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Some of our greatest novelists have launched their careers by what seems the least likely means -- that of the wager. In American letters there is no stronger example than that to be found in the life of James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) -- who made the wager that he could write a better story than the sort of fashionable romances he and his wife were then reading together! The result was "Precaution" -- the novel that set Cooper upon his long and successful career. Ostensibly written by an Englishman, and containing the styling and attitudes of the English popular novels of the time, "Precaution" prepared the ground for Cooper's great successes to follow -- which were to be thoroughly American in their flavor.

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