James Fenimore Cooper

American author of The Last of the Mohicans, published in 1826.

‘[Roger] Messac has shown how [in Dumas’ Mohicans de Paris] an attempt has been made to bring in reminiscences of Cooper. The most interesting thing about Cooper’s influence is that it is not concealed but displayed. In the above-mentioned Mohicans de Paris this display is in the very title; the author promises the reader that he will open a tropical forest and a prairie for him in Paris. The woodcut used as a frontispiece in the third volume shows a bushy street which was little frequented at that time; the caption under this picture reads: “The tropical forest in the Rue d’Enfer.’ The publisher’s leaflet for this volume outlines the connection in a magnificent phrase in which one may see an expression of the author’s enthusiasm for himself: ‘Paris ,- the Mohicans … these two names clash like the qui vive of two gigantic unknowns. An abyss separates the two; through it flashes a spark of that electric light which has its source in Alexandre Dumas.’ Even earlier, Feval had involved a redskin in the adventures of a metropolis. This man is named Tovah, and on a ride in a fiacre he manages to scalp his four white companions in such a way that the coachman does not notice anything. At the very beginning, the Mysteres de Paris refers to Cooper in promising that the book’s heroes from the Parisian underworld ‘are no less removed from civilization than the savages who are so splendidly depicted by Cooper’. But Balzac in particular never tired of referring to Cooper as his model. ‘The poetry of terror of which the American woods with their hostile tribes on the warpath encountering each other are so full – this poetry which stood Cooper in such good stead attaches in the same way to the smallest details of Parisian life. The pedestrians, the shops, the hired coaches, or a man leaning against a window – all this was of the same burning interest to the members of Peyrade’s bodyguard as a tree stump, a beaver’s den, a rock, a buffalo skin, an immobile canoe, or a floating leaf was to the reader of a novel by Cooper.’ Balzac’s intrigue is rich in forms ranging from stories about Indians to detective stories. At an early date there were objections to his ‘Mohicans in spencer jackets’ and ‘Hurons in frock coats’. On the other hand, Hippolyte Babou, who was close to Baudelaire, wrote retrospectively in 1857: “When Balzac breaks through walls to give free rein to observation, people listen at the doors…. In short, they behave, as our English neighbours in their prudery put it, like police detectives.” [Hippolyte Babou, La virite sur les cas de M. Champ fleury, Paris, 1857, p. 30]’ (‘The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire’, 41-2)