The Monikins

Christina Starobin (New York University)

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. 108-123).

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

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

The Monikins, Cooper’s beast fable, was written in 1835, between The Headsman and Homeward Bound and after his return from Europe. In terms of the Leatherstocking series, it was written after The Prairie and before The Pathfinder. If we consider all seven novels discussed in some detail in this paper (the five Leatherstocking tales plus The Sea Lions and The Monikins) The Monikins comes exactly at midpoint of the seven beaks. It was never an especially popular book and many of Cooper’s fans would he hard put to say what it deals with or even he able to identify it as having been written by Cooper.

Susan Fenimore Cooper writes, in her notes to Pages and Pictures: 1

There are pages full of wit, from, the most clever satire, and strong truth. But, as a complete work, the book was scarcely successful; it was too long, the vein of irony was often too complicated, while the blending of the human story of Sir John and his lady-love, introduced to give the volumes something of the character of a regular novel, was clearly an error.

She blames this on the publishers, having us believe that her father would have made the book shorter and only included the animal characters, had he had his way. However, as Cooper’s daughter, she may not be the most objective observer.

Briefly, the plot of The Monikins is as follows: the narrator, John Goldencalf, an orphan who has inherited wealth, meets four monkeys whom he buys only to discover that they can talk and come from a land with customs far different than his. With the aid of Captain John Poke, Goldencalf undertakes a journey to the land of the Monikins, the island of Leaphigh and its adjoining land of Leaplow (much like Swift’s Lilliputian book of Gulliver’s Travels). During this time the United States and either Great Britain or France are satirized in both heavy-handed and clever ways. 2 The novel is an allegory which also resembles Swift’s book.

As with Gulliver, which was written in 1726, towards the end of Swift’s life (1667-1745), The Monikins (1831) was written when Cooper was also getting on in years. Perhaps there is more than a passing connection between this literary form (the beast satire) and the literary expertise of its practitioners. At the end of the book, Cooper concludes:

  • That truth is a comparative and local property, being much influenced by circumstances; particularly by climate and by different public opinions. ...
  • {109}
  • That of all the ‘ocracies, (aristocracy and democracy included) hypocrisy is the most flourishing.
  • That he who is in the clutches of the law may think himself lucky if he escape with the loss of his tail.
  • That liberty is a convertible term, which means exclusive privileges in one country, no privileges in another and inclusive privileges in all.
  • That religion is a paradox, in which self-denial and humility are proposed as tenets, in direct contradiction to every man’s senses. ...
  • That philosophy, sound principles, and virtue, are really delightful; but, after all, that no more than so many slaves of the belly: a usually preferring to eat his best friend to starving. ...
  • That money commonly purifies the spirit as wine quenches thirst; and therefore it is wise to commit all our concerns to the keeping of those who have most of it. ...
  • That though the mind may be set an a very improper and base object, it will not fail to seek good motive for its justification, few men being so hardened in any grovelling passion, that they will not endeavor to deceive themselves, as well as their neighbors. ...
  • That what men affirm for their own particular interest they will swear to in the end, although it should he a proposition as much beyond the necessity of an oath, as “black is white.” 3

The foregoing sense of disillusionment with the state of the world as Cooper sees it can be compared to Swift’s disillusionment as evidenced in Gulliver, although Cooper has not quite the subtle mastery of tone and point of view as does Swift.

The animal fable has been used down through the ages to satirize humanity from a comparatively safe vantage point. Beast fables were popular even before the time of Aesop (620-560 B.C.), as is shown by some of his fables discovered on Egyptian papyri. As bestiaries (allegorical poems with animals illustrating human vices and virtues with Christian morals appended), they flourished in the Middle Ages. In both forms, the tales were mainly satirical, and probably used the animals much as the early puppeteers used {110} puppets, to hide behind in order to deliver opinions about religion or government that might otherwise have been dangerous or unpalatable if spoken openly.

Both Swift and Cooper accentuated this aspect of the beast fable in their extended allegories. Yet, the viciousness with which they attacked certain vices makes a reader wonder how their works would have been read had they not had the mediating influence of the animal buffers to absorb some of the sharpness of their painted wits. It is also interesting to note that both writers were satirizing not only individual traits of human beings, but also specific excesses of government and the philosophy and morals of their times. It is a long way from the fable of the fox and the grapes.

More obscure as a source for The Monikins is the Indian epic poem, the Ramayana, parts of which date from 500 B.C. Sita, the wife of the hero, Rama, is abducted and her recovery is possible through the good offices of the monkey-god Hanuman, who, like the Monikins, is half man, half monkey. Being a sailor for five and a half years, Cooper may have heard of this epic story from far off lands in which man-monkeys play a pivotal part; Cooper’s time at sea influenced his imaginative life, spawning several entire sea novels and part of others.

There was also an English translation available, “The Ramayana of Valmeelti, in the original Sungscrit, 4 with a Prose Translation and Explanatory Notes.” by Kirtee Bass in five volumes, (1806-10) published by W. Carey and J. Marshman. It was not, however, the same Carey of Carey, Lea & Blanchard, who published The Monikins for Cooper in the United States. Cooper may have come open a translation of the Ramayana in England. 5

In the first volume of The Monikins, John Goldencalf 6 talks with Dr. Reasono, the Manikin Professor of Probabilities in the University of Leaphigh, who instructs him about the differences between man and monikin. 7 John Goldencalf begins:

“How, sir; are you not, then, of the same family as all the other monkeys that we see hopping and skipping about the streets?”

“No more, sir, than you are of the same family as the flat-nosed, thick-lipped, lowbrowed, ink-skinned negro, or the squalid, passionless, brutalized Esquimaux. ... ” 8

“Dr. Reasono, am I to understand that the manikin family seriously entertain a position so extravagant as this: that monkey is a creature more intellectual and more highly civilized than man?”

“Seriously, good Sir John! — Why you are the first respectable person it has been my fortune to meet who has even affected to doubt the fact. It is {111} well known that both belong to the improvable class of animals, and that monkeys, as you are pleased to term us, were once men, with all their passions, weaknesses, inconsistencies, modes of philosophy, unsound ethics, frailties, incongruities and subserviency to matter; that they passed into the manikin state by degrees, and that large divisions of them are constantly evaporating into the Immaterial world, completely spiritualized and free from the dross of flesh. ... ” 9

To an adherent of Darwin’s theory of evolution, these words would have an additional ironic twist, hut Cooper intends only to set the stage for his beast fable. Cooper is not an adherent of man and monkey being related, as he shows further in the conversation between Sir John and Dr. Socrates Reasono:

“I find so many points of resemblance between us, [John is speaking) that I really begin to think we must have had the same origin; ... “

“Some of our naturalists assume that the monkeys which frequent the other parts of the earth are their descendants, [descendants of Mr. Jaw, a monikin carried away by flood with his adherents] who, stunned by the shock, have lost their reasoning powers, while, at the same time, they show glimmerings of their origin. This is, in truth, the better opinion of our savans: and it is usual with us, to distinguish all the human species of monkeys by the name of ‘the lost monikins’. ... ” 10

Obviously, Cooper is being ironic, and yet, with the benefit of hindsight, the words have a strange ring. How much stronger does his argument seem if he were an adherent of Darwin’s!

In today’s world, the idea of associating man and monkey is not so unusual, but it must have been repulsive in Cooper’s day. Cooper’s contemporary reader was supposed to say, “Oh! How ridiculous!” a feeling that will be lost on the modern reader. Cooper may also have thought that he was offering another refinement on Swift. The modern reader, however, loses none of the denigration of man’s stupidity and may he inclined to respond. “Yes! If only some men were as clever as monkeys!”

In this same discourse between Sir John and Socrates Reasono, a scientific writer mentioned by Cooper is Buffon:

“All this is very ingenious, sir; [John is speaking] but before you can persuade me into the belief that man is an animal inferior to a monkey, Dr. Reasono, you will allow me to say that you must prove it. ... “

{112} “Were 1 to cite my proofs, gentlemen.” continued the philosopher, ... “I should, in the first place, refer you to history. Ail the monikin writers are agreed in recording the gradual transition of the species from the human family — “

“This may do very well, sir, for the latitude of Leaphigh, but permit me to say that no human historian, from Moses down to Buffon, has ever taken such a view of our respective races. There is not a word in any of all these writers on the subject.”

