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THE PATHFINDER : OR THE INLAND SEA. By the Author of The Pioneers,' 'Last of
the Mohicans,' etc. In two volumes. pp. 473. Philadelphia : LEA AND BLANCHARD. New York: WILEY AND PUTNAM.
We would invite the attention of our readers to the remarks which precede the subjoined critique of Balzac, an eminent French novelist, upon "The Pathfinder of Mr. Cooper. Every reader of the KNICKERBOCKER is aware that, while we have labored to do justice to the genius of our author, and to extend his literary fame, we have nevertheless not hesitated to express at all times our opinions in relation to the 'provocations by which he has so often invited assaults' which, disguise the fact as he may, have evidently stung him to madness; but with the capable writer of the following pages - a thorough American, who has looked upon Mr. Cooper's late course .more in sorrow than in anger,' but doubtless not without the latter emotion — we cannot but hope that hostilities between our novelist and the public may henceforth cease.
As to suits at law for the recovery of damages against critics who may sometimes have exceeded their credentials, we may remark here, that we should consider them the last resort of a sensitive mind, like that of Mr. Cooper. An honest blacksmith in Kentucky, when advised by a litigious neighbor to prosecute another for slander, replied: * Prosecute him! What should I obtain ? I can go into my shop and work out a better character in six months, than I could gain at the hands of a court and jury in six years! There is wise counsel in this answer, which should not be lost upon Mr. Cooper, who, sitting down to write in his fine library, with a free mind and unembittered heart, would soon live down all the conspiracies' and 'calumny' of which he complains, and extend and freshen a fame, of which, in common with his countrymen, he has good reason to be proud.
The name of Cooper now seldom appears in our journals, except for the purpose of censure or ridicule. His productions, good or bad, are laid hold of as themes upon which the malignity of the press delights to dwell, and to pour forth its vials of wrath. In his case, the limits of criticism bave been wantonly transgressed, in order to wound his pride, provoke his irascibility, and depreciate his writings. Even the unamiable attributes of his imaginary offspring have been identified with those supposed to exist in the breast of the author. Is this fair dealing ? Ought a writer to be charged with the vices and follies of his literary progeny, and himself arraigned at the bar of criticism, to be tried, without a jury, for the delinquencies of beings necessarily created to advance the action and point the moral of his story? Had such a tribunal existed in days of yore, alas for those culprits, SHAKSPEARE and Milton! they could not have escaped condign punishment. It may however be possible that the self-constituted directors of the morals and taste of the public find themselves mistaken in the praises they were wont to lavish upon Cooper's romances, and that they now seek to avenge their ancient credulity, by an unmanly crusade against an author whose works are read with admiration in all the languages of Europe. But is our literature so affluent in great names, that we can thus afford to impale the reputation of a writer whose genius has exalted the name and the fame of his country throughout the civilized world?
Without attempting to expose the weaknesses of the author of "The Pioneers,' 'The Pilot,' etc., or allude to the provocation by which he has so often invited the assaults of his enemies, we feel mortified 10 witness the ignoble warfare that has so long existed between the parties combatant, and we hope, for the honor of our country, as well as for the cause of humanity, that hostilities may cease.
