Introduction: Becoming James Fenimore Cooper

Wayne Franklin * (Northeastern University)

Originally published in The American Neptune (Vol. 57, No. 4, Fall 1997) (pp. 299-314).

Copyright © 1997, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts and reproduced with its kind permission.

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

{299} This gathering of new work on James Fenimore Cooper and the sea may serve to remind us, by its special focus on historical and biographical issues, that much remains to be learned of Cooper’s life. I want to consider here some of the reasons for our relative lack of knowledge of Cooper’s life. More importantly, I will probe his own responsibility for it by examining a single incident from his early adulthood — his 1826 decision to change his name — and its links to his persistent fascination with the theme of identity. Despite Cooper’s apparent volubility and crankiness, his own nature is elusive and slippery in his works, especially his sea tales, which seem obsessed with the fluidity of names and essences. In view of this connection, I think it telling that his 1826 name change was precipitated by Cooper’s impending voyage to Europe. His first venture on the open sea in two decades, that voyage reawakened his interest in sea fiction, helping to turn this author of a single sea tale into the preeminent nautical romancer of his age. 1 Laden with private meanings, the name change was a preparatory gesture for Cooper’s imaginative reassumption of the sea.

Although Cooper popularized fiction in America, leaving as his legacy not only the sea tale, but also such enduring literary forms as the frontier saga and the Colonial and Revolutionary romance, he alone of all major nineteenth-century American authors lacks a serious, thorough biography, thus remaining both unknown and misunderstood in ways that Herman Melville, Harriet Beecher Stowe, or Henry James do not. Most Cooper biographies, from Thomas R. Lounsbury’s for the original “American Men of Letters Series” in 1882 to James R. Grossman’s for the second such series in 1949, tend to emphasize the surface of his public career. Most of them pile up substantial summaries and analyses of his four dozen books, seemingly in lieu of a genuinely biographical treatment of his inner life. At the same time, these and other studies of Cooper wittingly or unwittingly pass around or leave in circulation without controversion old, unexamined, and in some instances false, or at least misleading, characterizations, many of them derived from essentially political attempts to pillory him in the press during his own life. Where one seeks the rounded, complex person, one is likely to find a packaged caricature drained of much interest and most blood. Instead of the fierce democrat who sided with Lafayette’s effort to preserve the French republic, supported the Poles’ effort at liberation, and attacked the rising oligarchy of the United States because of its threat against the liberty of the common citizen, one finds — even, most recently, in Alan Taylor’s Pulitzer prize-winning biography of Cooper’s father — the contentious, aloof, privileged aristocrat whose roots lie partly in the Whig attacks on Cooper in the 1830s and 1840s. 2

Why his biographers have so consistently failed to tell Cooper’s inner story is an interesting tale in its own right. Cooper himself must bear a large portion of the responsibility, in the first instance because he prohibited his family from authorizing any biography of him. Cooper’s {300} wife and their son Paul appear to have taken this prohibition quite seriously. Even the eldest daughter, Susan, who produced many quasi-biographical treatments of her father, obeyed it in the sense that she stopped short of writing a biography and never allowed any other writer, such as Lounsbury, access to the family papers. As an unavoidable result, the drifting misinformation about Cooper continued to circulate, nor did the somewhat more serious labors of his grandson and namesake dispel it. This second James Fenimore Cooper enlarged the family archive significantly by re-gathering dispersed documents from other family members and by purchasing items that surfaced in the auction and autograph markets, and he edited and published two substantial volumes of Cooper’s Correspondence in 1922. At the same time, he did not undertake a biography himself. While he allowed several writers access to his holdings, none of them was able to use the archive in the full manner that a definitive biography demands. He also was the source of some “family stories,” disseminated by them, which more recent research in the archive has not substantiated. 3

The next stage in the story began when the young scholar James Franklin Beard, who completed his critical dissertation on Cooper at Princeton in 1949, recognized the need for a thorough biographical study and convinced the Fenimore Cooper family to grant him exclusive access to the papers. This was the first step in a process that continued to expand with each new accomplishment. Beard soon realized that the enlarged archive of 1950 was still so limited that a much more exhaustive search for surviving materials would be necessary before he could begin a biography. As he located hundreds of new items through a very careful survey of public and private collections, he also became convinced that a fully annotated edition of Cooper’s papers ought to be undertaken. Beard’s magisterial Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper (1960-1968) remains one of the truly distinguished works of American literary scholarship. Its clear formatting, nearly perfect transcriptions, and detailed annotation have made it, since its publication, into the nearest thing Cooper scholars have had to a biography. Indeed, Beard’s introductions, scattered amid the many sections of the six-volume Letters and Journals, constitute the best Cooper biography ever written.

Those introductions, however, were necessarily keyed to the specific issues in the papers and were not the biography Beard intended to write. Nor could he turn to that project once the Letters and Journals itself had been finished. New items kept turning up (the total now awaiting publication is equivalent to a seventh volume). More importantly, Beard came to the {301} conclusion that no such project could be brought to an end until Cooper’s works had been thoroughly re-edited according to the rigorous standards of modern bibliographic scholarship. Over the decade following the appearance of the final two volumes of the Letters and Journals, Beard assembled a team of scholar-editors, sifted through the complex bibliography of Cooper’s large oeuvre, sought to locate all surviving manuscript materials (many, as it happened, were held by the family), and endeavored to establish the relative standing of each edition of each of Cooper’s works published or prepared during his lifetime.

In 1980, the first edited volume in this monumental new effort appeared. By the time of Beard’s death in 1989, twelve more had been published. Since then, four others have appeared, for a total of seventeen. Among those already issued are the classic sea novels The Pilot (1824), The Red Rover (1827), and The Two Admirals (1842). Editorial work on the two “Wallingford” novels of 1844 has been completed as well, although due to the hiatus in the project caused by the flagging support of the State University of New York Press, its original publisher, neither of these nor other finished volumes have been issued. Work on The Water Witch (1830) is underway. 4

Beard’s exclusive access to the family papers clearly benefited the scholars recruited for the various volumes of the Cooper edition. At the same time, however, his position as the biographical gatekeeper warned away several of them who otherwise might have undertaken biographies on their own. Many of the items in the family collection, to be sure, already had made their way into the Yale Collection of American Literature, to which the novelist’s grandson had given a significant bequest prior to 1911. By the same token, the Correspondence and Beard’s Letters and Journuls made the great bulk of Cooper’s own scripts available. Enough material remained in the family’s hands, however, to discourage any rival attempt on the subject.

