Epiphany at Ischia: The Effect of Italy on James Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Landscape Painting

Allan M. Axelrad (California State University at Fullerton)

Presented at the 9ᵗʰ Cooper Seminar, James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art at the State University of New York College at Oneonta, July, 1993.

Originally published in James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art, Papers from the 1993 Cooper Seminar (No. 9), The State University of New York College at Oneonta. Oneonta, New York. James D. Wallace, editor. (pp. 1-27).

Copyright © 1993, James Fenimore Cooper Society and the College at Oneonta.

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

In lauding the “magic” of James Fenimore Cooper’s landscape description, Honoré de Balzac proclaimed: “Never did typographed language approach so closely to painting. This is the school that literary-landscape painters ought to study.” 1 This subject — Cooper’s depiction of nature and landscape — has produced a sizable body of scholarship, including two excellent books: Cooper’s Landscapes: An Essay on the Picturesque Vision (1976) by Blake Nevius, and A World by Itself: The Pastoral Moment in Cooper’s Fiction (1977) by H. Daniel Peck. 2 Nevius believes Cooper developed his picturesque vision in his European years (1826-1833) in his attraction to English landscape gardening and the aesthetics of William Gilpin and Uvedale Price. Peck sees the source of Cooper’s pastoral vision in “European parks and gardens” and classic images of Arcadia. 3 They use different terms for Cooper’s preferred or ideal landscape but their findings are similar. Both, in Nevius’ words, think Cooper’s “aesthetic development” is unrelated to “the development of his social thought,” 4 while neither shows interest in his use of the term sublime. Most importantly, they do not differentiate between civilized, cultivated landscapes and wilderness scenery; they believe instead that wilderness novels such as Pathfinder and Deerslayer possess some of the finest examples of Cooper’s picturesque or pastoral vision.

Their Cooper, whose wilderness contains garden-like picturesque or pastoral properties, is — in effect — a romantic primitivist. Romantic primitivism assumes a yearning for the virtues of primitive existence in the wilds — presumably in Cooper’s case, for Leatherstocking’s wilderness — instead of the encumbrances of civilization. The “pull of wild nature can always be recognized as an essentially anti-social emotion,” Keith Thomas explains. 5 But Cooper was a profoundly social man. Although his wilderness may be lovely, it is also wild, dangerous, and therefore un-gardenlike. Cooper carefully distinguished between wild and tame landscapes, between the savage state and the pastoral state, and, in his later novels, between the sublime and picturesque. He preferred those qualities associated with civilization — the tame, the pastoral, the picturesque — to the wild, savage, and sublime allure of wilderness. Most importantly, he did not separate aesthetics and {2} social thought; the two were closely linked, at least when he wrote about America. His aesthetic education in Europe was important, as Nevius and Peck establish. It affected his appreciation of scenery on both sides of the Atlantic, though the lessons that he learned abroad proved to be as much a burden as a blessing when he returned to literary landscape painting in his homeland.

While fishing in Otsego Lake, in The Pioneers, Leatherstocking reminisces about a time before settlement when the area “was a second paradise.” As his retrospection takes a slight turn, he says, “I have met but one place that was more to my liking.” Once he identifies this “place” which he would climb to “up on the Cattskills,” Oliver Edwards (Effingham) asks, “What see you when you get there?” Leatherstocking’s reply, “Creation! ... all creation,” is among the most familiar phrases in all of Cooper. He then accurately recounts the spectacular view of the Hudson River region from Pine Orchard, and goes on to provide an even more detailed description of nearby Kaaterskill Falls, which, he says, “in late times I relished better than” the cliffside prospect. “I have never heard of this spot before: it is not mentioned in the books,” says Edwards. “To my judgement, lad, it’s the best piece of work that I’ve met with in the woods,” Leatherstocking concludes, “and not a dozen white men have ever laid eyes on it.” 6

This fictive conversation took place in 1794. In 1815 Timothy Dwight visited the still little known mountain setting. 7 His enthusiasm for the “stupendous and awful grandeur” of the “precipice” and for the falls, which he thought second only to Niagara, was recorded in Travels in New England and New York posthumously published in 1822. 8 That was the year Cooper probably visited Pine Orchard and researched Leatherstocking’s “all creation” monologue, perhaps lodging at the new dormitory overlooking the Hudson Valley. 9 The Pioneers was published February 1, 1823. On the following Fourth of July opening ceremonies were conducted for a hotel that would replace the dormitory and come to be known as the Catskill Mountain House. 10 In the years that followed affluent tourists flocked to the hotel, writers described the falls and valley view, and the setting was painted by many of the famous artists of the day. 11 We have to be cautious about equating the opinions of the primitive fictional hero with those of his urbane literary creator, but it seems reasonable to surmise that in 1823 Cooper shared Leatherstocking’s high regard for Kaaterskill Falls and the Pine Orchard prospect, as would most visitors for years to come.

The fascination with nature and landscape in eighteenth-century Great Britain in literature, art, aesthetics, and gardening peaked toward the century’s end with the rage of the picturesque. There undoubtedly was a trans-Atlantic cultural lag, as can be seen in Susan Fenimore Cooper’s report that when her father moved to Westchester County in 1818 the art of picturesque landscaping was just then beginning to catch on prompted by “English books” and travelers from {3} abroad. She tells of the “animation” and “almost boyish eagerness” he displayed at that time over what would become a lifelong passion for landscape gardening, 12 one facet of his broader romantic enthusiasm for nature in her natural and constructed states and in her various artistic and literary representations. In the years between Leatherstocking’s exaltation of a virtually unknown site in the Catskills in 1794 and the publication of Pioneers along with the almost simultaneous construction of the Mountain House in 1823, a romantic revolution had begun in America.

These years also coincided with the young republic’s post-colonial obsession with establishing a separate national identity based on the attributes and accomplishments of the new republic. The development of literature and art in America was a crucial component of the campaign for cultural independence, self-respect, and republican honor. While Old World sources of inspiration based on the depth and richness of history and tradition obviously were lacking in the New World, patriotic Americans were quick to laud the natural environment as a source of inspiration and pride and affirm the superiority of nature in the New World. Patriotic magazines were filled with praise for the scenic bounty of the land. In 1797, for example, The American Universal Magazine proclaimed “that no quarter of the world, however celebrated, affords more novel and sublime scenes than are to be met with among the romantic wilds of America”; and, to take one more example, in 1809 The Port Polio stated that for artists “our country affords an inexhaustible abundance, which, for picturesque effect, cannot be surpassed in any part of the old world.” 13 With their “sublime scenes” and “picturesque” effects, America’s “romantic” landscapes would prove to be a primary resource for republican creativity and patriotic nationalism as the 1820s unfolded.

One of the early institutions providing a forum for America’s fledgling romanticism was the Bread and Cheese Club, founded by Cooper in New York City in 1822. The club’s members included other writers and also artists such as William Dunlap, Asher Durand, Henry Inman, Samuel F. B. Morse, Robert Weir, and John Vanderlyn. Sharing values and ideas, the relationship of artists and writers was one of reciprocity. During the next few years scenes in Cooper’s novels provided the subject matter for numerous paintings, while Cooper’s relationship with the artists sharpened his visual sensibility. Over his lifetime, in fact, he maintained closer friendships with artists than with other writers. 14

The first three Leatherstocking books appeared in the years immediately following the creation of the Bread and Cheese Club: Pioneers (1823), Mohicans (1826), and Prairie (1827). In each, the romantic landscapes are artfully drawn, with the world of nature central to the story. Conspicuously missing from the pictures in these and other early novels — if only in hindsight — is the routine use of the aesthetic terms sublime, beautiful, and picturesque found in his later work. British aesthetic treatises were readily available in the young republic, but Americans showed little {4} inclination for their careful distinctions between aesthetic categories. 15 Thus, for example, Cooper did not distinguish between the sublime and picturesque or the picturesque and beautiful; in their rare appearances in novels such as The Spy (1821) and Pioneers, he used the terms interchangeably for landscapes that, in effect, were generically romantic. 16 Given their importance in his later work, it is noteworthy that the terms sublime and picturesque do not appear at all in Cooper’s first two wilderness tales: Last of the Mohicans and The Prairie. 17 The absence of the term sublime is particularly striking.

Scene from The Last of the Mohicans

Scene from The Last of the Mohicans by Thomas Cole, 1827. Oil on Canvas. Van Pelt Library University of Pennsylvania.