“How should there be, sir? — History is not a prediction, but a record of the past.” 11

In the above quoted passage Cooper almost seems to be mocking himself. At first he has Dr. Reasono refer Sir John to history (“I should, in the first place, refer you to history”). When Sir John complains that there is no word in history on the topic, Dr. Reasono does not tell him, as might be supposed, that he is reading the wrong historians, but that it is history itself that is at fault, because “History is not a prediction, but a record of the past.”

Cooper seems to have been enjoying the role of devil’s advocate in order to stretch his wings a little and point out the limits of man’s knowledge. There is also a bit of Lewis Carroll’s logic here (“Jam tomorrow, jam yesterday, but never jam today.”)

It is difficult to determine whether Cooper is being ironic in his reference to Buffon. Buffon was the primary author of a multi-volume (36 volumes) work on natural history which took many years to compile. He is considered a precursor of Darwin and was derided by Condorcet and others for his hypotheses. He did, however, pave the way for Darwin by his theory that the earth was the product of a series of changes which can be traced through various means. He is even credited with helping to found the science of ecology through his theories on animal adaptation to climates and geographical factors. His descriptions of animals are held in the highest regard. 12

Cooper’s account of John Goldencalf acquiring the monikins itself seems like a conflation of various scientific and historical writings of the period describing the purchase of exotic monkeys such as an “Ourang Outang” and accounts of viewing the so-called “wild men” which were humans who were raised either by “savages” or individuals who lived for long periods in the woods, such as Peter the Wild Boy or the French fille sauvage. 13

What appears clear is that Cooper was trying to deal with the connection between man and monkeys in the way that was, at any events, congenial to his own thinking and the conventional wisdom of his time. This includes the “chain of being” theory with its discussion of “the missing link.” Stephen Jay Gould’s The Flaminqo’s Smile contains a good overview of the “chain of being” theory as it existed in the works of Edward Tyson (1650-1708) 14 who put {113} a chimp (“pygmy”) between man and monkey as a way of solving the dilemma. Gould also discusses Charles White’s (1728-1813) 15 contribution to the defense of the chain “as a static order.” 16

With this background, Cooper took a safely contemporary position and gave it his own twist. Men are like animals (especially monkeys), hut men are not like monkeys. We are worse than monkeys (this is stated ironically) but me thinks the gentleman doth protest too much and whereas we may not necessarily be worse, there is a connection between us. The mere fact that monikins choose a “God like” who is a monikin that can make their decisions for them and abide by the God like’s decisions shows that Cooper was thinking in terms of monkeys being a special kind of blueprint for men; the fact that he had to go to such great lengths to be satiric about it and to deny it only proves its hold over him.

Since Cooper accepted the prevalent theories of the biological similarity between men and monkeys, his particular way of separating man and beast does not have to do with biological differences but with something altogether different. 17 It has to do with property as he so clearly tells his reader at the beginning of The Monikins. Sir Pledge, a worldly wise and genial politician who Sir John Goldencalf meets on his journey, says:

“ ... a man, without a proper stake in society, is little better than the beast of the fields, I hold to be so obvious, that it is unnecessary to dwell on the point. Reason as you will, forward or backward, you arrive at the same result, — he that hath nothing, is usually treated by mankind little better than a dog, and he that is little better than a dog, usually has nothing . — Again, — what distinguishes the savage from the civilized man? — Why, civilization, to be sure. — Now, what is civilization? — The arts of life? — What feeds, nourishes, sustains the arts of life? — Money, or property. By consequence, civilization is property, and property is civilization. If the control of a country is in the hands of those who possess the property, the government is a civilized government; but, on the other hand, if it is in the hands of those who have no property, the government is necessarily an uncivilized government. It is quite impossible that any one should become a safe statesman, who does not possess a direct property interest in society. You know there is not a tyro of our political sect who does not fully admit the truth of this axiom.” 18 [emphasis added]

Whereas the tone here is ironic, the point of view presented presages Cooper’s declaration in The American Democrat, written three years after The Monikins on his return to the United States. In The American Democrat he puts the relationship of man, animal and property very clearly:

{114} “It is not known that man exists anywhere without establishing rules for the protection of property. Even insects, reptiles, beasts and birds, have their several possessions, in their nests, dens and supplies. So completely is animal exertion, in general whether in man or beast, dependant on the enjoyment of this right, under limitations which mark their several conditions, that we may infer that the rights of property, to a certain extent, are founded in nature. The food obtained by his toil, cannot be taken from the mouth of man, or beast, without doing violence to one of the first of our natural rights. We apply the term of robber, or despoiler, to the reptile or bird, that preys on the aliment of another animal, as well as to the human thief. So long as natural justice is admitted to exist, the party assailed, in such cases, has a right to defend his own.” 19

It is no accident that in writing The Monikins. Cooper had clarified his philosophy to the point where it took no great stretch of mental facility to crystallize his thoughts in more formal terms.

A writer who has commented comprehensively on Cooper’s intertwined views of land, ownership, and property is Wilma Hall:

In Cooper’s mind and art the claims of property made against the wilderness stand, alternately, as advances of civilization and as transgressions against the virgin land. It is this antithesis between the worlds of property and landscape and Cooper’s attachment to both which presented him with contradictions he could not always resolve in his art.” 21

In this context, it is interesting to observe that of all Cooper’s characters Natty Bumppo is a hero who owns no land. Natty also defends the Indians’ rights.

It is Natty Bumppo’s defense of the redman’s rights to this hunting grounds, the Indian’s protest against the loss of his lands, and Coopers continuing concern with the claims or the ‘original possessor of the soil,’ which provide the underlying drama of many of the novels. 21

This is an example of Cooper’s complexity and what makes his books multi-dimensional. We have a white man who is always talking of his theory of “white man’s gifts” and “red man’s gifts” (their especially God-given distinctive abilities and propensities) who is the spokesperson for the other race’s point of view. At the same time, Natty is so homespun and {115} country-bred, it would be difficult for the reader to say that he is Cooper’s mouthpiece, and Cooper takes advantage of being able to hide behind this alter-ego.

Hall points to a passage from The American Democrat about property being the root of society:

The principle of individuality, or to us a less winning term, of selfishness, lies at the root of all voluntary human exertion. We toil for food, for clothes, for houses, lands, and for property, in general. This is done, because we know that the fruits of our labor will belong to ourselves, or to those who are most dear to us. It follows, that all which society enjoys beyond the mere supply of its first necessities, is dependant on their rights of property.” 22 [emphasis added]

In choosing Natty as a spokesperson, Cooper has created an impossible “no win” situation for himself and for the reader. Natty is able, by virtue of his non-attachment to land or material goods, to act upon his highest instincts because he has “nothing to lose” and no property to defend. His is the theoretical and ideal case. This makes Natty’s deeds so poignant and his words so bittersweet; they are an artificial product of yearning for an ideal.

It is precisely this dichotomy between Cooper’s ideal wish for humanity and his knowledge of man’s unavoidable grounding in a reality that gives man land, property and interests to defend and therefore makes him partial that has created a character so alive with contradiction.

It is singularly appropriate that Cooper has Natty be the spokesperson for a kind of life that is dying, being supplanted by the pushy settlers and squatters, by civilization with all its pluses and minuses. Standing on the brink of a new beginning for our nation, Cooper cannot help but be torn by the powerful forces for both advancement and the preservation of the current way of life. Natty reflects the golden glow that the past throws over events. Cooper keeps the conflict perpetually in the present by having Natty be simultaneously rugged and real and yet impossibly ungrounded in terms of every day reality. Ironically, Natty’s responses to life take into account the “larger” reality of man and God, but not the practical reality of a modernized America.

We could look at Natty Bumppo in light of the view of property revealed in The Monikins and The American Democrat and say that Natty has virtually no respectability because he owns no land. and that he cannot be a ruler because he has no interests to protect. When he tries to protect his cabin in The Pioneers, he fails. 23 This position of landlessness makes him an inappropriate choice to be a ruler or in the government, and yet he is perhaps in the position of a Christ figure, especially in The Pioneers, when he is tried, “chases the moneychangers from the temple” and is condemned, not to death, but to prison. His very innocence gives his words the double edge of {116} justifiable righteous indignation and helplessness. Cooper is creating an anti-hero much before the time of the popular anti-heroes, the Common Man, the Christ in each of us.

