The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VI. Fiction I
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.
§ 20. Red Rover; The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish
In January, 1828, he repeated the success of The Pilot with another sea tale, The Red Rover which has always held a place among the most favoured of his books. The excitement is less sustained than in The Pilot, but portions of the narrative, notably those dealing with storms, are tremendous. The ocean here plays as great a part as Cooper had lately assigned to the prairie. One voices the calm of nature, one its tumult; both tend to the discipline of man. In 1829 he fared better than with Lionel Lincoln in another historical tale of New England, The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish, an episode of King Philip’s War. It is a powerful novel, irregular and ungenial, not only because the Puritans represented were themselves unlovely, but because Cooper had an evident dislike for them which coloured all their qualities. This was followed in the next year by The Water-Witch, which Cooper thought his most imaginative book. It has a spirited naval battle, but it flatly failed to localize a supernatural legend in New York harbour.As consul, though his position was purely nominal, he felt called upon to resent the ignorance everywhere shown by Europeans regarding his native land, and he set out upon the task of educating them to better views. Cooper was not Franklin. His Notions of the Americans (1828), while full of information and a rich mine of American opinion for that day, was too obviously partisan to convince those at whom it was aimed. Its proper audience was homesick Americans. He indulged, too, in some controversy at Paris over the relative cost of French and American government which pleased neither nation. Finally, he applied his art to the problem and wrote three novels “in which American opinion should be brought to bear on European facts.” That is, in The Bravo (1831), The Heidenmauer (1832), and The Headsman (1833) he meant to show by proper instances the superiority of democracy to aristocracy as regards general happiness and justice. He claimed to be writing for his countrymen alone, some of whom must have been thrilled to come across a passage like “a fairer morning never dawned upon the Alleghanies than that which illumined the Alps,” but he was not sufficiently master of his material, however stout and just his opinions, to make even The Bravo, the best of the three, as good as his pioneer romances.0