On Beard’s death, it became apparent that the chain of causes that had led to his singular authority and access, causes ultimately linked to Cooper’s prohibition, had left us not only without a biography (Beard seems never to have begun drafting his long-promised book) but also without an obvious group of scholars whose full familiarity with the manuscript archive meant that one or more successors to Beard might quickly emerge. When Paul Fenimore Cooper Jr.’s collection was deposited in two institutions (William Cooper’s papers went to Hartwick College, James Fenimore Cooper’s to the American Antiquarian Society) shortly after his and Beard’s deaths, literally no one knew the extent or scope of the holdings. By 1990, strangely enough, James Fenimore Cooper’s prohibition still seemed fully in force. 5

Cooper’s prohibition was laid on his family, but something analogous to it operated within his own imagination. The lack of a genuine confessional strain in his works, let alone overt autobiography, makes it difficult to map his inner terrain. His sea novels and other fiction, travel narratives, historical texts (including the 1839 naval history), and controversial writings consistently draw on his experiences, but they often do so in a fragmented and indirect way. The case of the Wallingford novels is in this sense exceptional. Only in these books, and especially in Ned Myers (1843), in which Cooper “edited” the recollections of his former shipmate, did he obtrude his own memories directly and substantially into his tales. Even The Pioneers (1823), based in considerable detail on Cooperstown and the family’s experience there, reminds us of Cooper’s elusiveness by its setting in 1793, when the author was only four years old. As a consequence of this general pattern, Cooper the man is usually absent from his pages except as the source of strong opinions that constitute him more as a character within the text than a genuine autobiographical subject, making him, in the process, the easy target of countless armed antagonists, from the newspaper editors of his own day to Mark Twain, Granville Hicks, and Alan Taylor. 6 Sensitive as he could be to criticism, Cooper (unlike Melville) had the tendency to make only masked appearances in his works — except when speaking in his own at times {302} “preachy” voice. This reticent quality in the artist probably motivated, in part, the prohibition he laid on his family.

Despite these unpromising aspects of his own self-presentation, I think that we can gain access to the inner man by attending to the nuances with which personal issues arise in his writings, thereby supplementing and enriching the manuscript archive. As an example of how we can do so, I want to focus here on what may seem to be a relatively straightforward event of Cooper’s early adulthood, his 1826 decision to alter his name — and its textual adumbrations. I recognize that names, as the outer means by which others refer to individuals, usually have very little to do with inner meanings, or if they do it is because their associations call those meanings into being after the fact. When, however, names are expressive rather than referential — that is, when individuals name or rename themselves — they may reveal a good deal of inner truth. In Cooper’s case, I think this is particularly true. The action of changing his name is laced with autobiographical traces.

James Fenimore Cooper was born in Burlington, New Jersey, on 15 September 1789. When William Cooper and his wife Elizabeth Fenimore named their youngest son, they called him simply “James Cooper.” Not until after both of his parents and all but one of his eleven siblings had died — and Cooper himself had won fame as a writer in the early 1820s — did he assume his mother’s maiden name as part of his own. Responding to his petition, he requested the legislature of New York, which eventually passed an act permitting a modified version of the change. Cooper’s 1826 petition, no impulsive gesture, had a prologue in Cooperstown many years before. Young James’ mother, having no brothers, had sought to ensure the continuance of her family’s name by offering her youngest child some properties near Cooperstown she owned in her own right if he would “take her family name in lieu of that of Cooper.” 7 When the boy’s father opposed the change, Elizabeth’s offer was put aside, soon to be obscured beneath a rush of events that began with Judge William Cooper’s death late in 1809 at the age of fifty-five. 8

Tragic as Judge Cooper’s loss may have been, his six surviving children could look past their grief to presumably comfortable futures sketched by a will promising each of them an inheritance worth an estimated $50,000. Not for nothing had young James Cooper remained a Cooper. 9 What being a Cooper meant, though, changed as more severe challenges arose in the next decade. It was not entirely a surprise when Elizabeth Fenimore Cooper, long in retreat from the world, passed away in 1817. By that time, James’ oldest brother already had died, and the other three followed in 1818 and 1819, none of them having reached the age of forty. Because his sister Ann had married Cooperstown druggist George Pomeroy in 1803, James was now the last of his father’s immediate family who bore the family name. While under other circumstances James might have concentrated at least some of the family’s remaining wealth in his own hands as a result of these tragedies, by the time his last brother died the various Cooper estates were a shambles. All James inherited was a mountain of debt, a herd of lawsuits, and a flock of nieces and nephews requiring love, support, care — and cash.

Between her first offer to James and her death in 1817, Elizabeth Fenimore Cooper had returned more than once to the subject. Apparently moved by her arguments but mindful of his father’s feelings, James ultimately offered a compromise: he would not give up his father’s family name, but would add hers to it. Because Cooper later claimed that he would not accept the relatively modest property connected to Elizabeth’s offer, the whole affair had a basically sentimental rationale that the deadly decade following 1809 might well have buried in oblivion. The real challenge for James Cooper in the 1820s was to ensure the survival of the rest of his mother’s children and grandchildren, not her maiden name. He sought to ensure both as he struggled to keep the Cooper family and its property together, although he mostly lost the latter because of dismal frontier land prices, poor {303} foresight on Judge Cooper’s part, and prodigality on that of his children, James included. 10 The effort took a serious toll on James’ health. He suffered a serious, permanent impairment that was owing partly to nervous causes. 11

Despite all this, in 1826 Cooper decided to act on this suspended promise dating back in one form or another almost two decades. He petitioned the legislature of New York to allow him, as he described the idea in a letter written twenty years later, “to add [my mother’s] name to my father’s, and to use both as a family name. 12 A tradition among Cooper scholars, running at least from Mary E. Phillips in 1913 to Henry Walcott Boynton in 1931, Stephen Railton in 1977, and Alan Taylor in 1995 asserts that Cooper wanted to change his name to “James Cooper Fenimore”; to date I have located no surviving evidence that would justify this view. 13 Cooper did not say in his 1847 recollection where he intended to make the addition, and his 1826 petition does not survive to give us his own language at that time. It seems likely, however, that his eldest brother Richard’s example, which Cooper mentioned in his 1847 letter, was on his mind in the earlier year. Christened in honor of Elizabeth Cooper’s father, Richard Fenimore, on his birth in 1775, Richard Fenimore Cooper was an easy model for James’ own rechristening half a century later, although James would be giving what had been Richard’s middle name added weight and meaning. The earliest surviving published evidence on the subject points to this same conclusion. The New York Assembly Journal first mentioned the issue on 20 February 1826.

The petition of James Cooper of the city of New-York praying for permission to change his name by the addition of a middle sirname, was read, and referred to a select committee, consisting of Mr. Sherman, Mr. Root, and Mr. Huntington.

The wording, not yet contaminated by the modification of the request eventually insisted on by the legislature, clearly indicates that the petitioner wanted to call himself “James Fenimore Cooper,” perhaps intending to use a hyphen to mark the combined family name. 14 Shortly before setting sail on the Samson for his return to America in 1833, Cooper, in making his final arrangements with his British publisher, Richard Bentley, wrote that letters “simply addressed to me at New-York will reach me.” He stressed that “the name of Fenimore should be written in full,” adding, “it is the only proper way of writing my name, which is not Cooper, but Fenimore-Cooper, in consequence of a law of New York, the one being as much part of the family name as the other. 15

From these known facts on the issue, we must turn to the question of Cooper’s timing and motives. His decision to act on the name change came at a crucial time in his literary career, in between the three early successes of The Spy (1821), The Pioneers, and The Pilot, and the most famous of all his books, The Last of the Mohicans (1826), which he had finished shortly before his petition came before the legislature. Here he was, the last and now arguably the most famous of the Coopers, seeking to soften the finality of that family name by acknowledging publicly his mother’s claim on his allegiance and perhaps his identity. 16 Although he would remain a Cooper all along in fact and name, his adoption of his mother’s name at this juncture might be read as an effort to downplay one personal past in order to play up another, thereby achieving emotional closure and assuming a new legal identity reflective of his new reputation and self-esteem.

In some ways, Cooper had already played with this theme in his Cooperstown novel. In The Pioneers, Oliver Edwards “becomes” Edward Effingham to mark the resolution of longstanding conflicts in his family’s past. Like Edwards, Cooper was about to reveal in 1826 that he also had unsuspected legacies to claim and a new name to mark their legitimation. 17 Similarly, much as the character’s two names, and his two personae, show a marked difference in social origins, in the novelist’s case, the common name “Cooper” was easily upstaged by the elite “Fenimore.” The manorial roots of the new name, traced by Cooper to Oxfordshire, offered a more genteel background of the sort for which, {304} despite his conscious democratic ideology, he always had a weakness. Given the “high” origins of his wife’s De Lancey forebears, the Fenimore connection might be seen as soothing the unease he apparently felt, especially after his own family’s misfortunes, in the presence of Susan De Lancey Cooper’s family. 18

The more common strand in Cooper’s identity was definitely real — unlike that fictionalized by Effingham in his masquerade as “Edwards” — and Cooper hardly renounced it in 1826. In his early adulthood, it did, however, suffer something of an eclipse, marked by the name change more than caused by it, and was to emerge into greater clarity only following his return to the United States in 1833, after he had deployed and displayed his new identity across Europe for seven years. A story worth repeating will suggest how his homecoming undid the shifts of affiliation to be traced in his earlier experience. When Cooper embarked in 1834 on his first trip back to Otsego county since his mother’s death there in 1817, he passed through the German settlements of nearby Montgomery county. Here he encountered an “old Dutchman” who answered his questions about what had become of his one-time acquaintances there. When the German turned the inquiry about, asking, “Are you of these parts?” Cooper replied, “No,” but his negative was less sweeping than it might seem. ‘We,” he said. “I am from Otsego,” then, as if the phrase had some newly reemerging power, he added that he was “a Cooper of Cooperstown.” Cooper continued the story in the letter he wrote to his wife Susan that evening: “The old Dutchman bowed, eyed me sharply, and muttered — ‘Ah — you are a Cooper,’” a response that Cooper himself welcomed and even cherished. 19

It meant so much because Cooper was now about to reassume his old landed identity and recreate his father’s world. He would acquire the vacant family mansion in Cooperstown that summer and begin to restore it, thereby restoring himself to the town. He had wandered so far from this place and its meanings since 1817 (and, in other ways, since 1826), only to feel upon revisiting it exactly how deep his attachment to it was. For all Cooper knew on leaving Cooperstown in 1817, he might have been leaving it for good, and he set about remaking himself and redefining his identity on his own terms. The 1826 petition to the legislature named him as “James Cooper of the city of New-York,” with no reference to the “Coopers of Cooperstown,” no claiming of kinship with his father or his father’s world. 21 In a passage from Notions of the Americans, Cooper likewise referred to himself as a former resident of the Cooperstown area. In his book of Swiss travels, written in the mid-1830s but concerned with Cooper’s experience in the summer of 1828, he offered similar proof of his inner sense of where he belonged in America. Responding to a Swiss woman’s humorous notion that all of America was a wilderness, he had told her “I live in America ... near a street that contains eight hundred houses, and two hundred shops” — in New York City, even though his only dwellings there from 1822 to 1826 had been a series of rented quarters. The last of them had been given up before his ship sailed two years prior to his encounter with the Swiss woman. 21 Cooper became “a Cooper of Cooperstown” only after rediscovering that village and its deep roots in his feelings when he was in his mid-forties.

I want to return to Cooper’s motives for acting on the “Fenimore” promise just when he did, which are nowhere directly stated. The mere fact that the planned European sojourn of his family, which began in June 1826, would keep him out of the country for at least five years conceivably influenced his timing. He could not have changed his name overseas, and when he came back his children would have been old enough that the change, intended for the whole family, might be awkward for them. Alan Taylor argues that the legislature may have suspected motives tied to the large indebtedness of the William Cooper estate, for which James remained in part personally responsible. Did he hope that obscuring his original name might aid him in escaping his obligations? Aside from the fact that up to that point Cooper had not so much {305} fought the losses in his father’s estate as he had suffered them, he claimed in 1847 that he had been “extricated from the law” by early 1826 and no longer needed to delay the change out of concern for any legal confusion it might produce — the closest thing to an explanation of his timing that he himself ever offered. Taylor rightly notes that the legal troubles of the family hardly were over by 1826, although his reading of Cooper’s claim about being “extricated” probably results from a difference in emphasis. Cooper almost certainly was referring in his 1847 letter to a specific suit arising from his personal debts, which was resolved in February of 1826, the month when the petition was filed, and which had particular relevance to the change of name he initiated at virtually the same time. 22

