James Fenimore Cooper Society Website
This page is: http://www.oneonta.edu/external/cooper/writings/utopia/chapone.html

History and Utopia:
A Study of the World View of James Fenimore Cooper
(Chapter One -- pp. 1-47)

Allan M. Axelrad
(University of Pennsylvania)

Norwood, PA: Norwood Editions, 1978
Limited to 200 Copies

© 1978, Allan M. Axelrad
Placed on-line with permission of the copyright holder
[may be downloaded and reproduced for personal or instructional use, or by libraries]

Return to History and Utopia (home page) | Writings

Note: Footnotes are separately numbered for each chapter.

CHAPTER ONE: The Crater: An Introduction to Cooper's World View

The key to the elusive principles and beliefs that define and give internal cohesion to the Cooper cosmology is to be found in the 1847 novel, The Crater Or Vulcan's Peak. The novel affords a compact and coherent statement of Cooper's world view, as unfolded in the narrative through a carefully crafted allegory of the historical process. Cooper was seldom modest in appraising his own work, but he had an unusually high opinion of the merits of this novel. "I like my new book [The Crater] exceedingly," he wrote his wife, "Altogether, it is a remarkable book."1 The Crater is indeed "a remarkable book," although it is unlikely Cooper guessed precisely why. What is singular about the novel is its allegorical disclosure of the fundamental assumptions of the world view that underpins and gives coherence to the vast body of his literary output, covering an almost thirty-year span of extraordinary productivity, from 1821 to 1850.

An appreciation of the paradigmatic quality of the allegory contained in The Crater is essential for correctly reconstructing the way Cooper looked at the world. The allegory divulges the relationship of his ideological thought to his utopian persuasion of the shape the good society should take, and also to his anti-utopian envisionment of the form a pernicious society might take. Thomas Philbrick is the Cooper scholar who comes closest to gauging the full significance of the novel by recognizing the "religious Weltanschauung" in The Crater that permeates Cooper's "world view which, in the best of his mature novels, interpenetrates and fuses every element of the work."2 Although The Crater was lightly dismissed as satire in the first great study of Cooper's social thought, the latest generation of Cooper scholars has taken notice of the novel and subjected it to extensive scrutiny.3

The Crater details the genesis, rise, fall, and obliteration of a society. Cyclic genesis and decay -- such is the fate of all biological and social organisms in the temporal sphere. Civilizations rise and fall endlessly, duplicating the cyclical pattern of time and change in nature. Cooper was deeply impressed by the temporality of man's {2} works, contrasted with the unfathomable and enduring majesty of God. It has been suggested that for Cooper, as for Whitman, the present and the eternal are the same.4 However, this is to overlook the critical separation Cooper makes between profane history, which takes the form of cyclic repetition, and sacred history, which takes the form of one great cycle of time from paradise lost to paradise regained.5 Cooper and Whitman are opposites. For Cooper, the overriding fact of human history is the presence of original sin; for Whitman, it is its absence. Social change is the result of original sin. The degeneration and fail of civilization, in Cooper's cosmology, symbolically reenacts the original fall. Only at the end of time, upon the conclusion of the drama of sacred history, will cyclic change desist and everlasting perfection obtain. In Cooper's schematic of profane history, the utopian phase is that stage in the cycle when society and nature achieve their optimum balance. But this proximate utopia should not be mistaken for the real thing, which is the orthodox Christian millennium at the end of sacred history. So, too, that stage in the cycle when society and nature are least in tune is the anti-utopian stage in his scheme. But neither should proximate anti-utopia be mistaken for the absolute, which is the orthodox Christian concept of Hell.

The cyclical character of the history of every society, which was so central to Cooper's social analysis, was widely accepted by the writers and painters associated with the Hudson River School.6 The epigraph on the title page of The Crater reads:

                                                                                                                             THUS ARISE RACES OF LIVING THINGS, GLORIOUS IN STRENGTH AND PERISH, AS THE QUICKENING BREATH OF GOD FILLS THEM, OR IS WITHDRAWN7

The epigraph is from William Cullen Bryant's "The Prairies," an elegiac rendering of the theme of mutability of civilizations. But Bryant's poem was not the primary inspiration of Cooper's novel. Late in the novel Cooper states that a particular scene recalls "Cole's series of noble landscapes that is called 'the March of Empire.' "8 Cooper's memory was imperfect; the actual title is The Course of Empire, painted by Thomas Cole in 1836. But his memory of the theme of the five-part series was precise. The form and structure of the allegory in The Crater was composed in careful conformity with Cole's allegory in The Course of Empire.9

Savage State

Savage State

The Arcadian or Pastoral State

Arcadian or Pastoral State

The Consummation of Empire

Consummation of Empire





In an 1849 letter to Louis Legrand Noble, the Episcopal minister {3} who had overseen Cole's religious conversion and who was later to become his biographer, Cooper uses superlatives to express his admiration of Cole and The Course of Empire. "As an artist," Cooper writes, "I consider Mr. Cole one of the very first geniuses of the age." "Not only do I consider the March of Empire [The Course of Empire] the work of the highest genius this country has ever produced," he continues, "but I esteem it as one of the noblest works of art that has ever been wrought. There is a simplicity, distinctness, eloquence, and pathos in the design, that are beautifully brought out and illustrated in the execution."10

Cooper considers The Course of Empire "a great epic poem, in which the idea far surpasses the execution."11 The parallel between Cooper's critique of Cole's five paintings and the modern critical assessment of Cooper's five Leatherstocking Tales is more than coincidental. In each case they are celebrated for their mythopoetic expression, not their technical execution. Both Cole and Cooper believed content rather than technique, the poetry of theme, not the poetry of execution, is the foremost critical consideration. Their esthetic values derive from the Scotch Associationist School, which held that the beauty of an object resides in the mind of the beholder and is not intrinsic to the object itself. Art should be evocative and suggestive, not imitative; and the artist should strive to demonstrate associations between the external natural world and the internal realm of moral truth.12 Cole's response to the Associationist esthetic was to paint moral allegories. Because time is dynamic, not static, change, according to Hudson River thought, is constant. Due to the fluidity of time and constancy of change, Cole sometimes found it difficult to make a significant didactical statement on a single canvas. He thought of his paintings as poems, and was, on several occasions, driven to paint his poems as series when a single canvas became too limiting for the grandiose theme he wished to express. Likewise, Cooper found himself writing series of novels when the grandeur of his theme could not be compressed into a single novel. Such was the case with the great themes about time, process, and social change which produced the Leatherstocking Tales and the Littlepage epic. Like Cole's paintings and Bryant's poems, Cooper's series are guided by a perception of the fragility of human constructions and the cyclical passage of time. The wonder of The Crater is that the usually verbose Cooper, who on several occasions wrote two novels when he set out to write one, was able to {4} compact a five-part epic into a relatively tight-knit allegory, writing one novel not five.13 The framework provided by Cole's epic is largely responsible for the relative compactness of The Crater; it shapes and limits Cooper's novel, providing tight structural unity.

In an 1833 letter to his patron, Luman Reed, Cole describes his plan for a series of paintings:

A series of pictures might be painted that should illustrate the history of a natural scene, as well as be an epitome of Man, - showing the natural changes of landscape, and those effected by man in his progress from barbarism to civilization -- to luxury -- to the vicious state, or state of destruction -- and to the state of ruin and desolation.
     The philosophy of my subject is drawn from the history of the past, wherein we see how nations have risen from the savage state to that of power and glory, and then fallen, and become extinct. Natural scenery has also its changes, -- the hours of the day and the seasons of the year -- sunshine and storm: these justly applied will give expression to each picture of the series I would paint. It will be well to have the same location in each picture: this location may be identified by the introduction of some striking object in each scene -- a mountain of peculiar form, for instance.14

Three years later The Course of Empire was finished, faithfully following Cole's description to Reed. Eleven years after that The Crater was published, also adhering to Cole's original plan. In his letter to Reed, Cole speaks of the "progress" of civilization, which he clearly portrays as cyclical. When Cooper rendered Cole's art into prose, he, ironically, tells of the "progress" of society, especially in its degenerative stage. The plain meaning of both Cole's and Cooper's work is that real progress is not possible within profane history, that the nineteenth century was wrong.

The Crater reproduces the five stages of a cycle of history named in the letter to Reed -- "barbarism," "civilization," "luxury," "the vicious state," and the state of "desolation." It also faithfully introduces a "striking object" which provides a stable reference point in nature in each phase of the cycle, vividly contrasting with the unstable conditions of the society as it rises and fails. This stable reference is Vulcan's Peak, which, Cooper suggests, "might be said to resemble, in this respect, that sublime rock, which is recog{5}nized as part of the 'everlasting hills,' in Cole's series."15 Mountains were important natural artifacts to the Romantic mind because they raised the thoughts of man to the awesome, the powerful, and the beatific eternity of the Divine.16 In part, Cole's "everlasting hills" and Cooper's "Vulcan's Peak," "that sublime rock," serve this function of affirming the infinity and glory of God, who transcends the flux of temporal processes. As hierophanies, Mircea Eliade explains, rocks "reveal power, hardness, permanence.17 But mountains also serve a darker function. One strain of Christian thought had long held mountains to be symbols of original sin, spectacular ruins of a fallen world that in its original purity was smooth and unblemished.18 In this regard, Cole's "hills" and Cooper's "Peak" are enduring monuments of a fallen world, constant reminders throughout the course of civilization of the eventual fate of all human endeavor due to the presence of original sin.

Cooper did not follow Cole's lead in every particular. He did not structure the novel about the cycle of seasons, perhaps due to its South Seas locale; nor was it practical to suggest the daily cycle, dawn to dusk, as had Cole. But Cooper would readily concur with Cole that cycles of time in nature are analogues to the cyclical pattern of historical time. The Pioneers, for example, is carefully structured about the cycle of seasons, and in many of his novels the concurrence between time of day and change is deliberately drawn. The existence of a general correspondence between nature and history lies at the heart of his social analysis. The health of society is dependent upon and corresponds to its relationship with the natural environment.

An important difference existed between European and American Romantic thought in the perception of the correspondence of man and nature. In Europe nature showed the way to individual or artistic salvation. The individual sought the inner meaning of himself in nature. So nature was the realm of a private quest, a search for individual identity. But in America nature was closely associated with a public identity. Where in Europe the health of an individual soul might depend upon its right association with nature, in America the entirety of the great noble experiment in representative democracy hinged upon the right relationship of the whole nation to nature. Here nature was a religious, ethical, and, ultimately, a social problem.19

No wonder writers, artists, and poets such as Cooper, Cole, and {6} Bryant were preoccupied with the moral dimensions of their creative calling. Each was significantly impressed with the correspondence and the mutability of nature and society, and each had an artistic mission in life to inform the public of the proper balance that should be maintained between the two. The Crater represents a meaningful exercise in this creative calling. The novel encapsulates the problem of the relationship of society to nature in each of its social, moral, and religious aspects. It serves warning to Americans of what will happen if they violate the equipoise between civilization and nature, and also unremorsefully states that this is what inevitably must occur. For it is the fate of all societies to eventually violate the equipoise, and in so doing induce their own downfall. Hence, the artist is bound to a conservative calling. He must call attention to the ideal relationship between society and nature. Once it is achieved, he must strive to preserve it as long as possible, knowing full-well that time and history are against him, for the wheels of change can be slowed but never stopped.

