Cooper in Italy
Presented at the 3ʳᵈ Cooper Seminar, James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art at the State University of New York College at Oneonta, July, 1980.
Originally published in James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art, Papers from the 1980 Conference at State University College of New York, Oneonta and Cooperstown. George A. Test, editor. (pp. 9-23).
Copyright © 1980 by State University of New York College at Oneonta.
[May be reproduced for instructional use by individuals or institutions; commercial use prohibited.]
James Fenimore Cooper’s travel volume on Italy recounts the details of his residence in that country from October 1828 to May 1830. ¹ Italy was the last of five volumes of travels completed by Cooper between 1836 and 1835. Written in the epistolary style, these travel narratives were not prepared according to the chronological sequence of Cooper’s travels during his seven-year residence abroad (1826-1833). Had Cooper done so, Italy would have been the fourth, after his Volumes on France, England, and Switzerland, and before his volume on the Rhine and his second visit to Switzerland.
With the departure of the Coopers from Bern, on 8 October 1828, their first stay in Switzerland ended, and the happiest part of Cooper’s sojourn in Europe commenced. On the carriage that left Switzerland through the Simplon Pass, on 12 October 1826, were eight members of the family: James Fenimore and his wife, Susan Augusta; their four daughters, Susan Augusta Fenimore (fifteen years old), Caroline Martha (thirteen), Anne Charlotte (eleven), and Maria Frances (nine); their son, Paul Fenimore (four), and the novelist’s nephew William (nineteen), who had accompanied the family to Europe to act as his uncle’s secretary and copyist. Cooper had hired their driver, Caspar, in Bern to take the family and their servants to Florence, where they were to begin what would be an eighteen-month residence in Italy.
Cooper approached his new experience in a state of high anticipation. At the frontier of the first of the Italian city-states, he pulled off his cap “in reverence,” when Caspar, flourishing his whip, called out the “talismanic word, ‘Italie.’” Imagining with delight the “glowing vales and purple rocks of Parthenope,” Cooper was fully prepared to enjoy both the picturesque scenery and the artistic and historical treasures of Italy; yet he could not know at this moment, that he was beginning an encounter with a country that he would grow to love until it became the life-long object of his “dearest affections.” ² Hawthorne, Howells, and James were also to become fascinated by Italy, but none would surpass Cooper either in his response to the grace of Italian life and the beauty of the country or in the ardour of his recollections.
Leaving Milan, their first stop, the Cooper party spent successive nights at Piacenze, Parma, Modena, and Bologna, happy to be at last on the threshold of Lower, or “the true” Italy (I, ). (It would be almost half a century before Italy would be a united country.) Playfully indulging in the heightened emotion awakened in him by Italy, Cooper recalled, during the last stage of this journey, the bizarre plots of the English Gothic novels and the numerous tales of families who had been kidnapped and murdered by banditti while travelling in Italy; but despite the possibilities suggested by the stereotypes, the family arrived without incident at Florence on 22 or 23 October. Their hotel, the York, was (and is) situated at the end of the Ponte Carraia, a bridge made famous by Thomas Cole’s painting of “Sunset from the Ponte Carraia,” which had been reproduced widely in America, and may have been familiar to Cooper.
On 25 November, the family moved to permanent lodgings, a spacious apartment in the palace of a famous family. Once in the Palazzo Ricasoli, on the Via del Cocomero (now Via Ricasoli), very near the Piazza del Duomo, Cooper was readily seduced by the atmosphere of the Tuscan city. The pace of life was leisurely, and the wine of the Ricasoli vineyards was (and still is) “among the best of Tuscany” (I, 34). Uncharacteristically, Cooper fancied himself “content to vegetate here for one half my life, to say nothing of the remainder” (I, 35). The life of dolce far niente appealed greatly, and Cooper noted with interest the Tuscan ability to “make a siesta of life, and to enjoy the passing moment” (I, 34). However, while Cooper advanced these unmercantile values and envied the satisfactions they guaranteed, he realistically concluded that Americans were not yet ready to enjoy life in the Italian manner. His countrymen had “arts to acquire, and tastes to form” (I, 35), the benefits of which would be reaped by future generations of Americans, as the people Cooper observed in Florence were the beneficiaries of the energies of “the first of the Medici” (I, 35). Fully accepting the fact that commerce was essential to the culture he hoped would develop and flourish in America, he nevertheless felt saddened that compared to the Tuscan capital, which was a hundred times more interesting, New York was still commercial and provincial.
