It is probable a true history of human events would show that a far larger proportion of our acts are the result of sudden impulse and accident, than of that reason of which we so much boast.
A friend of mine shared this quote on Facebook. I have been caught out before so now I usually confirm on Google that I have the right version, and author. I was surprised to see that a whole ‘family’ of people called Cooper had apparently first said this.
There was a Peter Cooper, a US inventor and philanthropist who was born in 1791. There was Myers Y Cooper, a Republican politician and Governor of Ohio, who died in 1958. Then there was an Albert Cooper, a twentieth century flautist. And finally there was James Fenimore Cooper, the novelist who died in 1851. I just had to go digging, I wanted to know who really said it first.
The evidence suggests that the correct Cooper is James Fenimore. My search turned up an electronic copy of his book The Pilot, A Tale of the Sea. It was first published in 1823, complete with a preface. When it was reprinted in 1849 a second preface was added, and its first words were the quote above.
Now it is entirely possible that the Peter, the inventor and philanthropist could have written it first and then James Fenimore copied it. Or that James Fenimore borrowed it from someone else entirely.
I’m a great fan of WIlliam of Occam, and his famous razor, so my money is on James Fenimore Cooper.
Image: By Hi-res scan of postage stamp by Gwillhickers (U.S. Government, Department of the Post Office) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons