The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Pilot, The

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Pilot, The
Edition of 1920. See also The Pilot: A Tale of the Sea on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

PILOT, The; a Tale of the Sea, published in January 1824 (the earliest edition is actually dated 1823), was James Fenimore Cooper's fourth novel and his first sea tale. He had undertaken to surpass Scott's ‘Pirate’ (1821) in seamanship, and, a sailor by profession, not only succeeded in this but produced a book on almost every count better than its model. Indeed, Cooper may be said in ‘The Pilot’ to have created a new literary type, the tale of adventure on the sea, in which, although he was to have followers and rivals in many modern languages, he still keeps a high place for vigor and variety. Smollett had already discovered the racy humors of seamen, but he had seen little else in their calling; it remained for Cooper to capture for fiction the mystery and beauty, the shock and thrill, of the sea, which in his pages has much of the proud pomp of Byron's ocean. Experts say chat Cooper's technical knowledge was sound; what is more important, he wrote a story about sailing vessels which convinces land-dwellers even in days of steam. Although based, with many realistic details, upon his own experience, ‘The Pilot’ has a large conventional element, chiefly in connection with its hero, John Paul Jones, who appears as always brooding upon a dark past and a darker fate. Yet he is not so morbid but that he can occasionally rouse himself to terrific activities in his raids along the English coast. Cooper credits him with a love affair, conventional in tone, and not important. Of the characters, only one possesses much interest or verisimilitude — Long Tom Coffin, of Nantucket who takes his place worthily beside Harvey Birch and Natty Bumppo. If he seems hardly so vivid a patriot as the spy it is because he is first of all a sailor, and belongs to the open sea as Leather-Stocking belongs to the forest. Long Tom is as real as an oak; he is also as romantic as storms and tides.

Carl Van Doren.