Page images

and essays the charge of commonplaceness has sometimes been brought. The truth of the charge may be admitted, but it must be added that it was no ordinary and dull use of the commonplace. With Roosevelt the ordinary took on the air of extreme novelty because he imparted to it energy and passion. In regard to his ability to do this, it has been said, “He did not content himself with a bare statement that children ought to love their fathers and mothers. In his hands the obvious became a flaming sword. He would wave it vehemently above his head and defy the world to deny that crime ought to be punished and virtue rewarded. Such zest and joy did he put into his vigorous enunciations of what all sane men agree to be true, that he somehow appeared, even when uttering platitudes, a great moral and political discoverer.” Such ability to vivify ordinary routine thoughts and sentiments connotes high mental talents and a rush of soul of a kind to which not inaptly might be applied the term genius. Certainly many of the world's writers who have been most influential with the mass of mankind have had a gift of this kind, and it ought not be derogatory to Roosevelt's work that he was successful in this way.

Another charge brought sometimes against Roosevelt's work is its redundancy. It is asserted that he was always reiterating the same ideas, and it is easy to perceive that especially in his speeches, Roosevelt nearly always boxed the compass of his favorite ideas. This makes much reading in the speeches tedious, but in apology it may be said that it was the method best adapted to the purpose of Roosevelt. He clearly felt himself to be a teacher to his generation, and he used, as all similar leaders have done, the teacher's method of line upon line and precept upon precept. Wearisome though the method may be, yet this drawback must be overlooked in the light of the results. As Colquhoun, an English student of Roosevelt's life and work remarks, “But what Roosevelt has accomplished in awakening a public conscience, and when we remember that this was primarily one of his aims, we can forgive the redundancy of some of his public utterances. There is no better way to make truth believed by the masses than that suggested by Lewis Carroll: 'He said it very loud and clear; he went and shouted it in my ear.' Roosevelt's success as a propagandist has been due to his saying things very loud and clear.”'

From this mass of speeches and articles Roosevelt himself has selected what he cared to preserve in book form, and has included it in the three volumes, American Ideals, The Strenuous Life, and History as Literature. Of these books, American Ideals is in large measure the repository of many of Roosevelt's favorite political ideas. The Strenuous Life deals with ideals of conduct and citizenship in a larger and more general way. History as Literature is more significant than the other two books. While it presents also ideals of citizenship, it has a wider range embracing especially comments on books and writers of such searching character as to give force to the remark someone made in connection with Roosevelt, “We have half or more than half a suspicion that an admirable literary critic was lost to the world when Mr. Roosevelt became a public character.”

We have seen how in the diverse fields of history, adventure, natural science, and political discussion, Roosevelt has left solid and substantial contributions. But this sketch must not close without reference to another book

which is in some respects the most important single volume he produced. This is his autobiography entitled Theodore Roosevelt, An Autobiography. Written a few years after Roosevelt had returned to private life, the book was too close in time to the excitement of the writer's political career, and accordingly it is in large measure a justification of measures and policies. Nevertheless it will continue to attract readers not only because of its value as a record of a very significant political period from the pen of the one who was the leader in it, but also because of the intimate and attractive revelation of the man Roosevelt.

Herein are clearly exhibited his different interests. Herein are uncovered the characteristics of his mind and spirit. As Brander Matthews has remarked, “It is a very human personality that is so disclosed; very engaging and very energetic; tingling with vitality, endowed with the zest of life and the gusto of living; not unduly self-conscious; interested in himself, no doubt, like the rest of us, but scarcely more than he is interested in many others; possessed of abundant humor and good humor; able to take a joke even when it is against himself; and enriched with an unsurpassed gift for friendship."

It seems possible that the Autobiography will as time goes on be ranked with that of Franklin. These two happened to be the most interesting Americans of their generations, the one at the close of the eighteenth century, the other at the close of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth. It must, however, be borne in mind that the conditions of composition of the two autobiographies were different. Franklin in his old age wrote out his recollections, not for general publications, but for his children. Roosevelt in the midst of his career wrote his memoir largely to justify his political actions. Possibly in this difference may be found the cause why Franklin's sketch of himself will exceed Roosevelt's in general interest, but if the latter were freed from the weight of the explanations of political matters and left with merely the passages of more direct autobiographical interest, it might rival Franklin's book in popularity. Even as it is, the Autobiography drew from an American critic, Professor W. P. Trent, the statement that it belonged “to the very small group of books—witness Dr. Johnson—which a reasonable man could wish longer.”'

ROOSEVELT'S STYLE BECAUSE Roosevelt wrote so much and that usually under the most unfavorable circumstances, there is the inpression in the minds of many that hi dashed off his work with little or no effort. Nothing, however, is farther from the truth. Roosevelt was painstaking and conscientious in his writing not alone in those things he wrote with a feeling of their importance as literature but even in those he wrote in more or less of

a routine


When he was doing editorial work for The Outlook, he did articles with great care although knowing that in most instances they were ephemeral in their appeal. “No one knows how much time I put into my articles for The Outlook," he once said to a friend. Then, pulling a manuscript from his pocket, he continued, “Here is an article that I am going over, as' I have opportunity, correcting and recasting it."

Father Zahm who accompanied Roosevelt on the

South African trip and who had opportunity to see his methods of work in writing in the field for magazine publication the account of that trip, gives testimony of the same sort. “Colonel Roosevelt,” he says "did not by any means write as rapidly as is generally supposed. He was too careful a literary craftsman for that. Nor had he the facility sometimes credited to him. He put into his magazine work far more thought and labor than is usually imagined. After an article was written, he revised it carefully, correcting, changing, amplifying and excising until certain of the pages were scarcely decipherable.” 1

This carefulness in expression extended also to his speeches, especially in the case of the more important. Mr. D. W. Lewis gives in his Life of Theodore Roosevelt an instance of this thorough preparation in the case of the important Carnegie Hall address delivered in New York City, March 20th 1912. Mr. Lewis and another friend had been invited to Oyster Bay for a conference over the matter. Says Mr. Lewis, “We found that the speech was already in manuscript form. I think the copy we used was the second or third revision. At any rate, the Colonel himself had already made numerous corrections in pencil.” Roosevelt was ready to accept criticism and take suggestions,-in fact almost too ready to do so, thinks Mr. Lewis. "He read the typewritten sheets aloud," continues Mr. Lewis, “not minding in the least if one or the other of us interrupted him before he had completed a single sentence. When some time after twelve o'clock, we had apparently reached the end, he said: 'I shall have to sit up and

go over this again tonight."" Further interesting insight into Roosevelt's methods of 1 Roosevelt as a Hunter-Naturalist. Outlook, 121: 438.

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »