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Sunday, June 7, 2009

Mark Twain Assassinates James Fenimore Cooper

You can say a lot about Mark Twain, but you can't say he doesn't have an opinion. Here is a literary assassination in Twain's Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses. As you would expect of Twain, it is full of wit and fun to read in its own right, but it has little mercy for Cooper. A few quotes:

Twain lists the offenses, but here is the lead-in:

There are nineteen rules governing literary art in domain of romantic fiction -- some say twenty-two. In "Deerslayer," Cooper violated eighteen of them.

Bless you[r] heart, Cooper hadn't any more invention than a horse; and don't mean a high-class horse, either; I mean a clothes-horse.

If Cooper had any real knowledge of Nature's ways of doing things, he had a most delicate art in concealing the fact. For instance: one of his acute Indian experts, Chingachgook (pronounced Chicago, I think), has lost the trail of a person he is tracking through the forest. Apparently that trail is hopelessly lost. Neither you nor I could ever have guessed the way to find it. It was very different with Chicago. Chicago was not stumped for long. He turned a running stream out of its course, and there, in the slush in its old bed, were that person's moccasin tracks. The current did not wash them away, as it would have done in all other like cases -- no, even the eternal laws of Nature have to vacate when Cooper wants to put up a delicate job of woodcraft on the reader.

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