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James Fenimore Cooper
James Fenimore Cooper [pseudonym Jane Morgan] (1789-1851), American author and critic wrote The Last of the Mohicans (1826);
"Where are the blossoms of those summers!--fallen, one by one; so all of my family departed, each in his turn, to the land of spirits. I am on the hilltop and must go down into the valley; and when Uncas follows in my footsteps there will no longer be any of the blood of the Sagamores, for my boy is the last of the Mohicans." Chingachgook to Hawkeye, Ch. 3
Cooper's depiction of American Indians was sometimes criticised as unrealistic and implausible. Over fifty years after The Deerslayer (1841) was published Mark Twain served up a heaping plate of sardonic but scathing criticism of it and Cooper in his essay "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offences" (1895). But as Cooper writes in his Introduction to The Last of the Mohicans;
The Mohicans were the possessors of the country first occupied by the Europeans in this portion of the continent. They were, consequently, the first dispossessed; and the seemingly inevitable fate of all these people, who disappear before the advances, or it might be termed the inroads, of civilization, as the verdure of their native forests falls before the nipping frosts, is represented as having already befallen them. There is sufficient historical truth in the picture to justify the use that has been made of it.
Written during the 18th century days of the American Frontier, Cooper popularised the plight of Native peoples in his writings with a sympathetic although romanticised vision. 'White man' Natty 'Hawkeye' Bumppo, nicknamed 'The Long Rifle' embodies the heroic frontiersman who bridges the gap with camaraderie and friendship to the 'Red man', Chingachgook and Uncas, to name a few. Bumppo is the hero of Cooper's "Leatherstocking Tales" series, here listed with their publication dates:
The Pioneers: The Sources of the Susquehanna, A Descriptive Tale (1823),
However, they are best appreciated if read by their fictitious chronological dates that follow Bumppo's life;
Author of sea-tales like The Pilot (1823) and revolutionary war romances like The Spy (1821), Cooper also wrote many short stories and non-fiction works critiquing American values and morals such as in The American Democrat (1838), Homeward Bound (1838), and its sequel Home as Found (1838). Cooper was a friend of Washington Irving, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and is said to have influenced Herman Melville and earned the praise of Wilkie Collins. Many of Cooper's novels are still in print today and have been the source for popular feature film adaptations.
James Cooper was born on 15 September 1789 in Burlington, New Jersey, U.S.A, the eleventh child born to Elizabeth née Fenimore (1752-1817) and Congressman, Judge, and founder of Cooperstown, William Cooper (1754-1809). A year after James was born the family moved to the banks of Otsego Lake in Otsego County, where William built the first home and founded Cooperstown.
Cooper entered Yale College in New Haven, Connecticut in 1803 but was expelled a few years later. He then worked as a sailor on a merchant ship, travelling to such far away places as the Strait of Gibraltar. In 1808 he joined the United States Navy as midshipman and it was on the seas that he started to seriously think of himself as a writer. After the death of his father, he resigned from the Navy and went back to the land to try his hand at farming.
On 1 January 1811, in Mamaroneck, New York, Cooper married Susan Augusta DeLancey (1792-1852) with whom he would have seven children: daughters Elizabeth (1811-1813), Susan (1813-1894), Caroline (1815-1892), Anne (1817-1885), and Maria (1819-1898); and sons Fenimore (1821-1823) and Paul (1824-1895). After living for a time in New Rochelle, New York State, the Coopers moved to Scarsdale, New York where James built a home. Soon after Cooper was spending much time in New York City, where he founded the 'Bread and Cheese Club' in 1822.
In 1826, the same year he legally added Fenimore to his name, James, Susan and the children moved to Europe. Cooper served as United States Consul in Lyons, France, while also travelling to many other countries including Italy, Switzerland, England, and The Netherlands. In 1833 the Coopers returned to the United States, settling in Cooperstown, although Cooper made many trips to New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. He continued his prodigious output of fiction and non including History of the Navy of the United States of America (1839), The Lives of Distinguished Naval Officers (1846), and The Towns of Manhattan (1851).
James Fenimore Cooper died on 14 September 1851 in Cooperstown, New York, U.S.A. He lies buried in the family plot in the Christ Episcopal Churchyard in Cooperstown. His wife Susan survived him by just a few months, and now rests with him.
Biography written by C. D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2007. All Rights Reserved.
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