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The Lumley Autograph
by [?]

(Susan Fenimore Cooper (1813-1894), daughter of James Fenimore Cooper. “The Lumley Autograph” was published in Graham’s Magazine, Volume 38 (January-June 1851), pp. 31-36, 97-101. The author is identified only in the table of contents for Volume 38, p. iii, where she is described as “the Author of ‘Rural Hours'”.

{Transcribed by Hugh C. MacDougall, Secretary, James Fenimore Cooper Society; [email protected] Notes by the transcriber, including identification of historical characters and translations of foreign expressions, follow the paragraphs to which they refer, and are enclosed in {curly brackets}. The spelling of the original has been reproduced as printed, with unusual spellings identified by {sic}. A few missing periods and quotation marks have been silently inserted.

{A brief introduction to “The Lumley Autograph.”:

{“The Lumley Autograph” was inspired, as Susan’s introductory note states, by the constant stream of letters received by her father, asking in often importunate terms for his autograph or for pages from his manuscripts, and even requesting that he supply autographs of other famous men who might have written to him. He generally complied with these requests courteously and to the best of his ability; after his death in 1851, Susan continued to do so, as well as selling fragments of his manuscripts to raise money for charity during the Civil War.

{“The Lumley Autograph” is of interest today primarily because it is a good story. Its broad satire about the autograph collecting mania of the mid-nineteenth century is deftly combined with the more serious irony of a poet’s frantic appeal for help becoming an expensive plaything of the rich, while the poet himself has died of want. Susan Fenimore Cooper’s typically understated expression of this irony renders it all the more poignant, and the unspoken message of “The Lumley Autograph” is as relevant today as it was in 1851.

{Though “The Lumley Autograph” was published in 1851, it was written as early as 1845, when Susan’s father first unsuccessfully offered it to Graham’s Magazine, asking “at least $25” for it. [See James Fenimore Cooper to Mrs. Cooper, Nov. 30, 1845, in James F. Beard, ed., “The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper” (Harvard University Press, 1960-68), Vol. V, pp. 102-102]. Three years later he offered it to his London publisher, also without success [James Fenimore Cooper to Richard Bentley, Nov. 15, 1848, Vol. V, p. 390; and Richard Bentley to James Fenimore Cooper, July 24, 1849, Vol. VI, p. 53.] What Graham’s Magazine finally paid, in 1851, is not known.}



[Not long since an American author received an application from a German correspondent for “a few Autographs”–the number of names applied for amounting to more than a hundred, and covering several sheets of foolscap. A few years since an Englishman of literary note sent his Album to a distinguished poet in Paris for his contribution, when the volume was actually stolen from a room where every other article was left untouched; showing that Autographs were more valuable in the eyes of the thief than any other property. Amused with the recollection of these facts, and others of the same kind, some idle hours were given by the writer to the following view of this mania of the day.]

The month of November of the year sixteen hundred and — was cheerless and dark, as November has never failed to be within the foggy, smoky bounds of the great city of London. It was one of the worst days of the season; what light there was seemed an emanation from the dull earth, the heavens would scarce have owned it, veiled as they were, by an opaque canopy of fog which weighed heavily upon the breathing multitude below. Gloom penetrated every where; no barriers so strong, no good influences so potent, as wholly to ward off the spell thrown over that mighty town by the spirits of chill and damp; they clung to the silken draperies of luxury, they were felt within the busy circle of industry, they crept about the family hearth, but abroad in the public ways, and in the wretched haunts of misery, they held undisputed sway.