Antebellum and Civil War America, 1784-1865
Chapter 1: Judge Temple and Bumppo argue over deer; Oliver is injured by Temple’s bullet
2: Temple’s rise to prominence is described
3: Temple’s house is described
4: Oliver saves four in sleigh
5: Temples bring Oliver home
6: Dr. Todd works on Oliver’s shoulder
7: Mohegan dresses Oliver’s wound
8: Minor characters described
9: Temple entertains guests at dinner
10: Temples and others proceed to church service
11: Temples and others attend church service
12: Temples and others leave church service
13: Settlers converse at Bold Dragoon
14: Temple stops at Bold Dragoon
15: Ben and Remarkable converse at Mansion-house
16: Elizabeth and Richard encounter turkey shoot
17: Natty wins turkey shoot
18: Oliver accepts job as Judge’s assistant
19: Elizabeth converses with Louisa
20: Temples visit Kirby in sugar-boiling camp
21: Temple describes his first meeting with Natty; tree falls
22: Settlers engage in wasteful pigeon shooting
23: Settlers go fishing
24: Natty saves Benjamin from drowning
25: Elizabeth, Louisa, and Oliver discuss Mohegan, marriage
26: Natty reminisces
27: Natty kills deer out of season
28: Natty saves Elizabeth and Louisa from panther
29: Judge, Richard visit site of proposed mine
30: Natty repels Hiram in his attempt to search hut for deer carcass
31: Judge dismisses Oliver after argument about Natty and wilderness
32: Richard arrests Natty
33: Natty is acquitted of assaulting Hiram, but is convicted of “resisting the execution of a search-warrant by force of arms” (371) and is sentenced to an hour in the stocks, a $100 fine, and a month in jail
34: Benjamin joins Natty in stocks and attacks Hiram
35: Oliver helps Natty and Benjamin escape from jail; Elizabeth points them to a boat
36: Elizabeth tries to deliver powder to Natty, but fire breaks out
37: Oliver and Elizabeth unsuccessfully try to escape fire
38: Natty saves Oliver and Elizabeth from fire
39: Suspecting Natty and Oliver of setting the fire, Richard leads a posse to their cave
40: Major Effingham is exposed, and Judge makes good on money he owed him
41: Major has died, and Oliver has married Elizabeth; Oliver and Elizabeth say farewell to Natty, who leaves for more wilderness
Culture: Settler’s lack of refinement (58), cost (438)
Manhood: Physical prowess (22-23, 198-199, 249, 422)
Native Americans: Threat to whites (85), victims (164-166, 185)
Nature and Civilization: progress (13, 20, 39, 183), improving on nature (43, 222), conservation (104, 106, 248), hubris (43, 252, 262), law (20, 23, 160-161, 202, 238, 360, 376, 388), nature’s resilience (58), religion (136, 428-429), threat (348)
Order: Self-restraint (107, 262), control and chaos (240-242)
By Mark Canada
In his preface to The Pioneers, James Fenimore Cooper explained that he wrote the novel, his third, for his own pleasure, “so it would be no wonder if it displeased every body else; for what two thought alike, on a subject of the imagination!” (3). Far from displeasing readers, The Pioneers was the beginning of one of the most famous series of novels in American literature, The Leather-Stocking Tales. It was here that Cooper introduced his memorable frontier hero, Natty Bumppo.
Cooper’s career as a novelist was only three years old when he published The Pioneers in 1823. Of writing the novel, Cooper later recalled in a letter: “I ought in justice to myself to say, that in opposition to a thousand good resolutions, the Pioneers, has been more hastily and carelessly written than any of my books—Not a line has been copied, and it has gone from my desk to the printers—I have not to this moment been able even to read it—“ (23). Nevertheless, as Donald A. Ringe explains in his introduction to The Pioneers, the book “was an immediate success and established him in a career as a professional novelist” (vii). Over the next two decades, he would follow it with four other novels featuring Bumppo—in a series called The Leather-Stocking Tales—as well as numerous other books of fiction and nonfiction.
In writing the novel, Cooper drew on a time, a place, and even personages he knew. The time is the late eighteenth century—specifically Christmas Eve, 1793, to mid-October of 1794—the period when he was coming of age. The setting of Templeton resembles Cooperstown, a community in upstate New York named after the novelist’s father, and Judge Temple’s residence in the novel recalls Otsego Hall, where the Coopers resided. The character of Judge Temple bears a surface likeness to Cooper’s father, wealthy landowner and politician William Cooper, and, as Ringe notes, Cooper may have based Natty Bumppo on a man named David Shipman, an old hunter who came to Otsego Hall when Cooper was a boy. Cooper’s familiarity with his subject matter helped him create an authentic picture, as he himself attests in his introduction to the novel: “The literal facts are chiefly concerned with the natural and artificial objects, and the customs of the inhabitants. Thus the Academy, and Court house, and gaol, and inn, and most similar things are tolerably exact” (10).
