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COOPER'S "INDIAN AND INGIN.”
American Review, September 1846.
VERY narrow and imperfect is the common notion about novels, that they are fictitious narratives written to amuse. So far is this from being the case that we are persuaded no successful novelist ever wrote, or, at least, continued to write, without some ulterior aim-the advocacy of some principle or sentiment. A man of vivid imagination is generally, (if indeed we must not say necessarily,) also a man of strong personal feelings and partisan tendencies; and when he finds himself in the position of a moral agent, can he help making his fiction the vehicle of truth, or what he conceives to be truth? To uphold certain schools of art, literature or politics; to further social reforms; to discourage prejudices, and expose abuses; to make one nation better known to, and therefore, better appreciated by, another; to influence popular opinion, and even modify national habits of thought-these are some of the novelist's aims--not merely as some suppose in their short-sightedness, to help boarding-school misses and silly boys to kill time. Great, indeed, is his power for evil; but mighty is it likewise for good, nor is he always, thank God, a servant of Darkness. If D’Israeli perverts his dexterous humor to the gratification of private pique, and the resuscitation of defunct fallacies, Miss Martineau inculcates lessons of charity and long-suffering that are better than many sermons. If the French Romancers do their best to create a hell upon earth, by way of compensation for their disbelief in one hereafter, our own great novelist presents that spectacle which has ever been the philosopher's admiration--an indiridual who dares to tell the truth to a tyrant.
When “Satanstoe,” the first of the Littlepage Manuscripts, appeared, it excited in us feelings of unmitigated Vol. 1
pleasure and lively expectation. The “Chainbearer” did not alloy that pleasure, or disappoint that expectation. We were glad to our distinguished countryman applying his talents and energies to the exposure and censure of that evil condition of things which is at once the danger and the disgrace of our State. We were glad that he had written a novel on the subject, not a pamphlet, or an essay, or a disquisition; for men will read novels who will not read pamphlets and disquisitions and essays. We were glad (for the first times in our lives) that he was a “Democrat,” for many men will listen to a Democrat who would not think of hearing a “British Whig.” Above all we were glad to find throughout these books abundant signs that their author aims at being a Christian as well as a gentleman-to meet with abundant recognitions of the Highest Authority-expressed indeed, at times, with that disagreeable dogmatism which seems as if by some fatality to attend on all Mr. Cooper's opinions - but unmistakably genuine, and as such heartily refreshing in a time of infidel litterateurs, and infidel legislators.
“ The Redskins; or Indian and Ingin" completes his proposed task. "This book,” we quote from the preface, -closes the series of the Littlepage Manuscripts which have been given to the world as containing a fair account of the comparative sacrifices of time, money and labor made respectively by the landlord and the tenants on a New-York estate, together with the manner in which usages and opinions are changing among us; as well as certain of the causes of these changes."
The present illustration of these developments involves none of those thrilling incidents for which Mr. Cooper is so famous. His story is entirely subordinated to his moral. The narrative contains few, or, to speak plainly, no points of particular interest. A young man and his bachelor uncle, both large landed proprietors, return from their travels in Europe to find their tenants in arms, and their own homes in actual danger. Disguised as German pedlers they visit the seat of war, are present at an anti-rent meeting, and observe the actions and motives of sundry parties concerned in the movement. Discovering themselves in a moment of excitement they are fairly besieged, and the rioters endeavor to make their house literally "too hot to hold them.” But the arrival of some real
Indians (on a visit to an old chief, a friend of the family) enables them to repel the warmed and disguised," or pretended - Ingins” till the sheriff comes to the rescue. Of course there is a heroine who is neither more less interesting than the author's heroines generally are, and a wedding to wind up with according to rule established. In all this, save the introduction of the Indians proper, (a very felicitous conception, and very neatly worked out,) there is nothing more than might happen to any landholder in the disturbed districts; not so much as has happened to some of them. In short, "the Redskins” is simply a vigorous exposure of AntiRentism. And it is also evident to us that the book was written for the masses, that it was designed to enlighten popular views, and expose popular fallacies. This we infer from the sedulous repetition of its chief points, and the labor expended in asserting and proving such positions as these: That it is possible for the poor to tyrannize over the rich as well as the rich over the poor; that exclusiveness on the part of an individual is no infringement of his neighbor's rights; that money does not make the gentleman, or guide the gentleman in the choice of his friends-positions which to a gentleman are simple axioms,
ές δε τοταν
ερμηνέων χατίζει. The work exhibits throughout much of one of the last qualities many of our readers might be disposed to give Mr. Cooper credit for--strong common sense.
