James Fenimore Cooper Society Website
Placed on line, May 2002
Return to Cooper Writings
Return to Home Page
Background: What follows is a satiric parody, based on Cooper's A Letter to His Countrymen of 1834, originally published in the July 1834 issue of the New York American, and reprinted (as part of a dual article, and with a brief introduction) in the New York Mirror, a tabloid-style weekly largely concerned with literature for the aspiring middle class. The first section concerned another article taken from the New York Knickerbocker, chastising the American poet and novelist James McHenry (1785-1845).
We include here only the portion devoted to Cooper. In A Letter to His Countrymen, Cooper had reacted violently toamong other thingsa very unfavorable review of his 1831 novel, The Bravo, published in the American in 1832 under the by-line of "Cassio." Partially instigated by his rather paranoid friend Samuel Morse, Cooper convinced himself that the article had been planted by French government sources in revenge for his support of General Lafayette in the so-called Finance Controversy. As it happened, "Cassio" was in fact the American journalist Edward Sherman Gould; Cooper had been misled because Gould, writing in France, had based his review on a Paris edition (in English) of The Bravo.
Cooper's defensive tone, and his turgid argumentationcoupled with his mistake as to the origin of the Cassio reviewleft him a sitting duck for the Whig Press, which turned with glee to the task of pillorying him. It left Cooper disgusted with his public and he retreated to Cooperstown, where he only resumed novel-writing in 1838. Nevertheless, Cassio's The Man in the Claret-Coloured Coat to his countrymen is an entertaining satire (especially if one is familiar with Cooper), but also a good example of the kind of criticism that left him resentful and defensive for the remaining decades of his life.
Hugh MacDougall, James Fenimore Cooper Society (2002)
Introduction by the Editor of the New-York Mirror, George P. Morris
(the stand-in editor to whom he refers may be Nathaniel P. Willis, a friend of Cooper's, who became Associate Editor of the New-York Mirror in 1831)
* * * * * * *
The writer in the Knickerbocker intimates that no one but a foreigner could or would transform himself into a baboon for the sake of ridiculing and abusing Americans; but he was unmindful of the inordinate ambition of the author of "A Letter to his Countrymen, by J. Fenimore Cooper;" he did not bethink himself that this man is equally determined and prepared to distance all competitors, whether the race be fame or shame; he will have no rival in any thing. We are much gratified to see that this last philippic has not been uttered with impunity, but has received the nearly unanimous denunciation of the American press. No previous bantling of this novelist has raised such a hue and cry; nor has any one been handled with such appalling severity. We have been highly entertained in reading these various strictures, and were quite overcome with the sly humour of our old correspondent in the Claret-Coloured Coat. He appeared, in the American of June twenty-first, with a close parody on Mr. Cooper's letter, and we will now lay the same before our readers, confident that they will welcome so agreeable and acquaintance. The satire of this piece is in CASSIO'S best style, and it must be a bitter pill to Mr. Cooper. In fact, no...chastisements were ever better deserved than this...; the "American Walter Scott"...wantonly provoked [his] attacks, and we shall be much disappointed if [he survives] them. A word seems to be necessary, here, to vindicate our self-consistency. Mr. Cooper's letter, and the notice of it in the Mirror of July fifth, were both published during our absence from the city; and we are under the necessity of disclaiming that notice, and also a reference to Mr. Cooper, in the same paper, under the head of "Literary Notices," as they were written or sanctioned by a friend, who temporarily took charge of our editorial department, and contain direct contradictions of our frequently-published opinions of Mr. Cooper and his writings. The following is Cassio's parodyor rather, so close is the imitation, Cassio's fac simile of Mr. Cooper. EDS. N.Y. MIRROR.
MY DEAR FRIENDS You are all labouring under a serious mistake; indeed, you are most shamefully in error; it only remains for me to set you right. In doing so, I shall be compelled to speak of myself in terms which a man of ordinary modesty would shrink from; but I plead the necessity of the case, and throw myself on your generosity.
If there is one thing in this world on which I pride myself more than on another, it is my efficiency with the quill. I don't speak of mere penmanship, though I flatter myself that I am not wanting even there: but, for building up a secure claim to immortality, and especially for defending that claim when it is assailed by "foreign hirelings"* there, I blushing acknowledge, that I am about the thing. It is a favourite remark that Daniel Webster works best when he's cornered: the original illustration of shining when pressed by one's foes, might be found rather nearer homebut perhaps this is egotistical.
* All passages marked with inverted commas are taken, verbatim, or in effect, from one or the other of two letters already published. [EDITOR's footnote]
I would not, however, have my countrymen suppose that, of my own choice, I come before them with "my individual affairs:" no indeed! My story, in this particular, is a humiliating proof of the malignity of the human heart. I have been forcibly "dragged" into this thing: compelled to leave my dignified and classic retirement by those "slavish dupes to foreign opinion," the New-York American, the New-York Courier and New- York Mirror, and the United States Bank. I do not wish to anticipate, but these shall soon find that they have caught a Tartar.
I dislike explanations. They generally prove too much, or too little. And they take up time and space without annihilating them. Besides, they force a writer who prepares a letter "hastily"i.e. in the course of six months"for one of the daily prints," to "exceed his expectations," and rise to a pamphlet. All the world knows what pamphlets are, and who takes shelter in them. To me it seems that a pamphlet on one's own affairs is a practical illustration of that facetious definition of patriotism, which I once saw in the Mirror, to wit:
"Patriotism, the last refuge of a scoundrel."
The last word is wholly inapplicable, to be sure, but the last refuge is what I look at.
Gentle reader! you are tiredI see it. Well, then, to the matter in hand.
You know where the Arsenal is? Very probably. But do you know what it is? You will, when I've told you. I ought to say that, in telling you, I shall be obliged to make unpleasant references to myself; at least I cannot avoid this without "exceeding my expectations."
The Arsenal is situated somewhere near the Adriatic Sea, and is bounded on the left by what is called Centre-street. The time of its erection, etc., is not very material; it is sufficient that it was erected, and has been, in my time, very much misunderstood by its admirers and misrepresented by its friends. It contains much that is detrimental and dangerous to the liberties of the world; and is especially protected by the "salons and boudoirs of royalty." It is a great despot (this word is spelt, indifferently, with and without an s; being sometimes despot, sometimes dépôt) and contains or controls all the powder and arms in the universe. It is needless to say more to prove the danger of this Arsenal to republican principles, excepting that it is surrounded by a stone wall, five hundred feet high.
This thing sate heavily on my conscience, and in order to set the world right, "I visited nations," and "paid heavy taxes to the government of Louis Philippe." I ought to say here, by way of parenthesis, that while visiting nations I received special attention from all the nobility without exception, and was much bored by English authors who ran me down with soliciting introductions. Having thus prepared myself against the possibility of a failure, I wrote that well-known and much admired piece which appeared with my name in the Mirror of May seventeenth. (I like to be particular.) To make the thing attractive, I "availed myself of my fame as a writer of fiction," and threw over it the charm of romance. "I borrowed an under plot" from my friend Abellino, an Italian count residing at the Bowling-green, and introduced through that medium a military despot (dépôt,) well loaded. To make the work still more attractive, I worked in a carpenter, because nobody can work round corners like your carpenter. I called him Cornelius, "for obvious reasons." I added to this, in order to a perfect illusion, an interesting boy by the name of George, whose principal business was to lock the door and carry the key on his shoulder.
"Such was the Claret-Coloured Coat intention, at least." I knew that it would be "no flattering picture for the upstart aristocrats of the silk- stocking regime;" and also, that I should be abused by such of my political opponents as were too weak to appreciate the unique merits and originality of the work. "The great mass of readers" proved thus weak; but there was one man "accustomed to separate PRINCIPLES from FACTS, who at once detected the intention" and the value "of the book." He promulgated his discovery through the New-York American, (in reply to Cassio,) and, in two minutes, Europe was in a blaze.
But the success of this production in a merely literary point of view was almost flattering, and altogether terrific. The galleries, the print-shops, and all private houses were filled with pictures taken from its various parts; and one artist in particular, (the only living man, by the way, who really appreciates my writings; and one who, as I just said, is able "to separate principles from facts,") devoted twelve months of constant application to illustrate its beauties. Seven operas in French; five, in Italian; three, in English; and seventeen in gum arabic, "appeared simultaneously:" besides more tragedies and farces than you could shake a stick atall founded on the Claret-Coloured Coat. "In order to come to this discussion with clean hands, I bet to assure the reader that not one of this flattering number was written by me, nor at my request." To say that they were (any or all) written contrary to my desire, would, of course, be "conceding a sacred private right."