Detail — Scene from The Last of the Mohicans

Detail * (Figure 1.)

Though not labeled as such, both wilderness novels nonetheless clearly contain romantic images of sublimity in nature. Toward the end of Mohicans, for example, with others in pursuit, Magua hauls Cora up a steep mountain through a cave that, in “dim and uncertain light, appeared like the shades of the infernal regions, across which unhappy ghosts and savage demons were flitting in multitudes.” 18 They stop “on a ledge of rocks, that overhung a deep precipice, at no great distance from the summit of the mountain.” 19 These and other phrases associated with this episode — “dangerous crags,” “the very edge of the giddy height,” “the brow of the precipice” — strongly suggest sublimity linked to vertical forms and a gothic mode. The episode concludes with the tragic death of Cora (Fig. 1) and then Uncas on these heights. In Prairie, to take the most obvious example, “a single, naked, and ragged rock arose” above “the monotonous rolling” grasslands, likewise providing a powerful gothic image of the vertical sublime in nature. 21

from The Prairie

An Incident on the Prairie by James Hamilton, 1861. Susan Fenimore Cooper, Pages and Pictures from the Writings of James Fenimore Cooper. New York: W.A. Townsend, 1861, p. 158. (Figure 2.)

On the face of this rock Abiram White, in effect, hangs himself in a chilling demonstration of primitive justice near the tale’s end (Fig. 2). It is noteworthy that these gothic qualities were not reproduced in the final Leatherstocking Tales published at the beginning of the 1840s. 21

On May 29, 1826, at a farewell banquet given by the Bread and Cheese Club immediately before he sailed for Europe with his partially completed manuscript of Prairie, Cooper was repeatedly toasted as a source of national pride. His accomplishments fulfilled the patriotic hopes of the post-revolutionary generation. He was an American writer who had used American materials to create American literature. The principal speaker, Charles King, declared that “a national benefit has been conferred” by Cooper for “refuting” the “zealously inculcated notion, that on our soil ‘fancy sickens and genius dies.’” King particularly praised Cooper for his “exquisite delineation of the beauties of nature,” for looking “with a poet’s fancy and a painter’s eye upon the grandeur and magnificence of our mountain scenery, the varied tints and glorious sunshine of our autumn skies and woods, our rushing cataracts, and mighty rivers, and forests co-eval with nature.” Cooper no doubt felt great personal and national pride in this tribute to his accomplishments as a literary landscape artist; for being, in the words of Chancellor James Kent, the Caterer of the day, the “genius which has rendered our native soil classic ground.” 22 As the years passed these toasts might have seemed more and more problematic to Cooper in one respect, because Europe raised new and difficult questions about how precisely he ought to visually regard his “native soil.”

{5} Early in his stay in Europe in Notions of the Americans, Cooper provided a very romantic picture of American scenery, once again stressing gothic qualities. Guiding readers up the Hudson to the Highlands, the narrator praises “the glorious scenery” to be seen: “Rocks, broken, ragged and fantastic; forests, through which disjointed precipices are seen forming dusky back grounds; promontories; dark, deep bays; low, sylvan points; elevated plains; gloomy, retiring vallies; pinnacles, cones, ramparts that overhang and frown upon the water, and in short almost every variety of form in which the imagination can conjure pictures of romantic beauty are assembled here.” Much of this “romantic beauty” remains linked to vertical sublimity. Continuing upriver, he tells of “views that may compete with any of Italy” and “scenery” that “is picturesque,” further reinforcing the impression that landscapes in America accord well with those in Europe. 23

If anything, Cooper’s Bread and Cheese Club fascination with artists and the arts intensified in Europe. George Washington Greene, who first met Cooper in Paris, recalled that he “was particularly fond of the society of artists, visiting them in their studios, welcoming them to his house, and whenever he felt that it was needed, giving or procuring them commissions.” 24 Moreover, he studied the architecture, sought out public monuments and sculpture, cathedrals and museums. July 14, 1828, several weeks after Notions was published, Cooper left his European residence in Paris on an extended tour that would take him to Switzerland, Italy, and Germany. While he continued to be very attentive to the more traditional arts, his travels heightened his formal interest in another aesthetic form: landscape.

His immediate delight in Swiss scenery is apparent in his travel journal, but evidence of national pride is also visible in his patriotic defense of American scenic places. For example, he found the scenery at Thun “beautifully picturesque,” but thought “the lake itself inferior to Lake George” — the Horican of Mohicans. Likewise, no matter how “delicious” the setting, he did not think the waterfall at Staubbach was “as beautiful” as “the Cattskill leap” 25 Leatherstocking rhapsodized about in Pioneers. Other comparisons were less partial. It is worth noting, however, that none of his journal entries favored Swiss to American scenery. After a season in Switzerland and sporadic work on a new novel, he began a lengthy visit to Italy in Florence where, by spring 1829, he finished writing The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish. As before, vertical features enhanced the wild, gothic landscape; in addition, Cooper pointed out similarities between the fictional valley of Wish-ton-Wish in early Connecticut and geography he encountered in Switzerland. 26 Such descriptions of America and uncritical comparisons to Europe became increasingly untenable with his growing on-site appreciation of Italian scenery and deepening love for the land.

In “Small Family Memories” (1883) Susan Fenimore Cooper told her nieces and nephews that their “grandfather fell in love with Italy at first sight. And it was a love which lasted through {6} his life-time.” 27 Cooper’s love affair with Italy was indeed lasting, as can be seen in his Italian travel book and later novels. 28 But the evidence does not sustain his daughter’s half-century-old memory that it was “love” “at first sight.” During a February 1829 business trip stopover in Genoa, in a letter to his wife in Florence, Cooper lowered his patriotic defenses enough to notice for the first time that an “Italian sea-port is far more picturesque than one in our own country.” 29 That perception was equivocally seconded six months later while moving his family from Florence to the coast; in his journal he noted: “Absurdity of comparing the bays of New-York and Naples. That of Naples infinitely the most imposing by its mountains, by the play of light and shade on their sides, and by its associations.” Criticizing American scenery was still quite a novelty for Cooper; as he continued the entry he returned to a more familiar stance: “There are points in the bay of N.Y.,” he thus added, where the setting “perhaps exceeds” the “water view of Naples.” 31 Cooper spent four months at the Bay of Naples. Thereafter his writings contain no such equivocation about the scenic merits of the Tyrrhenian coast. What happened was Cooper was seduced by this landscape and fell in love with its feminine charms.

In picturing the romantic allure of the landscape in his 1838 travel book, he repeatedly recalled the visual softness of the Tyrrhenian coast. He adored “the softness of the atmosphere” (166) and the landscape’s “softened sublimity” (109). It was the “bewitching softness” of the “scenery” (94), “a polished softness that wins as much as it delights the beholder” (174) that captured his affection. It was such feminine qualities — “softness,” “warmth,” “gentleness” — that distinguished Italy from Switzerland and Germany (267, 299). The “reason” he gave for writing the travel book was “he loved the subject” (1), and in it he clearly combines love for Italy with love for the feminine landscape. At times he equates the landscape to a desirable woman, in one instance an extraordinary lady of great beauty, with a refined sensibility, and captivating femininity. The “entire northern shore of this luxurious sea,” he wrote of the Tyrrhenian coast at Leghorn, “is one scene of magnificent nature, relieved by a bewitching softness, such as perhaps no other portions of the globe can equal. I can best liken it to an extremely fine woman, whose stateliness and beauty ace relieved by the eloquent and speaking expression of feminine sentiment” (84).

Cooper was even more effusive in his adoration of the feminine landscape in private correspondence with his close friend, the sculptor Horatio Greenough. If Italy could be likened to an extraordinarily attractive woman, she could induce carnal thoughts as well. “Italy! The very name excites a glow in me,” he wrote after his departure, “for it is the only region of the earth that I truly love. I tire of Switzerland, France I never liked, and Germany, though pleasant, excites no emotion, but Italy lives in my dreams.” 31 Unlike other lands, he thus confessed — using language that would have sounded familiar to Victorian lovers — Italy “lives” in his “dreams,” “excites a glow,” and is the object of true “love.” “Italy,” he admitted, in a still more revealing letter, “haunts {7} my dreams and clings to my ribs like another wife. The fact is,” he told Greenough who was then in Florence, “I do often wish myself on your side, not of the Alps, for that would not satisfy me, but of the Appenines, the naked, down-like, shadowy Appenines.” 32 Bestowing gender on landscape was common enough, and it was not unusual for male writers to draw upon female sensuality and sexuality in landscape description. 33 In this case Cooper employed the highly personal, very private language of the Victorian love letter 34 to profess lovestruck desire for Italy’s “naked, down-like” topography, metaphorically merging two powerful currents in his culture: romantic love and a romantic appreciation of nature.

