Ossian and James Fenimore Cooper

Ossian and James Fenimore Cooper


Professor James McKillop,
Author of "Fionn Mac Cumhaill: Celtic myth in English Literature"

It can be argued that the writer most indebted to Macpherson's imaginative world is the American novelist James Fenimore Cooper; many details in Cooper's novels, including such trivial ones as the taboo against snapping twigs in the forest, which won Mark Twain's celebrated scorn, are of Fenian origin. It may be that any number of Cooper's woodland heroes are really Fingal and Ossian transmogrified in the new continent.


Hugh C. MacDougall,
Secretary, The James Fenimore Cooper Society

I've never been convinced of the extent to which Cooper may or may not have been influenced by Ossian. Certainly, he does not mention Ossian (or McPherson) in his correspondence and journals. The only specific study that I know is Georg Friden, James Fenimore Cooper and Ossian (Upsala: The American Institute in the University of Upsala, 1949), and he does not document any specific knowledge of Ossian by Cooper, simply stating "As Cooper spent several years in England he undoubtedly read Ossian." Since Cooper only spent several months in England, on and off, between 1828-33, and so far as I know did no literary reading there, this is hardly evidence. Friden relies on internal evidence, notably in Cooper's treatment of native Americans -- and is apparently unaware of Cooper's specific sources in this respect, nor the accuracy (in terms of being found elsewhere in the literature) of his "metaphorical" language put in the mouth of Indians, that Friden assumes must be copied from Ossian. Certainly Cooper knew his Scott and Byron, and there may be indirect links, but I am dubious of any direct Ossianic influence on Cooper.

Read Cooper and Macpherson and make up your own mind. The James Fenimore Cooper society have an excellent web site at http://www.oneonta.edu/external/cooper/

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