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Ell Boots A Genius
The Vagabond's journey this morning takes us back some hundred and seventeen years. James Fenimore Cooper is about thirty years sour on life; and no less pugnacious and determined than fifteen years ago, when he was gently booted out of Yale for insubordination. But that's all back of him now; as well as his career on a merchant vessel seeing Europe for the first time and later as a midshipman in the United States navy.
And now we see Mr. Cooper following that irresistible path of least resistance and just about to settle down to the sweets of married life. As the story goes, one evening Cooper was reading aloud to his wife a novel of English society. And here the Vagabond would stress this ever-growing tendency of some of our modern novels: They often do for us just what they did for our budding genius. He said: "What stuff I believe I could write a better story myself."
Mrs. Cooper, being the constant gadfly that she was, dared him to try. Cooper, we are told, never refused a challenge. The result was "Precaution." It's a pity that the author didn't take the title as a hint. The work has proved to be one of the worst novels in history!
Here the Vagabond would take leave of Mr. Cooper for a moment to tell his readers that last evening he did see La Argentina dance and very happily too and after he did see her and talk with her and though he didn't go seeking a pep talk, the conversation did reach a depth when Browning was quoted to the effect that each stumbling block in life could be made a stepping stone. And that little cliche offers a nice transition to what we have to say further of Mr. Cooper.
Propped Him Up
According to one biographer, if "Precaution" had been a success Cooper might possibly never have written another novel. But failure, instead of beating him down propped him up. And in 1821--one year after "Precaution"--"The Spy" appeared. The novel scored a prodigious success and deserved it. Apart from the excellence of his best works, Cooper deserves credit for showing Americans that a sea story could be made interesting. "The Pilot" was immensely popular. And, it will be recalled, seventeen years after "The Pilot", appeared Dana's "Two Years Before the Mast" -- which resembles Cooper's work in its accidental entrance into immortality.
But enough. 'Tis about time to be off. Recall some of your Leather-stocking Tales and come with the Vagabond to Harvard 6 at 10 to hear more about Mr. Cooper from Professor Matthiessen.
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