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Originally published in James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art, Papers from the 2009 Cooper Seminar (No. 17), The State University of New York College at Oneonta. Oneonta, New York. Hugh C. MacDougall, editor. (pp. 29-36)
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James Fenimore Cooper’s 1831 novel, The Bravo, is one of his darkest—and it was intended that way. He wrote it for an American public, and his clear intention was to send America a message about itself, candy-coated in, as he later put it, “one of those popular pictures which find their way into every library; and which, whilst they have attractions for the feeblest intellects, are not often rejected by the strongest.”1
The Bravo,2 like almost all of Cooper’s novels, takes the form sometimes called the Romance. Its formal hero and heroine are a young couple who, after adventures in a setting exotic to Cooper’s readers, eventually marry and live happily ever after. Like many of those novels, it also features a mysterious outsider who, like the Natty Bumppo of the Leatherstocking Tales, both enables the ultimate happy ending and provides a focus for Cooper’s social and moral commentary. But for the first time, Cooper has chosen an historical European setting—the city-state of Venice during the 1720s,3 a time and place about which few of his American readers would have much knowledge or interest.
But Cooper’s real subject was not Venice as such. As he later wrote: “the object was to lay bare the wrongs that are endured by the weak, when power is the exclusive property of the strong...; the irresponsible and ruthless movement of an aristocracy; the manner in which the selfish and wicked profit by its facilities, and in which even the good become the passive instruments of its soulless power....”4 His real target, I believe, was not the political aristocracy of a vanished Venetian Republic, but an economic aristocracy that might increasingly be found in the America of the 1830s.
My purpose in this paper is thus not primarily to explore the plot or characters of The Bravo, its reception in America and the world, nor the controversies about it in which Cooper quickly became involved. Rather, I want to take Cooper at his word, and examine the social and moral messages which the entertainment of the novel might seduce his American readers into considering.
In 1830 the Cooper family briefly visited Venice, before leaving Italy for a winter in Dresden and a return to Paris, where The Bravo was written. They arrived in Venice by boat on April 28, and were met by Cooper’s friend Henry Cruger,5 who took them to temporary lodgings in the then fashionable Leon Bianco hotel on the Grand Canal.6 That evening Cruger led Cooper on a moonlight tour of Venice’s famed central squares next to St. Mark’s Basilica and the former Doge’s Palace.7
“Certainly,” Cooper later wrote, “no other place ever struck my imagination so forcibly; and never before did I experience so much pleasure, from novel objects, in so short a time....”8 The family began a vigorous program of sightseeing, concentrating on Venice’s fabled buildings, churches, and art, and, of course, its canals and gondolas. Other than Henry Cruger, they met nobody they knew. But Cooper soon found the absence of street noises “monotonous and wearying,”9 and on May 6, after only nine days, the family continued its travel back to Paris. There, Cooper would begin writing The Bravo, rapidly followed by two other novels, The Heidenmauer and The Headsman, designed, as Cooper later stated “as a series of tales, in which American opinion should be brought to bear on European facts.”10
But the Venice of Cooper’s novel is not the Venice of his brief sightseeing visit in 1830, when the city was reduced to a colony of the Austrian Empire, and brass bands played German marches in front of St. Mark’s Basilica. By 1830, the palaces along the Grand Canal were beginning to crumble, Venetian political institutions were dead, and its traditions were rapidly fading. Where, then, did Cooper find the dark city of his novel? If a beloved Italy was to “haunt his dreams,”11 as he told his friend Horatio Greenough, where did he find this nightmare? Cooper himself cites only one source, the multi-volume History of the Republic of Venice, first published in French in 1819 by Count Daru,12 a French soldier, statesman, and historian, who had served under Napoleon Bonaparte during his conquest of Venice in 1797.13 Specifically, Cooper attributed the “leading idea of the minor plot,” about Jacopo Frontoni, the titular Bravo of the tale, to “one of those ruthless state maxims” of which Count Daru had written.14 Cooper’s daughter, Susan Fenimore Cooper, wrote in 1861 that after visiting Venice her father had become interested in its history, and, had “procured several of the principal works on this subject, and read them with lively interest.”15