The position of a successful author with the public is always one of extreme delicacy and difficulty. The world's admiration of his genius is never awarded without its pains and penalties. He is expected to write up to his first work, and even to surpass it in his second, without regard to impossibilities, or those anxieties to which minds of the finest texture are oftenest exposed. But 'celui qui se met en scène,' with the world, affecting to look down with haughty indifference upon its censore or applause, while his heart is bleeding within him, exposes himself to a life of misery and torment. If he dares to rebel against his patrons, or to vindicate himself and his productions from the fickle judgments of the press, he is overwhelmed with scorn and abuse. Wo be to him, if he turns to politics his dangerous wit,' or presumes to aspire to any other species of fame than that which has been conceded to him! He is certain of being reproached with a desire to meddle with affairs wbich belong only to men of common sense, and practical knowledge of the business of life. In short, that inscrutable system of compensations of good and evil which so beautifully governs the world, and which adjusts and reduces the lot of every man to its proper level of enjoyment, is finely illustrated in the life of an author endowed with the susceptibility of genius. While his works transport us into the flowery regions of romance, and we almost look upon him as a being of immortality, the canker of envy and disappointment is eating into his soul, turning all his joys to bitterness. “The stinging of a heart the world hath stung,' exasperates him to brave the injuries and ingratitude of the world, and at last drives him to despair and misanthropy. The reflections and resolutions of Sir Walter Scott, preparatory to his becoming an author by profession, ought to guide every one who yields to the seductions of a literary career. No man ever maintained the dignity of his station with more success than the author of Waverley, because no man was ever able to appreciate his own powers of mind, and those of others, with more judgment and liberality. Unfortunately Mr. Cooper has made his enemies acquainted with an infirmity of mind which they have benevolently laid hold of to tease and irritate him. If his philosophy had been able to have screened his susceptibility, and he had not betrayed to the public the agony which its criticism upon his works inflicts, his happiness would indeed be enviable, and he would never have thought of appealing to a grand jury for redress. But the certainty of provoking the arm of a man of Cooper's strength, encourages every puny whipster to do battle against him : the temptation is too flattering to be resisted. We believe that the productions of a man of genius must stand or fall upon their own merits, and that no conspiracy of detractors will be able to sink the literary fame of a man of Cooper's calibre of mind; but it is possible to provoke a man into such a state of irritability, as to render bim incapable of writing up to his own standard of excellence. No writer can do justice to himself, unless he is at peace with himself, as well as his contemporaries.
We do not mean to apply these hasty remarks impertinently to the case of Mr. COOPER, for whom we entertain the kindest good will, as well as admiration of his genius; but we cannot help believing that the universal conspiracy, of which he accuses mankind, to crush himself and his works, exists only in his own imagination: the world, he may rest assured, has other objects of malice and ambition, of at least equal importance, to bestow its favors upon. ere it possible for Mr. Cooper, only for an instant, to imagine what is passing in the minds of his fellow men, he would be able to define his position, and stoop to humbler sources of daily content or misery, than himself and his works afford. But all that we have said on this subject has been already expressed by VOL. XVII.
EDMUND BURKE, in a letter to his friend and protegé, Barry, the painter, who stood foremost among the genus irritabile of bis day and generation :
Depend upon it that you will find the same competitions, the same jealousies, the same arts and cabals, the same emulations of interests and of fame, and the same agitations and passions here, that you have experienced in Italy; and if they have some effect on your temper, they will have just the same effect upon your interests ; and, be your merit what it will, you will never be employed to paint a picture. It will be the same at London as at Rome; and the same in Paris as in London, for the world is pretty nearly alike in all its parts.'
* That you had just subjects of indignation and of anger often, I do noways doubt. Who can live in the world without some trials of his patience ? But believe me, my dear Barry, the arms with which the ill-dispositions of the world are to be combatted, and the qualities by which it is to be reconciled to us, are moderation, gentleness, a little indulgence to others, and a great deal of distrust of ourselves; which are not qualities of a mean spirit, as some may possibly think them, but virtues of a great and noble kind, and such as dignify our nature as much as they contribute to our repose and fortune: for nothing can be so unworthy of a well-composed soul, as to pass away ble in bickerings and litigations, in snarling and scuffling with every one about us. Again and again, my dear Barry, we must be at peace with our species; if not for their sakes, yet very much for our own,' etc.
Never was the wisdom of the illustrious statesman more touchingly expressed, nor more completely thrown away, than upon the intractable and turbulent Barry, whose existence was wasted in cabals and contests with his friends as well as his enemies.