For visual “perfection,” he repeatedly stated in his travel book account, he loved the Bay of Naples most, It contained “sublime land and glorious water” scenery, “teeming” with historical associations, augmented by a “bewitching and almost indescribable softness,” creating “a seductive ideal,” in his words, that “I have never before witnessed, nor ever expect to witness again” (111-12).

Among Cooper’s many paeans to the Bay of Naples, one stands out over all others. On arriving at the Island of Ischia “a little before sunset,” the “scene” he beheld — he reported in his travel book — “was the most ravishing thing” he had “ever looked upon.” His literary landscape painting of this “fairy picture” contains: “black volcanic peaks of the island for a background,” with “ravine-like valleys and mountain-faces, covered with country-houses and groves, in front”; “lofty, fantastic, broken fragment-like” gothic “crags” that supported “old castles, so beautifully wild and picturesque, that they seemed placed there for no other purpose than to adorn the landscape” (131); and a town alive with people “out enjoying themselves after the heat of the day, creating an extraordinary “scene” of “lovely nature” and humanity.

“The effect,” for Cooper, was “a flood of sensations,” and he likened “the perfection of the scene” he saw to the “feeling” of “transport” (132). The condition of transport was a standard indication of the presence of the sublime — of an overwhelming experience that could signal religious or sexual rapture. 35 Thoroughly smitten by this “scene,” he also compared what he felt to a lover’s response to the “beloved and lovely countenance” of his lady-love, and concluded that while other “scenes have the tints, the hues, the outlines, the proportions, the grandeur, and even the softness of beauty,” this one exhibited “the character that marks the existence of a soul” (132). By equating his experience at Ischia to the rapture or ecstasy of “transport,” or to the magic of a sweetheart’s “lovely” looks, or to a religious experience confirming “the existence of a soul, Cooper, in effect, linked love of landscape, romantic love, and love of God.

“Until that moment I was not fully sensible of the vast superiority of the Italian landscape over all others,” he admitted, concluding that while he could “conceive of even an ardent admirer {8} of Nature wearying in time of the grandeur” of Switzerland, he could not “imagine one who could ever tire of the witchery of Italy” (132). If Cooper — as a literary landscape artist — had an aesthetic epiphany, it happened in Italy at the Bay of Naples: perhaps under a sudden spell of extraordinary enchantment, like that sunset on the Island of Ischia; or, perhaps more gradually in a splendid every day setting such as Villa Tasso’s in Sorrento where he lived. It was on the terrace of the villa, perched romantically on a cliff — with a fabulous view of the Bay of Naples — that most of Water-Witch was written. 36 In the novel, in a fictive rendering of the outlook, Master Seadrift (Eudora Van Beverout) says, “I have visited many lands, and seen nature in nearly every clime; but no spot has yet presented, in a single view, so pleasant a combination of natural objects, mingled with mighty recollections, as that lovely abode on the Sorrentine cliffs!” 37 A few years later — calling it “a ray of sunshine in the clouded career of life, that would never be erased” — he itemized the main features of the vista: “Ischia, Procida, Mysenum, the Elysian Fields, Baiae, Pausilippo, the tomb of Virgil or its site, the grotto of Pausillipo, Parthenope or at least modern Naples, the Felice campagna, Vesuvius, and Pompeii, with the glorious expanse of water dotted with a hundred picturesque sails, and the mellow sky of Italy.” 38

After moving to Rome and briefly visiting Venice, Cooper left for Germany in May 1830, obtaining a publisher for Water-Witch in Dresden, The novel’s appearance, soon after he returned to Paris in August 1830, marks a turning point in his career as a literary landscape painter. The initial books he published while living in Europe — Prairie (1827), Red Rover (LX2X), Notions of the Americans (1828), Wept of Wish-ton-Wish (1829) — had New World settings, as in part did Water-Witch. But also partly set abroad, Water-Witch sharply distinguished between America’s “new,” low lying, densely forested coast, and Italy’s, which “teems with the recollections of three thousand years,” backed by “ragged and rocky mountains, with the indescribable play of golden and rosy light upon their broken surfaces.” Unmindful that he had just begun to differentiate, Cooper stated that only those with “fertile brains” would fail to see the difference. 39 These Old World scenes were blessed with picturesque associations, vertical features, and were well suited to the gothic mode — unlike his own land, he now realized. The final books he authored in Europe had European settings: Bravo (1831) in Italy, Heidenmauer (1832) in Germany, and Headman (1833) in Switzerland. The terms sublime and picturesque began to appear with increasing frequency in these novels; once notable for their absence in his writings, by the time his Swiss and Italian travel books appeared a few years later, they had become ubiquitous.

Cooper returned to New York on November 4, 1833, full of enthusiasm for the romantic landscapes of Italy and Switzerland, though his opinion of his native scenery was lower than when he left. In Home As Found (1838), in a fictionalized account of his own homecoming, Edward Effingham confesses while sailing up the Hudson by the same Highlands Cooper lavishly praised in 1828 in Notions of the Americans: “these rocks strike my eyes as much less imposing than {9} formerly. The passage is fine,” he grants, “but it is hardly grand scenery” 41 That same year in his Italian travel book, to take another example, Cooper noted: “Our lakes will scarcely bear any comparison with the finer lakes of Upper Italy,” and he found “our mountains” to be “insipid” when comparing “hues and forms” (94). Moreover, in his Swiss travel book (1836), in the most telling blow of all, he baldly stated that the view “from the terrace of the Pine Orchard” in “the Kaatskill, will bear no comparison, in either natural objects or artificial accessaries” with the view from “the Righi Staffel” (113) in Switzerland. “I now tell you,” he continued, “the Pine Orchard will compare with the Righi, only as the Kaatskill will compare with the falls of Trenton” (114).

Given the cultural significance of the Pine Orchard region, Cooper’s words were tantamount to sacrilege. In the heyday of romantic tourism, affluent travelers went on “pilgrimages” to “sacred places.” 41 Blessed with a bottomless past, their European counterparts might choose among abundant shrines where setting combined with the work of time and ancient associations to create a picturesque effect. Lacking such choices, American romantic sightseers frequently sought indigenous shrines in the work of nature, whose unaided artistry was a source of pride for patriots seeking aesthetic parity with Europe. 42 While some romantic travelers took side trips to the Connecticut Valley or White Mountains, by the late 1820s the main route for the American Grand Tour began with a steamboat ride up the Hudson Valley, the traveler stopping first at the Highlands and then at the Catskill Mountain House, before continuing on to Niagara Falls with the help of the Erie Canal; though there were several ways to return, Lake George was often on the itinerary. 43

Catskill Mountain House

VIEW OF THE CATTSKILL MOUNTAIN HOUSE, N.Y. The Evergreen, Vol. VIII, No. 2 (Feb. 1851), p. 33. (Figure 3.)

Early Cooper novels contributed to the romantic allure of two of these tourist attractions: The Last of the Mohicans to Lake George and The Pioneers to the Mountain House. 44 Thus Cooper had much to do with the fact that by the time he returned home from abroad, Pine Orchard — with its renowned vista and close proximity to Kaaterskill Falls — had become one of America’s sacred places (Fig. 3). Yet in his Swiss travel book, as we have seen, he depreciated the quality of the famous prospect. Moreover, in Home As Found the brilliant young gentlewoman, Mrs. Bloomfield, who has been to “Lake George, the Falls, and the Mountain House” (55), properly acknowledges the provincial limits of her own travel, unlike the fatuous booster Aristabulus Bragg who calls the Templeton heights “the handsomest mountains in the known world.” Eve Effingham, who just returned from Europe, is unwilling to accept his grandiose claim, though she grants that they are “very beautiful” (13). Her view is also Cooper’s, who uses the aesthetic term beautiful in Home As Found to characterize the Hudson and Mohawk valleys as well as the scenery around Templeton. 45 Such landscapes lacked the “grandeur” (115) of the sublime and embellishments of the picturesque.

