March 9, 2013

Cooper: exceedingly anxious to go abroad

James Cooper (he had not yet added the "Fenimore" to his name) was not happy with his financial situation in the United States. He had met with some success and substantial fame from his novels like Precaution, The Pioneer and The Last of the Mohicans but he felt that a job in Europe would be more suitable to him. More importantly, he anticipated that the Europeans had better taste than his fellow Americans.

Accordingly, on March 9, 1826, he wrote to New York Governor De Witt Clinton for help. Though he apologized for the unimportant request compared to his other duties, Cooper hoped Clinton would put in a good word for him for a federal appointment:

I am exceedingly anxious to go abroad with my family, for three or four years, and am induced both by prudence and feeling, to wish to do so, in some situation connected with the Government. My views are far from being very exalted, however, on this subject. I should prefer being on the waters of the Mediterranean, or near them, and would be exceedingly happy to find myself invested with any consulate that would yield me a moderate sum. I confess I know of no particular situation, and after waiting several years with the same desire, I do not find myself more likely to obtain the requisite information in time to apply.

Cooper noted frankly his embarrassment for requesting such a favor, also admitting he was unaware of "the propriety or impropriety" of such a request. He was living on Greenwich Street in New York with his family that winter and, it is said, he once bumped into his neighbor William Cullen Bryant. Cooper invited the poet to join him for dinner at his home at 345 Greenwich Street but Bryant asked him to write the address down lest he forget. The rather gruff Cooper responded, "Can't you remember three-four-five?"

Cooper traveled to Washington D.C. under the advisement of Governor Clinton (and, possibly, from Bryant too). There, Secretary of State Henry Clay offered him a position as Minister to Sweden and Norway; Cooper declined and was instead granted a consulship to Lyons (France). There, he continued to write, particularly stories at sea, including The Red Rover and The Water Witch. The Coopers returned to the United States in 1833.

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