Our intention, when we sat down to write, was not to display our knowledge of the world, nor to imitate the example of Burke, but simply to transcribe a critique of 'The Pathfinder by M. de Balzac, which we chanced to meet in the August number of his 'Revue Parisienne.' This tribute of one of the most successful writers of fiction in France to the genius of Cooper, we take pleasure in making known to those who scoff at it in his own country. The grounds upon which the literary reputation of Cooper rests in France, and we believe throughout the continent of Europe, are dis. tinctly explained, and the parallel between our gisted countryman and the author of Wa. verley is finely drawn. The faults and blemishes, too, of Cooper are pointed out by the hand of a master, who knows how to appreciate his beauties; and we believe that no man of taste and judgment in our own country, who has read Cooper's romances, will differ from Balzac in his opinion of their merits and defects.
*AFTER two feeble works, Cooper has redeemed himself by his 'Lake Ontario.'* It is a beautiful book, worthy of The Last of the Mohicans,' "The Pioneers' and 'The Prairie,' which it serves to complete. At this moment, Cooper is the sole author worthy of being placed beside Sir WALTER Scort. He is not equal to him, but he possesses the same order of genius; and he owes the high place which he occupies in modern literature to two faculties; that of painting the ocean and its mariners, and of idealizing the magnificent scenery of America. I am unable to comprehend how the author of The Pilot' and The Red Rover,' and the four romances just cited, should have been the author of his other works, with the single exception of• The Spy.' These seven works constitute the only and the real titles of his fame. I do not pronounce this opinion lightly. I have read again and again the productions of the Romancer, or to say the truth, the Historian of America, and I feel, in common with Sir Walter Scott, the same admiration for his two faculties, to which I may add his grand and original conception of Leatherstocking, that sublime personage, who connects 'The Pioneers,' The Mohicans,' The ‘Prairie,' and the ‘Lake Ontario.' Leatherstocking is a statue, a magnificent moral hermaphrodite, born between the savage and the civilized states of man, who will live as long as literature endures. I question whether the extraordinary works of Sir Walter Scott furnish a creation so grandiose as that of the hero of the savannahs and the forests of America. Gurth, in ‘Ivanhoe,' approximates to him ; and we feel that if the great Scotchman had seen America, he would have been able to create Leatherstocking. The conception, above all, of this man, half Indian and half civilized, elevates Cooper to the rank of Sir Walter Scott.
"The story of Lake Ontario’ is exceedingly simple: it is in fact the lake itself. A sergeant of the Fifty-fifth regiment, quartered in the remotest fort in Canada, an old man and a widower, sends for his daughter, who is in England, and whom he wishes to see married, before he dies, to his friend the Pathfinder, the faithful friend and guide of the English. The young woman comes with her uncle, a simple English sailor, conducted by a chief of the Red-Skins, to a spot where they meet the messen gers sent by the Sergeant ; namely, the Pathfinder and the Great Serpent, Chingacook, a most interesting Mohican savage. The daughter of the Sergeant finds in company with these two persons a young
The title of the French and English editions of The Putte
friend of the Pathfinder and of the Great Serpent, together with a Lake Ontario sailor, called Jasper. The whole party are escorted by a chief named Arrowhead, and his wife, the Dew of June, and do not reach the fort without encountering numerous dangers. The Iroquois, who are acquainted with the journey of the Sergeant's daughter and her uncle, waylay them for the purpose of making them their prisoners. They roam through the wilderness, and have an accomplice in the person of Arrowhead, the secret spy and ally of the French. During this perilous journey, the young woman falls in love with Jasper, the friend of the Pathfinder. After their safe arrival at the fort, and in going with the Sergeant to take possession of one of the Thousand Islands, for the purpose of intercepting supplies sent by the French to the Iroquois, the Pathfinder discovers that he is only the friend of the Sergeant's daughter: he renounces his engagement with her, although he loves her, and marries her to Jasper.
