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Introductions to Novels by James Fenimore Cooper

by Susan Fenimore Cooper

The Wing-and-Wing (1842)

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Introductions to novels by her father, with significant biographic and literary information, were written by Susan Fenimore Cooper as prefaces to excerpts from 25 Cooper novels in Pages and Pictures from the Writings of James Fenimore Cooper, with Notes by Susan Fenimore Cooper (New York: W.A. Townsend and Co., 1861). She also wrote introductions to 15 (not all the same) novels published between 1876-1884 as the Household Edition of the Works of J. Fenimore Cooper (New York and Cambridge: Houghton, Mifflin and Co. [Hurd and Mifflin]).
These introductions are collected for the first time on the Cooper Society Website. Lengthy quotations have been reproduced in indented form, but retaining the quotation marks of the original, and their sources have been indicated in [square brackets].

Topics Covered:

I: From Pages and Pictures
The Cooper family's voyage by felucca from Florence to Naples in 1829 [quotations]; special beauty of Italian landscape [quotation]; virtues of Italian character [quotation]; inevitability of eventual Italian unity [quotation]; meaning of the title of The Wing-and-Wing and its subtitle Le Feu Follet.

II: From Household Edition
The Cooper family's voyage by felucca from Florence to Naples in 1829 [quotations]; special beauty of Italian landscape [quotation]; virtues of Italian character [quotation]; inevitability of eventual Italian unity [quotation]; meaning and aptness of the title of The Wing-and-Wing and its subtitle Le Feu Follet.

I. Pages and Pictures, pp. 335-342

Contents: WING-AND-WING. -- Cruise of the Belle Genovese -- Elba -- Napoleon's House -- The coast -- Izola de Troja -- Ischia -- Le Feu Follet -- Will-o'-the-Wisp -- Raoul -- Extract, The Death of Caraccioli.

[335] WHILE in Italy, the American writer had made a short cruise, in a Genoese felucca, along the coast of Tuscany, Romagna, and Naples. He often recalled the excursion, with great pleasure, at a later day, when sitting at his own fireside among the Otsego Hills; and a marine tale connected with the waters of the blue Mediterranean, the islands and coasts explored on that occasion, was now planned. Passages from his original record of the little cruise are given to the reader:

"With this outfit, then, the little 'Belle Genovese' -- a felucca of thirty tons -- got her anchor, with a light wind at north-west, about five in the afternoon, and began to turn out of the harbor. In half an hour we had made three or four stretches, which enabled us to weather the head of the mole, when we stood to the southward with flowing sheets. Our course lay between a succession of islands and the main, in a south-easterly direction. Gorgona and Capraja were in sight on quitting the port -- Leghorn; and our first object was to run through what is here called the canal of Elba, a strait between that island and the headland of Piombino. The wind was so light that our progress was slow, and when we took to our mattresses, Leghorn was but two or three leagues behind us. On turning out the next morning, I found the felucca close hauled, beating up for the channel with a fresh breeze from the southward. The brown mountains of Elba formed the background to windward; Porto Ferrajo lying about two leagues from us directly on our weather beam. We fetched in just beneath the [336] cliff or promontory that forms the north-eastern extremity of the town of Porto Ferrajo, a rocky eminence of some elevation. The bay is several miles deep, and at its mouth nearly a league wide; the land being chiefly mountain and côtes. The promontory on which stands the town makes a bend on its inner side, like the curve of a hook; and this, aided a little by some artificial works, forms a beautiful and secure little harbor, the water being everywhere deep, with bold shores. I had called a boat to put us ashore, when the padrone announced the appalling news of there being a quarantine of fifteen days between Elba and Naples! We immediately hauled out of the harbor; but while discussing breakfast the padrone came to us, to say he had just learned that while there was a quarantine of fifteen days between Elba and Naples, there was none at all between the Roman states and Naples; and thus, by running into Civita Vecchia, we might get clean bills of health, and all would be plain sailing -- so much for a Mediterranean quarantine! I accepted the terms, and we landed. Porto Ferrajo is a small, crowded town, containing five thousand souls, and lying on the acclivity on the inner side of the promontory. It is pretty well fortified, though the works are old; it is walled, and has two little forts or citadels on the heights. It was garrisoned by five hundred men, they told me, and there were two hundred galley-slaves kept in the place. The town was clean enough, the streets having steps, or narrow terraces, by which we ascended the hills. The arrival of a party of strangers created quite a sensation, for there are few more retired spots in Europe than this. We went to the best inn, which bears the imposing title of the Quattro Nazioni. It was far from bad, and gave us a reasonably good dinner, promising four beds and a sofa should we pass the night there. The art of coloring brick floors has not reached this inn; the room in which we dined had seven mirrors, while the floor was of coarse, dirt-colored bricks, full of holes. I had some conversation with the people of the house concerning their late sovereign. Napoleon arrived in the evening, and remained in the frigate until the next day. One of his first acts was to send for the oldest known flag used by Elba, and this he caused to be hoisted on the forts -- a sign of independency. After dinner, we walked to the home of Napoleon; it stands conspicuously; is low and small, composed of a main body and two wings, showing a front in all of ten windows. The entire length may have been ninety feet, but the other dimensions were not on a proportionate scale. The house of Madame Mère has a better air, as to comfort; it has but one story, showing fifteen windows in a row. At the inn I saw what the Italians call a tarantula -- it is not a spider, but a lizard; perhaps nine-tenths of the Italians fancy the bite of this animal mortal; but it is a perfectly inoffensive lizard, living on insects, and is [337] found in America, where no one ever heard of its poison. It is, however, a most disgusting-looking object, which is probably the reason it bears so bad a name. * * * After a good deal of difficulty, I got our padrone out of the port just as the sun was setting. We found the wind fresh outside, but as fair as could be wished. Our course was to double the eastern end of the island, where there was a narrow passage between it and a small rocky islet -- the spot of which Napoleon is said to have taken possession with a corporal's guard as soon as he landed. It was a dependency of the new empire. This act of his has been laughed at, and is cited as a proof of his passion for conquest; but it strikes me as more probable that he did it to prevent an unpleasant neighborhood. * * * At daylight next day, we stood to the southward, the wind being fair, but light. At ten it fell calm. There was a small rocky islet, about a mile from us, and we swept the felucca up to it, and anchored in a little sandy bay. The padrone said the island was called Troja; it contained about thirty acres, a high rock, with a little shrubbery, and was surmounted by an ancient and ruined watch-tower. We landed, and explored the country; our arrival gave the alarm to some thousands of gulls, and other marine birds, who had probably not been disturbed for years! W------ undertook to ascend to the tower -- an exploit more easily achieved than the descent; he found it the remains of a watch-tower, of which this coast has hundreds, erected as a protection against the invasions of the Barbary corsairs. With one coast peopled by those who were at the head of civilization, and the other by those who were just civilized enough to be formidable, constant warfare, the habits of slavery, and the harem, one can understand the uses of all these towers. At noon we embarked; we had a good run for the rest of the day, at the distance of a league or two from the coast, which was low, with many islets and sand-banks visible. Just before sunset we came up with a high headland that looked like an island -- Monte Argentaro, a peninsula connected with the mainland by a low spit of sand. Behind it lies one of the best harbors for small craft in Italy, at the town of Orbitello. Directly abreast of it are several small islands, and we took our course among them; this was delightful navigation at the close of a fine day in August, with a cool north wind, and in such a sea. We ran so near the mountain as to discern the smallest objects, and were constantly changing the scene. On this headland I counted seven watch-towers, and all within the space of a league or two. Including Elba, we must have seen and passed this day, in a run of about twenty miles, some twenty islands. The Roman coast commenced as soon as we were clear of Argentaro; it was low, and the watch-towers, better constructed than common -- a sort of martello tower -- were so near each other as completely to sweep the beach with [338] their guns. Civita Vecchia lies around a shallow cove, with an artificial basin within it, and a mole stretching athwart the month of the cove. The town is small, but not dirty; there is an ancient mole, and a basin that once contained Roman gallies; the bronze rings by which they were made fast to the quays still remain! * * * The run the following evening was delightful; we glided along, in perfectly smooth water, at the rate of seven knots, and so near the shore as to discern every thing of moment. As the day declined, the land melted away until it got to be a low waste, the water margin of the Campagna of Rome. About nine the padrone pointed out the position of Ostia and the mouths of the Tiber. He kept the vessel well off the shore, pretending that the malaria at this season was so penetrating as to render it dangerous to be closer in, with the wind off the land. I was singularly struck with the existence of this subtle and secret danger in the midst of a scene otherwise so lovely. The night was as brilliant a star-light as I remember to have seen. Nothing could surpass the diamond-like lustre of the placid and thoughtful stars; and the blue waters through which we were gliding betrayed our passage by a track of molten silver. While we were gazing at this beautiful spectacle, a meteor crossed the heavens, illuminating every thing to the brightness of a clear moonlight. It was much the finest meteor I have ever seen, and its course included more than half the arch above us. * * * * * * *
"We hauled up to the windward of Procida, sailing through an element so limpid that we saw every rock and stone on the bottom, in five fathoms water. Having opened the channel between the two islands, we bore up for Ischia, where we arrived a little before sunset. There a scene presented itself which more resembled a fairy picture than one of the realities of this every-day world of ours. I think it was the most ravishing spectacle, in its way, eye of mine ever looked upon. We had the black, volcanic peaks of the island for a background, with the ravine-like valleys and mountain faces -- covered with villas and groves -- in front. The town is near the southern extremity of the island, and lies along the shore for more than a mile on a bit of level formation; but, after passing a sort of bridge or terrace -- which I took to be a public promenade -- the rocks rose suddenly, and terminated in two or three lofty, fantastic, broken, fragment-like crags, which make the south-eastern end of the island. On these rocks are perched several old castles, so beautifully wild and picturesque, that they seemed placed there for no other purpose than to adorn the landscape. By a curvature of the land, these rocks sheltered the roadstead, and the quaint old structures were brought almost to impend over our heads. The whole population seemed to be out enjoying themselves after the heat of the day; and a scene in which a move[339]ment of life was so mingled with a superb, but most lovely nature, it is, indeed, rare to witness. Until that moment, I was not fully sensible of the vast superiority of the Italian landscapes over all others. Switzerland astonishes, often delights, by its union of the pastoral with the sublime; but Italian nature wins upon you, until you come to love it as a friend. I can only liken the effect of the scene we gazed upon this evening, to a feeling allied to transport; to the manner in which we dwell upon the serene expression of a beloved and lovely countenance. Other scenes have the tints, the hues, the outlines, the proportions, the grandeur, and even the softness of beauty; but these have the character that mark the existence of a soul. The effect is to pour a flood of sensations upon the mind, wholly distinct from the common feeling of wonder excited by vastness and magnificence. The refinement of Italian nature appears to distinguish it as much from that of other countries, as the same quality distinguishes the man of sentiment and intellect from the man of mere impulses. In sublimity of a certain sort -- more especially in its sublimity of desolation -- Switzerland, probably, has no equal on earth; and to this is to be added a certain unearthly aspect which the upper glaciers assume in particular conditions of the atmosphere. But these Italian scenes rise to a sublimity of a different kind, which, though it does not awe, leaves behind it a tender sensation allied to that of love. I can conceive of even an ardent admirer of nature wearying, in time, of the grandeur of the Alps; but I can scarcely imagine one who would ever tire of the witchery of Italy. * * * The lower classes of Italy, with the exception of those who live on travellers, appear to me to be unsophisticated, kind, and well-principled. There is a native activity of mind about them that renders their rogues great rogues; but I question if the mass here be not quite as honest as the mass in any other country under the same social pressure. An American should always remember the comparative exemption from temptation existing in his own country. Common crimes are certainly not as general with us as in Europe, and precisely for the reason named; but uncommon meannesses abound in a large circle of our population. The vices of an American origin are necessarily influenced by the condition of American society; and, as a principle, the same is true here. It may be questioned if examination, taking into view all the circumstances, would give a result so much in our favor as some pretend. Once removed from the towns and other haunts of travellers, I have found the Italians of the lower classes endued with quite as many good qualities as most of their neighbors, and with more than some of them. They are more generous than the English, more sincere than the French, and more refined than the Germans. Certainly they are quicker-witted, and, physically, they are altogether a finer race, though short, than I had imagined.
"Shades of difference exist in Italian character, as between the different states; the preference being usually given to the inhabitants of Upper Italy. I have not found the difference so manifestly clear against the South; though I do believe that the Piedmontese, in a physical sense, are the finest race of the entire country. Foreigners would better appreciate the Italian character if they better understood the usages of the country. A nation divided like this -- conquered, as this has been, and lying, as it now does, notoriously at the mercy of any powerful invader -- loses the estimation that is due to numbers. The stranger regards the people as unworthy of possessing distinctive traits, and obtrudes his own habits on them, coarsely, and, too often, insolently. This, in part, is submitted to from necessity; but mutual ill-will and distrust are the consequences. The vulgar-minded Englishman talks of the "damned Italians," and the vulgar-minded American imitates his great model, though neither has, probably, any knowledge of the people, beyond that which he has obtained in inns, and in the carriages of the vetturini. In grace of mind -- in a love, and even a knowledge of the arts -- a large portion of the common Italians, are as much superior to the Anglo-Saxon race as civilization is superior to barbarism. We deride their religious superstitions; but we overlook the exaggerations, uncharitableness, and severity of our own fanaticism. I do not know any peasantry in which there is more ingenuousness, with less of rusticity and vulgarity, than that of Tuscany. The society of Italy -- which is but another word for the nobles of the country -- so far as I have seen it, has the general European character, modified a little by position. They have a general acquaintance with literature, without being often learned; and there is a grace about their minds, derived from the constant practice of contemplating the miracles of art, that is rather peculiar to them. An Italian gentleman is more gracious than an Englishman, and less artificial than a Frenchman. Indeed, I have often thought that, in these particulars, he is the nearest to a true standard of any gentleman of Europe. There is a sincerity in this class, also, that took me by surprise -- a simplicity of mind and manner, not common on the other side of the Alps.
"Nature appears to have intended Italy for a single country. With a people speaking the same language; a territory almost surrounded by water, or separated from the rest of Europe by a barrier of great mountains; its actual ancient history, relative position, and interests -- would all seem to have a direct tendency toward bringing about this great end. The ------ of ------ assured me that such was the intention of Napoleon, who looked forward to the time when he might convert the whole peninsula into a single state. Had he continued to reign, and had he been the father of two or more sons, it is quite probable that he would have distributed [341] his kingdoms among them at his death; but, while he lived, no man would have got any thing back from Napoleon Bonaparte with his own consent. Italy, instead of being the consolidated country one could wish it were, is now divided into ten states, including little Monaco. The study of Italy is profitable to an American. One of the greatest -- indeed, the only serious obstacle to consolidation of all the Italian states, arises from the hereditary hatreds and distrusts of the people of one portion of the country to those of another. Such is it to separate the family tie; and such would soon be our own condition, were the bond of union that now unites us severed. By playing off one portion of the country against another, the common enemy would plunder all. The Italians, while they are sensible that Napoleon did them good by introducing the vigor and improvements of France, do not extol his reign. They justly deem him a selfish conqueror; and, I make no doubt, joyfully threw off his yoke, The conscription appears to have been the most, oppressive of his measures; and well it might be, for, even admitting that his ultimate ends were to be beneficial, the means were next to intolerable. He improved the roads, invigorated the police, reformed many abuses, and gave new impulses to society, it is true; but in the place of the old grievances he substituted King Stork for King Log.
"The laws and customs of the Italian states have so many minute points of difference, that the wishes of some of the patriots of this region point toward a confederated republic, something like that of Switzerland. Sooner or later, Italy will, inevitably, become a single state; this is a result which I hold to be certain, though the means by which it is to be effected are still hidden. In the absence of great political events, to weaken the authority of the present government, education is the surest process, though a slow one." * * * * *
[James Fenimore Cooper, Gleanings in Europe: Italy [1838] (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1981), Letter XI, pp. 84-87, 88, 88-91, 91-92; Letter XV, pp. 131-132; Letter XXXIII, pp. 296-299

The leading idea of "Wing-and-Wing" consists in bringing together sailors of different nations -- English, French, Yankee, and Italian -- throwing them into the same scenes, on the blue waters of the Mediterranean. The name "Wing-and-Wing" refers, as the reader may be already aware, to the peculiar Italian rig, the lateen sails, which hover about every gulf and bay of that beautiful sea, like white-winged birds, in picturesque flight. The craft, however, in which the reader becomes especially interested, is French, and, like her captain, the gallant Raoul Yvard, bears a French name, "Le Feu Follet" -- The Jack-o'-Lanthorn, or Will-o'-the-Wisp -- whichever translation the reader may prefer. And, by-the-by, is it not true that those idle, mocking, dancing flames -- which, we are told, delight in beguiling the solitary wayfarer in Europe -- are more common in the old hemisphere than in the new? Which of us has ever had the pleasure of meeting Jack-o'-Lanthorn, even in the darkest of nights, and over the most [342] marshy of roads? Nay, which of us can even boast of the collateral honors of a wonder-monger -- which of us can say that this or that kinsman, or neighbor, ever had the good luck to he led astray, into marsh or mire, by Will-o'-the-Wisp? Like Puck, and Robin Goodfellow, Will seems to have little fancy for a Yankee marsh. Ghita, the Italian diminutive of Margarita, the heroine of the narrative, is a very sweet character, and the reader soon learns to share in her deep anxiety regarding her lover, the brave young Frenchman, who is represented as being, like too many of his nation at that period, a sceptic on religious subjects. The death of Raoul is very impressive, and, like the heart-stricken Ghita, kneeling on the rock at his side, when the young man expires with his eyes riveted in dawning conviction on the glorious heavens above, the reader is left with the hope that, even in that last solemn hour, something of the light of sacred Truth, and assent to its influences, may have reached his spirit.

"Wing-and-Wing," though not one of Mr. Cooper's most brilliant tales of the sea, is yet assuredly a work of very decided merit. A brief extract, the death of Carraccioli [sic], is all that is allowed us as a picture from its pages.

Excerpt: "Caraccioli" [James Fenimore Cooper, The Wing-and-Wing [1842] (New York: W.A. Townsend and Co., 1860), Chapter 14, pp. 240-244]

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II. Household Edition, pp. ix-xviii

[ix] ONCE more the thoughts of the author turned to that "Sea of delights," as he loved to call the Mediterranean. He had not seen those blue waters since the happy months passed at Sorrento. Occasionally the wish for another visit to Europe would arise. He was very anxious to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, to see Constantinople and the Pyramids, and at one time talked over quite seriously a year's tour in Palestine and Egypt. But there were obstacles in the way; the idea was abandoned. Thoroughly domestic in all his habits, he dill not wish to be separated for so long a time from his family.

The manoeuvres of the two fleets in the British Channel had scarcely ceased, and the echoes of their tremendous batteries died away, leaving the two admirals alone together in the cottage on Wychecombe Head, when another nautical romance was planned. From the Channel the author passed to the Mediterranean, from the deck of the proud flag-ship the Plantagenet, to the picturesque lugger with her lateen sails, the Wing-and-Wing. Both of these tales of the sea were written in the same year, in 1842. They were strikingly different in spirit, in general outline, and in detail.

When in Italy the American writer had made a short cruise in a Genoese felucca along the coast of Tuscany, Romagna, and Naples. He often recalled the excursion with great pleasure, and now in his quiet home in the Otsego Hills he planned a romance connected with the [x] Mediterranean, the islands and coasts explored on that occasion. Passages from his original record of the cruise are given to the reader:--

"With this outfit, then, the little 'Bella Genovese' -- a felucca of thirty tons -- got her anchor, with a light wind at north-west, about five in the afternoon, and began to turn out of the harbor. In half an hour we had made three or four stretches, which enabled us to weather the head of the mole, when we stood to the southward with flowing sheets. Our course lay between a succession of islands and the main, in a south-easterly direction. Gorgona and Capraja were in sight on quitting the port -- Leghorn; and our first object was to run through what is here called the canale of Elba, a strait between that island and the headland of Piombino. The wind was so light that our progress was slow, and when we took to our mattresses Leghorn was but two or three leagues behind us. On turning out the next morning I found the felucca close hauled, beating up for the channel with a fresh breeze from the southward. The brown mountains of Elba formed the background to windward; Porto Ferrajo lay about two leagues from us directly on our weather beam. We fetched in first beneath the cliff or promontory that forms the northeastern extremity of the town of Porto Ferrajo, a rocky eminence of some elevation. The bay is several miles deep, and at its mouth nearly a league wide; the land being chiefly mountain and côtes. The promontory on which stands the town makes a bend on its inner side, like the curve of a hook; and this, aided a little by some artificial works, forms a beautiful and secure little harbor, the water being everywhere deep, with bold shores. I had called a boat to put us ashore, when the padrone announced the appalling news of there being a quarantine of fifteen days between Elba and Naples. We immediately hauled out of the harbor; but while discussing breakfast the padrone came to us to say he had just learned that while there was a quarantine of fifteen days between Elba and Naples, there was none at all between the Roman States [xi] and Naples, and thus, by running into Civita Vecchia we might get clean bills of health, and all would be plain sailing -- so much for a Mediterranean quarantine. I accepted the terms, and we landed. Porto Ferrajo is a small, crowded town, containing five thousand souls, and lying on the acclivity on the inner side of the promontory. It is pretty well fortified, though the works are old; it is walled, and has two little forts, or citadels, on the heights. It was garrisoned by five hundred men, they told me, and there were two hundred galley-slaves kept in the place. The town was clean enough, the streets having steps, or narrow terraces, by which we ascended the hills. The arrival of a party of strangers created quite a sensation, for there are few more retired spots in Europe to-day than this. We went to the best inn, which bears the imposing title of the Quattro Nazioni. It was far from bad, and gave us a reasonably good dinner, promising four beds and a sofa should we pass the night there. The art of coloring brick floors has not reached this inn; the room in which we dined had seven mirrors, while the floor was of coarse, dirt-colored bricks full of holes. I had some conversation with the people of the house concerning their late sovereign. Napoleon arrived in the evening and remained in the frigate until the next day. One of his first acts was to send for the oldest known flag used by Elba, and this he caused to be hoisted on the forts -- a sign of independence. After dinner, we walked to the house of Napoleon; it stands conspicuously; is low and small, composed of a main body and two wings, showing a front in all of ten windows. The entire length may have been ninety feet, but the other dimensions were not on a proportionate scale. The house of Madame Mère has a better air as to comfort; it has but one story, showing fifteen windows in a row. At the inn I saw what the Italians call a tarantula -- it is not a spider but a lizard; perhaps nine-tenths of the Italians fancy the bite of this animal mortal; but it is perfectly inoffensive living on insects, and is found in America, where no one ever heard of its [xii] poison. It is, however, a most disgusting-looking object, which is probably the reason it bears so bad a name. After a good deal of difficulty, I got our padrone out of the port just as the sun was setting. We found the wind fresh outside, but as fair as could be wished. Our course was to double the eastern end of the island, where there was a narrow passage between it and a small rocky islet -- the spot of which Napoleon is said to have taken possession with a corporal's guard as soon as he landed. It was a dependency of the new empire. This act of his has been laughed at and cited as a proof of his passion for conquest; but it strikes me as more probable that he did it to prevent an unpleasant neighborhood. At daylight next day, we stood to the southward, the wind being fair but light. At ten it fell calm. There was a small rocky islet about a mile from us, and we swept the felucca up to it, and anchored in a little sandy bay. The padrone said the island was called Troja; it contained about thirty acres, a high rock with a little shrubbery, and was surmounted by an ancient and ruined watch-tower. We landed and explored the country; our arrival gave the alarm to some thousands of gulls and other marine birds, who had probably not been disturbed for years! W. undertook to ascend to the tower -- an exploit more easily achieved than the descent; he found it the remains of a watch-tower, of which this coast has hundreds, erected as a protection against the invasions of the Barbary corsairs. With one coast peopled by those who were at the head of civilization, and the other by those who were just civilized enough to be formidable, constant warfare, the habits of slavery, and the harem, one can understand the uses of all these towers. At noon we embarked; we had a good run for the rest of the day, at the distance of a league or two from the coast, which was low, with many islets and sand-banks visible. Just before sunset we came up with a high headland that looked like an island -- Monte Argentaro, a peninsula connected with the mainland by a low spit of sand. Behind it lies one of the best [xiii] harbors for small craft in Italy, at the town of Orbitello. Directly ahead of it are several small islands, and we took our course among them; this was delightful navigation at the close of a fine day in August, with a cool north wind, and in such a sea. We ran so near the mountain as to discern the smallest objects, and were constantly changing the scene. On this headland I counted seven watch-towers, and all within the space of a league or two. Including Elba, we must have seen and passed this day, in a run of twenty miles, some twenty islands. The Roman coast commenced as soon as we were clear of Argentaro; it was low, and the watch-towers, better constructed than common -- a sort of martello tower, -- were so near each other as completely to sweep the beach with their guns. Civita Vecchia lies around a shallow cove, with an artificial basin within it, and a mole stretching athwart the month of the cove. The town is small, but not dirty; there is an ancient mole, and a basin that once contained Roman galleys; the bronze rings by which they were made fast still remain. The run the following evening was delightful; we glided along, in perfectly smooth water at the rate of seven knots, and so near the shore as to discern every thing of moment. As the day declined the land melted away until it got to be a low waste, the water margin of the Campagna of Rome. About nine the padrone pointed out the position of Ostia and the mouths of the Tiber. He kept the vessel well off the shore, pretending that the malaria at this season was so penetrating as to render it dangerous to be closer in, with the wind off the land. I was singularly struck with the existence of this subtle and secret danger in the midst of a scene otherwise so lovely. The night was as brilliant a starlight as I have ever seen. Nothing could surpass the diamond-like lustre of the placid and thoughtful stars, and the blue waters through which we were gliding betrayed our