As a historical romance, however, The Pioneers is much less familiar to its readers—especially modern ones separated from its events by more than 200 years—than it was to its author. For these readers, some background may prove useful. In the 1790s, the period covered in the novel, Americans had only recently achieved their political independence, having defeated the British army in the American Revolution (1775-1783) and ratified their Constitution between 1787 and 1791. As Cooper shows in The Pioneers, these people were still working out the details of their political system, such as whether their new government would be a democracy or a republic. The Appalachian Mountains, which stretch from Maine to Georgia, had helped block migration west, and the vast majority of the approximately 3,929,000 Americans counted in the 1790 Census lived in the states stretching along the Eastern Seaboard. At this time, then, even areas such as western New York, where The Pioneers is set, were part of the frontier. The process of pioneering this frontier, however, had begun. Disputes over land west of the Appalachians had helped to precipitate the French and Indian War (1754-1763), fought between French and Indians on one side and American colonists on the other. Natty Bumppo, Cooper tells us, served as a guide during this war. A decade or so after the end of this conflict, Daniel Boone led an expedition into modern-day Kentucky by blazing a trail through the Cumberland Gap, leading to an influx of settlers. Like those who lived in the East, the western pioneers could trace their ancestries to a variety of areas, including England, France, Germany, and Africa. The Americans of the 1790s were diverse in their religion, as well, and included Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Catholics, Huguenots, and Jews. One group of particular relevance to The Pioneers is the Quakers, a group of Christians who began settling heavily in Pennsylvania in the 1600s. Noted especially for their strict principle of nonviolence and their nontraditional worship services—which feature no sermon or indeed any prepared ritual—the Quakers are also known for using the archaic form “thee” in place of “you.” Judge Temple in The Pioneers demonstrates this idiosyncracy when he says to Mohegan: “For shame! for shame, old John! thy religion should have taught thee better” (86).
Out on the frontier these “new” Americans would have encountered various tribes of Native Americans, whose ancestors had occupied the American continents for thousands of years. In The Pioneers, Cooper makes explicit mention of two large American Indian nations present in the northeastern United States: the Six Nations and the Lenni Lenape. As its name implies, the group called the Six Nations actually comprised six smaller groups: the Mohawks, the Oneidas, the Onondagas, the Cayugas, the Senecas, and the Tuscaroras. As Cooper explains, this nation was known by various names, including “Iroquois,” “Mingoes,” “Mengwe,” and “Maqua.” The other large nation was the Lenni Lenape, which also consisted of numerous smaller groups, including the Mahicanni, the Mohicans—sometimes called Mohegans—and the Nanticokes—sometimes called Nentigoes. Cooper often refers to this nation by its other name, the Delawares. As he explains, two of these tribes—the Nantichokes and the Mohicans—lost their lands early to the European settlers. Natty Bumppo’s Native American companion—known variously as Indian John, Chingachgook, Big Serpent, and simply Mohegan—belongs to the Delaware nation. People of European descent commonly referred to a Native American as a “savage.”
Themes and Techniques
Like Cooper’s other Leather-Stocking Tales, The Pioneers belongs to the genre of historical romance. It is “historical” in the sense that it is set in a previous time period, in this case one that precedes the publication date by some 30 years. It is a “romance” because, rather than try to present a detailed and realistic picture of people and places, it borrows from the realm of fancy. Natty Bumppo is an idealized man, one whose nobility of character and physical prowess make him larger than life, much like King Arthur and other literary figures who may have helped inspire Cooper’s creation of him. Cooper’s dialogue, furthermore, is at times unrealistic; for example, Elizabeth seems to demonstrate remarkable aplomb and dignity when, threatened by a forest fire, she says: “Let us endeavor to retire” (411).
Despite such departures, Cooper does make some attempts at an authentic recreation of reality. Indeed, in his preface he makes much of his attempt to remain in line with “keeping”—that is, remaining true to his subject matter, particularly “human nature”—and warns: “Therefore I would advise any one, who may take up this book, with the expectation of meeting gods and goddesses, spooks or witches, or of feeling that strong excitement that is produced by battles and murders, to throw it aside at once, for no such interest will be found in any of its pages” (4). Anticipating a number of later writers, notably Mark Twain, Cooper uses dialect throughout the book to give a realistic feel to the speech of various characters, including the Frenchman Monsieur Le Quoi and the German Major Frederick Hartmann. Even Natty reveals his lack of education when he uses such nonstandard pronunciations as “sartain” for “certain” and “fa’n” for “fawn,” as well as the nonstandard grammatical construction “his moccasins was getting old” (160). Cooper also provides some detailed physical descriptions. Indeed, in his introduction, he announces that the book contains “literal facts” concerning the academy and other buildings that he apparently sketched according to his memory of them in Cooperstown. His depiction of the interior of his boyhood home of Otsego Hall, fictionalized in The Pioneers as Judge Temple’s residence, is apparently especially realistic. “Here all is literal,” he promises, “even to the severed arm of Wolfe and the urn which held the ashes of Queen Dido” (10). In reading Cooper’s physical descriptions, however, one should keep in mind the Romantic notions of the sublime, the beautiful, and the picturesque.