Later Eve Effingham imagines the natural beauty of Templeton’s setting enhanced by Old {10} World “accessories” — the “lake lined with villas,” “church-towers raising their dark heads among” the “hills,” and “each mountain crowned with a castle or a crumbling ruin.” What “would then be the charms of the view!” she exclaims. “Less than they are to-day, Miss Effingham,” despite what “poetry” — hence picturesque aesthetics — “requires” (136), replies Paul Powis (Effingham). He speaks for the aesthetics of the beautiful. If “less” emphasis were placed on “the artificial” and “more” on the “natural” beauty of the land, Powis explains, “we should render ourselves less liable to criticism” (203). This would seem to be a reasonable solution to the problem of landscape aesthetics in the New World. But Cooper was too committed to the sublime and picturesque; thereafter he treated the beautiful as inferior to both. 46 This did not bode well for American landscapes. While we need to be careful when imputing views of Cooper characters to Cooper himself, in this case in nonfiction published the year of the Home novels (1838), Cooper seconded Eve Effingham’s opinion of the “landscape” of Otsego Lake: “Nothing is wanted but ruined castles and recollections, to raise it to the level of the scenery of the Rhine, or, indeed, to that of the minor Swiss views,” he wrote. 47 In a small way, at least, in Home As Found, he showed what could be done: John Effingham redesigned the grounds of the Wigwam “in the well-known English style,” providing “extensive, varied, and pleasing walks” emphasizing the landscape’s picturesque “irregularities” (319) — as had Cooper on returning from Europe in relandscaping his family home, Otsego Hall, “aiming at what is called an English garden.” 48

Kingfisher Tower

Kingfisher Tower, Lake Otsego from an old postcard. (Figure 4.)

Years afterward, in a flight of fancy recalling Eve Effingham and Cooper himself, his daughter, Susan Fenimore Cooper (who had traveled with her father in Europe), imagined Otsego Lake’s natural beauty enhanced by Old World embellishments: “low, picturesque, thatched cottages,” a “half-ruined convent” and “ruins of a tower,” and, on the lake shore, “a castle of gray stone, its half dozen towers rising a hundred feet from the hill-side.” 49 In 1876 the wishes of Eve Effingham, James and Susan Fenimore Cooper were partly fulfilled when Edward Clark, who had built a “picturesque cottage” beside Otsego Lake “in the manner of the Swiss chalets,” erected Kingfisher Tower (Fig. 4) off Point Judith, “rising out of the water to a height of nearly sixty feet” in “the style of the eleventh and twelfth centuries,” adding “solemnity to the landscape while giving “a character of antiquity to the lake.” 51 On some New York estates at this time the New World desire for Old World picturesque embellishments even led to the construction of “artificial ruins” for “’romantick’ effects.” 51

Villa Tasso at Sorrento

Vue d’une Partie de la Ville de Sorento (Golfe de Naples). Lithograph by Delpech. From Cooper’s Italian Screen, Panel 9. New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown. Villa Tasso sits on the cliff at the right side of the picture facing into the bay (the left side of the picture) (Figure 5.)

American landscapes might be “beautiful,” Cooper conceded in his Italian travel book, but they were sorely wanting when judged by the more compelling aesthetic standards of the sublime and picturesque (95). This verdict is not surprising, since his aesthetic categories were European cultural constructions designed for European scenery. Developed in the eighteenth century with an eye to rural Britain, the aesthetic category picturesque was quickly adapted to Italian and Swiss scenes containing irregular fields, quaint villages, old buildings, or crumbling ruins, while the {11} lakes and mountains of Italy and Switzerland came to epitomize scenic sublimity. Cooper was totally enchanted with such European scenes. Two screens inside Otsego Hall contained mementos and memorabilia from travels overseas. One screen prominently displayed engravings of Italian scenes, the majority from the vicinity of Sorrento, with one panel picturing Villa Tasso where he spent some of the happiest days of his life (Fig. 5). Even more telling were the visual images in the engravings — the vertical topography, old buildings, and other artifacts from long ago — reinforcing the pictorial difference between the Old World and the New, between the dramatic sublime and picturesque scenery around Sorrento, and the gentle beauty of the landscape around his home in Cooperstown. 52 Throughout the decade of the 1830s the terms sublime and picturesque appeared frequently in his most appreciative descriptions of romantic European views. However, he was burdened by the notion that these European landscape standards were universal.

Cooper was mightily affected by his visit to the Bay of Naples. Afterward America never seemed the same, and his relationship with his public became strained. Ironically, Charles King, editor of the New-York American and principal speaker at Cooper’s Bread and Cheese Club farewell fete in 1826, was his principal detractor when he returned in 1833. 53 Cooper’s drop in popularity was partly due to partisan politics. But Cooper’s writing played a part as well. During the 1830s he wrote extensively and often enthusiastically about Europe in both fiction and nonfiction; when he wrote about America his Old World inspired criticism of the New World seemed to be a betrayal of the nation’s trust in him as a republican culture hero.

After abandoning the American wilderness in his fiction for the decade of the 1830s, in the 1840s Cooper returned to the landscape that gained him much of his popularity in the 1820s. Yet in the opening sentence of his 1843 wilderness novel, Wyandottéé, or The Hutted Knoll, he repeated a familiar theme from the 1830s, announcing: “There is a wide-spread error on the subject of American scenery.” Once again he proceeded to explain that if one is “accustomed to the terrific sublimity of the Alps, the softened and yet wild grandeur of the Italian lakes, or the noble witchery of the shores of the Mediterranean, this country is apt to seem tame, and uninteresting.” This notion he would never relinquish. America lacked the sublime “grandeur” of European views and also the “high finish” or “picturesqueness, as connected with the works of man.” 54

Nonetheless, in the actual narrative Cooper used both aesthetic terms with no apparent reservations. The hutted knoll, a fortress, is the most prominent feature in the “picturesquely” landscaped settlement designed according to “English taste.” 55 The “woods” beyond the settlement seem tranquil in “their sublime solitude,” Though the surface appears “peaceful and calm” like a pastoral picture, wilderness in “sublime” repose is deceptively dangerous as an attack by Indians and whites masquerading as reds soon shows. 56 Thus the picturesque fortress is a necessary bulwark against the sublime but perilous wilderness. This is the aesthetic formulation {11} Cooper employed in Pathfinder (1840) and Deerslayer (1841).

Pathfinder opens with a discursive talk on the sublime in which Cooper links “sublimity” to “vastness” and, in turn, to a poetic response to “the depths of the illimitable void,” to the ocean’s “expanse” and “grandeur,” to “the obscurity of night,” and to “images that the senses cannot compass.” He then links these to “feelings” of “admiration and awe” — “the offspring of sublimity” — of the “characters” in “gazing on” the seemingly endless forest before them. 57 Where the picturesque is merely visual and pertains to scenery, the sublime in Pathfinder additionally involves strong emotional responses to scenery, or to situations like darkness and danger, or to religion. Most importantly, Cooper modified his aesthetic values to incorporate indigenous qualities of the American wilderness.

from The Pathfinder

Going Down the Rapids by James Hamilton, 1861. Susan Fenimore Cooper, Pages and Pictures ... , p. 24. (Figure 6.)

First, unlike the dramatic verticality of European land forms, scenic sublimity in Pathfinder is primarily horizontal. It is linked to the “apparently endless forest” and the “seemingly interminable water” (109) of Lake Ontario. The “sublimity” of such vistas is marked by “solitude” and “grandeur” and the crucial fact that it is “undisturbed” by “man” (110). Second, sublimity is associated with peril. In one canoeing “scene,” for example, “sublimity” results from various “accessaries,” including the “darkness of the night,” the “overhanging woods,” and especially the “insecurity” (90) of the characters who are threatened by Indians and the treacherous Oswego River (Fig. 6).

from The Deerslayer

Burial of Hetty Hutter , by James Hamilton, 1861 Susan Fenimore Cooper, Pages and Pictures ... , p. 330. The picture captures the essential horizontal character of Cooper’s later literary landscape paintings of the New World. (Figure 7.)