This, however, is on the theoretical level. On the “practical” story-telling level, Cooper emphasizes different criteria as the basis of his distinctions. In differentiating men and monikins, a central point is made of the monikins tail:

“The most infallible sign of the triumph of mind over matter, is in the development of the tail — “. ...

“Of the tail, Dr. Reasono?” “By all means, sir, — that seat of reason, the tail! Pray. Sir John. what other portion of our frames did you imagine was indicative of intellect?” 24

When Noah is tried in the second volume and found guilty of stating that the king of Leaphigh has a memory and that the queen has none, he is sentenced with decaudalization (amputation of the tail) and beheading. This has interest in view of the discussion of The Ramayana, mentioned earlier: when Hanuman, the monkey god, is captured and brought into Ravan’s palace, Ravan, the evil potentate, decides to set fire to Hanuman’s tail. His servants wrap the tail in oily rags and set fire to it, but the plan backfires when Hanuman (protected by Siva’s prayers) takes off around the city setting fire to everything, mansions and houses included, using his lighted tail as a gigantic matchstick.

The Monikins contains many long laborious passages satirizing various human institutions. The lack of quick action as well as two dimensional characters that the reader has difficulty identifying with contribute to the general boredom that begins to set in after the end of the first volume. However. that does not stop Cooper from continuing to blast away at human religion, government and social customs. The refrain he has the monikins repeat to Sir John is. “But this is the way with us monikins; no doubt, men manage better.” 25 The repetition of this serves to remind the reader of our continual failure: at best, monikin customs are as bizarre as those of humans; at worst, human customs are the more ridiculous of the two.

The final twists to the plot (and the satire) come when it is revealed that the legislature in Leaplow is debating, “Resolved, that the color which has hitherto been deemed to be black, is really white.” Bob Smut, the Walrus’ cabin boy proves “Resolved, that the color which has hitherto been deemed to be black, is really lead-color.” There are other reversals, among them abject humility being required to attain high office so that one who abases himself can attain virtually anything, and accepting one’s political convictions from a “God-like,” (a monikin that the monikins choose to do one’s thinking). Cooper hoped to heap irony upon irony, until finally during a meat shortage, Poke and Sir John share some roasted meat, which turns out to be none other than Brigadier Downright, one of the four monikins that Sir John saved at the beginning of the book.

{117} The scene in which Sir John and Poke eat the monikin is a memorable one, containing as it does elements of cannibalism, a comic twist on something Poe and Melville were to treat seriously not too much later. 26

’Sit down, Sir John.’ the Captain cried, without ceasing to masticate, ‘and make no bones of it. To own the fact, the later are almost as good as the flesh. I never tasted a sweeter morsel!’

I did not wait for a second invitation, the reader may be sure; and in less than ten minutes the dish was as clear as a table that had been swept by harpies. As this work is intended for one in which truth is rigidly respected, I shall avow that I do not remember any cultivation of sentiment which gave me half so much satisfaction as that short and hurried repast. I look back to it, even now, as to the very beau ideal of a dinner! Its fault was in the quantity, and not in quality.

I gazed greedily about for more. Just then, I caught a glimpse of a face that seemed looking at me with melancholy reproach. The truth flashed upon me in a flood of horrible remorse. Rushing upon Noah like a tiger, I seized him by the throat, and cried, in a voice of despair: —

’Cannibal! What has thou done?’

’Loosen your grip, Sir John — we do not relish these hugs at Stunin’tun.’

’Wretch! Thou hast made me the participator of thy crime! We have eaten Brigadier Downright!’

’Loosen, Sir John, or human natur’ will rebel.’

’Monster! Give up thy unholy repast — dost not see a million reproaches in the eyes of the innocent victim of thy insatiable appetites?’ 27

Notice especially the line “or human natur’ will rebel.” carrying with it the echoes of, “This is the way we monikins manage; no doubt you humans do it better.” (It has additional echoes of regurgitation.) Notice also that when Sir John wants to behave admirably he says he is “like a tiger.”

