The State of Fenimore Cooper–James F. Beard Affairs

Kay S. House (Editor-in-Chief, Cooper Edition)

Presented at the 8ᵗʰ Cooper Seminar, James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art at the State University of New York College at Oneonta, July, 1991.

Originally published in James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art (No. 8), Papers from the 1991 Conference, State University of New York College — Oneonta and Cooperstown. George A. Test, editor. (pp. 1-8).

Copyright © 1991, State University of New York College at Oneonta.

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

This will be a report on the Cooper Edition and the James F. Beard legacy in general. Sorting through what we have done to date and what we are going to try to do, I remembered some of our early editorial plans that will be familiar to a few of you but news to the rest.

When we began editing Cooper’s works, we planned to track down and make a central depository of the sources for his epigraphs — what he called “mottoes.” His notes to printers say “motto, turn over” and he generally wrote these on the back of the first page of a chapter. His letters speak of reading proof and “mottoing” chapters simultaneously so that we can probably assume that he wrote the chapter first and then “mottoed” it later. If I am right about this, it would be a clue to what Cooper thought, on completing a chapter, the chapter was primarily about. We never did get around to making this collection, 1 although a good start at one could be made by going through the printed volumes now out in the SUNY edition. Our most maddening failure, stretching over the longest time (since Jim Beard had librarians working on this long before the Edition even got started) is our inability to identify Duo — that elusive publication that Cooper quoted from four times in The Spy (1821), three times in The Pioneers (1823), and once in The Pilot (1824). Not even the impressive editors of the Library of America could help us out with this one when they came to reprint our texts in their edition.

Another of our mystery quotations spans an interesting number of years. The “Lines on Trippe” which Cooper quoted from in The Pilot in 1824 appear again in The Two Admirals which was published in 1842. In the eighteen years between the two works, Cooper had discarded many of his papers, broken up his household, gone to Europe and moved around there for almost eight years before returning to the United States. Trippe was a naval officer particularly remembered for heroism during a boarding mission off Tripoli in 1804, and it is quite possible that Cooper himself wrote the lines he quotes, but we have failed to find the original in any form. 2

Not only have we never managed to stock a central depository of Cooper sources but, so far as I know, no one has tried to do what Jay Leyda did for Melville or what others have done for Hawthorne in checking borrowings of books from public and private libraries. Those of us who have been doing some editing have been able to help each other, but no one has compiled a list of the references we know Cooper used.

Another area of editorial collaboration was never discussed in our original plans, but has evolved as the editing work progressed. This is shared information about Cooper’s spelling and handwriting. In reading manuscripts, it helps to be aware that Cooper misspelled many i-e and e-i words, that fortnight was forthnight, regularly was regularily, singularly was singularily, and particularly, particularily. Like others writing at the {2} time, he often spelled words ending in c, such as heretic and scientific, with an added k on the end. We also were able to help each other with Cooper’s handwriting. One tricky matter of punctuation, for instance, is Cooper’s use of a short dash, low on the line, as a period. In the manuscript these are clearly distinguishable from the ordinary dash — once you are aware that he uses two kinds. Also, we have been able to agree that certain letters, such as s, r, and q at the beginning of a word can be either lower case or capitals. Only their function determines which is meant.

Another cooperative effort that all editors have been involved in was exchanging copies of criticism of Cooper that we discovered in the course of looking for the reception of the work we were editing. As you know, the SUNY editions are interested only in the reception of a work at the time of publication and in the ensuing years until Cooper’s death in 1851. This project of collecting the contemporary 19ᵗʰ century criticism is currently incomplete, but I want to return to this subject later.