At the beginning of Deerslayer Cooper explained that the scenery “we design to paint” was a small parcel of what was then “a vast picture” of primeval forest. 58 Though the “sublime solitude” of this “wilderness” contains many a “scene” that “a poet, or an artist would have delighted in” (55-6), as in Pathfinder danger abounds. The “sublimity” is linked to “silence” and enhanced in the face of peril by “shadowy and fantastic forms” found in “the gloom of night” (106-07). Dominating the novel and giving the fullest expression to Cooper’s mature, indigenous sublime, the lovely landscape is painted in varying moods connected to changing times of day or night, providing a stark contrast and sharp rejoinder to the violence that occurs. After an Indian woman is murdered, for example, Cooper lauds the “sublime thoughts” preceding “the rising of a summer sun,” noting that objects coming into focus have an “unearthly” appearance, “first dim and misty; then marked in, in solemn background,” followed by “the witchery” of increasing light, “finally” becoming “mellow, distinct, and luminous” (324). It is when “evening arrived” — perhaps at sunset — that Hetty Hutter, another victim of the violence, is buried in Lake Glimmerglass, whose wild sublimity is enhanced by the still, “limpid” (536), luminescent surface for which it is named (Fig. 7).

In Wyandotté, Pathfinder, and Deerslayer Cooper overcame the aesthetic hegemony of {13} Europe by adopting an alternative definition of sublimity that was consistent with American wilderness settings. Of course none of the qualities or attributes of his indigenous sublime were new. Boundlessness, greatness of dimension, grandeur, obscurity, darkness, light, solitude, silence, astonishment, reverence, and awe are all named by Edmund Burke in A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757). 59 There is an additional, crucial facet of the Burkean sublime that I will return to in a moment, but first let me briefly outline Cooper’s rather straightforward use of the picturesque in these novels.

In Cooper’s formulation sublime scenery is wild and completely natural; picturesque scenery, by contrast, is unnatural in that it has been modified by human activity. The hutted knell in Wyandotté, Fort Oswego and an island outpost in Pathfinder, and Floating Tom Hutter’s castle in Deerslayer — each a fortress — are the sites of the picturesque scenery in the novels. The picturesque entails some form of addition to the natural landscape. A picturesque scene is artful like a picture; in thus having the properties of a picture, its parameters are delimited. Contrasted with unbounded natural “sublimity,” for example, one “picturesque” scene in Pathfinder provides “a refuge for the eye” (238). When Cooper praises a picturesque scene, he speaks of it as being pleasing or having charm; in this regard in Deerslayer, for example, it might be “ornamental” or “quaint” (324). While his vocabulary for the picturesque is quite restrained, his settings are literally guarded.

The picturesque sites in these novels are fortresses because everything beyond is wilderness. Scholars who see picturesque gardens or pastoral landscapes in Pathfinder and Deerslayer fail to account for over 200 references of the following sort: scalp, scalps, scalping, scalped, scalpless, scalpers, scalping knives, scalp-hunting, scalp whoop, topknots, warlocks, safety of hair on head, losing one’s hair, reeking hair, and bloody trophies. Wilderness is dangerous and terrifying. It is what Yi-Fu Tuan calls a landscape of fear, for which “Every dwelling is a fortress built to defend its human occupants against the elements,” against “the forces for chaos, natural and human.” 61 Traditionally, in John Stilgoe’s words, wilderness was “the spatial correlative of unreason, or madness, of the human anarchy” that threatens the “stability of Christianity, society, and agriculture.” 61 A stable, Christian, agricultural setting overseen by enlightened gentry was central to Cooper’s vision of the good society. At the furthest remove from the good society — as chaotic, unbounded terrain, a dangerous place, a fearful landscape — Cooper’s wilderness is a source of the fundamental attribute of the Burkean sublime: terror.

In these novels the sublime and picturesque were separate and distinct: sublime landscape was natural; the picturesque required the imprint of humanity. In overcoming his Eurocentric aesthetic bias in these novels, Cooper found a workable American sublime based on one abundant feature of the New World: wilderness. Since picturesque effects were less dependent on natural {14} features than on associations linked to the passage of time, they posed a different problem in a fresh New World landscape. In Wyandotté, Pathfinder, and Deerslayer Cooper skirted the problem of newness by locating picturesque sites at fortresses where desperate struggles occurred in a legendary past.

Hence Cooper’s mature aesthetic appreciation of his native land contains two patterns. In romances mythologizing a time when trackless forests covered much of eastern America, the perilous, unbounded wilderness provided a generic source of the sublime; in the midst of the wilderness a few fortified outposts of civilization yielded associations for the picturesque. In his own day, however, no vast wilderness remained in the East as a source of sublimity, while the very newness of the landscape precluded the time-wrought picturesque artifacts found in historical romance. Since it lacked the aesthetic qualities he had learned to revere in Italy, his response to his contemporary countryside was not very flattering.

His final thoughts on landscape appeared in “American and European Scenery Compared,” published posthumously in The Home Book of the Picturesque (1852). By this time in the broader culture the terms sublime and picturesque were so loosely used they retained little meaning. 62 In contrast, Cooper carefully distinguished between the terms and was quite specific in his usage. But he continued to repeat his Italian discovery of the inferiority of American landscape. In passing, he noted that with the possible exception of the far West, America’s uplands lacked the sublimity of Europe’s. However, his chief concern was our deficiency in picturesque scenery. He preferred the picturesque for aesthetic reasons: sublime scenery was merely the work of nature, while picturesque landscapes were “works of art.” 63 More precisely, the picturesque occurs “where art” has “assisted nature” in order to overcome its “defects.” 64 Thus Cooper’s distinction between the picturesque and the sublime is a distinction between art and nature in its natural state. 65

During the eighteenth century in Great Britain a debate took place about the meaning of the aesthetic terms sublime, beautiful, and picturesque. By the Jacksonian era the terms sublime and picturesque were commonplace in the vocabulary of educated Americans. Current scholarship usually presents them as static entities whose meaning at that time was given and clear. Whether this was true for other Americans, it was not for Cooper, who, in effect, became a latter-day, trans-Atlantic participant in an Old World dialogue. In part, he was a prisoner of Eurocentric values, but he also contributed creatively to this dialogue. He remained emulative in his criticism of his own contemporary countryside. But he was inventive in wilderness romances set in the past, adapting the aesthetic terms to landscapes that visually differed from the landscapes in the Old World that spawned them. Moreover, his distinction between sublime and picturesque landscapes in the New World corresponded to the conventional distinction between nature and art; this enabled him to link his preference for the picturesque to social and cultural development and his notion of {15} the good society.

As a tourist in Europe, scenery was primarily a problem of aesthetics for Cooper. But as a republican citizen back home, scenery was also a social and ultimately an ideological problem. For Americans of a romantic bent, like Cooper, the vitality of the republic depended on its relationship to nature. With American landscapes spread over a spectrum from wilderness to metropolis, various possibilities presented themselves. Where on this spectrum would the good society reside? The answer for Cooper and many other antebellum Americans was a middle ground between the extremes of wilderness and city: in a pastoral landscape harmoniously combining human society and nature. 66 What should it look like?

Before he went to Europe the answer for Cooper was uncomplicated but rather vague: a romantic garden. Afterward the answer was complicated by his love of European scenery and preoccupation with European aesthetic categories. In addition, European scenes frequently compounded aesthetic categories; with a backdrop of icebound mountains, for example, a jagged reck formation might support an ancient monastery which overlooked a sylvan valley whose fields were dotted with peasants in colorful costumes. In such scenes aesthetic categories overlapped or combined and often blurred: 67 for instance, in Italy a scenic object might be described as “beautifully picturesque” (156); or “sublime” and “picturesque” (132); or, perhaps, “either sublime or beautiful, and commonly both, for the two are so blended as to render it doubtful which most prevails” (142), Furthermore, in Italy he noted the “admixture of the savage and the refined” (68); and in Switzerland, the “admixture of the savage with the civilized” (179). Such mixtures were unproblematic in the Old World where civilization was not in question.

In the New World — where cities and settled countryside lacked Old World refinement and wilderness covered vast stretches of hinterland — civilization was very much in question. 68 As part of the work of civilization-building, defining and developing an exemplary republican landscape remained a formidable task. For Cooper this meant harmonizing social use, aesthetics, and ideology. Because the good society belonged to the pastoral state, not the savage state, he needed to clarify their differences, including the aesthetic difference between “savage” and “civilized” landscapes. The result was a sharp distinction between the sublime and picturesque: sublime landscapes were natural and linked to wilderness; picturesque landscapes exhibited artful improvement and were linked to civilization. Nevius and Peck are right about Cooper idealizing garden-like picturesque or pastoral landscapes. But they were not located in wilderness. His ideal landscape exhibited a picturesquely pleasing mix of civilization and nature.

