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 advanced to a place in the imagination with the Hudson, the Susquehanna, the Potomac, and the James. North of the Ohio romance achieved relatively little, but on the southern bank Kentucky, “Dark and bloody ground,” rivalled its mother Virginia. Bird ventured into Mexico at a time when Irving and Prescott were writing romantic histories of the Spanish discovery and conquest. Melville, the most original and perennial of Cooper's contemporaries, concerned himself with the wonders of the Pacific and the deeds of Yankee whalers. Some of these novels dealt with contemporary life, but the large majority used history to lend depth to the picture which was being filled in. This was the age during which there grew up the heroic conceptions of the first settlements and of the Revolution which still prevail; the novelists stand side by side with the orators and the popular biographers in the creation of those powerful legends. Crude style and bombastic characters abound, but so do great vigour and idealism. Although such romances do not present a solid record of actual life in America at the time they were written, they offer important evidence regarding the life of the imagination, its aims, methods, and conventions, as it existed in those formative years. The first confessed follower of Cooper, it seems, began his career on other models. John Neal (1793-1870), a native of Maine, was in Baltimore when The spy appeared, engaged in the production of four long novels in six or seven months. Full of a history of the Revolution on which he had been working, he was fired by Cooper's example to write Seventy-Six (1823) with incredible rapidity. The work, however, is little more like Cooper than the three which had preceded it, Logan (1822), Randolph (1823), and Errata (1823). In all these Neal's real master was Byron, whom he followed with a fury of rant and fustian which would have made him, had he been gifted with taste and humour as well, no mean follower. Three years spent in England as a writer on American topics, where he became one of Bentham's secretaries and a utilitarian in all but atheism, modified Neal somewhat so that in his long later career he seemed almost a man of sense if never a man of humour or taste. Brother Jonathan (1825) and The down-easters (1833), however, which promise at first to be real pictures of New England life and character, soon run
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