Cooper Beyond America
Papers from the 1951 James Fenimore Cooper Conference, Cooperstown, New York.
Published as New York History, Vol. 35, No. 4 (October, 1954), pp. 522-539 (Special Issue — James Fenimore Cooper: A Re-Appraisal).
Copyright © 1954, New York State Historical Association.
Placed online with the kind permission of the New York State Historical Association.
[May be reproduced for instructional use by individuals or institutions; commercial use prohibited.]
THERE was a time, it is pleasant to remember, when the novels of Cooper produced in artists of all kinds, and in many places, that “shock of recognition” which, as Melville once said, “runs the whole circle round.” Before we consider more specifically the power Cooper had over readers and critics in foreign lands, I should like to recall for a moment how once he stood, hand in hand, with genius, all over the world.
When the French sculptor Pierre Jean David had completed his bust of Cooper which, I believe, is still in possession of the family, he wrote to the novelist: “I have also sent a copy of it to my native town, Angers; the inhabitants there have placed it in the museum, and all admirers of your sublime genius are happy to have so favorable an opportunity of studying your features. ... I am going to send several of them to different Towns in France where I have friends who appreciate the excellence of your works.” In the winter of 1851-52 one of Berlioz’ most delightful overtures, begun twenty years before and much revised, was performed in London under the title Le corsaire rouge. Behind this title lies the story of Berlioz’ profound admiration for Cooper and especially for Red Rover which in French editions was called Le corsaire rouge. Cooper had died in September, 1851. Berlioz’ new name for his overture was his commemorative tribute. In 1863, Count Leo Tolstoy paid Cooper a silent tribute of another kind. He paraphrased whole pages from him in writing The Cossacks. Coming nearer to our day and to a time when Cooper is supposed to have been deserted by men and taken over by boys, we read in Conrad’s essay “Tales of the Sea” (1898): “In [Cooper’s] sea tales the sea interpenetrates with life; it is in a subtle way a factor in the problem of existence, and, for all its greatness, it is always in touch with men, who, bound on errands of war or gain, traverse its immense solitudes. ... His method may often be faulty, but his art is genuine. The truth is within him.” Conrad concludes by declaring that Cooper’s qualities of profound sympathy and artistic insight, to which he had surrendered as a young man, had withstood “the brutal shock of facts and the wear of laborious years.” He had never regretted his surrender.
But the most touching of all the tributes we might summon up at this time comes from the last hours of Franz Schubert. In November, 1828 the composer was deathly ill of the typhus. One week before he died he wrote this letter to his friend Schober.
Dear Schober: I am ill. I have had nothing to eat or drink for eleven days now, and can only stagger feebly and uncertainly between armchair and bed. ... If I take food I cannot retain it. So please be good enough to help me out in this desperate state with something to read. I have read Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans, The Spy, The Pilot, and The Pioneers. If by any chance you have anything else of his, do please leave it for me with Frau von Bogner at the coffeehouse. My brother, who is responsibility personified, will bring it over to me without fail.
Cooper was justly proud of his great popularity with European readers. He was also characteristically annoyed because the American press ignored the extent of his European vogue. In a statement prepared, it is conjectured, for Rufus Griswold’s Prose Writers of America, he bursts out angrily: “The Spy was quite as successful in Europe, as in America. It was early translated into most of the languages of Christendom, including those of Russia, Poland, Denmark, Sweden, etc., and I got credit in my own country, for being translated into French and German! I have always been properly grateful that so much truth and so little falsehood have been circulated concerning myself. At a time when the tales were translated into eleven different languages, and in several instances when there were two or three translations into the same tongue, I was liberally credited in the American Reviews with the honour of German and French.”
What scholars have subsequently discovered about the Cooper vogue in Europe, his friend Samuel F. B. Morse observed at first hand: “I have visited, in Europe, many countries,” Morse wrote in 1838, “and what I have asserted of the fame of Mr. Cooper I assert from personal knowledge. In every city of Europe that I visited the works of Cooper were conspicuously placed in the windows of every bookshop. They are published as soon as he produces them in thirty-four different places in Europe. They have been seen by American travellers in the languages of Turkey and Persia, in Constantinople, in Egypt, at Jerusalem, at Ispahan.”