Cooper may have gotten the idea for this scene from Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” as evidenced by Sir John’s words shortly after he wakes up, as if from a dream, in his apartment in Paris feeling as if he had eaten a full meal and seeing a dish “well filled with bones ... in plain view”:

{118} “I took up one of the latter, [the bones] in order to ascertain its genus. The Captain kindly informed me that it was the remains of a pig, which it had cost him a great deal of trouble to obtain, as the French viewed the act of eating a pig but very little less heinous than the act of eating a child.” 28

Here Cooper links the pig and the human child in our minds. This echoes back to the now grimly humorous “introduction” written by Noah Poke, to which he appends the second postscript, with additional reinforcement of the linkage to “A Modest Proposal”:

“N. B. Sir John is a little out about my eating the monkey, which I did, four years before I met him, down on the Spanish Main. It was not bad food to the taste, but it was wonderful narvous to the eye. I r’ally thought I had got hold of Miss Poke’s youngest born.” 29

The image of Sir John and Noah eating Brigadier Downright provides a strong ending. Cooper is often at his best when depicting graphic and horrible violence, as in the scalping of Thomas Hutter in The Deerslayer. It is softened here, as is fitting in a satire in which it would not do to have any element of the story graphically overshadowing the rest. It has the additional function of reminding the reader how inferior he is to the monikins who would never eat any of their own. It serves much as the interview at the beginning being conducted with Sir John naked; it undercuts what is being said on the surface by providing some very ironic underpinning.

Cooper is not content, however, to let matters rest there, but hammers his point home with several pages dealing with what he has learned. Some additional points which bear closer inspection are the following tenets:

  • That it is not an infallible sign of great mental refinement to bespatter our fellow-creatures, which every nerve is writhing in honor of our pigs, our cats, our stocks and our stones. ...
  • That habit is invincible, an Esquimaux preferring whale’s blubber to beefsteak, a native of the Gold Coast cherishing his tom-tom before a band of music, and certain travelled countrymen of our own saying ‘Commend me to the English skies’. ...
  • That national allegories exist everywhere, the only difference between them arising from gradations in the richness of imaginations.
  • {119} And finally:
  • That men have more of the habits, propensities, dispositions, cravings, antics, gratitude, flap-jacks, [somersaults] and honesty of monikins, than is generally known. 31

Note that Cooper pooh-poohs concern for animals when man is not concerned with man. He also reminds the reader subtly of eating one’s awn flesh in his lines about the Esquimaux (Eskimos) eating whale. Cooper also tips his hat to himself and his “richness of imaginations” regarding the entire allegory he has set up. Finally, he again disparages mankind and compares humans to monkeys, but then ends an a very positive note: “more of the ... honesty of monikins, than is generally known.”

This note, however, was not enough to give the book a flavoring of intellectual and emotional compatibility, but served as just another reminder of Cooper’s orneriness and criticism of America in general. 31

Just as Cooper was not the first to envision a world populated by a man-animal combination, that conception has continued to the present day and may have even gained in popularity. Partially responsible for this is the advent of children’s literature which makes the realm of fantasy acceptable in hitherto unimagined ways, not only in literature but also in television and the cinema.

Most prominently, one is reminded of The Planet of the Apes which has by now spawned several sequels, a tale of a land in which the inhabitants are man-sized monkey-men who are played, in the movies, by elaborately made-up actors. The Indian version of this is their telecast of The Ramayana with Hanuman, his cohorts, also elaborately made-up and clothed in appropriate costumes.

In summation, Cooper tried to capitalize on his bitterness towards certain human practices and institutions from the safe distance of a beast fable only to be found long on political philosophy and short on entertainment. His distinctions between man and beast as shown here rest on the possession of property, which he clarified and stated more concisely in his subsequent political treatise, The American Democrat, another product of the formal consolidation of his philosophy at this time. In grappling with an issue (the relationship of men and monkeys) very much in the forefront of interest of his day, Cooper reveals himself to be a creative spokesperson for conventional wisdom. his imagination ironically hampered and fueled by his cynicism regarding human values and weaknesses.


1 James Fenimore Cooper, Pages and Pictures with notes by Susan Fenimore Cooper, illustrated, an Steel and Wood, from Original Drawings (New York: James Miller, 1865), pp. 274-275.

