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.


  • Few men exhibit greater diversity, or, if we may so express it, greater antithesis of character than the native warrior of North America. In war, he is daring, boastful, cunning, ruthless, self-denying, and self-devoted; in peace, just, generous, hospitable, revengeful, superstitious, modest, and commonly chaste.
  • 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.
  • 'Tis grand! 'tis solemn! 'tis an education of itself to look upon!
  • Those families, you know, are our upper crust—not upper ten thousand.
    • The Ways of the Hour, Ch. 6 (1850)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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 American Democrat (1838)[edit]

In all the general concerns, the publick has a right to be treated with candor. Without this manly and truly republican quality, republican because no power exists in the country to intimidate any from its exhibition, the institutions are converted into a stupendous fraud.
Neither is morality to be regulated by the prejudice of sects, or social classes, but it is to be left strictly to the control of the laws, both divine and human. To assume the contrary is to make prejudice, and prejudice of a local origin too, more imperious that the institutions.
  • Some men fancy that a democrat can only be one who seeks the level, social, mental and moral, of the majority, a rule that would at once exclude all men of refinement, education, and taste from the class. These persons are enemies of democracy, as they at once render it impracticable. They are usually great sticklers for their own associations and habits, too, though unable to comprehend any of a nature that are superior. They are, in truth, aristocrats in principle, though assuming a contrary pretension; the ground work of all their feelings and arguments being self. Such is not the intention of liberty, whose aim is to leave every man to be the master of his own acts; denying hereditary honors, it is true, as unjust and unnecessary, but not denying the inevitable consequences of civilization. The law of God s the only rule of conduct, in this, as in other matters. Each man should do as he would be done by.
    • An Aristocrat and a Democrat
  • The very existence of government at all, infers inequality. The citizen who is preferred to office becomes the superior to those who are not, so long as he is the repository of power, and the child inherits the wealth of the parent as a controlling law of society.
    • On American Equality
  • The Americans … are almost ignorant of the art of music, one of the most elevating, innocent and refining of human tastes, whose influence on the habits and morals of a people is of the most beneficial tendency.
    • On Civilization
  • Slavery is no more sinful, by the Christian code, than it is sinful to wear a whole coat, while another is in tatters, to eat a better meal than a neighbor, or otherwise to enjoy ease and plenty, while our fellow creatures are suffering and in want.
    • On Slavery
  • 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 : to the first, as doing to others as we would ourselves be done by; to the last, as indispensable to the liberality of the character.
    By candor we are not to understand trifling and uncalled for expositions of truth; but a sentiment that proves a conviction of the necessity of speaking truth, when speaking at all; a contempt for all designing evasions of our real opinions; and a deep conviction that he who deceives by necessary implication, deceives willfully.
    In all the general concerns, the publick has a right to be treated with candor. Without this manly and truly republican quality, republican because no power exists in the country to intimidate any from its exhibition, the institutions are converted into a stupendous fraud.
    • Ch. 23 : "On Candor" p. 115
  • The tendency of democracies is, in all things, to mediocrity.
    • On the Disadvantages of Democracy
  • A refined simplicity is the characteristic of all high bred deportment, in every country, and a considerate humanity should be the aim of all beneath it.
    • On Deportment
  • The common faults of American language are an ambition of effect, a want of simplicity, and a turgid abuse of terms.
    • On Language
  • Equality, in a social sense, may be divided into that of condition and that of rights. Equality of condition is incompatible with civilization, and is found only to exist in those communities that are but slightly removed from the savage state. In practice, it can only mean a common misery.
    • On the Disadvantages of a Monarchy
  • America owes most of its social prejudices to the exaggerated religious opinions of the different sects which were so instrumental in establishing the colonies. The quakers, or friends, proscribed the delightful and elevated accomplishment of music, as, indeed, did the puritans, with the exception of psalmody. The latter confined marriage ceremonies to the magistrates, lest religion should be brought into disrepute! Most of those innocent recreations which help the charities, and serve to meliorate manners, were also forbidden, until an unnatural and monastic austerity, with a caustic habit of censoriousness, got to be considered as the only outward signs of that religious hope, which is so peculiarly adapted to render us joyous and benevolent. False and extravagant notions on the subject of manners, never fail to injure a sound morality, by mistaking the shadow for the substance.
    • On Prejudice
  • Another motive peculiar to this country, for freeing the mind from prejudice, is the mixed character of the population. Natives of different sections of the United States, and of various parts of Europe are brought in close contact, and without disposition to bear each other's habits, association becomes unpleasant, and enmities are engendered. It ought never to be forgotten, therefore, that every citizen is entitled to indulge without comment, or persecution, in all his customs and practices that are lawful and moral. Neither is morality to be regulated by the prejudice of sects, or social classes, but it is to be left strictly to the control of the laws, both divine and human. To assume the contrary is to make prejudice, and prejudice of a local origin too, more imperious that the institutions.
  • It is a besetting vice of democracies to substitute public opinion for law. This is the usual form in which masses of men exhibit their tyranny.
    • On the Disadvantages of Democracy
  • The demagogue is usually sly, a detractor of others, a professor of humility and disinterestedness, a great stickler for equality as respects all above him, a man who acts in corners, and avoids open and manly expositions of his course, calls blackguards gentlemen, and gentlemen folks, appeals to passions and prejudices rather than to reason, and is in all respects, a man of intrigue and deception, of sly cunning and management.
    • On Demagogues
