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James Fenimore Cooper

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James Fenimore Cooper


James Fenimore Cooper , born in Burlington, New Jersey, into a Quaker family grew up in Cooperstown where his father owned large tracts of land. In 1806 he went to sea and joined the U.S. Navy two years later.

Cooper is the first important American author. He wrote Precaution, 1820, The Spy,1821, and The 'Leather-Stocking Tales' named after Leatherstocking, a fictional hero ( The Pioneers,1823, The Last of the Mohicans,1826, The Prairie,1828, The Deerslayer,1840). He also wrote stories, travel books and a History of the U.S Navy.

From 1826 to 1833 Cooper travelled in Europe. In 1829 he was received by Leopoldo II of Lorena "Canapone" grand duke of Tuscany (1797-1870). The following pages were written after the audience which took place at the Palazzo Pitti , Florence.

"The time for quitting Florence having arrived, I wrote to ask an audience of leave of the Royal family. The answer was favourable, the grand duke naming the following morning at the Pitti, and the grand duchess an hour a little later at the Poggio Imperiale, a place just without the walls, and in the immediate vicinity of St. Ilario. Ten was the hour at which I presented myself at the Pitti, in an ordinary morning-dress, wearing shoes instead of boots. I was shown into an ante-chamber, where I was desired to take a seat. A servant soon after passed through the room with a salver, bearing a chocolate-cup and a bit of toast, - a proof that his imperial highness had just been making a light breakfast. I was then told that the grand duke would receive me. The door opened on a large room, shaped like a parallelogram, which had the appearance of a private library, or cabinet. There were tables, books, maps, drawings, and all the appliances of work. The library of the palace, however, is in another part of the edifice, and contains many thousands of volumes, among which are some that are very precious, and their disposition is one of the most convenient, though not the most imposing as to show, of any library I know. The grand duke was standing alone, at the upper end of a long table that was covered by some drawings and plans of the Maremme, a part of his territories in reclaiming which he is said to be just now much occupied. As I entered, he advanced and gave me a very civil reception. I paid my compliments, and made an offering of a book which I had caused to be printed in Florence. This he accepted with great politeness; and then he told me, in the simplest manner, that "his wife" was so ill, she could not see me that morning. I had a book for her imperial highness also, and he said it might be left at the Poggio Imperiale. As soon as these little matters were disposed of , the grand duke walked to a small round table, in a corner, near which stood two chairs, and, requesting me to take one, he seated himself in the other, when he began a conversation that lasted near an hour . The prince was, as before, very curious on the subject of America, going over again some of the old topics. He spoke of Washington with great respect, and evidently felt no hostility to him on account of his political career. Indeed, I could not trace in the conversation of the prince the slightest evidence of a harsh feeling, distrust, or jealousy toward America. But, on the other hand, I thought he was disposed to view us kindly, - a thing so unusual among political men in Europe as to be worthy of mention. He left on my mind, at this interview, the same impression of simplicity and integrity of feeling as the other. He observed that fewer Americans travelled now than formerly, he believed. So far from this, I told him, the number had greatly increased within the last few years. "I used to see a good many," he answered. "But now I see but few." I was obliged to tell him, what is the truth, - that most of those who came to Europe knew little of courts, that they did not give themselves time to see more than the commoner sights, and that they were but indifferent courtiers. He spoke highly of our ships, several of which he had seen at Leghorn, and on board one or two of which he had actually been. I found him better informed than usual on the subject of our history; though, of course, many of his notions had the usual European vagueness. He seemed aware, for instance, of the great difficulty with which we had to contend in the revolution, for the want of the commonest munitions of war, such as arms and powder. He related an anecdote of Washington connected with this subject, with a feeling and spirit that showed his sympathies were on the right side of that great question, on whichever side his policy might have been. We had some conversation on the subject of the discovery of America, and I took the occasion to compliment him on there having been a Florentine concerned in that great enterprise; but he did not seem disposed to rob Columbus of any glory on account of his own countryman, though he admitted that the circumstance in a degree connected his own town with the event. At length he rose, and I took my leave of him, after thanking him for the facilities that had been afforded me in Tuscany. When we separated, he went quietly to his maps; and as I turned at the door to make a parting salute, I found his eyes on the paper, as if he expected no such ceremony."

(From: "Excursions in Italy", 1837)

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