Despite Cooper’s tendencies toward romance, some proximity was indeed necessary if he was to fulfill the conventions of the other genre to which The Pioneers belongs—that is, the novel of manners. Indeed, in his introduction to the book, Donald A. Ringe explains: “In writing a novel describing American manners, he was concerned with painting a true, but not necessarily a literal picture of American life. His reason was twofold. In 1823, Americans were deeply concerned with developing a distinctively American literature. It was generally thought that it should depict the realities of American experience, and novelists like Cooper and poets like William Cullen Bryant naturally sought their subjects in the world about them. But that world was, in their view, instinct with meaning. Hence, if the writer truly depicted the world as it was—not literally but in its fundamental nature—he could not fail to discern in it and communicate to his readers significant national themes” (ix).
One of those national themes—perhaps the one Cooper handled most effectively—is Americans’ relationship with nature. Since Christopher Columbus had introduced the vast North American and South American continents to the Europeans in 1492, the “New World” had been a source of fascination. Accustomed to the largely settled and “civilized” cultures of the “Old World,” Europeans had variously viewed the Americas as a dangerous place, a new Eden, and a land of plenty. In The Pioneers, Cooper joins the discussion of the American wilderness, exposing the conflict that naturally occurs when nature and civilization meet. Describing the settlement that Judge Temple and others have cut out of the forest in New York’s frontier, he writes: “In short, the whole district is hourly exhibiting how much can be done, in even a rugged country, and with a severe climate, under the dominion of mild laws, and where every man feels a direct interest in the prosperity of a commonwealth, of which he knows himself to form a part” (13-14). Temple represents a point of view that believes human can improve on nature, as when he speaks of cultivating maple trees for their sugar (222).
As Cooper shows, however, the cost of this progress may be large. Richard Jones, Temple’s comical cousin, shows how little regard some of the settlers have for nature when he tells him: “We must run our streets by the compass, coz, and disregard trees, hills, ponds, stumps, or, in fact, any thing but posterity” (183). Richard even sees nature as a foe to be conquered, bringing a cannon to a pigeon shoot and later boasting of having “driven the enemy from the field” (252). Temple, who has some sense that the natural resources here, while abundant, are not endless, tries to keep a lid on progress. When he learns that his house is burning maple wood for fuel, he says: “Really, it behooves the owner of woods so extensive as mine, to be cautious what example he sets his people, who are already felling the forests, as if no end could be found to their treasures, nor any limits to their extent. If we go on in this way, twenty years hence, we shall want fuel” (104). Even Temple, however, exhibits some hubris when it comes to humans’ dominion over nature. Richard, for example, accuses him of considering the construction of canals simply because the existing rivers and lakes are not moving in the direction he likes (262). Indeed, as Ringe points out, Temple resembles other characters in the novel in his lack of restraint.
In all of this, it is the voice of Natty Bumppo that is the most powerful. Bumppo, a white man who has come to be one with nature, not only deplores the wastefulness of the settlers, but complains that the rise of “civilization” here threatens individual liberty. Early in the novel, in a dispute with Temple over who shot a deer, he says: “. . . I don’t love to give up my lawful dues in a free country. –Though for the matter of that, might often makes right here, as well as in the old country, for what I can see” (20). Later in the same dispute, he says: “There’s them living who say, that Nathaniel Bumppo’s right to shoot on these hills, is of older date than Marmaduke Temple’s right to forbid him” (23). In short, Bumppo—who describes himself as “a plain, unlarned man” who has “never so much as looked into a book” (135)—comes across as a sort of idealized natural man who is in conflict with the forces of civilization. As such, he is a prototype for many characters who follow him in American literature, among them Huckleberry Finn and Billy Budd.
Akin to this theme of the interaction of nature and civilization is that of manhood, one that also will pervade later works, notably Moby-Dick, The Red Badge of Courage, and various works by Ernest Hemingway. In The Pioneers, Cooper provides a model of manhood in Bumppo, who not only values physical prowess, but exemplifies it. An expert marksman, Natty scorns the methods that the settlers use in killing pigeons, pointing out that “none do it, who know how to knock over a single bird” (249). Later, Natty demonstrates extraordinary strength and agility, as well as courage, when he straps Mohegan on his back and carries him, while guiding Elizabeth and Oliver, out of danger of a forest fire (422).
In treating these themes, along with others such as the relations between Native Americans and whites, Cooper uses some standard techniques—eliciting character traits through dialogue, for example, and juxtaposing Judge Temple and Natty as character foils. Ringe notes one more interesting technique when he points out that Cooper presents the settlement of Templeton not only in a natural seasonal cycle, but in a “linear pattern” that the settlers have brought into being: “The cycle continues, of course, but they introduce change into the landscape and initiate a process that alters the setting as the cycle turns” (x).
Cooper’s most serious liability may be his dense prose style. One particularly lugubriuos sentence from the novel reads:
To these flourishing resolutions, which briefly recounted the general untility of education, the political and geographical rights of the village of Templeton, to a participation in the favours of the regents of the university, the salubrity of the air, and wholesomeness of the water, together with the cheapness of food, and the superior state of morals in the neighborhood, were uniformly annexed, in large Roman capitals, the names of Marmaduke Temple, as chairman, and Richard Jones, as secretary. (98)
At least two reasons for this style can be found in Cooper’s creative process. In Fenimore Cooper: A Study of His Life and Imagination, Stephen Railton explains:
At the time he started writing, a novel was published in several volumes (in America as two, in England as three), and among the writer’s most important obligations was supplying his publisher with enough words to fill up those volumes. Like epic poems, nineteenth century novels commonly take their time; this is one reason why Cooper’s modern reader tends to run out of patience before he has run out of pages, but Cooper’s imagation was perfectly suited to this scale. Having chosen to try this hand at telling a story, he quickly learned that it suffered with writer’s cramp only from restrictions, never from use. (21)
Cooper, furthermore, seemed to care little for revision. In a letter quoted by Railton, he admitted that he had not even read The Pioneers after sending it to the printers: “I ought in justice to myself to say, that in opposition to a thousand good resolutions, the Pioneers, has been more hastily and carelessly written than any of my books—Not a line has been copied, and it has gone from my desk to the printers—I have not to this moment been able even to read it—” (23).
In the nearly 200 years since its publication, of course, many have been able to read The Pioneers and have found perhaps a few shortcomings, but also an engaging historical romance, an insightful novel of manners, and an important treatment of both humans’ difficult relationship with nature and of the nature of manhood.
Cooper, James Fenimore. The Pioneers. James Fenimore Cooper: The Leather-Stocking Tales, Volume I. New York: Library of America, 1985. 1-465.
---. “Preface to The Leather-Stocking Tales.” The American Tradition in Literature. Vol. 1. Ed. George Perkins, et al. 7th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1990.
Railton, Stephen. Fenimore Cooper: A Study of His Life and Imagination. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978.
Ringe, Donald. “Introduction.” The Pioneers. New York: Penguin, 1988. vii-xxii.
Who is winning the battle between nature and civilization? Judge Temple says that he has “tamed the wilderness” (348). Do you agree with him?
The Pioneers takes place during the Enlightenment, a period when order and self-control were highly prized. Which of the characters seem to have the most self-control? Which have the least? What seems to make the difference?
When the novel begins, Natty is already in conflict with the forces of civilization, but he has managed to stay out of trouble. What, finally, lands him in jail, and how is his arrest justified? What does this scene suggest about the real danger of a figure such as Natty Bumppo?
What is the value of law? Natty seems to think that the law does not apply to some people. He asks: “. . . what has a man who lives in the wilderness to do with the ways of the law?” (314).
Use map to show Cooperstown, Susquehanna, Otsego Lake
Discuss various Indian tribes
Summarize French and Indian War, American Revolution; provide timeline
Cooper was probably influenced by Scott; indeed, he quotes Scott at the beginning of Chapter 17
Explain history of Quakers, especially dialect
Define “democracy” and “republicanism”
Explain “sublime,” “beautiful,” and “picturesque.” Refer to Judge’s remark that experienced “a mingled feeling of pleasure and desolation” while “musing on the scene” from Mount Vision (237). Later, Cooper describes a scene as “picturesque” (239).
Donald A. Ringe explains that The Pioneers “was an immediate success and established him in a career as a professional novelist” (vii). He notes also that Cooper’s Natty Bumppo “would eventually assume mythic proportions in the American consciousness” (vii).