As he scrambled to keep his own finances afloat late in the previous decade, Cooper borrowed substantial sums of money at high interest from lawyer Robert Sedgwick, with whom he was previously acquainted. The tortuous path on which the two thereafter entered need not be completely mapped here. What matters most is that Sedgwick managed to gain control of a property in Otsego county that held special meaning for Cooper: his farm, called “Fenimore,” located on the lake shore north of Cooperstown. Cooper lived here with his family from 1813 to 1817 in a small wood farmhouse while a stone mansion they intended to occupy was being built. As it happened, they left Cooperstown before they could move into the unfinished mansion. Over the next several years, he was to feel the loss of Cooperstown primarily as a loss of his home, but it must have been hard for him to separate the intangible meaning of that term from the tangible one. His father’s house, occupied by his mother until her death, fell victim to the collapse of the Cooper estate, fetching a fraction of its value at a forced sale in 1821. When his own poor management resulted in the sale of “Fenimore” two years later, his only other home in Otsego was likewise torn from his control. Sedgwick was a sharp dealer who manipulated the interest he charged Cooper until it was technically usurious (and, in Cooper’s view, actionable on those grounds), and he engaged in practices that Cooper thought tantamount to forgery. Cooper fought back harder than he had in other cases, but his basic response to Sedgwick was profound disgust with his ungentlemanly conduct. Part of Sedgwick’s sharp dealings involved his subsequent sale of “Fenimore” in such a way that it yielded minimal returns which did not cover Cooper’s debt. 23

The losses associated with “Fenimore” did not stop here. In the summer of 1823, prior to Sedgwick’s sale, the unoccupied mansion was burned, probably by an unknown arsonist whose grudge against the Cooperstown gentry led him to torch a number of buildings that summer. 24 The effect of the fire on Cooper was devastating, especially coming when it did, and may have solidified his sense that the landscape of the past was inaccessible geographically as well as emotionally, thus contributing to his renewed interest in the promise made to his mother. His eldest daughter Susan recalled how she had been sitting with her mother when her father entered the room in their rented New York City quarters in July of 1823 and, without a word, handed his wife a Cooperstown paper opened to the account of the mansion’s destruction. Shortly after came the serious reversal in Cooper’s health, with its nervous as well as physical origins. The double loss of “Fenimore” to the treachery of a creditor and the violence of an arsonist was deepened by the fact that Susan and James’ “poor little boy,” their first son, died in the month following the fire. He was also named Fenimore. How, after all these frustrated attempts, was Cooper to either maintain his ties to his father’s village or give his mother’s memory its lasting embodiment? 25 Changing his name was a more durable means of accomplishing such ends, one no one could steal or destroy.

When his string of losses occurred, ironically, Cooper’s tale of his family’s hopeful founding of Cooperstown was enjoying great success. He had just managed to repossess the imaginative terrain of his family legacy precisely at the time when his legal and emotional ties to it had been so definitely ended. The Pioneers was a slippery act of repossession which modeled one of the main characters on Cooper’s {306} father, but gave this fictional judge a single child, not the six left alive at Judge Cooper’s death. Furthermore, the model for Judge Temple’s single child was not the young author but his long-dead older sister Hannah (named for William Cooper’s mother, Hannah Hibbs Cooper), whose fictional rebirth expressed James’ perpetual sense of her tragic loss. She served him as a fitting symbol, especially after other tragedies accrued, of all the other Cooper legacies no longer available to him except in cherished memories. Cooper “entered” the story through Elizabeth Temple, but he also recognized in creating her that he was perpetually outside whatever he might recall, as lost to that world as Hannah was. Memory was a letting go: The Pioneers was both a re-collection of the dispersed past and a farewell to all of it. Despite her emotional origins in the two Hannah Coopers, the character Elizabeth Temple was christened in memory of Cooper’s own mother, as well as several other now lost Elizabeth Coopers named in Elizabeth Fenimore Cooper’s honor, including James’ niece, who died as a result of burns suffered in an accidental fire in 1811, and his own first born child, who suddenly sickened following James’ move to Cooperstown and died at the age of two in 1813. 26

Through some inner logic, the young author of The Pioneers sensed that he did not belong in the world he was imagining even as he very much wanted to bring it back to life because it had meant so much to him. Perhaps he wanted to reinvent it with himself absent from the fantasy so that he could dissociate himself from the disastrous second half of the family tale, lessening the loss by lessening his prior claim. His recognition of the loss and his denial of it nonetheless coexisted in his imagination. He made his heroine distinct from himself in a number of ways. As if acting on the same impulse toward renaming himself that was to surface again in 1826, he named her, as he did his first daughter and his first son and the farm in Cooperstown, after his mother. If Elizabeth Temple’s self-naming suitor, Edwards/Effingham, embodied some of James Cooper’s complex emotions, so too did the woman Edwards/Effingham won and wed in the novel, and their marriage effected James’ imaginative return to Cooperstown as well as his final break with it. The drama of the plot, including the part played in it by the effectually expelled Natty Bumppo, was energized by a fractionalizing of Cooper’s emotions, which worked against each other in this fantasy as they must have in reality. How could someone who had gone through ail he had in recent years, and bore the weight of it in his weakened health, not feel cut in two by it all?

When James Cooper petitioned the legislature for his change of name about two years later, I believe his intention was in part to recognize and symbolically move beyond some of his losses. The legislature, as legislatures are wont, gave and took away at the same time. It allowed Cooper to achieve his ostensible purpose of memorializing and honoring his mother, but insisted that the past dominate any new future he might craft for himself. It approved only his assumption of a largely symbolic middle name, allowing him to become, in effect, “James F. Cooper,” much to the petitioner’s disappointment, if not anger. Cooper felt that no one ought to know better what suited a person than the person himself — a reasonable point but one that, as regards naming, runs opposite to our culture’s practice. 27 Cooper could do nothing in the face of the legislature’s response but begin to sign himself “J. Fenimore-Cooper” (soon dropping the hyphen) and to assert that “Fenimore” would become a permanent though merely customary fixture of his children’s and descendants’ last names, as it remains to this day.

Names clearly occupied a most interesting place in Cooper’s imagination. One of the first and most successful practitioners of the fictional “series,” he created as his most famous character a man whose many names keep shifting throughout the five “Leather-Stocking Tales”: Natty, Nathaniel Bumppo, Hawkeye, the “Trapper,” the “Man without a Cross,” “Deerslayer,” “la Longue Carabine,” “Pathfinder,” and so on. This seemingly endless sequence of sobriquets tells us a good deal, I think, about the fluidity of Cooper’s sense of self. In his art as in his life, names were some{307}thing that could be deployed to signify the serial or simultaneous layering of identity. Cooper’s own experience had proved identity to be complex and continually shifting. While the most devastating lesson may have come in the demographic and economic collapse of his family between 1809 and 1819, I suggest that the emergence of his unsuspected literary talent in the 1820s may have given him the best hints on the subject. Having seen so many parts of his legacy lost or challenged in the past decade, Cooper discovered something inside himself that could help him recast and reclaim his identity. So much that he cared for had died despite his feverish efforts to protect and preserve it, and then something that restored his confidence came almost by accident to him — he just happened upon a literary career. It may be that James Cooper changed his name in 1826 to celebrate his own growth, about which his mother could have known nothing, more than to memorialize her in her own right. To become a Fenimore Cooper was to recall both parts of his heritage while being subsumed under neither.

