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remain latent in the common occurrences of life. We have somewhere met with the remark, that manners display character more definitely than events. Trivial actions, and those frequently repeated, as they occupy far the greater portion of each individual's history, are all that distinguish the members of the multitude from each other.
Novels are pictures of life ; and the characters presented in them must have that diversity and even contrariety of feeling, motive, and conduct, that inconsequence of thought and action, which we daily witness among our friends, or we do not acknowledge the fidelity of the imitation. If we may borrow a phrase from the painter's vocabulary, the picturesqueness of the effect depends wholly on the art, with which this compound of dissimilar ingredients is effected. It is only with such imperfect beings that we can sympathize, or take any interest in their concerns. The task is comparatively easy, to imagine personages of unmixed good or evil, to present catalogues of virtues and vices, to portray the monster without spot, and the monster nullâ virtute redemptum. But a Sir Charles Grandison never lived, and an Iago is a mere dramatic exaggeration. The most inhuman person has yet some touch of our common nature ; the most perfect is not stainless from the universal infirmity. And it is precisely on these spots of sunshine or shade, that we fasten with an interest proportioned to the contrast they afford with the other traits of character. Only the great masters of fiction, only Shakspeare and Scott, have copied nature faithfully in this respect. Shylock is not utterly detestable, when he deplores the loss of his daughter, or when he resents the gratuitous insults, that force him to revenge. Whenever beings of unmixed atrocity are introduced, they fill only a subordinate part, acting with the other machinery to bring out the principal figure. Regan and Goneril are necessary to the portraiture of Lear.
But to imagine a series of connected events, all tending to one point, and hinging upon a single action, and to fill up a group of imaginary characters, is not the only, perhaps not the most difficult, task assigned to the novelist. When he has done all this, he has but chosen the canvass, and sketched in chalk the outlines of his intended view. It remains to color the whole with the hues of nature and life ; to make a proper distribution of light and shade, according to the relative importance of the parts; and to charm the eye by variety, with
out offending it by forced and sudden contrasts. Propriety in garb and manners must be preserved, according to the time and place which the artist aims to present. If he goes back to a former period, he must combine the knowledge of the antiquary with that of the historian, or the keeping of the work will be defective, and it will belong to the class of modern antiques. He must identify himself with the spirit of the olden time, before he can bring others into the illusion. A traveller's acquaintance with distant scenes must be attained, before he can divert his reader's imagination from the view of his native plains and hills. If he prefer remaining at home and sketching domestic scenes, he will find it hard to dignify what is common, and to excite interest without violating probability. Events and characters in humble life must be ennobled by the elevation of passion and sentiment, or invested with the soft charm of affection and quiet, or rendered lively by ridicule and humorous contrast. The monotony of rank and society, the uniform and decorous manners of the higher classes, among whom enthusiasm does not exist, must be varied by wit and disquisition, or exposed by satire. From all these materials, instruction may be obtained, and useful hints be drawn, wherewith to construct a philosophy of life.
We aimed at displaying the difficulties of the task, which the novelist undertakes, but we have rather shown the extent of the field that is open to him, and the effect which he may hope to produce. Indeed, there is hardly a mode of talent, or a kind of information, which may not be made available for his purposes. Every thing of interest connected with public or private life, belonging to the present or past times, and happening abroad or at home, all kinds of sentiment and description, and all ways of appealing to the heart, the imagination, or the intellect, fall within the limits of his province, and may be used as legitimate auxiliaries to diversify the result, and heighten the pleasure imparted. Yet this species of writing is in the West, at least) a modern invention, the earliest proper specimens of it dating no further back than the revival of letters. Had the ancients practised it, they would have left on record far more minute and satisfactory information respecting their characters, tastes, and habits of life, than any which we now possess. As it is, we know them rather in their public than in their private capacity, in their political more than their social relations. Fiction is often the most
convenient vehicle for truth, as ideal landscapes or compositions of scenery may give more general and correct notions respecting the external features of a country, than any faithful delineation of a single view.
Remarks on novel-writing may not appear the most apt introduction to a notice of a book of travels. But the reputation of Mr. Cooper, the well-known author of the volumes before us, depending mainly on his success as a novelist, we may be excused for considering in the first place his merits in this capacity. About sixteen or eighteen years have elapsed, since he published “Precaution,” his first work, but one of little merit, and which soon passed quietly into oblivion. “ The Spy, a Tale of the Neutral Ground,” came next, and at once established his reputation for ability, and excited confident expectations of his future success. Then followed, in rapid succession, " The Pioneers," “ The Pilot," " The Last of the Mohicans,” “ Lionel Lincoln,” “The Prairie,” and “ The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish,” — all relating to American scenes and characters. One of these, "The Pilot," and two others subsequently published, “ The Red Rover,” and “ The Water Witch,' are the fruits of several years' connexion with the navy,and attest the writer's thorough acquaintaince with the men and things of the sea. During his residence abroad, he produced four novels of a European character, “ The Bravo,” “ The Heidenmauer,” “The Headsman,” and “The Monikins.” Besides these labors in the department of fiction, Mr. Cooper published, about ten years since, “ The Notions of a Travelling Bachelor,” a series of letters on the institutions and prospects of this country, and the character of its inhabitants. Two separate works, containing the journal of his Travels in Switzerland, another on England, and that of which the title stands at the head of this article, make up the full list of Mr. Cooper's acknowledged publications.