Cooper’s debut in England, the appearance of the Colburn pirated edition of Precaution, is an amusing episode in the history of his fame. The novel was issued anonymously, and the tradition is that the London publisher believed it to be the work of an English lady of rank. The reviews were extraordinarily kind. Colburn’s New Monthly Magazine commended the novel because it would please both young and old — the former because “it is full of marriages, and the latter because it inculates, in every page, the value of precaution in entering on the matrimonial state.” The Gentleman’s Magazine found the novel a spirited performance, worthy of a distinguished place among works of entertainment.
Cooper’s good fortune continued with the notices of the likewise anonymous Spy, though the subject-matter might well have annoyed the English reviewers. Faults were found. of course, but it is evident that Cooper is beginning to persuade the old country that tales of American life can be worth reading. The Ladies’ Monthly Museum says so specifically: “This is an American novel, a species of literary commodity which a few years ago was very rare, and, at the same time, very worthless. But the case is now materially altered.” Even with the publication of The Pilot, which was a direct challenge to Walter Scott, Cooper’s luck with the reviewers held. There were even favorable comparisons with English novelists of the sea. The Monthly Review was almost alone in its churlish disapproval of Cooper’s growing success in England. “The voice of fame has lauded this work to the skies; and though we cannot admit that, in this instance at least, it has been ‘unerring’, it has convinced many readers that the ‘Pilot’ is a capital novel.”
Until the time when Cooper became a controversial figure, with the publication in 1828 of his Notions of the Americans, this same general pattern of impartial judgment, though always with more praise than fault-finding, continues in the British reviews. There are occasional surprises. Certain of the novels now considered inferior, Lionel Lincoln, for example, received a disproportionate amount of comment, though in this instance the book was not liked. On the other hand Red Rover was in some quarters given the kind of extravagant praise with which the Continental critics greeted it. The Monthly Magazine said boldly: “Cooper could not have written the tales of Scott, nor could Scott have written those of Cooper. Sir Walter has indeed ventured, and in the opinion of numbers talked learnedly of storms and battles; but it must be a grudging, or a timid, or a despicable spirit that refuses to admit Cooper’s superiority.”
During the first ten years most of the notices and reviews appeared in the more popular or lighter-weight journals. Few of the great reviews and quarterlies, such as the Edinburgh Review, seemed aware of the phenomenon of an American novelist in high favor with English readers. Their neglect was largely due, however, to the nature of their reviewing. They seldom noticed individual works but preferred omnibus reviews or literary articles of a general nature. By the early 1830’s when Cooper had produced a substantial body of work, they rather handsomely made up for their early indifference. Even the haughty Athenaeum came through in the proper spirit when it reviewed The Bravo in 1X29. After scolding Cooper for presuming to offer his American prejudices for sale in the British market, it goes on to say: “With these very serious drawbacks Cooper is, nevertheless, an author whom we love. ... His heart is alive to all emotions, whether of heroism or pathos — of tenderness or of sorrow. ... If he is great at sea, he is still greater when he has his foot on his native shore: in the American wilderness he is without a rival.”
The British reading public adopted Cooper as one of the great novelists of the day. Miss Mitford, writing to a friend in 1824, fairly raved over her discovery of him. “Pray have you read the American novels? I mean the series by Mr. Cooper — ‘The Spy,’ etc. If you have not, send for them, and let me hear the result. In my mind they are as good as anything Sir Walter Scott ever wrote. ... I envy the Americans their Mr. Cooper. Tell me how you like ‘The Pilot’. There is a certain Long Tom who appears to me the finest thing since Parson Adams.” Thackeray thought Leatherstocking “better than anyone in Scott’s lot.” For once in conjunction, both Disraeli and Gladstone expressed to James Grant Wilson their preference for Cooper over all other American writers. During the last year of his life Matthew Arnold read The Pioneers aloud to his family. He found some of it boring, but noted, more enthusiastically than accurately, in his letter to his daughter Lucy: “It is wonderful how the topography and manners gain in interest by having been in the country: the country described in the novel is round the Owego lake, in western New York; I cannot find it in the map, but it must be near Binghamton, where I have lectured, and where I insisted, though they thought me mad, in going out in the awful cold, when I arrived just before dark, in order to see the youthful Susquehanna.”
