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OLLOWING the order of events, this book should be
the third in the series of The Leather-Stocking Tales. In The Deerslayer, Natty Bumppo, under the sobri
quet which forms the title of that work, is represented as a youth, just commencing his forest career as a warrior; having, for several years, been a hunter so celebrated, as already to have gained the honorable appellation he then bore. In The Last of the Mohicans he appears as Hawkeye, and is present at the death of young Uncas; while in this tale, he reappears in the same war of '56, in company with his Mohican friend, still in the vigor of manhood, and young enough to feel that master passion to which all conditions of men, all tempers, and we might almost say, all ages, submit, under circumstances that are incited to call it into existence.
'The Pathfinder did not originally appear for several years after the publication of The Prairie, the work in which the leading character of both had closed his career by death. It was, perhaps, a too hazardous experiment to recall to life, in this manner, and after so long an interval a character that was somewhat a favorite with the reading world, and which had been regularly consigned to his grave, like any living man. It is probably owing to this severe ordeal that the work, like its successor, The Deerslayer, has been so little noticed ; scarce one in ten of those who know all about the three earliest books of the series having even a knowledge of the existence of the last at all. That this caprice in taste and favor is in no way dependent on merit, the writer
feels certain ; for, though the world will ever maintain that an author is always the worst judge of his own productions, one who has written much, and regards all his literary progeny with more or less of a paternal eye, must have a reasonably accurate knowledge of what he has been about the greater part of his life. Such a man may form too high an estimate of his relative merits, as relates to others; but it is not easy to see why he should fall into this error, more than another as relates to himself. His general standard may be raised too high by means of self-love ; but, unless he be disposed to maintain the equal perfection of what he has done, as probably no man was ever yet fool enough to do, he may very well have shrewd conjectures as to the comparative merits and defects of his own productions.
This work, on its appearance, was rudely and maliciously assailed by certain individuals out of pure personal malignancy. It is scarcely worth the author's while, nor would it have any interest for the reader, to expose the motives and frauds of these individuals, who have pretty effectually vindicated the writer by their own subsequent conduct. But even the falsest of men pay so much homage to truth, as to strive to seem its votaries. In attacking The Pathfinder, the persons alluded to pointed out faults, that the author, for the first time has now ascertained to be real ; and much to his surprise, as of most of them he is entirely innocent. They are purely errors of the press, unless, indeed, the writer can justly be accused of having been a careless proofreader. A single instance of the mistakes he means may be given in explanation of the manner in which the book was originally got up.
The heroine of this tale was at first called “Agnes.” In the fifth or sixth chapter this name was changed to“ Mabel,'' and the manuscript was altered accordingly. Owing to inadvertency, however, the original appellation stood in several places, and the principal female character of the book, until now, has had the advantage of going by two names ! Many other typographical errors exist in the earlier editions, most of which, it is believed, are corrected in this.
There are a few discrepancies in the facts of this work, as connected with the facts of the different books of the series. They are not material, and it was thought fairer to let them stand as proof of the manner in which the books were originally written, than to make any changes in the text.
In youth, when belonging to the navy, the writer of this book served for some time on the great western lakes. He was, indeed, one of those who first carried the cockade of the republic on those inland seas. This was pretty early in the present century, when the navigation was still confined to the employment of a few ships and schooners. Since that day, light may be said to have broken into the wilderness, and the rays of the sun have penetrated to tens of thousands of beautiful valleys and plains, that then lay in "grateful shade." Towns have been built along the whole of the extended line of coasts, and the traveller now stops at many a place of ten or fifteen, and at one of even fifty thousand inhabitants, where a few huts then marked the natural sites of future marts. In a word, though the scenes of this book are believed to have once been as nearly accurate as is required by the laws which govern fiction, they are so no longer. Oswego is a large and thriving town; Toronto and Kingston, on the other side of the lake, compete with it; while Buffalo, Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Chicago, on the upper lakes, to say nothing of a hundred places of lesser note, are fast advancing to the level of commercial places of great local importance. In these changes, the energy of youth and abundance is quite as much apparent as anything else ; and it is ardently to be hoped that the fruits of the gifts of a most bountiful Providence may not be mistaken for any peculiar qualities in those who have been their beneficiaries. A just appreciation of the first of these facts will render us grateful and meek; while the vainglorious, who are so apt to ascribe all to themselves, will be certain to live long enough to ascertain the magnitude of their error. That great results are intended to be produced by means of these wonderful changes, we firmly believe ; but that they will prove to be the precise results now so generally anticipated, in consulting the experience of the past, and taking the nature of man into the account, the reflecting and intelligent may be permitted to doubt.
It may strike the novice as an anachronism, to place vessels on Ontario in the middle of the eighteenth century, but, in this particular, facts will fully bear out all the license of the fiction. Although the precise vessels mentioned in these pages may never have existed on that water, or anywhere alse, others so nearly resembling them as to form a sufficient authority for their introduction into a work of fiction, are known to have navigated that inland sea, even at a period much earlier than the one just mentioned. It is a fact not generally remembered, however well known it may be, that there are isolated spots along the line of the great lakes, that date, as settlements, as far back as many of the oldest American towns, and which were the seats of a species of civilization long before the greater portion of even the original states was rescued from the wilderness.
Ontario, in our own times, has been the scene of important naval evolutions. Fleets have mancuvred on those waters, which, half a century since, were desert wastes; and the day is not distant, when the whole of that vast range of lakes will become the seat of empire, and fraught with all the interests of human society. A passing glimpse, even though it be in a work of fiction, of what that vast region so lately was, may help to make up the sum of knowledge by which alone a just appreciation can be formed of the wonderful means by which Providence is clearing the way for the advancement of civilization across the whole American continent.