Ringe writes: “Cooper also included details of the historical Cooperstown in his depiction of the fictional Templeton. The geographical positions of both are precisely the same, and the layout of one parallels that of the other” (viii). Cooper may have based the character of Natty Bumppo on David Shipman, a hunter whom Cooper perhaps met in Cooperstown during his childhood” (viii). “Like William Cooper, Marmaduke Temple is a native of Pennsylvania and descends from Quaker stock. He acquires vast lands in Ostego County, founds a new settlement at the source of the Susquehanna River, brings in new settlers, most of them from New England, by selling them land on easy terms, and comes to their rescue during a time of famine. . . . In personal traits, however, Temple is quite different from his prototype. He lacks the strength, the vigor, the politcal partisanship of Cooper’s father, and novelist is quite right in his later assertion that the ficiontal man berars little resemblance to the actual one” (ix).
Ringe writes: “In writing a novel describing American manners, he was concerned with painting a true, but not necessarily a literal picture of American life. His reason was twofold. In 1823, Americans were deeply concerned with developing a distinctively American literature. It was generally thought that it should depict the realities of American experience, and novelists like Cooper and poets like William Cullen Bryant naturally sought their subjects in the world about them. But that world was, in their view, instinct with meaning. Hence, if the writer truly depicted the world as it was—not literally but in its fundamental nature—he could not fail to discern in it and communicate to his readers significant national themes” (ix).
Ringe argues that Cooper presents the settlement not only in a natural seasonal cycle, but in a “linear pattern” that the settlers have brought into being: “The cycle continues, of course, but they introduce change into the landscape and initiate a process that alters the setting as the cycle turns” (x).
Major Effingham, a British soldier living in the colony of New York, handed his impressive estate over to his son, Edward Effingham (29-30). “One of the first acts of the young man, on coming into possession of his wealth, was to seek his early friend, with a view to offer any assistance, that was now in his power to bestow” (31). Temple and Effingham, thus, went into business together: “A mercantile house was established in the metropolis of Pennsylvania, with the avails of Mr. Effingham’s personal property; all, or nearly all, of which was put into the possession of Temple, who was the only ostensible proprietor in the concern, while in secret, the other was entitled to an equal participation in the profits” (31). Effingham kept the partnership secret because he was ashamed of being involved in commerce (32) and because his father harbored a dislike for Quakers (32-33). Later, when relations between England and the colonies became tense, Effingham “transmitted to Marmaduke for safe keeping, all his valuable effects and papers; and left the colony without his father” (34). He came back to the colonies, however, and fought on the side of the British; “all intercourse between the friends ceased—on the part of Col. Effingham, it was unsought, and on that of Marmaduke, there was a cautious reserve” (34). Temple took advantage of the situation brought about by the war and bought a large amount of land that the colonies had confiscated from the British (34). Cooper refers to this land as the “Patent.” “This term, ‘Patent,’ which we have already used, and for which we may have further occasion, meant the district of country that had been orginally granted to old Major Effingham, by the “King’s letters patent,’ and which had now become, by purchase under the act of confiscation, the property of Marmaduke Temple” (96). After the war, he settled these lands and increased his possessions ten times over (35). “When the district in which his estates lay, had become sufficiently populous to be set off as a county, Mr. Temple had, according to the custom of the new settlements, been selected to fill its highest judicial station” (35).
“Before the Europeans, or, to use a more significant term, the Christians, dispossessed the original owners of the soil, all that section of the country, which contains the New-England States, and those of the Middle which lie east of the mountains, was occupied by two great nations of Indians, from whom had descended numberless tribes” (82).
“The two great divisions consisted, on the one side, of the Five, or, as they were afterwards called, the Six Nations, and their allies; and, on the other, of the Lenni Lenape, or Delawares, with the numerous and powerful tribes that owned that nation as their Grandfather. The former were generally called, by the Anglo-Americans, Iroquois, or the Six Nations, and sometimes Mingoes. Their appellation, among their rivals, seems generally to have been the Mengwe, or Maqua. They consisted of the tribes, or, as their allies were fond of asserting, in order to raise their consequence, of the several nations, of the Mohawks, the Oneidas, the Onondogas, Cayugas, and Senecas; who ranked, in the confederation, in the order in which they are named. The Tuscaroras were admittted to this union, near a century after its formation, and thus completed the number to six” (82).
“Of the Lenni Lanape, or, as they were called by the whites, from the circumstance of their holding their great council-fire on the banks of that river, the Delaware nation, the principal tribes, besides that which bore the generic name, were, the Mahicanni, Mohicans, or Mohegans, and the Nanticokes, or Nentigoes. Of these, the latter held the country along the waters of the Chesapeake, and the seashore, while the Mohegans occupied the district between the Hudson and the ocean, including much of New-England; of course, these two tribes were the first who were dispossed of their lands by the Europeans” (83).
Provide etymology of “savage” (82)
1786: area of Otsego County was settled
Cooperstown, as the settlement came to be called is located roughly in the center of New York, about 70 miles west of Albany
In his introduction to The Pioneers, Cooper explains that he was “brought an infant into this valley and all his first impressions were here obtained” (9).