The city that was to be Cooper’s home for nine months was among the most exciting of Europe. Liberal Florence was a magnet that attracted a rich variety of visitors: travellers on the Grand Tour; refugees of political repression, such as Vieusseux, whose library was a meeting place for all sorts of intelligentsia, including Dostoievski, who used to come by to read the Russian newspapers; and emigrés of all nationalities. Leopold II, the enlightened Grand Duke of Tuscany, was also an Austrian archduke, and his court welcomed ministers from all the courts of Europe. In this cosmopolitan milieu, Cooper became a celebrity; in addition to visiting the galleries, attending the theatres and opera, and enjoying the company of American friends, he developed close ties to the families of Louis Bonaparte, ex-King of Holland, and Camille Borghese, widower of Pauline Bonaparte, the beautiful and capricious sister of Louis and Napoleon I. He had an audience at the Pitti Palace, dressing up for the occasion, somewhat self- consciously, in lace, frills, and a sword, and found he was the recipient of the respectful and special attention of the Grand Duke himself.
Cooper took two trips from the Villa Ricasoli. The first was a short journey in December by carriage to Lucca, Pisa, and Leghorn with his friend Gouverneur Wilkins. The second was occasioned by business. Despite the distractions of carnival, Cooper had worked steadily on The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish and was ready in February to print it. Intending to go to Paris, he set out alone by malle- post; and after two days at Genoa, he left for Marseilles, travelling by post along the Italian and French rivieras. Arriving in Marseilles on 5 March and learning that he would be able to print neither in Paris nor in Marseilles, he sailed back to Leghorn on an English brig and returned to Florence. There, he finally printed the novels at the Dante’s Head Press, at the order of the Duke and with the assistance of the Grand Duke’s Librarian. Before leaving Florence, Cooper presented a copy of this novel to Leopold.
In the spring, the family rented the Villa St. Illario, in the hills beyond the Porta Romana, to escape the intense heat of the city, and moved to it on 1 May 1829. Here, Cooper revelled in the songs of the contadini and the melody of the bells chiming continually in the valley. He delighted, as always, in the picturesque scenery and was stirred by the sight of the religious processions as they wound their way, with flickering torches and solemn chants, past his belvedere to the Church of St. Illario, just across a narrow lane from his villa. Indeed, the rituals of the Catholic church were spectacles that evoked in Cooper, as in Hawthorne and James, a genuinely warm response; and in Italy, he clearly espoused a more liberal attitude than the vast majority of Americans, who were incredibly intolerant towards Roman Catholicism and Roman Catholics. In this, and in more mundane matters as well, he revealed a sophistication rare among Americans of the time. While at the villa, Cooper discovered what he conceived to be the ultimate perfection of taste: “a single fresh fig, as a corrective after the coup” (I, 112). quite consciously, Cooper presents in Italy, through his discussions of subjects as diverse as scenery, art, religious rituals, and Tuscan cuisine, his singularly good taste.
The Coopers left their villa on 31 July 1829 and travelled to Leghorn, where Cooper engaged a Genovese felucca, with a crew of ten, in which the family sailed to Naples, stopping off as they wished during the six-day voyage along the spectacular coast. Cooper took command, exercising his marine skills. The party docked for shore excursions at Porto Ferraio, Piombino, Troia, and Civita Vecchia, the old entrance to Rome by the sea. Fascinated by the Tyrrhenian Sea, its scenery and associations, Cooper was later to recreate this world in The Wing- and-Wing (1842). Despite the malaria in the marshes south of Rome, Cooper reveled in the unsurpassed nocturnal beauty of the landscape around Ostia, intermingled with “this subtle and secret danger” (I, 149). Finally, the panorama of the glorious bay of Naples presented itself, with its “thousands of objects of interest, that embrace nearly all of known time” (I, 152). Cooper, the historian and lover of architecture and landscape, was mesmerized by the picturesque view.
