James Fenimore Cooper

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Candor is a proof of both a just frame of mind, and of a good tone of breeding. It is a quality that belongs equally to the honest man and to the gentleman.

James Fenimore Cooper (September 15, 1789September 14, 1851) was a prolific and popular American writer of the early 19th century.

See also:
The American Democrat (1838)


  • I will go upon the rock, boys, and look abroad for the savages," said Ishmael shortly after, advancing towards them with a mien which he intended should be conciliating, at the same time that it was authoritative. "If there is nothing to fear, we will go out on the plain; the day is too good to be lost in words, like women in the towns wrangling over their tea and sugared cakes."
  • One of the most melancholy consequences of this habit of deferring to other nations, and to other systems, is the fact that it causes us to undervalue the high blessings we so peculiarly enjoy; to render us ungrateful towards God, and to make us unjust to our fellow men, by throwing obstacles in their progress towards liberty.
    • A Letter to His Countrymen (1834)
  • God has given the salt lick to the deer; and He has given to man, red-skin and white, the delicious spring at which to slake his thirst.
  • 'Tis grand! 'tis solemn! 'tis an education of itself to look upon!
  • For a time our efforts seem to create, and to adorn, and to perfect, until we forget our origin and destination, substituting self for that divine hand which alone can unite the elements of worlds as they float in gasses, equally from His mysterious laboratory, and scatter them again into thin air when the works of His hand cease to find favour in His view.
    Let those who would substitute the voice of the created for that of the Creator, who shout "the people, the people," instead of hymning the praises of their God, who vainly imagine that the masses are sufficient for all things, remember their insignificance and tremble. They are but mites amid millions of other mites, that the goodness of providence has produced for its own wise ends; their boasted countries, with their vaunted climates and productions, have temporary possessions of but small portions of a globe that floats, a point, in space, following the course pointed out by an invisible finger, and which will one day be suddenly struck out of its orbit, as it was originally put there, by the hand that made it. Let that dread Being, then, be never made to act a second part in human affairs, or the rebellious vanity of our race imagine that either numbers, or capacity, or success, or power in arms, is aught more than a short-lived gift of His beneficence, to be resumed when His purposes are accomplished.
  • Those families, you know, are our upper crust—not upper ten thousand.
    • The Ways of the Hour (1850), Ch. 6
  • Trust to HIM. There are days in which the sun is not seen—when a lurid darkness brings a second night over the earth. It matters not. The great luminary is always there. There may be clouds before his face, but the winds will blow them away. The man or the people that trust in God will find a lake for every See-wise.
  • I shall only say that I have passed a varied and eventful life, that it has been my fortune to see earth, heavens, ocean, and man in most of their aspects; but never have I beheld any spectacle which so plainly manifested the majesty of the Creator, or so forcibly taught the lesson of humility to man as a total eclipse of the sun.

The Pilot: A Tale of the Sea (1823)[edit]

  • There is an uneasy desire among a vast many well-disposed persons to get the fruits of the Christian Faith, without troubling themselves about the Faith itself. This is done under the sanction of Peace Societies, Temperance and Moral Reform Societies, in which the end is too often mistaken for the means. When the Almighty sent His Son on earth, it was to point out the way in which all this was to be brought about, by means of the Church; but men have so frittered away that body of divine organization, through their divisions and subdivisions, all arising from human conceit, that it is no longer regarded as the agency it was so obviously intended to be, and various contrivances are to be employed as substitutes for that which proceeded directly from the Son of God!
  • It is probable a true history of human events would show that a far larger proportion of our acts are the results of sudden impulses and accident, than of that reason of which we so much boast.

The Last of the Mohicans (1826)[edit]