In his introduction to The Pioneers, Cooper attests to the authenticity of his depiction of the setting: “The literal facts are chiefly concerned with the natural and artificial objects, and the customs of the inhabitants. Thus the Academy, and Court house, and gaol, and inn, and most similar things are tolerably exact” (10).
“The mountains are generally arable to the tops, although instances are not wanting, where the sides are jutted with rocks, that aid greatly in giving to the country that romantic and picturesque character which it so eminently possesses” (13).
land of plenty: “The vales are narrow, rich, and cultivated; with a stram uniformly winding through each. Beautiful and thriving villages are found interspersed along the margins of the small lakes, or situated at hose paints of the streams which are favourable to manufacturing; and neat and comfortable farms, with every indication of wealth about them, are scattered profusely through the vales, and even to the mountain tops” (13).
“In short, the whole district is hourly exhibiting how much can be done, in even a rugged country, and with a severe climate, under the dominion of mild laws, and where every man feels a direct interest in the prosperity of a commonwealth, of which he knows himself to form a part” (13-14).
Templeton “consisted of some fifty buildings, including those of every description, chiefly built of wood, and which, in their architecture, bore no great marks of taste, but which also, by the unfinished appearance of most of the dwellings, indicated the hasty manner of their construction . . . . The whole were grouped in a manner that aped the streats of a city, and were evidently so arranged, by the directions of one, who looked to the wants of posterity, rather than to the convenience of the present incumbents” (39).
Temple’s house is a comically ugly building that suggests the pioneers’ lack of refinement; the roof is too conspicuous (42), and a gap is visible between the porch and the pillars above it (58).
Richard values humans over nature and has a strong sense of progress: “We must run our streets by the compass, coz, and disregard trees, hills, ponds, stumps, or, in fact, any thing but posterity” (183).
For Temple, progress means cultivating nature: “It is very true that we manufacture sugar, and the inquiry is quite useful, how much? and in what manner? I hope to live to see the day, when farms and plantations shall be dovoted to this branch of business. Little is known concerning the properties of the tree itself, the source of all this wealth; how much it may be improved by cultivation, by the use of the hoe and plough” (222).
Richard accuses Temple of considering canals “through a country where there’s a river or a lake every half-mile, just because the water won’t run the way you wish it to go” (262).
Mr. Grant discourages Oliver from feeling resentful toward Temple (138).
Mohegan, however, seems to defend revenge (138-139).
Define “novel of manners” and “romance”
Cooper uses a lot of ink simply to describe the people of the community of Templeton. Describing the Christmas Eve service in Chapter X, for example, he writes: “In short, half the nations in the north of Europe had their representatives in this assembly, though all had closely assimimlated themselves to the Americans, in dress and appearance, except the Englishman” (124).
Indeed, Ringe writes that Cooper often revisits scenes of his youth in the novel. Thus, we can understand what may seem like a peculiar feature of the novel’s structure. Rather than proceed logically and expeditiously to its conclusion, it includes numerous descriptions and events that are not directly incident to this conclusion. In short, the novel seems to consist of three-quarters exposition and one-quarter plot.
Nature and Civilization
During a dispute with Judge Temple over who shot a deer, Natty says: “. . . I don’t love to give up my lawful dues in a free country. –Though for the matter of that, might often makes right here, as well as in the old country, for what I can see” (20). Later in the same dispute, he says: “There’s them living who say, that Nathaniel Bumppo’s right to shoot on these hills, is of older date than Marmaduke Temple’s right to forbid him” (23).
Natty complains that “game is becoming hard to find” because of Judge Temple’s “clearings and betterments” (20).
Richard has feebly tried to imitate or even improve nature by painting Temple’s roof in “a colour that he christened ‘sunshine,’ a cheap way, as he assured his cousin, the Judge, of always keeping fair weather over his head” (43).
Nature has won a battle with man’s attempt at building: “But the evils of a cold climate, and a superficial construction, did not end here. As the steps lowered, the platform necessarily fell also, and the foundations actually left the superstructure suspended in the air, leaving an open space of a foot between the base of the pillars and the stones on which they had originally been placed” (58).
Mohegan occupies middle ground between natural world of Indians and “civilized” world of whites: “From his long association with the white-men, the habits of Mohegan, were a mixture of the civilized and savage states, though there was certainly a strong proponderance in favour of the latter” (85).
Mohegan’s bare torso in the home of the Temples gives him an animal, sexual presence that was probably threatening to the whites (85).
Mohegan dresses Oliver’s wound (88)
Temple deplores the burning of maple for fuel: “Really, it behooves the owner of woods so extensive as mine, to be cautious what example he sets his people, who are already felling the forests, as if no end could be found to their treasures, nor any limits to their extent. If we go on in this way, twenty years hence, we shall want fuel” (104). This passage, along with preceding comments about attempts to mimic Temple’s architecture, draw attention to the influence a prominent person can exert on others. Pioneers have power.
