By David Morse
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Additional resources for American Romanticism: Volume 1: From Cooper to Hawthorne
420). Washington indeed appears, but in a shadowy and vestigial manner- his materialisation as 'Harper' in the novel seems in part dictated by a sense of propriety afraid that any too-definite representation of America's founding father must border on the sacrilegious. Since the greater part of the action of The Spy takes place in the home of a family that sides with the British, and since even the strongly patriotic Frances Wharton and her lover, Peyton Dunwoodie, are determined to save her brother Harry from an ignominious death as a British spy, the cumulative impact of such a plot must be to foreground the possible injustice rather than justice of the American cause.
At such a moment God and Washington are still separate, but in his darkest hour Cooper deliberately makes them shade into one: 'Every thing seemed to have deserted me. ' 'What! ' 'God never forsakes his servants,' returned Birch, with reverence, and exhibited naturally a devotion that hitherto he had only assumed. ' (p. 367) HE Here, Cooper's control of obliquity and inference is masterly. On the one hand the mysterious 'HE' that is invoked alerts the reader to the fact that there exists an ultimate sanction for Harvey's behaviour, which may well be Washington himself, and the existence of such a possibility saves Birch's remark from the imputation of vainglory, impiousness and blasphemy which it might otherwise carry.
He had to know what importance to attach to what he heard and how to estimate it. Language could be symbolically true and factually false simultaneously. Indeed to lie was scarcely a concept, since even the most preposterous of allegations might be nothing more than a pious celebration of the frontier spirit. Even the biggest liar might seem strangely sincere if you travelled with him to his own visionary Shangri-La. The man who seemed above all to epitomise the spirit of the times - and who was certainly a liar on the grandest scale - was the showman ex-newspaperman P.
American Romanticism: Volume 1: From Cooper to Hawthorne by David Morse