Jim Beard died unexpectedly of congestive heart failure; he clearly intended to live for at least another decade and his books and papers were consequently in a state of disarray. When Jim died on December 14, 1989, his son-in-law (a bright and likable attorney unlike most of Cooper’s fictional lawyers) ordered his office and his room at the library of Clark University sealed. I’ve been told that Security and the Building and Grounds personnel set a record for promptness in complying, so that we have no reason to suspect that anything Jim had at Clark is missing. Joel Greene, the son-in-law, has in his law firm a graduate of the University of Illinois school of library science and she, Ashley Edwards, put together the 180 boxes of books and papers that Jim had at the University. She did this in an orderly fashion, separating the books by Cooper from hooks about Cooper and so forth. But the big question that had to be answered she could not, of course, answer. That was simply, “Why did Jim have this book?” If it was not a volume by Cooper, was it for the biography of Cooper? Was it for one of the Cooper novels being edited? Was it for the collection of Cooper criticism? Or was it something he used for his own teaching? (I think some of us tended to forget that Jim was, after all, carrying a fairly full teaching load much of the time.)

It became obvious to most of us that someone who was familiar with Jim’s various projects had to step in. Legally, Jim’s agreement with the Cooper family had terminated with his death, and much of the material in his collection had to revert to the Coopers, represented by Henry S. F. Cooper, Jr., who writes for The New Yorker, as you probably know. Matters were further complicated by the fact that Paul Fenimore Cooper had also died suddenly, leaving the collection of manuscripts that Jim had drawn on for the Letters and Journals, and still other manuscripts, to the American Antiquarian Society.

Until this time, the Editorial Board, with Jim as its head, had been running the Edition, and the Advisory Committee had been largely honorary. The late Robert Spiller had not been active for years prior to his death. Clifton Waller Barrett has done us enormous favours, such as purchasing the complete manuscript of The Pathfinder, but his health is failing. Clark {3} University had been represented by a number of different people, and SUNY press is represented by its head, Bill Eastman. Marcus McCorison was on the committee for the American Antiquarian Society, the other sponsoring institution besides Clark University, and Henry S. F. Cooper represented the Cooper family. The original agreement with the family, the press, and the sponsoring institutions, dated February 14, 1979, had specified that the Advisory Committee should include a representative of the Editorial Board. James Beard had always been that representative although he never listed himself as such. The Advisory Committee’s function, according to the 1979 agreement, was consultative only until the death or disability of the Editor-in-Chief made it necessary to replace him, at which time the Advisory Committee was to become active.

And so it did, with Henry S. F. Cooper and Marcus McCorison shouldering most of the responsibility for moving the Edition along. Concurring with the wishes of the majority of the Editorial Board that I replace Jim, the Advisory Committee appointed me Editor-in-Chief for five years beginning June 1, 1990. They also added me to the Advisory Committee to represent the Editorial Board, and added as well Thomas Tanselle, of the Guggenheim Foundation, and Ralph Franklin, librarian at Yale University.

We are fortunate to have so able and energetic a person as Marcus McCorison as the new head of the Advisory Committee. As President and Librarian of the American Antiquarian Society, he was doubly involved with the Edition. The late Paul Fenimore Cooper’s collection came down to AAS during the summer of 1990, and the will of James Beard designated AAS as the primary beneficiary of the editions and papers he had collected. Like the Coopers, the Beard family has been very generous in donating all the things Jim had acquired at considerable expense of energy as well as money. I was present when an official appraiser arrived to go through the first editions Jim owned. He was disappointed to find out that Jim’s copy of The Spy was imperfect — lacking a few pages — since otherwise the first edition would have been worth some $12,000. Imperfect as most of them are — and battered by Hinman collation as some are — Jim’s books still represent a considerable investment and AAS is taking good care of them.

Once I was appointed Editor, I could start sorting through the 180 brown boxes that were clogging the corridors (and blocking some of the fire exits) in Joel Greene’s office. When we had a preliminary sorting job done in the legal offices, I moved on to the house — which was chock-a-block with more books and papers. All materials pertaining to the editing of The Spy, which was what Jim was working on when he died, were transferred to Jay Elliott so that he could complete the Historical Introduction. The text has been approved by CSE, so that only the Historical Introduction remains to be done. Working with Marcus McCorison, I divided the rest of the Cooper-related books and papers into categories and proposed disposition of them according to an agreement that the Cooper family, Clark University, AAS and the Editorial Board have all signed.