But Cooper’s non-scholarly sources for his understanding of Republican Venice were just as important, and as dark. He was familiar with Othello and The Merchant of Venice, and throughout his adult life carried with him a compact set of Shakespeare’s works. He knew the poems and plays of Lord Byron, including those set in Venice such as Marino Faliero, The Two Foscari, and the Fourth Canto of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.16 He may well have read Thomas Otway’s 1682 play, Venice Preserved.17 But he had not seen, Cooper’s daughter later insisted, Heinrich Zschokke’s popular Gothic tale called The Bravo of Venice.18
Perhaps equally important was a book of poems entitled Italy, by Samuel Rogers, a wealthy London poet, collector, and literary dilettante, with whom Cooper had developed a close relationship during his visits to England. Rogers had presented him with a copy of Italy, and Cooper probably carried it with him during his Italian travels. All three of his so-called European novels use lines from it as chapter epigraphs.19 Of the six poems in Italy relating to Venice,20 the most important for our purposes is “St. Mark’s Place,” and in particular its final stanza, which describes a society ruled by—and I condense the original here—“a strange mysterious power...subtle, invisible, and universal…which never slumbered, nor forgave.... No where and every where…most present when least thought of...a Power, that if but named in casual converse...the speaker lowered at once his eyes, his voice, and pointed upward as to God in heaven.... Let him in the midnight air indulge a word, a thought against the laws of Venice, and in that hour he vanished from the earth.”21
This nightmare is the Venice evoked by Rogers, and the Venice that Cooper would find in Count Daru’s History. This is the Venice Cooper presents in The Bravo, with an evil bureaucratic regime of terror that seems to forecast the totalitarianism of later times. The old Italian proverb, used as an epigraph on the novel’s title-page, seems chosen with deliberate irony: “Giustizia in palazzo, e pane in piazza” (loosely translated, “A just Government and a Prosperous People”).22
At the center of Cooper’s Venice is the State Inquisition, called by Cooper and others the “Council of Three.” It is the feared and secretive body implied by Rogers and spelled out in enormous detail by Count Daru, of which the titular “Bravo”23 of the novel is believed to be the agent. Whether the Council of Three was, in fact, as powerful or as malevolent as Daru and others claimed, remains controversial to this day.24 What is important for our purposes is that Cooper accepted it as factually descriptive of eighteenth-century Venice.25 It was, he told his American readers:
[O]ne of the most fearful engines of police ever known,...an authority, as irresponsible as it was absolute…which met and exercised its despotic and secret functions, under the name of the Council of Three. The choice of these temporary rulers was decided by lot, and in a manner that prevented the result from being known to any but to their own number, and to a few of the most confidential of the more permanent officers of the government.
Thus there existed, at all times, in the heart of Venice, a mysterious and despotic power, that was wielded by men who moved in society unknown, and apparently surrounded by all the ordinary charities of life but which, in truth was influenced by a set of political maxims, that were perhaps as ruthless, as tyrannic, and as selfish as ever were invented by the evil ingenuity of man....26
The fictional Venice of Cooper’s Bravo has the real city’s gondola-filled canals and its great squares where masked crowds celebrate a six-month carnival and the Venetian State sponsors regattas and pomp-filled ceremonies. The novel visits the famed St. Mark’s Basilica, and the Doge’s Palace with its fearsome prison cells. It takes the reader inside gloomy canal-side palaces, and across the Lagoon to the then desolate Lido where Jews and Protestants were buried. But it ignores the churches and the art that Cooper had so assiduously visited in 1830. In Cooper’s fictional Venice, scheming and violence by night alternates with daytime licentiousness and public spectacle, in what Donald Ringe has aptly called a Gothic chiaroscuro.27
Cooper’s Venice calls itself a Republic, but, as Cooper reminds his American audience, European Republics have “frequently been prostituted to the protection and monopolies of privileged classes.” So with Venice, which “believed that a representation of the most prominent and brilliant interests in society was the paramount object of government…and…was, in truth, a narrow, a vulgar, and an exceedingly heartless oligarchy.”28 Venice is, in fact, ruled by an aristocracy.
What does Cooper mean by an aristocracy. In his later book The American Democrat, published in Cooperstown in 1838, Cooper discusses the term at some length:29
An aristocracy is a combination of many powerful men, for the purpose of maintaining and advancing their own particular interests....30 Being a government of the few, it is in the main...administered in the interests of the few....31
But, and I think this is vital to Cooper’s message, there are many forms of aristocracy, and one of them arguably already existed in America, in the form of the corporation. Thus, as he writes in The American Democrat:
Aristocracies partaking of the irresponsible nature of corporations, are soulless.... In modern aristocracies, the controlling principle is property, an influence the most corrupting to which men submit, and which, when its ordinary temptations are found united to those of political patronage and power, is much too strong for human virtue....32
In The Bravo he had said much the same thing: “[Aristocracy] partakes, and it always has partaken…of the selfishness of all corporations, in which the responsibility of the individual...is lost in the subdivision of numbers.”33 Moreover, he warned, “in no country has this substitution, of a soulless corporation for an elective representation, been made, in which a system of rule has not been established, that sets at naught the laws of natural justice and the rights of the citizen. Any pretension to the contrary…is only adding hypocrisy to usurpation.”34
But The Bravo is a novel, and intended to be read as such; although, “the Government of Venice, strictly speaking, became the hero of the tale....” it was, in a work of fiction, “…necessary to have human agents.”35 For that reason, we must briefly examine Cooper’s fictional story and some of the characters who people it.
The plot of The Bravo centers around a wealthy and able, but essentially selfish patrician, Senator Alessandro Gradenigo,36 who occupies one of the three places on the dreaded Council of Three. The lives of all the other characters are intertwined about him. In Chapters 5 and 6—in a long and rather strange sequence—most of the other major characters in the novel call on him, one after the other, in his gloomy canal-side palace.
We meet, separately, the Senator’s ward, the beautiful young heiress Violetta Tiepolo,37 and a handsome young nobleman from Naples, Don Camillo, who has saved her from drowning and, of course, fallen in love with her. Readers familiar with Cooper will realize at once that Violetta and Don Camillo are destined eventually to marry and live happily ever after. We also meet Giacomo, the Senator’s debt-ridden son, who would like to marry Violetta himself and has secretly sent false accusations against Don Camillo to the Council of Three. We get to know Antonio, the old fisherman who is Senator Gradenigo’s foster brother, and who hopes to save his thirteen-year old grandson from moral corruption by extricating him from the Navy into which he has been conscripted. We encounter Hosea, a Jewish moneylender. And, finally, we meet Jacopo Frontoni, the titular Bravo of the novel, who has been forced to do the government’s dirty work in hopes of rescuing his father, who is unjustly kept in prison.
From Senator Gradenigo’s reactions, we learn something about the Senator, and the aristocracy he represents. He is genuinely fond of his ward, but hopes to marry her off to his no-good son. Since that son is in debt, it is the Jew who lent him the money who must be punished for corrupting a future leader of Venice. Don Camillo and his claims are to be temporized with, because he has useful connections in Rome. Senator Gradenigo would be happy to give money to his foster-brother Antonio, but coldly refuses to intervene in official matters. As to the Bravo, he gets his instructions: warn Antonio to keep his mouth shut; stir up popular support on behalf of the Government.
The Signor Gradenigo, [writes Cooper], was born with all the sympathies and natural kindliness of other men, but...an education which had received a strong bias from the institutions of the self-styled republic, had made him the creature of a conventional policy. To him Venice seemed a free state, because he took so largely of the benefits of her social system; and, though shrewd and practised in most of the affairs of the world, his faculties, on the subject of the political ethics of his country, were possessed of a rare and accommodating dullness.
A senator [and here, perhaps Cooper gets to the real thrust of his argument], he stood in relation to the state as a director of a moneyed institution is proverbially placed in respect to his corporation, an agent of its collective measures, removed from the responsibilities of the man.
[Senator Gradenigo] could reason warmly, if not acutely, concerning the principles of government, and it would be difficult, even in this money-getting age, to find a more zealous convert to the opinion that property was not a subordinate, but the absorbing interest of civilized life.
He would talk ably of character, and honor, and virtue, and religion, and the rights of persons; but when called upon to act in their behalf, there was in his mind a tendency to blend them all with worldly policy, that proved as unerring as the gravitation of matter to the earth’s centre....
In short, he was an aristocrat; and no man had more industriously or more successfully persuaded himself into the belief of all the dogmas that were favorable to his caste. He was a powerful advocate of vested rights, for their possession was advantageous to himself...nor was he backward, on occasion, in defending his opinions by analogies drawn from the decrees of Providence....38
Cooper’s America is not threatened, in the 1830s, by a government of hereditary Senators. But it is increasingly subject, he believes, to the control of self-perpetuating “moneyed institutions.” Cooper is not warning of a long extinct Venetian aristocracy, but of what he sees as a growing economic one in America.
The directors of these institutions, like Senator Gradenigo, are not inherently evil, but like him have been insidiously led to equate the interests of their corporations, and their personal interests, with those of the nation and of morality. How this works is spelled out towards the end of the novel, when the heretofore kind and worthy Senator Soranzo is chosen by lot to replace Senator Gradenigo on the Council of Three, and then led by the two senior members to demand the public execution of the Bravo, not realizing that the charges against him have been deliberately concocted by the Council itself. But, as Cooper states, “he too, was merely the creature of a system.”39 Cooper uses an interesting analogy to show how good men are converted into evil ones by the system:
The companions of the Signor Soranzo...had a...more difficult task to prepare him for the duties...which were so very different from those he was accustomed to perform as a man, than they had anticipated. They were like two trained elephants of the east, possessing themselves of all the finer instincts and generous qualities of the noble animal, but disciplined by a force quite foreign to their natural condition into creatures of mere convention, placed one on each side of a younger brother, fresh from the plains, and whom it was their duty to teach new services....40
Their success, is, however, inevitable:
The Signor Sorranzo was a man of great natural excellence of character.... Like others of his rank and expectations…the power of collective interests and specious necessities had made him admit sundry theories, which, presented in another form, he would have repulsed with indignation…. The young Senator rather shut his eyes [to] poor, neglected, abstract virtue, whose rewards were so removed, [and instead] he was fain to seek out some palliative, or some specious and indirect good as the excuse for his acquiescence....
Often, in the day-dreams of his youth…a thousand pictures of the good he would perform, had crossed his brain, and it was only as he advanced in life...that he could bring himself to believe most of that which he meditated was impractical.… The fault, however, was not so much that of the patrician as that of circumstances, which, by placing interest in opposition to duty, lures many a benevolent mind into still greater weaknesses....41
But it is not just the Venetian aristocracy that has been corrupted. All of Venice acquiesces in, even as it fears, the very system under which it lives. Some of this, Cooper briefly suggests, may be economic. Venice still controls large areas on the mainland, and—he writes—“its prosperity was chiefly founded on the contribution and support of dependents.”42 Until the murder of Antonio the fisherman rouses the public, it accepts a regime that provides it with food, entertainment and spectacle. Even when aroused it is easily satisfied by the production of a scapegoat. Thus, when the executioner’s axe falls on the neck of the wrongfully condemned Bravo, in perhaps the most shocking conclusion of any Cooper novel, life in Venice immediately returns to normal.
Would an America, fallen under an economic aristocracy, fare any better? Cooper does not, probably could not, answer that question. But The Bravo seems at least to pose it.
1. James Fenimore Cooper, A Letter to His Countrymen (New York: John Wiley, 1834), p. 12. [Hereafter cited as Countryman.]
2. James Fenimore Cooper, The Bravo: A Tale  (New York: W.A. Townsend, 1860). [Hereafter cited as Bravo]. I have chosen this Townsend edition because it is available online, was printed from the same plates as the original 1831 edition, and is the first edition to appear in one, rather than two, volumes. I cite chapter numbers (one volume version) as well as page numbers, to facilitate finding citations in other editions.
3. The 13-year-old grandson of fisherman Antonio Vecchio has necessarily been sired prior to the death of his father, which appears to have occurred during the 1716 battle of Corfu, the last major naval action against the Turks in which the Republic of Venice participated.
4. Countrymen, p. 13. Whether, as I propose, and this quotation seems to indicate, The Bravo is primarily intended to provide a socio/political message to American readers can be contested. Many early reviews complacently suggested that the message of The Bravo was to show that the so-called “Republic” of Venice had nothing to do with the real Republic that was the United States of America. See, e.g., The American Monthly Review, Vol. I, January–June 1832 (Cambridge, MA: Hilliard and Brown, 1832), February 1832, pp. 147–153; The Ladies’ Magazine and Literary Gazette, Vol. V (Boston, 1832), January 1832, pp. 42–45; The New-England Magazine, Vol. II, January–June 1832 (Boston: J.T. and E. Buckingham), January 1832, pp. 83–85. For a survey of British reviews, see William B. Cairns, British Criticisms of American Writings, 1815–1833, University of Wisconsin Studies in Language and Literature, No. 14 (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin, 1922), pp. 135–139. For a survey of The Bravo’s reception in Italy, see Anna Scannavini, “Cooper and Italy: An Italian Perspective” (paper presented at the 2009 American Literature Association conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts), and available online.
Constance Ayers Denne, in “Cooper’s Use of Setting in the European Trilogy,” James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art (1980), and available online has suggested that it is primarily concerned with the contrast between appearance and reality. But perhaps there is a similar contrast in the America to which Cooper has addressed his tale.
See also Leonardo Buonomo, Backward Glances: Exploring Italy, Reinterpreting America (1831–1866) (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press 1996), especially Chapter 3, pp. 59–75: “Different Views of a City: James Fenimore Cooper’s The Bravo (1831) and William Dean Howell’s Venetian Life” (1866).
5. Henry Nicholas Cruger (1800–1867) was a young lawyer from Charleston, South Carolina, who spent much of his life in an unhappy pursuit of, and after 1833 marriage, with the self-willed, eccentric, and imperious heiress Harriet Douglas (1790–1872)—their saga is recounted in Angus Davidson, Miss Douglas of New York: A Biography (New York: Viking Press, 1953). Following their marriage (and the change of his name to Henry Douglas Cruger), she built the now-crumbling Gelston Castle in Herkimer County, New York, which was owned from 1979 to 2005 by the famed Russian cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich. At some point in his Italian sojourn, Cooper had met the as-yet-unmarried Henry Cruger, and they became life-long friends. See Cooper’s letter of July 15, 1830 to Peter Augustus Jay (James F. Beard, ed., Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper, Harvard University Press, 1960–68), Vol. I, p. 421.
Henry Cruger would write a long, unsigned, and favorable review of The Bravo which appeared in a Charleston literary magazine, The Southern Review, Vol. VIII, February 1832, pp. 382–399, and which suggests that Cruger was considerably more familiar with Venice than was Cooper at the time of his short stay there. That Cruger was its author is also implied by the statement (p. 397) that “It was our happy fortune to wander with the author through many of the favorite scenes of Italy, and hence we can both appreciate and vouch for his glowing descriptions.” In Cooper’s last novel, The Ways of the Hour (1850) it is often suggested that the character of Mary Manson was based on Henry Cruger’s wife Harriet.
6. Some modern Guidebooks to Venice misplace this Leon Bianco inn, which was in what was originally known as the Palazzo Corner-Martinengo. Today it is the Palazzo Cavalli, belonging to the City of Venice, and used as a site for fancy civil weddings. See Elena Pradella, Pianeta Venezia: Sette Secoli per 'Ospitalità (Venice: Associazione Veneziana Albergatori, 1992), p. 55 (with 19th century engraving on p. 56). In any case, after a few days, the Cooper family moved to a rented apartment closer to the Piazza.
7. James Fenimore Cooper, Gleanings in Europe: Italy  (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1981), Letter XXX, pp. 279–280. [Hereafter cited as: Cooper, Italy]
8. Cooper, Italy, Letter XXX, p. 281.
9. Cooper, Italy, Letter XXXII, p. 289
10. James Fenimore Cooper, A Letter to His Countrymen (New York: John Wiley, 1834), p. 12. [Hereafter: Cooper, Countrymen] For Cooper’s real Italian experience, in addition to his own Cooper, Italy, see, e.g., Constance Ayers Denne, “Cooper in Italy,” James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and his Art, 1980, available online; Emilio Goggio, “The Italy of James Fenimore Cooper,” The Modern Language Journal, Vol. 29, No. (January 1945), pp. 66–71; Leonardo Buonomo, “The Representation of Venice in James Fenimore Cooper’s Gleanings in Europe: Italy,” in Waldemar Zacharasiewicz, ed., Images of Central Europe in Travelogues and Fiction by North American Writers (Tubingen: Stauffenburg Verlag, 1995), pp. 128–138.
11. Letter of March 1, 1833 to Horatio Greenough, in James F. Beard, ed., Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper, (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 6 volumes, 1960–68), Vol. II, pp. 371–373. [Hereafter cited as: Letters and Journals]
12. At the time Cooper wrote, this book, first issued in 1819, had been revised twice, and I am presuming that he used the Third Edition of 1826: Pierre Antoine Noel Mattieu Bruno, Count Daru, (1787–1829), Histoire de la République de Venise (Paris: Chez Firman Didot, Père et Fils) 8 volumes, 1826) [Hereafter Daru]. Daru’s History, which remains controversial as to its sources and interpretation, has never been translated into English. Though Cooper could read French, he probably concentrated on Book XXXIX (in Volume VII, pp. 211–338, which can be found Online at Google books, which describes the Venetian Government, including the “Council of Three” or State Inquisition, and with the Appendix containing the secret Statutes of the State Inquisition which Count Daru claimed to have discovered in French archives (Volume VIII, pp. 1–103 see Online at Google books.