For the most part this clearly stated landscape preference has been rendered invisible in the scholarly literature. For example, having examined contributions of Cooper and his daughter to {16} Home Book of the Picturesque, Stilgoe writes: “Unlike her father, Susan Cooper favored crafted space, not wilderness, and she worried that the rural scenery surrounding her home in Cooperstown, New York, stood a poor second to that of England.” 69 The difference Stilgoe detects between father and daughter — in effect, between male and female — according to Annette Kolodny is a fundamental gender distinction in landscape preference among antebellum Americans: males, including Cooper, she believes, dreamed of wilderness; females dreamed of domesticated gardens. 71 Actually, in The Home Book of the Picturesque, the father’s and daughter’s landscape values appear to be quite similar. 71 Both preferred cultivated landscapes picturesquely improved by human artistry to the sublime attractions of wilderness. Thus Susan Fenimore Cooper, like her father, links “sublime scenes” to “the absence of human life,” while confirming that the “hand of man generally improves a landscape” giving “life and spirit to the garden.” 72 James Fenimore Cooper’s aesthetic belief that “a union of art and nature can alone render scenery perfect,” 73 derives from an ideology that privileges an orderly, socially constructed environment over a natural one.

As an ideological formulation, the picturesque represents a conservative response to modernization and social change. In its inception in rural Britain, the picturesque movement “was a holding operation” — based on “a comfortable myth” of “country life” — of a “squirearchy,” which, in the words of Leslie Parris, “continued to lose ground in the dynamic of country life.” 74 Cooper’s New York version of this myth looked back to the early republic when great estates dominated the pastoral landscape and enlightened gentry oversaw a deferential populace. In the 1830s and 1840s in his Home, Wallingford, and Littlepage novels he recreated this world and the declension that followed. 75 The “picturesque-looking peasant” (12) was a romantic feature in literary landscape paintings in his Italian travel book, but back home he found the countryside sullied by upstarts, go-getters, and regular movers; and instead of the “assemblages of rustics” (123) which delighted him in Italy, he was fearful of unruly mobs.

Cooper was a conservative republican ideologue with a powerful sense of original sin and an abiding fear of social disorder. His republicanism was founded in the belief that firm institutions were necessary to contain profligate tendencies in human nature. Personal liberty and republican virtue certainly were central components of his good society. Such virtue could not be sustained, however, without the guidance of social and political institutions, and he was well aware of the fine line between liberty and license. 76 The most persistent fear running through the vast body of his writings is the specter of institutional breakdown and ensuing barbarism. This can happen in cities, as Jacksonian urban riots demonstrated, and also in rural areas, as occurred in New York state’s anti-rent riots. But no geography was inherently more treacherous than wilderness, which had no institutional restraints to begin with. Cooper’s wilderness obviously was a dangerous environment for white women. In the four Leatherstocking Tales set in wilderness, {17} white women are taken captive or threatened with captivity by hostile Indians who find them sexually attractive. The threat to women was a threat to civilization itself; as the chief guardians of morality and spirituality, women were the primary pillars supporting the good society. Yet except for the mythic figure of Leatherstocking, white men are not much more at home than white women in Cooper’s wilderness. It is not their domain. In this institutional vacuum, in fact, some become as barbaric as the savage Indians. The more decent sort return to civilization where they belong: where they can be dutiful husbands, solid citizens, and participate in the construction of the good society.

If we are to recover the sublime attractiveness of wilderness for Cooper, we must leave our twentieth-century values behind, and recapture the essential quality of terror it held for him. Now managed by the park and forest service, wilderness is no longer threatening. It has relinquished most of its traditional connotations, including “the Biblical meaning of awe and threat and the sense of sublimity far greater than the world of man and unencompassable by him,” in Tuan’s words. 77 Juxtaposed to the overwhelming and terrifying sublimity of wilderness was the limited, protective social geography of the pastoral garden. When the garden was properly designed it fulfilled the aesthetic specifications of the picturesque for Cooper, while providing the necessary “enclosed” and “fortified” space for human habitation. J. B. Jackson warns that “we can never divorce the garden from its social meaning; when we do so, we run the risk of defining the garden in strictly aesthetic or ecological terms.” 78 If we are to understand Cooper, we must heed Jackson’s warning: because nature in America for Cooper was an ecological, aesthetic, social, and ultimately, an ideological problem.

When Europeans first looked at nature in the New World the familiar loomed large, for they were guided in their encounter by Old World forms and expectations. As they became aware of variation and novelty, the Old World remained the measure of their encounter; in Richard White’s words, they saw and understood “American nature through strategies of difference/similarity and presence/absence.” 79 This dialogue between worlds continued over centuries, eventually drawing Cooper and other Americans into the crosscurrents of European romanticism. When Cooper arrived in the Old World, he noted the familiar in his travel journals — as had Europeans in their first response to nature in the New World — and in picturing New World landscape in Notions of the Americans and Wept of Wish-ton-Wish, he recorded the resemblance between gothic scenery in America and what he saw in Europe. His appreciation of American landscape was forever altered by his visit to the Bay of Naples. Thereafter his comparisons were not favorable to the New World, and he — much like Europeans in their earliest encounters with America — thought in terms of “difference/similarity and presence/absence.” However, he rued the differences and absences in the landscape of his homeland: due to the “difference” in New World topography, the gothic sublime was inappropriate; due to the “absence” of finish, American {17} scenery at best was merely beautiful. Only in wilderness romances set in a misty past could he locate indigenous landscapes that were sublime and picturesque. The “absence” of the picturesque in contemporary landscape was painful, for it was the preferred aesthetic of the good society.


* The painting depicts Cora on the precipice the moment before death (detail). I am indebted to John P. McWilliams for pointing out that the painting is a literal representation of a passage in the novel. The exhibition catalog quotes the passage — “Woman,” he said, “choose! the wigwam or the knife of Le Subtil!” Cora regarded him not; but dropping on her knees, with a rich glow suffusing itself over her features, she raised her eyes and stretched her arms toward heaven, saying in a meek and yet confiding voice — “I am thine! do with me as thou seest best!” — But Cora neither heard nor heeded his demand. The form of the Huron trembled in every fibre, and he raised his arm on high, but dropped it again, with a wild and bewildered air, like one who doubted. Once more he struggled with himself and lifted the keen weapon again — but a piercing cry was heard above them, and Uncas appeared, leaping franticly [sic] from a fearful height, upon the ledge. — Last of the Mohicans, II, 266. The Exhibition of the National Academy of Design, Second Exhibition (New York: 1827), 3-4. In Miscellaneous Exhibition Catalogs, Group III, 1826-1945, roll NAAA5, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

1 Honoré de Balzac, Review of The Pathfinder in Paris Review, July 25, 1840, trans. K. P. Wormeley, in Fenimore Cooper: The Critical Heritage, eds. George Dekker and John P. McWilliams (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973), 197.

2 H. Daniel Peck, A World by Itself: The Pastoral Moment in Cooper’s Fiction (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977); Blake Nevius, Cooper’s Landscapes: An Essay on the Picturesque Vision (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976). Also see: John Conron and Constance Ayers Denne, hist. introd., James Fenimore Cooper, Gleanings in Europe: Italy, explanatory notes by Conron and Denne, text established by Denne (Albany: SUNY Press, 1981), xix-xlvi; Wayne Franklin, The New World of James Fenimore Cooper (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), particularly Ch. 7. “All Sort of Images,” 213-48; Edward Everett Hale, “American Scenery in Cooper’s Novels,” Sewanee Review, 18 (July 1910), 317-32; Howard Mumford Jones, “James Fenimore Cooper and the Hudson River School,” Magazine of Art, XLV (Oct. 1952), 243-251; Howard Mumford Jones, “Prose and Pictures: James Fenimore Cooper,” Tulane Studies in English, 3 (1952), 133-154; Annette Kolodny, The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975), 89-115; Ernest Redekop and Maurice Geracht, hist. introd., James Fenimore Cooper, Gleanings in Europe: The Rhine, text established with explanatory notes by Thomas Philbrick and Maurice Geracht (Albany: SUNY Press, 1986), xvi-xlii; Ernest H. Redekop, “Picturesque and Pastoral: Two Views of Cooper’s Landscapes,” Canadian Review of American Studies, VIII (Fall 1977), 184-205; Donald A. Ringe, “Chiaroscuro as an Artistic Device in Cooper’s Fiction,” PMLA, LXXVIII (Sept. 1963), 349-357; Donald A. Ringe, “James Fenimore Cooper and Thomas Cole: An Analogous Technique,” American Literature, 30 (March 1958), 26-36; Donald A. Ringe, The Pictorial Mode: Space & Time in the Art of Bryant, Irving & Cooper (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1971); Robert E. Spiller and James F. Beard, hist. introd., James Fenimore Cooper, Gleanings in Europe. Switzerland, explanatory notes by Spiller and Beard, text established by Kenneth W. Staggs and James P. Elliott (Albany: SUNY Press, 1980), xix-xliii.

