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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 24

II.   James Fenimore Cooper

  THE TASK of becoming the principal romancer of the new nation might have weighed heavily upon Cooper had he entered his career as a novelist in any self-conscious way. Instead, he fell almost accidentally into authorship. Unlike the bookish Brown, Cooper had been trained in the world of action and adventure. Born at Burlington, New Jersey, in 1789, the son of Judge William Cooper and Susan Fenimore, Cooper had been taken when a baby to Cooperstown, the raw central village of a pioneer settlement recently established by his father on Otsego Lake, New York. Here the boy saw at first hand the varied life of the border, observed its shifts and contrivances, and learned to feel the mystery of the dark forest which lay beyond the cleared circle of his own life—a mystery which must be taken into account in any attempt to understand the American character in its frontier aspects. Judge Cooper, less a typical backwoodsman than a kind of warden of the New York marches, like Judge Templeton in The Pioneers, did not keep his son in the woods but sent him first to the rector of St. Peter’s in Albany, who grounded him in Latin and Anglican theology, and then to Yale, where he wore his college duties so lightly as to be dismissed in his third year. Thinking the navy might furnish better discipline than Yale, Judge Cooper shipped



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