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Originally published in James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art, Papers from the 2007 Cooper Seminar (No. 16), The State University of New York College at Oneonta. Oneonta, New York. Hugh C. MacDougall and Steven Harthorn, editors. (pp. 23-38)
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Following his arrival in Europe late in July 1826, James Fenimore Cooper was led into the dense political thickets of post-Napoleonic France by his deepening relationship with one of that country’s key liberals, the Marquis de Lafayette. Lafayette had worked behind the scenes to cut short Napoleon’s rule (especially in the notorious Malet conspiracy of 1808), and often served as a rallying figure for anti-Bonapartists. He longed for the return of “Liberty” and therefore allowed others to use his name in their subsequent abortive strikes against the Empire. Then in 1814, distressed over the foreign invasions that followed Napoleon’s first abdication, he convinced himself that the Bourbon restoration offered the best chance for the liberal cause and mildly supported Louis XVIII.1 When a resurgent Napoleon returned to France the following year mouthing quasi-liberal assurances, Lafayette temporized in the interest of preserving the recently enacted charter and its guarantee of parliamentary governance. Although he rejected Napoleon’s offer of a peerage, he agreed to stand for a position in the elections Napoleon called for the new chamber of representatives. But at bottom he distrusted Napoleon, whom in his Memoirs he would call “the cleverest and most inflexible enemy of liberty.”2
In actuality, although Lafayette later sought to obscure both his actions and his motives at this time, he seems to have been planning a coup d’état against the Emperor should Napoleon avoid or defeat the allied armies massing against him in Belgium. In the chamber, which was turning against the emperor (and therefore wished to choose Lafayette as its leader), the Marquis warily watched his opportunities and played whatever games he could in the interest of liberty and, one must conclude, himself. After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, the Emperor rushed back to Paris, poised to dissolve both chambers and again assume the mantle of dictator. It was at this point that Lafayette, rising amid the other elected representatives, openly opposed Napoleon and urged the staunch defense of the deeper legacy of the Revolution. His prescient call for the emperor’s abdication was followed the next day by Napoleon’s decision to step aside in favor of his four-year-old son, for whom he wished a regency to be established. The two chambers instead arranged for a provisional government that had no tie to “Napoleon II,” but from which Lafayette was also excluded. The marquis’s involvement in the “hundred days” left him subject to suspicion, as did his recent intrigues as well as his unclear personal intentions and ambitions. Lafayette thus failed of his immediate ends, but succeeded in once again becoming a political actor in France. He retired to his home in the country but would soon use his recent ties with Napoleonists and monarchists alike to forge a new movement of “Independents” whose primary interest lay in opposing the Bourbons and constructing a new French republic. He accepted the second Bourbon restoration as long as Louis XVIII remained committed to sharing power with an elected chamber of delegates. But Lafayette had his eyes on the future as well.3
This is not the Lafayette whom Americans celebrated at such events as the Castle Garden fête at New York City in September, 1824, of which James Fenimore Cooper was one of the managers. There were clearly other, deeper aspects to the old Revolutionary icon. For his own part, Lafayette came to the United States in 1824 not so much to celebrate America per se but rather in the hope that he might gain leverage in France by stirring up American feeling on critical European issues as well as by basking in the personal glory of his many public acclamations. Lafayette had pushed the conservative Villèle government hard in 1823 for its invasion of Spain in behalf of that country’s beleaguered Bourbon monarch, so hard that he had lost re-election to the chamber of deputies the following year. He now viewed America as a scene of previous triumphs where, awkwardly freed of public duties in France by his electoral defeat, he might gain support for his larger liberal agenda across Europe. The triumphal tour in the U.S. was hardly just a sentimental journey; it was deeply and persistently political. The American government, in conflict over such European issues as the invasion of Spain and the uprising of the Greeks against Ottoman domination—not to mention possible European interventions in South America—was torn over the meaning and indeed wisdom of Lafayette’s visit.4 Opportune as it was in terms of the approaching anniversary of Bunker Hill and Lexington and Concord, it could not easily be confined to its nominally memorial purpose. The Frenchman’s very invitation had been a subject of considerable debate, and even once it was issued, as historian Sylvia Neely has argued, its meaning continued to shift for both its supporters and its opponents. Not only did events rush on; Lafayette’s much-delayed arrival came at a time when the original context of the invitation no longer applied. Uncertain about what stance to take vis-à-vis Spain or Greece, and eager to at last exact payments from the French government for devastations caused to American shipping during the Napoleonic wars, American politicians handled Lafayette as both a symbol out of the past and a problem in the present.5
During Lafayette’s visit, Henry Clay, who had been speaker of the House when the invitation to the Frenchman had been extended and who succeeded John Quincy Adams as Secretary of State in March, 1825, expressed concern that Lafayette’s resumption of his oppositional stance on returning to France might reflect poorly on the motives of his transatlantic hosts. He therefore urged the old general to spend his remaining days “in dignity and tranquility, abstaining from public affairs, and most cautiously guarding against giving the least ground for the imputation of his being concerned in any conspiracy.”6 Albert Gallatin, who had served as U.S. minister to France from 1815 to 1823, had found Lafayette so “very ungovernable in all that related to petty plots” during those years that he too met with the Frenchman in Washington and counseled him, “in the most forcible manner,” to avoid such intrigues on his return to France in 1825.7 Such American interventions were not isolated acts. Former Senator James Brown found French views of the American invitation to Lafayette quite mixed when he replaced Gallatin in Paris in 1824, as he soon explained to President Monroe.8 In September, 1825, when Lafayette’s return to France was imminent, Brown similarly wrote Clay that he thought Lafayette’s tour was one reason for faltering relations between France and America. Later that year, Brown added that “the visit of Gen Lafayette and the use made of it by the opposition papers here have excited some feeling.” So concerned was Brown, long a Democratic Republican, to abstain “from taking any part in the politics of the nation” that he strove to stay away from all the French liberals with the single unavoidable exception of his friend Lafayette. All the more reason for him to monitor Lafayette’s behavior and urge “retirement” on him. For the first year or more after his American tour, the returning hero’s quietude called forth repeated messages of satisfaction from Brown to Clay. At the very moment that James Fenimore Cooper was crossing the Atlantic, Brown thus wrote of Lafayette: “As far as I can learn he has followed the good advice he received from his friends at Washington and takes no active share in politics.” That fall, after Cooper had become an intimate of Brown and he and Lafayette had begun their relationship, Brown added: “Our friend Lafayette seems to have profited by the advice of his friends in Washington—He has been very quiet and consequently very happy since his return from the U[nited] States.” Brown was obviously “very happy,” too.9
Ensconced at his country estate for long periods following his American tour, Lafayette seemed like the ideal elder statesman—inactive and therefore unembarrassing. When, however, the Marquis was urged to stand for re-election to the Chamber of Deputies in the spring of 1827, Minister Brown expressed alarm about this possible return to public life: “He can do no good and may involve himself in unprofitable disputes and enmities.” To some extent, Brown’s concern was for Lafayette’s own good. When the Marquis won the 1827 election, Brown wrote Clay that Lafayette would be “exposed to great obloquy and vexation,” adding: “He openly calls himself a Republican, and I cannot perceive what business a Republican can have in a Chamber of decided Royalists.” The implications of this change for the United States, and American interests, were clear to Brown, as his indirection in raising then to Clay suggests: “The hatred felt in relation to him in certain quarters may possibly react a little on his distant friends but this is a delicate subject and must be passed over lightly.” That subject had to be avoided, in all likelihood, because Brown was not certain that his communications with Clay were completely secure, either in Paris or in Washington.10
Lafayette was unquestionably an idealist who often risked much for what he believed in—though not always with a reasonable hope of actually achieving his ends. The quality that worried the American government in the wake of the 1824-25 tour may have been akin to a worrisome trait discerned in Lafayette by a friend, Achille de Broglie, who passed some time at La Grange following Lafayette’s exclusion from the regency in 1815. Broglie, who was the son-in-law of the celebrated Madame de Staël, a close associate of Lafayette, faulted the Marquis as a kind of political narcissist: “He made no distinctions excepting between those who repeated, and those who did not repeat, whatever he himself said. He was a prince surrounded by people who flattered him and robbed him.”11 Even more insightful was the description, left by the husband of one of Lafayette’s granddaughters—Charles, Comte de Rémusat—of the way in which Lafayette controlled conversation in his chateau: “Everything was subordinated to him...foreigners fell into step and adjusted, not only their opinions and their conversations, but even their gestures and voices to the customary usage and tone of the house.... Conversation at La Grange, Rémusat concluded, “obviously lacked the diversity” that “free opinions and characters” would produce. Hospitality at La Grange could be a form of indoctrination and ideological formation.12
There is in these comments of the Duc de Broglie and the Comte de Rémusat, both of whom Cooper came to know while in France, a hint of how the American novelist himself was pressured to mimic the Frenchman’s ideas and interests. Lafayette reached out to Cooper with surprising speed. Apparently through connections in the government, he heard of the Coopers’ July 22 arrival in Paris almost as soon as it happened and wrote on July 24 to invite the family to pay him a visit.13 Resident then as usual in the summer at his deceased wife’s ancestral home, the Chateau de la Grange-Blénau, located some thirty miles southeast of Paris near the village of Rozay-en-Brie, Lafayette was embarrassingly generous in thus seeking out the American novelist. The two, after all, had been only minimally acquainted during the Marquis’s 1824-25 tour of the United States, and Cooper had sent no direct word to Lafayette respecting his own visit to France. Prior to Cooper’s arrival, the Frenchman (who had made savvy use of the press during his American tour and afterwards) almost certainly had settled on the American writer as a plausible recruit for his own political battles. He therefore kept himself apprised of the Coopers’ whereabouts across the summer of 1826 so that he could strike quickly.
