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starts up, and staggers to the very brink of the orchestra, my attention was riveted on the terrible picture before me—that was nature : I saw the remorseful conscience-stung tyrant, and him alone. But in the case of his son 'twas very different ; true, he did it physically precisely as his father had done : nothing pantomimic was omitted, but the soul was wanting, and as he came reeling towards the audience, I said to myself, By heaven he will cut his knees upon the footlights.” Thus differ Bulwer and Cooper.
With regard to his Indians, we have heard some Americans declare that they are not natural, but, as they termed them, Mr. Cooper's Indians : we can only speak as they impressed us. It must always be borne in mind that a novelist labors under a disadvantage when he is drawing human nature, which he does not when he is painting nature's scenery ; as a matter of necessity, he must exaggerate, or, as they term it, idealize the living characters in his works. But it is not so with the scene he chooses to describe ; he may be as literal as he pleases in the one case—then he is pronounced graphic, and wonderfully true to nature; but if he portrays with equal fidelity the beings he brings forth upon his canvas, he is condemned as tame and common-place. It thus requires a double power to produce a successful romance; and it is in this twofold capacity that we consider Mr. Cooper so admirable a writer.
Even in the very worst of his novels, there are glimpses of nature so exquisitely painted as to justify the highest praise it is possible to bestow.
It is just probable that the very success of this description of writing has led Mr. Cooper to persevere in a course which has exposed him to the charge of being considered a writer of limited range.
That the author of the “Pilot” succeeds best in forest scenes, and with Indians as actors, is undoubtedly true; but this applies in a certain sense to every distinguished author. That Mr. Cooper has narrowed his range by a too engrossing attention to a particular species of human life, is another question, which it is vain here to discuss. The predisposition of a writer for a particular kind of work is not always a proof that it is his forte -it may be, as Leigh Hunt once facetiously observed, his piano; inclination is not a good test of genius. It is too frequently the offspring of indolence and facility of execution. It is the common trick of humanity to avoid the toilsome and rugged road. All prefer the flowery path : what is difficult, becomes irksome: till, in time, the efforts become more and more rare, until at length they are altogether discontinued.
From this habit results the sameness of so many writers. They first, out of the impulse and love of adventure so inseparably connected with youth, force a way for themselves through the tangled thicket of those vague desires which invariably predicate the poetical mind. Proud of the achievement this path is retrod, and when the charm of novelty has died away, the momentum which formerly carried the young spirit on is lessened, and the beaten path is of course preferred to the labor of making another track in a new direction.
Mr. Cooper's novels of Mercedes of Castile and the Bravo of Venice, are evidences that he has tried other parts, but it by no means follows, because he has not succeeded equally well in these new phases, that he could not have done so. His Indian
Romances are numerous ; his foreign ones are isolated efforts. He should have cultivated this vein, and worked out more of the material, and not abandoned the field at the first defeat. But it appears that he was laboring under the impression that his genius lay the other way; and, consequently, Mr. Cooper tired his public somewhat, by writing Backwood novels too pertinaciously.
He should also have been guided more by the experience of Sir Walter Scott than by his own Impulse, or what is worse, Self-will. For, while we admit that the genius of the British Novelist walks more steadily and naturally on the Heaths and Moors of Scotland, and lives evidently more at ease with the characters of his native land, he nevertheless excels every other writer of Romance in general subjects likewise ; with the sole exception of the Supernatural, where Mrs. Radcliffe and Monk Lewis are unapproached. Scott is indisputably the most successful of the writers of fiction; but even he too frequently allows the facility with which he wrote dialogues in genuine Scotch to seduce him into tedious conversations, which weaken very materially the effect of his best scenes, by wearying the reader before the emphatic moment has arrived. It is very unartistic to jade the attention, as it destroys the keenness of appreciation when it is most required to heighten the effect of a denouement.
We have heard some critics lay this charge to the “ three volume system,” which, they maintain, compels them to adopt this superfluous writing to fill up the space; but we do not think this at all a valid reason. A careless or incompetent dramatist might charge the tediousness or irrelevant nature of his writing upon the established custom of a Play having Five Acts. Every Romance and every Drama has a natural length, and the true artist never need write a superfluous word ; symmetry is the truest beauty, and, like a circle, is complete in itself without any reference to size; so has a work of art, whether in poetry, philosophy, or science, a relative propriety individual to itself. The child is as perfect in its way as the Giant, and it would be absurd for either to deny to the other the possession of beauty, simply on account of difference of stature. The real dramatist will so apportion the incidents that the critical eye will at once recognise their affinity to each other, and the necessity for the existence of each, with as much logical readiness as the eye passes over the human frame, and at once detects a deficiency or superfluity of the limbs composing it.
Some authors seem to consider that if they have a great or striking catastrophe, any amount of feeble or discursive matter will be tolerated; but the absurdity of this is evident. What would be said of a sculptor, who, conscious of the workmanship of the face of his statue, considered the drapery, or the rest of the figure, unworthy of his elaboration! A very slight defect spoils the general effect, and the masses are more moved by the tout-ensemble than by the surprising finish of any individual part.
The coherency of a book is, in short, its life as well as its beauty. However finely worked out some parts of Mr. Cooper's “ Bravo” may be, the improbability of the plot is too glaring to allow it a permanent existence. It opens well, the attention is aroused, and when we come to the death of the old
fisherman, we are fully convinced the romance is of first-rate pretensions ; but it dwindles as it progresses into a mere improbability, which irritates the more in proportion to the force and beauty of the opening scenes. Still, in these attempts, even a failure is more glorious than the successful achievement of countless sketches, which have nothing to recommend them beyond the carefulness of their finish ; it is a very safe and a very easy way to found a reputation upon the fidelity of minute description. What powers of mind are required to describe an elaborate duck, or a fat man getting into a coach, or the thousand and one other inanities in which some writers are considered so perfectly classical? What heart is roused by all this laborious trifling? Literature degenerates into a foible, and becomes a frivolous plaything, and not a great organ of instruction. No amount of personal exaggeration or flattery can ever elevate the most successful writer of this description into anything beyond a fifth-rate writer.
Mr. Cooper's wilfulness, which is apparent only by implication in his works of fiction, is very palpably developed in his travels. Here he places himself before the public as his own caricaturist, and insists upon his own condemnation by his readers. Still, even in this adverse position, the independence of his nature comes out nobly, and his republican steadiness contrasts very strongly with the placid amenities of Mr. Irving. Born ourselves under monarchical institutions, our national and natural prejudices are disposed to a favorable reception of any praise a foreigner
-more especially a republican—may feel inclined to bestow upon England; but we must admit, that the smiling benignity with which Mr. Irving surveys every evidence of aristocratical