Some years ago I was given a quick ocular demonstration of what Cooper meant in days past to the English undergraduate. The Librarian of Pembroke College, Cambridge, had just shown me through the Fellows’ Library which had until very recently, of course, been closed to undergraduates. He asked me if I would care to see the remarkable subscription library which the undergraduates themselves had begun more than a hundred years ago for their own profit and entertainment. He thought I might find it interesting because it contained so many American works. It proved to be so. There, along with Mark Twain, Mrs. Stowe, Bret Harte, and many contemporaries of theirs, were three shelves of Cooper novels. They had been much read, for in most instances the original bindings had been replaced.
Anyone familiar with the life of Cooper knows about the happy months which he and his family enjoyed during their first sojourn in France, after their arrival in Paris in 1826. Lafayette was most kind and hospitable. The Princess Galitzin, who, in the P.S. of a letter had written “the moment I see ‘American novel by Cooper’ my heart leaps,” invited him repeatedly to her soirées. Mrs. Cooper confided to her sister: “They make quite a lion of him and Princesses write to him, and he has invitations from Lords and Ladies. He has so many notes from the Princess Galitzin, that I should be absolutely jealous, were it not that she is a grandmother.” As the second winter in France came round, Cooper’s acquaintance among the great was so extensive that on one evening he visited a half-dozen houses, commencing with dinner at the hôtel of the Lord High Chancellor of France and ending with a legation ball given (it appears) by the Russian ambassador.
The literary great and soon-to-be-great were equally kind. Walter Scott called, and thereafter he and Cooper saw each other frequently. Mrs. Cooper noted: “He was with us several times, and treated Mr. Cooper like a son or younger brother in the same vocation.” The two lions of the hour joked together about the way they were being lionized. Most touching of the honors shown Cooper by men of letters was the spaniel-like devotion of the debutant Eugène Sue, whose career, as we shall see, he profoundly affected: In the preface to his Plik et Plok. (1831), Sue wrote of Cooper’s work as the expression of the wishes, the needs, the power of his country — the history of America dramatized. In requesting that Cooper accept a copy of the novel he noted with pride that the reviewers had done him the great honor of comparing his youthful efforts with “your admirable and impressive productions.” But such flattering comparisons he knows to be undeserved, “for like the poor man of the Gospel, I come away impoverished, bearing only a few forgotten ears, from the vast and fertile field of the rich man. Sue’s next novel, Atar-Gull, was dedicated to Cooper, with handsome words of praise for his having invented the maritime novel and a paragraph elevating him to the company of Scott and Goethe.
Beginning with the translation of The Spy in 1822, editions in English and French of Cooper’s novels arrived on the Paris stalls as rapidly as the translators and publishers could prepare them, in almost every instance within the year of their publication in English. Between 1822 and 1828, eighteen titles appeared, including six reissues of the more popular novels. By 1855 there were four collective editions of Cooper’s works.
It was fortunate for Cooper’s reputation in France that one of his earliest translators was A. J. B. Defauconpret, a workman equal to his task. A solicitor who had had reverses, this gentleman established himself in England, a country he seems never to have liked, and began to turn out with great facility translations of Sterne, Fielding, Scott, and Marryat. He even tried writing historical novels, which no one remembers today.
