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wish to write a story on "the teeming and glorious naval history of that
land." Our own country at that time had no fleet, but Cooper's interest
in his youthful profession made quite fitting to himself the words of
his old shipmate, Ned Myers: "I can say conscientiously that if my life
were to be passed over again it would he passed in the navy - God bless
the flag!" Out of England's long naval records Cooper made "The Two
Admirals," an old-time, attractive story of the evolution of fleets, and
the warm friendship between two strong-hearted men in a navy full of
such, and at a time before the days of steam. "Cooper's ships live," so
says Captain Mahan; and continues: "They are handled as ships then were,
and act as ships still would act under the circumstances." This naval
historian thought "the water a noble field for the story-teller." "The
Two Admirals" first appeared in _Graham's Magazine,_ for which Cooper
was regularly engaged to write in 1842. On June 16 of this year a
decision was rendered in the "Naval History" dispute. One of the
questions was whether Cooper's account of the battle of Lake Erie was
accurate and fair and did justice to the officers in command, and
whether he was right in asserting that Elliott, second in command, whom
Perry at first warmly commended and later preferred charges against, did
his duty in that action. Cooper maintained that while Perry's victory in
1813 had won for himself, "as all the world knows, deathless glory,"
injustice had been done to Elliott. Three arbitrators chosen by the
parties to the dispute decided that Cooper had fulfilled his duty as an
historian; that "the narrative of his battle of Lake Erie was true; that
it was impartial"; and that his critics' "review was untrue, not
impartial"; and that they "should publish this decision in New York,
Washington, and Albany papers." Later Commodore Elliott presented Cooper
with a bronze medal for this able and disinterested "defense of his



Professor Lounsbury's summary of Cooper's "Naval History" is: "It is
safe to say, that for the period which it covers it is little likely to
be superseded as the standard history of the American navy. Later
investigation may show some of the author's assertions to be erroneous.
Some of his conclusions may turn out as mistaken as have his prophecies
about the use of steam in war vessels. But such defects, assuming that
they exist, are more than counterbalanced by advantages which make it a
final authority on points that can never again be so fully considered.
Many sources of information which were then accessible no longer exist.
The men who shared in the scenes described, and who communicated
information directly to Cooper, have all passed away. These are losses
that can never be replaced, even were it reasonable to expect that the
same practical knowledge, the same judicial spirit and the same power of
graphic description could be found united again in the same person."
Most amusing was Cooper's own story of a disputing man who being told:
"Why, that is as plain as two and two make four," replied: "But I
dispute that too, for two and two make twenty-two."

Cooper called the Mediterranean, its shores and countries, "a sort of a
world apart, that is replete with charms which not only fascinate the
beholder, but linger in the memories of the absent like visions of a
glorious past." And so his cruise in 1830, in the _Bella Genovese_,
entered into the pages of "Wing-and-Wing." The idea was to bring
together sailors of all nations - English, French, Italian, and
Yankee - on the Mediterranean and aboard a French water-craft of peculiar
Italian rig - the lateen sail. These sails spread like the great white
wings of birds, and the craft glides among the islands and hovers about
every gulf and bay and rocky coast of that beautiful sea. Under her
dashing young French captain, Raoul Yvard, _Le Fen Follet_
(Jack-o'-Lantern or fire-fly, as you will) glides like a water-sprite
here, there, and everywhere, guided by Cooper's sea phrases, - for which
he had an unfailing instinct, - that meant something "even to the
land-lubber who does not know the lingo." It is said many down-east
fishermen never tire of Cooper, but despise many of his followers
because of their misuse of sea terms. But more of "Wing-and-Wing": there
was lovely Ghita, so sweet and brave, and anxious for her daring young
lover Raoul, and stricken by the tragedies that befell her in the wake
of Lord Nelson's fleet. The brown mountains of Porta Farrajo, "a small,
crowded town with little forts and a wall," Cooper had seen.

[Illustration: ISLAND OF ELBA.]

He had tested its best inn, _The Four Nations_, by a good dinner in its
dining-room of seven mirrors and a broken tile floor, and had some talk
with its host as to their late ruler, - he said Napoleon came that
evening, sent at once for Elba's oldest flag, which was run up on the
forts as a sign of independence.

