The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.
§ 13. Precaution
Thus at twenty-two he exchanged a stirring youth for the quiet, if happy, life of a country proprietor. He spent the next eleven years, except for a stay at Cooperstown (1814–17), in his wife’s native county of Westchester, New York. There, in a manner quite casual, he began his real work. His wife challenged him to make good his boast that he could write a better story than an English novel he was reading to her. He attempted it and wrote Precaution (1820), which, as might have been expected from a man who, in spite of a juvenile romance and few doggerel verses, was little trained in authorship, is a highly conventional novel. Its scene is laid in England, and no quality is more notable than stiff elegance and painful piety. Cooper was dissatisfied with his book. “Ashamed to have fallen into the track of imitation, I endeavoured to repay the wrong done to my own views, by producing a work that should be purely American, and of which love of country should be the theme.” He chose for his hero a spy who had served John Jay during the Revolution, according to Jay’s own account, with singular purity of motive. The work was carelessly done and published at the author’s risk, and yet with the appearance of The Spy (22 December, 1821), American fiction may be said to have come of age.