As the first of James Fenimore Cooper's numerous books, Precaution (1820) is one of the first American novels of manners. It was written in imitation of contemporary English domestic novels like those of Jane Austen and Amelia Opie, and it did not meet with contemporary success. Once, as Cooper was reading an English novel to his wife, he suddenly laid down the book, and said, "I believe I could write a better myself." Almost immediately he composed a chapter of a projected work of fiction, and read it to the same friendly judge, who encouraged him to finish it, and when it was completed, suggested its publication. Precaution was received with indifference by the American public; for Waverly and Guy Mannering, at this period, had created, or rather confirmed the taste for English literature of this class. Precaution was not only neglected, but severely criticized. The English critics praised his book; his countrymen reechoed their opinions, and read and praised it also.
James Fenimore Cooper (September 15, 1789 – September 14, 1851) was a prolific and popular American writer of the early 19th century. His historical romances of frontier and Indian life in the early American days created a unique form of American literature. He lived most of his life in Cooperstown, New York, established by his father William. In 1811, Cooper, having resigned his post as midshipman, began the year by marrying. He went to live at Mamaroneck, in the county of Westchester, and while here he wrote and published the first of his novels, entitled Precaution.
The Literary and Scientific Repository, and Critical Review, 1821 — We have now before us the last American novel; and, startling as it may appear to some of our readers, who are inclined to think nothing praiseworthy that is native, we mean to examine their merits comparatively. We hope to see the day arrive, when an American author will not have to send his book to England, causing it to make a double voyage, ere his countrymen will receive it with impartiality,—when, instead of sneering at the pretensions of a native writer, it may become fashionable to treat him with civility.