After ten days of seeing the sights of Naples and searching for a suitable house, the Coopers moved to Sorrento on 20 August 1829. Their villa was famous — and popular with tourists — for it was reputed to have been the birthplace of Tasso, who was then much in vogue. The view from the terrace, which Cooper described in The Water-Witch (1830), most of which was written there, included “every object of interest on the bay, from Ischia to the promontory of Vico” (I, 184). The family took inland walks and expeditions by donkey in the hills behind Sorrento. They rowed under the cliffs beneath their villa, crossed the bay in a rented pinnace, or took excursions in a larger boat around the entire bay. Cooper’s tours from this house were journeys through time as well as through space: Vesuvius and Pompeii recalled Pliny and Caesar; and the Baian shore evoked St. Paul and Virgil. Inherent in the pleasure Cooper took in these settings was his perception of them as “picturesque”: the ravishing and magical scenery of mountain villages or rocky towns like Ischia “more resembled a fairy picture than one of the realities of this everyday world of ours” (I, 214). Cooper ultimately came to prefer the witchery of Italian landscape even to the grandeur of that of Switzerland, of which one might weary (I, 215-216). On one occasion, when visiting a beautifully-situated monastery above Naples, both the scenery and the solitude prompted a desire, as he later recalled, to “become a monk in order to remain there for life” (I, 233).
When the tramontana began to chill their exposed position in Sorrento, the family retreated for a short time to Naples, where Cooper again frequented the Museum and took special interest in watching the unrolling and deciphering of the manuscripts found at Herculaneum. The Coopers left for Rome at the beginning of December, making over-night stops at Capua, Mola di Gaeta, Terracina, and Velletri. When they left the last inn at Albano, Cooper was excited at the prospect of “seeing Rome before night” (II, 72). Impatiently, he walked ahead of the carriages to get the first glimpse, a preparing for a moment that “can occur but once in a whole life” (II, 60). Once they sighted it, the family rode in awe to the Eternal City “absolutely silent and contemplative” (II, 62). Even before eating dinner, Cooper walked with Paul to St. Peter’s, where, he later wrote, at the sight of the glorious basilica, “tears forced themselves from my eyes” (II, 66).
Temporarily, the family stayed at the Hotel de Paris, but soon moved to an apartment: in the Via Ripetta, number 50, with windows overlooking the Tiber and St. Peter’s. During the five-month residence, Cooper continued to work on The Water-Witch, and daily he rode or galloped about the environs of Rome with Adam Mickiewicz or Jean Etienne Duby, astride a snow-white Chigi, from which position he was better able to see over the walls. In addition, he visited the museums, churches, and classical ruins. The cosmopolitan society that Florence had afforded was equally available in Rome. American friends, the Bonaparte and Borghese families, and other Italians, Poles, and Russians, for example, entertained Cooper. Activities included a splendid reception at the Palazzo Borghese and a picnic on Monte Mario, given by the Russian princess Volkanskaya.
The appearance of the first blades of grass in March once more heralded the approach of spring and the Carnival, but, as he later recollected, even before the amusements of that festivity, Cooper was wishing that his “lot had been cast in Rome” (II, 156). Holy Week ended, and, after a visit to Tivoli and to a few remaining sights they had not seen, the Cooper family left Rome for Dresden on 15 April 1830, taking over-night lodgings along the ancient route at Civita Castellana, Terni, Foligno, Tolentino, Loreto (where they visited the shrine of the Santa Casa), Ancona, Fano, Rimini, Forli, Bologna, Ferrara, and Padua, the last stop before their arrival at the Leone Bianco in Venice at the end of April.
The ten-day stay in Venice, mainly in lodgings near Piazza San Marco, proved to be a significant one for Cooper. “No other place ever struck my imagination so forcibly; and never before did I experience so much pleasure in so short a time” (II, 211), he later wrote. His impressions of the floating city with its gondolas and architecture reminiscent of the “Arabian Nights” (II, 209) were soon to appear in The Bravo (1831). At the end of the first week of May, the family left Venice for Dresden. When he turned to take a last look at Italy, Cooper did not want to leave: “I have never yet quitted any country with one half the regret that I quitted Italy. Its nature, its climate, its recollections, its people even, had been gradually gaining on my affections for near two years, and I felt that reluctance to separate, that one is apt to experience on quitting his own house” (II, 235). Mrs. Cooper noted that Italy was the only country her husband had ever left “looking over a shoulder” (II, 234).