The speedy directness of Lafayette’s approach at first surprised Cooper. When the letter from La Grange came to his hands on the evening of July 25, he sat down and immediately answered it, stressing the “lively pleasure” it had given.14 Yet that pleasure did not produce prompt compliance with the general’s insistent invitation to visit Rozay-en-Brie. A variety of personal and family concerns provided a front, perhaps a set of reasons, for Cooper’s delays, which extended so long that it was Lafayette who again took the initiative by calling at Cooper’s lodgings in rue St. Maur around the middle of September. Finally, sometime in “the autumn of 1826,” probably in October, as Cooper recalled in his French Gleanings, he visited the Rozay-en-Brie estate by himself.15
October would have been a good time to make the trip, Cooper’s first beyond the immediate environs of Paris since arriving there almost twelve weeks earlier. We do not know how long he stayed or what happened during the visit, but presumably this was largely a personal call during which Lafayette silently reflected on but did not overtly bring up his already evolving plans for Cooper, to which I shall return in a bit. Soon both families, not just the two men, meshed. By late February, 1827, when Lafayette was again in Paris (he traveled between the capital and Rozay frequently), Cooper was once more invited to visit La Grange, accompanied this time by Lafayette for what proved an anecdote-filled trip in the latter’s carriage in the middle of March. Although Susan Cooper again stayed behind this time, already the Coopers were talking about Lafayette’s suggestion that they rent summer lodgings in the vicinity of La Grange. Lafayette was so insistent on having them close that he first invited them to take up extended residence at his own estate. Mrs. Cooper confided in her sister Caroline in early March that such a plan was “of course out of the question”—among other reasons, one assumes that she thought it would represent too obvious an imposition on Lafayette’s family. But there already may have been some hesitation on Cooper’s part, as well as on Susan’s, about Lafayette’s larger purposes. It is hard to imagine that in all this time Cooper had not discussed Lafayette with U.S. Minister James Brown, who surely would have counseled caution. It was bad enough for the interests of the American government to have Lafayette potentially causing pointless disturbances for the ultra monarchists. Incalculably worse would it be if America’s premier writer should become active on behalf of Lafayette’s many projects. When Susan Cooper expressed the hope that she and her husband and the children would pay several visits to Rozay over the coming months, she may well have been outlining the compromise she and her husband had agreed to. Such a plan would accommodate Lafayette, the alleged idol of America, without snaring Cooper in whatever web the French liberal might already be spinning.16
When the Coopers balked at Lafayette’s first invitation, he proposed that they rent a nearby estate belonging to the famous ballerina Emilia Bigottini, with whom he carried on negotiations for them.17 In order to see that place themselves, the couple finally visited La Grange together toward the end of April 1827. Like her husband, Susan had much to say about the visit with Lafayette, whom she found incredibly hospitable—or, as one might put it, ingratiating. As it happened, however, Madame Bigottini’s house did not suit the Coopers, perhaps because of Bigottini’s somewhat tarnished reputation. That she was a ballerina probably counted against her in Susan’s mind, for Americans typically regarded the ballet as indecent, meaning that its reliance on scantily clad women made them feel uncomfortable.18 (Her husband had a different view. When he observed three Americans run off giggling, with their eyes averted out of “extreme bashfulness,” after they stumbled upon the nude sculptures in the gardens of the Tuileries, he thought their squeamishness “ludicrous.” He made it clear in discussing the episode that, while he shared some American values, he had “never belonged to the ultra school at home” and hardly gave such things a second thought in Europe.)19 A more decisive issue may have been Cooper’s sense that he needed to be closer to Paris over the summer, for work was continuing there on his next book, The Red Rover (1828). By June, accordingly, other arrangements had been made. The Coopers soon rented a house in the village of St. Ouen, just north of the city’s walls. There, not even on the route from Paris to Rozay-en-Brie, they would remain until November. They had reaffirmed the distance separating them from Lafayette.
There is no doubt Lafayette had wished to have Cooper closer—close enough that (as Broglie and Rémusat suggested) he could get him to speak back the things he himself wished to hear—so that, when he was assured of the American’s closeness, he could convince him to commence the book he wanted Cooper to write. Here was his ulterior motive for befriending Cooper. Early in his political courtship of the American novelist, Lafayette invited him to write a semi-official chronicle of the French statesman’s 1824-25 tour of the United States. Cooper reviewed their negotiations on the subject in a January 1828 letter to his friend Charles Wilkes: “it is now more than a year since La Fayette manifested a strong desire that I should write some account of his reception in America. The old man was so frank, and showed, mingled with his acknowledged personal interest, so strong a desire to do credit to the country, that I scarcely knew how to resist him.” Although the French hero had “almost the right to command the services of an American author,” Cooper felt no real interest in writing “a tame and monotonous account of La Fayette’s visit.” Such a book would put Lafayette (if not also the author) “at fault.” Instead, Cooper eventually proposed a compromise: he would “attempt a sketch of the U[nited] States which should, from time to time, touch on some of [the visit’s] striking incidents.” The key purpose of such a book would be Cooper’s attempt to correct European errors on the subject of American political and social realities, errors that often arose from deep distrust of democracy among Old World partisans. What the friends agreed on was the need to “do credit to the country” about which they both cared so much.20
Cooper appears to have rejected Lafayette’s original request late in the fall of 1826. But he did not immediately commit himself to his own substitute. Ill and pretty much out of circulation from New Year’s Day until around the middle of February 1827 (see Letters and Journals, 1:200), even at the end of that period he remained undecided about whether to pursue that “sketch” of the United States he would mention to Wilkes the following year. Once Cooper was back on his feet again, he and Lafayette naturally recurred to what still remained a very tentative and open-ended idea. Three pertinent letters from Lafayette to Cooper survive from February and March. Probably the earliest of these, dated “February, 1827” in the Correspondence, shows Cooper’s uncertainty about the project, as well as his first glimmerings of what would eventually prove to be its key structural feature. “I am continually adressed [sic],” Lafayette wrote, “upon the utility of such a work as the one [about] which you have told me you had not yet quite made up your mind.” This statement must mean that, while Cooper had convinced Lafayette he was not the man to chronicle the 1824-25 tour and had discussed some alternatives with him, the novelist had not settled on actually undertaking the substitute project, let alone begun to write it. Yet even in the face of such uncertainty, Cooper had already imagined Notions of the Americans as a quasi-fictional travel book, not just a discursive treatise. Cooper’s narrative frame, involving the use of an imaginary nobleman (“the Count,” otherwise known as “the Travelling Bachelor”) as the supposed author of a series of letters written to five friends back home while he is visiting the U.S., would allow Cooper to simulate—or fabricate—the responses to America of a reasonably observant and open-minded European. We know that this design already had been settled on because of something else Lafayette stated in that first letter. At a recent gathering, he had been speaking with the voluminous French anti-colonialist, the Abbé de Pradt, who expatiated on “the advantages of precisely the same publication, frame and all, which has been the object of our conversations.” Lafayette did not inform de Pradt that Cooper was to be the author of the “publication” in question: “I made a general answer,” he continued. “But how much more should his and every body else’s feelings have been excited, did they suspect who might be the author.”21
Since such a design would make little sense for the sort of factual account of his own tour of America that Lafayette wished Cooper to write, we can infer that Cooper not only had already rejected Lafayette’s proposal but also had begun to refine his own, more creative substitute for it as early as February, 1827, more than six months before he began writing Notions. This interpretation appears to be confirmed by the next two letters from Lafayette that touch on the subject. At the very end of February 1827, in response to a letter from Cooper, Lafayette encouraged him, “kindly persist in your much welcome plan.” This must mean that, with his health returning, Cooper was ready to commit himself to Notions of the Americans, and perhaps (with The Red Rover apparently not yet begun) to start writing it right away. Shortly after sending his second note, Lafayette forwarded a copy of a book that the novelist had “expressed a kind wish to peruse.” This item appears to have been a manuscript volume or scrapbook that, as Lafayette explained, had been “compiled by two young men from American news papers and a few private letters,” apparently in an attempt to provide a more accurate picture of American affairs (and specifically Lafayette’s tour) than was generally available to Europeans.