Temple’s banquet represents high point of civilization: “The table-linen was of the most beautiful damask, and the plates and dishes of real china, an article of great luxury at this early period in American commerce. The knives and forks were of exquisitely polished steel, and wer eset in unclouded ivory. So much being furnished by the wealth of Marmaduke was not only comfortable, but even elegant” (106). Remarkable Pettibone’s presentation of the food itself, however, bespeaks the lack of restraint that Donald A. Ringe notes in his introduction. Cooper writes: “The object seemed to be profusion, and it was obtained entirely at the expense of order and elegance” (107). It is worth noting that order was especially prized during this period of the Enlightenment. As the architecture of Temple’s house and the wasteful practices of the settlers demonstrate, however, it was severely threatened by American pioneers.
Even Temple argues that Bumppo “has a kind of natural right to gain a livelihood in these mountains” and promises that “the strong arm of the law” will protect him (111). Exactly the opposite occurs, as Bumppo eventually kills a deer out of season, and the act gets him into trouble.
Natty describes himself as “a plain, unlarned man, that has sarved both the king and his country, in his day, ag’in the French and savages, but never so much as looked into a book, or larnt a letter of scholarship, in my born days. I’ve never seen the use of sich in-door work, though I’ve lived to be partly bald, and in my time, have killed two hundred beaver in a season, and that without counting the other game” (135). In this other other passages, Cooper sets up Natty as a prototype in American literature: a figure that represents the value of the natural man and questions the value of “book-learning.” Over the ensuing years, we will see other writers grapple with this same question of the relative values of nature and civilization in works such as Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, Sailor and Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Natty complains that “might makes right, and the law is stronger than an old man” (136).
Natty questions the value of religion when he says: “I never know’d preaching to come into a settlement, but it made game scearce, and raised the price of gun-powder . . .” (136).
Natty endorses natural law: “Game is game, and he who finds may kill; that has been the law in these mountains for forty years, to my sartain knowledge; and I think one old law is worth two new ones” (160). Temple argues that laws can help conserve the natural resources” (160-161).
Natty suggests that a life in nature is a moral life, saying that “as for honest, or doing what’s right between man and man, I’ll not turn my back to the longest winded deacon on your Patent” (202).
Temple admonishes Kirby for damaging trees in order to extract sap (229).
Temple justifies his rights to land by referring to law—a product of civilization—rather than morality or natural rights (238). In this regard, he associates himself with the artificial, the contrived, rather than the real and natural.
When a tree falls, Judge and Richard discuss the phenomenon in terms that suggest order and chaos, calling up thoughts of the Enlightenment (240-242). The Judge notes that one cannot anticipate such dangers, but the Richard argues that science can provide explanations for them. The message, on the one hand, is clear: the wilderness is a dangerous place. On the other hand, we are left to wonder how much control we have over it. Cooper seems to side with Temple’s respect and uncertainty, since Richard is a comical, proud character.
In the next chapter, the settlers engage in a wasteful pigeon shoot, and Richard brings a cannon to the battle. Richard seems to represent the overly confident—though perhaps actually insecure—combatant with nature. He reminds me of the scene in Heart of Darkness in which a cannon fires fecklessly into the jungle. Indeed, a later passage contains military language: “The musketmen were drawn up in battle array, in a line extending on each side of his artillery, with orders to await the signal of firing from himself” (251). Still later, Richard proclaims that they “have driven the enemy from the field” (252).
Responding to what he sees as wasteful pigeon shooting, Natty says: “Well! the Lord won’t see the waste of his creaters for nothing, and right will be done to the pigeons, as well as others, by-and-by” (248). He seems to place hope in a higher power.
Natty points out that Oliver is participating in the pigeon shoot (248). The scene suggests that Oliver will not be the perfect steward for the forest when he takes charge of the Patent. See Ringe’s introduction.
Natty seems to think that the law does not apply to some people. He asks: “. . . what has a man who lives in the wilderness to do with the ways of the law?” (314).
Judge claims he has “tamed the wilderness,” but Oliver retorts that he has not “tamed the beasts that so lately threatened the life of Miss Temple” (348-349). Thus we see juxtaposed the two approaches to nature taken by Judge Temple and Natty. One tries to tame the wilderness by replacing it with roads, settlements, and laws, while the other goes one-on-one with only those elements that threaten humans. The latter is part of the wilderness, just like the other animals that occupy it, while the former plays God to the wilderness, trying to redirect water and impose laws on hunting.