The regret with which Cooper left Italy recurred to him, and shortly after leaving, he wrote to the American sculptor Horatio Greenough: “Italy haunts my dreams and clings to my ribs like another wife.” ³ After the return to the United States, his writings continued to show his affection for Italy. At times of stress, he escaped through memory to “the only region of the earth that I truly love.” ⁴ In 1838, after the publication of Italy, and at a particularly disappointing period of his life, he wrote to Greenough: “My heart is in Italy, and has been ever since I left it. ... I could wish to die in Italy.” ⁵
Cooper’s experiences in Italy were not to take any formal shape for seven years, although as early as 1828 he had been planning a series of travel volumes based on his residence abroad. On 19 November 1836, having completed his works on Switzerland and France, he wrote from Cooperstown to his English publisher, Richard Bentley, offering England and promising that Italy would soon follow. ⁶ By 6 March 1837, he was able to assure Bentley: “Italy is now under way.” ⁷
Circumstances could not have been worse for the writer. He was more than usually worried about finances because of the general depression. He was also embroiled in an ugly confrontation with townspeople over their use of Three Mile Point, a piece of private property to which they had wrongly assumed a right (II, 83-84). And engaged both in planning and preparing The American Democrat, The Chronicles of Cooperstown, and The History of the Navy of the United States and in reading proof for England, he did not have the leisure necessary to make Italy what he wished it to be. He was, moreover, receiving only discouraging reactions from his American and English publishers to his continuing to work at all on the unprofitable travel series. A letter received from Bentley on 9 April 1837 in reply to Cooper’s letter of 19 November 1836 (see above) expressed “the hope that I may shortly have it in my power to announce another Work of Fiction from your pen.” ⁸ Yet, because he “loved the subject,” he continued to work on Italy (I. [iii]).
As Cooper prepared Italy for publication, he consulted his Journal entries for his Italian sojourn, twelve pages in all, written between 13 October 1828 and 7 October 1829. There are three groups of entries made at two separate intervals during his first year of residence. Four entries (14 October to 17 October 1828), which are notes on Cooper’s early impressions of Italy and of his three overnight stops at Milan, Piacenza, and Parma, became the first fifteen pages of Italy, volume I. ⁹ A second group of entries (31 July to 27 September ? 1829), sixteen dated, with additional undated material, which were presumably undertaken when the family was once again in transit and cover the departure from Florence, the passage to Naples, and Sorrento, were developed into approximately seventy- five pages of Italy, volume I. ¹⁰ Four final entries (27 September to 7 October 1829), about the stay at Sorrento, became four pages of Italy, volume I. ¹¹ Thus, a little over one-third of the first volume is an expansion of Cooper’s own jottings while abroad.
That Cooper clearly had the intention of using his skeletal entries for a more substantial treatment is suggested by such terse directions to himself as: “Describe position of Naples.” ¹² Relying on his remarkable memory, he finally used the meager and sketchy details, with their anecdotal and telegraphic style, to reconstruct events almost nine years later. Just how extraordinary was his ability to recollect is seen by comparing the terse entry in his Journal for 11 August 1829: “Beautiful villa of Cardinal Ruffo. Splendid scenery of the Bay” ¹³ with the meticulously detailed and vividly realized description he finally wrote (I, 180-182).
In the margins of his copy of Engelmann and Reichard’s Manuel pour les Voyageurs en Allemagne et dans les Pays Limitrophes, Cooper entered a few comments about visits to Genoa (26-28 February 1829) and, opposite their names, to Bologna, Venice, Verona, and Trento, stops in Italy on the way to Dresden (25 April to 8 May 1830). ¹⁴ He also used these to stimulate his memory, and the few lines were fleshed out and incorporated into both volume I and volume II of Italy, the terse notation of arrival at and departure from Venice, for example, becoming more than three chapters of volume II.
The absence of any additional notes on his months in Italy required Cooper to consult other sources. Of the guidebooks he read, he made the most frequent use of the sections on Rome in a book by Mariano Vasi. ¹⁵ In Italy, Cooper refers to Vasi as his authority and several times mentions him by name. Although Cooper’s narrative on Rome records his own experiences and general observations, he took all specific facts, measurements, and dates from Vasi, sometimes translating the contexts word for word. Thus, the Rome section in Italy often sounds like a popular guidebook. (There is merely slight evidence that Cooper used Vasi’s guidebook on Naples at all. Yet, like Vasi, he deviates from the usual practice in nineteenth-century guidebooks in using “Pausilippo” for Posilipo, “Silaro” for the river Sele, and “Suessa Auruncorum” instead of Suessa Aurunca for the ancient name of Sessa.) ¹⁶
Cooper also mentions another source of material. In the five-page section on his visit to the Santa Casa at Loreto (II, 184-189), he gives a one-paragraph summary of its history and refers to “a little book sold on the spot” as his source. One guide, popular at the time, told the story of the shrine in nine pages. ¹⁷ Cooper’s succinct account, however, while similar in its use of a few names and a date, introduces a different time span, angels, “a lady named Laureta,” and more closely parallels the story of the Santa Casa recounted by John Chetwode Eustace in A Classical Tour Through Italy. ¹⁸
Cooper was eager to make his travel volumes different from others published by American and English tourists. His title reflects his oft-repeated reminder to his readers that he had promised “nothing but the gleanings that are to be had after the harvests gathered by those who have gone before me” (I, 84). Thus, hoping to avoid repetitious details, he read carefully the works of Eustace; Nathaniel Hazletine Carter, ¹⁹ Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, ²⁰ Louis Simond, ²¹ and Mariana Starke, ²² but did not rely heavily on them. For not only was he interested in writing a different kind of book and, thus, not in need of models, but he also had learned to distrust sources. In Italy he describes, for example, his frustration at an attempt to discover the dimensions of the Vatican from Starke (II, 147-148), and he takes issue with Carter twice over the reliability of his statements about Italian scorpions and Venice (I, 142 and II, 226).