The effort behind the volume was completely consistent with Cooper’s purpose not only in Notions of the Americans but also in his fiction more generally. Lafayette obviously cared for the fortunes of the American republic on its own terms—yet here, again, he no doubt was seeking to reap political benefits from an act of generosity. At the time he sent the mysterious volume to Cooper, Lafayette was aware that “the contemplated plan” he had been discussing with the novelist no longer would center on his own tour. “Divesting it of self” as a result, he nonetheless still thought that Cooper’s new book would be of “patriotic and general utility.” He added, “The grand example given to the world by the institutions and practices of the U. S. is more than three fourth[s] lost for want of being properly exhibited.” Having suggested the project, Lafayette hardly could un-endorse it; yet by now it clearly was to be enacted in a shape other than the one he originally proposed. Once more, Cooper’s energies seem to have been gathering for the new project; he wanted the scrapbook from Lafayette, one assumes, because he was ready to launch into Notions of the Americans.22
There is a back story here. The book Lafayette wanted Cooper to write would be written, but by someone else. As it happened, Auguste Levasseur, the young Frenchman who had accompanied Lafayette to the United States, produced an account of the visit, Lafayette en Amérique en 1824 et 1825, ou Journal d’un Voyage aux Etats-Unis, which was published in Paris in 1829 and would be translated and re-published in the United States the same year in both New York and Philadelphia (by Carey and Lea, in part on Cooper’s advice). Levasseur had been invited on the tour not only to keep a journal of events as Lafayette’s official secretary, but also to feed information back to Lafayette’s ally in the Paris publishing world, Jean-Pierre Pagès de l’Ariege, to be used for publicity (i.e., political) purposes in France during 1824 and 1825. A former military officer who had been involved along with Lafayette in the 1821 Belfort Conspiracy and then in other actions against the French government, Levasseur had resigned from the military and by 1824, although apparently not at all well known to Lafayette, had been chosen to accompany the General. One assumes that there were at least two reasons for his choice: he could write, and his liberal politics could be trusted. The production of Lafayette en Amérique was part of the original plan.23
Following the return to France in 1825, however, this project lingered. The long delay before the book’s final publication was explained by Levasseur himself as the consequence of his continued service as Lafayette’s private secretary on their return home. Since he now was living with Lafayette’s family, he claimed that he felt a natural delicacy about divulging (or seeming to divulge) intimate details of his host’s life. On the other hand, he also wished his book to be taken on its own merits as his production—he was not content to be viewed as a mouthpiece for the general. Between moral sensitivity and personal vanity he was left unable to proceed. Incessantly urged by his friends to publish his journal of the trip, he kept putting it off until at last, out of Lafayette’s employment though hardly beyond his influence, he “continued to await the moment” (as he put it in the “Avertissement” to the book) when it seemed right to proceed. At last that moment had come.24
One may wonder, to the contrary, whether Lafayette himself was not among those wishing to hurry—or otherwise direct—his young disciple. In fact, Levasseur took a kind of sabbatical in 1826 to embark on a semi-independent career as a businessman. The break seems to have come slowly. Early that year, Levasseur helped organize the launching of a new journal, Revue Am%eacute;ricaine, which was (in the words of historian Sylvia Neely) published with the “help and encouragement of Lafayette” and edited by Armand Carrel, friend of both Lafayette and his old “companion in arms” Levasseur—incidentally, Carrel would in time become the friend (and translator) of Cooper. This monthly journal, which began publication just when Cooper was arriving in Paris in July 1826 and ceased when he was leaving for St. Ouen the following June, had as its aim the same general purpose as Cooper would give to Notions of the Americans. Levasseur explained the point of it in a letter to a friend in Virginia that was widely reprinted in the United States: “to demonstrate by facts, the immense advantages of the system introduced in your country, and to make the Europeans more exactly acquainted with the happy results, which such wise institutions have procured to the United States.” Levasseur’s involvement with this journal, although the latter was part of Lafayette’s own political apparatus, was part of the means by which he distanced himself from Lafayette. He married a German woman that same year, probably an indication that, although he kept associating with Lafayette, he was not to be permanently domiciled at La Grange any more. “Intending to fix myself for life,” Levasseur confided in the same letter to his Virginia friend, “I have entered into commercial speculations, and have taken for my partner one of my best friends, who has been in business with great talents and probity, for more than fifteen years.” This Paris firm, aimed at boosting the economic recovery of France, was to specialize in the overseas sale of French-made goods.25
This commercial venture in particular reads like an effort on Levasseur’s part to pry himself away from Lafayette’s entourage. When he finally did finish preparing his account of the American tour for the press, it was a mark of his own emerging voice—his attempt to assume a place of his own in French intellectual life. One wonders whether this process of disengagement was at all visible to Cooper during his initial contact with Lafayette. One may wonder further whether Lafayette’s eagerness in seeking out the American writer from the moment he arrived in Paris did not stem from the statesman’s sense that Levasseur, just then beginning to pull away from him, might be about to abandon the expected account of the American visit. Once Levasseur’s book and Cooper’s fictional travelogue were both in production in 1828, Cooper would suggest that some falling out or alienation had occurred between Levasseur and his mentor. When Carey and Lea questioned the salability of Notions of the Americans against the competition they thought Lafayette en Amérique might represent, Cooper rightly replied in March of 1828 that the two projects had different aims and strengths, his own by and large avoiding a direct treatment of Lafayette’s itinerary. At the same time, he asserted that the General was “with me altogether.” This somewhat mysterious comment was amplified by another. Although Levasseur addressed the 1824-25 visit frontally, he was, Cooper went on, “not particularly in [Lafayette’s] confidence.”26 It however remains clear that right up to March 1828, when Cooper was in London finishing his book and seeing it through the press, he and Levasseur continued to have some communication about their shared subject. A March 3, 1828, letter from the Frenchman indicates that Cooper, in a letter of his own that does not survive, had mentioned his plan to include an account of the Bunker Hill celebration (June 17, 1825) in which Lafayette had played a conspicuous part. Levasseur approved of this idea and provided details that he hoped Cooper would use. He also pointed out that Lafayette’s speech to the crowd on that day was to be “found in the book which Mr. Cooper now has”—presumably the volume of newspaper accounts and private letters mentioned the year before by Lafayette himself.27 Cooper had not yet reached this part of his narrative when he received Levasseur’s letter in London, yet when he did reach it he largely ignored the Frenchman’s directives. His Traveling Bachelor opines that the Bunker Hill commemoration was “one of the most interesting ceremonies I ever witnessed,” but he then apologizes to his reader that his “limits absolutely forbid its description.” 28 Very little of what he does include can be traced directly to Levasseur’s letter, although the mere existence of that letter suggests the communal nature of the drive pushing both men to write about (or out of) Lafayette’s American tour. Cooper’s avoidance of the direct representation of Lafayette in Notions in this instance was, as we shall see, indicative of his practice throughout the book. And it copies his personal strategy of polite avoidance of the French statesman.29
The reluctance of the Coopers to take up residence at La Grange for the summer of 1827, combined with the novelist’s backward motion away from Lafayette’s initial proposal for the book about his tour, and then from Levasseur’s cooperative interventions, stemmed from a variety of causes. Perhaps the most compelling for Cooper as a writer and an intellectual was his distaste for operating in someone else’s shadow, celebrated as the man casting it might be. But the whole question of Lafayette’s entourage, rarely mentioned by the Coopers, was also a big part of the reason for his and Susan’s unease. Levasseur, virtually swallowed up at La Grange, probably offered a general caution. But of more particular importance was Lafayette’s close, scandal-ridden relationship with the Scottish socialist Fanny Wright. Wright, enthralled with the idea of America as a land of liberty, had crossed the Atlantic with her sister Camilla in 1818, landing in New York City with a letter of introduction to Cooper’s good friend Charles Wilkes, with whom she associated closely during her time in the city. When she published a glowing account of her visit, Views of Society and Manners in America, in 1821, she dedicated it to Wilkes. Cooper disliked the book so intensely that Wilkes, writing him after reading Notions of the Americans, somewhat amusedly recalled (as he told Cooper) “how indignant you was sometimes with my poor Miss Wright for her nauseous flattery, as I believe you called it.”30 Cooper had brought this comic rebuke down on himself: while still at work on Notions, he had confessed to Wilkes, “You would smile if you knew how often I am reminded of your apology for the eulogiums of Miss Wright while writing upon this book.” The alteration in his circumstances had given him a sharper political sensibility—and a complexly bi-hemispheric view of America. “I find so much ignorance here concerning America, so much insolence in their manner of thinking of us, which however natural is not the less false, that at every line I am tempted to decorate rather than to describe.”31
Yet in other ways Cooper hardly would endorse the young female radical, and her presence in Lafayette’s entourage probably made him—or at least Mrs. Cooper—very hesitant about drawing too close to Rozay-en-Brie. This story was notorious. After Wright’s book appeared, Lafayette had read it and liked it precisely for its flattering pictures of the United States; he therefore sent her a letter offering to arrange for its translation into French. Known for her youthful energy (she was twenty-five when the book was published), her sharp mind, and her very good looks, Wright had a special talent for attracting the interest of aging male thinkers and activists. Jeremy Bentham already had fallen for her; soon Lafayette followed suit. When she arrived in Paris in September 1821, she immediately contacted Lafayette and before long the widower invited “ma bien aimée Fanny” (as he called her) and her sister to move into La Grange. Whether or not, in the words of the novelist Stendahl, Fanny Wright ever became one of those “pretty young girls” whose petticoats the old statesman (sixty-four when he met her) had a habit of “squeezing from behind,” clearly their relationship was unusual. The two shared the same birthday and both had been orphaned at an early age. Wright looked up to Lafayette as an intellectual and emotional father figure—at the least—and reportedly asked him to legally adopt her, or later to marry her. He looked at her as a flatteringly interested young woman whose serious intellectual ambitions made her his disciple and heir. But the closeness also brought snide comments of the sort that Stendahl made in general about Lafayette. And not only did the Wright sisters spend much time at La Grange; they also came to America during Lafayette’s visit. They were not technically part of his official group: he had invited them to travel with him, but when his family objected, it was arranged for the young ladies to follow him discreetly in another ship. Once in the United States, however, Wright and Lafayette were often together. As a result, in the sarcastic words of a European traveler who crossed the Atlantic a year later, “this lady, together with her sister, and without male escort, roamed the country by steamboat and—often—wagon....” Moreover, she “followed General La Fayette continuously, and when the general arrived somewhere, one could count on Miss Wright arriving the following day.” The editor of the most recent edition of Wright’s Views of Society and Manners, Paul R. Baker, observes that “For many Americans the spectacle of the conspicuous Miss Wright either accompanying or following closely after the world-famous Frenchman seemed most unusual and rather improper; gossipmongers had a splendid time.” Fanny and Camilla were thus present at the Castle Garden fête, where Cooper must have seen them; like others who wrote about the event, however, he chose not to mention the fact.32
That they were often near Lafayette while he was in the New York City area may have contributed to Cooper’s reluctance to become as close to the General as he might have right then. Fresh memories of that awkward association may also have led to the tardiness with which Cooper followed up on Lafayette’s immediate solicitations on arriving in Paris. When Wright, who had stayed behind in America after Lafayette’s departure, showed up in France once more in August of 1827, as Lafayette soon wrote the Coopers (then at St. Ouen, safely north of Paris), the Americans must have breathed a sigh that they indeed had shunned both La Grange and the dancer Bigottini’s house: in a couple of senses, they would not have to put up with the Scottish reformer, whose ideas were becoming more radical all the time.33 This is not to say, however, that Cooper on his own feared Wright or joined in the vocal condemnations of her that by then were feverishly circulating on both sides of the ocean. To the contrary, when he and Susan at last encountered her at Lafayette’s Paris house early in 1831, he wrote Wilkes that “the women avoided her,” adding, “I should have spoken to her, had I known her previously”—neither Wilkes nor Lafayette had ever introduced the two—“but I did not like to seek an introduction, under the circumstances, as it would have been disrespectful to Mrs. Cooper, who was present.” In his own right, Cooper might have enjoyed the intellectual exchange with a woman who saw eye-to-eye with him in regard to some questions; but he knew that his wife would have been likely to object. Cooper’s response to Wright, one might add, hardly was naïve. He told Wilkes in that same 1831 letter (which he wrote several months after the encounter with Wright) that he did not think she came back to Lafayette’s soirées, but added, “I doubt not Lafayette sees her in private.” And he expanded on the insight: “It is my private opinion that the old man has been a good deal hunted this winter by sundry elderly ladies, who would fain attach the shreds of their charms to his great name, but his tastes are as juvenile as at twenty.” His tastes ran toward younger women, that is—even though Wright now to Cooper’s eye “looked haggard,” she hardly was elderly!34
This late encounter with Wright suggests that it was Susan Cooper who really objected to taking up lodgings at La Grange in the first place—and for moral reasons of her own, as opposed to the intellectual and artistic ones her husband may have entertained. Fanny Wright’s presence at La Grange had been the subject of many comments among the family of Lafayette as well as outside it; for the Coopers to go there under the terms the marquis suggested in 1827 was “out of the question,” as Susan put it to her sister that March, not because Wright was there then—she wasn’t—but rather because her prior residence there had tainted the place. Worse yet, she might return there again, as in fact she did with little warning that August.
Cooper’s effort as he actually wrote what became Notions of the Americans was to keep his focus on the issues that mattered——not on Fanny Wright or Levasseur or even Lafayette. As to the last of these three, one might regard the actual book as similar in some regards to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead—not because it shared the absurd spirit of Tom Stoppard but rather because, as in that play, the nominally key figure in the action is mostly offstage throughout: Notions thus focuses instead on an obscure European tourist (that unnamed bachelor “Count”) and his equally obscure American guide (“John Cadwallader, of Cadwallader, in the State of New-York”).35 While Cooper did seek to address the vexing question of Lafayette’s role in the French Revolution and his current reputation in Europe at large, questions that probably had arisen for him only after his arrival in Paris, for the most part he confined the General’s appearances in Notions to those few ceremonial occasions in the United States of which he himself had been an observer. The arrival of the Cadmus in New York waters on August 14, 1824, which Cooper must have witnessed (Letter 4), and the Castle Garden fête on September 14, which Cooper helped arrange and on which he reported for the New York American the next day (Letter 11) certainly were of this sort. So was the General’s visit to Washington, D.C., in February of the following year, during which Cooper, there to witness the run-off of the presidential election in the House of Representatives on February 9, must have failed to see Lafayette (and Fanny Wright as well) in the gallery, although he did see the Frenchman later at the President’s House, where his fictional Count accordingly is happy to discover “the smiling features and playful eye of La Fayette” (Notions 2:183).36
But Cooper tested and violated the limits of his personal knowledge in giving Lafayette even the casual presence he enjoys in the book. His treatment of the voyage up the Hudson to Albany immediately after the Castle Garden fête in Letter 12, for instance, had no basis in Cooper’s own experience. In Notions of the Americas, the Count and Cadwallader join Lafayette for this trip on the steamboat James Kent, stopping at West Point and several other sites en route and freely interacting with the Frenchman. To the contrary, Cooper himself had stayed in the City and written his Castle Garden report for the American at this juncture. His fictionalization of this trip in Notions of the Americans is interesting for a pair of reasons. First, it shows Cooper’s attempt to satisfy Lafayette’s hopes for the book by touching on some of the “striking incidents” of the Frenchman’s tour even when Cooper himself knew nothing about them firsthand. Second, we may assume that in this instance Cooper’s secondhand knowledge came at least in part from Lafayette and perhaps Levasseur, a point which casts some light on how the book was actually put together in France. In an overall sense, although one can assume that Cooper had followed contemporary press accounts as the Hudson River trip took place, it is clear that he owed his overall sense of this episode to the two Frenchmen. Even so, his rendering of it was creative in ways that no record left by Lafayette or Levasseur themselves might lead us to expect.
One recalls the scene on board the James Kent, for instance, on the morning after the fête as Cooper manages it: the Count, rising early, finds the Marquis on deck well before most of the other passengers. As the vessel passes scenes associated with the Revolution, Lafayette begins to unfold his rich recollections, especially those concerning André and Arnold. While it is often noted by readers of The Spy that Cooper returned to this theme in Notions of the Americans, the role given to Lafayette as a spur to American memory in the latter book has rarely been commented upon. Cooper could not have derived the details in this long episode of Notions from the press, which did not report them at the time of the tour; nor is there any indication in Levasseur that Lafayette in fact had discussed his personal recollections of the infamous 1780 episode with him or anyone else on the James Kent as it passed up through the Highlands (or back down a few days later, either). To the contrary, one might recall that it was Cooper who laid out the story while escorting British actor Charles Mathews through this very scene the year before.37 It is reasonable to conclude that he now created this episode in Notions by reference to that personal memory. It is true that Lafayette en Amérique, in telling of this part of the General’s tour, presents a general narrative of the André episode drawn extensively from James Thacher’s Military Journal during the American Revolutionary War (1822). But it does not indicate that Lafayette’s behavior or talk during the river trip led to Levasseur’s inclusion of the topic at this point in the book.38
As is often the case with the young secretary, Levassuer’s “journal,” so-called, is in this instance a meacute;lange of contemporary jottings and later amplifications, a kind of high tourist account of the sort not uncommon in the period. But the content of his narrative in this section differs significantly from that in Cooper’s book. It is possible that Cooper’s invention of the Highlands episode stemmed from discussions at La Grange or in Paris to which he, Levasseur, and Lafayette were all privy. Yet it is just as easy to assume that Levasseur owed his borrowings from Thacher’s book to Cooper’s influence: The Spy had made the theme Cooper’s, after all, since 1821, and Thacher’s book, which the American had used while working on Lionel Lincoln, was well known to him. Besides, it is by no means clear what contact Cooper had with Levasseur while the two men worked on their respective Lafayette projects. The relevant portion of Notions of the Americans was written at St. Ouen early in Cooper’s stay there, probably before a further trip he made to La Grange from there that summer. To be sure, Cooper’s frequent visits to Paris in these months raise the possibility that he conferred with one or both of the Frenchmen at Lafayette’s house there. Both Lafayette and Levasseur, we know, were at the Fourth of July celebration in Paris for which Cooper served as vice-chair in 1827. That event would have been an ideal occasion for some such mutual recollections, although surviving newspaper notices of it do not indicate that Arnold-André story in fact came up on that occasion.39
There certainly must have been some opportunity for a discussion of the espionage issue, though. And Cooper’s real source for the details about the Arnold-André affair in Notions of the Americans clearly had to have been Lafayette. The Marquis had been on the spot during the unfolding of the plot, had served on the panel of judges that condemned André, and later was dispatched by Washington to track down Arnold and, if he succeeded in taking him, put him to death. He was in all these ways an ideal informant on the case.40 Among the things we may conclude that he shared with Cooper are what one might call “domestic” facts such as this: “La Fayette, still ignorant of what had occurred, was dressing for dinner, when his aide, M’Henry, entered for his pistols,” without, as it happened, telling him what had happened (Notions, 1:214). He may also have shared more nearly public details (“When Washington and La Fayette met, the former put the report of Jamieson into the hands of the latter, and said, with tears in his eyes, ‘Arnold is a traitor, and has fled to the British!’”—ibid.) Most interesting of all, however, is a story, completely unknown before Cooper published it, about Washington’s complex response to Arnold’s deeds.41 Although seething with anger at his subordinate’s betrayal of the country and himself, Washington, Cooper writes, was mindful of the distracted mental state of the traitor’s wife. He therefore entrusted an aide with a reassuring message: “‘Go to Mrs. Arnold, and inform her, that, though my duty required no means should be neglected to arrest General Arnold, I have great pleasure in acquainting her that he is now safe on board a British vessel of war’” (Notions, 1:216). All of these details, if they are accurate, had to have come to Cooper directly from Lafayette in Paris or at La Grange. Cooper knew a great deal about this subject before meeting Lafayette, but not these things, as he admitted in a footnote that credited the Frenchman as his source.42
In other ways, Cooper’s strategy for including Lafayette in his own sketch of his native country in 1824-25 involved somewhat more complicated maneuvers. The Frenchman’s visit to the Federal Capital in the second volume is a case in point. Here one sees how much cut-and-paste Cooper engaged in while writing the book. Earlier, at the start of Letter 14 (Notions, 1:241), he has had the Count and his American guide part company with Lafayette’s entourage in Albany following the September trip on the James Kent. As what I have called the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern analogy takes over, Cooper’s book splits off from the great plot line of Lafayette’s tour to follow his own humbler characters as they wend their way (to Cooperstown, among other places) on an itinerary that seems contrived to remove them from the stage of the Frenchman’s public performances: it is an anti-Lafayette tour, so to speak. At last, however, after the two traveling friends have finished with New York State, visited New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and then Maryland, they wind up spending a long period in Washington, observing Congress and meeting President Monroe so that the Count may share the key points of American self-government with his European correspondents. The resulting sub-treatise, part indeed of Cooper’s tribute to Lafayette as the chief French expounder of American Republicanism, at last reconciles the book’s two maps—for at the start of Letter 25, the Count can write to “Comte Jules de Béthizy” (the fictional French nobleman who is one of the Count’s five correspondents), “If I have said nothing for a long time, concerning your distinguished countryman, it has not been for want of materials. The éclat which attends his passage through the country, is as brilliant as it was the day he landed; but were I to attempt to give you a continuous history of the ceremonies and pageants that grow out of his visit, my letters would be filled with nothing else” (Notions, 2:136). In this section, Cooper knowingly—or, one suspects, unknowingly—conflates various elements derived from Lafayette’s several trips to Washington, D.C. Untangling the actual trips from Cooper’s conflation can at once demonstrate how Cooper put the book together, and what role Lafayette and his secretary played (and did not play) in the process.
The novelist evidently did not know all Lafayette’s comings and goings in the later part of 1824 and the beginning of 1825, when the Frenchman at last departed from the Northeast and began his long tour through the South, eventually to pass up the Mississippi and head back east in order to keep his prior engagement for Boston’s fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17 (after which he returned to New York City). That is not surprising, for the Frenchman and his entourage shuttled back and forth in at times dizzying sallies. They were in New York City from August 14 to 20, 1824; toured New England from the latter date until September 5; stayed in New York City again until early on the morning of September 14; went up the Hudson to Albany and Troy and then returned to the City for a third visit from September 20 to 23; crossed New Jersey and tarried in Philadelphia until October 5; and then passed through Delaware and Maryland, arriving in Washington on October 12 for the first of six visits (interspersed with various tours from there) before at last departing on the southern and western tour on February 23, 1825. Lafayette also visited Washington again in the summer of the latter year, arriving on August 2 and leaving from there for the return to France on September 7. While in the District of Columbia at this later point, he again made two short tours from there, going (with President John Quincy Adams) to see former President Monroe (August 6 to 10), and then with his own entourage to call for a second time on former Presidents Jefferson and Madison (and Monroe one last time) at their homes (August 13 to 25; he had first visited Monticello and then Montpelier from November 4 to 19, 1824). All told, he was in Washington, D.C., nine separate times during his American visit. Cooper hardly could have kept track of all these comings and goings. He probably knew firsthand that Lafayette had left New York waters with his entourage for the passage across New Jersey to Philadelphia on September 23, 1824, but after that his grasp of the precise itinerary must have become vague.
The vagueness shows in his mapping of the tour in Notions of the Americans. When Lafayette first arrived in Washington on October 12, 1824, Congress had not yet convened for its winter session, which would begin on December 6. He therefore visited with President Monroe and with Treasury Secretary William H. Crawford, toured the Navy Yard, and so forth, before leaving on October 18 on a visit to Yorktown for what would be (on the following day), the forty-fourth anniversary of the British surrender there. Following that, he toured through Virginia, going to Williamsburg, Norfolk, Richmond (where Fanny and Camilla Wright rejoined him), and, briefly, Petersburg, before (from November 4 to 15) visiting Monticello with the Wrights, who stayed on after he left for Montpelier (November 15 to 19). From there he went to Fredericksburg before stopping again in Washington on his way to Baltimore. By the end of November he was again back in the capital. Once Congress resumed, he was received at the Senate on the afternoon of December 9 in a relatively simple manner: after being introduced, he was seated without speaking, after which the Senate adjourned “in order that the members may present their respects to General Lafayette, individually.” On the following day, in a much more elaborate affair, he and his party (including his son and Levasseur but apparently not the Wrights) entered the lower chamber and, after an official speech by the House Speaker, Henry Clay, before the representatives (and a large number of Senators who had been invited for the occasion), the General arose and replied in English.43
In Notions of the Americans, Cooper foreshortened and remixed these various events. Arriving in Washington “some time before” the opening of the second session of Congress on December 6, Cooper’s Lafayette spends a few days with President Monroe and other residents of the District of Columbia, then after this “short residence” departs on a “visit to Virginia” during which he “found Jefferson and Madison...living in retirement.” All this, while generally true, is quite vaguely stated: one notes, for instance, that Cooper does not actually assert that Lafayette visited Monticello and Montpelier, merely that he crossed paths with Jefferson and Madison someplace. Moreover, although Cooper knew that Lafayette had visited Yorktown sometime in the later part of 1824, he was unclear about exactly when: Notions therefore adds even more vaguely at this point that Lafayette “must also have spent several delightful days [touring] the theatre of that brilliant campaign” while traveling in Virginia at this time. This is the first indication that Cooper’s narrative of the Washington part of the tour will not follow the exact timeline of Lafayette’s itinerary. There are others that soon follow. Cooper’s text properly separates the December receptions in the Senate and the House. It also correctly notes that the former was “a simple, and more private” affair than the latter. However, when the Count asserts that he had been in the former chamber at the time and adds that “there was a short address, and a simple reply, after which La Fayette was invited to take his seat on the sofa, by the side of the President [pro-tem] of the Senate,” we may rightly suspect that Cooper was relying on a confused recollection of press reports about an event that he himself did not see. Had he consulted with Levasseur or the Senate Journal, surely available at the U.S. Minister’s in Paris, he would have found that neither of those sources indicated that Lafayette spoke in the Senate.
But Cooper was not entirely fabricating details here, either. Indeed, in his treatment of the reception accorded Lafayette by the House on the following day, he seems to have followed both the House Journal and Levasseur’s text in writing his own. While the speeches of Clay and Lafayette are taken word-for-word from the official record (with only a few accidentals changed), Cooper’s bridge paragraph between the two, indicating that Lafayette had been “visibly affected” by Clay’s address, may indicate that he had been influenced by Levasseur’s focus on the spread of Clay’s own feelings through the assembly: “The deep emotion that seized the speaker, and that visibly agitated him during his speech, passed rapidly through the hearts of all the listeners, and each of them looked forward with a pleasant anxiety to the response that he presumed had been written by the general for so solemn an occasion” (Lafayette en Amérique, 2:21; my translation and italics). Cooper had not been in the House on this occasion any more than he had been in the Senate the day before; and the particular formulation of his treatment of the former betrays his debt to two men who were—Lafayette and his secretary.
A conflating of discrete elements of Lafayette’s Washington visits takes place at other junctures. In the case of the run-off of the 1824 presidential election in the House of Representatives on February 9, 1825, both Cooper and Lafayette were present in the House chamber—but, as I noted earlier, Cooper seems not to have known that the Frenchman was among the observers. Even so, he rightly placed Lafayette at the White House for the regular reception held there that same evening by President and Mrs. Monroe (Notions, 2:176-78; 183), which Cooper himself attended. On the other hand, Cooper had Lafayette leave the city at the start of the book’s very next letter for his pious visit to Mount Vernon and the tomb of Washington, on which Notions has the Count and Cadwallader accompany him. This visit, in point of fact, had taken place during the Yorktown side trip the previous October; Lafayette would return to Mount Vernon in August 1825, but the iconic moment when he bumped his head while endeavoring to kiss Washington’s lead coffin took place during his first visit. It is not that Cooper chose the wrong visit as the important one; it is that he was so uninformed about the actual itinerary even as he grasped the significance of the visit that he placed it where it fit the altered, syncopated chronology of his own not-quite-Lafayette-dominated book. In point of fact, Lafayette left Washington on February 23 to begin his Southern tour and, as the steamship Potomac passed Mount Vernon on its way to Norfolk, did not stop there again.44
This disjunction is accompanied by others. In telling of Lafayette’s visit to the Tomb of Washington, Cooper’s narrator sidesteps the details. In having Lafayette visit the tomb of Washington without the Count or Cadwallader, Cooper was following facts, since indeed “La Fayette had been permitted to go to this sacred spot, unattended by any except the immediate members of the two families,” a point validated by Levasseur, with the slight difference that he himself went there as well (Notions, 2:186). But when the Frenchman has rejoined Cooper’s imaginary travelers at the mansion, the Count proclaims, “I shall not attempt to describe what passed at the vault during the visit of La Fayette” (Notions, 2:189)—seemingly out of deference to the powerful feelings Lafayette is said to have exhibited on returning to the mansion, but clearly because, like Rosencrantz or Guildenstern, neither of Cooper’s two sidekicks (nor Cooper himself) had been at the mansion, let alone near the tomb.
Yet the story is twisty. The Count and Cadwallader proceed to the tomb themselves after Lafayette’s party has come back from it, and Cooper is able to render the place with much concrete detail (see Notions, 2:189-90) because, while he was definitely not there at the time of Lafayette’s visit, he had either gone to Mount Vernon himself at some point—or at least had had close dealings with someone who could and did give him a circumstantial description of the place. A bit of detail in the fictional travelogue supports the latter interpretation. While awaiting Lafayette’s return a couple of pages earlier, the two travelers pay a visit to Washington’s gardens and greenhouses, during which a “domestic” picks a bouquet of hot-house flowers and, wrapping their stems in a bit of waste paper, hands the present to Cadwallader. Not until later that day, after they arrive back at their lodgings in the city, does the Count’s guide begin to examine the wrapper—which turns out to be a leaf from Washington’s garden journal, written in his own hand. “This precious morsel was divided,” the Count writes, “and each of us took his portion, like men that were well content with the possession of some sacred relic” (Notions, 2:188-89).