In translating Cooper Defauconpret simplified the style; condensing occasionally, thereby cutting down the abundance of detail which is often delightful in Cooper. He appears to have seen well enough what Cooper was imagining, but not to have listened very accurately to his forest sounds. The translator’s prejudices sometimes show through. He did not, for example, permit French readers to learn the worst that Cooper had said about New France in the Last of the Mohicans. The absurd language and actions of M. Le Quoi in The Pioneers did not seem amusing to him. Therefore he refused to make them so in his translation.
When, later on, the firm of Gosselin brought out the Works of Fenimore Cooper in thirty volumes (1836-1852) in new versions by Defauconpret, the translations were not much changed, but the translator now spoke up in his copious notes whenever Cooper’s ideas offended him. He objects to what is said of Montcalm in The Mohicans. Apropos of M. Le Quoi, he regrets that Americans (and Englishmen) have such strange notions of the French character. He disapproves of Cooper’s Protestantism, but is glad to back him up in his slighting references to the English. Later translations of six of the novels by Laroche and Montémont are far more accurate than Defauconpret’s, but the devoted solicitor deserves to be remembered for having presented his brief for Cooper so faithfully.
Cooper’s social success was paralleled by his rapid rise in critical favor. By 1824 the Revue Encyclopédique was willing to predict at the time of the publication of The Pilot, the third of the novels to be translated, that Cooper would soon rival his master, Walter Scott. Lionel Lincoln cooled the warmth of the reviews a little, but the Last of the Mohicans made all well again. In its preliminary notice of the novel, Le Globe gave the signal for a change in attitude. Cooper was no longer to be considered a more imitator, however interesting, of Sir Walter. His new novel showed him to be an original writer.
In the first detailed general survey of Cooper’s novels, in the Globe for June 19, 1827, the reviewer, with some republican bias, goes much further. Scott’s Toryism is deprecated and Cooper is praised for taking part in the great struggle in which the human race is now engaged. The American novelist is invariably a citizen and a philosopher. In everything he writes one finds reason without bias, moral sentiment, a profound faith in liberty, equality, religious ideas, his native country, and the dignity of human nature. In short, one sees in Cooper the noble type of the American republican. Even the more balanced general article in the Revue Encyclopédique for November 1827 ends deferentially. His defects are those generally met with in historical novels, but Mr. Cooper is a writer, nevertheless, whose fine talent and noble character deserve to be highly esteemed.
There was some falling off in French enthusiasm for Cooper after 1830 but his vogue was renewed late in the decade, especially with the publication in 1840 of The Pathfinder, called in French Le Lac Ontario, or Le Guide. It was this novel which inspired Balzac’s well-known appreciation of Cooper in the Revue Parisienne for July 25, 1840, in the course of an article on the state of letters at that time.
Leatherstocking is a statue, a magnificent moral hermaphrodite, born half- savage, half-civilized. I do not know if the extraordinary work of Walter Scott has given us any creation as magnificent as this hero of the savannahs and the forests.
The subject of Lac Ontario is extremely simple; it is the tale itself.
I like these simple subjects; they indicate a powerful conception and are always full of richness. The first part of the book includes a picture of Oswego, one of the rivers which flow into Lake Ontario and along whose banks savages wait to fall upon the traveller. Here Cooper becomes again the great Cooper. The description of the forests, the waters of the river and its rapids, the tricks of the savages which the Big Serpent, Jasper and the Pathfinder foil, make up a series of marvellous pictures. Such passages are the despair of every novelist who has tried to follow in the footsteps of the American author. Never has topographical writing encroached further upon painting. This is the school where the literary landscape painter should study; all the secrets of the art are here. From page to page the dangers present themselves naturally; there is no attempt to set the stage. You yourself seem to bend down, under the great trees, to mark the print of a moccasin. The perils spring so directly from the accidental features of the landscape that you examine attentively the rocks, the trees, the waterfalls, the bark canoes, the bushes. It is impossible to separate the earth, the trees, the waters from the incidents of the story which excite you. And the characters become, as they really are, of small account against the great scene which you scan without ceasing.