Cooper intended that Italy should be a picturesque book, like Gleanings in Europe: Switzerland, and had so informed his English publisher, Bentley, in a letter written in April 1837. ²³ Like his European contemporaries, he had inherited the popular mode of perceiving landscape known as the picturesque. Throughout Italy, he reveals a predisposition for scenery that embodies the painterly values of Claude Lorrain and Salvator Rosa, for example, from whom the picturesque traveller had learned how to see. Employing in Italy a style analogous to that of the artists published in The Yearbook of Landscape (London, 1830-1839), Cooper represented in words the landscape scenery of Italy, using even the vocabulary of the picturesque. ²⁴ In his extended description of the view of the Bay of Naples, “the parent of all Ideal Landscape,” ²⁵ from the villa of Cardinal Ruffo (I, 180-182), Cooper creates a picture in prose that recalls the work of Samuel Prout and J. M. W. Turner (who illustrated Samuel Rogers’ Italy), both of whom were much admired by John Ruskin for their scenes of Italy. Throughout Italy, Cooper shapes and enriches his work through his recreation of the perspective of the picturesque traveller.
In March 1837, when Cooper had written to his English publisher, Bentley, offering Italy for £300, he had added as necessary encouragement: “Perhaps this book, which I think is more poetical than the First Part of Switzerland, and a little unique, and without politics, will do better with you than any other.” ²⁶ Just before finishing Italy, Cooper again wrote to Bentley on 14 April: “The work on Italy is nearly done. It will be very much of the character of First part of Switzerland, a picturesque book, rather than a political, with a few more touches of society. As you say you have not done much with the two last, you shall have it at £200.” Inviting a prompt response, Cooper told Bentley that the work would be “ready to be sent about the last of June.” ²⁷
This same month, Cooper’s American publisher, Carey, who was suffering from the effects of the financial panic of 1837, refused Italy. While he could understand Cooper’s need for money, he could not risk in a depression the loss he had absorbed with the earlier travel volumes. By 6 July 1837, Cooper had received two letters from Bentley. The first, dated 1 May 1837, replied to Cooper’s offer of Italy and stated: “I shall be happy ... to place at your disposal the sum of £150 leaving the remaining moiety contingent upon the sale of the Work.” ²⁸ The second accepted Italy for the sum Cooper had mentioned, £200, ²⁹ and Bentley’s records for December 1837 show that it was paid. ³⁰
Cooper acknowledged receipt of both letters on 6 July 1837 and notified Bentley that both Italy and a bill for £200 in care of Roskell and Ogden, would sail on 8 July on the Pennsylvania. ³¹ The manuscript was temporarily lost, ³² but by 5 August Bentley had received both Italy and Cooper’s letter and acknowledged them in writing. ³³Excursions in Italy was published in England on 12 February 1838 in 2 volumes (post 800), in an edition of 1000 copies. The selling price was 21 shillings. ³⁴
In a letter to Carey, 8 September 1837, Cooper had explained his publishing arrangements with Bentley for Italy, and, noting that he had sent the manuscript and would be receiving the sheets from Bentley, he disingenuously hinted: “As the entire series makes a complete work, I suppose you would like to have it.” ³⁵ Carey and Lea were still not enthusiastic. They wrote on 13 September: “We do not know what to say of Italy. Since you were here we have not put to press a single new volume and the success of your last eight volumes, we are sorry to say, presents us with no inducement to go on. We certainly have not made one cent by them thus far to pay us for capital and time employed in them — With such results before us we certainly have no inducement to undertake Italy as a speculation.” However, they suggested: “If you are anxious it should come from the same press as the others, we would be willing to print 750 copies & if it should produce any profit divide it between us —” ³⁶ Records in their cost book for May 1838, show that, eventually, 1000 copies, each costing seventy-eight cents, were printed and Cooper received $200. ³⁷
On 12 May 1838, the Bibliographie de la France announced that a French edition of Italy had been published. ³⁸ The precise date, the size of this edition, and the existence of any subsequent re-impression are not known. During the same month, on 28 May 1838, the American edition appeared. Since this edition, Italy has never been reprinted, although excerpts appeared in Pages and Pictures, edited by Cooper’s daughter Susan. ³⁹