In The Last of the Mohicans, Cooper had just shown a continuing fascination with a kind of ontological indeterminacy, stressing how people and animals and things and even places could shift or reveal the complexity of their shapes and natures. 28 He also had made the last of his doomed Mohicans a son who predeceased his father, as if the plot marked its author’s own death as Judge Cooper’s son as well as his seemingly autochthonous rebirth as an author. It was strangely appropriate that Cooper, as he left Chingachgook to mourn his dead son Uncas, petitioned the legislature of New York to take note that he was no longer — or no longer just Judge Cooper’s offspring. What James Cooper had become by 1826 was not, as it might well have been, scripted by his father. How different in this sense was his fate from that of Henry James, Jr., that other son and grandson of upstate wealth, whose art fulfilled a parental vision of greatness rather than amended it. In the long crisis of his early adulthood, Cooper derived his identity from what he happily discovered in himself and then by application and faith nurtured until, with the mixed connivance and direction of the state, he could sign himself “J. Fenimore Cooper.” 29 In that signature, as in other seemingly minor acts of his life, he wrote in a kind of code an account of himself we are only now beginning to read.

As mentioned earlier, Cooper’s 1826 name change was completed just prior to his departure for Europe with his family. Although the Coopers had been talking as early as the prior fall about going to “France for a year or two,” their plans firmed up in February 1826, precisely the {308} month when Cooper’s request for permission to change his name was laid before the New York legislature. 31 I think that he submitted his petition just as the family’s decision to leave America was reached because the change of name was something he wanted to accomplish prior to the planned departure date of June, for three reasons. First was the virtual impossibility of accomplishing the change while overseas. Given the family’s present intention to be absent five years at least, Cooper also was concerned that delaying the already long-postponed alteration until they returned from Europe might then prove awkward for the children as they grew older (the eldest in 1826, Susan, was just thirteen). I would argue that a more compelling reason also lay behind Cooper’s timing. The larger sea change in his private and literary identity that he had undergone over the past few years — the collapse of the Cooper legacy, the mysterious birth of his own creativity — was symbolized, even as it was literally extended, by the impending voyage to Europe. In conjunction with that outward voyage, the renaming marked a clean break with the spaces, faces, and, in his own case, even the words, the names of the past. In the context of the European voyage, more important than Cooper’s desire to free himself from the encumbrances of the family estate and his own debts was his wish to solidify and signify the new identity he had forged for himself in the midst of — and, in a sense, because of — such adversity. The sea voyage to France, his first crossing of the Atlantic since his return to Philadelphia from his stint on the merchantman Stirling in 1807, was one of the means by which he accomplished this goal. Another was the concomitant change of his name.

In life as well as art, new names often are useful adjuncts for journeys, perhaps especially for voyages. Cooper knew sailors well enough to understand that they often displayed the merest filament of a connection to their pasts. They bore a cognomen in lieu of more telling names that would tie them to their landward identity, or hid behind a convenient nom de passage by which they could be known to their shipmates for the interim even as it kept the past off limits.

Among the sailors on board the Stirling was “Ned Myers.” Reputedly the son of a British officer and the godson of Crown Prince Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent (Queen Victoria’s fatherj, Canadian-born Edward Robert Myers was known as “just Ned” on the vessel, Cooper asserted. When signing on as a cabin boy, he had veiled his brief but murky past by resorting, Myers admitted, “to sheer fabrication.” Other shipmates included “Big Dan” and “Spanish Joe,” and two more men known simply as “the Prussian” and “the Dane.” 31 The drifting maritime population was full of such dimly seen men, named and renamed as they went from vessel to vessel, at times without proper leave. Although Cooper himself shipped on the Stirling under his real name, he might have been less honest had his family not intervened after he ran away in search of a berth. 32 Ned Myers, who likewise had run away from his home to satisfy his longings for the sea, had been taken for dead by his guardian (his parents had died when he was quite young). When Myers surfaced again in New York, word was sent back to Nova Scotia and temporary arrangements were made for him in his new home, but he vacated those and again ran away on the Stirling. He offered cautious answers when the mate questioned him. When the captain probed further, he drew on his knowledge of a recent British engagement with the French, knowledge salvaged from the tales of the “sea-going lads of Halifax,” to make up a plausible history for himself:

I said my father had been a serjeant of marines, and was killed in the action — that I had run away when the ships got in, and that I wished to be bound to some American ship-master, in order to become a regularly-trained seaman.

In point of fact, Myers was under obligations to another vessel, the Leander, then serving as Francisco de Miranda’s flagship for his planned invasion of his native Venezuela, at the time he signed on with Captain Johnston. Ned became bored with his port duty on that ship and simply {309} had run away again. 33

What Cooper learned on the Stirling about the shifting identity of sailors came back to the land with him. When he began his literary career, his seafaring characters amply exhibited the pattern. His very first sailor, Benjamin Penguillan in The Pioneers, is so fond of telling “a marvellous tale ... concerning the length of time he had to labour to keep his ship from sinking after Rodney’s victory” that he is universally nicknamed “Ben Pump.” 34 Cooper’s sailors show similar habits throughout his career. Owing partly to nautical practice and partly to Cooper’s own literary example, the penchant for such colorful and significant nicknames continued in the works of his successors. Herman Melville reminds us of the poetic appeal of this pattern when he opens his greatest book with all of literature’s most famous renaming — “Call me Ishmael.” We never, of course, know that character’s “real” name. Like so many other characters in the book, from Ahab to Stubb and Queequeg, he has only one handle by which to grasp him. Moreover, Melville’s various characters and personae in all his nautical tales seem as prolific of names as they are of yarns, or indeed berths, beginning with the narrator of Typee, a seemingly generic “Tom” who becomes “Tommo” to the Marquesans once he’s jumped ship at Nukuheva, only to be renamed “Typee” in that first novel’s sequel, Omoo. He is as nearly anonymous as any of the latter book’s other slimly named characters, from “Zeke” and “Shorty” to “Baltimore” and “Long Ghost.” If Melville was following the habits of the sea in marking so many of his characters with the merest trace of an identifiable name, he certainly was also following Cooper’s literary example. “Long Tom Coffin,” the colorful coxswain of Cooper’s first nautical romance, The Pilot, lies behind Melville’s “Long Ghost,” or “Long Jim,” also in Omoo. While Long Tom bears a family name, a famous Nantucket one at that, it is also thematically pertinent in view of his death and more suggestive of the ocean’s hunger for sailors, be they on “coffin ships” or not. Melville drove the same point home when he saved Ishmael by means of the very thing to which Long Tom’s family name refers. It is as if, at the denouement of Moby-Dick, whaleman Long Tom {310} Coffin, resurgent from the wreck of Cooper’s Ariel, rescues his fictional descendent from the fate he himself had not avoided.