One of the remarkable facts about Cooper’s great vogue in France is the high regard which eminent writers like Balzac expressed for him. In no other country do the reviews of his novels shine with such illustrious names. Sainte-Beuve, at the age of twenty-four, reviewed Red Rover handsomely in Le Globe. After recording some faults, he ventures the opinion that Cooper, in creating Hawkeye and Tom Coffin evinces the same power which moved Rabelais, Le Sage, and Richardson when they created Panurge, Gil Blas, and Clarissa. No writer, he continues, has understood the sea better than Cooper, its sounds and its hues, its calm and its storms; none has felt so strongly the appeal which the ship has for all who man it. Cooper is inexhaustible in his ability to convey this vague but profound emotion. The Dolphin of Red Rover comes from the same ship-yard as the Ariel of The Pilot. Both seem to have received life the instant they felt the waves under their keels and the sailors climb on board.
George Sand is also found in this galère. Her critical works are not numerous. The appreciation of Cooper which she wrote in 1856 is all the more precious, coming, as it does, from the last period of her tumultuous and richly creative life. She wished to speak up for qualities in his writing which others had not sufficiently valued. Enough had been said, though she granted that it should always be acknowledged, of his realism, his love of detail, the materialism, even, with which he depicted life in America. Devoted to his country, he nevertheless rose above the life of the America of his time. [How Cooper would have liked this.] His aspirations were for things higher than those which moved his countrymen: for poetic revery, and the feeling for liberty which characterizes the true artist. In Leatherstocking, Cooper’s inner self is seen, adventurous, generous, idealistic, and naive.
Cooper’s novels inspired a new genre of French fiction, the roman d’aventure. Its long history begins in 1829 with the publication of Balzac’s Le Dernier Chouan ou la Bretagne en 1800, later known as Les Chouans. In this novel about the struggle of the forces of the Republic in suppressing the uprising of the Royalist peasants, the Chouans, the influence of Cooper can be found in many places — in the drawing of character, in descriptive passages, in the style and language. But what Cooper had chiefly taught the young French novelist was to make the recent history of his own country exciting and mysterious and to transfer the qualities of the proud and vengeful American Indians to the half-civilized Royalist peasants of western France.
About the same time another young writer, Eugène Sue, was stimulated to do with French maritime life what Cooper had done in his stories of adventure on the open ocean. Sue knew very little about the sea at first hand though he had sailed to the Antilles and had served at the naval battle of Navarino as an assistant surgeon. But his fertile imagination and the inspiration of Cooper sufficed for the production of a half-dozen novels about sailors and pirates. In the preface to the 1831 edition of Plik et Plok Sue declared that before the success of Cooper’s sea stories it would have been audacious to attempt to interest the French public in the habits and characters of mere sailors. Inspired by the American master, he had now made bold to try. That Sue had successfully transferred the new genre to France the critics readily admitted. Figaro declared that he deserved encouragement and praise for having attempted to give to France a genre for which previously she had been forced to envy America.
The name of Eugène Sue is connected with still another variety of the roman d’aventure which has had an immense vogue in France and which indirectly but no less certainly Cooper inspired. In his Mystères de Paris (1842-43) Sue wrote: “Everyone has read the wonderful passages in which Cooper, the Walter Scott of America, has depicted the savage ways, the picturesque and poetic language, the thousand tricks in warfare of his Indians. We are going to try to show the reader some episodes in the life of other barbarians as much outside civilization as the savages so well drawn by Cooper.” Aided by the success of Dumas’ Les Mohicans de Paris ten years later (1854-58), the novel of Paris underworld life, in which the impenetrable forests of Cooper have become the sinister alleys of the city and his Indians, the Apaches of low dives and thieves’ hide-outs, had started on its course. The constant warfare waged in these novels between criminals and detectives are the exotic transplantation in a strange soil of Cooper’s ceaseless war between the vanishing red man and his white destroyer.