  • It was a feature peculiar to the colonial wars of North America, that the toils and dangers of the wilderness were to be encountered before the adverse hosts could meet. A wide and apparently an impervious boundary of forests severed the possessions of the hostile provinces of France and England. The hardy colonist, and the trained European who fought at his side, frequently expended months in struggling against the rapids of the streams, or in effecting the rugged passes of the mountains, in quest of an opportunity to exhibit their courage in a more martial conflict. But, emulating the patience and self-denial of the practiced native warriors, they learned to overcome every difficulty; and it would seem that, in time, there was no recess of the woods so dark, nor any secret place so lovely, that it might claim exemption from the inroads of those who had pledged their blood to satiate their vengeance, or to uphold the cold and selfish policy of the distant monarchs of Europe.
    • Ch. 1
  • In short, the magnifying influence of fear began to set at naught the calculations of reason, and to render those who should have remembered their manhood, the slaves of the basest passions.
    • Ch. 1
  • Should we distrust the man because his manners are not our manners, and that his skin is dark?
    • Ch. 2, Cora
  • I am on the hill-top, and must go down into the valley; and when Uncas follows in my footsteps, there will no longer be any of the blood of the Sagamores, for my boy is the last of the Mohicans.
    • Ch. 3, Chingachgook
  • “'Tis a strange calling!” muttered Hawkeye, with an inward laugh, “to go through life, like a catbird, mocking all the ups and downs that may happen to come out of other men's throats.
    • Ch. 6
  • It should be remembered that men always prize that most which is least enjoyed. Thus, in a new country, the woods and other objects, which in an old country would be maintained at great cost, are got rid of, simply with a view of “improving” as it is called.
    • Ch. 6
  • I have listened to all the sounds of the woods for thirty years, as a man will listen whose life and death depend on the quickness of his ears.
    • Ch. 7, Hawkeye
  • It is better for a man to die at peace with himself than to live haunted by an evil conscience.
    • Ch. 8
  • Is it justice to make evil and then punish for it?
    • Ch. 11, Magua
  • History, like love, is so apt to surround her heroes with an atmosphere of imaginary brightness.
    • Ch. 18
  • Your young white, who gathers his learning from books and can measure what he knows by the page, may conceit that his knowledge, like his legs, outruns that of his fathers', but, where experience is the master, the scholar is made to know the value of years, and respects them accordingly.
    • Ch. 21, Hawkeye
  • Every trail has its end, and every calamity brings its lesson!
    • Ch. 25, Hawkeye
  • Chingachgook grasped the hand that, in the warmth of feeling, the scout had stretched across the fresh earth, and in an attitude of friendship these two sturdy and intrepid woodsmen bowed their heads together, while scalding tears fell to their feet, watering the grave of Uncas like drops of falling rain.
    • Ch. 33
  • It is enough. Go, children of the Lenape, the anger of the Manitou is not done. Why should Tamenund stay? The pale faces are masters of the earth, and the time of the red men has not yet come again. My day has been too long. In the morning I saw the sons of Unamis happy and strong; and yet, before the night has come, have I lived to see the last warrior of the wise race of the Mohicans.
    • Ch. 33, Tamenund

The Wing-and-Wing (1842)[edit]

  • There is something so gratifying to human vanity in fancying ourselves superior to most around us, that we believe few young men attain their majority without imbibing more or less of the taint of unbelief, and passing through the mists of a vapid moral atmosphere, before they come to the clear, manly, and yet humble perceptions that teach most of us, in the end, our own insignificance, the great benevolence as well as wisdom of the scheme of redemption, and the philosophy of the Christian religion, as well as its divinity.
    Perhaps the greatest stumbling-block of the young is a disposition not to yield to their belief unless it conforms to their own crude notions of propriety and reason. If the powers of man were equal to analyzing the nature of the Deity, to comprehending His being, and power, and motives, there would be some little show of sense in thus setting up the pretence of satisfying our judgments in all things, before we yield our credence to a religious system. But the first step we take brings with it the instructive lesson of our incapacity, and teaches the wholesome lesson of humility. From arrogantly claiming a right to worship a deity we comprehend, we soon come to feel that the impenetrable veil that is cast around the Godhead is an indispensable condition of our faith, reverence, and submission.
    • Preface

Oak Openings or The bee-hunter (1848)[edit]