13. Bravo, Preface; Countrymen, p. 13, where Cooper specifically attributes to Daru the idea of Jacopo Frontoni, the “Bravo” of the novel, who takes the blame for the Venetian government’s evil deeds in hopes that his unjustly accused father will be released from indefinite imprisonment.
14. Countrymen, p. 13. Cooper continues that “According to this maxim, the state was directed to use any fit subject, by playing on his natural affections, and by causing him to act as a spy, assassin, or other desperate agent of the government, under the promise of extending divers favors to some near relative who might be within the grasp of the law.” Extensive search has not revealed any such specific “maxim.” In the Statutes of the Venetian inquisitors, as revealed by Daru in his History of Venice, No. 6 provides that (in Daru’s translation from the Italian): “Le tribunal aura le plus grand nombre possible d’observateurs choisis tant dans l’ordre de la noblesse, que parmi les citadins, les populaires et les religieux. On leur promettra pour recompense de leurs rapports, lorsqu’ils seront de quelque importance, le droit de désigner quelques exilés qu’on relevera de leur ban....” [emphasis added]. The original Italian (also in the 1821 edition of Daru, but not in that of 1826) reads “…con gratie de liberar bandidi....” and if “bandidi” is read as “bandit”, rather than “a banished person,” Cooper might have seen it as covering his case. In M.C. Gaillardin, Histoire du Moyen Age (Paris: Chamerot, 1843), Vol. III, p. 147, note 1, the relevant phrase from Daru’s statute is given in French as “la grace de quelques condamnés....”
The Statutes of the State Inquisition published by Count Daru mention the detention of family members in only two cases: According to Article 28, if a worker leaves the country with secret technical knowledge, he will be ordered to return; if he refuses, he is to be assassinated abroad. In either case, his relatives (“les personnes qui lui appartiennent de plus près” and “ses parents”) will then be released. Article 32 provides that if a Venetian noble while abroad enters into the service of a foreign prince, he also will be recalled; if he refuses, his closest relatives (“ses plus proches parents”) will be jailed, and the noble will either be assassinated or publicly degraded from noble status, after which the relatives will also be released.
15. Susan Fenimore Cooper, Pages and Pictures from the Writings of James Fenimore Cooper, (New York: W.A. Townsend, 1861), p. 249. [Hereafter cited as Pages and Pictures]. These books may have included Marc Antoine Laugier (1713–1769), Histoire de la République de Venise (Paris: N.B. Duchesne, 12 volumes 1758–1768), or Jean Charles Léonard Simonde de Sismondi (1773–1842), Histoire des Républiques Italiennes du Moyen Age, Paris: H. Nicolle, 16 volumes, 1807–1818). An English source might be John Moore (1729–1802), A View of Society and Manners in Italy , (Dublin: W. Wilson, 3 volumes, 1786), Vol. I, pp. 117–127, 161–165, which closely reflects Cooper’s thoughts. Also just possible is the well-known Vettor Sandi (1703–1784), Principi di Storia Civile della Republica di Venezia (Venice: 9 volumes, 1755), though I don’t know whether Cooper’s Italian would have been up to it.
I am personally inclined to think that Cooper may have read a lengthy 1825 review of Daru’s history by the English soldier and historian George Proctor (1795–1842), a career military officer in the British Army (The Quarterly Review (London: John Murray), Vol. XXXI, 1825, pp. 420–445). It succinctly covers most of the points raised in the Daru’s lengthy tomes itself, includes, inter alia, many of the names Cooper chose for his characters in The Bravo, such as Tiepolo, Gradenigo, and Soranzo. It also refers to the Statutes of the State Inquisition, as “Maxims.” It is possible that Cooper also saw Proctor’s earlier book, (“George Perceval,” The History of Italy. 2 volumes. London: G.B. Whittaker, 1825). As an active British Army officer, Proctor sometimes wrote anonymously or under a pseudonym.