Compared to the reception of the previously-published travel books, the reviews of Italy were generally favorable, particularly in America, where Cooper’s Anglophobia was well-known. In England, the earliest review of Italy, in the Spectator (17 February 1838) was laudatory, citing the novelty of Cooper’s handling of a familiar subject:
Mr. Cooper is not a general or commonplace man. He may be a harsh, searching, close, critical, and true; and, however unpleasant such a man’s judgments may be, they are more easily carped at than set aside. ... In addition ... he has natural faculties of observation trained by long exercise to a high degree of excellence; he has habits of analysis and reflection; and both these qualities enable him to see deeper into things than most other people. He has an expansion of mind, arising from habits of extensive speculation, which lifts him far above the vulgar absurdities or well-bred emptiness of the herd. ... To all which may be added, his nativity, which gives him to see European usages with American eyes. ⁴⁰
A review in The Literary Gazette, and Journal of the Belles Lettres (17 February) also noted that Cooper’s being an American lent an interest to the generally “pleasing” work for English readers. Not surprisingly, however, the reviewer called attention to what he believed to be the unfairness of Cooper’s dislike of the English (” ... it is particularly against England and the English, that his spleen and dislike are continually thrust into notice. ... Heaven knows we have faults enow, but Mr. Cooper won’t allow us any good qualities”), affirmed that disrespect toward Americans was all in Cooper’s mind, and dismissed Cooper’s deeply felt conviction with the words: “Pooh, folly!” ⁴¹ Alone among the English reviews, and without mentioning any anti-English bias, The Athenaeum: Journal of English and Foreign Literature, Science, and the Fine Arts (17 February) found it to be trivial, “characterless,” and not worth the money. ⁴²
The American reviews were, for the most part, positive. In Philadelphia, the daily National Gazette (26 May) expressed pleasure that Cooper’s “very agreeable volumes,” were happily devoid of “second hand enthusiasm.” ⁴³The Morning Courier and New-York Enquirer (30 May) found Italy “more entertaining than any other of his recent productions — somewhat more lively, and good natured.” ⁴⁴The New York American (2 June) also found the volumes on Italy “the two most attractive of the series” for their agreeable tone, originality, and spirit. ⁴⁵
A concise review in The New Yorker (2 June), which declared Cooper to be “in many respects our best writer,” praised his “acute powers of observation and research” in an entertaining and instructive work. ⁴⁶Waldie’s Select Circulating Library (5 June) gave muted praise, however, preferring Cooper “in his original walk” as a novelist. (A word to the printer adds that “his proofs are remarkably incorrect, a fault in books of the price set upon these which the public should never pardon.”) ⁴⁷ A succinct review in The New-York Mirror (16 June) called Italy entertaining for the very reason that it was “imbued throughout with the peculiar anti-English prejudices of the author.” ⁴⁸
The Knickerbocker (June) noticed a lack of “political and personal prejudices” in Italy and expressed gratitude for Cooper’s feeling for the “beauties and grandeur of nature” and for the conditions of people in his “spirited, entertaining, unhackneyed, and agreeable” book. ⁴⁹Ladies Companion (1 July) judged Italy to be “rich in language — brilliant in delineation — graphic and interesting in description”. ⁵⁰ Cooper’s ecstatic response to Italian scenery was noted by the lengthy review, which appeared in two parts in The Hesperian: or, Western Monthly Magazine (July and August). The reviewer found Italy candid, earnest, and more authoritative than “any others at present in our memory,” particularly in its unprejudiced, high appraisal of Italian character. ⁵¹ Ten pages of excerpts from Italy were published the following month. ⁵²
The majority of the American reviews noted Cooper’s anti-English prejudices. Some, such as those in the National Gazette and The Hesperian (July), cheerfully called attention to the fact that, as the latter stated, Cooper never missed “a good opportunity of peppering the Britons with grape and canister.” ⁵³ Others went further. The New-York Mirror found Italy entertaining for the very reason of Cooper’s Anglophobia, while The New Yorker thought the “habitual sourness” with regard to the English had a useful purpose in providing relief for “the pencilings of Italy.”