Such a catalogue affords good evidence, at least, of the writer's industry. Thirty-eight volumes, in less than half the same number of years, or about one volume for every six months. It would be harsh to quarrel with this rapidity of execution, did we possess no other evidence of it, than that afforded by comparing the extent of his works with the time in which they were written. Unfortunately, there are too many traces of it in the books themselves. Mr. Cooper's
cardinal sin is negligence. He has written not only too fast, but too much. The later novels so ill sustain the reputation acquired by his early efforts, that, were it not for some unlucky peculiarities of manner, they could hardly be ascribed, on internal evidence, to the same author. This falling off may be attributable, in part, to the unfortunate change of scene and subjects consequent on his long residence abroad. But it is more easily explained, we fear, by the carelessness induced by early and great success.
We have no wish, however, to quarrel with him in the outset, for there is much to be said in his praise.
It would be unjust to ascribe much of Mr. Cooper's success to the fact that he entered an untrodden field, and was the first to employ the copious materials for fiction afforded by the history of this country, and the character of its early inhabitants. Endowed with considerable power of observation, a talent for lively description, and great facility in imagining incidents and weaving them together in clear and spirited narrative, he was sure of exciting curiosity and giving interest to whatever subject he touched. He has that skill in narration, the first requisite of a novelist, which, fastening the reader's attention on the issue of events immediately before him, will not allow him to observe any improbability in the plot, or incongruity in the character and actions of the agents. Take, for instance, that scene of breathless interest from “ The Last of the Mohicans," the attack and defence of the island at Glenn's Falls. When we almost hear the sharp crack of the rifles, mingling with the sullen and continued roar of the cataract, and see each new expedient of the savage assailants met and foiled by the skill and activity of the scout and his Indian associates, who can pause to think on the gross improbability of the events, by which the party were betrayed into their exposed situation ? It must be owned, however, that the author abuses his power. The imminent dangers and hair-breadth escapes occur too frequently, till we lose the feeling of concern and suspense, and confide too much in the courage and sagacity of the actors, for effecting their own deliverance.
Of all the land novels, — for the sketches of life on the ocean demand separate consideration, — " The Pioneers" is our favorite. The author is on his strong ground, depicting persons and scenes, that he had watched and known from
infancy. None but a genuine backwoodsman, born and brought up, as the Yankees say, on the frontiers, could have sketched so happily the humors, occupations, and sports of an infant settlement. Shooting at turkeys on Christmas day, making maple sugar in “ the camp,” pigeon-hunting in spring, drawing the seine on the lake, the burning of the woods, - all are peculiar and strongly marked, and are presented with graphic effect by one who has acted what he describes. Every thing is in harmony, within doors and without. We recognise the immense fire-places, around which the family congregate, of a winter's evening, before a fire that might roast an ox; and the supper-table, loaded with a careless profusion of fare, that might satisfy an army. The appearance of external nature, too, though our author's forte lies not in this species of description, is yet familiar to us, as he presents its most characteristic features in winter and spring. The sudden changes, incident to our climate, produce magnificent alterations of view with a rapidity, that seems like magic, and which no power of painting or verbal description can adequately represent. Most gorgeous of all, is the “ January thaw,” followed by a piercing northwest wind and a freezing air, that covers the snow with a glittering crust, and buildings and trees with sheets of ice, sparkling like diamonds in the cold sunbeams. Mr. Cooper paints such a scene with the enthusiasm, that belongs to bright recollections of our early days.
Yet there is something wanting even in these brilliant sketches. They are evidently thrown off in a hurry, drawn with little care from the exuberant stores of a retentive memo
and committed to paper with little effort to make the effect on the reader correspond to the vivid impression existing in the writer's mind. There is no attempt at that finish of literary execution, which gives grace and perfection to the descriptive passages scattered through the novels of Scott. Mr. Cooper feels and remembers the beauty of a remarkable view, but he will not stop to describe it with that occasional minuteness, which is necessary to create a belief in the reality of the scene.
He gives the general character of the landscape, but does not attempt to analyze it, and a haziness consequently rests upon the conception, which the reader attempts to form.
Compare his sketches of prairie scenery, for instance, of the noble herds that scamper wild over our western plains, — with the pictures of the same objects drawn