passage by a track of molten silver. While we were gazing at this beautiful spectacle a meteor crossed the heavens, illuminating everything to the brightness of a clear moonlight. It [xiv] was much the finest meteor I have ever seen, and its course included more than half the arch above us..... We hauled up to the windward of Procida, sailing through an element so limpid that we saw every rock and stone on the bottom in five fathoms water. Having opened the channel between the two islands, we bore up for Ischia, where we arrived a little before sunset. There a scene presented itself which more resembled a fairy picture than one of the realities of this every-day world of ours. I think it was the most ravishing spectacle, in its way, eye of mine ever looked upon. We had the black volcanic peaks of the island for a background, with the ravine-like valleys and mountain faces -- covered with villas and groves -- in front. The town is near the southern extremity of the island and lies along the shore for more than a mile on a bit of level formation, but after passing a sort of bridge terrace, which I took to be a public promenade, the rocks rose suddenly and terminated in two or three lofty, fantastic, broken, fragment-like crags, which make the southeastern end of the island. On these rocks are perched several old castles, so beautifully wild and picturesque, that they seemed placed there for no other purpose than to adorn the landscape. By a curvature of the land these rocks sheltered the roadstead, and the quaint old structures were brought almost to impend over our heads. The whole population seemed to be out, enjoying themselves after the heat of the day: and a scene in which a movement of life was so mingled with a superb but most lovely nature it is indeed rare to behold. Until that moment I was not fully sensible of the vast superiority of the Italian landscapes over all others. Switzerland astonishes, often delights, by its union of the pastoral with the sublime; but Italian nature wins upon you, until you come to love it as a friend. I can only liken the effect of the scene we gazed upon this evening to a feeling allied to transport; to the manner in which we dwell upon the serene expression of a beloved and lovely countenance. Other scenes have the tints, the hues, the outlines, the proportions, [xv] the grandeur, and even the softness of beauty; but these have the character that mark the existence of a soul. The effect is to pour a flood of sensations upon the mind, wholly distinct from the common feeling of wonder excited by vastness and magnificence. The refinement of Italian nature appears to distinguish it as much from that of other countries as the same quality distinguishes the man of sentiment and intellect from the man of mere impulses. In sublimity of a certain sort, -- more especially in its sublimity of desolation, -- Switzerland, probably, has no equal on earth; and to this is to be added a certain unearthly aspect which the upper glaciers assume in particular conditions of the atmosphere. But these Italian scenes rise to a sublimity of a different kind, which, though it does not awe, leaves behind it a tender sensation allied to that of love. I can conceive of even an ardent admirer of nature wearying, in time, of the grandeur of the Alps, but I can scarcely imagine one who would ever tire of the witchery of Italy...... The lower classes of Italy, with the exception of those who live on travelers, appear to me unsophisticated, kind, and well-principled. There is a native activity of mind about them that renders their rogues great rogues; but I question if the mass here be not quite as honest as the mass in any other country under the same social pressure. Once removed from the towns and other haunts of travelers I have found the Italians of the lower classes endued with quite as many good qualities as most of their neighbors, and with more than some of them. They are more generous than the English, more sincere than the French, and more refined than the Germans. Certainly they are quicker-witted, and, physically they are altogether a finer race -- though shorter -- than I had imagined. Shades of difference exist in Italian character as between the different states; the preference being usually given to the inhabitants of Upper Italy. I have not found the difference so manifestly clear against the south; though I do believe that the Piedmontese, in a physical sense, are the finest race of the entire country. [xvi] Foreigners would better appreciate the Italian character if they better understood the usages of the country. A nation divided like this -- conquered as this has been, and lying as it now does at the mercy of any powerful invader -- loses the estimation that is due to numbers. The stranger regards the people as unworthy of possessing distinctive traits, and obtrudes his own habits on them coarsely and, too often, insolently. The vulgar-minded Englishman talks of the "damned Italians," and the vulgar-minded American imitates his great model, though neither has probably any knowledge of the people, beyond that which he has obtained in inns, and in the carriages of the vetturini. In grace of mind -- in a love, and even in a knowledge of the arts -- a large portion of the common Italians are as much superior to the Anglo-Saxon race as civilization is superior to barbarism. We deride their religious superstitions, but we overlook the exaggerations, uncharitableness, and severity of our own forms of fanaticism. I do not know any peasantry in which there is more ingenuousness, with less of rusticity and vulgarity, than that of Tuscany. The society of Italy -- which is but another word for the nobles of the country, -- so far as I have seen it, has the general European character, modified a little by position. They have a general acquaintance with literature, without being often learned; and there is a grace about their minds, derived from the constant practice of contemplating the miracles of art, that is rather peculiar to them. An Italian gentleman is more gracious than an Englishman, and less artificial than a Frenchman. Indeed, I have often thought that, in these particulars, he is the nearest to a true standard of any gentleman of Europe. There is a sincerity in this class, also, that took me by surprise -- a simplicity of mind and manner not common on the other side of the Alps.
"Nature appears to have intended Italy for a single country. With a people speaking the same language; a territory almost surrounded by water, or separated from the rest of Europe by a barrier of great mountains; its actual an[xvii]cient history, relative position, and interests -- would all seem to have a direct tendency towards bringing about this great end. The ------ of ------ assured me that such was the intention of Napoleon, who looked forward to the time when he might convert the whole peninsula into a single state. Italy, instead of being the consolidated country one could wish it were, is now divided into ten states, including little Monaco. The study of Italy is profitable to an American. One of the greatest, indeed the only serious obstacle to consolidation of all the Italian States, arises from the hereditary hatreds and distrusts of the people of different portions of the country for each other. Such is it to separate the family tie; and such would soon be our own condition were the bond of union that now unites us severed. The laws and customs of the Italian States have so many minute points of difference that the wishes of some of the patriots of this region point towards a confederated republic, something like that of Switzerland. Sooner or later Italy will, inevitably, become a single state; this is a result which I hold to be certain, though the means by which it is to be effected are still hidden. In the absence of great events to weaken the authority of the present governments, education is the surest process, though a slow one."
[James Fenimore Cooper, Gleanings in Europe: Italy [1838] (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1981), Letter XI, pp. 84-87, 88, 88-91, 91-92; Letter XV, pp. 131-132; Letter XXXIII, pp. 296-299