Cole's minister and confidant, Louis Legrand Noble. states the social and historical theory in which The Course of Empire is grounded:

In the life-time of a nation, -- for nations like individuals have a life-time, bounded by birth and death there is a summit-level, up to which, it may be said, it carries itself, and down from which it is carried. Moving forward by the force of native energies and passions, there arrives a time when energies are exhausted, and passions vitiated. That is the hour of its satiety -- the limit of accomplishment. No longer a labourer, it is a cumberer of ground. As a cumberer of the ground, it is caught in the arms of avenging, irresistible destiny, and hurried down to extinction. Sin digs its own grave, and piles around it the stones for its own monument.20

This analysis is equally applicable to The Crater. Societies, like "individuals" and other organisms, "have a lifetime, bounded by birth and death." Hudson River social philosophy taught the immutability of the cycle of time in society as in nature. Cooper died before Noble published his impressive critical biography of Cole; thus he was unacquainted with Noble's assessment of the artist. But Noble's discussion of Cole's art within the context of his idea of history divulges a shared perception of time and social change, {7} highlighting the similarity of world view of the most prominent novelist and the most prominent artist of the Hudson River School. Noble's analysis is particularly appropriate to The Crater because he imposes a religious interpretation upon the historical process disclosed within Cole's five-part epic -- "Sin digs its own grave." Shortly before his death, and prompted by his religious conversion late in life, Cole had wished he might repaint the series as a Christian allegory.21 Cooper's own religious orthodoxy, however, is clearly implanted in his rendition of Cole's allegory. The Crater, guided by the myth of Genesis and the Fall, is primarily concerned with temporal or profane time; but it points to the time when Christian or sacred history will finally end, with paradise restored. Conservation of the profane ideal, the proximate utopia, is a temporal calling; its invariable failure gives testimony to the fact that perfection cannot be achieved within historical time. Paradise resides outside of time, at the end of history, and awaits the appearance of the Christian millennium.

The Crater records the life cycle of a society that is both representative and analogical to the United States of America in each of the five stages of The Course of Empire: the savage, the pastoral, consummation of empire, the vicious, and the state of desolation. Two of the stages, the first or savage and the last or desolate, exist on the distant perimeters of historical time. It is in Cole's three middle paintings that historical time is dynamically unfolded, moving cyclically from the pastoral state to consummate civilization to the impending destruction of a decadent civilization. These three stages were paramount in Cooper's mind for they had direct relevance to his contemporary America, which appeared to him to be accelerating through the cycle, from the pastoral community of his childhood in Cooperstown to the rapidly degenerating mass society of his later years. In the preface he writes, "we hope this book will be found not to be totally without a moral.22 The "moral" is the efficacy of the proximate utopia of his youth, with its hierarchical social structure, agricultural economy, and ethical and religious conventionality. Cooper cautions, "If those who now live in this republic, can see any grounds for a timely warning in the events here recorded, it may happen that the mercy of a divine Creator may still preserve that which he has hitherto cherished and protected."23 It has been suggested that Cooper, as well as Cole and others, was painfully asking the question, "Could America arrest this cyclical course of {8} empire at the savage or arcadian stage before nature was destroyed and while virtue was intact?24 But the question more nearly represents duty-bound rhetoric than possible solution and salvation. History might be tampered with, it might be slowed or accelerated, but there is no reversing the cycle and going backward to an earlier stage of development. Cooper's jeremiads of the 1830s and 1840s are rhetorical exercises, telling that something is amiss, but uttered with no expectation of righting what is wrong. In his later writings, especially, he adopts a posture of Christian stoicism where his temporal pessimism is unimportant by contrast with the inspiration of Christian salvation. Once the pastoral stage is past, with nature and the human community no longer harmoniously balanced, the moral fiber of the people invariably degenerates. There can be no returning to the more virtuous condition that scholars have inferred Cooper hoped to reinstitute. Indeed, he held no hope that The Crater would be taken seriously or even be politely received by the American reading public.25 His fatalism is consistent with his deterministic idea of history.

Scholars who have read The Crater as an anti-rent tract or as an argument for firm constitutional principles or as a utopian novel, have read it too narrowly. Still the novel does express Cooper's conviction that land ownership is a sacred institution, that the law is sacred, that the social hierarchy is sacred, that the traditional high church is sacred, and that the devaluation of the sacred inevitably leads to the degeneration of civilization. There is a powerful sense in many of Cooper's works, including The Crater, that so long as that which is sacred is revered and preserved, the community will retain its youthful health and vigor. On the downward turn of the cycle, sacred values and institutions lose their vitality or are replaced through a process of rationalization. The rationalization, secularization, and corrosion of the sacred is a telling theme in The Crater; as the sacred, proximate utopian community is transformed into a secular, proximate anti-utopian society, roughly approximating Tönnies' gemeinschaft-gesellschaft typology. Correctly, though narrowly construed, the novel is a study of social change, but its ramifications are broader.

Certainly it is incorrect and misleading to read The Crater as a utopian novel.26 The novel is concerned with the entire historical process, in which the second stage or pastoral is proximate utopia and the fourth or vicious stage is proximate anti-utopia. Although the pastoral state is here designated proximate utopia for dialectical purposes, it should be made clear that Cooper had too strong a sense of original sin to envision a temporal utopia in the usual meaning of the word. In The American Democrat he states that all utopianism is misreckoned: "Every human excellence is merely comparative, there being no good without alloy. It is idle therefore to expect a system that shall exhibit faultlessness, or perfection."27 What he seeks to define in The Crater is not utopia in its literal meaning, but the most advantageous form the human community can take within the limitations of man's fallen nature. The sacred values and organic wholeness attributable to proximate utopia, identify but one stage in a dynamic historical process. Scholars who have read The Crater as a utopian novel have necessarily missed its paradigmatic presentation of Cooper's orthodox Christian, non-utopian world view.

The allegory of the historical process in The Crater begins when two mariners are ship-wrecked on a desert isle in the Pacific. Mark Woolston, by birth and education a gentleman, a member of Cooper's second estate, is the author's persona and the protagonist. Bob Betts, by contrast, a humble and unpretending sailor, a member of Cooper's third estate, is Woolston's man Friday and always deferential to his natural superior.28 The two marooned seamen were crew members of the Rancocus, which, it is intimated, was on an ill-advised mission to gather sandal-wood for trade in China -- "a branch of commerce," Cooper declares, "which ought never to be pursued by any Christian man, or Christian nation, if what we hear of its uses in China be true. There, it is said to be burned as incense before idols, and no higher offence can be committed by any human beings than to be principal, or accessary, in any manner or way, to the substitution of any created thing for the ever-living God." Later, when Woolston "came to muse on the causes" of the "wonderful events that occurred," he realizes the ship-wreck may well have resulted from their sinful errand.29 No wonder such an expedition, whose purpose contains the highest offense man can commit against God, invokes the wrath of God and providentially meets catastrophe. The microcosmic society aboard ship was destroyed because of its immoral state, as summarized by its errand to gather sandal-wood.30 With the destruction of the old, immoral order, one cycle of history is brought close to conclusion and another set to {10} begin. The ship's catastrophe prefigures the allegorical recommencement of the cyclic process of history at the reef upon which the two castaways find sanctuary.

There is a timeless appearance to the reef upon which they are cast. The desert isle is a "bit of naked reef' or a "naked rock."31 "Nakedness and dreariness," Cooper explains, "were the two words which best described the island;" and when Woolston surveys his bleak sanctuary, "The utter nakedness of the rock both surprised and grieved him."32 It is a world seemingly outside the historical process, as yet untouched and unrefined by time. Yet the reef is not outside history or immune to the cycle of change. When Cooper calls it a "desolate" place, and quickly again speaks of its "solitude a powerful association is made between the and desolation,"33 circumstances of the island and the fifth painting in Cole's series, "Desolation." He provides an additional clue that the barren reef is actually the enduring ruin of an almost completed cycle of history. The castaways find a tell-tale, large mound of "crumbling rock" in the middle of the reef which, at first glance, appears to be "an elevated bit of table rock," but on close examination is found to be "the extinct crater of a volcano!"34 The Romantic mind had long associated volcanoes with the ruins of time,35 and here an extinct volcano suggests the cause of destruction, while also participating in the scene of desolation as an enduring ruin, in Cooper's prose volcanoes are often interjected as a warning of impending apocalyptic change due to moral turpitude. He wrote that decadent Naples straddles a bed of molten lava, and prophesied that the city would eventually be destroyed by "the cauldron beneath it," leaving nothing remaining but a scene "of frightful desolation!" Once again "desolation" denotes the end of civilization and the end of a cycle of history: such will be the fate of decadent Naples, such was the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah he suggests, and he speculates that such could be the fate of New York City.36 For the duration of profane history such will be the fate of all societies -- to rise, decline, and finally die a turbulent death.

Woolston's ship, a microcosm of society, meets its doom because of its immoral state, defined by the sacrilegious mission to gather sandal-wood, stranding him on a desert isle equated with the final stage ;n the cycle of history, desolation. After Betts is swept out to sea during a storm, Woolston undergoes a "severe illness," which provides him a glimpse into a "future day, when he might be {11} compelled to give up life itself.37 Upon recovering from the illness he feels like a new man!"38 Providentially, "by a very natural operation of causes," he finds himself "in much closer communion with his Creator" than previously."39 His religious practice is no longer "in cold and unmeaning forms and commonplaces, but with such yearning of the soul, and such feelings of love and reverence, as an active and living faith can alone, by the aid of the Divine Spirit, awaken in the human breast."40 Woolston, like Robinson Crusoe, becomes deathly ill, has a religious conversion experience, is reborn a new man, withstands a natural cataclysm, and discovers a garden of abundance.41 Through symbolic death and new birth he transcends the unsanctified condition of the Rancocus crew, atoning for the ship's sinful mission. Once he is figuratively a new man, the way is paved for history to literally begin again.

The island does not long remain in the desolate state. As Leatherstocking, who is well aware of cyclic return in nature and society, explains -- "'Arth is an eternal round, the goodness of God bringing back the pleasant when we've had enough of the onpleasant."42 In a violent cataclysm of nature, the reef and Vulcan's Peak, a nearby volcanic cone hitherto too low to be seen from the reef, are uplifted from the sea and enormously enlarged.43 Cooper writes, "The sun went down in a bank of lurid fire." The spectacle is described as "lurid," a frightful episode, "one that might well induce any man to imagine that time was drawing to its close."44 But it is not the end of time, instead it is an apocalyptic rebirth of time, only anticipating by suggestion the ultimate denouement of profane history, when judgment will be meted out. Eliade observes, "visions of the 'beginning' and the 'end' of time are homologues -- eschatology, at least in certain aspects, becoming one with cosmogony."45 The momentous eruption, reproducing the beginning of time, ushers in the first phase of the cycle of history, equivalent to Cole's "The Savage State." Describing the mood of the first painting in his projected series, Cole writes, "There must be a flashing chiaroscuro, and the spirit of motion pervading the scene, as though nature were just springing from chaos."46 Cooper was faithful to Cole. There is a plethora of turbulent motion and haif-obscuring mist, evoking a sense of chiaroscuro, with Woolston initially seeing Vulcan's Peak as "some dark, dense body first looming through the rising vapour."47 He refers to the "new creation" which sprang forth from the cataclysm, and when he visits the New World of {12} Vulcan's Peak, "Like Columbus, he knelt on the sands, and returned his thanks to God."48

Woolston, the new world's first man, is equated both with Adam and Columbus, and Vulcan's Peak is equated with America at the moment of discovery. Each world entered history with great promise, but America was already a disappointment to Cooper. As architect of this new world, Woolston will attempt to profit by the author's knowledge of America's mistakes; indeed, attempt the impossible -- attempt to construct a society impregnable to social change.

With the eruption history begins anew at the reef, but this "new creation," unlike its prototype in the Garden of Eden, is not yet fully paradisiacal. In Cooper's cosmology it is the pastoral, not the savage state, which is more nearly like the original garden. It is often maintained that Cooper idealized primeval nature. But to the extent that he did, it was not as a place of Christian habitation. Leatherstocking is the sole exception in Cooper's fiction, for he alone among men has the ability to distinguish good from evil and remain a moral being without the coercive guidance of social restraints. The claim "that Cooper found the source of morality in the wilderness itself and not in the, protection and preservation of European society,"49 demonstrates a misapprehension of his ideal society and also man's essential nature. After the Fall from the first garden, the appearance of sin made it impossible for mankind (Leatherstocking excepted) to lead a Christian life unrestrained by society's laws and conventions. Man in the savage state is amoral and unChristian. Cooper had little regard for Rousseau's noble savages, hence most of his frontiersmen are ignoble savages.

Cooper's frontiersmen are almost invariably bachelors. There is a strong sense in Cooper that proximate paradise is inhabited by families, not by unattached men and women. The family, like the larger community, is a coercive unit made necessary by the presence of original sin. The relationship of parents and children is one of compulsion and obedience in proximate utopia, but in his contemporary America the organic family structure seemed to be breaking down, augmenting community fragmentation and unvirtuous behavior. He feels family disorder, just as surely as community disorder, will bring the wrath of God upon the offenders, and suggests the misfortune Woolston and~his bride, Bridget, suffer "was in consequence of acting directly in the face of the wishes and {13} injunctions of their parents." Indeed, "they had offended against one of the simplest commands of God. They had not honoured their father and mother," and they were providentially punished for their disobedience to the commandment.50 In The Ways Of The Hour, he vigorously argues against equality of the sexes, seeing in equality a threat to the sanctity of the family institution. The family, as the basic unit of socialization, is opposed to the social disorder characteristic of a late stage in the cycle of history, just as it is opposed to the anarchic wilderness or savage state. Leatherstocking is well aware of the impossibility of Christian families enduring in the forests; the savage wilderness is an unfit environment for white women, which is why he can never marry. Judith Hutter, in The Deerslayer, realizes paradise is unattainable in her wayward, single condition at lovely Lake Glimmerglass and asks, "where is the man to turn this beautiful place into such a garden of Eden for us?"51 It is the presence of Christian families that marks the transformation in the cycle of history from the savage to the pastoral or edenic state. Woolston, too, envisions the still unrealized edenic potential of his new world -- all that "was wanting" were "the sweets of social converse" and "Bridget for his Eve."52 Betts, who found his way to America, returns with a handful of colonists ("the sweets of social converse"), including Woolston's wife. Bridget ("his Eve"), and a wife of his own, prompting Cooper to recite from Genesis, "bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh," recalling the first garden.53 The Woolstons were married in the United States, but he shipped to sea leaving his "virgin bride" behind. In the novel, paradise is within reach with their long-delayed reunion. Indeed, it is in a new-world garden which she names Eden that the richly symbolic "consummation" of their marriage occurs.54 Joel Porte is incorrect in thinking that for Cooper "the American eden (to paraphrase Melville) is a Paradise for bachelors only."55 It is only after Woolston and Betts are with their wives and proceed about the business of seriously cultivating the islands, erecting institutions, and raising families, that the proximate utopian phase of the cycle of history is entered into.

In the cycle of the history of the islands, the second phase is equivalent to Cole's second painting, "The Arcadian or Pastoral State." It is in Eden that the families first settle, harmoniously installed in the pastoral setting. In proximate utopia, nature is neither wild nor threatening; it has "grandeur" and "sublimity," {14} but "blended with softness."56 Noble perceives in Cole's second painting, that this is a time when "Hopes now begin to be realized, promises made good, prophecies fulfilled."57 In Cole's "The Arcadian or Pastoral State," the "Virgilian" mode is plainly manifest,58 so, too, Cooper embraces the Virgilian as his pastoral ideal. As a schoolboy Cooper memorized entire dialogues from Virgil's Eclogues;59 and in his later writings the fond memory of the pastoral enchantment of the Eclogues retains its strength. The lesson of the Eclogues is that proximate utopia appears when man and nature coexist in harmony and rustic simplicity.

Uninhabited nature lacks moral content. Morality, whether good or bad, is introduced through the association of man with nature. Noble explains Cole's understanding of the pastoral genre: "by pastorals let it be understood to mean, not those pictures of the country in which men and animals are subordinate and merely incident to the main design, but those in which they are in such wise actors, that the landscape has, at least, a moral subordination; when all conspires to tell a story, and that a story of rustic life and manners."60 This definition would please Cooper because of its insistence on the ethical content man confers on nature. In Arcadia, human beings are not "subordinate" or "merely incident to the main design," but principal "actors" in a morally instructive "story."

The epigraph to the chapter succeeding the domestic establishment of the Woolstons in Eden gives a succinct summation of the Virgilian mode or pastoral ideal:

I beg, good Heaven, with just desires,
What need, not luxury, requires;
Give me, with sparing hands, but moderate wealth.
A little honour, and enough of health;
     Free from the busy city life,
Near shady groves and purling streams confined,
     A faithful friend, a pleasing wife;
And give me all in one, give a contented mind.61

This is the temporal ideal, Cooper's proximate utopia. Man and nature are harmoniously balanced. Nature is tame, life is simple -- "What need, not luxury, requires" -- with urban complication, its hectic pursuits and implied unhealthy atmosphere, distant from the idyll pictured in the poem. What is central to this idyll in understanding Cooper's envisionment of proximate utopia, is its social {15} context. Like Eden in The Crater, the good garden, the moral garden, is not unattended nature. The poem shows man approaching perfection in a social milieu, surrounded by family and friends, with a modicum of culture and means. Man alone in the wilderness is liable to be as savage as the environment. Leatherstocking is the sole exception in Cooper's fiction, but he is mythic by intent, not a viable representative man. Even after Bridget, Betts and his wife, their servants, and a few other members of the expedition join Woolston in Eden. there persists a sense of incompleteness to their paradise. Man as an ethical being is a social being, by design an organic component of a rich social fabric. This is the not fully articulated reason why Woolston feels compelled to increase the population of Eden. to bring additional colonists within his island community's fold.

Woolston returns to America to gather colonists. He selects couples and families of strong moral character. These new settlers reflect the occupational spectrum needed to create an organically interrelated society in which all members are useful and complement each other. All the practical trades are included, such as blacksmiths, masons and carpenters. However, only desirable professionals are sought, such as a doctor and an Episcopal minister, while undesirables such as lawyers and newspapermen are excluded.

The social structure of the colony assumes the natural hierarchy of the human community. Both property and social status in proximate utopia are unequally distributed, consistent with the population's God-given ability and social grooming. Woolston, as Cooper's persona, "was much too sensible a man to fall into any of the modern absurdities on the subject of equality, and a community of interests."62 Private land ownership is the bulwark of society; its sanctity is inviolable in proximate utopia. Land is not equally allotted in recognition of human inequality, which, for Cooper, is a primary fact of social relationship. Social stability presupposes that there be a few great landowners to provide community leadership and a host of deferential small farmers and tradesmen making up a loyal third estate. Social stability requires that inferiors within the social hierarchy defer to their social betters, as servants defer to masters, wives to husbands, and children to parents. In Arcadia everyone observes his or her preordained role as decreed by nature. The organic community is held together by the strict observance of and deference to natural authority.

{16} In making his case for a community founded on the recognition of social difference and respect for private property, Cooper aims a few barbs at communitarian experiments of the 1840s, at "theorists" who would wish "to compress a hundred individuals into one."63 Yet Cooper knew communitarian visionaries were a small and ineffectual element in his contemporary America. The real danger lay in the erroneously held principle of social equality, that threatened to level the natural, traditional, social hierarchy and produce a condition akin to modern mass society. Not long before, in Democracy in America, Tocqueville observes of the impact of equality on modern society, that "When the reverence that belonged to what is old has vanished, birth, condition, and profession no longer distinguish men, or scarcely distinguish them; hardly anything but money remains to create strongly marked differences between them and to raise some of them above the common level."64 Like Tocqueville. Cooper was apprehensive of the effect of levelling social difference, where the possession of money obtained through commercial success, rather than the cultivation and wisdom acquired by the natural elite, would become the arbiter of power and prestige. In a state of equality an unnatural elite, the commercial power, will command. They are monied demagogues, who, in Cooper's lexicon, are synonymous with aristocrats. He was fearful that the masses would obediently follow and support these self-serving aristocrats, who, lacking the noblesse oblige of the gentry, artfully tell the masses what they want to hear. Like Tocqueville, he recognizes the power of the general will, skillfully manipulated, to force compliance with its norms and dictates.

In planning his community, Woolston strives for the inverse of modern undifferentiated society, reflecting Cooper's fear of the increasing "power of the community" in America. In The Crater, he explains, "Individuality is annihilated in a thousand things, by the community-power that already exists in this country, where persecution often follows from a man's thinking and acting differently from his neighbours, though the law professes to protect him."65 Traditional, organically stratified communities protect the individual from the amassed power of the populace, according to Cooper and Tocqueville, and in so doing uphold individual liberty against the pressure of unchecked equality. Cooper fully understood what Tocqueville meant by the observation that liberty and equality have different characteristics and qualities. "The taste {17} which men have for liberty," writes Tocqueville, "and that which they feel for equality are, in fact, two different things; and I am not afraid to add that among democratic nations they are two unequal things." Like Cooper, Tocqueville finds that "Freedom has appeared in the world at different times and under various forms; it has not been exclusively bound to any social condition, and it is not confined to democracy."66 Enlightenment thinkers felt that society should be rationally reconstructed in order to institutionalize freedom and equality. But in establishing equality, the French Revolution destroyed liberty. Cooper believed the basis of social order and individual liberty rests in traditional, hierarchical, social interrelationship; attempts to rationally reorder society must necessarily lead to disorder and loss of liberty. Woolston, as Cooper's persona and the architect of the islands' proximate utopian polity, is a staunch conservative: "instead of fancying that men never knew anything previously to the last ten years of the eighteenth century [referring to the French revolutionaries], he was of the opinion of the wisest man who ever lived, that 'there was nothing new under the sun.'"67 Here, in repudiating Enlightenment optimism and the practices of the French Revolution, Cooper cites Ecclesiastes, the one book of the Bible that stresses the cyclical nature of time and the invariable return of the past.