*I love these simple stories : they discover great power of conception, and always abound in fertility. The early part of the work embraces a description of the Oswego, one of the tributary rivers of Lake Ontario, along the shores of which lurk the Iroquois, for the purpose of making the party captive. Here Cooper is himself again. His description of the forest, the running stream, with its rapids and waterfalls, the artifices of the savages, who endeavor to outwit the Great Serpent, Jasper, and the Pathfinder, furnishes a succession of admirable pictures, which in this work, as well as its antecedents, are inimitable. Here is sufficient to dishearten all romancers who have the ambition to follow in the footsteps of the American author. Never did the art of writing tread closer upon the art of the pencil. This is the school for the study of literary landscape-painters. All the secrets of the art are revealed. The magical prose of Cooper not only embodies the spirit of the river, its shores, the forest and its trees; but it exhibits the minutest details, combined with the grandest outline. The vast solitudes, into which we penetrate, become in a moment deeply interesting. The same genius which previously launched us upon the boundless ocean, with all its terrors, now thrills us with glimpses of the painted savage behind the trunks of trees, in the water, and hidden by rocks. When the spirit of solitude communes with us, when the first calm of these eternal shades pervades us, when we hover over this virgin vegetation, our hearts are filled with emotion. Page after page is filled with naturally-presented dangers, without any effort at stage effect. It seems as though we are seeking under these magnificent trees for the print of a moccasin. These perils are so skilfully interwoven with the incidents of the fabl , that we have leisure to attentively examine the rocks, the trees, the water-falls, the bark canoes, the thickets; we incorporate ourselves with the soil; it passes in us, and we pass into it. We know not how this metamorphosis of genius is accomplished, but it is impossible to separate the soil, the vegetation, the waters, their extent, and their configuration, from the in. terests which agitate us. In short, the personages become what they really are, of little importance among the sublime scenery which surrounds them.
• The skirmishes with the Indians, and their devices, are never monotonous, and bear no resemblance to those which we find in the previous works of Cooper. The description of the fort, the encampment and repose of the party, and the target-shooting, are chefs d'auvre. We owe to the author our warinest gratitude for his choice of these humble personages. With the exception of the young woman, who is not true to nature, and whose qualities are painfully and uselessly dwelt upon, his other figures are drawn from nature, if we may use a term borrowed from the ateliers. It is unfortunate, that the English sailor and Lieutenant Muir, the pivots of a drama so simple and so naif, should be failures. More reflection, and a little more breadth, would have rendered this work faultless. The voyage across Lake Ontario is a delicious miniature, rivalling the finest ocean-scenes of Cooper. In short, the expedition to the Thousand Islands, the fights with the Iroquois,commanded by a French captain, possess an interest equal to that master-piece of genius, “The Last of the Mohicans.' The Pathfinder predominates here as well as elsewhere; and this profoundly melancholy personage is in some degree explained.
*Enough of the interest and details of this beautiful work: it will be more useful to point out the faults which we find in it. Cooper's inferiority to Sir WALTER Scott is his radical and utter feebleness in scenes of humor, and his perpetual anxiety to make us laugh, in which he has never succeeded. In reading him, one experiences a singular sensation; it is as if while we are listening to fine music, there is near us a frightful village minstrel, who scrapes his fiddle, and fatigues us by playing the same tune. To produce what Cooper mistakes for humor, he puts into the mouth of one of his characters the same foolish joke, invented a priori. Any perversity, moral vice, or deformity of mind, which appears in his first chapters, is repeated again and again to the end of his work. The fooleries of these bores produce the effect of the scraper of whom we have just spoken. To this system we are indebted for David Gamut in the Mohicans, the English sailor and Lieutenant Muir, in the work before us, and indeed all the would be comic characters in Cooper's romances. The first author of this malady, which has now degenerated into epizootie, for many of our French writers are infected with it, was Sir Walter Sott. King Charles' visit to Lady Bellenden, which she repeats so often in Old Mortality,' with other similar examples, which the genius of Scott has used discreetly, have lost COOPER. The great Scotchman has never abused this privilege, whicb is trifling, and always betrays sterility of wit.