While this transformation of Cooper’s forest life into the Paris underworld was taking place, two French novelists were directly imitating him, to their considerable profit. Gabriel Ferry’s Le Coureur des Bois, which went through a dozen editions within a short time of its publication in 1859, uses for its hero the French-Canadian type of frontiersman, as the title indicates, though the scenes take place in the Mexican forests which Ferry had explored with a guide in 1832. The novels of another disciple of Cooper, Gustave Aimard, are distinctly sub-literary, but he was for years the idol of the French school-boy. Between 1858 and the year of his death, 1883, his literary production line turned out more than twenty Cooperesque novels, about half of his total output. A few titles will indicate how shameless an imitator he was: The Pirates of the Prairie (1858), The Scalper of the Ottawas (1866); The Eagle of the Dacotahs (1878), The Friend of the Whites (1879).
The European enthusiasm for Cooper struck Germany at a very propitious moment. Her liberal thinkers and writers were depressed by the post-Napoleonic settlement and chafed under the domination of Prussia and Austria. Hope for a unified Fatherland was dead. By 1817 the great tide of migration to America had set in and the port of Liverpool swarmed with Germans who were seeking freedom in the new world. The literary and political movement called Young Germany would not emerge until the 1830’s but premonitions of it were already heard. To those who were leaving Germany Cooper’s novels provided the picture of America which they wanted. For those who remained behind Cooper offered consolation and escape.
Translations were abundant. In 1824 The Spy and The Pioneers were issued in two versions, as well as one translation of The Pilot. In 1825 Lionel Lincoln arrived. In 1826 there were two more issues of The Spy and the first two translations of The Last of the Mohicans. The roll increases year by year. A mere glance at the check list of translations of Cooper in Barba’s monograph, Cooper in Germany, is enough to show that his popularity was prodigious and continued well into this century, even though in the later years he became, as he did in America, an author “für die Jugend.” The translations cited, most of them accorded one line in the check list, fill ten pages for the years 1824-1911.
Many of the German reviews were mere translations of notices in English periodicals and Cooper suffered in consequence from the warmed-over prejudices of the political partisanship which his writing occasionally aroused in England. But critical reactions in general were favorable. He was complimented for being as good a writer as Irving and a better American. He was inevitably compared to Scott, but frequently called his equal. The Literarisches Conversations-Blatt in July 1824 greeted him and his Pioneers at the beginning of a great career. It was certain that the author’s “beautiful and fervent emotions and the clarity of his ideas” would win him many friends and followers in Germany. The same journal was ready in 1826 to admit Cooper to the company of Mrs. Radcliffe, Irving, Walpole, Brockden Brown, and England’s “Great Unknown.” It daringly predicted that he would be longer productive than Scott and that his works would, as time passed, keep their freshness and novelty better. Thus the reviews run, with occasional objections to Cooper’s rawness and extravagance, but with a constant emphasis on his splendid and authentic pictures of American life.
As for Cooper’s influence in the creation of a new kind of writings in Germany, in comparison with what has already been said of the situation in France, there is little to tell. One minor novelist, Adalbert Stifter, living remote from the times in the Bohemian forest, was apparently stimulated by Cooper’s descriptions of nature. Johannes Scherr uses the theme of The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish in his Die Pilger des Wildnis. Possibly the reason why there was no more direct imitation of Cooper by German novelists is the fact, as Barba suggests, that Germany was soon flooded with the novels of German-Americans who had known at first-hand the various frontiers of North America. Some had settled as squatters or planters in the West. Some had actually lived among the Indians. The best known of these men is, of course, the Austrian monk Carl Postl who, having left his cloister to wander in America, began writing Indian novels under the name of Charles Sealsfield. His Tokeah or the White Rose, an Indian Tale, published in Philadelphia in 1828, reached Germany in 1833 as Der Legitime und die Republikaner. There are echoes of The Last of the Mohicans in it, but Sealsfield was to move out on his own and become resentful of the usual coupling of Cooper’s name with his, especially since he had known frontier life at first hand, while Cooper had not “in his whole life ever seen a trapper.” In an anonymous general review of Cooper’s work, published in the New york Mirror in 1831, Sealsfield does a good hatchet job on his American rival. Cooper’s Indians are too sophisticated. They talk too much and do too little. Natty Bumppo is making too many appearances and is altogether too garrulous for a man who loves solitude. Sealsfield admits to a grudging admiration for Cooper’s sea tales, but sours his praise by adding that it requires no great skill to draw sublimity from the ocean.