This domestic anecdote in fact was based on an actual experience about which Cooper learned during his final visit to Washington just before he left for France. That hasty trip, intended largely to finalize details for his consular appointment, had introduced him to a new friend—Napoleon’s nephew, the ornithologist Charles-Lucien Bonaparte, Prince of Canino and Musignano (1803-1857), who had been a resident of the United States since 1823. The two men, staying briefly at the same Washington hotel, hit it off very well. They might have occupied their time talking about ornithology or natural history in general, since Bonaparte, a serious scientist, was at present engaged in extending poet-naturalist Alexander Wilson’s American Ornithology, the first of his own volumes having appeared from Carey and Lea in 1825. In fact, however, as Bonaparte reported to another Cooper, New York conchologist William Cooper, whom the novelist also knew, he and the writer were “all the time deeply and boldly engaged in the greatest political questions.” A noted liberal, Bonaparte would play a key role on the republican side in the 1848 revolution in Italy. No doubt the sense of shared political values emerged during the conversations with Cooper in 1826, helping cement the ties between the new friends. After Bonaparte’s return to Italy in 1828, the two families socialized during the winter of 1829-30 in Rome. Their sons, Paul Fenimore Cooper and Joseph-Lucien Bonaparte, being exact contemporaries and fellow citizens of the American republic, became playmates there.45
That Charles-Lucien Bonaparte had met Lafayette personally during the General’s tour made him part of the general background of Notions of the Americans—Lafayette may even have formed one subject the novelist and ornithologist discussed in 1826 (and vice versa between the American novelist and the French statesman in France thereafter). Cooper went so far as to place a strategic reference to the “American” Bonapartes in Letter 17 of Notions of the Americans, commenting on the peaceful retreat that the ex-king of Naples and Spain, Napoleon’s brother Joseph, had made for his extended family in Bordentown. The same passage mentions Charles-Lucien, Joseph’s nephew and son-in-law: “This young man is already favorably known for his devotion to and for his attainments in science. He is said to be simple in his habits, and to have found favour among the republicans of these regions”—including, one assumes, Fenimore Cooper, the sometime secretary of the Westchester County Clintonian Republicans (Notions, 1:299).46
But this was only a minor reflection of Charles-Lucien Bonaparte’s influence over Cooper’s fictional travelogue. That Bonaparte had visited Mount Vernon and Washington’s tomb (though in the spring of 1826, not with Lafayette in 1824) made him, for instance, especially suggestive as a source for the book: it was Bonaparte’s experience at Mount Vernon that formed the basis for the Count’s fictionalized visit there in Cooper’s book. We know that because, once Cooper was settled in Paris, one of his new acquaintances, the younger Princess Gallitzin, proved to be an autograph collector. Wishing to provide her with some suitable American document, Cooper suddenly recalled that he had a snatch of Washington’s penmanship somewhere—the counterpart of that picked up by his fictional travelers in the American statesman’s greenhouse. Cooper explained to Gallitzin in October 1826: “I was at the Capital of the United States, a few months ago, in company with the Prince of Musigniano [sic] (Charles Bonaparte), who visited, as a matter of course, the tomb of Washington. Our beloved chief was interred on his own estate, which still continues in his family. The prince was given a bouquet, that was wrapt in some paper that the gardner [sic] pick’d up in the Green-House. This paper I found, on examination, to be a page from the Farming Journal of the Hero himself, in his own handwriting. I made a prize of it, for it is not only a specimen of his hand; but it furnishes a fine evidence of his method, even, in the most trifling things.” Cooper had to admit to Gallitzin that in what he called “the confusion of my papers” he did not know where the fragment was; but three days later he put a note on a letter from his wife Susan to her sister Caroline asking her to look for the “half-sheet of [Washington’s] farm-journal among the papers which Mrs. Cooper left at Mamaroneck.”47
This association between the hypothetical “prince” of the house of Bonaparte—the title had been given Charles-Lucien by the pope in 1814, after Napoleon’s first exile, as a kind of consolation prize—and Cooper’s similarly hypothetical “count” points to an even deeper linkage. One senses that Cooper’s experience in Washington, brief as it must have been, recurred to him as he began to think about how to convert Lafayette’s wishes for his book into a project that met the novelist’s own purposes. Charles-Lucien Bonaparte provided in some sense the model of the “Count”—the open-minded European whose interest in things American might form the basis for a broader propaganda campaign. That the conversations between the two in Washington had focused so intensely on “the greatest political questions” made Bonaparte an even more fitting model. In the long section of Notions of the Americans set in the “Capital of the United States,” it is precisely such questions that occupy the Count—and Cooper—questions concerned with the American experiment in republican self-government and its applicability for European, in particular French, adoption. Bonaparte’s experience in America provided a fitting analogue for the political romance that Cooper produced in Notions of the Americans. But one may also conclude that in this case the nephew of Lafayette’s old nemesis provided Cooper with a convenient means of working himself away from Lafayette even as he seemingly satisfied that man’s insistent request for some prominent treatment of his own most recent American adventure.
1. On Lafayette, Napoleon, and Louis XVIII, see Maurice de la Fuye and Emile Barbeau, The Apostle of Liberty: A Life of Lafayette, trans. Edward Hyams (London: Thames & Hudson, 1956), 226-240, and Sylvia Neely, Lafayette and the Liberal Ideal, 1814-1824: Politics and Conspiracy in an Age of Reaction (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991), 9-12.
2. Quoted in Neely, Lafayette and the Liberal Ideal, 21.
3. Ibid., 19-40.
4. Lafayette’s attempts to thwart the French government’s actions against the Spanish revolutionaries were bold enough in 1823 (as with his daring support of Jacques-Antoine Manuel when that deputy was expelled from the Chamber for remarks taken to be traitorous in character) that any American support for him in the immediate future might well seem to be tantamount to meddling in French affairs (see Neely, Lafayette and the Liberal Ideal, 237-238). Since the U.S. had as a key goal at this time securing payment from France for the claims of its citizens stemming from injuries suffered to American shipping at the hands of the French during the Napoleonic era, any apparent American involvement on the side of the opposition in current French affairs was thought to be deleterious to the country’s diplomatic agenda. Lafayette was on this ground a very tricky ally.
5. Ibid., 251-255; Sylvia Neely, “The Politics of Liberty in the Old World and the New: Lafayette’s Return to America in 1824,” Journal of the Early Republic 6(1986): 151-171.
6. The Papers of Henry Clay, vol. 4, ed. James F. Hopkins and Mary W. M. Hargreaves (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1972), 619; vol. 7, ed. Robert Seager II (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1982), 3.
7. Albert Gallatin to J. Q. Adams, 10/18/1826, in A Great Peace Maker: The Diary of James Gallatin (New York: Scribner’s, 1914), 259. Gallatin happily reported to Adams that, while on the Paris visit during which he met Cooper, Lafayette seemed to have taken the advice to heart. Gallatin’s son James, who served as his official secretary at the time, added that his father “found Lafayette in a far more peaceful frame of mind than when he paid his visit to America” (ibid., 257).
8. 8. Neely, Lafayette and the Liberal Ideal, 254.
9. Papers of Henry Clay, 4:694, 898; vol. 5, ed. James F. Hopkins and Mary W. M. Hargreaves (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1973), 429, 1049. The Bourbon regime was indeed concerned about Lafayette’s movements and motives; on the day he left France in 1824 and the day he returned in 1825, as Russell M. Jones pointed out, police agents lingered in the large crowds gathered to see him off and greet him, and surveyed the preparations for his welcome back at La Grange as well as his arrival there; “The Flowering of an American Legend: Lafayette and the Americans, 1825-1834,” French Historical Studies 4(1966): 384, 387.
10. Papers of Henry Clay, vol. 6, ed. Mary W. M. Hargreaves and James F. Hopkins (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1981), 438, 725.
11. Apostle of Liberty, 243.
12. Jones, “Flowering of a Legend,” 393, quoting Rémusat, Mémoires de ma vie.
13. See James Fenimore Cooper (1858-1938), ed., Correspondence of James Fenimore Cooper, 2 vols. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1922), 1:100.
14. The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper, ed. James F. Beard, 6 vols. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960-1968), 1:153.
15. Gleanings in Europe: France [published as Gleanings in Europe, 1837], ed. Thomas Philbrick and Constance Ayers Denne (Albany: SUNY Press, 1983), 238.
16. Susan DeLancey Cooper to Caroline DeLancey, 3/4/1827, Cooper papers, box 2, American Antiquarian Society.
17. Correspondence, 1:125-26. “Bigotinni” is the spelling in the original; see Lafayette to Cooper 3/23/1827, Cooper papers, box 2, American Antiquarian Society. In a note written on another of Lafayette’s letters to her father, Cooper’s daughter confirmed the name and proper spelling; see Yale University Library Gazette 8(1934): 118.
18. Harvey Levenstein, Seductive Journey: American Tourists in France from Jefferson to the Jazz Age (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 9-10.
19. Gleanings in Europe: France, 217-218.
20. Letters and Journals, 1:242.
21. Correspondence, 1:119. It is not possible to date the letter precisely. It was written on a “Tuesday” during “the continuation of this cold weather”—a subject also mentioned in what I regard as the second of the three letters. Cooper’s ill health since the New Year’s celebration at the palace no doubt was the cause of Lafayette’s comments on the weather. Lending a bit more credence to my dating is the fact that the first of Lafayette’s letters speaks of the usefulness of the planned book precisely for such public debates as the one even then raging about the proposed restriction of the press in France; Minister James Brown brought up this issue, pending since December, in letters he sent to Henry Clay on January 13 and February 13—the latter being the date on which I believe Lafayette wrote to Cooper. See Papers of Henry Clay, 6:59, 193.
22. Yale University Library Gazette 8(1934): 116-17. The first of the two letters, the one in which Lafayette discussed plans for the visit to La Grange with Cooper, is dated “” in this source; however, the postscript mentions the just-received news that Scott “at a public dinner has declared himself the sole author” of the Waverley novels, as he had on 2/24/1827 in London; also, it refers to the “rout” at the home of Minister James Brown (on March 1) as about to take place; I therefore date it 2/26-2/27/1827. Cooper and Lafayette met at the latter event (see Susan DeLancey Cooper to Caroline DeLancey 3/4/1827) and apparently took time to discuss the question, soon after which Lafayette wrote the final letter in this group, concerning the “book” on American topics that Cooper wished to see. For the suggestion that Lafayette’s “book” may have been a scrapbook of sorts, perhaps one detailing his triumphal tour of the United States, see the editor’s note in Notions of the Americans , ed. Gary Williams (Albany: SUNY Press, 1991), xli; careful searching through English and French publications on America dating from this period has not turned up a likely published candidate. It would appear that Auguste Levasseur’s letter of 3/3/1828 to Cooper refers to this book, whatever its form or format, when it indicates that Cooper can find Lafayette’s address to the crowds at Bunker Hill on 6/17/1825 “in the book which Mr. Cooper now has” (Correspondence, 1:140). Lafayette’s interest in Cooper’s project kept on, although by the end of the summer he had pretty much resigned himself to letting Cooper control its content and scope. When he wrote Cooper (at St. Ouen) about a variety of issues in the middle of August 1827, he added this postscript: “Another inquiry about the Book, I would like to make; but I am sure you kindly think of it”; Lafayette to Cooper, 8/14/1827, Cooper papers, box 2, American Antiquarian Society.
