The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.
§ 26. The Littlepage Manuscripts
He wrote more border tales before his death. Wyandotte (1843) deals largely with the siege of a blockhouse near the upper Susquehanna, and The Oak-Openings (1848), the fruit of a journey which he made to the West in 1847, is a tale of bee hunting and Indian fighting on the shores of Lake Michigan. Full of border material, too, is the trilogy of Littlepage Manuscripts, Satanstoe (1845), The Chainbearer (1846), and The Redskins (1846). Having tried the autobiographical method with Miles Wallingford in Afloat and Ashore, Cooper now repeated it through three generations of a New York family. In the last he involved himself unduly in the question of antirentism and produced a book both fantastic and dull; the second is better by one of Cooper’s most powerful figures, the squatter Thousandacres, another Titan of the brood of Ishmael Bush; the first, if a little beneath Cooper’s best work, is so only because he was somewhat rarely at his best. No other novel, by Cooper or any other, gives so firm and convincing a picture of colonial New York. Even Cooper has no more exciting struggle than that of Corny Littlepage with the icy Hudson. But the special virtue of Satanstoe is a quality Cooper nowhere else displays, a positive winsomeness in the way Littlepage unfolds his memories (now sweetened by many years) and his humorous crotchets in the same words. There are pages which read almost like those of some vigorous Galt or Goldsmith. Unfortunately, Cooper did not carry this vein further. His comedy Upside Down, produced at Burton’s Theatre, New York, 18 June, 1850, was a failure, and his last novel, The Ways of the Hour (1851), lacks every charm of manner. With his family and a few friends he lived his latter days in honour and affection, but he held the public at a sour distance and before his death, 14 September, 1851, set his face against a reconciliation even in the future by forbidding any biography to be authorized. The published facts of his life still leave his personality less known to the general world than that of any American writer of equal rank.