Robbins, Eliza
Autograph Letter Signed, New York April 23, 1822 to Sally Howe, Northampton, Massachusetts

quarto, 3 pages, plus stamp-less address leaf, small portion of text missing on third page as a result of careless opening, else in very good clean and legible condition.

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An exceptional and interesting letter with extensive commentary on James Fenimore Cooper and his novel The Spy, published in 1821, which was Cooper’s second novel:

 

      “Dear Sally,

        

           … In respect to the book that you mention, I do partially agree with you, but the Spy has more merit than you are willing to admit. The chief fault that I find with it is a want of definiteness as to the precise nature of the services accomplished by the Spy – but I think Mr. Cooper has been very happy in his illustrations of the distinctive character of the different parts of our country. He has taken a man from the lower walks of life in New England and endowed him with rare sagacity, great firmness, sincere and ardent private affection together with a most devoted love for the interests of his country and he has given effect to these qualities by combining them with courage, perseverance and activity. He has given a fine specimen of a southern gentleman in Dunwoodie, and has, I think further exhibited in a very striking manner the peculiar features of the North & South in the court martial where many conflicting feelings on the part of the judges, modified the deportment of them much according to the separate influences of a previous character of mind. This I think a remarkably well conceived and touching scene. I also think the characters of the sisters, show an intimate acquaintance with the sex and with human nature – Their political partialities secretly inspired by a tenderer passion are truly feminine – their purity of mind and their mutual fondness is very interesting; and the pusillanimity of the father with the dignity and devotedness of the aunt are among very natural traits of human nature, and of those times. Old Caesar is the only one of the underlings in any fidelity or of much effect upon the imagination. The Low character, Dr. Sitgreaves and the military men are like persons in the American army – spirited in action, but insignificant in discourse vulgar without humour and frivolous without any original and vivid bursts of wit and gaiety. The manners, style of life &c I think agreeable to those traditions of great dinners, and stiff silks that amused my youth, and when I consider that nobody else has written good popular fiction – that it is utterly beyond the reach of ordinary & even respectable talents to produce anything of the sort, I feel disposed to admire and to praise Mr. C’s genius – indeed if his taste and his education were only equal to the power of his fancy and the goodness of his understanding & heart, few authors would surpass him.

           Mr. Cooper is not without literature and wide observation of mankind, but his learning is not exact, nor his perceptions refined – yet few men are more penetrating, honourable & benevolent; but a certain tenderness of sentiment and elegance of thought will always be wanting in his productions because they are not in his mind – I know him and the vigour of conceptions and his intimate acquaintance with his own modes of business, which are connected with the character and resources of the nation in several ways, besides that of a common citizen always present to me a variety of information and of speculation that one person seldom affords to another …”