“Genius consists in applying to each situation the words which are suited to display the character of the actor, and not in tacking to him a phrase which adapts itself to each situation. It is perfectly admissible to sketch a character as gay, sombra, o ironical; but, its gaiety, its melancholy, or its irony, ought to manifest itself by characteristic traits. After describing your personage, let him speak ; but to mako him always repeat the same thing, is a weakness. Sir Walter Scott has noticed this comie absurdity of repetition; but this painter has only produced one or two examples of such characters. It is the invention of circumstances, and the display of characteristic touches, which distinguishes the modern Troubadour. By contrasting the poor grimmacing humorists of Cooper with the two execution's of Tristam, in Quentin Durward,' and with Michael Lambourne, in . Kenilworth,' we immediately perceive the law which governs these literary creations. If you do not possess this power, confine yourself within your own proper limits, and draw upon your own resources. There is an old smuggler in • Redgauntlet who is forever repeating .All in the way of business ;' but Sir Walter Scott has contrived to make this phrase a source of inexhaustible humor, which never palls upon us, I am really grieved, in reading this beautiful work of Cooper, to find a repetition of the same joke in the mouth of the sailor, at the expense of the four wives of Lieutenant Muir.
• The conception of the subordinate characters betrays the weakness of the rival of Scott. We are made to feel too sensibly that the conceit and obstinacy of the English sailor who refuses to listen to Jasper, is indispensable to bring about the catastrophe. Cooper is sublime when he initiates us into the beauties of American scenery; when he transports us across Lake Ontario, and when we thread with him the Thousand Islands. He is tedious in the opening of his drama, and only redeems himself by the beauty of the details. Sir Walter Scott would never have committed the fault of exciting suspicions of the fidelity of Jasper, except in the middle of the romance : the device is too transparent. Lieutenant Muir ought to have been introduced much sooner, and the author would have excited a deeper interest, by skilfully making us understand his part of traitor, and the nature of his intercourse with Arrowhead.
* A serious charge remains to be stated against our author. Undoubtedly Cooper's renown is not due to his countrymen, nor to the English: he owes it mainly to the ardent admiration of France; of our noble and beautiful country, which pays more attention to foreign men of genius than to our own poets. Cooper has been perfectly understood and appreciated in France. The universality of our language has made his works known among nations who are unacquainted with that of England. I am therefore the more astonished to see France, and the French officers who were in Canada in 1750, ridiculed, in the person of Captain Sanglier. They were gentlemen, and history attests the glory of their conduct. Is it for an American, whose position entitles him to a high sense of honor, to invest a French officer with a gratuitously odious character, when the only succor which America received during her struggle for independence came from France? The noble or ignoble character of Captain Sanglier is not material to the plan of the drama, and nobleness of character would have furnished the author with an additional scene of beauty. It is pitiful to see enlightened men adopting the vulgar prejudices of the multitude. But Cooper shares this fault in common with Scott, who repaid the sincere admiration of France by writing .Paul's Letters' to his Kinsfolk.' My censure is however the more just in the instance of Cooper, whose works contain not a single trace of kindness toward France.
* The difference between these authors arises mainly from the nature of the subjects to which their talents have been directed. From those chosen by Cooper, nothing could be drawn from philosqphy, nor from the deep workings of the human mind. When his work is once read, the mind looks back to it, to embrace it as a whole. Both are certainly great historians, but both have cold hearts. They refuse the admission of passion, that divine emanation, superior to the conventional virtue which man has made for the preservation of society: they have suppressed it, in order to offer a holocaust to the prudes of their several countries. Scott unfolds to us the great revolutions of humanity ; COOPER the mighty changes of nature. The one paints the romance of the ocean, the otirer grapples with the mysterous workings of the heart. We are struck with this most forcibly, in reading 'Lake Ontario." There is not one character in it which makes us think, which reacts upon the mind by ingenuous reflection; which explains the facts, the personages, or their actions. The author seems, on the contrary, to delight in plunging us into solitude, and to leave us there to our own dreams. These are the associations of one who loves to travel alone, while Sir Walter Scott surrounds us every where with a numerous and brilliant assemblage. The works of Cooper detach us from artificial life ; but Scott mingles us in his drama, while he depicts to us the grand features of his country in every ago. The greatness of Cooper is in the reflection of that nature which he describes; Scott begets his own works; the American is the offspring of his. Scott has a thousand phases; Cooper is a marine Jandscape-painter, admirably provided with two studies - the savage and the sailor. His beautiful