Virginia - American Commonwealths - 1886 - Inventory Number: HIS 057
Cooke was born on November 3, 1830, in Winchester and was the son of Maria W. Pendleton Cooke and John Rogers Cooke, an attorney and member of the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829–1830. His twelve siblings included the poet Philip Pendleton Cooke, and he was also a cousin of the writer and Maryland congressman John Pendleton Kennedy. Cooke spent his early childhood at Glengary, his family's Frederick County farm. After the house burned late in the 1830s, the family moved to Charles Town, in Jefferson County (now West Virginia), and shortly thereafter to Richmond, where Cooke lived until the Civil War. He hoped to attend the University of Virginia, but he repeatedly had to defer his plans because his father—perpetually in debt—could not afford the tuition. Although Cooke studied law with his father and began to practice in 1851, he was, in his own words, "dragged by literature," and he read voraciously works by Thomas Carlyle, Sir Walter Scott, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Washington Irving, among other British and American writers.
Cooke's work holds a significant place in Virginia's literary history and in nineteenth-century American literary culture. He was arguably the most famous Virginia writer of his period, a skilled historical romancer in the tradition of Walter Scott, James Fenimore Cooper, and William Gilmore Simms who repeatedly turned to Virginia's past as his inspiration for fiction. Although sometimes viewed as derivative and careless, and especially faulted for inadequate revision, Cooke's writings embraced a breadth of subject matter, from colonial Virginia history to class in contemporary Richmond, in a wide variety of genres that gives his work enduring interest. In part because of his success in gaining recognition from northern editors and readers, his career illustrates connections between northern and southern publishing in the nineteenth century.
Inventory Number: HIS 057