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


Page 29

the sutler, Cooper could be more veracious. Of the men who appear in The Spy, most are mere gentlemen, mere heroes, although Captain Lawton, the Virginia dragoon, is drawn with spirit and truth, and here and there among the inferior soldiers and the slaves appear a few individual characteristics. Harvey Birch, however, peddler and patriot, outwardly no hero at all and yet surpassingly heroic of soul as he prowls about on his subtle errands, is memorable and arresting. The skill with which he is presented, gaunt, weather-beaten, canny, mysterious, should not conceal the fact that his patriotism is actually as supernatural as are the dæmonic impulses of Brown’s characters. Patriotism drives Birch relentlessly to his destiny, at once wrecking and honoring him. This same romantic fate condemns him to be sad and lonely, a dedicated soul who captures attention by his secrecy and holds it by his magnificent adventures. All this is pure romance, but it is romance extraordinarily realized.
  Cooper’s imagination, having worked first upon Revolutionary material and having succeeded with an historical romance which won the loudest applause, was approved on the American stage, and promptly reached European readers, now turned with characteristic energy in another direction, to the matter of the Frontier. The Pioneers, with a bumptious, challenging preface, was published early in 1823. Technically this book made no advance upon The Spy. Cooper had only the method of improvisation, then or later. With a few characters and the outlines of a situation in mind, he began composition, perhaps not even aware what the outcome would be, and then found himself swept forward with impetuous haste. In one



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