Our letter holds particular biographical significance including the first public signature with Cooper’s now familiar name, J. Fenimore Cooper. Here he signs, "J. Fenimore-Cooper," separating the middle and last names with a hyphen. Prior to this, a letter to his publisher, Carey & Lea, dated April 4, 1826, showed the earliest known example of his signature using “Fenimore.” Our letter predates this by eight days. In addition, our letter reveals other new biographical facts according to Cooper scholar and biographer Dr. Wayne Franklin. Cooper visited Washington, D.C. in March 1826 ostensibly to seek a diplomatic appointment preceding his visit to France. Cooper left for France June 1, 1826. However, our letter reveals that while in Washington, Cooper met the artist, Charles Bird King, who wanted to paint Cooper’s portrait, why Cooper missed his sitting with King, and when Cooper left Washington to return home to New York. Cooper stayed in Washington until at least March 26, 1826. His time in the city had been verified up to March 12 with uncertainty about his departure date. This letter also indicates that King wanted to paint Cooper’s portrait and the reason that Cooper missed his sitting. Cooper was at the Navy Department for, “some business that called me early to the Navy Department, where, in fact, I was so much engaged, both on that and on the succeeding day, as entirely to forget that I had a face, much less that any one was willing to transfer it to the canvass[sic]….”.
Full Text: "Dear Sir, I left under circumstances, that, I feel, render some explanation necessary. You may remember that I appointed Friday as the next day of sitting. On that day I had some business that called me early to the Navy Department, where, in fact, I was so much engaged, both on that and on the succeeding day, as entirely to forget that I had a face, much less that any one was willing to transfer it to the canvass[sic]. However ungracious the apology may seem, I think it fairest to state the simple truth. I did not recollect that I had promised to sit, after leaving you, until I saw your habitation on Sunday morning, as I was leaving Washington in the stage. I would not have you impute this failure of memory, to any indifference to the compliment you were disposed to pay me, or to any want of a suitable degree of self love on my part, by [for “but”?] to the engagements, which pressed upon me, on the eve of my departure. I had many things of importance to myself to do and to see done, before I left the Country, and which could only be done, at that time & in my own person. I find Dunlap a good deal advanced in his picture, which certainly promises very well. He has painted the head of Franklin, of which I spoke to you, in very capital style. Indeed, I hardly know a better portrait, anywhere. It makes me regret his age, to look at it. It seems we are to have rival exhibitions this spring, and I hope the public will reap some of the ordinary fruits of competition; though, I confess, that, in my own poor judgment there seems some little difference between the management of a line of stages, and a School for the Fine Arts—Very Resp[ectfully] Your Obl[iged] Ser[van]t, J. Fenimore Cooper." In the lower left corner he writes his correspondent's name, "Mr. King." Condition: Normal soiling and folds in tact, paper is evenly sunned.