and Ideal Society in Nineteenth-Century Fiction. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963.
  • Kelly, William P. Plotting America’s Past: Fenimore Cooper and the Leatherstocking Tales. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983.
  • Kolodny, Annette. The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975.
  • Long, Robert Emmet. James Fenimore Cooper. New York: Continuum, 1990.
  • Mann, Barbara Alice. “Fancy Girls: The Creole and the Quadroon in Cooper’s Leather-Stocking Tales.” In J. Walker, Reading Cooper, Teaching Cooper, 222-243. New York: AMS Press, 2007.
  • Owen, William. “In War as in Love: The Significance of Analogous Plots in Cooper’s The Pathfinder.” English Studies in Canada 10 (1984): 289-98.
  • Parrington, Vernon L. Main Currents in American Thought 2: The Romantic Revolution in America: 1800-1860. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1927.
  • Peck, H. Daniel. A World by Itself: The Pastoral Moment in Cooper’s Fiction. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1977.
  • Philbrick, Thomas. James Fenimore Cooper and the Development of American Sea Fiction. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1961.
  • Railton, Stephen. Fenimore Cooper: A Study of His Life and Imagination. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1978.
  • Rans, Geoffrey. Cooper’s Leather-Stocking Tales: A Secular Reading. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.
  • Ringe , Donald A. James Fenimore Cooper. New Haven: College and University Press, 1962.
  • Rust, Richard Dilworth. Historical introduction to The Pathfinder or The Inland Sea, James Fenimore Cooper, edited by Richard Dilworth Rust, xv-xxvi. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1981. [26]
  • Smith, Henry Nash. Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth. New York: Random House, 1950.
  • Spiller, Robert E. Introduction to The Pathfinder, by James Fenimore Cooper, v-xvi. New York: Heritage Press, 1965.
  • Swearingen, James E., and Joanne Cutting-Gray. “Cooper’s Pathfinder: Revising Historical Understanding.” New Literary History 23 (1992): 267-80.
  • Walker, Warren S. James Fenimore Cooper: An Introduction and Interpretation. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1962.
  • Winters, Yvor. “Fenimore Cooper, or The Ruins of Time.” In James Fenimore Cooper: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Wayne Fields, 16-36. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1979.
  • Wood, Gordon S. The Radicalism of the American Revolution. New York: Vintage, 1993.
  • Zoellner, Richard H. “Conceptual Ambivalence in Cooper’s Leatherstocking.” American Literature 31 (1960): 397-420.


1 H. Daniel Peck, A World by Itself: The Pastoral Moment in Cooper’s Fiction (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1977), 164.

2 Other critics who have doubted the novel’s social relevance include Vernon L. Parrington, Yvor Winters, George Dekker, Geoffrey Rans and Robert Emmet Long. Parrington finds the Leather-Stocking tales to be “a romantic epic” (Main Currents in American Thought 2: The Romantic Revolution in America: 1800-1860 [New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1927], 225). Winters writes, “In the Leather-stocking Series ... we have nothing whatever to do with social criticism, at least nothing of importance” (“Fenimore Cooper, or The Ruins of Time,” in James Fenimore Cooper: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Wayne Fields (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1979), 24). The tale’s focus, Dekker writes, “is on personal rather than communal or ... national problems” (“The Pathfinder; Leather-Stocking in Love,” Bulletin of the British Association for American Studies 10 [1965]: 46). Rans notes the absence of “historical, ideological or political implications” (Cooper’s Leather-Stocking Tales: A Secular Reading [Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991], 173). For many critics, the subject of sociopolitical issues in the novel never comes up. Long, for instance, finds the novel to be a “blend or myth and realism” (James Fenimore Cooper [New York: Continuum, 1990], 116).