3 Peck, 189.

4 Nevius, 110.

5 Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World: A History of the Modern Sensibility (New York: Pantheon, 1983), 268.

6 James Fenimore Cooper, The Pioneers, or the Sources of the Susquehanna: A Descriptive Tale, hist. introd. and explanatory notes by James Franklin Beard, text established by Lance Schachterle and Kenneth M. Andersen, Jr. (1823; Albany: SUNY Press, 1980), 291-94.

7 Kenneth Myers points out that as late as 1819 “few New Yorkers had heard of the wonders of the Catskills, and there were no comfortable accommodations in the mountains.” “The Catskills and the Creation of Landscape Taste in America,” in The Catskills: Painters, Writers, and Tourists in the Mountains, 1820-1895, ed. Myers (Yonkers: Hudson River Museum of Westchester, 1987), 32.

8 Timothy Dwight, Travels in New England and New York, ed. Barbara Miller Solomon. 4 vols. (1821-22; Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1969), IV, 122-23. Vols. I and II appeared in 1821, III and IV in 1822.

9 Myers, 36; Roland Van Zandt, The Catskill Mountain House (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1966), 26.

10 Van Zandt, 71.

11 Van Zandt, 41-2, 170-88.

12 Susan Fenimore Cooper, Pages and Pictures from the Writings of James Fenimore Cooper (New York: W. A. Townsend, 1861), 14-15. Of course there were examples of picturesque gardens prior to this time, but they were very much the exception in American landscape design. See Therese O’Malley, “Landscape Gardening in the Early National Period,” in Views and Visions: American Landscape before 1830, ed. Edward J. Nygren (Wash. D.C.: Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1986), 133-59.

13 Quoted in Karol Ann Peard Lawson, “An Inexhaustible Abundance: The National Landscape Depicted in American Magazines, 1780-1820,” Journal of the Early Republic, 12 (Fall 1992), 309.

14 On Cooper’s relationship with artists, see: James Franklin Beard, “Cooper and His Artistic Contemporaries,” in James Fenimore Cooper: A Re-Appraisal, ed. Mary E. Cunningham (Cooperstown: New York State Historical Association, 1954), 114, 116-19; James T. Callow, Kindred Spirits. Knickerbocker Writers and American Artists, 1807-1855 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1967), x, 12, 52, 90, 91, 145. James D. Wallace, Early Cooper and His Audience (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), 168, 179-80.

15 Lawson, 319; J. Meredith Neil, Toward a National Taste: America’s Quest for Aesthetic Independence (Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1975), 6-7. On the aesthetic discourse in Britain in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries about the sublime, the beautiful, and the picturesque, see: J. T. Boulton, introd. to Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757; London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1958), xv-cxxvii; Walter John Hipple, Jr., The Beautiful, The Sublime, & The Picturesque in Eighteenth-Century British Aesthetic Theory (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1957); Samuel H. Monk, The Sublime: A Study of Critical Theories in XVIII-Century England (1935; Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1960); Martin Price, “The Picturesque Moment,” in From Sensibility to Romanticism: Essays Presented to Frederick A. Pottle, eds. Frederick W. Hilles and Harold Bloom (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965), 259-92.

16 See Pioneers, 15, 40, 41, 46, 237; for the only use of the word sublime in the early novels, see The Spy (1821; New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, n.d.), 45; also see Nevius, 19.

17 In a footnote Cooper added to Mohicans in 1831 during his fifth year in Europe, he used the term picturesque in conjunction with a discussion of Glenn’s Falls, see: James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans; A Narrative of 1757, hist. introd. James Franklin Beard, text established, with explanatory notes, by James A. Sappenfield and E. N. Feltskog (1826; Albany: SUNY Press, 1983), 55.

18 Cooper, Mohicans, 335.

19 Cooper, Mohicans, 336.

20 James Fenimore Cooper, The Prairie: A Tale, ed, with hist. introd. by James P. Elliott (Albany: SUNY Press, 1985), 85.

21 Donald A. Ringe, American Gothic: Imagination and Reason in Nineteenth-Century Fiction (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1982), 108-110.

22 New-York American (May 30, 1826), 2.

23 Cooper, Notions of the Americans, Picked Up by a Travelling Bachelor, ed. Gary Williams (1828; Albany: SUNY Press, 1991), 175, 176, 177. A “European Romantic aesthetic” is used in Notions to praise the Hudson Valley, explains John Seelye, but a different landscape aesthetic is used to praise the Mohawk Valley and Frie Canal: “a uniquely American ideal, neoclassical in its celebration of balance and proportions but thoroughly modern in its love of utility.” Thus the “Mohawk Valley resembles a French plain. It pleases because it is an orderly and balanced mixture.” Beautiful Machine: Rivers and the Republican Plan, 1755-1825 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 314, 308. Elsewhere Cooper preferred the romantic to the practical and was not a champion of neoclassical landscape, For example, in his travel account he found the French plains monotonous and “fatiguing,” and, for the most part, faulted French landscape for being “greatly deficient” in romantic, picturesque features. Gleanings in Europe: Switzerland, 14, 15. Subsequent quotes from Switzerland are noted in parentheses in the text.

24 Greene, Biographical Studies (New York: G. P. Putnam, 1860), 35.

25 4 Aug. 1828, The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper, ed. James Franklin Beard. 6 vols. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960-68), I, 274, 275.

26 For examples of comparisons with Switzerland, see: The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish (1829; New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, n.d.), 14-15, 101, 337-38.

27 Susan Fenimore Cooper, “Small Family Memories,” in Correspondence of James Fenimore-Cooper, ed. James Fenimore Cooper (the grandson). 2 vols. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1922), I, 71.

28 The travel book is Gleanings in Europe: Italy. Subsequent quotes from Italy are noted in parentheses in the text. Nathalia Wright shows that Cooper was so taken by Italy that two of his later novels were set in Italy, eight others had Italian characters, seven others had American characters who had visited Italy, while only one novel contained no Italian allusions, in American Novelists in Italy; the Discoverers: Allston to James (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1965), 125. On the impact of Italy on Cooper, see: Conron and Denne, hist. introd. to Cooper’s Gleanings in Europe: Italy, xix-xlvi; Joy S. Kasson, Artistic Voyagers: Europe and the American Imagination in the Works of Irving, Allston, Cole, Cooper, and Hawthorne (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1982), 137-64; Algerina Neri, “James Fenimore Cooper’s Gleanings of Italy,” in Italy and Italians in America, ed. Alfredo Rizzardi (Catania, Italy: Associazione Italiana di Studi Nord-Americani, 1985), 103-13; Nevius, Cooper’s Landscapes, 32-63; Wright, American Novelists in Italy, 115-37.

29 Cooper to Susan Augusta De Lancey Cooper, 27 Feb. 1829, Letters and Journals, I, 361.

30 9 Aug. 1829, Letters and Journals, I, 379.

31 Cooper to Greenough, 9 Aug. 1836, Letters and Journals, 11I, 233.

32 Cooper to Greenough, 1 March 1833, Letters and Journals, II, 371.

33 For treatment of the masculine perception of the feminine landscape, see: Annette Kolodny, The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975). In another study she shows that women perceived landscape differently than men: The Land Before Her: Fantasy and Experience of the American Frontiers, 1630-1860 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984).

34 For a compelling exegesis of the love letters of educated nineteenth-century Americans, see: Karen Lystra, Searching the Heart: Women, Men and Romantic Love in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989).

35 Peter de Bolla, The Discourse of the Sublime: Readings in History, Aesthetics and the Subject (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989), 36, 40, 56.