16. Over his writing career Cooper used more lines from Byron as chapter epigraphs than from any other writer except Shakespeare. Indeed, The Bravo has Byron epigraphs for Chapters 1 (Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage), 16 (Marino Faliero), 17 (Cain), and 30 (Werner).
Notes in various editions of Byron would have led Cooper to Daru and other historians, as well as to Daru’s negative view of Venetian government. I shall assume, for want of anything better, that Cooper during his European stay may have used J.W. Lake, ed., The Complete Works of Lord Byron with a Biographical and Critical notice by J.W. Lake, Esq. (Paris: Baudry, 7 volumes, 1825). This edition refers to, and quotes extensively, from Daru, Sismondi, Sandi, and other historians.
See, e.g., for one aspect of Byron’s picture of Venice, The Two Foscari`, Act II, Scene 1: “Keep those maxims for your mass of scared mechanics, your merchants, your Dalmatian and Greek slaves, your tributaries, your dumb citizens, and mask’d nobility, your sbirri, and your spies, your galley and your other slaves, to whom your midnight carryings off and drownings, your dungeons next the palace roofs, or under the water’s level; your mysterious meetings, and unknown dooms, and sudden executions, your ‘Bridge of Sighs,’ your strangling chamber and your torturing instruments, have made ye seem the beings of another and worse world!” Complete Works, Vol. V, p. 43.
17. Thomas Otway (1652–1685) was a 17th century English dramatist; Cooper used lines from his play, The Orphan; or, The Unhappy Marriage, for three chapter epigraphs in his final novel, The Ways of the Hour (1850), and Susan Fenimore Cooper’s ironical story “The Lumley Autograph” (1851) is based on Otway’s short and tragic life.
18. Pages and Pictures, p. 250. Aballino, der Grosse Bandit, (1794) a Gothic tale by the Swiss writer Heinrich Zschokke (1771–1848), was translated into English (and claimed by) Matthew G. (“Monk”) Lewis (1775–1818) as Abællino, or The Bravo of Venice (1804) and Lewis later made it into a play (Rugantino, 1805). Title aside, it bears little or no relation to Cooper’s novel. Lewis’ translation was offered for sale in Cooperstown when James Fenimore Cooper was a child there.
19. Samuel Rogers (1763–1855) had visited Italy in 1814, but his collection of poems entitled Italy is based largely on literary and historical sources. For Cooper’s relations with him, see James Fenimore Cooper, Gleanings in Europe: England  (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1982), esp. pp. 27–30, 49, 52–53, and 60. The self-published first edition of Italy appeared in two volumes, in 1822 and 1828, and Cooper used lines from it as chapter epigraphs in all three of his “European novels.” including The Bravo. It seems certain that Cooper took it with him to Italy. The original editions of Italy were not a commercial success, at least compared with Roger’s earlier popular poem, The Pleasures of Memory (1810), and the author destroyed unsold copies. However, later illustrated editions proved very popular, and sold widely for many years.
The Italian Journal of Samuel Rogers, edited by J.R. Hale (London: Faber and Faber, 1956) includes Roger’s own short, touristy visit to Venice in October 1814; it is, however, chiefly valuable for its editor’s detailed discussion of the ways and means of foreign tourist travel in Italy in the period after the Napoleonic wars, which casts a great deal of light on Cooper’s experiences there in the 1820s.
20. “Venice”, “Luigi”, “St. Mark’s Place”, “The Gondola”, “The Brides of Venice”, “Foscari”, and “Marcolini” (this last being a very short prose story).
21. Samuel Rogers, Italy, A Poem [1822–28], London: Edward Moxon, 1848, pp. 74–75. The extensive footnotes in this edition make three references to Count Daru. The full stanza I have summarized reads:
...What tho’ a strange mysterious Power was there,
Moving throughout, subtle, invisible,
And universal as the air they breathed;
A Power that never slumbered, nor forgave.
All eye, all ear, no where and every where,
Entering the closet and the sanctuary,
No place of refuge for the Doge himself;
Most present when least thought of—nothing dropt
In secret, when the heart was on the lips,
Nothing in feverish sleep, but instantly
Observed and judged—a Power, that if but named
In casual converse, be it where it might,
The speaker lowered at once his eyes, his voice,
And pointed upward as to God in Heaven—
What tho’ that Power was there, he who lived thus,
Pursuing Pleasure, lived as if it were not.
But let him in the midnight-air indulge.
