With the season comes a look back at classic ‘autumn’ fare, like pumpkin-spiced everything, and wishes for the beauty of lovely falling leaves. As a native New Yorker (remember, it’s a big, rural state), I feel October is generally the perfect representation of autumn. It’s also a perfect time to look at the contributions of two authors who head the list of great American writers, for they are two of the earliest to gain popular success and open a window into our colonial history.
|Cooper via Wikipedia|
James Fenimore Cooper was born in 1789 in New Jersey but moved at an early age with his large Quaker family to the Hudson River valley (now upstate New York) where his father began a settlement he named Cooperstown. James was well-educated, and as the 11th of 12 children benefited from an easy time of it at home. After James served a number of years in the U.S. Navy, he came home to a decent income after his father’s death. James Cooper was devoted to history and writing, and he was the first to use the American Revolution as setting. “The Spy” was based on his loyalist wife’s family history, but his series “Leatherstocking Tales”, in 1823, will always be his best known. The public was fascinated with this look ‘back’ at the French and Indian War era. “Last of the Mohicans” published in 1826 continues to be his most well known novel.
|Cooper Statue, in Cooperstown, NY . Wikipedia|
In later years, his writing became a more idealized look at early American life. He became quite involved in intellectual community and kept company with William Cullen Bryant, Samuel Finley Breese Morse, and James Kent. With such a background, it’s no surprise he became highly political near the end of his life.
Washington Irving was born in 1783 in New York City. He was always interested in writing and wrote many serialized stories for newspapers even as he studied law. He passed the bar in 1806 but preferred writing, even when he took a turn serving during the War of 1812. In 1819-20, his published work “The Sketch Book” became a huge success and included “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”.
|Washington Irving (Wikipedia)|
Later in life, Washington Irving put a huge amount of research into much more serious works and published “A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus”, “Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada”, and “Tales of the Alhambra”. Irving served the U.S. Government for three years in London. His next works added a frontier theme with “Astoria” (about John Jacob Aster’s fur company), and “The Adventures of Captain Bonneville". If you’re like me, you’ve never heard of these publications!
Hopefully schoolchildren continue to learn about these two early American authors and their works. I just wonder if they will remember more than…the headless horseman!