One review censured Cooper for being anti-American. Asserting contemptuously that America and Americans are “the particular objects of [Cooper’s] scorn and contempt,” the reviewer in the American Monthly Magazine (July) asked rhetorically: “Why does he not return to his admired Italy? Why does he waste the fruits of his genius on money-getters and money- lenders? We beg leave to suggest that he decamp forthwith, and take his publishers with him.” Citing “sneer, number one,” and “Sneer, number two,” the reviewer scolded: “Next to abusing your Mother, we can conceive of no more elegant recreation than that of vilifying your country.” Calling attention to a negative remark that Cooper had made in Italy about American art, culture, scenery, and cities, he concluded that if Cooper would really prefer to live in Rome, his political brethren ... would be induced ... to furnish him with a charger in the shape of a rail, and a full parade-dress of tar and feathers. ⁵⁴
Despite the critical acceptance of Italy, Cooper had disappointed his own hopes for the book. In the summer of 1838, he confessed to Greenough: “I have not done justice to Italy nor myself, in the book on that country — I did think to make it a pleasant book of its sort, but the failure is owing to circumstances I could not control. I wanted time to do what I think I could easily have done, with such a subject.” ⁵⁵ To this same friend, he later admitted sadly that Italy had been wrongly preferred over England and that, in his judgment, there was “no comparison” between the two. ⁵⁶
The thirty-three Letters that constitute Italy narrate chronologically Cooper’s experience there. His language in Italy is filled with superlatives, and it is clear that of all the countries he had visited, Cooper loved Italy most. Yet, as he wrote, other elements, apart from those mentioned earlier, crept into his narrative: his justified anger, for example, at the memory of English attitudes toward America and Americans and at the readiness with which his countrymen still continued to accept English opinion. Always the social critic, he wove into the text of Italy his sometimes harsh judgments about and his often misunderstood aspirations for American life. Thus, Italy became much more than a narrative of the author’s sojourn in Italy. Although Cooper’s critical stance occasionally suggests his darker mood at the time of composition, it is his happy recollections of the country that ultimately predominate in the tone of the book. Italy remains the most sympathetic and unprejudiced presentation of Italian life written by an American traveller in the nineteenth century and among the most perceptive accounts of a sophisticated American sensibility coming to terms with that culture.
1. Gleanings in Europe: Italy, 2 vols. (Philadelphia, 1838). Subsequent references to this volume, hereafter cited as Italy, will appear in the text. First published in England with the title Excursions in Italy (London, 1838), this work is soon to be published by the State University of New York Press in a definitive edition, edited by Constance Ayers Denne, with the title of the American edition.
2. James Fenimore Cooper, Sketches of Switzerland, Part I, vol. II (Philadelphia, 1836), pp. 217, 239.
3. The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper, ed. James Franklin Beard 6 vols. (Cambridge, Mass., 1960-1968), II, 371. (Hereafter cited as Letters and Journals).
4. Ibid., III, 233.
5. Ibid., III, 329-330.
6. Ibid., III, 249.
7. Ibid., III, 258.
8. Letters and Journals, III, 249, n.2.n
9. Ibid., I, 351-353.
10. Ibid., I, 373-384.
11. Ibid., I, 392-393.
12. Ibid., I, 379.
13. Ibid., I, 380.
14. Julius Bernard Engelmann and Heinrich August Ottokar Reichard, Manuel pour les Voyageurs en Allemagne et dans les Pays Limitrophes (Frankfurt sur le Mein, 1827). As described in Letters and Journals, I. 362-363, n.1.; and 413-414, n.3.
15. Itinéraire de Rome et de Ses Environs, 3ʳᵈ ed. (Rome, 1829).
16. As noted in Mariano Vasi, A New Picture of Naples, and Its Environs (London, 1820), pp. 125, 127, 133; p. 326; and p. 44, the only edition available to me that predates Cooper’s visit. This guidebook is illustrated, has a plan of Naples, and guide to each of the posts along the route. See also I, 195, 206, 220; and II, 14, 51.