Jim had said that he thought he might have enough unpublished letters of Cooper’s to make another volume, and I found some of these in the bottom of a {4} file drawer at his house. With Henry Cooper’s permission and the Editorial Board’s agreement, we have sent these photocopies to Jeff Walker, who enlisted some of his graduate students to help with textual work on The Spy and who wanted to try to edit the letters. Jeff rightly describes what he has in hand as an “interesting mess,” and more letters or allusions to existing letters are turning up in other places. We are asking everyone’s help in compiling an inventory of Cooper letters.

Photocopies of all the letters and journals printed in the six-volume set, filed by date, are now at AAS for the use of researchers. Tom Knoles, the curator of manuscripts, is checking to be sure that no unpublished letters or parts of letters by JFC are contained in this collection, but my own spot-checking indicates that everything has been published. The advantage to AAS of having photocopies of manuscripts for researchers to use is obvious — not only saving wear and tear on the original manuscripts, if these are at the Antiquarian, but also furnishing copies of manuscripts located elsewhere — at Yale, University of Virginia, the Berg and Morgan in New York, and so forth. I discovered also that Jim has included in these dated folders extra information about recipients of letters, help in identifying people or places, and sometimes letters to JFC from other people. In other words, this set of folders contains material NOT published in the Letters and Journals — only it contains nothing by James Fenimore Cooper that wasn’t published — so far as we now know.

We have divided books and papers connected with the Edition into two categories. All material used in preparing texts now in print in the SUNY edition, plus those books that have passed CSE inspection and are ready for publication, have been transferred to AAS for preservation and scholarly use. When they exist, such materials include:

a. photocopies of authorial or amanuensis manuscripts;

b. photocopies of proofs corrected by Cooper;

c. all volumes used in Hinman collations (if Jim owned them);

d. the editors’ records of authorial revisions in manuscripts for works having manuscripts;

e. editors’ copies of their printer’s copy;

f. photographs collected for illustrations;

g. photocopies of reviews that appeared during Cooper’s lifetime;

h. facsimiles of primary materials used for the Historical Introductions;

i. at least one copy of all known editions owned by James Beard;

j. translations Into other languages.

Not all these papers and books are at AAS at present since they asked that I not recall from the volume editors the papers in their possession right now. AAS is trying to digest and catalog the Paul Fenimore Cooper collection and what came from Clark University and Jim Beard’s house before trying to {5} cope with the fugitive materials that remain in individual editors’ hands. This latter material should be coming to the Antiquarian within the next year.

Books and papers for volumes still to be edited were originally going to be deposited at Clark University, but Clark could not find the space so that we have revised this part of the agreement. Now, books still to be edited will be transferred to AAS but not accessioned so that they can be released to individual volumes editors at my request. (Editors are assigned volumes after they have been approved by the Editorial Board.) Photocopies of manuscripts and other materials needed for unedited books are in my possession to be released as needed. Miscellaneous materials, such as the few remaining Manuals for the Edition, and collateral volumes — such as Spiller & Blackburn — have been transferred to English House at Clark under the control of Jay Elliott.

Letters from publishers to JFC have been transferred to AAS for its collection of American books trades as well as for the Cooper holdings. Likewise, some unpublished book-length studies of Cooper’s works (including some in foreign languages) have been transferred to AAS for safekeeping. One of these is illustrated, by T. Chalkley Mattock, and I used some of the drawings for Satanstoe.