Written in the years immediately prior to Cooper’s decision to rename himself, The Pilot doubled this theme of identity by taking as its title character, “The Pilot,” alias Mr. Gray, none other than the historical figure John Paul Jones. That Jones himself assumed his “family” name as part of his Americanization in 1773 (having been born simply “John Paul” in Britain in 1747) made him, as did his still occluded past in the early 1820s, a singularly telling emanation of Cooper’ s own concerns with identity, names, and the multiplicity of the self. Insofar as The Pilot represented Cooper’s attempt to touch back to the critical moment of his youth, his flight from Cooperstown in 1806 to run away to sea and, ultimately, become a naval officer himself, the novel may be said to have represented something quite separate among his earliest books. 35 Whereas Precaution (1820) had been generated by imitation, The Spy owed its origins to Cooper’s exhumation of other people’s memories of the Revolution. 36 The Pioneers grew from the intensely private and painful memories of his own family’s lost domain. The Pilot, however, signified Cooper’s attempt to imagine an alternate, mostly untried future for himself, a future whose adventurousness aptly expressed his own creative risks in the past few years. John Paul Jones’ saga was undoubtedly related to the vein Cooper had tapped in The Spy, another Revolutionary war tale, but in this other sense it had less to do with history than with fantasy. Writing it allowed Cooper to prove that he could produce a better sea tale than Scott had in The Pirate, a reprise of the competitive motivation that had led him to write Precaution, penned to prove he could write a better moral tale than the one he’d thrown down in disgust. It also allowed him to reassume his own nautical identity in what became the first of many such indulgences of his seafaring memories, including the memory of what might have been if he had stuck to the sea.

Cooper’ s own multi-named forest characters, most obviously Natty Bumppo, suggest that the theme engaged his attention preeminently in his frontier novels. In the case of his sea fiction, the pattern had an added warrant. Even keeping in mind the “Indian” origins of Natty Bumppo’s many names, one ought to observe that it is not in The Pioneers that this pattern first fully emerges, but rather in The Last of the Mohicans, which followed on the success of The Pilot and might be seen as importing from that tale at least some of its own fascination with shifting shapes, names, and identities. Water was a profoundly appropriate image, as I think Shakespeare recognized in The Tempest, for such a theme. The key scene in The Last of the Mohicans from this viewpoint occurs as Natty, hiding in the cave behind the Hudson waterfall at “Glenn’s” with the others in his party, describes the after image of the shape-shifting river as it tumbles and rumbles just outside, suggesting the debt this archetypal forest romance owed to Cooper’s memory of The Pilot and what he was at work on there. 37 Next after The Last of the Mohicans was to come The Prairie, with its pervasive sense of the tallgrass prairie as a kind of inland sea. Cooper imported that figural apprehension from his reading in the literature of western exploration, perhaps, but its power in the novel derived from the fact that Cooper took the manuscript of the first dozen chapters with him on his 1826 voyage, then finished the tale in Paris, with the result that the sea stood fresh upon his imagination when he elaborated and brought the tale to its close. Crossing on the packet ship Hudson in 1826 helped him feel intensely the land-billows of the prairie, which he had never visited.

His first novel wholly written in France, The Red Rover, completed this arc of his imagination by bringing him back to the sea itself — and, as it happens, to The Tempest. The most nautical of Shakespeare’s works supplied more of the epigraphs, or chapter “mottoes,” for this second of Cooper’s sea novels than did any other text. Although The Tempest was among Cooper’s favorite of Shakespeare’s plays, it also is worth pointing out that it figured more often in The Red Rover than in any other Cooper novel. The snatches from The Tempest include a set of five passages introducing the critical action in chapters twelve through {311} seventeen, with two slices of Macbeth in between. More importantly, the magical aura of this tale of piracy owes a good deal to the influence of Shakespeare’s mixture of sea water and salty legend. While Cooper did not here, or anywhere else, use Ariel’s “Full fathom five,” the action in his tale is saturated with the sense of profound transformation.

That was one of the gifts of Cooper’s recent experience to The Red Rover. As in most instances in his career, the gifts came indirectly. Thomas and Marianne Philbrick point out in their definitive edition of The Red Rover that two critical voyages in his past guided his imaginative navigation in this new nautical romance. While he himself commanded his whaleship Union in the years when he was just launching his literary career (1819-1822), he had sailed into Newport, the Rhode Island location in which he opened The Red Rover. Once the new book was underway, the family’s 1826 voyage on the Hudson provided the clearest charts for the ensuing action. 38 The mysterious hero, for all he owed to the conventions of romance and to Shakespeare’s own fascination with the theme of hidden or altered identity and dispossession, again sounded the intense theme of Cooper’s whole first period, the theme of his own death and resurrection. If, in The Pilot, Long Tom must die in the wreck of the Ariel — in that novel, the motto of the chapter in which Long Tom dies came from The Tempest 39 — Shakespeare’s influence is more deeply felt in The Red Rover. Renewed by the 1826 voyage, Fenimore Cooper’s love of the sea was resurgent as he settled in Paris. After washing over the depths of the American prairie, it floated again his personal fantasy of the future he had given up years before, which now became mixed in intimate ways with the actual future he was writing into existence in this very book. Giving sea room to his imagination, Cooper showed again how indirectly, but pervasively, his autobiography was freighted in the depths of his many tales. Having renamed himself before leaving America for Europe, in this first of his new European tales he could recover much of his old longing for the freedom of his seas.


1 Cooper published The Pilot in 1824. The first novel wholly written after his voyage to Europe was The Red Rover (1827), which was soon followed by The Water Witch (1830).