[Illustration: ELBA HOME OF NAPOLEON.]

Cooper saw Napoleon's Elba home, - "a low, small house and two wings,
with ten windows in its ninety feet of front." He also saw the more
comfortable one-story home of Napoleon's mother. Other isles and shores
seen then - during his cruise in the _Bella Genovese_ - found place in
"Wing-and-Wing," published in 1842. The knowledge thus obtained of
localities and the Italians led Cooper to say: "Sooner or later Italy
will, inevitably, become a single state; this is a result that I hold to
be certain, though the means by which it is to be effected are still

[Illustration: THE BATTLE OF LAKE ERIE.]


During 1843 appeared in _Graham's Magazine_ Cooper's "Life-Sketch of
Perry," "The Battle of Lake Erie," and "The Autobiography of a
Pocket-handkerchief," or "Social Life in New York." This volume of
_Graham's Magazine_ also included the life of "John Paul Jones," wherein
appeared Cooper's masterful description of the celebrated battle of the
_Bon Homme Richard_ - one of the most remarkable in the brief annals of
that time of American naval warfare.



Of John Paul Jones himself Cooper wrote:

"In battle, Paul Jones was brave; in enterprise, hardy and original; in
victory, mild and generous; in motives, much disposed to
disinterestedness, though ambitious of renown and covetous of
distinction; in pecuniary relations, liberal; in his affections, natural
and sincere; and in his temper, except in those cases which assailed his
reputation, just and forgiving."

Fenimore Cooper was a veritable pioneer in spirit. He delighted in the
details of American "clearing," - from the first opening of the forest to
sunlight, by the felling of trees and stump-extractor, to the neat drain
and finished stonewall. On the mountain slope of Otsego's shore, and
less than two miles from Cooperstown, lay his small farm belted with
woodland, from which he had filched it in true pioneer fashion.
Concerning Cooper's "costly contest with the soil," Mr. Keese tells us:
"The inspiring beauty of its commanding views caught Cooper's fancy for
buying it far more than any meager money returns its two hundred acres
could promise."

[Illustration: STUMP EXTRACTOR.]

After ten years of devoted care the author is on record as saying with
some humor: "for this year the farm would actually pay expenses." But
full returns came in charming views over field, wood, and lake, where
his fancy built "Muskrat Castle" and the "Ark of Floating Tom." Besides,
its pork and butter were the sweetest, its eggs the whitest and
freshest; its new peas and green corn "fit for the pot" were the first
in the country. When the morning writing hours were over at the Hall, it
was to the Châlet, as he called this farm, that he drove, to look after
his horses, cows, pigs, and chickens.

[Illustration: THE CHÂLET FARM.]

The dumb creatures soon learned to know and love him. They would gather
about him and frequently follow him "in a mixed procession often not a
little comical. He had a most kindly feeling for all domestic animals,"
and "was partial to cats as well as dogs; the pet half-breed Angora
often perched on his shoulders while he sat writing in the library."
Then there were the workmen to direct, for whom he always had a kindly
word. One of these said: "We never had to call on him a second time for
a bill; he brought us the check. When I knocked at his library door it
was surprising how quickly I heard the energetic 'Come in.' When I met
him in the street in winter he often said: 'Well, Thomas, what are you
driving at?' If work was dull he would try to think of something to set
me about." Of Cooper's activity was added: "When the masons were
repairing his home, in 1839, he, at fifty, and then quite stout, went up
their steep, narrow ladder to the topmost scaffold on the gable end and
walked the ridge of the house when the chimney was on fire." The Châlet
brought to the author's mind "Wyandotté," or "The Hutted Knoll," a tale
of border-life during the colonial period. A family of that time forces
from the wilderness an affluent frontier home and settlement for its
successors. In "Sassy Dick" the idle and fallen Indian is pathetically
portrayed: Dick's return to the dignity of Wyandotté, the Indian chief,
by reason of the red-man's fierce instincts, is a pen-picture strong in
contrasts, illustrating how "he never forgot a favor nor forgave an
injury." This story and that of Ned Myers were published in 1843.


