April 8, 2011

Cooper is in town, in ill health

 On April 8, 1851, the poet and critic Richard Henry Dana Sr. wrote a letter to fellow writer William Cullen Bryant. "Cooper is in town, in ill health," he wrote. "When I saw him last he was in high health and excellent spirits. He has grown thin, and has an ashy instead of a florid complexion." Dana met with Cooper on what was the last trip to New York City ever made by the author of The Last of the Mohicans; Cooper died one day shy of his 62nd birthday that fall.

Dana began his correspondence with Cooper just over a decade earlier, initiating a somewhat cold relationship, yet one of mutual respect. As Dana recounted, "I was telling Mr. [Washington] Allston not long ago, how very highly I tho't of the Pioneers. 'Why don't you write Mr. Cooper?' asked he." So he did.

Shortly after this initial contact, Dana sent Cooper a copy of his son's "journal," as he called it. The work is more generally known as Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana, Jr.

Much earlier, Cooper had served before the mast as a midshipman himself. In fact, in the decade or so after Dana Jr.'s book, Cooper wrote more and more about life at sea — both in fiction and nonfiction. Up to his death, he had been working on a continuation of his 1839 book on Naval history. The second part of History of the Navy of the United States of America was published posthumously in incomplete form.

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