After going through this detail, (in the course of which I have eleven times done violence to my feelings of diffidence as a man, and nine times as an author,) the reader will see the manifest impossibility of there being any two ways about the merit of the piece: and he will also see that any fault-finding must originate in the blackest malice, or the meanest vengeance, or the most arrogant impudence, or the least extended mindto be found in the dictionary.
My task grows painful as I proceed: "but no man can question my right to defend myself." What could never have happened in the natural course of things was accomplished through the insidious influence of foreign gold! The crowned heads of Europe no sooner caught a scent of the Claret-Coloured Coat, than they trembled on their thrones. Their next step was to lavish their millions, to neutralize its poison. A confidential friend of mine, determined to oppose their nefarious designs, succeeded, at length, in surprising and making prisoner "M. Saulnier;" and in his pocket was found the damning list of Judases. I make no apology for publishing these to the world. The American received seventy-five cents; the Courier sixty-two and a half cents; the Commercial one dollar and fifty cents; the Traveller and the Mirror four shillings each; and master Cassio received "the Paris edition of the work," together with a Claret-Coloured Coat, made by "an American tailor at Paris." Cassio, by the way, is an impertinent fellow: this "precludes him from the right to expect any reply," and I shall take no notice of him.
The first proceeding on the part of these would-be-gentlemen was an "exceedingly clumsy" review of my work, published in the New-York American, and signed Cassio. Now, the assumption of this signature comprises an anachronism and "a palpable absurdity," and of course refutes the whole pretended critique. The anachronism is obvious, for it takes up one of Shakspeare's heroes, who has been dead more than two hundred years, and makes him review a work which he could never, by any possibility, have seen nor heard of! The absurdity is equally plain. While using the signature of an individual name, he still speaks, throughout the entire article, "in the first person plural!" "As the French have it," he says, "WE," (oui, French:) by the way, the use of this word proves the critique to be "a translation from a hack-writer in Parisas I understand."
The editor of the Commercial Advertiser, who is also the editor of the Revue Encyclopedique, published in New-York and Paris simultaneously a tirade about me and my writings that is really awful. He wrote at once, "to, at, and for" me ("I have italicized the cloven feet;") but as "it breathed nothing but personal malice throughout," it had no effect whatever on the public mind. The same is true of the critique of Cassio. He, with unparalleled absurdity, acknowledges, at the outset, that he had forgotten the plot, the hero, and the heroine; and was, moreover, unable to put his finger on the particular page that had interested him. To make my case plain, I must here "acknowledge," for him, that he had also forgotten not merely the general plan (which is, in fact, "the plot"); but all the major and minor incidents, all the subordinate characters, all the dialogues, commentaries, and essays, which, together, do not occupy more than seven-eighths of the workand, having done this, I ask you, gentle reader, to look at the case, and think of Cassio's reviewing that work! What can be more absurd? Observe well the circumstances. You have but to add my story to his, and the declaration is then as complete as words can make it, that he has absolutely forgotten every thing that the book contains: and yet he affects to review it! "The reason is obvious;" Metternich paid the shot. The truth is, when you put my story with his, or even when you take mine by itself and leave his out of the question, "Cassio does not stand before the public in the most favourable point of view." The same public will readily see the physical impossibility of my taking notice of Cassio.
"The editor of the American has justly obtained a respectable reputation for taste in literature"; I sincerely regret that he should have forfeited that reputation, by "avowing that Cassio is a favourite correspondent; he had much better have left himself in the quandary that I prepared for him." However, I know one thing"he will regret what he said, when he gets cool." But as for Cassio, I shall show, in two words, that he is a sad fellow; and I will do this by "proving bad faith on him. "He says, that he (save the mark!) does not admire the Claret-Coloured Coat. Now, I have already shown its eminent success with the playwrights and painters, which proves that every body else did admire it. The inference is irresistible; Cassio himself admired it; and yet he avows that he did not!" After this proof of bad faith, my taking notice of Cassio in this letter is out of the question.