Of these years there are records of Cooper's kindly love for little
folk. Miss Caroline A. Foot, a schoolgirl of thirteen and a frequent
visitor at Otsego Hall, had always a warm welcome from Mr. Cooper and
his family. When she was about to leave her Cooperstown home for another
elsewhere, "she made bold to enter his sanctum, carrying her album in
her hand and asking him to write a verse or two in the same." Those
verses have been treasured many years by that little girl, who became
Mrs. George Pomeroy Keese. Two of her treasured verses are:


But now, dear Cally, comes the hour
When triumph crowns thy will,
Submissive to thy winning power
I seize the recreant quill:
Indite these lines to bless thy days
And sing my peans in thy praise.

In after life when thou shalt grow
To womanhood, and learn to feel
The tenderness the aged know
To guide their children's weal,
Then wilt thou bless with bended knee
Some smiling child as I bless thee.

Otsego Hall, August, 1843.

[Illustration: Miss CAROLINE ADRIANCE FOOT, AGE 13.]

The delight of the winsome little lady was great, not only for the
loving sentiment but also for the autograph, which is now both rare and
valuable. Not long after the capture of her verses a copy of them was
sent to her friend Julia Bryant, daughter of Mr. Cooper's friend, the
poet. Miss Julia wrote at once in reply that she never would be happy
until she too had some lines over the same autograph. An immediate
request was made of Mr. Cooper at his desk in the old Hall library, and
with "dear Cally" by his side, he wrote:

Charming young lady, Miss Julia by name,
Your friend, little Cally, your wishes proclaim;
Read this and you'll soon learn to know it,
I'm not your papa the great lyric poet.


On page 155 of "The Cooperstown Centennial" there appears "A new
glimpse of Cooper" - caught and kept by yet another little girl who
firmly believed the author to be "a genuine lover of children." She
writes that to meet him on the street "was always a pleasure. His eye
twinkled, his face beamed, and his cane pointed at you with a smile and
a greeting of some forthcoming humor. When I happened to be passing the
gates of the old Hall, and he and Mrs. Cooper were driving home from his
farm, I often ran to open the gate for him, which trifling act he always
acknowledged with old-time courtesy. His fine garden joined my father's,
and once, being in the vicinity of the fence, he tossed me several
muskmelons to catch, which at that time were quite rare." In 1844 Mr.
Cooper sent this youthful miss a picture-book, "The Young American's
Library." "The Primer" came with a note "written on large paper, with a
large seal." It was a reprint from an English copy, and kept for sixty
years, it is still thought "delightful reading." In part the
accompanying note reads: "Hall, Cooperstown, April 22, 1844. Mr.
Fenimore Cooper begs Miss Alice Worthington will do him the favor to
accept the accompanying book (which was written expressly for Princess
Alice of Great Britain).

"Mr. Cooper felt quite distressed for Miss Worthington's muff during the
late hot weather, and begs to offer her the use of his new ice-house
should the muff complain." Miss Alice and her cousin were out walking a
very warm April day, with their "precious muffs, which gave him the
merry thought about the ice-house."


Four years later Miss Worthington received another letter from Mr.
Cooper, in acknowledgment of her sending to him a newspaper clipping
about one of his books. Of this letter is noted: "His handwriting was
fine, beautifully clear, and very distinguished." The note reads:


MY DEAR MISS ALICE WORTHINGTON, - I have received your letter with
the most profound sentiments of gratitude. The compliments from the
newspapers did not make half the impression that was made by your
letter; but the attentions of a young lady of your tender years, to
an old man, who is old enough to be her grandfather, are not so
easily overlooked. Nor must you mistake the value I attach to the
passage cut from the paper, for, even that coming through your
little hands is far sweeter than would have been two candy-horns
filled with sugar-plums.

I hope that you and I and John will have an opportunity of visiting
the blackberry bushes next summer. I now invite you to select your
party - of as many little girls, and boys, too, if you can find
those you like, to go to my farm. It shall be your party, and the
invitations must go out in your name. You can have your school if
you like. I shall ask only one guest myself, and that will be John,
who knows the road.