  • For ourselves, we firmly believe that the finger of Providence is pointing the way to all races, and colors, and nations, along the path that is to lead the east and the west alike to the great goal of human wants. Demons infest that path, and numerous and unhappy are the wanderings of millions who stray from its course; sometimes in reluctance to proceed; sometimes in an indiscreet haste to move faster than their fellows, and always in a forgetfulness of the great rules of conduct that have been handed down from above. Nevertheless, the main course is onward; and the day, in the sense of time, is not distant, when the whole earth is to be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, "as the waters cover the sea.
    One of the great stumbling-blocks with a large class of well-meaning, but narrow-judging moralists, are the seeming wrongs that are permitted by Providence, in its control of human events. Such persons take a one-sided view of things, and reduce all principles to the level of their own understandings. If we could comprehend the relations which the Deity bears to us, as well as we can comprehend the relations we bear to him, there might be a little seeming reason in these doubts; but when one of the parties in this mighty scheme of action is a profound mystery to the other, it is worse than idle, it is profane, to attempt to explain those things which our minds are not yet sufficiently cleared from the dross of earth to understand.
    • Preface
  • Parson Amen's speculations on this interesting subject, although this may happen to be the first occasion on which he has ever heard the practice of taking scalps justified by Scripture. Viewed in a proper spirit, they ought merely to convey a lesson of humility, by rendering apparent the wisdom, nay the necessity, of men's keeping them-selves within the limits of the sphere of knowledge they were designed to fill, and convey, when rightly considered, as much of a lesson to the Puseyite, with abstractions that are quite as unintelligible to himself as they are to others; to the high-wrought and dogmatical Calvinist, who in the midst of his fiery zeal, forgets that love is the very essence of the relation between God and man; to the Quaker, who seems to think the cut of a coat essential to salvation; to the descendant of the Puritan, who whether he be Socinian, Calvinist, Universalist, or any other "1st," appears to believe that the "rock" on which Christ declared he would found his church was the "Rock of Plymouth"; and to the unbeliever, who, in deriding all creeds, does not know where to turn to find one to substitute in their stead. Humility, in matters of this sort, is the great lesson that all should teach and learn; for it opens the way to charity, and eventually to faith, and through both of these to hope; finally, through all of these, to heaven.
    • Ch. XI
  • Let a man get once fairly possessed of any peculiar notion, whether it be on religion, political economy, morals, politics, arts, or anything else, and he sees little beside his beloved principle, which he is at all times ready to advance, defend, demonstrate, or expatiate on. Nothing can be simpler than the two great dogmas of Christianity, which are so plain that all can both comprehend them and feel their truth. They teach us to love God, the surest way to obey him, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Any one can understand this; all can see how just it is, and how much of moral sublimity it contains. It is Godlike, and brings us near the very essence of the Divinity, which is love, mercy, and truth. Yet how few are content to accept the teachings of the Saviour in this respect, without embarrassing them with theories that have so much of their origin in human fancies.
    • Ch. XVI
  • The powers, and faculties, and principles that are necessary fully to comprehend all that we see and all that surrounds us, exist and have been bestowed on man by his beneficent Creator. Still, it is only by slow degrees that he is to become their master, acquiring knowledge, step by step, as he has need of its services, and learns how to use it. Such seems to be the design of Providence, which is gradually opening to our inquiries the arcana of nature, in order that we may convert their possession into such uses as will advance its own wise intentions. Happy are they who feel this truth in their character of individuals! Thrice happy the nations which can be made to understand, that the surest progress is that which is made on the clearest principles, and with the greatest caution! The notion of setting up anything new in morals, is as fallacious in theory as it will be found to be dangerous in practice.
    • Ch. XXI

The Sea Lions or The Lost Sealers (1849)[edit]

  • I do not pretend to understand why such a sacrifice should be necessary, but I believe it, feel it; and believing and feeling it, I cannot but adore and worship the Son, who quitted heaven to come on earth, and suffered, that we might possess eternal life. It is all mystery to me, as is the creation itself, our existence, God himself, and all else that my mind is too limited to comprehend. But, Roswell, if I believe a part of the teachings of the Christian church, I must believe all. The apostles, who were called by Christ in person, who lived in his very presence, who knew nothing except as the Holy Spirit prompted, worshiped him as the Son of God, as one 'who thought it not robbery to be equal with God;' and shall I, ignorant and uninspired, pretend to set up my feeble means of reasoning, in opposition to their written instructions!"… I do not deny that we are to exercise our reason, but it is within the bounds set for its exercise. We may examine the evidence of Christianity, and determine for ourselves how far it is supported by reasonable and sufficient proofs; beyond this we cannot be expected to go, else might we be required to comprehend the mystery of our own existence, which just as much exceeds our understanding as any other. We are told that man was created in the image of his Creator, which means that there is an immortal and spiritual part of him that is entirely different from the material creature One perishes, temporarily at least--a limb can be severed from the body and perish, even while the body survives; but it is not so with that which has been created in the image of the deity. That is imperishable, immortal, spiritual, though doomed to dwell awhile in a tenement of clay. Now, why is it more difficult to believe that pure divinity may have entered into the person of one man, than to believe, nay to feel, that the image of God has entered into the persons of so many myriads of men?
    • Ch. XII
  • The idea of not having a Deity that he could not comprehend had long been one of Roswell Gardiner's favourite rules of faith. He did not understand by this pretending dogma, that he was, in any respect, of capacity equal to comprehend with that of the Divine Being, but simply that he was not to be expected or required to believe in any theory which manifestly conflicted with his knowledge and experience, as both were controlled by the powers of induction he had derived directly from his Creator. In a word, his exception was one of the most obvious of the suggestions of the pride of reason, and just so much in direct opposition to the great law of regeneration, which has its very gist in the converse of this feeling --Faith.
  • As our young master paced the terrace alone, that idea of the necessity of the Creator's being incomprehensible to the created, recurred to him. The hour that succeeded was probably the most important in Roswell Gardiners life. So intense were his feelings, so active the workings of his mind, that he was quite insensible to the intensity of the cold; and his body keeping equal motion with his thoughts, if one may so express it, his frame actually set at defiance a temperature that might otherwise have chilled it, warmly and carefully as it was clad.
  • Roswell Gardiner has never wavered in his faith, from the time when his feelings were awakened by the just view of his own insignificance, as compared to the power of God! He then learned the first, great lesson in religious belief, that of humility; without which no man can be truly penitent, or truly a Christian. He no longer thought of measuring the Deity with his narrow faculties, or of setting up his blind conclusions, in the face of positive revelations. He saw that all must be accepted, or none; and there was too much evidence, too much inherent truth, a morality too divine, to allow a mind like his to reject the gospel altogether. With Mary at his side, he has continued to worship the Trinity, accepting its mysteries in an humble reliance on the words of inspired men.
  • Chapter XXX, conclusion of the novel