23. Neely, “The Politics of Liberty,” 156; Lafayette and the Liberal Ideal, 257. Levasseur would take part in the uprising of 1830, during which he would be wounded. Recovering, he eventually served as French consul at Trieste. Papers of Henry Clay, 4:772.
24. My translation from Lafayette en Amérique, en 1824 et 1825 (Paris: Baudouin, 1828), 1:i-ii.
25. Neely, “The Politics of Liberty,” 159; Aurelian Craiutu and Jeremy Jennings, “The Third Democracy: Tocqueville’s Views of America after 1840,” American Political Science Review 93(2004): 393. Levasseur’s letters: Salem Gazette, 12/5/1826; Baltimore Patriot, 8/25/1826. It is just possible that the “book” Lafayette gave Cooper was one of the volumes of the Revue, which published American documents of the sort to which Lafayette referred. In any event, one might easily believe that the “two young men” who had compiled the volume were Levasseur and Carrel.
26. Letters and Journals, 1:258.
27. Correspondence, 1:139-140.
28. Notions of the Americans, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Carey and Lea, 1828): 2:312.
29. Levasseur wrote “No. I—” at the head of the March letter, and wrote at the end, “I have numbered this letter No. I, and I will number those that follow, that you may be sure that all reach you,” but no others survive. He also signed himself, suggestively, “Your devoted and affectionate Levasseur” (Correspondence, 1:139, 141-142).
30. Correspondence, 1:151.
31. Letters and Journals, 1:243.
32. C. J. Jeronimus, ed., Travels by His Highness Duke Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach through North America in the Years 1825 and 1826, trans. by William Jeronimus (Lanham, MD: University Press of America), 73; Frances Wright, Views of Society and Manners in America, ed. Paul R. Baker (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1963), xv; Neely, Lafayette and the Liberal Ideal, 186-191.
33. Lafayette to Cooper, 8/14/1827, Cooper papers, box 2, American Antiquarian Society.
34. Letters and Journals, 1:72.
35. Notions of the Americans, 1:iii.
36. Levasseur indicates that he and Lafayette went to the House in the afternoon and then to the soirée on the evening after the vote (Lafayette en Amérique 2:47-49, 53-54), but J. Bennett Nolan, Lafayette in America, Day by Day (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1934), 273, does not include mention of the evening reception. It will be recalled that Cooper was in Washington at this time; see Wayne Franklin, James Fenimore Cooper: The Early Years (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), 454-455. For Wright, see Celia Morris Eckhardt, Fanny Wright: Rebel in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984), 86.
37. James Fenimore Cooper: The Early Years, 377-378.
38. Levasseur has this to say about recollections of the Revolutionary War during the upriver trip. First, a group of veterans of the war, joining Lafayette’s party on deck right after the James Kent passed Tarrytown, began to speak “with respect the names of the three militiamen, John Paulding, David Williams, and Isaac Van Wart” (1:210-211; my translation). As the boat at last drew near West Point, he reported noticing that “suddenly the eyes of our companions on the voyage turned themselves with sadness toward an isolated house that had come into view not far from the river”—the house of Joshua Hett Smith, where Arnold held his conference with André in September 1780 (1:211; my translation). Suspending the narrative of the river passage, he summarizes the details of the treason over seven pages, without in the least indicating that he is rendering the talk on deck at this point in the trip—indeed, he obviously is not. Next, and similarly on his own authority, he translates Thacher’s eyewitness account of the execution directly from the Military Journal (1:211-222), adding a small, relatively well-known anecdote at the end (also derived from Thacher) about the American officer taken prisoner by the British in Virginia in 1781 who, when asked by Arnold what would be his own fate if he were retaken by the Americans, replied that they would bury his leg (which had been wounded at Saratoga) with all due respect, then hang the rest of him from the gallows. Finally re-starting the clock of his narrative, Levasseur has the firing of cannon from West Point forestall the passengers as, having just seen Smith’s house, they are about to enter into a discussion of Arnold. Thereafter the subject is dropped (1:222). For Thacher, see A Military Journal during the American Revolutionary War, from 1775 to 1783, 2nd ed. (Boston: Cottons and Barnard, 1827), 222-223; 477.
39. See Letters and Journals, 1:222.
40. It is of some interest that Cooper nevertheless failed to mention Lafayette in the novel, even in the revised version he prepared while in Paris in 1831.
41. So concluded Winthrop Sargent, The Life and Career of Major John André (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1860), 334; he was, however wrong, in assuming that Cooper actually had the details from Lafayette while the two traveled upriver together. The third of these anecdotes is repeated in Memoirs, Correspondence, and Manuscripts of General Lafayette, Published by His Family (New York: Saunders and Otley, 1837), 1:255-256, in the text of what is said to be Lafayette’s own manuscript memoir of the period, with wording close to Cooper’s. Sargent (291) also credits Cooper with asserting (“by what authority unless Lafayette’s I know not”) that André thought himself doomed as soon as he and Arnold were challenged by American sentries, perhaps placed there on purpose by Arnold as insurance should something go wrong. That way, he could arrest André and claim that he had caught him within American lines (see Notions, 2:220)
42. And, apparently, some relative of his wife, “a British officer, who was present when [Arnold] related his escape at a dinner given in New-York, with an impudence that was scarcely less remarkable than his surprising self-possession” (Notions, 1:212n).
43. Nolan, Lafayette in America, 250-63; Senate Journal, 18th Congress, 2nd Session, 12/9/1824, 39; 1 Cong. Deb. 3-5 (1824); Eckhardt, Fanny Wright, 83-85.
44. It is true that Letter 28, in which the Mount Vernon visit is narrated, is undated; however, it comes right on the heels of the account of the February 1824 run-off election and Letter 29 clearly is situated in early March 1825, just as the second session of the 18th Congress had to end and the first session of the 19th would convene, and Letter 30 narrates the “just witnessed” inauguration of President John Quincy Adams on March 4, 1825 (2:216). On the Lafayette chronology, I follow Nolan; on the Mount Vernon visit in October 1824, see Fred Somkin, Unquiet Eagle: Memory and Desire in the Idea of American Freedom, 1815-1860 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1967), 152-153. Cooper’s inventions were not confined to his treatment of parts of Lafayette’s itinerary. His treatment of the inauguration of President Adams in Letter 30 cannot have been based on personal observation, although he has the Count claim that he witnessed the event: that the narrative reverses the order of the swearing in and the inaugural address—Adams spoke before he took the oath—surely reflects Cooper’s lack of direct knowledge. So does the vague statement about the address itself: “It was long, and it was delivered with earnestness and apparent [i.e., evident] sincerity” (2:217); see Niles’ Weekly Register, 3/5/1825, p. 8, and 3/12/1825, p. 19.
45. See Letters and Journals, 3:371). Patricia Tyson Stroud, The Emperor of Nature: Charles-Lucien Bonaparte and His World (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000), 78. See also James Fenimore Cooper: The Early Years, 517. Both Cooper and Bonaparte had been elected to membership in the American Philosophical Society in April 1823; see Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 19(1881): 28.
46. On Cooper’s political campaigning for DeWitt Clinton in 1820, see James Fenimore Cooper: The Early Years, 242-247. Charles-Lucien Bonaparte, living with his father-in-law (and uncle) Joseph Bonaparte, Count de Survilliers and former king of Spain, in Bordentown, N.J., at the time of Lafayette’s tour in America, had met the Marquis during the brief visits the latter’s entourage made there in September 1824 and July 1825; Nolan, Lafayette in America, 251, 297; Levasseur, Lafayette en Amérique, 1:278-281; 2:551.
47. Letters and Journals, 6:292-293.