Then we have the materials that Jim was collecting for the famous biography. There are two boxes of documents — letters, checks, and so forth — in dated files running from 1790 to just after Cooper’s death. Another box is labeled “lawsuits.” Still another contains a card file for biographical materials, with color-coded cards giving the location of originals. Another box contains letters and papers clearly kept for the biography, such as mention of local people, identification of neighbors, anecdotes belonging to local history, and other local lore. Finally, there is a collection of photographs and various papers that seem to relate only to the biography. All these are being kept intact at AAS for the use of the person the Cooper family chooses as the next biographer. Henry S. F. Cooper, Jr. told me that the family will cooperate with any qualified biographer, and that they are interested in seeing the work continue. (You will be hearing from Alan Taylor, who is currently working on the biography of Judge Cooper, the family having given him access to the papers Paul Fenimore Cooper left to Hartwick College in Oneonta.) As for the various documents Jim Beard had collected over the years, I felt strongly that they should not be dispersed and lost. (We also owe a debt to the people at the other end of the process who patiently sought out and photocopied the materials Jim asked for.)

I should also say, in speaking of the biographical material that can be available, that the Paul Fenimore Cooper collection now at AAS has many letters from such people as Mrs. Cooper (often writing to her sisters) and family friends that will be invaluable. Jim had asked some of us about using Mrs. Cooper’s letters, and I had encouraged him to do so. James Fenimore Cooper has long been recognized as one of the few Christian authors in America, but I don’t think it is possible to realize the extent to which Cooper family life was permeated by religion without getting a glimpse of the thinking of Mrs. Cooper and her daughters. One of the notes on the back of a {6} letter which came down from Cooperstown recently hints at what I mean. This letter from Judge William Jay to Cooper and dated March 9, 1851, has a note on the back in the daughter’s handwriting: “One of the last letters received by my dearest father, and which I read to him, as he lay in his bed. ... The Lord’s will be done!”

What of James Beard’s own work on the biography? It has been returned to the family, but I am at liberty to describe the contents of these papers. There was intact an old section about Cooper’s early life that had obviously been written years ago, and which Jim had said several times would have to be rewritten and brought up to date. He was still searching for clarification of, among other things, the indebtedness attached to Judge Cooper’s estate, and the legal and moral complications of James Fenimore Cooper’s inheritance. He was also still collecting material, not found in this early version, about such things as the death of Hannah Cooper — as I discovered when we drove over to Butternuts and took photographs of the monument to Hannah erected on the spot where she was killed when thrown from a horse. We copied the inscription on that monument before going on to look at the Morris’s house she was on her way to visit.

One of the built-in traps for any biographer is the fact that things keep turning up, and Jim mentioned this problem frequently. From some notes that he made for a speech he gave in Cooperstown on the occasion of its bicentennial in 1986, and from remarks he made to me — and undoubtedly to others — he had come into possession of proof that Cooper, for instance, was NOT sent to sea as punishment for whatever he had done to get himself expelled from Yale. Neither had he been sent to sea by a punitive father to “make a man of him,” as some people have charged or implied. Jim said that he had proof that Cooper had gone to sea voluntarily, in order to prepare for a career in the U. S. Navy (which was about to come into being), and he told me once that the Judge learned of this decision only when James was about to sail and someone insisted that the youngster not be allowed to leave the country (in those days of impressment) without an abundance of credentials and protective papers. (I have been unable to find this proof in the papers I went through, and am hoping Alan Taylor turns up something in Judge Cooper’s papers.) 3

The freshest material of any extent had to do with the Paris years, and again Jim had not finished collecting as much historical background as he wanted for the final version of that. The fragments of biography that were scattered throughout the files made it clear that the biography and the edition were reciprocal endeavors. While Jim always furnished his editors with all the help he could give them, by way of documentation, suggestions about what might be available, directions to the location of various references, and copies of pertinent correspondence and contemporary criticism, his revisions of biographical material also reflect and incorporate much of the information that was being discovered and written into the Historical Introductions by the volume editors. Consequently, the most nearly finished fragments of the biography went pari passu with the already published novels in the SUNY edition. Since Jim was working on one of the very earliest, The Spy, at the time of his death, trying to finish the Historical Introduction to {7} that and tell how it fit into the biography, it was clearly impossible for him to have worked through the biography in chronological order, finishing each stage off neatly and filing it away.

