FENIMORE COOPER OFFENCES
FENIMORE COOPER OFFENCES
The Pathfinder and The Deerslayer stand at the head of Cooper's
novels as artistic creations. There are others of his works
which contain parts as perfect as are to be found in these and
scenes even more thrilling. Not one can be compared with
either of them as a finished whole.
The defects in both of these tales are comparatively slight.
They were pure works of art.--Prof. Lounsbury.
The five tales reveal an extraordinary fulness of invention.
. . . One of the very greatest characters in fiction Natty
Bumppo . . . .
The craft of the woodsman the tricks of the trapper all the
delicate art of the forest were familiar to Cooper from his
youth up.--Prof. Brander Matthews.
Cooper is the greatest artist in the domain of romantic fiction
yet produced by America.--Wilkie Collins.
It seems to me that it was far from right for the Professor of English
Literature in Yale the Professor of English Literature in Columbia and
Wilkie Collins to deliver opinions on Cooper's literature without having
read some of it. It would have been much more decorous to keep silent
and let persons talk who have read Cooper.
Cooper's art has some defects. In one place in 'Deerslayer' and in the
restricted space of two-thirds of a page Cooper has scored 114 offences
against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record.
There are nineteen rules governing literary art in the domain of romantic
fiction--some say twenty-two. In Deerslayer Cooper violated eighteen of
them. These eighteen require:
1. That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere. But the
Deerslayer tale accomplishes nothing and arrives in the air.
2. They require that the episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of
the tale and shall help to develop it. But as the Deerslayer tale is
not a tale and accomplishes nothing and arrives nowhere the episodes
have no rightful place in the work since there was nothing for them to
3. They require that the personages in a tale shall be alive except in
the case of corpses and that always the reader shall be able to tell the
corpses from the others. But this detail has often been overlooked in
the Deerslayer tale.
4. They require that the personages in a tale both dead and alive
shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there. But this detail also
has been overlooked in the Deerslayer tale.
5. They require that when the personages of a tale deal in conversation
the talk shall sound like human talk and be talk such as human beings
would be likely to talk in the given circumstances and have a
discoverable meaning also a discoverable purpose and a show of
relevancy and remain in the neighborhood of the subject in hand and be
interesting to the reader and help out the tale and stop when the
people cannot think of anything more to say. But this requirement has
been ignored from the beginning of the Deerslayer tale to the end of it.
6. They require that when the author describes the character of a
personage in his tale the conduct and conversation of that personage
shall justify said description. But this law gets little or no attention
in the Deerslayer tale as Natty Bumppo's case will amply prove.
7. They require that when a personage talks like an illustrated gilt-
edged tree-calf hand-tooled seven-dollar Friendship's Offering in the
beginning of a paragraph he shall not talk like a negro minstrel in the
end of it. But this rule is flung down and danced upon in the Deerslayer
8. They require that crass stupidities shall not be played upon the
reader as "the craft of the woodsman the delicate art of the forest" by
either the author or the people in the tale. But this rule is
persistently violated in the Deerslayer tale.
9. They require that the personages of a tale shall confine themselves
to possibilities and let miracles alone; or if they venture a miracle
the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and
reasonable. But these rules are not respected in the Deerslayer tale.
10. They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep
interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he
shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad
ones. But the reader of the Deerslayer tale dislikes the good people in
it is indifferent to the others and wishes they would all get drowned
11. They require that the characters in a tale shall be so clearly
defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given
emergency. But in the Deerslayer tale this rule is vacated.
In addition to these large rules there are some little ones. These
require that the author shall:
12. Say what he is proposing to say not merely come near it.
13. Use the right word not its second cousin.
14. Eschew surplusage.
15. Not omit necessary details.
16. Avoid slovenliness of form.
17. Use good grammar.
18. Employ a simple and straightforward style.
Even these seven are coldly and persistently violated in the Deerslayer
Cooper's gift in the way of invention was not a rich endowment; but such
as it was he liked to work it he was pleased with the effects and
indeed he did some quite sweet things with it. In his little box of