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There was little in this man’s background to foreshadow his eventual fame. He was the son of a prosperous landowner in New York State, and like so many sons of wealthy fathers he showed no real desire for a career of his own. He was sent to Yale, but soon got into some kind of trouble and was expelled from school. So he shipped out to sea on a merchant vessel, where he spent the next year. He found the life at sea to his liking and joined the United States Navy, spending five years in the service. After leaving the navy he returned to New York, got married and settled down to the life of a country squire.
Always fond of books, he would often read aloud to his wife. One evening, while reading an English novel, he impatiently threw the book aside and said, “I could write you a better book than that myself.” His wife merely laughed at him, so to prove his point, he actually wrote a story. It turned out so well that he decided to try a novel, but the result was less than encouraging. He had given his story an English setting, for this brand-new nation was still under the influence of British authors such as Sir Walter Scott, whose Ivanhoe was at the peak of its popularity.
The country gentleman-turned author was not discouraged. He decided to make a second attempt, only this time he would write an American novel, calling on his own background and experiences. His tale of the Revolution, published in 1821, became an instant success, not only in the USA, but around the world as well.
Now he began to write in earnest, awakening an interest in America all over the world with his romantic tales of the early American frontier. He wrote stories about the rugged backwoodsmen who had struggled against the land to create a new nation out of a wilderness. This man, who had never written anything until he was thirty years old, produced such classics as The Deerslayer, The Pathfinder, The Last of the Mohicans, and many more. He was James Fenimore Cooper, America’s first great novelist.
From “Americas Great” by Gene Moss