17. The abbot of the Basilica at Loreto, Vincenzo Murri, published a 214-page Dissertazione Critico-Istorica sulla Identita della Santa Casa di Nazarette (Loreto, 1791). Eventually, it was abridged by the author for the use of pilgrims to the shrine. Over the years, this shorter book or pamphlet was distributed or sold regularly in at least two languages, French and Italian, for in 1809, a translation into French of the abridged version, Abrégé Historique des Translations Prodigieuses de la Sainte Maison de Nazarete (Loreto, 1809), 47 pp., was published at Loreto; and in 1828, a fifth edition of the abridged version in Italian, Relazione Istorica delle Prodigiose Traslazioni della Santa Casa di Nazarete (Loreto, 1828), 72 pp., was published at Loreto.
18. John Chetwode Eustace, A Classical Tour Through Italy, 4 vols. (London, 1821), I, 302.
19. Nathaniel Hazletine Carter, Letters from Europe (New York, 1827).
20. Lord Wharncliffe, ed., The Letters and Works of Lady Mary Worley Montagu (London, 1837). See II, 215.
21. Louis Simond, A Tour in Italy and Sicily, (London, 1828). See Letters and Journals, I, 374.
22. Mariana Starke, Travels in Europe (London, 1828).
23. Letters and Journals, III, 261-262.
24. Compare Cooper’s use of the word “whole” (I, 182) with William Gilpin’s definition in An Essay Upon Prints (London, 1768): “The idea of one object, which a picture should give in its comprehensive view,” p. ix.
25. Christopher Hussey, The Picturesque: Studies in a Point of View (London, 1967), p. 85.
26. Letters and Journals, III, 258.
27. Ibid., III, 261-262.
28. Ibid., III, 258, n.4.
29. Ibid., III, 262, n.2.
30. BM Add MS 46, 676 A.
31. Letters and Journals, III, 268.
32. In A List of the Principal Publications Issued from New Burlington Street during the Year 1838, (London, 1894), a brief note appears as an entry under 12 February: “Postal conditions at this time being very different to what they are at present, it may be perhaps interesting to subjoin an excerpt from the letter-book of the House for 1837.” The receipt is from a letter sent on 7 August 1837 to Roskell, Ogden and Co., Liverpool, by E. S. Morgan, for Richard Bentley: “The temporary loss of Mr. Cooper’s manuscript to which you allude in your letter of the 1ˢᵗ inst. was occasioned by reprehensible carelessness of those to whose custody it was entrusted. By some blundering person the parcel, which should have been forwarded was actually put into the Post Office.”
33. Letters and Journals, III, 269, n.2.
34. BM Add MS 46, 637.
35. Letters and Journals, III, 289.
36. Ibid., III, 289-290, n.1.
37. Photostat of a page from he cost book of Carey, Lea and Blanchard for 1838. David Kaser, ed., The Cost Book of Carey and Lea: 1835-1838 (Philadelphia, 1963) does not include this information.
38. Bibliographie de la France (Paris, 1838), 2391-2392.
39. Susan Fenimore Cooper, The Cooper Gallery; or, Pages and Pictures from the Writings of James Fenimore Cooper (New York, 1865), pp. 200-229 and 241- 248.
40. The Spectator, 11, no. 503 (17 February 1838), 161. This review was reprinted in Museum of Foreign Literature, 33 (May 1838), 77-79.
41. The Literary Gazette, and Journal of the Belles Lettres, no. 1100 (17 February 1838), 100-101.
42. The Athenaeum: Journal of English and Foreign Literature, Science, and the Fine Arts, no. 538 (17 February 1838), 124.
43. The National Gazette (26 May 1838), p. 2.
44. The Morning Courier and New-York Enquirer (30 May 1838). p, 2.
45. The New-York American (2 June 1838), p. 3.
46. The New Yorker, 5 (June 1838), 173. Subsequent references are to the same page.
47. Waldie’s Select Circulating Library, 23 (5 June 1838), 4.
48. The New-York Mirror, 15 (16 June 1838), 407.
49. The Knickerbocker, 11 (June 1838), 560.
50. Ladies Companion (1 July 1838), 149.
51. The Hesperian: or, Western Monthly Magazine, 1 (July 1838), 254-255.
52. The Hesperian, 1 (August 1838), 305-315.
53. The Hesperian, 1 (July 1838), 251.
54. American Monthly Magazine, 12 (July 1838), 75, 78, 82.
55. Letters and Journals, III, 330.
56. Ibid., III, 334.