The admirers of "The Pilot," one of the most magnificent of Cooper's novels, have evinced a general feeling of regret, in which we ourselves have deeply participated, that the book, once finished, we altogether lose sight of the mysterious being whom we had followed with such intense interest, through the narrows of the Devil's Grip, and the Cloisters of St, Ruth. There is in the physiognomy, in the language, and in the actions of this person, introduced in the first place by the name of John, and afterwards under that of Paul, a melancholy so profound, a grief so bitter, a contempt of life of so intense a nature, that every reader desires to become acquainted with the motives which influenced so brave and generous a heart. For ourselves, we acknowledge that we have more than once been tempted, however indiscreet, to say the least of it, it might have been, to write to Cooper himself, and ask him for information regarding the early career and closing years of this adventurous seaman—information which we have vainly searched for in his narrative. I thought that such a request would be readily forgiven by him to whom it was addressed, for it would have been accompanied by the expression of the most sincere and ardent admiration of his work; but I was restrained by the reflection that the author himself, perhaps, knew no more of that career, of which, he had given us but an episode, than that portion of it which had been illuminated by the sun of American Independence: for, in fact, this brilliant meteor had passed from the clouds which environed his birth to the obscurity of his death in such a manner, that it was quite possible the "poet historian," being far distant from the place where his hero was born, and from the country in which he died, knew no more of him than what he has transmitted to us. The very mystery which surrounded him, may have been the cause of his selecting Paul Jones to play a part in his annals. Urged by these considerations, I resolved upon obtaining, by my own research, those details which I had so often desired to receive from others. I searched through the archives of the Navy; all I found there was a copy of the letters of marque granted to him by Louis XVI. I examined the annals of the Convention; I only found in them the Decree passed at the time of his death. I questioned his contemporaries; they told me that he was buried in the cemetery of Père la Chaise. This was all the information I could gather from my first attempts.
I then consulted our living library—Nodier, the learned—Nodier, the philosopher—Nodier, the poet. After reflecting for a few moments, he mentioned a small book written by Paul Jones himself, containing memoirs of his life, bearing this motto, "Munera sunt Laudi." I started off to hunt for this precious relic; but it was in vain I searched through libraries, rummaged the old book-stalls—all that I could find was an infamous libel, entitled, "Paul Jones, ou Prophétie sur l'Amérique, l'Angleterre, la France, l'Espagne et la Hollande" which I threw from me with disgust, before I had got through the fourth page, marvelling that poisons should be so enduring, and be perfectly preserved, whilst we search in vain for wholesome and nutritious food—I therefore renounced all hope in this quarter.
Some time afterwards, while taking a voyage along our coast, having started from Cherbourg, I visited St. Malo, Quimper, and l'Orient. Upon my arrival at the latter place I recollected having read in a biography of Paul Jones, that this celebrated seaman had been three times in that port. This circumstance had struck me—I had noted down the dates, and had only to open my pocket-book to ascertain them. I examined the naval archives, and in them I actually found entries of the sojourn which the two frigates, the Hanger, of eighteen guns, and the Indienne, of thirty-two, had made in these roads. As to the reasons for their coming there, whether from ignorance or neglect, the secretary who had kept the register had omitted to assign them. I was just leaving the office without further information, when I thought of inquiring of an old clerk who was sitting there, whether there was no traditional recollection in the country as to the captain of these two ships. The old man told me that in 1784, he being then a boy, and employed in the Quarantine Office at Havre, had seen Paul Jones there. He was at that time a commodore in the fleet of the Count de Vaudreuil. The renowned courage of this officer, and his extraordinary exploits, had made such an impression upon him, that upon his, the clerk's, return to Brittany, he spoke of him to his father, who then had charge of the Chateau d'Auray. Upon hearing the name of Paul Jones, the old man started, and made a sign to him to be silent—the young man obeyed, though not without astonishment. He frequently afterwards questioned his father upon the subject, but he always refused to satisfy his curiosity. It was not till after the death of the Marchioness d'Auray, the emigration of her son, the Marquis, and the dispersion of the family at the Revolution, that the old man felt himself permitted to reveal, even to his son, the strange and mysterious history, in which that of the object of my inquiries was so singularly blended. Although nearly, forty years had passed away since his father had related that eventful history, it had made so deep an impression upon him that he repeated it to me, as he assured me, nearly word for word.
I have treasured up this history in the recesses of my memory for nearly seven years: and it would have still remained buried there, with a mass of other recollections, destined never to see the light, had I not about six months ago read "The Pilot" for the second time, and even with much greater interest than before; for, thanks to the researches I had made, the hero was no longer to me an unknown being, appearing only for an instant, his face but partially visible, and with merely the portion of a name; he had now become a friend, almost a brother, to me—for new sympathies had been awakened in my heart besides those which had formerly been inspired by the recital of the expedition to Whitehaven. These led me to reflect that whatever of interest and disappointment I had experienced on reading' Cooper's novel, they must have been entertained alike by others, and that the anxious desire I had felt to know more of the former lover of Alice Dunscombe was not a feeling peculiar to myself, but would be participated by all those, and their number must be great, who have followed this skilful seaman from the moment of his first meeting Lieutenant Barnstaple on the English cliffs, until that in which he quitted the Alert to land on the shores of Holland.
I have, therefore, gathered up my recollections, and have written this history.