Correspondence of James Fenimore-Cooper (1922)[edit]

Correspondence of James Fenimore-Cooper
  • Genesis. What an extraordinary history! It is impossible for us to appreciate conduct, when a power like that of God is directly brought to bear on it. Obedience to him is our first law.
    • Journal kept by Cooper from January to May 1848
  • Hebrews. This book is much superior to most of the writings attributed to St. Paul, though passages in the other books are very admirable.
    • Journal kept by Cooper from January to May 1848

Quotes about James Fenimore Cooper[edit]

  • Speaking of their reading the Bible together, [my mother] says it was on his birth-day, about five or six years since that they began to read it together, regularly ; not by chapters but a hundred verses every morning before breakfast, unless the close of a chapter occurred to break or prolong the reading. He admired the Psalms inexpressibly. The Book of Job also. The prophesies of Isaiah, and the Epistles to the Hebrews struck him very forcibly. He admired the Epistle of St. James very much, calling it a beautiful pastoral letter. He told Mother once, "I used to think a great deal of St. James when I was a boy." He was deeply impressed with the book of Revelations. The allusions to Melchisedec always interested him particularly. He said, speaking of the definition of faith by St. Paul : "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," that it was so noble, so comprehensive, so just, so full, that the words themselves seemed to have been sent directly from Heaven.
    Speaking of the admiration he had always felt for the Liturgy, dear Mother mentioned his most deep sense of the excellence of the Lord's Prayer. He loved particularly the anthem, "God be merciful unto us, etc., etc." "The Liturgy was a blessed service to him," I observed. "Oh," cried dear Mother, "Blessed indeed! He lived on the Collects for the last few months!" They were in the habit of saying together every morning for years "Direct us O Lord, etc., etc."
    They knelt together, Father's arms about Mother; when he grew feeble she knelt, and he leaned his head on her shoulder.
    On the morning of his death dear Mother kneeled at the bedside and said the prayers they had been accustomed to use together. He seemed to understand, and follow, though with effort — partially conscious to the very last hour.
    For many years before separating, for even a short business absence of dear Father's, they always said together the prayer in the Marriage Service. Dear Mother added this prayer to others the last morning of his life. He seemed to understand but could not speak. The morning of his death when I came into the room dear Mother said, "Here is Susie, come to kiss you!" He partly opened his eyes, made an effort to smile, and put up his lips to kiss me — but his voice was gone.
  • The French and Indian War would later be seen as the trigger for independence of the settler population, in which the distinctly "American" nation was born. This mythology was expressed in the 1826 novel The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757, in which the author-land speculator James Fenimore Cooper-created a usable settler-colonial history. Blockbuster Hollywood adaptations of the book in 1932 and 1992 reinforced the mythology. But the 1940 film, based on the best-selling novel Northwest Passage, which is considered a classic and remains popular due to repeated television showings, goes even further in portraying the bloodthirsty mercenaries, Rogers's Rangers, as heroes for their annihilation of a village of Abenakis.
  • The Indian-fighting frontiersmen and the "valiant" settlers in their circled covered wagons are the iconic images of that identity. The continued popularity of, and respect for, the genocidal sociopath Andrew Jackson is another indicator. Actual men such as Robert Rogers, Daniel Boone, John Sevier, and David Crockett, as well as fictitious ones created by James Fenimore Cooper and other best-selling writers, call to mind D. H. Lawrence's "myth of the essential white American"-that the "essential American soul" is a killer.

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