With highest consideration,

Your most obliged and humble servant,


During 1844 Cooper brought to print "Afloat and Ashore" and "Miles
Wallingford" - "which two are one," he wrote, "with a good deal of love
in part second for the delight of the ladies." Adventure is plenty,
however, and the water-craft very much alive. In England "Miles
Wallingford" appeared under the name of its heroine, Lucy Harding; and,
says one: "It is a hard task not to fancy he was drawing, in slight
particulars at least, the picture of his own wife, and telling the story
of his early love." The tale is of the good old times in New York, and
land scenes of her river counties.

Those interested in Cooper's review of the naval court-martial of
Lieutenant Alexander Slidell Mackenzie, for the execution of Spencer,
will find the whole subject and its lesson of fearful retribution in
_Graham's Magazine_ of 1843-44. Alleged "mutiny on the high seas" was
charged to young Spencer. He was the son of Secretary of State John C.
Spencer who, as superintendent of public instruction, rejected with
harsh, short comment Cooper's "Naval History" offered (unknown to the
author) for school use and directed the purchase of Mackenzie's "Life of
Perry." Just as Cooper was putting through the press his severe
criticism of Mackenzie's version of the Battle of Lake Erie, the
_Somers_ returned from her unfortunate cruise. Cooper instantly stopped
his paper at the expense of a round sum to the printer, saying: "The
poor fellow will have enough to do to escape the consequences of his own
weakness. It is no time to be hard on him now."


The year 1845 brought from Cooper's pen "Satanstoe" - quaint,
old-fashioned, and the first of his three anti-rent books. Its hero, a
member of the Littlepage family, writes his own life-story. From his
home on one of the necks of Long-Island Sound, in Westchester County, he
visits New York City, catches a glimpse of the pleasant Dutch life in
Albany, and with comrades plunges into the wilderness to examine, work,
and settle his new, large grant of land at Mooseridge. Professor
Lounsbury's able life of Cooper affirms of "Satanstoe": "It is a picture
of colonial life and manners in New York during the eighteenth century,
such as can be found drawn nowhere else so truthfully and vividly." The
title "Satanstoe" was given in a moment of Cooper's "intense disgust" at
the "canting" attempt then made to change the name of the dangerous
passage of Hell Gate, East River, to Hurl Gate.

[Illustration: HELL GATE.]

"The Chainbearer," second of the anti-rent series, was published early
in 1846, and continues the story of "Satanstoe" in the person of the
hero's son, who finds in the squatters on his wilderness inheritance
the first working of the disorderly spirit of anti-rent - the burning
question of New York at that time. Honest Andries Coejemans and his
pretty niece Ursula, the wily Newcome and rude Thousandacres of this
story are each strong types of character.

The key to Cooper's own character is expressed in his words: "The most
expedient thing in existence is to do right." In the hour of danger to
aid in protecting the rights of the people from abuse of these rights by
the evil minded among themselves, he held to be the high duty of every
honest, generous, and wise citizen. With such sentiments in mind, he
wrote "The Redskins" - the third and last of the anti-rent series.
Distinguished jurists of our country have declared "remarkable," the
legal knowledge and skill in this series of books.

Eighteen hundred and forty-six saw also in book form Cooper's "Lives of
Distinguished American Naval Officers," which had already appeared in
_Graham's Magazine_. Many of these eminent men had been the author's
friends and messmates in early life. In 1847 "The Crater, or Vulcan's
Peak - A Tale of the Pacific," came from Cooper's pen. The Introduction
states that the book was written from the journal of a distinguished
member of the Woolston family of Pennsylvania, who "struggled hard to
live more in favor with God than in favor with man," and quotes that
warning text of Scripture: "Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed
lest he fall!" and adds, "we have endeavored to imitate the simplicity
of Captain Woolston in writing this book." The story of "a ship-wrecked
mariner, cast away on a reef not laid down on any chart." This barren
spot the castaway makes to bloom as a rose, then brings immigrants to
his Pacific Eden, which finally vanishes like a dream. The work is said
to be an excellent study of the author's own character.

Full of spirit and vigor at fifty-eight, Mr. Cooper in June, 1847, made
a pleasant few weeks' visit to the middle west, going as far as Detroit.
The country beyond Seneca Lake - the prairies and fine open groves of
Michigan - was new to him. Affluent towns with well-tilled lands between,
full of mid-summer promise, where forty years before he had crossed a
wilderness, gave added interest to the entire way. He was far more
deeply impressed with sublime Niagara than in his earlier years and
before he had seen all the falls of Europe. The idea of weaving its
majesty into an Indian story came to him, but, alas! was never written.

