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


Page 26

and in his social prejudices, which were all that might have been expected from a man of his theology and politics. He believed in a propertied governing class, the subordination of the lower orders, and clear-cut caste distinctions. Rank, according to his opinions, naturally demanded of the men who possessed it a proper dignity, magnanimity, courage, knowledge, public service, and chivalry toward women; women of rank he expected to be less positive but to unite to domestic competence and loyalty a certain elaborate yet timid decorum. Toward the less fortunately placed classes Cooper believed he had the feelings of a good American democrat. As a matter of fact, he was full of that “condescension” which the eighteenth century mistook for a virtue. He tended to admit humbler personages to his fiction for the diversity they brought and to admire them preëminently for their devotion to their superiors. Even his greatest characters drawn from the people, Harvey Birch, Natty Bumppo, and Long Tom Coffin, have about them each some touch of the faithful body-servant, though they are saved by a larger element of loyalty to a cause, Birch to the Revolution, Bumppo to the life of unspoiled nature, and Coffin to the deep sea. Besides the typical opinions of his class, Cooper had also its typical information. He read the accepted classics, interested rather in modern than in ancient literature, and concerned more with history and biography than with poetry, philosphy, or science. He knew little of the fine arts. Later something of a traveler in Europe, during his formative years he saw, except upon his ocean voyages, only America, and little besides New York, its cities and its frontier. American history generall



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