2 Alan Taylor, William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic (New York: Knopf, 1995), 425-427.

3 James Franklin Beard, ed., The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960-68), I:xxxviii; Robert E. Spiller, Fenimore Cooper: Critic of his Times (New York: Minton, Balch, 1931); Henry Walcott Boynton, James Fenimore Cooper (New York: Century, 1931); Marcel Clavel, Fenimore Cooper, sa vie et son oeuvre: La jeunesse (1789-1826) (Aix-en-Provence: Imprimerie Universitaire de Provence, 1938); Mary E. Phillips, James Fenimore Cooper (New York: John Lane, 1913) also drew on some of the family materials. None of these writers was given free access to the collection. Boynton claimed he had been, but his ignorance of the two Richard R. Smith letters regarding young James’ running away in the summer of 1806 to join Miranda in the fight to liberate Venezuela suggests that, if he had complete access, he did not vigorously exploit it. His book is the nearest thing we have to a narrative biography of Cooper’s life, with little attention given to the literary texts. It has a certain charm, but it does not probe for motives or search out the depths of character. Better on these other fronts is James R. Grossman’s James Fenimore Cooper (New York: William Sloane Associates, 1949), although as with Lounsbury’s James Fenimore Cooper (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1882), its obligation to comment at length on the literary texts means that Cooper’s life per se is explored only in brief segments in between critical commentaries.

4 Wayne Franklin, “Cooper Redivivus,” ESQ 39 (1993): 49-75.

5 One effect of the inaccessibility of the two collections was that some of the family stories were repeated by scholars who had no means of discrediting or verifying them. Since these stories were repeated by Beard, it was assumed that corroborating evidence was in the archive. Two signal examples of such stories have elicited “set-the-record-straight” essays from Alan Taylor. Although Taylor certainly is in the right substantively, he might have been more understanding of the odd position in which the Beard-Cooper arrangement left the scholars whom he finds wanting. Alan Taylor, “James Fenimore Cooper Goes to Sea: Two Unpublished Letters by a Family Friend,” Studies in the American Renaissance, 1993, 43-54; Alan Taylor, “Who Murdered William Cooper?,” New York History 72 (1991), 261-83. Taylor secured Paul Fenimore Cooper’s permission to use the William Cooper papers just prior to Paul’s death, becoming the first scholar aside from Beard to have unlimited access to the family archive.

6 On the indirectness of Cooper’s presence in even his most autobiographical writings, consider the manner in which he structured his five travel books as collections of fictional letters. Although the texts seem as if they were written in his own voice and are addressed to people (sometimes named) with whom he was personally intimate, so far as anyone has discovered, they are not in fact composed of actual letters ever written by Cooper as a private correspondent. Thomas L. Philbrick’s article in this issue of The American Neptune exhibits precisely how much can be done with the autobiographical strands of Cooper’s fiction. The Wallingford novels with which he deals are exceptional in this regard, as he himself emphasizes. Granville Hicks, “Landlord Cooper and the Anti-Renters,” Antioch Review, 5 (1945), 95-109, offered a dominant image of Cooper as a wealthy landowner that derived from the soft-focus representation of his economic status in the biographies then available. He also ignored Cooper’s overt political ideology.

7 Letters and Journals, 4:200-201. Cooper said that the offer embraced some eight or ten farms Elizabeth Fenimore Cooper had acquired in exchange for some property in her native New Jersey. It was not uncommon in the period for individuals to change their names for both sentimental and material reasons, which often were linked. The English actress Fanny Kemble’s American husband thus changed his name from Butler Mease to Pierce Butler, also about 1826, in order to inherit his grandfather’s property in Georgia. Frances Anne Kemble, Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839, John A. Scott, ed., (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970), xviii-xxiii.

8 Alan Taylor, “Who Murdered William Cooper”; Taylor, William Cooper’s Town, 363-71.

9 Taylor, William Cooper’s Town, 372-74; table 12, 436.

10 Letters and Journals, 5:201; Taylor, William Cooper’s Town, 374-79, 386-92.

11 Letters and Journals, 1:84, 103-104; Taylor, William Cooper’s Town, 400: “throughout the long and painful liquidation [of William Cooper’s estate following 1817], James Cooper remained strangely detached and passive, never bothering any return to Cooperstown. ... ” While Taylor faults Cooper for this passivity, one might read it as a further sign of his deep emotional distress over the family tragedy, especially given the fact that his only surviving sibling Anne and her husband George Pomeroy conspired with local speculator William Holt Averell to get as many of the spoils of the estate for themselves as they could, a topic covered in detail in my unpublished manuscript, “Family Tales.”

12 Letters and Journals, 5:201.

13 Mary E. Phillips, James Fenimore Cooper, 2-3; Henry Walcott Boynton, James Fenimore Cooper, 142-43; Stephen Railton, Fenimore Cooper, A Study of His Life and Imagination (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977), 64-65; Taylor, William Cooper’s Town, 400.

14 Journal of the Assembly of the State of New-York; at their Forty-Ninth Session (Albany: E. Crosswell, 1826), 226 (20 February 1826). Philander Benjamin Prindle, to whom Cooper addressed his 1847 letter on the subject of the name change, left a description of the 1826 petition, which he personally had seen in his capacity as clerk of the New York State Assembly. In a letter to Cooper from Albany dated 29 March 1847, Prindle wrote, “There is on the files of the Assembly of the year 1826 your petition for the authorized insertion of ‘Fenimore’ as a middle name” (Letters and Journals, 5:202, note 1. This description may have been influenced by the final form of the assembly’s decision). Cooper seems to have understood Prindle as asking permission to print the Cooper petition, or perhaps only his signature on it, in a collection of autographs Prindle was preparing for publication. It seems more likely that Prindle was asking permission to remove the document physically and place it in his private “book” of autographs. If Prindle did remove it, it probably burned with the rest of his library prior to 1890.

15 Letters and Journals, 2:412. Cooper further commented in the letter that the use of the full family name in addressing him would ensure mail would reach him, adding, perhaps in reference to his eldest brother Richard, “there is no other of the two names now but myself.”

16 Although Cooper’s works technically were anonymous, it was quickly and widely known that he was their author. In Notions of the Americans (1828), Cooper went so far as to mention, in speaking of Cooperstown, that “There resided formerly near this village, a Gentleman who is the reputed author of a series of Tales, which were intended to elucidate the history, manners, usages, and scenery of his native Country. ... One of them, (The Pioneers) is said to contain some pretty faithful sketches of certain habits and even of some individuals who were known among the earlier settlers of this very spot.” Notions of the Americans: Picked up by a Travelling Bachelor, ed. Gary Williams (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991), 216.

17 The name “Effingham” precedes “Edwards” in the order of history, but the plot’s apparent reversal makes the young man’s restoration seem like his rechristening.