Jim had another project going that he was reluctant to declare finished — or even to transfer to someone else. This was the book on Cooper criticism for G. K. Hall. As I said earlier, there are boxes of such criticism now at AAS, some with summary cards telling what the purport of the book or article is, but these are far from finished. I have been wondering if a collaborative project would not make an appropriate festschrift in Jim’s honor. As I indicated earlier, various editors of books now in print have accumulated criticism printed in Cooper’s lifetime which would be a start toward a valuable collection of nineteenth century criticism of Cooper’s works. Liz Kubik, Editor-in-Chief for G. K. Hall & Company has written that they are still interested in publishing a bibliography based on Jim’s files.

To answer your question: the work was to be a complete work of Cooper criticism for the 20ᵗʰ Century with selected 19ᵗʰ Century materials. Books, chapters, and introductions in books, articles, dissertations, etc., were to be included along with a listing of primary editions. We had hoped to annotate entries selectively and add extensive indexes.

She concluded by saying “I would love to sign an agreement with Cooper scholars willing to produce a bibliography.”

Other than this possible project, the Edition itself, while not exactly in irons, might be said to be in the doldrums. Our NEH grant expired last year and we cannot apply for another until the Spring of 1992. I am hoping that we can get another grant since the reception of the works we have produced so far has been excellent. Hershel Parker, who is often a severe critic as you know, nevertheless says that we are “lovingly and learnedly” preparing Cooper’s texts. A review in New York History by James K. Pickering concludes that Herman Melville’s prediction that a “grateful posterity” would some day take care of Cooper “is finally being realized.” Western American Literature says the SUNY edition’s volumes “deserve a place on the shelves of every university library, in the United States. ... They are technical masterpieces.” Edwin Fussell describes the edition as “not only a decent edition of Cooper but an edition more than decent, an edition scholarly and readable, an edition quite grand ... , an edition indeed beautiful,” and declares it “the best of the CEAA editions.” Robert Sattelmeyer, writing for the Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America in 1987, after thirteen volumes had appeared, called attention to our “impressive record of productivity.”

At present, we have seventeen volumes out: the five Leatherstocking Tales, three Revolutionary novels, five travel books, two sea novels, the first of the Littlepage manuscripts, and Notions of the Americans. The Naval Institute Press has just published Ned Myers, incidentally, and while they did not base their text on the manuscript, Bob Madison (who has edited the text {8} from the manuscript) tells me that no major changes would have been made had they used the manuscript rather than the first edition as copy text.

The Heidenmauer is close to completion, although it has yet to pass CSE inspection. The text of The Spy has been awarded the CSE seal, and Jay Elliott is about to circulate the Historical Introduction for approval. Tom and Marianne Philbrick are editing Afloat and Ashore and the sequel (usually known as Miles Wallingford) from the manuscript. Lance Schachterle and Jim Sappenfield are editing the text of The Bravo, also from manuscript, and I am working on the historical introduction. We are all paying our own expenses at the moment, which is what I meant by saying that the Edition is in the doldrums. Things will probably continue to be slow until we can get NFH to put wind in our sails — as we hope to do next year.


[Added by Hugh C. McDougall for the online version, and responding to questions raised in the text]

1 The sources of the epigraphs have since been collected in The Cooper Epigraphs Cooper Society Miscellaneous Papers No. 12 (August 1999), compiled by Hugh C. MacDougall.

2 The verse quoted by Cooper appeared in a poem lamenting the death of US Navy Lieutenant John Trippe, signed “Amicus,” and published in the Charlestown Courier and reprinted in the September 22, 1810 issue of the Cooperstown weekly Otsego Herald (see Cooper Society Newsletter No. 29, November 1999). We do not know the origins of the verse, nor where Cooper came upon them in 1823; he did review the files of the Otsego Herald while preparing The Chronicles of Cooperstown (1838), which could explain their appearance in The Two Admirals.

3 Alan Taylor did — see his “James Fenimore Cooper Goes to Sea: Two Unpublished Letters by a Family Friend,” in Joel Myerson, ed., Studies in the American Renaissance: 1993 (Charlottesville, VA, 1993), pp. 43-54, and his William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995), pp. 441-445.