One gets irritated with Cooper because he never for once snarls at the Great Ideal Pin which transfixes him. No, indeed. Rather`he tries to push it through the very heart of the Continent.
But I have loved the Leatherstocking books so dearly. Wish-fulfilment!
Anyhow, one is not supposed to take LOVE seriously, in these books. Eve Effingham, impaled on the social pin, con- scious all the time of her own ego and of nothing else, suddenly fluttering in throes of love: no, it makes me sick. LOVE is never LOVE until it has a pin pushed through it and becomes an IDEAL. The ego, turning on a pin, is wildly IN LOVE, always. Because that's the thing to be.
Cooper was a GENTLEMAN, in the worst sense of the word. In the Nineteenth Century sense of the word. A correct, clock-work man.
Not altogether, of course.
The great national Grouch was grinding inside him. Prob- ably he called it COSMIC URGE. Americans usually do: in capital letters.
Best stick to National Grouch. The great American grouch.
Cooper had it, gentleman that he was. That is why he flitted round Europe so uneasily. Of course, in Europe he could be, and was, a gentleman to his heart's content.
'In short,' he says in one of his letters, 'we were at table two counts, one monsignore, an English Lord, an Ambassador, and my humble self.'
Were we reallyl
How nice it must have been to know that one self, at least, was humble.
And he felt the democratic American tomahawk wheeling over his uncomfortable scalp all the time.
The great American grouch.
Two monsters loomed on Cooper's horizon.
- MRS COOPER MY WORK
- MY WORK MY WIFE
- MY WIFE MY WORK
- THE DEAR CHILDREN
- MY WORK !!!
If there is one thing that annoys me more than a business man and his BUSINESS, it is an artist, a writer, painter, musician, and MY WORK. When an artist says MY WORK, the flesh goes tired on my bones. When he says MY WIFE, I want to hit him.
Cooper grizzled about his work. Oh, heaven, he cared so much whether it was good or bad, and what the French thought, and what Mr Snippy Knowall said, and how Mrs Cooper took it. The pin, the pin!
But he was truly an artist: then an American: then a gentleman.
And the grouch grouched inside him, through all.
They seem to have been specially fertile in imagining them- selves 'under the wigwam', do these Americans, just when their knees were comfortably under the mahogany, in Paris, along with the knees of
1 Humble self
You bet, though, that when the cocottes were being raffled off, Fenimore went home to his WIFE.
Wish Fulfilment Actuality
THE WIGWAM vs MY HOTEL
CHINGACHGOOK vs MY WIFE
NATTY BUMPPO vs MY HUMBLE SELF
Fenimore, Iying in his Louis Quatorze hotel in Paris, passionately musing about Natty Bumppo and the pathless forest, and mixing his imagination with the Cupids and Butterflies on the painted ceiling, while Mrs Cooper was struggling with her latest gown in the next room, and the d'jeuner was with the Countess at eleven.
Men live by lies.
In actuality, Fenimore loved the genteel continent of Europe, and waited gasping for the newspapers to praise his WORK.
In another actuality he loved the tomahawking continent of America, and imagined himself Natty Bumppo.
His actual desire was to be: Monsieur Fenimore Cooper, le grand ecrivain americain.
His innermost wish was to be: Natty Bumppo.
Now Natty and Fenimore, arm-in-arm, are an odd couple.
You can see Fenimore: blue coat, silver buttons, silver-and-diamond buckle shoes, ruffles.
You see Natty Bumppo: a grizzled, uncouth old renegade, with gaps in his old teeth and a drop on the end of his nose.
But Natty was Fenimore's great wish: his wish-fulfilment.
'It was a matter of course,' says Mrs Cooper, 'that he should dwell on the better traits of the picture rather than on the coarser and more revolting, though more common points. Like West, he could see Apollo in the young Mohawk.'
The coarser and more revolting, though more common points.
You see now why he depended so absolutely on MY WIFE. She had to look things in the face for him. The coarser and more revolting, and certainly more common points, she had to see.
He himself did so love seeing pretty-pretty, with the thrill of a red scalp now and then.
Fenimore, in his imagination, wanted to be Natty Bumppo, who, I am sure, belched after he had eaten his dinner. At the same time Mr Cooper was nothing if not a gentleman. So he decided to stay in France and have it all his own way.
In France, Natty would not belch after eating, and Chingachgook could be all the Apollo he liked.
As if ever any Indian was like Apollo. The Indians, with their curious female quality, their archaic figures, with high shoulders and deep, archaic waists, like a sort of woman! And their natural devilishness, their natural insidiousness.
But men see what they want to see: especially if they look from a long distance, across the ocean, for example.
Yet the Leatherstocking books are lovely. Lovely half-lies.
They form a sort of American Odyssey, with Natty Bumppo for Odysseus.
Only, in the original Odyssey, there is plenty of devil, Circes and swine and all. And Ithacus is devil enough to out- wit the devils. But Natty is a saint with a gun, and the Indians are gentlemen through and through, though they may take an occasional scalp.