A word, a thought against the laws of VENICE,
And in that hour he vanished from the earth.
22. Though this “motto”, in various forms, can be found in many sources as an Italian saying, Cooper probably got it from Daru, Volume VII, Book XXXIX, p. 296 “Le maxime de ce gouvernement, relativement à la class populare, était pane in piazza, giustizia in palazzo, pain au marché, justice au palais.” My thanks go out to Anna Scannavini, in Rome, and her contacts, in exploring the history of this “motto.”
23. Just why Cooper chose to refer to the Jacopo Frontoni of the novel as a “Bravo,” is not clear. The term was used in Italy to refer to the criminal henchmen who protected and acted on behalf of powerful men, but it does not appear to have been used with special reference to the spies and agents of the Venetian State Inquisitors. See, Mila Manzatto, “Il Bravo tra Storia e Letteratura”, in Acta Historiæ, Vol. 15, No. 1, 2007, pp. 155–177.
24. See, generally, John Julius Norwich, A History of Venice (New York: Knopf, 1982; reprinted Vintage Books, 1989), esp. pp. 500, 526, 597; James S. Grubb, “When Myths Lose Power: Four Decades of Venetian Historiography,” The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 58, No. 1 (Mar. a968), pp. 43–94. More specifically, “Retreat from Legend” in John Pemble, Venice Rediscovered (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), Chapter V, pp. 88–109; Claudio Povolo, “The Creation of Venetian Historiography,” in John Martin and Dennis Romano, eds., Venice Reconsidered: The History and Civilization of an Italian City-State, 1297–1797 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), pp. 401–519; Filippo de Vivo, “Quand le Passé Résiste à ses Historiographies: Venise et le XVIIe Siècle,” in Cahiers du Centre de Recherchers Historiques, No. 28–29 (April 2002), pp. 223–234; Rev. Reuben Parsons, “Some Lies and Errors of History,” in The Ave Maria (Notre Dame, IN, Seventh ed., 1893), pp. 244–260.
The dark side of Venice became a staple of 19th century Opera—including two, by Marco Aurelio Marliani (1834) and Saverio Mercadante (1839), based on Cooper’s novel. See, for a discussion, see James H. Johnson, “The Myth of Venice in Nineteenth-Century Opera,” in Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 36, No. 3 (2005), pp. 533–554.
25. Cooper was not alone in his views; as he was writing The Bravo, an English historian, Edward Smedley (1788–1836) was writing his Sketches from Venetian History (London: John Murray, 2 volumes, 1831–1832). Smedley describes at length the iniquities of the Council of Three, basing himself entirely on the supposed Statutes revealed by Count Daru, which, he concludes, “exceed every other product of human wickedness, in premeditated, deliberate, systematic, unmixed, undissembled flagitiousness.” (Vol. II, pp. 106–123).
26. Bravo, Chapter XI, pp. 173–174.
27. Donald A. Ringe, “Chiaroscuro as an Artistic Device in Cooper’s fiction,” PMLA, Volume 78 (1963), pp., 349–357; “The Bravo: Social Criticism in the Gothic Mode” in James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art (1991), pp. 124–134, available Online
28. Bravo, Chapter IX, pp. 170–171.
29. James Fenimore Cooper, The American Democrat, Cooperstown: H. & E. Phinney, 1838. There are two brief chapters: “On the Advantages of an Aristocracy” (pp. 59–61) and “On the Disadvantages of an Aristocracy” (pp. 66–68).
30. American Democrat, p. 60.
31. American Democrat, p. 66.
32. American Democrat, pp. 66-67.
33. Bravo, Chapter IX, p. 171.
34. Bravo, Chapter IX, p. 174.
35. Countrymen, p. 13.
36. Gradenigo is indeed a famous patrician name in Venetian history, and Cooper may wish deliberately to invoke the name of Pietro Gradenigo (Doge from 1289–1311), who created the oligarchic Council of Ten, of which the Council of Three was a part.
37. Another famous Venetian family; the Council of Ten (which actually had 16 members) had been created in response to an unsuccessful revolt against Doge Gradenigo by a member of the Tiepolo family in 1310.
38. Bravo, Chapter VI, pp. 161–162.
39. Bravo, Chapter XXVII , p. 412.
40. Bravo, Chapter XXVIII, p. 419.
41. Bravo, Chapter XXVIII, pp. 416–419.
42. Bravo, Chapter XI, p. 173.
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