Imagens das páginas

with great rapidity; refinement of style.


painted on a large canvas with a heavy brush. He worked and as a natural consequence we miss all He is often slovenly, and sometimes incorThe conversations, which he introduces freely, are seldom natural, often bombastic, and generally tiresome. His plots are usually defective. His novels are made up of narratives more or less closely connected, but not forming necessary parts in the development of a dramatic story. With some notable exceptions, his characters are rather wooden, and move very much like automatons. They are continually doing things without any apparent or sufficient reason. His women belong to the type which is made up, to use his own phrase, "of religion and female decorum." They are insipid, helpless, vague-so limited by a narrow and conventional decorum as to be wholly uninteresting. They rarely say anything or do anything that shows the true womanly spirit of devotion, helpfulness, and self-sacrifice.

296. Graphic Description.—These are faults that are palpable and acknowledged. What, then, are the excellences which, triumphing over these serious drawbacks, still render Cooper one of the most popular of authors? First, he had the power of graphic description. Without catching the spiritual significance of nature, he yet presented its various forms with extraordinary vividness. "If Cooper," said Balzac, "had succeeded in the painting of character to the same extent that he did in the painting of the phenomena of nature, he would have uttered the last word of our art."

297. Vivid Narration.-But above this and above every other quality is Cooper's power as a narrator. It is here that his genius manifests itself in its full power. His best novels are made up of a succession of interesting or exciting events, which he narrates with supreme art. We realize every detail, and often follow the story with breathless interest. Cooper is an author, not for literary critics, but for general readers. In the words of Bryant, "he wrote for mankind at large; hence it is

that he has earned a fame wider than any author of modern times. The creations of his genius shall survive through centuries to come, and perish only with our language."


A brief annotated selection," Escape from a Panther," is given on pages 427-434.

The student should read "The Pilot" and "The Last of the Mohicans," to which may be added "The Spy," "The Deerslayer," and "The Pioneers."

T. R. Lounsbury's "James Fenimore Cooper" (American Men of Letters Series); J. T. Wilson's "Bryant and his Friends." For critical estimates see the general bibliography and Poole's "Index." Also W. C. Bryant's "Discourse on Cooper," and Mark Twain's "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offences" in "How to Tell a Story "- -a fine bit of humorously exaggerated criticism.


298. Genius and Character.-Great genius is not always associated with exalted character. There is much in the life of Pope, of Burns, and of Byron that we cannot approve of. So far as their works reflect their moral obliquities, we are forced to make abatements in our praise. It is greatly to the credit of American Literature that its leading representatives have been men of excellent character. Dissolute genius has not flourished on our soil. At the funeral of Bryant, it was truthfully said, "It is the glory of this man that his character outshone even his great talent and his large fame." In a poem "To Bryant on his Birthday," Whittier beautifully said:

"We praise not now the poet's art,

The rounded beauty of his song;
Who weighs him from his life apart
Must do his nobler nature wrong."


299. Moral Element in Literature.--The moral element in literature is of the highest importance. It is a French maxim often disregarded in France as elsewhere, that "Nothing is beautiful but truth." It is certain that only truth is enduring. Whatever is false is sure, sooner or later, to pass away. Bryant gave beautiful expression to the same idea in the oft-quoted lines from his poem, "The Battle-Field:

[blocks in formation]

300. Truth in his Work. This truth is often forgotten or neglected by our men of letters. Whatever is false in any way, whether in fact, principle, sentiment, taste, cannot be permanent. 1 Rien n'est beau que le vrai.

[graphic][merged small]
« AnteriorContinuar »