3 James Grossman offers a concise summary of Cooper’s legal wrangling in James Fenimore Cooper: A Biographical and Critical Study (Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 1949), 151-160. [22]

4 Spiller, introduction to The Pathfinder (New York: Heritage Press, 1965), ix, x.

5 Critics who echo Spiller’s social reading, with its emphasis on “gifts” and station, include Donald A. Ringe, Richard H. Zoellner, Sargent Bush Jr., Kay S. House and Donald Darnell. See Ringe , James Fenimore Cooper (New Haven: College and University Press, 1962; Twayne), 81-2; Zoellner, “Conceptual Ambivalence in Cooper’s Leatherstocking,” American Literature 31 (1960): 397-420; Bush, “Charles Cap of The Pathfinder: A Foil to Cooper’s View on the American Character in the 1840s,” Nineteenth Century Fiction 20 (1965): 267-73; House, Cooper’s Americans (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1965), 312; Darnell, James Fenimore Cooper: Novelist of Manners (Newark, Del.: University of Delaware Press; London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1993), 4, 58. Another cohort of critics focus on what they consider Natty’s betrayal of his gifts. Thus Grossman: “Natty, who sees clearly how other men are untrue to their ‘gifts,’... is about to betray his own, to give up the forest and Chingachgook for a home and wife.” Dekker echoes this reading, as do Ringe, A.N. Kaul and Stephen Railton. See Grossman, 143; Dekker, 40-42; Ringe, 82-83; Kaul, The American Vision: Actual and Ideal Society in Nineteenth-Century Fiction (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963), 132; Railton, Fenimore Cooper: A Study of His Life and Imagination (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1978), 196. William P. Kelly, meanwhile, views the tale’s social significance through a national lens — a tack William Owen as well as James E. Swearingen and Joanne Cutting-Gray pursue. See Kelly, Plotting America’s Past: Fenimore Cooper and the Leatherstocking Tales (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983), 151; William Owen, “In War As in Love: The Significance of Analogous Plots in Cooper’s The Pathfinder,” English Studies in Canada 10 (1984): 290; Swearingen and Cutting-Gray, “Cooper’s Pathfinder: Revising Historical Understanding,” New Literary History 23 (1992): 271, 276-77.

6 Spiller, introduction, ix.

7 James Fenimore Cooper, The Pathfinder or The Inland Sea, ed. with historical introduction by Richard Dilworth Rust (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1981), The Writings of James Fenimore Cooper, gen. ed. James Franklin Beard, chief textual ed. James. P. Elliott, textual ed. Lance Schachterle, 214-15. Future references to this work will appear in parentheses in the text.

8 Elevating Pathfinder’s notion of “gifts” to a social statement seems generally ill-advised. When Natty speaks most substantively of gifts, he does so to persuade one character to live with another’s moral or cultural imperatives — not, as Spiller says, “to accept his or her [own] gifts.” “Each colour has its gifts,” the scout says, “and one is not to condemn another because he does not exactly comprehend it” (433). By calling Chingachgook’s affinity for scalping his enemies a Delaware gift and his own moral code a white gift, Pathfinder offers his white companions a rationale for countenancing offensive behavior in an ally, even as he rationalizes his own brotherhood with one who mutilates fallen foes. (Without such a rationale, Jasper’s barely contained disgust at Chingachgook’s scalping of an Iroquois on the Oswego might have divided the group when each member was most needed.) And this usage of the elastic [23] “gifts” is only the most substantive. “The water belongs to your gifts” (104), the scout remarks to Jasper. “It is not one of [an Indian’s] gifts to linger around his wigwam when his hour is passed” (101), he tells Cap. “Most of the serjeant’s gifts are martial,” he says to Mabel (97). Does he mean skills? habits? propensities? cultural imperatives? Does the scout himself know? “Pathfinder occasionally caught a word from his associates and used it a little vaguely,” Cooper says, after Natty describes picking off Mingo warriors in the sentence, “I peppered the blackguards so intrinsically, like” (436). “Gifts,” then, is a rubbery linchpin for a social analysis of the tale.

9 James Fenimore Cooper, The American Democrat, introduction to the second edition (1931) by H.L. Mencken; introductory note to the third edition by Robert E. Spiller (New York: Vintage Books, 1956). Future citations to this work will appear in parentheses within the text and preceded by AD.