2 John F. Ross in The Social Criticism of Fenimore Cooper (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1939), pp. 85-86, draws parallels between the dispute in the Monikin Congress and a dispute in Jackson’s second term regarding France, saying that France is Leaplow and Leaphigh is the United States. James Grossman in James Fenimore Cooper (New York: William Sloane Associated, Inc., 1949), says the book is about “two nations of monkeys near the South Pole, Leaphigh (England) and Leaplow (the United States).”

Susan Fenimore Cooper also says in Pages and Pictures, p. 214, that Leaphigh was meant to represent England, Leaplow to represent America and Leapthrough was France. It is perhaps a mark of Cooper’s success that his target can be construed as applicable to different nationalities.

3 James Fenimore Cooper, The Monikins (Philadelphia: Carey, Lea, & Blanchard, 1835), Vol. II, pp. 239-243. All subsequent references are to this edition.

4 Sanskrit.

5 It is also possible that Cooper saw singeries (“A playful form of ROCOCO decoration featuring monkeys in costume playing human roles.” Edward Lucie-Smith, The Thames and Hudson Dictionary of Art Terms (New york: Thames and Hudson, 1984] in Europe and that this gave him ideas for his book.

6 Note the obvious name Cooper gives the protagonist. Mr. Goldencalf, unsurprisingly, worships idols, specifically money, and he will have to break free of this in order to win the love of the fair Anna and to “live happily ever after.” Note also that Goldencalf is an animal-based name.

Noah’s name is also significant (Noah Poke, the seaman in charge of the ship, The Walrus, in which Goldencalf sails to the monikins’ land). The animals aboard the ship go in twos, two pairs of monikins and two human beings, just as in the original Noah’s Ark. Poke puts one in mind of James Knox Polk, the eleventh President of the United States, who was a prominent congressman at the time that The Monikins was written. Noah’s enterprising attitudes in this book and his greed for social advancement (he is introduced as Lord High Admiral as part of a hoax by Dr. Reasono, one of the monikins) may be viewed in the light of Polk’s avid expansionist policy. There are other possible satirical parallels with the real Polk as may he the case with Poke’s predilection to take the opinions of others and not think for himself.

Cooper explains Poke’s name in Vol. I, p. 195: ” ... Captain Poke, according to his own account of himself, had passed half his life in poking about among the sterile and uninhabited islands of the frozen ocean.” However, in such a multi-faceted work as this, it is difficult to take Cooper totally at face value.

7 During this conversation John is naked except for his slippers and nightcap because he has been informed that the clothed state is socially unacceptable especially to the female monikins. This is a way far Cooper to make the entire proceedings appear ridiculous. This visual image of Goldencalf’s naked state (plus slippers and nightcap, which only serve to heighten the humor) contrasts ironically with the serious intellectual tenor of the conversation which lasts for some 65 pages.

8 Cooper means the Eskimo.

9 James Fenimore Cooper, The Monikins, Vol. I, pp. 166-168.

10 Ibid., Vol. I, pp. 188-190.

11 Ibid., Vol. I, p. 169.

12 Buffon in his “The Nomenclature of Apes,” Natural History, General and Particular, translated by W. Smellie, Vol. 10, pp. 1-36. T. Cadell and M. Davis, London, 1791. “Nomenclature des singes.” Histoire naturelle, générale et particulaire. Imprimerie royale, Paris, 1749-1767, in Climbing Man’s Family Tree: A Collection of Major writings an Human Phylogeny, 1699 to 1971, ed. by Theodore D. McCown and Kenneth R. R. Kennedy, (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1972), p. 62 says of the difference between men and Hottentots: “This sketch, (his previous imaginative description of man in “a state of nature”] drawn from a savage Hottentot, is a flattering portrait; for the distance between man in a pure state of nature and a Hottentot, is greater than between a Hottentot and us. But, if we want to compare the ape to man, we must add the relations of organization, the conformities of temperament, the vehement appetite of the males for the females, the same structure of the genitals in both sexes, the periodic courses of the female, the voluntary or forced intermixture of the Negresses with the apes, the produce of which has entered into both species; and then consider, not the supposition that they are not the same, how difficult it is to perceive the interval by which they are separated. ... But, at the same time that he [God] has given him [man] a material form similar to that of the ape, he has penetrated this animal body with a divine spirit.”

