Thank you, James Fenimore Cooper
Today was James Fenimore Cooper's birthday, and I have to thank him for an important lesson he taught me.
When I was in eighth grade I started reading The Last of the Mohicans. By page 17 I had learned a lesson that has stood me well for my entire reading life.
So in honor of this day, take a few moments to read what one of our greatest authors had to say about James Fenimore Cooper.
Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses
by Mark Twain
It seems to me that it was far from right for the Professor of English Literature at Yale, the Professor of English Literature in Columbia, and Wilkie Collins to deliver opinions on Cooper's literature without having read some of it. It would have been much more decorous to keep silent and let persons talk who have read Cooper.
Cooper's art has some defects. In one place in "Deerslayer," and in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offenses against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record.
There are nineteen rules governing literary art in domain of romantic fiction -- some say twenty-two. In "Deerslayer," Cooper violated eighteen of them. These eighteen require:
1. That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere. But the "Deerslayer" tale accomplishes nothing and arrives in air.
2. They require that the episodes in a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help to develop it. But as the "Deerslayer" tale is not a tale, and accomplishes nothing and arrives nowhere, the episodes have no rightful place in the work, since there was nothing for them to develop.
Oh yes, and my lesson from Mr. Cooper? There are too many good books in the world to waste my time reading a bad one.