No judge's charge could state the points at issue more clearly and forcibly. And pari passu with this common sense runs that common honesty which has of late grown very uncommon among us. An utter fearlessness of popular prejudices, and that mighty bug-bear, “public opinion, characterizes the book. To be sure, as it is our unfortunate tendency to run into extremes, the author sometimes says annoying things which are merely annoying, and can do no good. For example, he is continually dwelling on the provincialism of our city. Now here we happen to differ from him, and after our own limited experience of foreign cities, are convinced that in all the essentials and attributes of a metropolis, New-York may
hold up its head with any of the second-class European capitals—Naples for instance. But suppose it otherwiselet New-York and New-Yorkers be as provincial as the novelist asserts, what good is there in his saying so? Nay, let them be as convinced of it as he is, what good would there be in their feeling so ? Our own impulse would be rather to magnify and exaggerate the beauties of New-York in the hope of exciting her citizens to greater zeal for the honor of the Empire State, and greater vigilance against the danger which threatens so fair à domain. Again, we find most unnecessary offensiveness of language in every expression relative to New-England. Thus, Puritanism is described in these conciliatory terms which might move the envy of D’Israeli himself:
“The rowdy religion, half cant half blasphemy, that Cromwell and his associates entailed on so many Englishmen, but which was not without a degree of ferocious, narrow-minded sincerity about it after all."
What would Thomas Carlyle say to this?
But whatever blame we might otherwise be disposed to bestow on Mr. C. for his worse than useless violence on some minor matters vanishes before our admiration of the unflinching resoluteness with which he has achieved his great task — that of telling his countrymen the truth on subjects of vital importance, respecting which most erroneous ideas are prevalent.
The main points affirmed, illustrated and conclusivelg proved in “The Redskins” are these:
1. That the alleged grievances of the tenants are utterly false and frivolous.
2. That the aim and object of the Anti-Renters is simply and absolutely to get other men's property without paying for it.
3. That the landlords' rights have been disregarded because they are rich men; and the rich being a minority, may, in this country of majorities, be tyrannized over with impunity.
4. That the present movement is only the first step to a general war upon property.
5. That there is still honesty enough in the community to put down anti-rentism at any moment, if the honest men will only erert themselves properly. Of course, we shall not be understood to
topics are treated of in regular order, or that they are the only ones introduced; but the readers of "The RedSkins” (and may their name be legion!) will agree in the justice of the above analysis.
How all this has been done we shall endeavor partially to show, by extracts from the work itself, beginning with an indignant exposure of
THE POPULAR CANT ABOUT ARISTOCRACY.
“Lest this manuscript should get into the hands of some of those who do not understand the real condition of New-York society, it may be well to explain that 'aristocrat' means, in the parlance of the country, no other than a man of gentlemanlike tastes, habits, opinions and associations. There are gradations among the aristocracy; of the State, as well as among other men. Thus, he who is an aristocrat in a hamlet, would be very democratic in a village; and he of the village might be no aristocrat in the town at all; though in the towns, generally, indeed always, when their population has the least of a town character, the distinction ceases altogether, men quietly dropping into the traces of civilized society, and talking or thinking very little about it. To see the crying evils of American aristocracy, then, one must go into the country. There, indeed, a plenty of cases exist. Thus, if there happen to be a man whose property is assessed at twenty-five per cent. above that of all his neighbors—wbo must have right on his side bright as a cloudless sun to get a verdict, if obliged to appeal to the laws-who pays fifty per cent. more for everything he buys, and receives fifty per cent. less for everything he sells, than any other person near himwho is surrounded by rancorous enemies, in the midst of a seeming state of peace-who has everything he says and does perverted, and added to, and lied about—who is traduced because his dinner-hour is later than that of 'other folks'— who don't stoop, but is straight in the back-who presumes to doubt that this country, in general, and his own township in particular, is the focus of civilization-who hesitates about signing his name to any flagrant instance of ignorance, bad taste, or worse morals, that his neighbors may get up in the shape of a petition, remonstrance, or resolution-depend on it, that man is a prodigious aristocrat, and one who, for his many offence and manner of lording it over mankind, deserves to be banished.” ARISTOCRATIC EXCLUSIVENESS. (The interlocutors are the Pseudo
German and one of his tenants.) "Well, Mr. Greisenbach, the difficulty about aristocracy is this Hugh Littlepage is rich, and his money gives him advantages that other men can't enj'y. Now, that sticks in some folks' crops.'