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Roosevelt As A Writer
Of the many sides to Roosevelt's activity, this volume aims to present merely one—his literary work. It has been well said of him that if he had any profession in private life it was that of literature. His fondness for writing began even in college and continued until his death. He enjoyed his literary work thoroughly and always hoped that it would take a larger part in his life than other duties usually permitted. But these other matters were so pressing that Roosevelt could seldom give to his writing more than his spare time. Nevertheless he was able in the midst of manifold duties to accomplish a great deal.
An illustration in point is the way in which he wrote his account of the Rough Riders. Upon his return from Cuba in the summer of 1898, Roosevelt engaged to write an account of the. part his regiment had taken in the SpanishAmerican War. The story was to appear first in Scribner's Magazine, and later to be published as a book. A few weeks after agreeing to write the account, he began his vigorous campaign for the Governorship of New York, but neither the campaign nor duties after he took office prevented him from delivering the monthly instalments on schedule time. Of almost every one of his books it might be said that it was written in the spare moments of his busy life as a relaxation from public duties. This circumstance gives force to the remark of John Morley, the English statesman and author, that "Roosevelt was a man of letters temporarily assigned to other duty."
In a survey of Roosevelt's literary achievement, the first impressive feature is its quantity. When Roosevelt's many other activities are taken into consideration, the quantity of his work becomes more significant. The list of his books on page xxxv shows over thirty titles—an accomplishment which in the case of a man giving undivided attention to writing would be remarkable as an output for a period of about forty years. And when to these books, his major productions, are added the scores of speeches, state papers, magazine articles and newspaper editorials, which as yet are largely uncollected into book form, his work becomes more impressive even when considered merely in respect to quantity.
But a still more striking feature of his literary work is its range. Few writers have equalled Roosevelt in the production of works so varied in kind. He wrote history— The Naval War of 1812, The Winning of the West, A History of New York. He wrote biography—lives of Benton, Morris, and Oliver Cromwell. He described in books of travel and adventure his hunting and exploring trips in the Rocky Mountains, in Africa, and in South America. His more important magazine articles and speeches dealing with problems of government and citizenship were collected into volumes such as American Ideals, The Strenuous Life, and History as Literature. He wrote also much on natural history—The Deer Family in America and Life History of African Game Animals, being notable books in this field. In addition to all these different types of books, mention must be made of his autobiography, his lectures, his orations, his state papers, and his editorials.
With all their extent and variety, Roosevelt's writings would not deserve attention unless they were solid and important contributions in their several fields. That most of them have permanent value of this kind seems to be the verdict of those competent to judge. In particular is this true of his work in history and the kindred field of biography. Of his several books in this field, the four volumes of The Winning of the West,-a brilliant and accurate account of the deeds of the frontiersmen in Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Old Northwest, covering the closing years of the eighteenth century and the opening ones of the nine teenth, are alone sufficient to establish Roosevelt's position as an historian. This book deservedly ranks with the best historical writings that America has produced,
Roosevelt's books of travel and adventure also possess unquestioned value. Those relating to his experiences in the Far West contain unique pictures of the vanished frontier life, this being especially true of the volume Ranch Life and Hunting Trail. The books treating of his African and his South American trips contain not only interesting adventures but also valuable scientific information. Upon this point, Sir H. H. Johnston, an English explorer and authority on Africa whose opinion is entirely unprejudiced, says with reference especially to African Game Trails, “We should like to see Mr. Roosevelt's book take its place in the ranks of Bates's Naturalist in the Amazons, Schillings' With Flash Light and Rifle, and works of that character. He is a good zoologist and a peculiarly accurate and discriminating observer. Although he has traversed lands visited by some of the greatest naturalist explorers of the world, he has still made discoveries himself, or through others, and records a great many facts not hitherto known about the life history of beasts and birds in Equatorial East Africa.” A similar statement could be made regarding the interest and scientific value of his later book, Through the Brazilian Wilderness.
The above quotation suggests the standing which Roosevelt's observations on the habits of mammals and birds have among naturalists. Most of his writing in this field was done incidentally to his accounts of his hunting trips. There is comparatively little of this material in his earlier writings, such as Hunting Trips of a Ranchman, Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail, The Wilderness Hunter, but there is more and more of it in the later books, such as Out Door Pastimes of an American Hunter, African Game Trails and Through the Brazilian Wilderness. Roosevelt was regretful that he did not devote more space in these first books to natural history. “I vaguely supposed," he said in later life, “that the obvious facts on the habits of the animals were known and let most of my opportunities pass by.” Books especially devoted to this subject, such as The Deer Family in America, and Life Histories of African Game Animals, contain important contributions to natural history and show that Roosevelt possessed the qualifications of a naturalist,-keenness of observation, clearness of mind, accuracy in deduction, and absolute regard for truth. Roosevelt was, of course, not a scientist or a biologist in the narrower sense of the term. He cared nothing for the so-called “closet” study of natural history, but made his interest the study of the living animal in its habitat. As John Burroughs says of him, “He was a naturalist on the broadest grounds, uniting much technical knowledge with knowledge of the daily lives and habits of all forms of wild life.” One result at least of Roosevelt's natural history writings has been to remind his countrymen of the spirit of love, of zeal, and of intelligence with which they should approach nature in any of its wonderful aspects.
When we turn to that section of Roosevelt's writings containing his addresses, essays, state papers, and miscellaneous writings, we come to the part of his work which has the least merit in a literary sense. Nevertheless these productions constitute a body of political idealism which the future will not overlook, the underlying ideas of which have been well summarized by Mr. Harold Howland as follows: “First he believed in a sternly moral standard of conduct. Right is right and wrong is wrong. It does not make wrong right to say that it is done in defense of property, on the one hand, or, on the other, done in behalf of the people. . . . Secondly, he believed in democracy. He believed in it, not in any theoretical, doctrinaire fashion, but with peculiar concreteness and directness. Thirdly, he laid a compelling emphasis upon the responsibility of the individual citizen as the primary condition of national progress. . . . Lastly, he held to the golden middle course, not tepidly or timorously, but with the zeal and the conviction of a crusader. He was a middleof-the-road man, not because he was unwilling or afraid to commit himself to the position on either side, but he found the way to truth to lie midway between the two extremes. He was a zealot and a fighter for the truth, justice and righteousness. He found no monopoly of any one of these precious possessions in the camp of the extremists on either side. . . . This was the fourfold structure of his creed: righteousness, democracy, individual character, and the true balance between opposing forces.” 1
Against the underlying ideas in Roosevelt's speeches
I “Theodore Roosevelt and his Times,” Independent, January 19, 1919.