Natty finally brings the law down on his head when he resists an officer of the law. Judge Temple says: “Would any society be tolerable, young man, where the ministers of justice are to be opposed by men armed with rifles? Is it for this that I have tamed the wilderness?” (348). Later, Richard says Natty “has set an example of rebellion to the laws, and has become a kind of out-law” (360). Justifying himself to his daughter, Temple says: “Society cannot exist without wholesome restraints. Those restraints cannot bel inflicted, without security and respect to the persons of th those who administer them; and it would sound ill indeed, to report that a judge had extended a favour to a convicted criminal, because he had saved the life of his child” (388).
After being tormented by Richard, Hiram, and their ilk, Natty wishes that “the beasts of the forest, who never feast on the blood of their own families, was his kindred and race” (362).
Natty points to the weakness of law in nature. He asks the Judge: “Did the beast of the forest mind your laws, when it was thirsty and hungering for the bloo of your own child!” (376).
Elizabeth’s dress endangers her in forest fire (413).
Natty’s “experience” in the wilderness enables him to save Oliver and Elizabeth: “No one but a man long accustomed to the woods could have traced his troue through a smaoke, in which respiration was difficult, and sight nearly useless; but the experience of Natty conducted them to an opening through the rocks, where with a little difficulty, they soon descended to another terrace; and emerged at once into a tolerably clear atmosphere” (422).
Mr. Grant vainly tries to get Mohegan to recollect his Christian training at the time of his death (428).
Natty contrasts God with human lawgivers. Speaking of Mohegan, he says: “He’s to be judged by a righteous Judge, and by no laws that’s made to suit times, and new ways” (429).
Ringe argues that Cooper shows some sympathy for the settlers: “By early summer, the wheat has grown so tall as to hide the stumps completely. Forest gives way to farms, trees are supplanted by wheat, so that the idyllic society described in the opening paragraph may eventually appear.
Ringe argues that Judge Temple’s job is to “try to insure that the society he establishes will be a good one where people can live in the harmony suggested by the first landscape description in the book” (xiii). Ringe points out, further, that challenges come from some social tensions and from a lack of self-restraint. Even the law does not assure harmony, Ringe argues, because the settlers misuse it. “Americans,” Ringe writes, “are a litigious people, willing to go to law over matters that could be settled amicably if all parties would simply exhibit good will” (xv). He notes that Natty and Billy Kirby, however, manage to work out disputes. “The implication is clear,” Ringe writes, “that right-minded men do not need the law because they have a sense of fairness that regulates their actions” (xvii). In this respect, nature wins out over civilization.
Natty says “sartin” for “certain” (20)
Hartmann says “Velcome” for “Welcome” and “Tchooge” for “Judge” (46)
Agamemnon says “Massa” for “Master” (52)
Judge Temple sometimes falls into Quaker dialect, using “thou” for “you”; check on whether Quakers also used older conjugation for second-person familiar, as in “thinkest thou” (86)
Mrs. Hollister speaks with “a strong Irish accent,” saying “wilcome” for “welcome” and “Jooge” for “Judge” (115).
Judge tells Richard: “But, here, all are equal who know how to conduct themselves with propriety; and Oliver Edwards comes into my family, on a footing with both the High Sheriff and the Judge” (205).
Richard replies: “Well, ‘duke, I call this democracy, not republicanism . . .” (205).
In a dispute with Judge Temple over a deer, Natty says: “It’s far easier to call names, than to shoot a buck on the spring . . .” (22).
Judge Temple tries to buy a deer that he lacked the marksmanship to shoot (22-23).
Natty shows amazing marksmanship in turkey shoot after Billy Kirby has asked: “Where is the man that can hit a turkey’s head at a hundred yards?” (198-199).
Alcohol deprives Mohegan of his manhood: After “sharing deeply in the potations of the landlady” (164), he “was not himself” (166). His eyes “became vacant,” the presence of a mug in front of him elicits a “grin of idiocy” (166). Natty says: “This is the way with all the savages; give them liquor, and they make dogs of themselves” (166). Mohegan seems to blame alcohol for his deterioration, saying that “the white man brings old age with him—rum is his tomahawk” (185).
Of the pigeon shooting, Natty says that “none do it, who know how to knock over a single bird” (249). Thus, while Natty obviously deplores the destruction of the wilderness and nature, he also holds in disdain the group of men who must employ elaborate technology to do what he can do with physical prowess.
Natty straps Mohegan to his back and carries him, while guiding Elizabeth and Oliver, out of danger of the forest fire (422).
“To these flourishing resolutions, which briefly recounted the general untility of education, the political and geographical rights of the village of Templeton, to a participation in the favours of the regents of the university, the salubrity of the air, and wholesomeness of the water, together with the cheapness of food, and the superior state of morals in the neighborhood, were uniformly annexed, in large Roman capitals, the names of Marmaduke Temple, as chairman, and Richard Jones, as secretary” (98).