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


Page 49

than Scott. He himself, in his review of Lockhart, said that Scott’s great ability lay in taking a legend or historical episode, such as Scotland furnished in a splendid profusion that Cooper envied, and reproducing it with marvelous grace and tact. “This faculty of creating a vraisemblance, is next to that of a high invention, in a novelist.” It is clear that Cooper felt his own inferiority to Scott in “creating a vraisemblance” and that he was always conscious of the relative barrenness of American life; it is also tolerably clear that he himself aimed at what he thought the higher quality of invention. Of Leather-Stocking Cooper specifically said: “In a physical sense, different individuals known to the writer in early life certainly presented themselves as models, through his recollections; but in a moral sense this man of the forest is purely a creation.” Cooper’s invention, however, though his highest claim to greatness, is not without a solid basis; he is not to be neglected as an historian. No man better sums up in fiction the older type of republican—rather than democrat—which established the United States. No one—unless possibly Irving—fixed the current heroic conditions of his day more firmly to actual places. Though Cooper might have supplied more facts to the great legend of the frontier, no one else supplied so many. Certainly it was his superior technical knowledge of ships and sailors which helped him to write such sea tales as give him, in that province of romance, still a high rank among many followers. True, Cooper had not Scott’s resources of historical learning to fall back upon when his invention flagged, any more than he had Scott’s good-nature when he became involved in argument; but when



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