The author's dream of a united Italy has since been realized by modes little foreseen at the time he wrote the passage given above -- in 1836.

The leading idea of "Wing-and-Wing" consists in bringing together sailors of different nations -- English, French, Yankee, and Italians, -- throwing them into the same scenes on the waters of the Mediterranean. The name "Wing-and-Wing" refers, of course, to the peculiar Italian rig, the double lateen sails which hover about every gulf and bay of that beautiful sea, on its northern shores at least like white-winged birds, in picturesque flight. The craft, however, in which the reader becomes especially interested is French, and like her captain, the gallant Raoul Yvard, bears a French name, "Le Feu Follet" -- The Jack-o'-Lanthorn, [xviii] or Will-o'-the-Wisp -- whichever translation may be preferred. And, by the by, is it not true that those idle, mocking, dancing flames, which we are told delight in beguiling the solitary wayfarer in Europe, are more common in the old hemisphere than in the new? Which of us has ever had the pleasure of meeting Will-o'-the-Wisp, even in the darkest of nights, and over the most marshy of roads? Nay, which of us can even boast of the collateral honors of a wonder-monger, which of us can say that this or that kinsman or neighbor ever had the good luck to he led astray into marsh or mire by Will-o'-the-Wisp? Like Puck, or Robin Good-fellow, Will seems to have little fancy for Yankee-land. Certainly, as regards the romance, the name was admirably chosen; there is no ship among the author's sea sketches which seizes upon the fancy more vividly than this tricksy craft.

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