The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.
§ 16. The Pilot
Instead, he undertook to surpass Scott’s Pirate in seamanship and produced The Pilot, issued in January, 1824. With this third success he practically ended his experimental stage. Like The Spy, his new tale made use of a Revolutionary setting; like The Pioneers, it was full of realistic detail based on Cooper’s own experience. The result was that he not only outdid Scott in sheer narrative, but he created a new literary type, the tale of adventure on the sea, in which, though he was to have many followers in almost every modern language, he remains unsurpassed for vigour and variety. Smollett had already discovered the racy humours of seamen, but it remained for Cooper to capture for fiction the mystery and beauty, the shock and thrill of the sea. Experts say that his technical knowledge was sound; what is more important, he wrote, in The Pilot, a story about sailing vessels which convinces landsmen even in days of steam. The conventional element in the novel is its hero, John Paul Jones, secret, Byronic, always brooding upon a dark past and a darker fate. Thoroughly original is that worthy successor of Birch and Natty Bumppo, Long Tom Coffin, who lives and dies by the sea which has made him, as love of country made the spy and the forest made the old hunter.