Buffon then goes into a disquisition on the soul and the amounts of time needed to rear and educate men and the other animals, including haw susceptible each group is to being educated.

13 Climbing Man’s Family Tree, Ibid., pp. 74-79, in James Burnett, James Monboddo, “Of the several Steps of the Human Progression from the Brute to Man” and also p. 29 in the Introduction to Part One (1699-1856): “The human and infra-human inhabitants of regions remote from Europe were frequently not distinguished by explorers, and it was a common suggestion in the eighteenth century that both monkeys and apes interbred with men in certain primitive societies, the results of such unions being fertile offspring. Lord Monboddo, on the basis of similar unreliable accounts, concluded that the orang-utan represented a stage of human social evolution advanced over that demonstrated by such feral children as Wild Peter of Hanover. A11 that inhibited the orang-utan from speaking was a lack of the rudiments of a sound Scottish education, for once so improved, the anthropoid would be well along the road to acquisition of the basic constituents of civilization.”

14 Stephen Jay Could, The Flamingo’s Smile (New york: W. W. Norton & Company, 1985), pp. 265-280.

15 Ibid., pp. 282-290.

16 Ibid., p. 282: “In this essay I shall analyze the arguments presented in England’s last influential defense of the chain as a static order — physician and biologist Charles White’s 1799 treatise, ‘An account of the regular gradation in man, and in different animals and vegetables.’”

17 It is interesting that Buffon’s answer about men having a soul given by God and the monkeys not having a soul, doesn’t satisfy Cooper. He even gives Dr. Reasono more education (another of Buffon’s “separators”) than John Goldencalf.

18 The Monikins, Vol. I, pp. 82-83. Notice that Cooper picks the example of a dog as a lowly animal. How much more cynical he has become since The Prairie!

19 James Fenimore Cooper, The American Democrat, or Hints on the Social and Civic Relations of the United States of America (Cooperstown: H. & E. Phinney, 1838), p. 128.

20 Wilma Bauer Hall, “The Moral Significance of Land and Landscape in the Novels of James Fenimore Cooper.” Diss. University of Pennsylvania 1967. pp. xiv-xv.

21 Ibid., p. 23. Hall’s discussion which follows, up to p. 39, is an interesting and informative evaluation of Natty’s view of Indians’ property.

22 Ibid., p. 49.

23 In The Pioneers we are shown Natty owning a cabin and making a mess of defending it against the Sheriff. He denies the Sheriff access, defies him and ends up on trial and ultimately in jail. Not having much property, he does not have the skills of manipulation when property rights are at stake. He has his dogs, his rifle, and, we imagine, has had other cabins at other times in his existence. Cooper, however, does not lead us to imagine these other habitations; Natty is a child of the land, almost homeless, close to the Indians and, therefore, a good choice to be their spokesman.

24 The Monikins, Vol. I, p. 167.

25 Ibid., Vol. II, p. 74.

26 Poe in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym and Melville in Moby-Dick and Typee.

27 The Monikins, Vol. II, pp. 220-221.

28 Ibid., Vol. II, pp. 222-223.

29 Ibid., Vol. I, p. xii. The novelistic conceit here is that Sir John only imagined that he and Poke ate the monkey and the only monkey Poke ever ate was years before he met Sir John. This is in keeping with Sir John waking up at the end of the book in his apartment in Paris and finding that the whole narrative was a feverish dream brought on by an unkind letter from his fiancée. As is usual with these “dream” scenarios, there is a pleasant and convenient vagueness left around the edges so that the novelist has room to maneuver.

30 Ibid., Vol. II. pp. 243-244.

31 There are good discussions of Cooper’s use of his own personal problems with the villagers in the Anti-Rent novels in James Fenimore Cooper by James Grossman (New York: William Sloane Associates, 1949) pp. 199-219 and James W. Tuttleton’s discussion of how Cooper uses the circumstances to give us a good picture of the social strata in America in The Novel of Manners in America (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1972) pp. 40-47.