Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Rural Hours by Susan Fenimore Cooper: A Review

🌳 Rural Hours is a journal written by 19th century female author: Susan Fenimore Cooper. If you feel familiar with her surname, it's because she was the daughter of James Fenimore Cooper, the author of The Last of the Mohicans. More background facts about Susan Fenimore Cooper, and how this journal had inspired Darwin and possibly Thoreau, I have written in my 1st Impression on this book.

🌳 Cooper was an amateur naturalist; she read many books or essays by other naturalists, and recorded her observations on animals, plants, landscape, as well as rural life during her daily excursions, onto her journals. This book was derived from these notes, took up a course of four seasons of 1848, beginning from the spring.

🌳 Reading an amateur naturalist has its advantage. I took pleasure of Cooper's observations, as if I was walking with her, but without being troubled too much with scientific phrases of a pedantic. While bird-watching, she would observe:

"It was amusing to watch the parents flying home, and listen to the family talk going on; there was a vast deal of twittering and fluttering before settling down in the nest, husband and wife seemed to have various items of household information to impart to each other, and the young nestlings made themselves heard very plainly; one gathered a little scolding, too, on the part of some mother-robins."

Can you imagine yourself taking a stroll with Cooper, bird-watching with amusement like that? That has always been my dream!

🌳 I loved Cooper's sharp wit in her observations, such as when she wrote about a spider:

"A huge spider, by-the-bye, with her intricate web and snares, would form no bad emblem of a courtier and diplomatist, of the stamp of Cardinal Wolsey. He certainly took "hold with his hands, in kings' palaces," and did his share of mischief there."

🌳 Beyond the animals or plants (she could talk about trees for some pages!), Cooper is also a sharp observer of human nature and their civilization. She criticized her nation for their reckless behavior towards horticulture, and for not focusing on the advantages of gardening. She also noticed how her people were gradually taking distance from nature, even on adorning their houses:

"In very truth, a fine tree near a house is a much greater embellishment than the thickest coat of paint that could be put on its walls, or a whole row of wooden columns to adorn its front; nay, a large shady tree in a door-yard is much more desirable than the most expensive mahogany and velvet sofa in the parlor."
Wood Lane, Claude Monet, 1876

🌳 I loved also her observation on the simple life of farmers, when visiting a farmer house, she observed that they provide most of their domestic needs at home; doing all their spinning, weaving, dyeing by themselves.

🌳 Sometimes Cooper would talk about some unusual sights, like how, on one foggy dawn, a flock of wild pigeons alighted on the trees at the heart of the village (a rare sight!), and only after the fog has lifted, that the birds flown again. Some cows Cooper saw on her walk one evening, were returning home after pasturing along the road side or unfenced woods. They were left to forage by themselves, and usually came from different houses. They would leave home in the morning, and return home in the evening, one to this house, the other to that - all by themselves without anyone accompanying them.

🌳 Few more amusing things Cooper observed: Otters - these animals have one very strange habit: it is said that they actually slide down hill on the snow, merely for amusement. Then there is her amusing comment on singular leaf of a tree that dances merrily, moved by some light puff of air:

"A single leaf or two in rapid movement, all else still and calm; and one might fancy Puck, or some other mischievous elf, sitting astride the stem, shaking his sides with laughter at the expense of the bewildered spectator."

La Promenade, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1875

🌳 Cooper shared her father's sentiments regarding the Indians, which she showed in her note: "..a savage race is almost invariably corrupted rather than improved by its' earliest contact with a civilized people; they suffer from the vices of civilization before they learn justly to comprehend its merits. It is with nations as with individuals-amelioration is a slow process, corruption a rapid one."

🌳 I've just realized that the US named their rivers, mountains, or cities with Indian names: Michigan, Ontario, Mississippi, Potomac, and many more. Cooper beautifully put it into this reflection:

"A name is all we leave them, let us at least preserve that monument to their memory; as we travel through the country, and pass river after river, lake after lake, we may thus learn how many were the tribes who have melted away before us, whose very existence would have been utterly forgotten but for the word which recalls the name they once bore. And possibly, when we note how many have been swept from the earth by the vices borrowed from civilized man, we may become more earnest, more zealous, in the endeavor to aid those who yet linger among us."

Sometimes too, we get glimpses of some village stories or legends. One of my favorites is of a pet fawn, who, after being saved from haunting dog's chase by some people, was then shot by a hunter because it approached him without fear. Another reminder to us to let wild animals be wild!

🌳 I think from what I've written and quoted above, you can see how I loved this book! For a person who live in a tropical country with only two seasons: wet and dry, where the flowers keep blossoming, and the landscape never changes its hue, Cooper's journal provided me with invaluable glimpses of the four beautiful seasons I wouldn't have witnessed. I loved every little change of the lake color, the leaves, or the flower petals, from season to season. I'm a 'color' person, and this has been a wonderful "experience" of a lifetime, though only through Susan Fenimore Cooper's pen.

Rating: 4,5 / 5


  1. I have actually heard of her and her journal, but never read it. It does sound delightful!

    1. It is! Especially if you read them very slowly, in the morning. It will make your days more cheerful!

  2. Love the quotes you included! She really has a way with words. I wish I was half as observant and articulate as her. ;D

    1. Like father like daughter, eh? ;)
      I wish I was that observant too. But then, maybe I would if I've lived in a rural village in 19th century...

  3. You make a good case! ;-) This does sound fascinating. It isn't on Project Gutenberg, but I'll have to keep an eye for it.

    1. Mission: accomplished! :)) That's great, Reese!
      I read it from Google Playbook. It's either free or I bought it very cheap, I forgot. But there are several parts where the sentences are scrambled and overlapping one another. It's quite annoying. If it's a novel, it won't be readable, but as a journal... well, I just skipped that and moved on to the next. Hopefully you find a decent copy to read, maybe from your library?


What do you think?