The sixty novels of Friedrich Strubberg, who had known romance and adventure in west Texas, were directly influenced by Cooper, as were those of a later disciple, Baldwin Möllhausen who in 1855 served as a topographer in a government expedition sent out to discover the best route for a railroad to the Pacific. Möllhausen confessed his admiration for Cooper in his Tagebuch einer Reise vom Mississippi nach der Südsee (1858). “I seemed,” he says in the account of his early travels with the Ottoe Indians, “to be realizing the dreams of my youth (dreams conjured up certainly by Cooper and Washington Irving), when I sent a bullet through the skull of a bear, or gave some mighty stag the coup de grace.”
The German reaction to Cooper in the early years can best be sensed, I think, in noting the effect his novels had on Goethe, who read The Pioneers when he was seventy-seven. A month later he read The Last of the Mohicans, in English, finishing it in three days. He was fascinated with them and read with the same pleasure, before the end of the year 1826, The Spy and The Pilot. In 1827 and 1828 he read The Prairie and Red Rover. Of The Prairie he wrote in his diary: “I marvelled at the rich materials and his ingenious handling of them. Such works as Cooper’s romances, with their extraordinary sensibility and easy flow of plot, are not completed without great labor.” It is reported that Goethe’s reading of Cooper stimulated him to propose that German writers should undertake the presentation of significant episodes in American history. It seems also well established that his careful study of The Pioneers, on which he made notes, influenced one of his last works, the Novelle of 1828.
The story of Cooper’s fame in the other countries of Europe must be more briefly told, for, except in the instance of Spain, it has not been investigated as it deserves to be. In Spain the critics all but ignored Cooper in the early years, whereas they treated Poe as a writer worthy of their serious attention. Yet Cooper was widely enjoyed in spite of the wretchedness of the Spanish translations. The heyday of his fame began with the appearance of Red Rover in 1839 and lasted for about twenty years. The Spanish translations were made from the French editions and were often so shamelessly cut that readers must have had to invent sections of the plots for themselves. It is impossible to follow the course of the publication of Cooper in Spain because of the custom of issuing novels in folletin form, that is, as a continuing section of a newspaper, so arranged that eventually the whole work could be cut away and assembled by the reader if he wished to have the sheets bound up. Professor Ferguson believes it may well have happened that every Cooper novel translated to French eventually found its way to Spain along this curious route. What the Spanish readers enjoyed in Cooper was probably the excitement and sentiment which they were soon seeking in the novels of Dumas, Sue, de Kock, and George Sand who presently replaced him in their favor. What the critics saw it is difficult to say because they turned to Cooper when his vogue was passing. They indulge in the usual clichés, but what seems to have pleased them most was his primitivism and his national spirit.
In Italy, as in Spain, the Cooper novels arrived from five to ten years after the dates of their appearance in England, France, and Germany. They became so much the rage there that an Italian scholar has concluded “that whatever knowledge nineteenth century Italians had of America was due in large measure, if not almost exclusively, to James Fenimore Cooper’s works.” Not even the severe charge by two Italian critics, Zorzi and Barbieri, that in The Bravo Cooper had deliberately distorted historical fact in order to blacken the name of Venice, dimmed Italian enthusiasm for that novel. These two gentlemen preferred their charges in 1835, the year in which the Bravo was translated into Italian. By 1838 four editions of the Bravo had appeared and the Bonfanti Press in Milan was bringing out the Scelti Romanzi Storici de Fenimore Cooper.