I regret the necessity of thus annihilating poor Cassio, but what mouse can survive a touch of the LION's paw? To be sure, I consider all those who abuse me as fools: but this Cassio! why, if there are no errors of the press in his critique, (a thing not to be imagined in that deliberate vehicle, a daily print!) he has made, at the very least, "five errors of grammar and idiom!" a pretty fellow, this, to review me! But I cannot consider Cassio as worthy of my notice.
Next comes the Courier and Enquirer, in a tirade where personal feeling is so manifest that it is really impossible to give my refutation with becoming gravity. "It abounds, besides, in errors and misconstructions;" and, plainly enough, was written by Cassio, although it appears as editorial! In fact "there is internal evidence" that it came from Cassio. He affects to say that I am "most touched by a keen and severe criticism in the American," (which, be it observed, was written by himself!) "For reasons that are obvious," this is absurd. By the way, I hope that Cassio will not flatter himself with the belief that he either merits or receives my notice in this letter.
The next paper that "meddled with my private affairs," is the New-York Traveller. This piece is remarkably spiteful, and is "obviously written in bad faith." Cassio wrote this too; "I detected its origin before twenty lines were read." He says whiningly, we admire this writer as much as any man; but our admiration cannot blind us to his faults, nor render us insensible to his absurdities. "This is a downright gallicism, or it is downright nonsense." Faults, indeed! let him produce them. I wish he would read Julius Cæsar, and remember that remarkable linea friendly eye would never see such faults.
Next comes the New-York Mirror. this paper has "the command of a little ink and a few types," and therefore is entitled to meddle! It pretends to give a table showing how much I receive per line from my publishers: but the statements are made "in bad faith." It requires no discernment, however, to detect Cassio here: the subject itself is cash-o, and, as Cassio is a mercantile man, his very element is making figures; pardon the puns! I learned the trick among the Venetian nobility.
It only remains to say that a letter written in March, 1833, was recently discovered in the pocket of an individual, which proves that the United States Bank received a bonus of fifteen millions, and an appointment to St. James', for sustaining the newspapers in their unholy warfare against "my private interest."
Having thus triumphantly refuted all the arguments of all my enemies, I shall perhaps be pardoned for saying, at last, one word on "my own affairs." It has become a common thing in France, England, Turkey, China, Russia, Egypt, and the city of Washington, to style me the American Walter Scott; and the people seem to think that I ought to be flattered! by the degrading appellation! But I take this occasion to inform them that the title "gives me just as much gratification as any NICKNAME can give a gentleman,"! ! !* mem. This is what I call republican independence.
* Verbatim: see "A Letter," etc. page 55. [EDITOR's footnote]
The chief object of this letter remains to be accomplished. North America "is called a union;" and the reason seems, generally, to be misunderstood, because my countrymen will not free themselves "from the shackles of foreign opinion." But I am happy to inform them that "it is called a union because it consists of several states joined together." This union is bounded on the north by the pole, and on the other side by the ocean. It has a President at its head, and a people at his feet. the money is kept in the Bank, and the Bank is a monster: in fact, it needs little acquaintance with the salt water to enable any one to see that a bank is very dangerous to the ship Constitution. The President, however, saw this before any one else did, and ordered the deposites (of which all banks are composed) to be removed: this being done, the bank gave way, and made room for the ship, which would otherwise have been wrecked. Nothing can be more simple. "The reason is obvious." As for the Senate, they don't understand their business: they will scarcely confirm an appointment! I understand that Mr. W******y will resign. Good-by, dear friends, I shall see you (or rather you will see me) no more.
I never saw Martin Van Buren." "I scorn the imputation of an office-seeker." I am told, it is certain that Mr. W******y will resign.
I did intend to animadvert on the American press generally; but the press is hopelessly "vulgar""as I understand."
Since strict correctness in composition, etc. has become a sine quâ non, a test-question of one's value, I will add a few errata, for the benefit of the author of "A Letter," etc.
|15,||6,||one nail driven,||driving one nail.|
|40,||30,||to have sent,||to send.|
|58.||19,||erase||other, etc. etc. etc.|
Return to Top of Page