This essay was originally published in Symbiosis: A Journal of Anglo-American Literary Relations, Volume 12.1 (April 2008).
Keywords & Topics
Henry J. Coke, A Ride over the Rocky Mountain, Leatherstocking, James Fenimore Cooper
“The Leatherstocking Tales of James Fenimore Cooper fired the imagination of countless British lads during the nineteenth century. Many young readers became fixated with the American frontier, which, they naively assumed, must resemble the wilderness depicted in these romantic novels. Though Cooper was the most influential author whose works encouraged affluent British readers to visit the American West, by no means was he the only one. A steady stream of books describing Western travel and exploration appeared in London through the first half of nineteenth century. Their stories of thrilling adventure confirmed the boyhood fantasies of their readers and fueled latent desires to visit the West. For young, well-bred, and well-to-do British men from the late 1830s to the eve of the American Civil War, a trip to the West became akin to the Grand Tour of Europe, that is, a good way to finish off a proper education. … Those who managed to make the trip were chagrined to learn that the American frontier was nothing like Cooper had pictured it, nor was it like they had imagined. Though hair-raising, nail-biting excitement was possible, it often came as punctuation to weeks of hard work and tedium. What began in the imagination as a romance of adventure became in reality a comedy of errors, which could, and sometimes did, shade into tragedy. Henry J. Coke, the most articulate of these young British adventurers, was, in many ways, the most naive and hapless.”
About the author
Author’s Affiliation: University of Central Oklahoma