[Illustration: NIAGARA FALLS.]

He was pleased with the growth and promise of Buffalo and Detroit, was
charmed with "the beautiful flowery prairies and natural groves of
Michigan," and wrote of them: "To get an idea of Prairie Round, - imagine
an oval plain of some thirty-thousand acres, of surprising fertility,
without an eminence; a few small cavities, however, are springs of water
the cattle will drink." In the prairie's center was a forest island of
some six hundred acres "of the noblest native trees," and in the heart
of this wood was a small round lake a quarter of a mile across. Into
this scene Cooper called some creatures of his fancy; among them a
bee-hunter, suggested by the following incident.

One morning not long after his return from Europe he was passing, as
usual, his leisure hours at the mountain farm. While overlooking his
workmen he espied a small skiff leaving an opposite shore-point of the
lake and making directly for his own landing. Mr. Cooper thought the
boatman was on an errand to himself. Presently the stranger, tin pail in
hand, made his appearance and inquired of Cooper and his men whether a
large swarm of bees had been seen "somewhere there-abouts." He had lost
a fine swarm early in the morning several days before, and had since
looked in vain for them; but "a near-by farmer's wife had seen them
cross the lake that way." No bees had been seen by the men of Châlet.
One of them said, however, "bees had been very plenty about the blossoms
for a day or two." The farmer began to look about closely, and from the
unusual number of bees coming and going among the flowers on the hill,
he felt sure his honeybees were lodged somewhere near. So, with Mr.
Cooper, much interested, the search for the lost swarm began. A young
grove skirted the cliffs; above were scattered some full, tall, forest
trees, - here and there one charred and lifeless. The farmer seemed very
knowing as to bees, and boasted of having one of the largest bee-sheds
in the county. Rustic jokes at his expense were made by the workmen.
They asked him which of the great tall trees his bees had chosen; they
wished to know, for they would like to see him climb it, as Mr. Cooper
had said that no axe should fell his forest favorites. The farmer nodded
his head and replied that there was no climbing nor chopping for him
that day - the weather was too warm; that he intended to call his bees
down - that was his fashion. Taking up his pail he began moving among the
flowers, and soon found a honey-bee sipping from the cup of a
rose-raspberry. He said he knew at once the face of his own bee, "to say
nothin' of the critter's talk" - meaning its buzzing of wings. A glass
with honey from the tin pail soon captured the bee: uneasy at first, it
was soon sipping the sweets. When quite satisfied it was set free, and
its flight closely followed by the farmer's eye. Another bee was found
on a head of golden-rod; it was served the same way but set free at an
opposite point from the first's release; this second flight was also
closely noted. Some twelve of the tiny creatures from the clover and
daisies were likewise treated, until the general direction of the flight
of all was sure. This "hiving the bees" by the air-line they naturally
took to their new home proved the farmer to be right, for an old,
half-charred oak-stub, some forty feet high and "one limb aloft was
their lighting-place, and there they were buzzing about the old blighted
bough." The farmer then went to his boat and brought back a new hive and
placed it not far from the old oak; he put honey about its tiny doorway
and strewed many flowers around it. With the sunset his bees had taken
possession of their new home, and by moonlight they were rowed across
the lake and placed beside the mother-swarm in the farmer's garden.


The author placed this incident in the "Prairie Round" of "The Oak
Openings." Its Indian Peter shows how Christian influences in time
triumph over revenge - the deadliest passion of the red-man's heart. On
New Year's Day, 1848, "The Oak Openings" was begun, and the following
spring saw it finished. This note appears in the author's diary:
"Saturday, January 1, 1848. Read St. John. No church. Weather very mild,
though snow fell in the night. Walking very bad, and I paid no visits
outside of the family. Had - - at dinner. A merry evening with the
young people. Played chess with my wife. Wrote a little in 'Oak
Openings' to begin the year with."

Cooper was a born story-teller, and with a born sailor's love of salt

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Online LibraryMary E. PhillipsJames Fenimore Cooper → online text (page 11 of 13)