36 On Cooper at Villa Tasso, see: Cooper, Gleanings: Italy, 118-21; Susan Fenimore Cooper, “A Second Glance Backward,” Atlantic Monthly, 60 (Oct. 1887), 479-80; Neri, 109-10; Robert E. Spiller, Fenimore Cooper: Critic of His Times (New York: Minton, Balch, 1931), 156-57; Wright, 116, 118.

37 The Water-Witch (1830; New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, n,d.), 281.

38 Cooper to John Whipple, 14 Jan. 1834, Letters and Journals, III, 27.

39 Cooper, Water-Witch, 281, 280.

40 James Fenimore Cooper, Home As Found, introd. Lewis Leary (1838; New York: Capricorn, 1961), 115. Subsequent quotes from Home As Found are noted in parentheses in the text.

41 In Sacred Places: American Tourist Attractions in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 3-11, John F. Sears uses the language of religious pilgrimage for romantic tourism at this time.

42 Perry Miller, “The Romantic Dilemma in American Nationalism and the Concept of Nature,” Harvard Theological Review, 48 (Oct. 1955), 247.

43 Edward Halsey Foster, The Civilized Wilderness: Backgrounds to American Romantic Literature, 1817-1860 (New York: Free Press, 1975), 8, 21; Myers, 38; Bruce Robertson, “The Picturesque Traveler in America,” in Views and Visions: American Landscape before 1830, ed. Edward J. Nygren (Washington D.C.: Corcoran Gallery, 1986), 199; Sears, 4, 56-7.

44 For example, Leatherstocking’s celebration of the scenic wonders of the Pine Orchard region was repeatedly recited in Catskill Mountain guide books and travel narratives; see Myers, 35-6.

45 Cooper, Home as Found, 12, 13, 121, 127, 133. He also uses variations of the term beautiful (“beauty,” “beauties,” “beautifully”) to characterize this scenery, 117, 119, 125, 195, 201, 205. An exception results from an enormous old tree known as the “Silent Pine” in which the “fearful” and “grand” combine to produce the “sublime,” 202. The context of the picturesque is European: “the picturesque bourgs of Switzerland,” 127.

46 Only two of the aesthetic categories obtained currency in nineteenth-century America: the sublime and the picturesque. Cooper was knowledgeable about but less interested in the aesthetics of the beautiful. He employed the term in his travel books and occasionally in his fiction, but considered the beautiful less desirable than either the sublime or the picturesque. Characteristically delicate, small, bounded, smooth, or regular, the beautiful lacked the size and drama of the sublime, the irregularity and complexity of the picturesque.

47 Cooper, The Chronicles of Cooperstown in A History of Cooperstown (1838; Cooperstown: Freeman’s Journal Co., 1929), 42-3.

48 Cooper, Chronicles of Cooperstown, 40.

49 Susan Fenimore Cooper, “A Dissolving View,” in The Home Book of the Picturesque, introd. Motley F. Deakin (1852; Gainesville: Scholar’s Facsimiles & Reprints, 1967), 92-3.

50 Samuel M. Shaw, “The History of Cooperstown, 1839-1886,” in A History of Cooperstown (1886; Cooperstown: Freeman’s Journal Co., 1929), 84.

51 Foster, Civilized Wilderness, 21.

52 I am beholden to Hugh C. MacDougall for the information about these screens contained in a working draft of a paper titled “Cooper’s Italian Screen.”

53 Beard, Cooper’s Letters and Journals, III, 6.

54 James Fenimore Cooper, Wyandotté, or The Hutted Knoll. A Tale, ed. with an hist. introd. by Thomas and Marianne Philbrick (1843; Albany: SUNY Press, 1982), 1, 2.

55 Cooper, Wyandotté, 44.

56 Cooper, Wyandotté, 140.

57 James Fenimore Cooper, The Pathfinder, or The Inland Sea, ed. with an hist. introd. by Richard Dilworth Rust (1840; Albany: SUNY Press, 1981), 7. Subsequent quotes from Pathfinder are noted in parentheses in the text.

58 James Fenimore Cooper, The Deerslayer or, The First War-Path, hist. introd. and explanatory notes by James Franklin Beard, text established by Lance Schachterle and James Kilby (1841; Albany: SUNY Press, 1987), 19. Subsequent quotes from Deerslayer are noted in parentheses in the text.

59 In claiming the importance of Burke’s aesthetic views for Americans, Charles L. Sanford notes that “ten different American editions” of Burke’s book appeared between 1800 and 1856. See Sanford’s The Quest For Paradise: Europe and the American Moral Imagination (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1961), 137.

60 Yi-Fu Tuan, Landscapes of Fear (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980), 7. On the danger of venturing into landscape outside the fortress in Cooper’s early novels, see Wallace, 94-5.

61 John R. Stilgoe, Common Landscape of America, 1580 to 1845 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982), 11.

62 Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967), 61.

63 James Fenimore Cooper, “American and European Scenery Compared,” in The Home Book of the Picturesque: or American Scenery, Art, and Literature, introd. Motley F. Deakin (1852; Gainesville: Scholars’ Facsimiles & Reprints, 1967), 52.

64 Cooper, “American and European Scenery Compared,” 62, 55.

65 This opposition of art — an orderly human product — and nature was widespread in antebellum America, as was the preference for art to nature. See Lewis O. Saum, The Popular Mood of Pre-Civil War America (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1980), 175, 191-92.

66 The classic study of the middle landscape as the setting for the good society in antebellum letters is Leo Marx’s The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964).

67 Conron and Denne, introd. to Gleanings in Europe: Italy, xxxi, xxxv.

68 The year Italy was published, in a book focused on the New World, The American Democrat, eds. George Dekker and Larry Johnston (1838; London: Penguin Books, 1969), 211, 212, Cooper defined “Civilization” as “a condition of society that is the opposite of the savage, or barbarous state”; compared to Europe, he found America “deficient on many points of civilization,” most notably in “the high tastes” and “high enjoyments” associated with “the fine arts.”

69 John R. Stilgoe, Borderland: Origins of the American Suburb, 1820-1939 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), 23.

70 Kolodny, The Land Before Her, 5.

71 She consistently endorsed her father’s views, thus he wisely chose her as his literary executor. As an anti-feminist and loyal daughter, in her own writings she self-consciously protected his “vision of America,” believing it “the American woman’s duty” to guard “the legacy left by the pioneering males,” according to Lucy B. Maddox, in “Susan Fenimore Cooper and the Plain Daughters of America,” American Quarterly, 40 (June 1988), 131, 134, 135. Ironically, however, in this instance, instead of the daughter endorsing the male view, we see father and daughter endorsing landscape values the Kolodny attributes to women but not men.

72 Susan Fenimore Cooper, “A Dissolving View,” 83, 82.

73 Cooper, “American and European Scenery Compared,” 56.

74 Leslie Parris, Landscape In Britain, c. 1750-1850 (London: Tate Gallery, 1973), 58.

75 See Homeward Bound (1838) and Home As Found (1838); Afloat and Ashore (1844) and Miles Wallingford (1844); Satanstoe (1845), Chainbearer (1845), Redskins (1846).

76 For discussions of Cooper’s conservative republican ideology, see: Allan M. Axelrad, History and Utopia: A Study of the World View of James Fenimore Cooper (Norwood, Pa.: Norwood Editions, 1978); John P. Diggins, The Lost Soul of American Politics: Virtue, Self-interest, and the Foundations of Liberalism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 180-91; Robert S. Levine, Conspiracy and Romance: Studies in Brockden Brown, Cooper, Hawthorne, and Melville (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), Ch. 2. “’Soulless Corporation’: Oligarchy and the Countersubversive Presence in James Fenimore Cooper’s The Bravo,” 58-103; John P. McWilliams, Political Justice in a Republic: James Fenimore Cooper’s America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972); Marvin Meyers, The Jacksonian Persuasion: Politics and Belief (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1957), Ch. 4. “The Great Descent: On Cooper and the Age of Dodge and Bragg,” 57-100.

77 Yi-Fu Tuan, Topophilia: A Study Of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, And Values (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1974), 112.

78 John Brinckerhoff Jackson, The Necessity For Ruins: And Other Topics (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1980), 20-1.

79 White, “Discovering Nature in North America,” Journal of American History, 79 (Dec. 1992), 879.