For the Scandinavian countries we have Longfellow’s testimony written to Cooper from Copenhagen in September, 1835. “I cannot forbear expressing to you the pride I have felt as an American in finding your honorable fame so widespread through the North, in Denmark, Norway and Sweden. You have struck a chord, which thrills rapturously in the hearts of these descendants of the ancient Sea-Kings; and Rüse tells me that in Denmark your writings are more read than those of Scott; and not only read in the city, but among the peasantry of the land. This is true, substantial fame. God grant that you may long enjoy it!”
For Norway alone Professor Sigmund Skard has recently said: “Cooper, who in 1835 was read in every cultivated Norwegian home, became a part of the national inheritance. To Norwegians the frontier had no surprise, and Cooper’s heroes pleasantly combined romantic freedom and good Protestant morality, in moccasins and leathern jacket.”
Cooper is a classic in Russia. Acclaimed there as early as 1839 by the critic Belinsky, his vogue has so long continued that by 1927 thirty-two Russian editions had appeared. I have been told that in the History of American Literature issued under the Academy of Sciences of the USSR in 1947, Cooper receives almost as much space as Hawthorne and Melville together.
Before concluding, I should like to call your attention to the significant fact that Cooper is making new conquests in a new language, a vulgar tongue which, I suppose, none of us in this learned company has deigned to learn. I have the evidence before me. You can now purchase for a sum within the reach of all several Cooper novels in “Classics Illustrated.” If you will look at the list of eighty- five works issued in this popular series of comic books, you will find that twenty- five of its titles are American. Melville is represented twice; Mark Twain, four times. As of old, Cooper is out in front by a long way — with seven titles.
Any one at all familiar with the subject of this paper will be aware of the extent to which I have made use of the considerable number of books and articles which tell the story of Cooper’s European vogue. I list the principal studies here by way of acknowledgement and in order to bring the titles together in one place.
- K. J. Arndt, “The Cooper-Sealsfield Exchange of Criticism,” American Literature, XV, 16-24 (March, 1943).
- Preston A. Barbs, Cooper in Germany, Bloomington, 1914 (Indiana University Studies, No. 21).
- Georgette Bosset, Fenimore Cooper et le Roman d’Aventure en France vers 1830, Paris, 1928.
- James Boyd, Goethe’s Knowledge of English Literature, Oxford, 1932.
- William B. Cairns, British Criticism of American Writings, 1815-1833, Madison, 1922 (University of Wisconsin Studies in Language and Literature, No. 14).
- Marcel Clavel, Fenimore Cooper and His Critics: American, British, and French Criticisms of the Novelist’s Early Work , Aix-en-Provence, 1958.
- E. P. Dargan, “Balzac and Cooper: ‘Les Chouans’,” Modern Philology, XIII, 195-215 (August, 1915).
- John De Lancey Ferguson, American Literature in Spain, New York, 1916.
- Margaret M. Gibb, Le Roman de Bas-de-Cuir: Étude sur Fenimore Cooper et son Influence en France, Paris, 1927.
- Emilio Goggio, “Cooper’s ‘Bravo’ in Italy,” Romanic Review, XX, 222-230 (July-September, 1929).
- Regis Messac, “Fenimore Cooper et son influence en France,” PMLA, XLIII, 1199-1201 (December, 1928).
- George Morris, Fenimore Cooper et Edgar Poe D’après la critigue française du dix-neuvième sièle, Paris, 1912.
- Eric Partridge, “Fenimore Cooper’s Influence on the French Romantics,” Modern Language Review, XX, 174-178 (1925).
- R. E. Spiller and P. C. Blackburn, A Descriptive Bibliography of the Writings of James Fenimore Cooper, New York, 1934.
- R. E. Spiller, Fenimore Cooper, Critic of his Times, New York 1931.
* Dr. Thorp, who is in charge of the special Program in American Civilization at Princeton University, is a co-editor with Professor Robert E. Spiller of the recent three-volume Literary History of the United States.