At the outset of the pastoral phase, the shape the community takes in The Crater accentuates Cooper's conservative belief in the hallowedness of traditional social order. The conservative principles underpinning the social philosophy of Woolston's island community reappear repeatedly in Cooper's works. Especially in The Heidenmauer, the Littlepage trilogy, the Home and Wallingford novels, and The Ways Of The Hour, Cooper expresses his conviction that erosion or rational transformation of social order must inescapably lead to subversion of values, morals, and the loss of individual liberty. It is incumbent upon the natural leadership to retain control and defend the status quo of proximate utopia. Because Arcadia cannot be improved by definition, social change can only be negative and destructive. The role of the conservative, as social philosopher and political operator, is to recognize the fundamental principles of proximate utopia and to shelter them from the transforming mechanism of history.

It is a misconstruction of the relationship of society to history in Cooper to dismiss the urgent conservatism in The Crater, or to {18} suggest "The debate concerning the classification of Mark's government, whether his utopia is an autocratic oligarchy designed to resist change or a pure Jeffersonian democracy, is largely a semantic issue."68 It is not "a semantic issue," but is at the very marrow of Cooper's theory of society and social change. Thomas Philbrick is absolutely correct in believing Woolston's community is designed "to halt the cycle of history, to prolong the moment when the community still retains the innocence, energy, and harmony of its early years and is beginning to taste the security and ease of maturity. From this point 'the progress of the human mind' can lead only downward to decay and disintegration, and Mark does everything in his power to shield his colony from the winds of change."69 In founding a community, Woolston is faced with the difficult (ultimately impossible) task of constructing a social unit that will maximize individual liberty, yet resist change and the consequential cycle of alteration and degeneration which follows in the succeeding stages of the historical process. "Men are fond of change," Cooper explains, "half the time, for a reason no better than that it is change; and, not unfrequently, they permit this wayward feeling to unsettle interests that are of the last importance to them, and which find no small part of their virtue in their permanency."70

The island community, in its initial organization, shows a recognition of the need to prevent or at least inhibit social change. Woolston is elected governor for life. A council is appointed for life to advise and assist the governor. The councillors, ail gentlemen, represent the apex of the social hierarchy, with the one exception of Bob Betts, who, in deference to the requisite refinement and cultivation, soon voluntarily resigns from the council. The lifelong term of office will enable the community to avoid the "demagogism" of electioneering and consequent turmoil. Another conservative step is the establishment of the tradition-bound Episcopal Church. Cooper favored a traditional, high church establishment, believing low church sects and denominations divisive and corrosive of the organic social fabric he wished to preserve. The community's Episcopal minister, the Reverend Hornblower, resembles the Reverend John Henry Hobart, Bishop of New York, who was an outspoken conservative in ecclesiastical matters.71 Lawyers and newspapermen are excluded from the islands because contention is their profession. Newspapers make their appearance "only as society advances to the corrupt condition" in the cycle of history.72 Another precautionary {19} measure is the careful control exercised over the education of the young. "The art of reading," Cooper believes, "may be made an instrument of evil, as well as good." In the schools "Everything false was carefully avoided," such as the notion "that this or that religious sect should be tolerated." Where children's education is potentially threatening to the fragile social fabric, "the less they know of letters, the better."73 Properly supervised, education is a vehicle of cohesion and stability, but it must be imparted in such a way as to discourage novelty and conflict. Although the land is not equally distributed to all, each head of family is granted land in fee simple, providing all inhabitants with access to purifying contact with the soil, in addition to reaffirming the conservative belief that property holders have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Finally, the principle of deference is assiduously observed; evidenced, for example, by Betts' resignation from the council. Cooper vehemently disliked the Jacksonian adulation of the "self-made man," and was bitterly opposed to the rise of the vulgar in politics.74 This is reflected in Woolston's encouragement of his loyal companion's resignation from the council: "Self-made men, he well knew, were sometimes very useful; but he also knew that they must be first made."75 In Cooper's fiction self-made men are characteristically Yankees. They are portrayed as ambitious, often unscrupulous go-getters, social climbers, who must be restrained for the sake of social stability. Woolston's tropical domain is an exercise in conservative constraint, in defensive social and political planning toward the end of freezing a society at a happy moment in time, through stable government, cautious economic planning and land management, careful control of information (particularly in educational and religious affairs), and through a rigid status or class system.

It has become widely accepted in Cooper scholarship that the novelist left for Europe in 1826 a liberal democrat, and only later, after his return in 1833, became disillusioned with popular politics and democratic man. But although he grew increasingly embittered upon his return from Europe, he was a lifelong conservative, never placing much faith in the judgment of the average man. Instead he placed his faith in institutions, in authority, and in leadership by an elite. Political power should be exercised by those best equipped to make sound conservative judgments -- the landed gentry. There is a great gulf between the gentry and the rude masses, in his view, which must be respected if the stable, ordered, pastoral community {20} is to be preserved. Woolston discerns this, and as governor "seldom ate with his people. He knew enough of human nature to understand that authority was best preserved by avoiding familiarity."76 This conservative view of the democratic average and the importance placed on institutional authority in The Crater did not appear first in the post-1833 work of Cooper; it is part and parcel of the same world view that presided over earlier novels, such as The Spy, The Pioneers, and The Heidenmauer.

Actually, Cooper was not ideologically committed to democracy or representative government. Democracy is merely one of two forms of polity Cooper thought tolerable; the other is monarchy. Ideally, these two forms might be combined, as they are in Woolston's office as governor of the islands. The "governor," who "had no relish for power for power's sake, but only wielded it for the general good,"77 is a benevolent despot, cultivated, wise, and beyond the temptation of personal vanities, somewhat like a philosopher king. Because he is initially elected, Woolston approximates the president of a republic, but because his term of office is for life, he also approximates a monarch. His office is a conservative compromise between president and king; the government combines democracy and monarchy. The community, therefore, avoids the demagoguery intrinsic to regular elections, but because the head of state is elected, there is a suggestion that his office emanates from the people and embodies popular consent.

Woolston, as governor for life, is the titular head of a permanent social hierarchy. As such, he represents order, authority, stability. Cooper recognizes that social organisms are delicate structures, easily unsettled by mobility and ensuing social changes. Freedom is dangerous if it threatens to disrupt the social hierarchy. "Men may get to be so far accustomed to inferior stations, and to their duties and feelings," Cooper writes, "as to consider their condition the result of natural laws; but the least taste of liberty begets a jealousy and distrust that commonly raises a barrier between the master and servant, that has a never-dying tendency to keep them more or less alienated in feeling."78 The crux of Cooper's dilemma is raised here: individual liberty is man's most precious possession, but liberty leads to license, threatening the stability of the social organism, thus authority must be firm. But, as The Crater and other writings demonstrate, he was never willing to commit himself philo{21}sophically to the high degree of authority necessary to ensure hypothetically the changelessness of the community, which would require the total suppression of liberty.

In The Crater he seeks to imagine a community that will preserve both liberty and order, but it is clear those at the top of the social hierarchy are, in practice if not in theory, more free than those at the bottom. The community Woolston oversees is something like a medieval seigniory, in which acknowledgment of place and deference to authority secure the social hierarchy. At the apex of the proximate utopian phase of the islands' history, the governor undertakes a "progress" to ascertain the state of his jurisdiction.79 His "progress" evokes the memory of a medieval lord travelling ceremoniously on a royal tour of inspection. Woolston and his council constitute a political, social, cultural, and economic leadership caste; they and their wives are the lords and ladies of the domain. The bulk of the population makes up the third estate, a loyal peasantry, which achieves definition through integration within the social organism. Freedom for the masses is acquired through identification with the group. Individual liberty is attained through deference to status and acceptance of calling.

The economy of proximate utopia is primarily agricultural. The governor is the great landholder, upon whose beneficence the rest of the community is beholden as recipients of land grants, in spirit reminiscent of fealty owed to the feudal seignior by those residing in the seigniory. There is a small town in which artisans, fishermen, and merchants dwell, but they are a minority; the majority are peasant farmers. Thus the town is peripheral to the economy of Arcadia. All inhabitants are free; there is no slave class because Woolston resists temptation to enslave the nearby Kannakas natives, but the Kannakas become a kind of paid serfage who are hired to labor for the community but cannot acquire property or citizenship. The Kannakas are benevolently well treated throughout the pastoral period. However, with the subversion of Woolston's leadership an ungenteel new authority comes into power, which mistreats the natives, in much the same fashion as Yankee overseers were reputed to be responsible for the abuses of slavery, according to the ante-bellum myth. Cooper shares the southern distaste for the dynamic, unprincipled, and rootless Yankees who, lacking respect for tradition, subvert order in their headlong pursuit of personal gain. During the proximate utopian interval in the history {22} of the community, the general good is uppermost in all social and economic considerations. For example, communications are modelled upon the procedure of "the middle ages" which, "in supporting a general system . . . embraced the good of all."80 Only in this one particular does Cooper specifically liken the social system to a medieval community, but many of its characteristics recall the late Middle Ages: its lord-like leadership caste, its traditional high church, its prosperous burghers, peasant farmers and menial serfs, its resistance to change, its insistence on defining people by birth and calling, and the ultimate spirit of fealty that is given by the inhabitants to their benefactor and governor, Mark Woolston.

But like the late Middle Ages the community contains within itself the germ of a new order that will soon take form and overcome the old. As the community is analogous to late medieval Europe, it is also nearing the highest reach in the cycle of history, or phase three, which Cole entitled "Consummation of Empire." "In a word," Cooper explains, "the colony had reached a point where every interest was said to be prosperous -- a state of things with communities, as with individuals, when they are, perhaps, in the greatest danger of meeting with reverses, by means of their own abuses."81 In the natural cycle of genesis and decay, "with communities, as with individuals," the apex of growth invariably precedes decline. No matter how cautious Woolston is in setting up his community with a view to permanency, there inherently exists an individious dynamic of change that might be temporarily checked but cannot be permanently resisted.

As the community rapidly grows affluent and commercial-minded, Woolston resists "the spirit of trade" which predominates, "preferring happiness to wealth, and morals to power."82 When the cycle of history reaches zenith, Woolston sees that

Abundance reigned on every side; in addition to the productions of the island, in themselves so ample and generous, commerce had brought its acquisitions, and, as yet, trade occupied the place a wise discrimination would give it. All such interests are excellent as incidents in the great scheme of human happiness; but woe betide the people among whom they get to be principals! As the man who lives only to accumulate, is certain to have all his nobler and better feelings blunted by the grasping of cupidity, and to lose sight of the great objects of his {23} existence, so do whole communities degenerate into masses of corruption, venality, and cupidity, when they set up the idol of commerce to worship in lieu of the ever-living God. So far from denoting a healthful prosperity, as is too apt to be supposed, no worse signs of the condition of a people can be given, then when all other interests are made to yield to those of the mere money-getting sort. Among our colonists, as yet, commerce occupied its proper place; it was only an incident in their state of society, and it was so regarded.83

Yet Cooper was consistently suspicious of commerce. Where it was principal to a society's economy, he condemned commerce outright. And where it was only incident to an economy, he be grudgingly tolerated commercial activity, never giving it his unqualified blessing. The only fully, ethically conscionable mode rests in the land. In the passage just quoted from The Crater, Woolston suggests that in right balance commerce does not have to be corruptive, but he is ignoring an important fact the reader should not overlook. The commercial basis of the islands' prosperity is in exporting the self-same sandal-wood, providentially associated with the grounding of the Rancocus. Woolston tells that the colonists will remain morally pure so long as they do not "set up the idol of commerce to worship in lieu of the ever-living God." Ironically, sandal-wood is specifically used to promote idolatry and is, therefore, irredeemably blemishing to the moral character of the people.

Early in the history of the islands, life had become so comfortable that Cooper warns of "the common and fatal error of men in prosperity" who begin "to fancy that they deserved all the blessings that were conferred on them," while ignoring "the hand that bestowed" their well being. But fortunately, "events now occurred" which "aroused the whole colony from the sort of pleasing trance into which they had fallen, by the united influence of security, abundance, and a most seductive climate."84 The providential "events" which "aroused" the people from their "pleasing trance," revitalizing the lethargic community, are a series of wars with the native chieftain, Waally, and his warriors. Success in warfare, according to Cooper, brings out the mettle in a people; as a restorative, it renews or reawakens an indifferent or self-satisfied populace. His belief that warfare gives unity and purpose to a people, temporarily {24} reinvigorating a declining society, gives ideological sanction to his militarism.85 Robert Nisbet explains that "Society attains its maximum sense of organization and community and its most exalted sense of moral purpose during the period of war."86 This is precisely the role warfare plays in the novel; by providing a challenge to the islanders, it gives them a common purpose, intensifying communal unity.

In The Pioneers, Cooper advocates conservation as a means of prolonging proximate utopia; in The Crater, it is warfare that functions to keep the community young, vital, and clear in purpose. Healthy societies, like healthy individuals, need constant challenges in order to keep fit. Once the enemy is conquered and the landscape tamed, there is a real danger of growing soft and fleshy. He writes, "The great danger, indeed, that the governor most apprehended, was that the beneficent products of the region would render his people indolent; an idle nation becoming, almost infallibly, vicious,"87 anticipating Cole's fourth painting, the "vicious state." Noble reflects Cooper's fears in his own appraisal of Cole's fourth painting, writing, "All appetite for conquest lost in long satiety, there is now, in its effeminacy, not even the power to resist."88 Roy Harvey Pearce believes the destruction of the savages in Cooper's and his contemporaries' estimation "strengthened their own civilization," while providing their posterity with "an enlarged certitude of another, even happier destiny -- that manifest in the progress of American civilization over all obstacles."89 But Cooper did not believe in the doctrine of open-ended progress. The destruction of the savages in The Crater marks the beginning of the end of civilization, opening the way for indolence and "effeminacy;" just as, in his opinion, the final destruction of the American Indians will weaken, not strengthen, the soul of the republic. Needless to say, Woolston's calculated effort to stay the historical process is unsuccessful. When the last military campaign, the pirate war, is successfully concluded by the islanders, "A great change came over their feelings," causing "them to take a more exalted view of themselves and their condition than had been their wont. The ancient humility seemed suddenly to disappear; and in its place a vainglorious estimate of themselves and of their prowess arose among the people."90

With no further internal or external challenge to the inhabitants, the third phase in the cycle of history is firmly established. {25} Noble perceives in Cole's third painting, "Consummation of Empire," that "The Empire, no longer fresh and vigorous with a spirit rushing onward," pauses "between the first abatement of its energies, and the appointed hour, when Omnipotence, wrenching its destinies from its vicious, palsied hands, shall push it on its fate."91 The islanders are perilously in danger of "waxing fat" and "dropping into luxurious idleness" and "sensual indulgences."92 It is now painfully obvious that Woolston's attempt to halt history is futile. The islands retain their outward beauty; but no longer having a clearly stated purpose, and having waxed fat, the community's inner moral fiber quickly decays in the placid tropical climate and pleasing verdure.

The fourth phase in the historical process succeeds the third, marked by Woolston's observation that his settlement suddenly "had assumed the aspect of an advanced civilization."93 In the waning period of the community, Cooper repeatedly puns on the word "progress." To the artless, the changes in their surroundings appear to represent progress; to them "Progress was the great desideratum; and change was the hand-maiden of progress."94 But "change" and "Progress" are not invariably synonymous, as blithely assumed by many of Cooper's contemporaries. In the beginning stages of history change can be constructive, but in the waning epoch it is destructive. Profane history may superficially wear the aspect of progress, but because of man's fallen nature, moral laxity will always occur, followed by decline of civilization. Fallen mankind is bound to sin, and to be punished "here on earth" for "a portion of" its "transgressions."95 Cyclic decline and fall of civilization -- is the manner of Divine justice, providentially meted out to a generically disobedient people.

Cole's motto for his popular description of The Course of Empire was:

First freedom, and then glory; when that fails,
     Wealth, vice, corruption.96

He called his fourth painting, entitled "Destruction," the "vicious state."97 It portrays the destruction of a decadent civilization (Cooper's proximate anti-utopia) by invading barbarian hordes. in the novel, Cooper modified Cole's account, having the community destroyed by internal barbarism. In The Course of Empire and The Crater the message is the same -- so long as the moral fiber of a {26} people is strong, civilization will withstand onslaughts of barbarism, but when the moral fiber is frail, barbarism will conquer and destroy. The late period of the island civilization discloses property rights undermined, legitimate authority subverted, false religion replacing the true -- and soon barbarism ensues.

In an 1842 letter to The Evening Post, Cooper talks about "moral associations" that exist in society, such that "When property ceases to be protected, the door is open to barbarism."98 Property, like other historistic institutions whose sacredness derives from their longevity within a living community, provides a moral bulwark against barbarism. It is a sacrosanct feature of proximate utopia, and its subversion is tantamount to "revolution" against "fundamental law."99 Disrespect for the sacred is endemic to a declining society, as "moral associations" between social institutions and human virtue lose vitality. Instead of a barbarian invasion, in The Crater it is an internal revolt against property, the law, indeed all that is institutionally sacred, that barbarizes society. In the novel he repeatedly speaks of the "sacred," with reference to what is being subverted.100 Within the scope of the historical process, sacred principles, values, and traditions are the substance and gist of proximate utopia. On the other side of the cycle, in proximate anti-utopia, self-seeking demagogues manipulate the masses, calculatingly and rationally effacing all that is sacred. Rationalization of the traditional and the sacred, to use Max Weber's term, is the attendant of change when the cycle of history turns away from the pastoral state. Once the sacred community abjures its sacred birthright, adopting "An exaggerated view of self," in addition to "an almost total forgetfulness of God," the cycle of change rotates transforming it into a secular society.101 And when sacred principles and institutions are profaned, when nothing is any longer sacred, then the death knell of the offending society will soon be providentially sounded.

The three specific factors which combine to erode the foundation of community -- the press, lawyers, experimental religion -- work their mischief by undermining sacred institutions. Between lawyers and the press the constitution is speedily subverted. Lawyers as a class do not respect the law and do not use it "for the purpose of justice, and justice only;"102 instead, they manipulate the law for their own ends, weakening both the law and the sanctity of property. But the press is the chief miscreant. The press speaks in the person of the god-like "We,"103 intimating it is the voice of the {27} people, and inferentially depreciating the value of the singular person, the individual identity. As "We" writ large assumes sovereignty, "they" writ small is dismissed as inconsequential and submitted to a tyranny of the majority. Woolston believes "Constitutions, or the fundamental law" are "meant to be the expression of those just and general principles which should control human society, and as such should prevail over majorities." But "The great theory advanced by this editorial tyro" prevails -- "that a majority of any community had a right to do as it pleased."104 This "majority" for which the "editorial tyro" speaks, approximates the mass, democratic mediocrity which so troubled Cooper's contemporary, Alexis de Tocqueville. As the democratic average assumes sovereignty over the islands, it takes on the character of a totalitarian force. Cooper had no faith at all in the ability of the common man, the third estate, to make discriminating political judgments. In the novel, the people simply cannot "withstand" the alluring harangues of the demagogues.105 It is institutions, under the guardianship of an elite, not the people at large, which the conservative novelist sanctifies and in which he places his faith.

This almost totalitarian climate is characteristic of the "vicious" or proximate anti-utopian stage in the life of society; and it is not restricted to republics or democracies. In The Heidenmauer (1832) he studies how monarchies are prostrated by demagogy enlisting the masses in the destruction of time-honored institutions. The year before, in The Bravo (1831), he had already assessed the process through which decadent republics become totalitarian regimes. In The Crater he restates his conviction that the process of history is equally damaging to both forms of polity, democracy and monarchy: "in monarchies as well as in democracies," for "all that institutions can effect, there is little change in men by putting on, or in taking off ermine and robes, or in wearing 'republican simplicity,' in office or out of office; but the demagogue is nothing but the courtier, pouring out his homage in the gutters, instead of in an ante-chamber."106 In either monarchy or democracy the decadent form of polity, the fourth stage in the cycle of history, is aristocracy. Cooper, who considered himself a gentleman not an aristocrat, was very caustic in response to his detractors when they called him an aristocrat because of his patrician airs. Likewise, as demagogues obtain a forum in The Crater, the false epithet "aristocracy" is hurled at the Woolstons.107 Clearly in the novel as in real life, Cooper's {28} private definition of aristocracy escaped detection. He discerns little difference between monarchs and democrats, between monarchy and democracy; in their proximate utopian stage, in his view, the two forms of polity are remarkably alike. And they are equally alike in their proximate anti-utopian stage. He considers "aristocrats" the equivalent of "canting democrats;" both pervert truth and subvert order.108 Beleaguered by demagogues, Woolston's fate as head of state and the fate of his democracy resemble the plight of a monarch contested by his nobles, whose domain is degenerating into "the throes of an aristocracy-ridden country."109

The third specified cause of the community's downfall, the removal of the traditional, religious underpinnings of faith, causes the collapse of religious authority, followed by the loss of religiosity among the people, and, ultimately, it results in harsh retribution from an angry God. The immediate culprit in sacrilege is the multiplication of denominations. Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and Quaker ministers or missionaries arrive and are immediately set against one another in competition. So "The devil, in the form of a 'professor,' once again entered Eden," Cooper explains, "and the Peak, with so much to raise the soul above the grosser strife of men, was soon ringing with discussions on 'free grace,' 'immersion,' 'spiritual baptism,' and the 'apostolical succession.'" He sees no purpose to these doctrinal contentions, which to him are empty and inane at best, and at worst corruptive of true Christianity. Instead, he places his faith in churchly traditions, in forms, not in intellectual fantasies which signify that truth has multiple reality. Only the Episcopal minister, the Reverend Hornblower, is "an exception" to this creedal license, and this is due to "his admirable liturgy."110 The Reverend Hornblower's devotion adheres to ancient tradition, which sanctifies it. "By 'the church'" the errant majority "did not understand the same divine institution as that recognised by Mr. Hornblower himself, but surplices, and standing up and sitting down, and gowns, and reading prayers out of a book, and a great many other similar observances, which were deemed by most of the people relics of the 'scarlet woman.'"111 His high-church service, with its formal, traditional liturgy, smacks of the "scarlet woman" to the islanders, remindful of the anti-Catholicism of the 1830s and 1840s. Despite the anti-Catholicism sometimes imputed to him,112 Cooper sees the similarity of Roman Catholic worship and his own Episcopal worship, and accordingly, has a very favorable attitude toward {29} Roman Catholicism. In an increasingly secular age, Cooper's warm regard for the sacred observances still practiced by high-church Episcopal and Catholic alike, was the consequence of their preservation of sacrosanct institutions and forms of a once religiously unified Western world.

As the cycle of change advances and the religious edifice decays, there is a tendency on the part of the people "to place self before God, and not only to believe that they merited all they received, but that they actually created a good share of it."113 Instead of being humbly thankful for providential beneficence, they believe themselves responsible for their good fortune, exalting themselves at the expense of God. They feel their affluent society is the result of rational effort achieving the predictable product. In enshrining reason, they demystify the cosmos and emasculate the Deity. Faith loses its meaning, Cooper thinks, when man feels he has attained rational control over nature and over his own destiny. In The Crater he repeats the sentiment that appears widely in his fiction, that the scientist should humble himself and his knowledge before God, "instead of exulting in, and quarrelling about the pride of human reason."114 The true purpose of scientific knowledge is to help man know God,115 just as the proper posture toward providentially obtained affluence is pious humility. When sacred institutions give way to rational innovations in the late stages of the cycle, so too do piety and faith give way to pride of intellect and pride of human self-attainment.

There is evidence that as the islanders desert God and begin to worship their success, that God in turn deserts them. False religion causes moral deterioration, and moral deterioration heralds degeneration in all walks of society. Cooper establishes that, "With the morals of the colony, its prosperity, even in [sic] worldly interests, began to lose ground."116 "There was," he states, "an obvious falling-off in the affairs of the colony from the time it became transcendantly [sic] free."117 In becoming "transcendantly [sic] free," the people cast off their institutional heritage, remove themselves from their sacred past, and in thus violating sacred mandates, they are doomed to providential recrimination.

Once the moral and religious integrity of the community is compromised, it begins a relentless descent toward destruction. In his cosmology this inescapable and preordained cyclic fall of a once garden civilization, recapitulates the prototypical Fall in the {30} Garden of Eden. Cooper's God is not the distant Creator of Enlightenment belief, as is sometimes purported, but an immanent and potent force that providentially chastens those who would trifle with His significance.118 Nor is the pessimistic indictment of civilization in the novel "a temporary aberration" in his mind.119 Cooper scholarship has seldom accepted the thoroughness or meaningfulness of his neo-orthodox, Christian pessimism about the probationary status of fallen human beings in the temporal world; nor has the scholarship granted the full significance for Cooper of the impact of man's fallen condition upon social change and history.120 In The Crater he reminds his readers that the offended Deity, as God informed Moses on the Mount, "visits the sins of the fathers upon the children even to the third and fourth generations of them that hate him."121 Disobedience to God brings punishment to the transgressor, his family, and his descendants. In fact, whole civilizations are affected by this Mosaic canon such that, as he informs in The Chainbearer, "justice vindicates itself, under the providence of God," with "wrongs committed by communities" generating their "own merited punishment."122 Community misconduct is inevitable; so too is the providentially induced, cyclic decay and fall of civilization.

As the moral fabric of society in The Crater disintegrates, Cooper philosophizes:

Everything human is abused; and it would seem that the only period of tolerable condition is the transition state, when the new force is gathering to a head, and before the storm has time to break. In the mean time, the earth revolves, men are born, live their time, and die; communities are formed and are dissolved; dynasties appear and disappear; good contends with evil, and evil still has its day; the whole, however, advancing slowly but unerringly towards that great consummation, which was designed from the beginning, and which is as certain to arrive in the end, as that the sun sets at night and rises in the morning. The supreme folly of the hour is to imagine that perfection will come before its stated time.123

The fourth stage in the cycle, the vicious state, is the reign of Antichrist: "Everything human is abused," as "evil" "has its day." Eliade explains, "when Antichrist comes to be regarded as the false {31} Messiah his reign will represent the total overthrow of social, moral, and religious values -- in other wards, the return to chaos."124 The anticipation of catastrophe in Christian thought has traditionally been associated with the reign of evil. The only way to rid the earth of Antichrist is through a fabulous cataclysm -- fire, flood, earthquake, or as in the novel, a volcanic eruption. According to the organic analogy of time, the growth of youth is always followed by the decay of timeworn age. And it is a widely-held, perhaps archetypal belief, in Eliade's assessment, that "catastrophe is the inevitable consequence of the 'old age' or decrepitude of the World" -- decay, "decrepitude," and corruption paradigmatically requiring "periodical destruction and re-creation."125 Cooper's cosmology combines the Christian and the archaic pattern of belief. Biological analogy informs that cyclic decline and death is due to "old age" and "decrepitude." As morals deteriorate with age, Antichrist takes possession of society, necessitating the scourging of evil through providential catastrophe.

When the course of empire is ascending in the cycle, during the pastoral phase, this is "the transition state, when the new force is gathering to a head," at which time community life is idyllic and approximates utopia. With the passage of time, when "the storm has time to break," the preordained fate of fallen man comes to pass, and the prototypical lesson of the Flood or Sodom and Gomorrah is again repeated, with the catastrophic annihilation of evil. It is "supreme folly," according to Cooper, to think "perfection" attainable within historical time. There is providential design to the process of history. He is sure history is "advancing" toward "that great consummation" which, according to Christian eschatology, will herald the end of history and the restoration of paradise. In The American Democrat he states, "reason and revelation both tell us that this state of being is but a preparation for another of a still higher and more spiritual order, all the interests of life are of camparatively little importance, when put in the balance against the future. It is in this grand fact that we are to seek for the explanations of whatever may strike us as unjust, partial, or unkind in the dispensations of Providence, as these dispensations affect our temporal condition."126 Throughout profane history civilizations will rise and fall in analogous cycles, the United States no exception, until the apocalyptic resolution of time. "Rome, Greece, Egypt, and all that we know of the past," he tells, "which comes purely of {32} man and his passions; empires, dynasties, heresies and novelties, come and go like the changes of the seasons; while the only thing that can be termed stable, is the slow but sure progress of prophecy."127 These, however, are analogous cycles, not the exact and endless repetitions of classical and most pre-Judeo-Christian cultures.128 History has purpose according to the Christian novelist. History has a beginning and an end, comprising one great cycle of time from paradise lost to paradise regained, or, as it is sometimes conceived, from the First to the Second Coming.129

The strife and turmoil of the vicious stage in the life of the islands make life unbearable for the Woolstons. prompting them to return to the United States. Earlier in the novel Cooper provides a clue to what will happen, noting that the frequent volcanic activity sounds like "sudden escape of steam from a boiler."130 Since volcanoes are vehicles of apocalyptic destruction in Cooper, it is noteworthy here that he identifies the volcano with the steam engine -- with the machine. The not-quite-slumbering volcano signifies the innocuous machine resting placidly in the ante-bellum garden.131 Should the volcano fully awaken it will overcome the island. To extend Cooper's metaphor, if the boiler's escape valve is closed, it will burst -- which is the implied cause of the volcano's subsequent eruption, giving insight into Cooper's apprehension about the final outcome of the machine's presence in pastoral America. When Woolston returns to the South Seas, the cycle of history is complete; the setting he beholds is equivalent to Cole's fifth painting, "Desolation." He recognizes that the "internal fires had wrought a new convulsion," a recurrence of the one that originally raised the islands from the ocean.132

The new eruption lowers the islands back into the sea from which they came. Eliade writes, "In whatever religious complex we find them, the waters invariably retain their function; they disintegrate, abolish forms, 'wash away sins'; they are at once purifying and regenerating. Their destiny is to precede the Creation and to reabsorb it." This is precisely Cooper's intent. "Emersion," in Eliade's words, "repeats the cosmogonic act of formal manifestation," and "immersion is equivalent to a dissolution of forms."133 The immersion of the islands, the washing away of their inhabitants' sins, spells the end of a cycle of history. All that remains is "that sublime rock" that also frames Cole's series "amid the changes of time, and civilization, and decay," standing "naked, storm-beaten."134 The {33} history of Vulcan's Peak begins and ends with a desolate volcanic rock, signifying the ruins of time. The last painting Cole says, "must be as the funeral knell of departed greatness, and may be called the state of desolation"135

The rise and fall of civilization in Cole's paintings and Cooper's novel exhibits an interior dialectic in history, reflecting the relationship of man to nature. When man and nature harmoniously coexist, true to Cooper's special version of the agrarian myth, then the human community approximates utopia. However, when either man or nature predominate, the moral basis of their relationship ceases to operate, and savagery or barbarism prevails. Cooper's allegory contains one substantive addition to the allegory in The Course of Empire. It places the cycle of genesis and decay within a religious framework -- an interpretative liberty, no doubt, of which Cole would heartily approve; for after his own conversion, he too would paint religious allegories.

The allegory in The Crater discloses the history of a representative community, tracing its development from birth in the procreative waters, to first good and then evil hours, to absolution in the waters and return to formlessness. Through His providence, God creates civilizations and all living organisms, and also terminates their lives. The allegory tells of the "insignificance" of men who

are but mites amid millions of other mites, that the goodness of providence has produced for its own wise ends; their boasted countries, with their vaunted climates and productions, have temporary possessions [sic] of but small portions of a globe that floats, a point, in space, following the course pointed out by an invisible finger, and which will one day be suddenly struck out of its orbit, as it was originally put there, by the hand that made it.136

Civilizations, adhering to the profane pattern of cyclic genesis, growth, decay, dissolution, "have temporary possessions of but small portions of" this earth. And the earth, "a globe that floats, a point, in space," guided by providential design, likewise has a beginning and an end; "one day" it will "suddenly be struck out of its orbit, as it was originally put there, by the hand that made it." The duration from the Fall to the eschatological resolution of {34} time -- such is the magnitude and scope of sacred history. The Creation, the Fall, the conflict of good and evil, the apocalyptic denouement -- mortal existence, the sacred history of mankind from paradise one to paradise two, replicates the cyclical motion of profane history. It is the paradigmatic model.

Go on to Chapter Two: History and Social Change.

Return to History and Utopia (home page) | Writings

Return to Top of Page


1. James Fenimore Cooper, The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper, ed. James Franklin Beard, V (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1968), p. 231.

2. Thomas Philbrick. Introduction, James Fenimore Cooper, The Crater Or Vulcan's Peak, ed. Thomas Philbrick (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press. 1962), p. viii.

3. The only mention of The Crater in Robert E. Spiller's seminal study of Cooper's thought, is the statement that "The Crater belongs with The Monikins as social allegory of satirical intention" (Fenimore Cooper: Critic of His Times, New York: Minton, Balch, 1931, p. 298). The Crater is not satire. and is not comparable to The Monikins. Its tone and intent are altogether different. Donald A. Ringe believes, "The Crater is the sharpest presentation of Cooper's mature social theory" (James Fenimore Cooper, New Haven: College and Univ. Press, 1962, p. 130). Other writings by Ringe bearing upon The Crater include: "Cooper's The Crater And The Moral Basis Of Society." Papers of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters, XLIV (1959), 371-380; "Cooper's Last Novels, 1847- 1850." PMLA, 75 (Dec. 1960), 583-590; "James Fenimore Cooper and Thomas Cole: An Analogous Technique," American Literature, 30 (March 1958-Jan. 1959), 26-36. Numerous other studies have brought attention to The Crater in the last generation: W. B. Gates, "A Defense of the Ending of Cooper's The Crater," Modern Language Notes, 70 (May 1955), 347-349; W. B. Gates, "A Note On Cooper and Robinson Crusoe," Modern Language Notes, 67 (June 1952), 421-422; W. B. Gates, "Cooper's The Crater and Two Explorers," American Literature, 23 (May 1951), 243-246; John C. McCloskey, "Cooper's Political Views In The Crater," Modem Philology, 53 (1955), 113-116; John P. McWilliams, Jr., "The Crater and the Constitution," Texas Studies In Literature And Language, 12 (Spring-Winter 1970-1971), 631-645; Masajiro Hamada, "Two Utopian Types of American Literature -- Typee and The Crater," Studies in English Literature (English Literary Society of Japan), 40 (March 1964), 199-214; Charles O'Donnell, "Progress and Property: The Later Cooper," American Quarterly, 13 (Fall 1961), 402-409; Philbrick's Introduction to The Crater, pp. vii-xxix; Harold H. Scudder, "Cooper's The Crater," American Literature, 19 (May 1947), 109-126.

4. John F. Lynen, The Design of the Present: Essays on Time and Form in American Literature (New Haven and London: Yale Univ. Press, 1969), p. 23.

5. The traditional view of Christian history is that it is unilinear. M. H. Abrams, although he quotes Karl Löwith who says that Christian history is "one great detour to reach in the end the beginning," which sounds like a circle, nevertheless concludes that it is "right-angled" (Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition And Revolution In Romantic Literature, New York: Norton, 1971, pp. 37, 36). In Social Change And History: Aspects of the Western Theory of Development (London, Oxford, New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1969), p. 70, Robert Nisbet argues that the Christian idea of history, correctly understood, is one great cycle of time; and throughout his study he shows how cyclical thinking originated in the articulation of time and change through organic analogy and metaphor. Nisbet's conceptualization of Christian history is the esthetically more pleasing, and it is consistent with Cooper's proclivity to picture time and change through organic analogy and metaphor.

6. The following studies contain information pertinent to the widespread acceptance of the cyclical idea of history by writers and painters associated with the Hudson River School: James T. Callow, Kindred Spirits: Knickerbocker Writers and American Artists, 1808-1855 (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1967), p. 163; Howard Mumford Jones, O Strange New World, American Culture: The Formative Years (New York: The Viking Press, 1967), p. 361; Howard Mumford Jones, "Prose And Pictures: James Fenimore Cooper," Tulane Studies in English, 3 (1952), pp. 143,145; Howard Mumford Jones, "James Fenimore Cooper and The Hudson River School," Magazine of Art, XLV (Oct. 1952), p. 250; Ferry Miller, "The Romantic Dilemma in American Nationalism And The Concept of Nature," Harvard Theological Review, 48 (Oct. 1955), p. 251; Donald A. Ringe, The Pictorial Mode: Space & Time in the Art of Bryant, Irving & Cooper (Lexington: The Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1971), pp. 129-137, 164-180; Charles L. Sanford, The Quest for Paradise: Europe and the American Moral Imagination (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1961), pp. 147-152; Elliot S. Vesell, Introduction, Louis Legrand Noble, The Life And Works Of Thomas Cole, ed. Elliot S. Vesell (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1964), p. xxxiv.

7. James Fenimore Cooper, The Crater Or Vulcan's Peak, ed. Thomas Philbrick (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1962), n. pag.

8. Cooper, The Crater, p. 456.

9. In two 1952 articles, "James Fenimore Cooper And The Hudson River School" and "Prose And Pictures: James Fenimore Cooper," Jones studies the relationship of Cooper to the Hudson River School painters. Jones is very sure The Crater was inspired by Hudson River art: and he proceeds to name several paintings by Washington Allston and one by Cole. But he does not uncover the relationship between The Crater and The Course of Empire. However, Ringe clearly establishes Cooper's debt to Cole's epic in his 1958 essay, "James Fenimore Cooper and Thomas Cole: An Analogous Technique." Since then others have commented upon the similarity of Cole's five paintings and Cooper's novel: Callow, pp. 61-62, 161-163; Thomas Philbrick, James Fenimore Cooper and the Development of American Sea Fiction (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1961), p. 235. Ringe, The Pictorial Mode, pp. 144, 174.

10. Cooper, The Letters and Journals, V, pp. 396, 398.

11. Cooper, The Letters and Journals, V, p. 397.

12. Donald A. Ringe's "Painting as Poem in the Hudson River Aesthetic," American Quarterly, 12 (Spring 1960), pp. 72-73, contains a discussion of the influence of Scotch Associationist esthetics on the Hudson River School, as does Ringe's The Pictorial Mode, pp. 13-15.

13. The two examples of Cooper writing two novels where he originally intended one are Homeward Bound and Home As Found, and Afloat And Ashore and Miles Wallingford.

14. Louis Legrand Noble, The Life And Works Of Thomas Cole. ed. Elliot S. Vesell (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1964), p. 129.

15. Cooper, The Crater, p. 456.

16. Marjorie Hope Nicolson, Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory: The Development of the Aesthetics of the Infinite (New York: W. W. Norton, 1963), p. 393.

17. Mircea Eliade, The Sacred And The Profane: The Nature Of Religion, trans. Willard R. Trask (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1959), p. 155.

18. Nicolson, pp. 83, 200.

19. Miller, pp. 247-249.

20. Noble, p. 168.

21. Marshall Davidson, "Whither the Course of Empire?" American Heritage, 8 (Oct. 1957), p. 104.

22. Cooper, The Crater, p. 4.

23. Cooper, The Crater, p. 6.

24. Vesell, p. xxxiv. In his Introduction to The Crater, p. xvii, Philbrick writes, "Only by moving backward to the firm principles, the pristine simplicity, and the stable cohesiveness of the early years of the Republic, only by reversing the wheel of change, could America avoid the fate of Rome, or perhaps of Sodom and Gomorrah." Ringe makes this assessment of the novel: "Cooper obviously intends The Crater to be a parable of the United States, which had once been a similar earthly paradise in which just principles of government had been established. With the degeneration of his Utopian colony, he seeks, therefore to warn his countrymen of a similar decay in contemporary American society. The theme of The Crater is precisely the same as that of the Littlepage series and it carries the same warning to the American people. Unless they return to a belief in principle and submit in Christian humility to the rule of law, they cannot expect their society long to endure" (James Fenimore Cooper, p. 130). I concur with these analyses in general, except on the particular question of re-establishing a moral climate once it is lost. This cannot happen because the cycle of history cannot spin backward on its axis. There is no evidence in Cooper's writings he ever thought the historical process could return to an earlier stage prior to completing the full circuit of the cycle. As Jones affirms, "the law of history was as inexorable for Cooper as it was for Henry Adams . . . the most any nation could do was to prolong for a time the period of its innocency" ("Prose and Pictures: James Fenimore Cooper," p. 147).

25. Cooper, The Letters and Journals, V, p. 231.

26. Stanley T. Williams labels The Crater "our first important Utopian allegory" (Literary History Of The United States, 3rd ed., rev., eds. Robert E. Spiller, Willard Thorp, Thomas Johnson, Henry Canby, Richard Ludwig, London: The MacMillan Company, 1963, pp. 268-269). Jones calls the novel "the first full-dress social utopia in American fiction" ("James Fenimore Cooper And The Hudson River School," p. 244). Henry Canby speaks of "the Utopian government" in the novel, and Cooper's incessant "pleas" in his fiction "for American Utopias" (Classic Americans: A Study of Eminent American Writers from Irving to Whitman, New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1931, p. 127). But The Crater is no more a utopia than an anti-utopia, as Philbrick suggests in his Introduction to The Crater, p. xxv, and really neither. In "Cooper's The Crater And The Moral Basis of Society," p. 371, Ringe's criticism of critics who misinterpret the end of the novel for "failure to read the book as a whole," is equally applicable to those who read it as a utopia, which is to isolate one feature of the novel and to interpret it out of context.

27. James Fenimore Cooper, The American Democrat Or Hints On The Social And Civic Relations Of The United States Of America (New York: Minerva Press, 1969), p. 181.

28. Kay House observes that most of Cooper's characters "are representative figures." "As a fictional method, moreover, the use of stereotypes let Cooper move class representatives around as counters in the action. The technique is most familiar to us from drama and it may not be irrelevant that Cooper's lifelong avocations were playing chess and reading Shakespeare" (Cooper's Americans, Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 1965, pp. 12, 13). Certainly Woolston and Betts are Cooper's stereotypical ideal gentleman and loyal commoner.

29. Cooper, The Crater, p. 33.

30. The Headsman opens with a symbolic storm striking a ship on Lake Geneva, whose passengers are clearly intended as a microcosmic representation of humanity. However, this ship survives the storm, and whatever allegory Cooper had in mind dissolves as he is unable to sustain the symbolism of the opening chapters. See Ringe, James Fenimore Cooper, p. 67; also, Thomas R. Palfrey, who demonstrates Cooper's debt to Balzac's Jesus-Christ en Flandres for the conception of his idea to commence an allegory using a ship as a microcosm of humanity ("Cooper and Balzac: The Headsman." Modern Philology, 29, Fall 1932, 335-341).

31. Cooper, The Crater, p. 51.

32. Cooper, The Crater, p. 59.

33. Cooper, The Crater, pp. 58, 59.

34. Cooper, The Crater, pp. 59, 60.

35. Nicolson, p. 341.

36. James Fenimore Cooper, Excursions In Italy (London: Richard Bentley, 1838), I, p. 298. Elsewhere he employs the volcano symbolically as an admonition to sinful people: Home As Found (New York: Capricorn, 1961), p. 109; The Redskins Or lndian And Injin (New York and London: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1895-1900), p. 380; The Heidenmauer Or The Benedictines (New York and London: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1895-1900), p. 272; Lionel Lincoln Or The Leaguer Of Boston (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1896), p. 71.

37. Cooper, The Crater, p. 138.

38. Cooper, The Crater, p. 134.

39. Cooper, The Crater, p. 139.

40. Cooper, The Crater, p. 173.

41. In "A Note On Cooper And Robinson Crusoe," pp. 421-422, Gates establishes Cooper's debt to Defoe's novel, pointing out various parallels, including their respective illnesses and heightened religiosity upon recovery. Yet Gates sees no merit to Woolston's religious conversion in the context of the narrative; he thinks it an example of sloppy artistry by Cooper, of his borrowing from Robinson Crusoe for no constructive reason. But Cooper had a good reason. Woolston's conversion is significant to the narrative's symbolic development. I wish to thank Hennig Cohen for bringing the significance of the religious experience to my attention.

42. James Fenimore Cooper, The Deerslayer (New York: Washington Square Press, 1961), p. 462.

43. Scudder establishes that the spectacular geological cataclysm in the novel was inspired by an account in Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology of an island which arose out of deep water off the coast of Sicily to. the height of 200 feet and three miles in circumference, as the result of an earthquake and volcanic action; but within the span of a year the island had altogether disappeared, PP 114-116.

44. Cooper, The Crater, pp. 158, 159.

45. Mircea Eliade, Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return, trans. Willard R. Trask (New York and Evanston: Harper & Row, 1959), p. 73.

46. Noble, pp. 129-130.

47. Cooper, The Crater, p. 166.

48. Cooper, The Crater, pp. 161, 180.

49. David Brion Davis, "The Deerslayer, A Democratic Knight Of The Wilderness," Twelve Original Essays On Great American Novels, ed. Charles Shapiro (Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1958), p. 11. However attractive Leatherstocking is, he is a mythical hero, not a viable possibility. Cooper's representative frontiersmen are crude and unattractive types, as Sanford suggests, p 135. See also, Howard Mumford Jones, Belief And Disbelief In American Literature (Chicago and London: The Univ. of Chicago Press, 1967), pp. 45-47. Nature must be tame and cultivated, in Cooper's view, with the addition of social restraints, before it is a moral environment suitable for white habitation. Cooper says of the white "borderer," that "He is irreligious because he has inherited the knowledge that religion does not exist in forms." Leatherstocking transcends the need for forms: "Unlike most of those who live a border life, he united the better instead of the worst qualities of the two people. He was a man endowed with the choicest and perhaps rarest gift of nature, that of distinguishing good from evil" (The Prairie, New York and Toronto: The New American Library, 1964, pp. 68, 119-120).

50. Cooper, The Crater, pp, 20, 26.

51. Cooper, The Deerslayer, p. 385.

52. Cooper, The Crater, p. 182.

53. Cooper, The Crater, p. 195.

54. Cooper, The Crater, pp. 27, 29.

55. Joel Porte, The Romance in America: Studies In Cooper. Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, And James (Middletown: Wesleyan Univ. Press, i969), p. 28. If the American wilderness is a paradise for the bachelor Leatherstocking, it is for him alone. Cooper's other attractive young men in the forests, his bee hunters in The Prairie and The Oak Openings, and Oliver Effingham in The Pioneers, each turn their back upon the wilderness once they marry and presumably lead the good pastoral life.

56. Cooper, The Crater, p. 209.

57. Noble, p. 171.

58. James Thomas Flexner, That Wilder Image (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown, 1962), p. 51.

59. Beard's editorial introduction to the years 1800-1810, Cooper, The Letters and Journals, I (1960), p. 5.

60. Noble, p. 189.

61. Cooper, The Crater, p. 215.

62. Cooper, The Crater, pp. 299-300.

63. Cooper, The Crater, p. 301. In The American Democrat he states, "property is the base of all civilization," and suggests that utopian communities possessing property in common have always failed because of their failure to observe the moral imperative that it be individually owned, p. 127.

64. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, ed. Phillips Bradley (New York: Random House, 1945), II, pp. 239-240.

65. Cooper, The Crater, p. 300.

66. Tocqueville, p. 100.

67. Cooper, The Crater, p. 301.

68. McWilliams, "The Crater and the Constitution," p. 640.

69. Philbrick, Introduction to The Crater, p. xvi.

70. Cooper, The Crater, p. 324.

71. See Philbrick's footnote to the text of The Crater, p. 302.

72. Cooper, The Crater, p. 374.

73. Cooper, The Crater, pp. 384, 385.

74. Cooper, The Crater, p. 222.

75. Cooper, The Crater, p. 356.

76. Cooper, The Crater, p. 273.

77. Cooper, The Crater, p. 325.

78. Cooper, The Crater, p. 403.

79. Cooper, The Crater, p. 377.

80. Cooper, The Crater, p. 375.

81. Cooper, The Crater, p. 385.

82. Cooper, The Crater, p. 295.

83. Cooper, The Crater, p. 387.

84. Cooper, The Crater, p. 233.

85. "Throughout his writings young nations are valiant in war and internally dynamic, but nations long at peace are self-satisfied and lethargic. Satanstoe, the first of the Littlepage novels, presents the nations as young, vital, and at war. The last Littlepage novel, The Redskins, shows the nation, now long at peace, as overly self-satisfied and losing its moral vigor. Once the wilderness is conquered and the enemy dispatched, decadence sets in. In The Headsman he explains that if a nation is to remain vital, it must cultivate "manliness of thought" and action, p. 287. In an 1838 letter, Cooper comments upon increasing American decadence and then states, "A war may save us, but that is not very probable just at this moment" (The Letters and Journals, III, 1964, p. 331). When war broke out with Mexico he was delighted for this very reason, writing, for example, "I almost hope that the Mexicans will resist at Acapulco, though it were more humane to desire a bloodless conquest. A little glory, in these glory-seeking times, however, goes a great way" (The Letters and Journals, V, p. 267).

86. Robert A. Nisbet, Community And Power (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1962), p. 40.

87. Cooper, The Crater, p. 343.

88. Noble, p. 173.

89. Roy Harvey Pearce, Savagism And Civilization. A Study of the Indian and the American Mind (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1965), p. v.

90. Cooper, The Crater, p. 429.

91. Noble, p. 172.

92. Cooper, The Crater, p. 430.

93. Cooper, The Crater, p. 449.

94. Cooper, The Crater, p. 437. Throughout the novel he plays upon popular connotations of the word "progress," especially in the declining phase of the community, pp. 439, 443, 449.

95. Cooper, The Crater, p. 281.

96. Noble, p. 168.

97. Noble, p. 130.

98. Cooper, The Letters and Journals, IV (1964), p. 303.

99. Cooper, The Crater, p. 439.

100. Cooper early forewarns of the impending "end of the sacred character" that was "conferred on the Peak" (The Crater, p. 253). In the waning period of the community he repeatedly uses the word "sacred" to establish what is being lost, pp. 438, 440, 441, 442.

101. Cooper, The Crater, p. 430.

102. Cooper, The Crater, p. 431.

103. Cooper, The Crater, p. 435.

104. Cooper, The Crater, p. 436.

105. Cooper, The Crater, p. 435. He has no confidence in the common man's ability to govern himself: "It makes very little difference how men are ruled," he writes,"they will be cheated, for, failing of rogues at headquarters to perform that office for them, they are quite certain to set to work to devise some means of cheating themselves," p. 439. On p. 444 he suggests the average man simply lacks the critical capacity to judge candidates for office.

106. Cooper, The Crater, p. 437.

107. Cooper, The Crater, p. 450.

108. Cooper, The Crater, p. 442.

109. Cooper, The Crater, p. 444.

110. Cooper, The Crater, p. 431.

111. Cooper, The Crater, p. 439.

112. Jesse Bier interprets The Prairie as an attack on Catholicism ("Lapsarians On The Prairie: Cooper's Novel," Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 4, Spring 1962, p. 55). Charles A. Brady believes Cooper displays an "attraction-repulsion toward and away from" Catholicism ("James Fenimore Cooper, 1789-1851, Myth-maker and Christian Romancer," American Classics Reconsidered: A Christian Appraisal, ed. Harold C. Gardiner, S. J., New York: Charles Scribner"s Sons, 1958, p. 63). Spiller speaks of "Cooper's prejudices against a Catholic education" (Fenimore Cooper: Critic Of His Times, p. 111). Yet in an 1835 letter to his wife, Cooper chides his close friend Samuel F. B. Morse for his ingenuous acceptance of the "terrible disclosures" of "the frail nun [Maria Monk]" (The Letters and Journals, III, p. 174). Cooper's Swiss and Italian travelogues, and his European novels (The Bravo, The Heidenmauer, The Headsman) show, not anti-Catholicism, but a profound appreciation for the venerable Roman Catholic Church.

113. Cooper, The Crater, p. 430.

114. Cooper, The Crater, p. 142.

115. Cooper, The Crater, p. 140.

116. Cooper, The Crater, p. 446.

117. Cooper, The Crater, p. 445.

118. The following scholars overlook his orthodox, religious trinitarianism. John P. McWilliams, Jr., speaks of "Cooper's strong Deistic faith" (Political Justice in a Republic: James Fenimore Cooper's America, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: Univ. of California Press, 1972, p. 17); again on p. 270 he refers to Cooper's Deism. In The Romance in America, Porte lumps Cooper "with most Unitarian and Transcendental thinkers," p. 13.

119. McCloskey, p. 116.

120. The religious interpretation Cooper attaches to man's fallen nature prohibits the possibility of enduring progress, in past civilizations, in America, or in any community existing in profane time. The scholarship overall has been reluctant to accept the fact Cooper embraced a cyclical idea of history, not the idea of progress. Even recent scholars who detect his cyclical idea of history seem unwilling to accept the finality and definitiveness of his departure from nineteenth-century orthodoxy. So, for example, Ringe hedges about the verdict of history for Cooper, concluding, "A nineteenth-century American, Cooper clung to the belief that his country would escape the fate of past civilizations" (The Pictorial Mode, p. 180). McWilliams thinks he had long accepted a cyclical idea of history, but "Not until writing The Crater was Cooper willing to subject the destiny of America to the remorseless cyclical law to which he had long since consigned the old world" (Political Justice in a Republic, p. 373). Frank M. Collins, however, fully accepts the verdict of the allegory as representative of Cooper's conviction "that no society or individual, however much favored by circumstances, could exist in safe 'retirement' from the world's corrupting 'strife' " ("Cooper And The American Dream," PMLA, 81, March 1966, p. 93).

121. Cooper, The Crater, p. 281.

122. James Fenimore Cooper, The Chainbearer Or The Littlepage Manuscripts (New York and London: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1895-1900), p. 233.

123. Cooper, The Crater, p. 444.

124. Mircea Eliade, Myth And Reality, trans. Willard R. Trask (New York and Evanston: Harper & Row, 1963), p. 67.

125. Eliade, Myth and Reality, pp. 59, 60.

126. Cooper, The American Democrat, pp. 177-178.

127. Cooper, The Crater, p. 140.

128. Eliade makes this important distinction, of the difference between archaic and Judeo-Christian concepts of time, a central concern in Cosmos And History.

129. In Social Change And History, p. 70, Nisbet writes, "There is one monumental, transcending difference between the classical and the Christian view of the cycle of genesis and decay. In the former, it is set in the context of infinite multiplicity, plurality, and recurrence. In the Christian view, however, the cycle of genesis and decay is single, unique, never to be repeated. There is the one cycle of human existence that began in Adam, that will terminate sometime in the not distant future, and that is all." This is "Cyclical renewal, if we like, but in the Christian scheme of things, renewal, once effected at the conclusion of this single unique cycle, will be eternal and unchanging; that is, for the elect. The purity and felicity that man has not known since the primal Fall in the Garden will be restored to the virtuous, in whatever age they may have lived, but it will not be in the form of the beginning of yet another cycle of earthly genesis and decay."

130. Cooper, The Crater, p. 378.

131. It is Leo Marx's thesis, in The Machine in the Garden: Technology And The Pastoral Ideal In America (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1967), that as the nineteenth century unfolded the machine was an accepted and applauded vehicle of progress to most Americans. A few telescopic imaginations dissented from the consensus, seeing in the machine a demonic and destructive capacity that threatened the survival of the garden. Although Marx does not mention Cooper, his view of the menace the machine posed to the garden is no different than the views of Hawthorne, Thoreau, and Melville.

132. Cooper, The Crater, p. 456.

133. Eliade, The Sacred And The Profane, pp. 131, 130.

134. Cooper, The Crater, p. 456.

135. Noble, p. 130.

136. Cooper, The Crater, p. 459.

Go on to Chapter Two: History and Social Change.

Return to History and Utopia (home page) | Writings

Return to Top of Page