  • The American doctrinaire is the converse of the American demagogue, and, in this way, is scarcely less injurious to the public. The first deals in poetry, the last in cant. He is as much a visionary on one side, as the extreme theoretical democrat is a visionary on the other.
    • On Demagogues
  • That one man is not deemed as good as another in the grand moral system of providence, is revealed to us in the Holy Writ, by the scheme of future rewards and punishments, as well as by the whole history of those whom God has favored in this world, for their piety, or punished for their rebellin. As compared with perfect holiness, all men are frail; but, as compared with each other, we are throughout the whole of sacred history made to see, that, in a moral sense, one man is not as good as another. The evil doer is punished, while they who are distinguished for their qualities and acts, are intended to be preferred... We are then to discard all visionary theories on this head, and look at things as they are. All that the most popular institutions attempt, is to prohibit that one race of man shall be made better than another by law, from father to son, which would be defeating the intentions of providence, creating a superiority that exists in neither physical nor moral nature, and substituting a political scheme for the will of God and the force of things. As a principle, one man is as good as another in rights.
    • On The Duties of Station
  • Equality, in a social sense, may be divided into that of condition, and that of rights. . . With an equality of civil rights, all men are equal before the law; all classes of the community being liable equally to taxation, military service, jury duties, and to the other impositions attendant on civilization, and no one being exempted from its control, except on general rules, which are dependent on the good of all, instead of the exemption's belonging to the immunities of individuals, estates, or families. An equality of civil rights may be briefly defined to be an absence of privileges.
    • On Equality
  • The private duties of the citizen, as connected with social station, are founded chiefly on the relations between man and man, though others may be referred to a higher source, being derived directly from the relations between the creature and his creator.
    A regard for the duties of private station, are indispensable to order, and to the intercourse between different members of society. So important have they always been deemed, that the inspired writers, from the Saviour through the greatest of his apostles down, have deemed them worthy of being placed in conspicuous characters, in their code of morals.
    The first direct mandate of God, as delivered on Mt. Sinai, were to impress the Jews with a sense of their duties to their Heavenly Father; the next to impress them with the first of their social duties, that of honor and obedience to their parents.
    • On the Private Duties of Station
  • Individuality is the aim of political liberty. By leaving to the citizen as much freedom of action and of being, as comports with order and the rights of others, the institutions render him truly a freeman. He is left to pursue his means of happiness in his own manner.
    • On Individuality
  • The habit of seen the public rule, is gradually accustoming the American mind to an interference with private rights that is slowly undermining the individuality of the national character. There is getting to be so much public right, that private right is overshadowed and lost. A danger exists that the ends of liberty will be forgotten altogether in the means.
    • On Individuality
  • All greatness of character is dependent on individuality. The man who has no other existence than that which he partakes in common with all around him, will never have any other than an existence of mediocrity.
    • On Individuality
  • Party leads to vicious, corrupt and unprofitable legislation, for the sole purpose of defeating party.
    • On Party
  • It is a misfortune that necessity has induced men to accord greater license to this formidable engine, in order to obtain liberty, than can be borne with less important objects in view; for the press, like fire, is an excellent servant, but a terrible master.
    • On the Press
  • In America the taint of sectarianism lies broad upon the land. Not content with acknowledging the supremacy as the Deity, and with erecting temples in his honor, where all can bow down with reverence, the pride and vanity of human reason enter into and pollute our worship, and the houses that should be of God and for God, alone, where he is to be honored with submissive faith, are too often merely schools of metaphysical and useless distinctions. The nation is sectarian, rather than Christian.
    Religion's first lesson is humility; its fruit, charity. In the great and sublime ends of Providence, little things are lost, and least of all is he imbued with a right spirit who believes that insignificant observances, subtleties of doctrine, and minor distinctions, enter into the great essentials of the Christian character. The wisest thing for him who is disposed to cavil at the immaterial habits of his neighbor, to split straws on doctrine, to fancy trifles of importance, and to place the man before principles, would be to distrust himself.
    • On Religion
  • As reason and revelation both tell us that this state of being is but a preparation for another of a still higher and more spiritual order, all the interests of life are of comparatively little importance, when put in the balance against the future.
    • On Religion
  • Christ, in the parable of the vine dressers, has taught us a sublime lesson of justice, by showing that to the things which are not our own, we can have no just claim.
    • On Religion
  • The old political saying, that "the people are their own worst enemies," while false as a governing maxim, contains some truth... It is , therefore, a public duty of the citizen to guard against all excesses of popular power, whether inflicted by mere opinion, or under the forms of law. In all his public acts, he should watch himself, as under a government of another sort he would watch his rulers; or as vigilantly as he watches the servants of the community at home ; for, though possessing the power in the last resort, it is not so absolutely an irresponsible power as it first seems, coming from God, and to be wielded on those convictions of right which God has implanted in our breasts, that we may know good from evil.
    • On the Duties of Station
  • Many words are in a state of mutation, the pronunciation being unsettled even in the best society, a result that must often arise where language is as variable and undetermined as the English.
    • On Language
  • Some changes of language are to be regretted, as they lead to false inferences, and society is always a loser by mistaking names for things.
    • On Language

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.

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