18 Letters and Journals, 5:201; James H. Pickering, “Fenimore Cooper as Country Gentleman: A New Glimpse of Cooper’s Westchester Years,” New York History, 72 (1991): 299-318; Letters and Journals, 5:296-301, 318-321. Of the De Lanceys, Susan’s younger brother, William Heathcote De Lancey, later Bishop in the Episcopal Church, probably carried the most gold braid in his name, and may have been the covert object of Cooper’s imitation.

19 Letters and Journals, 3:42. Cooper noted rather poignantly in his letter to Susan that when the old man responded to his name, “I thought he spoke respectfully[,] as if he remembered the time when the name had influence in this region.” Franklin, “Family Tales.”

20 Compare the language in the certified manuscript copy of the state act, dated 9 May 1826, sent to Cooper by Archibald Campbell, Deputy Secretary of State at the time: “An Act Authorizing James Cooper to assume a middle name. Be it enacted by the People of the State of Ncw York represented in Senate and Assembly that it shall be lawful for James Cooper formerly of Cooperstown in the County of Otsego and at present of the City of New York to assume and take the middle name of Fenimore and shall hereafter be known and distinguished by the name of James Fenimore Cooper,” AAS, Cooper Papers, box 5. The reference to Cooperstown here may have derived from language used by Cooper himself in the lost petition, or, to anticipate the story a bit, may have been aimed at pinning down his ties to the Judge’s estate and his own still unresolved financial problems.

21 Notions, see note 10; Gleanings in Europe, Switrerland, historical introduction and explanatory notes by Robert E. Spiller and James F. Beard, text established by Kenneth W. Staggs and James P. Elliott (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1980), 240-41. The inner geography is a bit complex here because at the time Cooper wrote Switzerland, he was residing in Cooperstown in the summer and in New York City in the winter, so the recollection of his 1828 exchange may have been contaminated by current realities. That is, instead of recalling Otsego in the midst of Switzerland, he was recalling Switzerland in Otsego.

22 Taylor, William Cooper’s Town, 400; Letters and Journals, 5:201.

23 Letters and Journals, 1:121-24, and Beard’s note 2, 5:124-125.

24 Taylor, William Cooper’s Town, 424-25; James Fenimore Cooper, The Chronicles of Cooperstown (Cooperstown: H. & E. Phinney, 1838), 71-72.

25 Susan Fenimore Cooper, “Small Family Memories,” in James Fenimore Cooper (d. 1938), ed., Correspondence of James Fenimore Cooper, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1922), 1:52; Letters and Journals, 1:103.

26 Taylor, William Cooper’s Town, 316 and note 52; Isaac Cooper diary, 6 July 1813, New York State Historical Association, Cell. 100. Elizabeth Pomeroy, daughter of Cooper’s sister Ann, perished in infancy less than two months after Elizabeth Fenimore Cooper died in 1817. Wayne Wright, “The Cooper Genealogy,” NYSHA Library Notes, 1983, 15. James and Ann’s own sister Elizabeth, twin of their brother William, Jr., had died in childhood. Wright, 9.

27 Letters and Journals, 5:201.

28 Leslie Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel, 2ⁿᵈ ed. (New York: Dell Publishing, 1966), 201.

29 In his 1847 letter to Prindle, Cooper claimed that he began using Fenimore immediately “as part of my family name, except in discourse,” by which he meant that it became part of his signature but that he was still just “Cooper” in conversation, and that he typically signed himself “J. Fenimore Cooper,” “abbreviating the James for shortness.” For the first surviving use of the new name, see H. C. Carey & Lea to “J. Fennimore [sic] Cooper Esqr.,” 3 April 1826, AAS, Cooper Papers, Box 2. Carey and Lea’s misspelling was an ominous note for the future, as even some of Cooper’s closest friends, such as William Dunlap, persisted in getting it wrong years after the change. For the first surviving signature using the new name, see Cooper to Carey and Lea, 4 April 1826, Letters and Journals, 1:131-32.

30 Letters and Journuls, 1:125, 127-30.

31 Ned Myers; or A Life before the Mast, ed. J. Fenimore Cooper, (Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1843), 10, iv,21, 27, 26.

32 Wayne Franklin, “Cooper as Passenger,” American Neptune, Vol. 57, No. 4 (this issue).

33 Cooper, Ned Myers, 21, 19-20.

34 Lance Schachterle and Kenneth M. Anderson, eds., The Pioneers, or the Sources of the Susquehanna: A Descriptive Tale, historical and explanatory notes by James Franklin Beard (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1980), 62.

35 Franklin, “Cooper as A Passenger.”

36 Wayne Franklin, ed., The Spy, A Tale of the Neutral Ground (New York: Penguin, 1997), “Introduction.”

37 Wayne Franklin, “All Sorts of Images,” The New World of James Fenimore Cooper (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 213-48; Wayne Franklin, “The Wilderness of Words in The Last of the Mohicans. ” H. Daniel Peck, ed., New Essays on The Last of the Mohicans (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 25-45.

38 “Historical Introduction,” The Red Rover, A Tale, ed. Thomas and Marianne Philbrick (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991), xvi-xix. In keeping with my overall point here, however, note the Philbricks’ point that, aside from Precaution, The Red Rover had “less dependence on fact” than any of the tales he had so far written.

39 James Fenimore Cooper, The Pilot, chapter 24. Although Cooper highlighted its Shakespearean associations, the name of the vessel on which Long Tom dies actually derived from that of a French vessel in the service of the United States which sank under Jones’ command in the fall of 1780. Charles Henry Lincoln, A Calendar of the John Paul Jones Manuscripts in the Library of Congress (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1903), 170; John Henry Sherburne, The Life and Character of John Paul Jones, 2ⁿᵈ ed. (New York: Adriance, Sherman, 1851), 212-13.


Wayne Franklin, a native of Albany, New York, received his B.A. from Union College and holds his Ph. D in English from the University of Pittsburgh. Formerly Professor of English and Professor and Chair of American Studies at the University of Iows, in 1994 he became Davis Distinguished Professor of American Literature at Northeastern University. He is the author of Discoverers, Explorers, Settlers: The Diligent Writers of Early America (1979), The New World of James Fenimore Cooper (1982), and A Rural Carpenter’s World: The Craft in a Nineteenth-Century New York Township (1990). One of the editors of the Norton Anthology of American Literature, he founded and continues as editor of the American Land and Life series (published by the University of Iowa Press), co-edited Mapping American Culture with Michael Stainer (1993), and most recently has edited American Voices, American Lives: A Documentary Reader (1997) and Cooper’s The Spy (1997). At present, he is writing the first biography of James Fenimore Cooper to be based on full access to the family ‘s papers.