10 Among the critics who have noted the scout’s unwonted lapses at the fort or on the lake are Owen, 292; Ringe, 63; Kelly, 151; and Zoellner, 414.

11 Henry Nash Smith, Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth (New York: Random House, 1950; Vintage Books), 71.

12 Richard Dilworth Rust, historical introduction to The Pathfinder or The Inland Sea, James Fenimore Cooper, ed. Richard Dilworth Rust (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1981), The Writings of James Fenimore Cooper, gen. ed. James Franklin Beard, chief textual ed. James. P. Elliott, textual ed. Lance Schachterle; xv.

13 Kay Seymour House, Cooper’s Americans (Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1965), 13. Think, for instance, of the bizarre plot of The Prairie, in which a kidnapped Creole maid is transported from her home by a band of westering frontiersmen — a plot that, as Jared Gardner and Barbara Alice Mann have noted, makes sense only when read as a synecdoche for slavery on the march. (See Gardner, Master Plots: Race and the Founding of American Literature, 1787-1845 (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 108; Mann, “Fancy Girls: The Creole and the Quadroon in Cooper’s Leather-Stocking Tales,” Reading Cooper, Teaching Cooper, ed. Jeffrey Walker (New York: AMS Press, 2007), 231-33.

14 Warren S. Walker provides a concise account of the Three Mile Point Controversy in James Fenimore Cooper: An Introduction and Interpretation (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1962), 89.

15 Reductionist though Annette Kolodny’s Freudian reading of The Pathfinder is, she aptly notes that “what [Cooper] wanted to do, really, was to give [Leather-Stocking’s] character a dimension that he felt had been missing from his makeup” (The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters [Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975], 105).

16 Jasper does much the same thing with respect to Mabel: having sensed her affections, he drops anchor, as it were, and waits out the various gales — romantic rivals, aspersions on his character, the sergeant’s agenda — that have hampered his suit, confiding in undercurrents of affection he has rightly intuited. [24]

17 As William Owen has astutely observed, the romantic and military plots are mutually reinforcing analogues. See “In War as in Love,” 290.

18 Thomas Philbrick first identified The Pathfinder as a bildungsroman. See James Fenimore Cooper and the Development of American Sea Fiction (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1961), 160.

19 Gordon S. Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (New York: Vintage, 1993), 239-40. See too George Bancroft, “The Office of the People in Art, Government and Religion,” in The Meaning of Jacksonian Democracy, ed. with introduction by Edwin C. Rozwenc (Boston: D.C. Heath and Co., 1963), 14: “Reason exists within every breast. I mean not that faculty which deduces inferences from the experience of the senses, but that higher faculty which from the treasures of its own consciousness originates truth, and assents to it by the force of intuitive evidence.” The piece is an abridgment of an oration delivered at Williams College in 1835 and published later in Bancroft’s Literary and Historical Miscellanies (New York: n.p., 1840), 408-426.

20 Bancroft, 14-15, 17.

21 In The American Democrat, Cooper, adverting to “those convictions of right which God has implanted in our breasts, that we may know good from evil,” instructs the citizen to “guard against all excesses of popular power” (85, 84).

22 A storm, a near shipwreck, a nubile maid, a young lover imprisoned unjustly, an island setting and themes of treachery and forgone revenge are among the elements The Pathfinder shares with The Tempest.

23 Sandra M. Gustafson, Imagining Deliberative Democracy in the Early American Republic (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), 16, 73, 75-77. Whether Cooper read the North American Review piece on the recovered texts remains to be established. He knew several writers/editors associated with the journal, however. Two editors of the journal — William Cullen Bryant and Gulian Verplanck — were members of Cooper’s Bread and Cheese Club.

24 House, “James Fenimore Cooper: Cultural Prophet and Literary Pathfinder,” American Literature to 1900, vol. 8 of The New History of Literature, 10 vols., ed. Marcus Cunliffe (New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1987; Sphere Books, 1973, 1986), 94, 96.